The Silent Surfers..

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March 17th 2013
Published: March 31st 2013
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Our previous memories of Bali were, to put it mildly, not great. We found the people unwelcoming and the prices off-putting but we weren’t sure if we’d really given it the chance it probably deserved so a few months back we’d booked flights to return here after our time in the Philippines. We were determined to try and see a different side to this island but our guard would be well and truly up. It’s a shame because last time around our experiences in Indonesia were some of our highlights and indeed our ultimate destination is found in this country so why did we leave Bali vowing never to return again? Hopefully this time around we might leave with a more positive outlook but lets wait until our 3.5 weeks are up until we make that judgement….

After the amazing week we had experienced in the Caramoan Peninsula we had a quick stopover for a couple of nights in Manila. The idea of visiting this city always fills us with dread but it was only for 2 nights, the other alternative was Angeles for 3 nights so Manila won hands down! It was a 10 hour bus ride up to Manila from Naga (P680) and pre travelling days the idea of this would have been painful but nowadays 10 hours during the day on an air conditioned bus really isn’t so bad, the worst bit was the arrival in Manila which only reminded us why we really don’t like this city!

We’d love to say we did our best to find new and exciting things to do in Manila to change our attitude but we won’t lie! The most exciting thing we did was take a walk around one of the gated communities and to one of the 4 nearest shopping malls to mooch around the shops and get some lunch. These areas are nice but dull and only represent a very small proportion of this huge mega city. If you lived here or were staying on holiday you would probably think Manila was pleasant, but with eighty percent of it surrounded by slums it’s a false picture.

The hotel we were staying in is the sister hotel to the one we normally stay in in Malate, this time we were North of the city in Cubao. The hotel was a big step up for us from the Malate version so we were very happy to stay in there and catch up on some HBO movies. We had quite a funny experience when we came to our final morning. Dale was wearing one of his Caramoan Survivor t-shirts to breakfast and one of the girls came over and said she recognised him from the programme… errr ok! Forgetting that sarcasm normally falls flat here in Asia Dale said yes of course it was him, he won the series and that Sophie was the runner up. They were so delighted with this news and before we knew it the opportunity to say we were joking had passed and we were rounded up for photos with each of the staff.. so if you go into the Stone House and see photos of us on the wall you’ll know why!

To round off our stay we were going to be ‘treated’ to a night in one of the even less favourable cities in the Philippines, Angeles, home to Clark airport where we would be flying out from. On the advice of our friends Donna & Neil we’d prebooked the local Tune Hotel for our night there. Pulling up to the hotel we were a bit shocked to see that this town was every bit as seedy as we had read about, it’s notorious for it’s sex industry here and this is immediately evident not only by the girls who are outside every bar but by the number of (old) single men wandering round the streets with those who are not alone proudly displaying a (young) girl hanging off their arm. This is one side of the Philippines that we will never miss.

We’d had another great few months here in the Philippines and it only served to remind us of what a fabulous country this is with so much to offer. The only thing we don’t love about this country is the food and believe us we have tried! With the exception of a few dishes (Kinilaw, Bicol Express & Halo-Halo) we cannot get over the lack of healthy options available, fast food really is king here. A good range of fresh food is one of the things we are most looking forward to when we reach Bali so bring on the fruit and veg! Food aside we are still in love with this place, so much so that we will be returning soon after Bali! As we have said previously we had no real set agenda for this trip and were happy to go where the wind blew us. We toyed with many places and sought advice from others but when push came to shove flights to alternative destinations were too expensive and as we were nearing our final few weeks in the Philippines we read about so many other places we wanted to see so booked to come back again so we could spend just a few more weeks. The only downside to travelling so unplanned is that we were taking a bit of a roundabout route flying across Asia & back but that’s the way things sometimes work out so we were happy to go with the flow even if it was a bit like swimming upstream!

Bali bound we boarded our flight from Clark which would go via Kuala Lumpur. We flew into LCCT airport and immediately remembered the last time we were here as being the day we flew back home in February 2010. We only had a few hours to kill while we were there and were soon boarding our next flight over to Denpasar feeling a little apprehensive about whether we’d made the right decision or not. Dale was keen to make the most of this famous surfing region to improve his skills, with Kuta being a good place for beginners both in terms of wave size and board rental cost we reluctantly decided we’d stay here for at least a few nights so he would make the most of it. Our previous experience of Kuta wasn’t the best, with this in mind we’d pre booked some accommodation so we could head straight there after getting off our midnight arrival flight. We got in a taxi and gave him the instructions we’d been given to get to our guesthouse, no walking the dark alleys late at night for us this time around… WRONG!

