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Our location as of 10/2/2012

Madison, WI, USA
Last updated 10/2/2012
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Country Recap: Indonesia

What a month it’s been! We traveled to Bali, Lombok, and the tiny Gilis, then unexpectedly came full circle back to where we began. This was the first difficult country on our trip: new food, a different language, very different culture. But it was also a very rewarding place, filled with friendly people and beautiful landscapes. Here’s what we thought of it all:

Top three experiences?

Nikki:

  1. Gili T! Such a beautiful, fun, quiet, amazing place! Just wish I could have seen Gili Air as well…
  2. Walking and biking around the countryside. Biking with the crazy traffic was a little terrifying, but I loved the scenery and I thought it was really interesting to watch the families work in the rice paddies. Totally eye-opening to see just how much strenuous, physical work goes into putting rice on your plate.
  3. The culture, especially of Bali. Fascinating and fun to experience.

Brad:

  1. Gili Islands. They’re beautiful, totally laid back, and quiet. I had a great time there, and would have loved to stay much longer.
  2. Amed. The Liberty wreck was great, and there was so many fish and life all around. The town itself was also very relaxing, and the food was pretty cheap. Plus we had a beautiful view of the ocean from our room, and for a great price.
  3. Tirta Gangga. The water palace was stunning, a photographer’s theme park. And the hills with rice terraces on them were gorgeous!

Bottom three experiences?

Nikki:

  1. Getting sick in Senggigi. Not only was it a horrible day, but it also totally ruined Indonesian food for me. I can’t smell mie goreng without feeling slightly nauseous. (I’m hoping this aversion will go away, because I did really like the food here previously.)
  2. Kuta, Bali. It’s one of my least favorite places in the whole world. I can’t imagine why it’s a popular tourist destination.
  3. All of the garbage/filth here. Of course this is a problem in many developing countries and not at all unique to Indonesia. It’s just really sad to see gorgeous beaches and hillsides with trash strewn all over the place.

Brad:

  1. Kuta, Bali. It’s not the noise or dirtiness that I particularly hated about this place. It was how the place has no spirit, no soul. It’s just fast food chains, Western brand stores, and overpriced restaurants and hotels. And the beach isn’t even that nice.
  2. The touts. Getting yelled at for “transport”, “massage”, and any other things got old after a while. This was maybe why I didn’t like Kuta, Bali and did like quieter places like Mataram, Amed, and the Gilis.
  3. Telephone connectivity. When we really needed it, we found out it’s almost impossible to make international calls cheaply.

Best meal?

Nikki: We’ve had a lot of good food, but I would say the grilled red snapper in Lovina was my absolute favorite.

Brad: The grilled white snapper we ate in Mataram. By day, Seafood 88 was just a parking lot. But at night the area came alive with tons of food stalls, and they were very delicious!

In general, I really liked the Indonesian food, especially nasi goreng (fried rice), bakso (meatball) soup, and satay meat with peanut sauce.

Worst meal?

Nikki: That very first meal we had in Kuta, Bali. I can’t imagine how that lady stays in business.

Brad: Our first warung experience in Kuta, Bali. It was a small place with only one thing on the menu: chicken. I wasn’t sure if I was eating the skin or bone it was so hard. It wasn’t as bad as Nikki says it was, but we had much, much better later in the trip.

Favorite person we met?

Nikki: A sixteen year old boy we met in Senggigi when we were walking along the beach. His friends were pretty shy/uninterested in us, but he came right up and struck up a conversation. I think he just wanted to see if he could actually speak English, but we ended up talking to him for a while and he asked to have his picture taken with us. Then he politely said, “Thank you for your attention,” and walked away. Super random, but I loved it.

Brad: “Jimmy” in both Kuta, Lombok and Senggigi. In Kuta, we met him eating at a restaurant when he drove someone down from Senggigi. But we ran into him again (and again) in Senggigi, and he was always fun and friendly, despite being always intent on selling us something.

Worst disaster?

Nikki: Brad throwing away our voucher for a free drink at Starbucks! It was worth like 50,000 rupiah and they have fast Internet! Oh, and I guess being bitten by that cat was also pretty inconvenient.

Brad: When the cat bit Nikki and we had to come back to Kuta, Bali.

Favorite place we stayed?

Nikki: The bungalow in Jemeluk. It was right on the beach and we had a private balcony looking out at the ocean. Plus it was clean and had hot water. I think it was the best bargain we got in Indonesia.

Brad: “Bamboo Bali Bungalows” in Jemeluk. Not only did it have hot water, but a private patio overlooking the ocean! The price was only about $17 per night, the same as we paid at many other places.

Worst place we stayed?

Nikki: The nasty homestay in Senggigi. Boy, was that a bad idea!

