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Published: December 9th 2012
I left Canggu for Balangan in the mid-afternoon and it was awesomely easy to find. I took Sunset Road past the turnoff for the airport, then kept going to the next right turn where there was a sign for Jimbaran/Ulu Watu. I fought the traffic down the length of Jimbaran bay and then it was just up the hill, past the GWK cultural park, to the Nirmala Supermarket, where there is a sign for Balangan. I did find it a little hard to adjust to the crazy Kuta scooter traffic, which is so unlike the re3latively open roads of the far west of Bali. I stopped at Nirmala to stock up on the cheapest water I've seen and a few groceries and then drove the last 7km to Balangan beach. The landscape of the Bukit Peninsula was already noticeably different from that further northwest, significantly drier and more arid. On that last bit of road I almost made wrong turns twice, but each time someone (and sometimes more than one person) helpfully shouted "THE BEACH IS THAT WAY!" at me when I looked confused or slowed down. I parked in the 2000r lot at the top of the bluff and got my first good look at Balangan.
The beach is accessed by about 50 steps cuts out of the rock by a small temple perched at the edge of the crescent shaped bay with bluffs at each end. Warungs line the beach, each offering basic accomodation and food and umbrellas/beach chairs steps from the water. The sand is mostly finely ground coral and hiking the length of the beach with my bags in the hot sun in my tennies shoes was a special form of hell. The surf break in Balangan is a point/reef combo that starts at the far end so I chose a warung nearer to there at random. The woman offered me a double bed with fan and shared manual flush bathroom for 100,000r I asked for it cheaper and she gave it to me for 80/night. The warung was also home to the straight up chillest cat I've ever met. I had to step over it on the top stairs to view the room, then watched as it nonchalantly had its hair trimmed by the small child living there and never batted an eye. I had time to go for an afternoon surf but the waves were big and I didn't know anything about the break so I was hesitant to go in and instead just watched the talented surfers in the water absolutely rip. Eventually I got up the energy from a watermelong shake to make the hike back to the scooter for my surfboard which I had left up at the top.
I came back and found two Australians up on the balcony of our warung, Sam and Ed, who were in the room next to mine. We watched the surfers and the sunset and they told me a bit about the wave and recommended I have a pair of reef booties to wear. I went to go look for a hire. At the first place they were already closed. The 2nd had only one bootie, which he gave me just in case. The third place had pairs that fit me but they wanted too much money so he told me to come back in the morning to negotiate with his father.
That night I got dinner with Sam and Ed, during which the tide rose all the way up to the warungs, the electricity went out, and the rain started to pour down. It felt for a moment like God had decided to bring the waters back together. I jogged back to the accomodation in light rain and went to sleep early. WOke up at 3:30 to a storm that literally shook the house on its stilted foundation. Woke up again at dawn to a super low tide and the beach to myself with dawn reflecting in the lagoon. Eventually Sam and Ed woke up and got in the water while I went to go find booties. I couldn't get the old man down past 50,000/day so I ended up buying a pair of used booties from him for 250,000r with massive holes in them, but intact soles. I think they will last at least the next month and no longer having to worry about renting at each new place I end up makes it worth it as well. Immediately I was glad of my purchase, walking out over the reef at any tide is unpleasant even in booties. On my first paddle out, with only the other two in the water, I was SWARMED by jellyfish. Really really pretty jellyfish. The water is super clear there so you can see there were some with a small electric blue light suspended in their middle, some others like tiny mushrooms and others with long threads hanging off them. But MAN THOSE SUCKERS HURT. I was getting stung ALL OVER. I paddled over to the boys, thinking maybe they were somehow just sitting there not getting stung but I was wrong, they were getting it too. I stayed in because if other people could handle the stinging so could I and surfed for a three hour session. I started with a small wave and wiped out hard onto my