Typical of our luck the road we needed to go down was closed for construction so the taxi driver had to drop us at the end.. of a dark narrow unlit back street.. just great. To make things even better it was lashing it down with rain and despite being given directions we still didn’t really have much of an idea where to go. Sophie was trying to keep dry under the one broken umbrella while clutching at the rapidly deteriorating handwritten piece of paper while Dale strode on ahead looking for the landmarks we’d been given. Out of nowhere a ladyboy suddenly appeared “want massage” she said while tightly holding on to Dale’s neither regions. We were a little on edge about being in this situation, its not the best place to be down a dark deserted alley with all your worldly goods on you so we tried to fend ‘her’ off as best we could and marched on. Eventually after passing copious amounts of drunken people slumped in doorways (Kuta really is a classy place) we found our hotel hidden right round the back of 2 even darker alleys… We will never understand why places put up one directional sign then neglect too put up anymore to actually take you to the place.. it’s like a teaser.. “hotel this way”.. ha ha now you guess the rest!

To top off our welcome to Bali we were placed in a room directly next to a group of 4 teenage girls, of course you can tell what’s coming next and this continued for the 3 nights we were there. Maybe we are getting old but we really couldn’t see the funny side of these girls sitting outside their & our rooms when they got back from the bars at 5am each night and thinking that this was a good place to have a full on chat about the evenings activities. Even with earplugs in we could heard every Swedish word and eventually enough was enough and Sophie had to go and tell them to please be quiet… she was very nice about it, she didn’t swear and even said please at the end! The following night it happened again but the girls were quick… as soon as they heard Dale get up they made a run for it out the gate!

Back to the delights of Kuta…

Did we have 3 days of fun here and will be recommending it to all our friends to come to for their holidays having experienced the hidden depths of this fascinating area… not quite! The place was much the same as we remembered it.. only worse! The beach was full, and by full we mean completely covered in litter, the food was expensive and less than average, the tourists here really are like the Aussie version of the British Magaluf/Benidorm/Falaraki crowd and the people (men) who try to push their goods here are on the point of aggressive by blocking your way on the pavement to try and push you into their shop. Despite all thise Dale enjoyed a good surf and even got a lesson where he learnt some valuable tips that he will be taking away with him so all was not lost.

The thing that we noticed most about Kuta was the horrendous gridlocked traffic that went along the main roads for most of the day with bikes, minibuses, taxis and cars all trying to get round the small ringroad system. One taxi driver told us it can take 3 hours to get from Seminyak to Kuta sometimes, a distance of just a few km. The bikes didn’t have much patience for waiting in the traffic so quite often drove up on the pavement to cut though which made walking on the pavements almost impossible. They are quite narrow anyway so you either got run over is you stood your ground or risked hopping into the road to be hit by another vehicle, it really is lethal just trying to get from A to B! This is on the main roads too, the back gangs (little streets & alleys) are even worse with some people thinking it was a good idea to drive through these at breakneck speed expecting those walking to move out the way. We can only imagine how many accidents have happened by people driving in such a stupid manner and it wasn’t just the locals either, the tourists were just as bad.

We had only intended to stay for 2 days but we extended that for 3 when we saw some Hindu men setting up some stages on the afternoon of the 2nd day. We asked them what would be going on and they told us there would a ceremony the next day and 100’s of people from Denpasar would be coming down to the beach to make offerings using sacred water from the sea. The Hindu religious ceremonies & rituals is one of the things that we did love to see last time so we agreed it would be worth spending one more day here so we could witness what was going on. The ceremony started at around 9am the following day so we went down to the beach and there were lots of Balinese people there all making offerings to the temporary temples that had been erected the previous evening. Everyone was in beautiful traditional Balinese outfits and we learnt that it is all part of the Nyepi (New Year) celebrations which would be taking place a few days later, this ritual is known as Melasti.