Brad: Our homestay in Senggigi. Yes, the price was only half of what we paid elsewhere, but we also only got half a bathroom: there was no sink (just turn on the shower to wash your hands!) and only half a toilet (just pour this bucket of water down it to flush!).

Best thing we didn’t blog about?

Nikki: Some of the people we met in Kuta, Lombok, especially the owner of a warung we stopped in. She sat down with us for a little bit and we found out that she was 22 years old and got married and had a kid when she was 15. Apparently in that area it’s very odd to not be married by the time you’re 20, and it’s really bad if you’re not married by the time you’re 25. There was a pretty big language barrier, but she was still fun to talk with.

Brad: The water palace in Tirta Gangga. The water features were fun and all different, such as the pool with stone “lilly pads” to walk across. It was a cool place in the middle of the hills and rice fields.

Weirdest thing?

Nikki: Oh gosh, we’ve seen countless weird things. To name just one, people selling gasoline in vodka bottles on the roadside is pretty weird.

Brad: The women who carried our scuba equipment on their heads to the dive site. It’s not strange when they have a basket of fruit, but something about a big steel tank precariously balanced on their heads with another over their shoulder was very odd.

Statistics for Indonesia

  • Days in the country: 26
  • Places we stayed: 12
  • Rainy days: 6
  • Blog posts: 5
  • Photos taken: 420
  • Islands visited: 4 (0.04% of Indonesian islands)
  • Average lodging cost: $12.50 US daily
  • Beers per day: 1.7
  • Photos uploaded to SmugMug: 129, 31% of all photos taken
  • Hours on bus, train, or ferry: 25

Statistics for the Trip

  • Countries visited: 3
  • Days on the road: 100
  • Places we stayed: 55
  • Rainy days: 21
  • UNESCO World Heritage sites visited: 7
  • Photos taken: 4171
  • Photos uploaded to SmugMug: 791, 19% of all photos taken
  • Hours on bus, train, or ferry: 94
  • Distance driven: 6504 kilometers, or 4033 miles

Paradise Lost

The other day we were just eating our breakfast on Gili T, enjoying the beautiful morning and talking about our plans for the day. The one thing annoying us while enjoying our banana pancakes and tea was this begging cat. There are probably more stray cats on these islands than people, and most have picked up the annoying behavior of begging, which probably means people are feeding them. This wouldn’t have been a big deal, except for what that cat did to Nikki–it bit her.

It wasn’t much of a bite. There wasn’t even a mark, much less blood, but the big question was the possibility of rabies. Even though rabies is prevalent in Bali’s stray dog population, we didn’t know of any cases of rabies in the Gili Islands’ cats. But it wasn’t something to take a chance with. So we decided we’d catch the island hopping boat, since there’s only two per day, and go to the clinic listed in Lonely Planet on the smallest island in the Gili’s, Gili Meno (population: 200).

Finding the clinic was difficult, since none of the roads on the island have names. After wandering around the interior of this island for a couple hours, we finally found this so-called clinic: it was someone’s house who was apparently a nurse. She barely spoke English and didn’t have anything useful to tell us, other than to see the doctor on Gili Trawangan. But there wasn’t any way to Gili T from Gili Meno, except to charter a boat, which is expensive. So we decided to get on the telephone and see what to do.

Trying to call people in Indonesia is difficult enough, since there is a general lack of public telephones, and calling cards aren’t available like they are elsewhere. But it becomes even more expensive when you’re on a tiny island and all phones are cell phones, collect calling is impossible, and even the person working in an Internet/telephone shop can’t tell you if a number is local, long distance, or international. But after numerous busy signals, holds, and transfers, we finally reached a doctor on Bali who recommended we come all the way back to Bali (Kuta, Bali none the less) and get the rabies vaccine. Crap!

So we called up our travel insurance company and they started the process going. But I don’t think they quite understood how remote we were on this island. They asked us for our hotel’s phone, and I had to explain the concept of a homestay to them and how the family running the place probably doesn’t have a phone. They asked for the address, but the road we’re on doesn’t have a name, and even the roads that do don’t have house numbers assigned. I was going to tell her there are no motorized vehicles, only bicycles and horse carts, but I thought her head might explode.

At that point, there wasn’t much for us to do. Nikki had received the pre-exposure vaccine which gave her more time. The insurance company had a whole team of personnel working to get us to a rabies vaccine ASAP though. At one point they wanted to fly us off the island to Singapore. Good luck! The island isn’t big enough for an airport, and if a helicopter came to get us, the young locals would probably be talking about how the rich Americans who got nipped by a kitty called Barack Obama and he personally came in his helicopter to bring her home. We knew there are only two ways off the island: take the ferry back to Lombok and go to a hospital in Mataram, or ride the fast boat back to Bali. But the hospitals on Lombok didn’t stock the vaccine and the Bali fast boats only run in the morning. So while the insurance company was urgently figuring out how to get us to Bali with their “fixed wing air assets”, we kicked back, ate dinner, drank Bintang, and watched the sun set.