fins (as the wave ripped the board out from under me and turned it upside down and then dropped me onto it). I actually wiped out onto my board a lot while I was in Balangan despite my continued desperate attempts to avoid that fate. Eventually the jellyfish left but the crowd grew. I managed a couple of good long waves despite the crowd and had an overall satisfying session. I came in and spent the afternoon reading on the beach and burning myself. I did go back in for an afternoon session that wasn't quite as good. I surfed for two hours and found the extremely strong offshore winds made it a real challenge to get into the waves. I could not have been more grateful for my booties though as the tide went out, once you caught a wave and got stuck on the inside the only thing to do was brace against the reef as you got battered by the whitewater. I even managed to cut my little toe through my bootie at one point. I also had a "small world" moment when I ran into Andy from Surifng Dorms hostel in the water and had a nice chat with him before coming in to check out my pictures at the photographers. I thought the lenses they used in Medewi were big but the ones they used on the cameras in Balangan could easily be used to search for Earth-like planets in their spare time. They had a few good series of my waves from the morning, one 18 pictures long and the other 12 and one hysterical wipeout that saw me landing on my bum from the afternoon. Then it was off to the main road to find an internet cafe (thanks to Andy who directed me there) nad came back for dinner and to hang out with Sam and Ed on our balconey as the tide came up so high it lapped the steps of our warung.
Wednesday night I was again woken by a massive, house-shaking storm around 3am. Up again at 6 to check the waves. The tide was super super low again. Sam and Ed went in while I took my time getting ready and got in around 7:30 or so. There were only four of us in the water and eventually joined by 2 Germans who were just learning. There weren't any jellyfish but there also weren't any brilliant waves either. Waves yes, but no real long rides. I continued my habit of falling on my board at the end of every wave as well. Finally the jellyfish got the message we were there and showed up even worse than the day before. I forced myself to stay out the last hour with them stinging me all over, even through my rashguard! The waves got better but the stings when you got off the wave at the end and jumped into the water were bad. I got a nasty sting on my thigh and then, on my second to last wave, which really should have been my last, I was paddling back out and a jellyfish washed onto my board by the whitewater STUNG ME IN THE FACE. IT WAS TERRIBLE. It was wriggling and firm and jelly all at once and it hit me like a whip across my left cheek. It hurt so bad that my teeth went numb and left a red weal and swelling for hours and hours. My last wave came soon after and I took a nice right (my only one so far there) into the beach and then went inside to take pictures of my swollen face. I spent the day in a beach chair, working on evening out my sunburn and reading a really sad book (the lovely bones). Sam and Ed joine dme for an hour or so and then went to find greener pastures and better waves. I stayed because I had facebooked Zach I would be in front of the warung in case he decided to come to Balangan. Around 1:30 or so I walked up the bluff to the guesthouses there to try and find one with wifi and spent 30,000r trying and failing to do so. I bought a drink at the first place before I figured out that my phone wouldn't accept the password they were giving me even though it worked for everyone else. At the second place it was so busy I couldn't find anyone to give me the login and at the third place I connected and bought a coffee but the internet STILL wouldn't world. I was not pleased. I walked back down to the beach and spent the next couple of hours reading. Around 4 it looked like a massive storm was heading to Balangan and I decided just in case I should go to the Internet cafe and send out my daily I'm alive e-mail (since I didn't want to have to ride in the storm). I came back to the beach by way of a treacherous goat path, where I had started parking behind the warungs about halfway down the bluff ever since Sam and Ed turned me onto it. I decided I still didn't feel like surfing even though the treath of the storm seemed to have dissipated so I grabbed my notebook and a beer instead and watched the sunset and wrote for an hour instead of a second surf session while my face throobed from the earlier jellyfish sting.