It’s a real shame that Kuta and the surrounding area is such a big tourist mecca as it represents everything that Bali is not. There are some beautiful temples and buildings and there are also many kind honest people carrying out their Hindu rituals alongside their daily life, something we find really fascinating to see. Kuta swamps all this to the point that you hardly notice it at all; modern concrete buildings dominate the streets and an influx of people from Java have come here to make a quick buck by ripping off the tourists. We are glad that on this visit we have more time to spend trying to get beyond this so we can leave appreciating Bali for what it really is rather than the ugly image that most people see.

After spending more than enough time in Kuta we were still keen for a bit of beach action and moved a little further south to the Bukit Peninsula to Bingin Beach which is where we planned to be for Nyepi. Nyepi is the Balinese Day of Silence to commemorate New Year which is the day after Nyepi. Bali basically goes into lockdown mode and everyone, including tourists have to observe the strict guidelines for this day so it’s best to be somewhere you will be happy to be essentially locked into! On the evening prior to Nyepi there are huge street parades where everyone makes as much noise as possible while carrying round huge demon statues (Ogoh-Ogoh) around the streets, this is to warn off the bad spirits in advance of the new year. Sadly we missed the parade but did see lots of the statues while travelling round Bali for the weeks afterwards, they are so huge the only place they can store them is on the street or in their local halls!

So you can appreciate what might be in store should you visit around this time the rules for Nyepi are as follows:

No fire or light– Once darkness falls all lights are off except the odd candle or torch for reading
No working– people in tourist resorts have some leeway on this rule. They are allowed to make food for guests but everyone must have eaten by nightfall as they can’t cook in the dark. No travelling– you are not even allowed on the streets. There are guards in each town & village going around checking this. If you are found on the street there are penalties. The ladies at our homestay shouted at a group of girls who flouted this rule. Even the airports are closed with no flights in or out.
Fasting and no revelry/self-entertainment – tourists are exempt from fasting but we weren’t allowed to make much noise throughout the day.

We had a couple of beach days before Nyepi, the beach at Bingin isn’t the best and the high & low tide produce very different views but the sun was out and the waves were great to play about it as they were quite big and if you timed it wrong you’d get completely taken out. We took a walk over to dreamland on a couple of days, this was a beach we’d visited back in 2009 and we were a little dismayed to find that it hadn’t really changed much. There was a lot of construction work going on around here that didn’t seem to have progressed at all since the last visit and it left large amount of half finished concrete buildings as the backdrop but again the beach was fun if a little deserted around this holiday time.

Following Nyepi we hired out a bike for a very reasonable 50,000Rph (£3.37) and drove over to Ulu Watu, a temple sitting high up on top of a cliff over looking the savage waves below. It was a nice place to take a stroll around while avoiding the naughty macaques that had made this place their home. We also visited the Ulu Watu resort area which is a few km’s down the road and enjoyed a Bintang in a café built on top of a rock just off the mainland. The café was nice and quite unique as you had to cross a number of bridges & walkways to get to it but it was a little worrying that the whole rock shook every time a big wave crashed in and we had to wonder how long this place would still be here.. another million years probably!

After a few days we had grown a little weary of the clicky surfer crowd at Bingin and ventured east to the even less traditional town of Sanur. If Kuta is the playground for the young then this is the equivalent for the more aged! It’s alternative name is Snore and after visiting here we can see why! It’s full of a (how can we put it) more mature crowd but still a crowd who like to enjoy less than authentic food washed down with a bucket of Bintang! We did enjoy the 4km beach boulevard here though and took daily walks along here to enjoy the sunshine and the small beach with perfectly aligned loungers. Yet again we stayed one too many days here, we’d made a plan to go over to Nusa Lembongan but that day we got up to pouring rain and opted to stay put so we at least had a tv to watch if it continued for the whole day. Of course it stopped after a few hours by which time the boat to the island had gone so we made do with another walk and made a snap decision to go to Ubud instead, we’d loved this town so much the last time around and had always intended to stay a while in this fascinating town so on we marched looking forward to seeing if it was beautiful as we remembered this time around. We were eager not to have the same nightmare experience as we had in 2009 so steered clear of the local bemos and opted for the much more reliable Perama bus to take us from Sanur to Ubud, it was money well spent (40,000Rph) and ensured we actually reached our destinaton in relative comfort.

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31st March 2013

Enjoyed your blog
Same old Kuta but worse eh? Glad you were there at Nyepi have always wondered how the tourists would behave. Good to see you are giving the place a second chance

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