The island of Bali, Indonesia, would be our first South-East Asian destination. We were rather eager to get back to proper backpacking again (despite having to deal daily with finding transport and accomodation again), and to traveling in a new environment: a developing country comprised of an ethnic, religious and linguistic melting pot of densely populated, mainly rural, semi-tropical islands, and a hot and humid climate.
Even though Kuta (Bali) does not have the best reputation (dirty and wild night-life, especially popular with rowdy Australian tourists), we chose it as our starting point as it is conveniently located close to Denpasar airport, and many tourist attractions we intended on visiting, as well as offering cost-effective accomodation. Our first guesthouse with private bed and bathroom, and a lush courtyard garden, was the perfect place to rest-off our travel fatigue after many weeks confined to sleeping and driving in a small van. It felt good to have decent spending power again!
The first day we wandered around the flooded streets of Kuta, after a series of heavy rainstorms. We were charmed by the mish-mash of traditional and western architecture, the cobbled streets too narrow to accomodate cars, and the Hindu offerings, shrines and temples at every street corner. The streets were busy with vendors, scooters, and the odd domestic animal, but it was easy to get away from the busstle.
After a late breakfast, and brief walk along Kuta’s unappealing beach, it was time to go to the mall to stock-up on much-needed summer clothes. This took longer than expected, it was hard to navigate through the ‘end-of-Ramadan sale’ crowds. So we missed out on the visit we had planned to a baby turtle sanctuary, probably the only nice thing to do/see in Kuta. That evening we got our first, but certainly not last, taste of Indonesia’s staple dish, Nasi Goreng (fried rice), and Bintang beer, at a local Warung (cheap restaurant). We ended off the night at one of the many local bars competing with its close neighbours for the loudest music, de-sensitizing our ears with the help of a few jugs of unidentifiable cocktails…
The next day was spent visiting the Uluwatu peninsula, and its famous Hindu temple. Our modes of transport would be a ‘Kura Kura’ bus, and a rented scooter. Indonesia in general suffers from a huge lack in public transport, locals often prefering to get around with their own motorbikes. Taxis are expensive, and renting a scooter for long-distance journeys (>50km), difficult, so the only alternative is Bemos, tour operators or private bus companies. Bemos is the network of local ‘mini-van’ transport, but mainly used for inner-city journeys, and definitely not to access tourist attractions. So we chose a private bus company called Kura Kura, because it’s station was within walking distance of our guesthouse (through very pedestrian-unfriendly roads!). We rented the scooter at a shop close to the bus-stop in Jimbaran (fortunately scooter rental places are abundant).
Renaud would be driving, my (Steph’s) lack of experience, and signficantly smaller weight, being the main factors in this decision. We were charmed by Kuta’s original petrol stations: the fuel is sold in recycled vodka bottles!
And off we went! Steph one-handedly navigating on the smartphone, and Renaud precariously negociating Bali’s crazy roads. As we traveled further South, and dense traffic gave way to dense vegetation, the drive became more enjoyable. Our first stop was Uluwatu Temple, built around the 11th century, at a time when Hinduism from the island of Java was in full expansion. We didn’t learn much else about this popular temple, there being no explanation signs anywhere. It’s unique feature is that it sits at the edge of a shear 70-meter high cliff that drops into the Indian Ocean. We could observe the gigantic surf breaks from this vantage point, which make Bali a prime destination for profesional surfing.
Shrines and statues dotted the stone paths, embellished by flowery overgrowth.
Uluwatu’s cheeky resident monkeys were particularly entertaining: from eating corn-on-the-cob, to camera-snatching, to meditation and yoga sessions, these monkeys were busy!
After the temple, we continued along the coastline to check out a few clostrophobic beaches, tucked between the cliffs, most of which are only accessible on foot.
After returning the scooter in Jimbaran, we had dinner on its wide sandy beach, very popular with the locals.
While trying to board the last bus back to Kuta, our bare feet got eaten up by a hoard of fire-ants! The puzzled driver watched as we sprinted away, hopping around the bus in pain, crying out at the burning sensation which lasted for a good 10 minutes.
The next morning, after a late breakfast (a curry buffet in a small warung), and our first Bemo ride to the Kura Kura bus station, we were on a bus headed for Bali’s cultural center: Ubud.