My last full day in Balangan I woke up early and surfed for three hours or so. I spent an hour and a half up at the point, for the first time, but really only caught one wave that ended in a supremely nasty wipeout. But I did get to see a bunch of really cool skipping fish that run across the water and then throw themselves like skipping stones to escape predators. Unfortunately the predators have learned the same trick. I was surrounded by schools of feeding fish forming crop circles in the still morning water and thankfully, few jellyfish. When I got frustrated at the point I moved over to my more normal takeoff spot and joined the crowd there but at least I had a bit more luck with the waves, although it was a long, tough paddle back out when I did catch one. I came in and got myself ready for my day exploring the peninsula and then walked up the hill to where I had parked my bike. Imagine my surprise when I put my key in the lock, turned it, lifted up the seat, and the whole seat came off the bike! Looking carefully, I saw that someone had come in the night and snapped the front hinge off and opened the bike seat looking for things to steal. I even found the remains of the plastic hinge cover on the ground next to the bike. I put the seat back on as best as I could and decided not to let it ruin my day. I started with a quick stop at the internet cafe and then follwed the signs to "Uluwatu - Surfing beach". I parked and paid 5000r for the parking and entry and then started down the steps. Uluwatu, once you get down most of the way and cross a ravine is built up, literally, in terraces on the cliff. It's small, but also crowded and chaotic with cafes, homestays and board shops. There is even a slick cafe blaring top 40s music right at the edge of the cliff (called "the Edge"). I sat on a bench and made myself a sandwhich which I ate while watching the surfers. The view is spectacular, you can see down the coastline along the cliffs in both directions with the surfing peaks spread out in front of you. I wanted to see the cave where surfers have to paddle out so I followed a number of steep stone staircases down to the sandy cave. It's gorgeous there and people were lying out on the sand, some splashing in the waves, which surfers girded themselves for the paddle out which looked tough, you have to come around from the side as the waves coming in pushed you down the coast and you tried to avoid the reef. I took a couple of pictures, walked past a couple of young adolescents with their boards getting ready to go out (at a place I wouldn't feel comfortable surfing!) and climbed up a rickety wooden staircase with questionably attached risers until I found myself at the cafe on top of a large rock. I ordered a banana pancake and watched the surfers for an hour. The surf wasn't that great, the wind was really strong and there wasn't a lot of swell, but it was still so cool to watch the talented surfers out there. After an hour I picked up my things and went back up the big staircase to my bike.
I took the bike down the road signed "Padang Padang" beach then got quickly lost at a resort and had to turn myself around. I drove down a dirt track to "Thomas' homestay" which is perched at the edge of a cliff above a beach where the water was absolutely flat but compete in its perfection of white sade, palm trees and torquoise water. I declined to make the trek down to the empty beach and got back on my bike to drive back the way I had come so I could visit the Uluwatu temple. I didn't have the correct change for the parking (2000r) but the gatekeeper let me pay 1500r instead. I parked and bought my 30,000r ticket and was glad I had enough money on me to get in. My guidebook had raved about this temple, which is known for its cliffside location and its swarms of monkeys. I tied a purple belt ("sarong") around my waist as is required in a temple and walked in, handing my ticket to a man who warned me to take care because of the aggressive monkeys. The path down from the parking lot is in the process of being repaved and when you reach the bottom the temple is up a staircase in front of you, and you are in the open square below. To the right is a small enclosed altar/temple area and in front of this, across the square, is a whole bunch of monkeys being very cute while tourists take their pictures. I joined the crowd and got my fair share of pictures, then turned and walked toward the right hand set of stairs up to the cliff's edge. Right then I heard a girl scream that a monkey had jumped on her head. I saw the monkey, who was sitting there chewing on her sunglasses which had been on her head, and I couldn't help laughing out loud. I didn't have sunglasses or anything else loose so I felt pretty safe from the same fate. I walked up the stairs to the cliff wall and spent time taking pictures of the water, the cliffs, and myself since I have so few pictures of myself this trip. Then I walked along the cliff to where the main temple is placed up at the highest point. Disappointingly, there is really nothing you can see there but an empty courtyard and a stone carved gate. That is it. That is what all the fuss is about (really the fuss is about the monkeys). I walked over to the temple entrance as a bunch of worshippers in white were walking out. I heard an Aussie woman asking an old man nearby if it was ok to enter and he said yes, but just wait until the people come out. I decided if that was true I would wait as well. The old man asked if I was with the Aussie woman and her boyfriend and I said no, just waiting also. I whiled away the time taking pictures of a particularly gnarled tree until the old man led the couple into the courtyard and I followed, passing a sign that said clearly "no entry, worshippers only". But this random man had said it was Ok so I kept going. We went through the gate at the end of the courtyard and into the temple proper. There were people in there, finishing up from whatever ceremony they had just completed. There was an old man, topless, his bottom half covered in a white srong, on a raised flat covered platform. There were a couple of altars in front of the main one, one to each side. No one said anything to us but I felt super uncomfortable. The old man had taken the couple towards one of the side altars and was telling them something about it. I couldn't shake the feeling they were being scammed somehow so I snapped a few quick pictures and left. I walked down the main staircase back to the square and turned to explore the left side of the cliff wall. Other than giving me a new perspective on the temple there wasn't much to see. THe trail petered out as it led through a thicket to a village which I was disinclined to explore. I walked back towards the temple and this time I stopped about half way there to check out the ampitheatre I assume they use for the traditional dance performance held there at sunset. The stage had on it a miniature gate that I adored, similar to the ones used to mark passage from town to town on Bali, and I put my camera to work, taking pictures of myself with the gate but was a little self-conscious because this French couple was in the theatre with me, wandering around. I picked up my camera and sarong which were on the ground and turned to gesture to them that they could take pictures of the gate now if that is what they wanted. They pointed behind me with startled looks on their faces and I turned just in time to see a very large monkey (20-30) pounds worth, rushing at me. I lifted my foot to etiehr kick out or turn and walk away and the damn thing wrestled my flip flop OFF MY FOOT and ran under the seats with it. The ground was hot and I had a ways to go to drive back and I NEEDED MY SHOE. So I ran under the seats through an open door to get it back. THe monkey was having none of it. I was flapping my sarong at it but it wouldn't put the soe down, rushing at me and baring its fangs so that I shrunk back and squealed which confirmed to the monkey that I was certainly no threat. We kind of backed and forthed, me and the monkey, I didn't want tot be bit by a possibly rabid monkey but I really wanted my shoe. That is until he pulled the thong out of it. Then I really didn't care as much but by that time a local had shown up and thrown some food to the monkey and he had dropped my shoe so I grabbed it and climbed out of there. I was able to jury rig the shoe together and decided I had had enough of that place and definitely enough of monkey so I made for the exit and got back on my bike.
I drove back towards the beaches, covering the same ground for the third time that day, this time stopping as I crossed a bridge above a small, but popular and quite beautiful cove. I didn't feel like going down so I took a couple of pictures and tried to figure out what beach I was at. A lot of the signs said "Padang Padang' but that was also the name used when I asked what beaech I was at at Thomas' Homestay so I really have no idea. I kept going, looking for the turnoffs to Bingin and Impossibles but never found them. Instead I stopped for a fruit juice at Jiwa Juice and at a mechanics for a quote on how much it would cost to fix the seat (100,000r) on the scooter. I planned to stop at Dreamland on my way back to Balangan but missed the turnoff and had to go back and spot it from the other direction. It's a goat track that you have to offroad on a scooter until all of a sudden you come out onto a paved road at a dead end traffic circle and you enter this alternate universe where the streets are widely paved and the the grass is green and everything is weird in resort land. With a bit of help I found the turn off to the beach which was choked with giant tour busses. In true Balinese fashion I rode my scooter over the median and down the wrong side of the raod which was totally clear of traffic. At the bottom I dodged tour busses until I found the ramp down to the car park and once there the ramp to the motorcycle parking. To get to the beach you walk through massive crowds of Japanese tourists down a boardwalk lined with shops until you reach the cafres that ring the right side fo the beach. In front is the surfing beach break. To the left is the cliffs where in the distance you can see Bingin hanging from the cliffside and the surf break in front of it. Around the point to the right is hidden Balangan. I stayed only long enough to take a few pictures (theme of the day) and watch a few waves then I was back on the bike to Balangan. At the edge of the paved circle and the goat track (leaving the resort) an old man hailed me and tried to make me pay him 5000r. Sorry, nope. If you were meant to collect an entrance fee you had to be here to do that when I entered and I'm not paying to use this dirt road in front of me. At Balangan I stopped only long enough to change and grab money and my bathing suit. The plan was to change money and go to Jimbaran for the rest of the afternoon and then stay for dinner. The closest money change place didn't have what I thought was a very good rate. This was a mistake. A costly one. I drove for over an hour, got stuck in massive afternoon traffic on the way to Kuta and got halfway to Kuta before I gave it up as a bad idea and turned around. The rates had only gone down since I had started driving. I stopped at a Western Union in Jimbaran which was closed despite its "open" sign. Then I ended up driving all the way back to the first change place at the Balangan turn off to change my money and then driving all the way back to Jimbaran bay, getting there right around sunset. I parked by the beach and got myself some grilled corn on the cob coated in chilis that left my face burning long after it was finished. I walked along the beach, which was full of families and lined with restaurants with tables spread almost down to the water, Jimabaran being known mainly for fishing and serving that fish to tourists. I stopped at a place recommended by my guidebook (why I keep listening to what this thing says is beyond me but whatever) and ordered the orange Fanta I had been craving for weeks and a fish dinner. The service was TERRIBLE and the food took almost an hour to arrive, but was well worth it. I watched the sunset over the hill of the Bukit Peninsula and read my book then gorged myself on dinner. On the way back to Balangan I topped at an internet cafe and did some research on Lombok and then called it a night. My night was spent being harassed by a giant cricket like insect that found itself inside of my mosquito net.
I woke early and packed and got ready to go back to Canggu. I counted out my money and put my board and towel on my bike and then went to grab my bags and pay. Only the old man was there so I paid him. He was like "it's 100,000r a night." No, we agreed 80. He hadn't been there but that wasn't my fault. He could argue, but I wasn't going to pay a cent more than I agreed and so I told him he could ask his wife if he wanted. He muttered at me in Indonesian, knowing he had lost, and made some comment about how I hadn't eaten there. Well, no, I hadn't, because I spent enough time and money there already. I didn't even respond out loud to that, you can rent rooms to people in the hope that they also decide to eat at your warung but it's not part of the accomodations deal. Also I was the only guest for the last two nights so YOU ARE WELCOME FOR THE INCOME. Unfortunately it was at just this moment that the skies opened up and began pouring down rain, so there I was, stuck in the same place as this angry old man, just the two of us. This is also the moment when I realized that my really terrible rain jacket that never was any good anyways had been in my scooter when it was broken into and so I no longer had any even marginal rain protection. After 20 minutes of rain I went upstairs and leafed through a surfing magazine while waiting for the rain to stop. 30 minutes later the rain did let up and I ran downstairs in time for it to start pouring again. 10 minutes after that I gave up and just ran through the rain to the next cafe to wait out the rain, sitting in the next cafe having a mango juice and an unwelcome conversation with a random Balinese guy until the sun came out and I could leave for good. It's a shame because I really would have reccommended the place I stayed, it had the only real toilets and toilet paper that I had seen on the beach. But the last interaction I had with the old man soured me on it. What are the chances I'm lying or trying to cheat him? Significantly less than the other way around! The sheer greediness was a real turnoff. But I was off for Canggu to reclaim my bags so I didn't let it bother me too much as I hit the road once again.
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