The next morning we took the fast boat, followed by a very long, slow van ride first through Ubud, then poking along through heavy traffic. But we eventually made it to the nice International SOS Clinic and Nikki got her shot. Unfortunately though, we’re now stuck in Kuta, a somewhat awful city, but in a nice hotel room (with air conditioning!) that the insurance company will fully reimburse us for.

We also didn’t want to go all the way back to Lombok to catch our flight to KL, so we’re now leaving Indonesia four days earlier from the Bali airport and going to Singapore! We’ll then take a night train up to KL to get back to our planned itinerary. So, in the end, this stupid cat bite cost us a lot of fun in the island paradise of the Gili Islands and landed us back in “McKuta”, but it’ll all turn out okay, and our trip will continue on as planned.

Lombok

Lombok has actually been pretty different than Bali. It’s more rural and it’s not uncommon to see horse-drawn carriages sharing the road with the motorbikes and SUV’s. The island is predominately Muslim, so now the local Mosque’s call to prayer wakes us up at dawn. It’s like Indonesia is determined to keep us sleep deprived. The people here have been much nicer than the people of Bali. We think that’s maybe because they don’t get as many tourists here, so they are genuinely curious when they meet foreigners.

The ferry ride from Bali to Lombok was quite interesting. It was the first time we used public transportation in Indonesia. Before the ferry left the port, tons and tons of vendors came on board, trying to sell snacks to the passengers. There were more vendors than passengers. Some of the tourists sitting next to us starting buying from them. Apparently haggling over prices doesn’t have to be so cold and serious, which was a good lesson for me to see. The hawkers were really good natured and funny. Everybody was joking around and laughing. Then a small band started playing and then asked all of us for tips. It was a very different experience, to say the least.

Once in Lombok, we spent a couple of days in Mataram, which I actually really enjoyed. There are no tourists in Mataram because there’s not much to see. The one major site, the Water Palace, is pretty much just a few statues around a pond filled with garbage. We didn’t even bother to take pictures of it. But they have a mall and a big night market scene with really good street food. Best of all, there were no hawkers harassing us. When people came up to us and asked where we were from and what we were doing, they walked away without even trying to sell us anything. This is very different from Bali, where everyone is always trying to sell you everything.

After spending a few days enjoying street food and air conditioning in Mataram, we went on to Kuta. Kuta, Lombok is the polar opposite of Kuta, Bali. The Kuta here is just a small town with one main road along the gorgeous beach. There aren’t any huge hotels or restaurant chains (yet), just lots of small places to have a beer along the beach. The only annoyance was children constantly coming up and trying to sell us bracelets, but they were surprisingly charismatic, so even they weren’t much of a problem.

From there we went on to Sengiggi, another nice beach town. I was having a great time, until I got sick. Of course that was the day we had decided to stay in a cheap guest house to save some money. I had to spend the whole day throwing up in this tiny, dirty, crappy place. The toilet didn’t even flush, so I had to fill up a bucket of water and pour it down after every puke. Then, as if things couldn’t get any worse, the power went out. Not only did our fan stop working, but the water must have been hooked up to an electric pump, because there was no water available either. Needless to say, it was really an awful day.

The next morning I didn’t feel great, but I was done vomiting, so we decided to head out to Gili Trawangan. Getting here was quite the pain: we were scammed by the owner of that dingy place (she said the price of our transport included the ferry ride, when it didn’t) and had to walk through this gauntlet of the most obnoxious hawkers at the port. Seriously, I’ve never met people as rude and irritating as those hawkers. Even other locals were telling them they needed to be more polite to “the guests of Indonesia.” After wandering around in the heat for a few minutes, getting wrong directions from several of them, we found the official ticket booth. The narrow, wooden boat we took over was filled with both passengers and baskets of produce.

And here we are, in paradise. Gili Trawangan, or “Gili T,” is one of three tiny islands off the coast of Lombok. The sand is white, the water is crystal clear and there’s no motorized traffic, just the occasional bicycle or horse. Gili T has the reputation as a party island, probably because there are many bars advertising “Fucking Bloody Sexy Fresh Magic Mushrooms,” but I haven’t found it too obnoxious at all. The bars and restaurants are all really fun, if over-priced, and there’s also a night market with good, cheap food. How can you not love sitting on cushions in bamboo huts on the beach, looking out at the turquoise water? This is the type of place you never want to leave.

Gili Trawangan

The other two islands, Gili Meno and Gili Air, are almost empty and even more laid-back. We’re planning on visiting them next and maybe doing some scuba diving. That is, if Brad can ever convince me to leave this beach. Seems highly unlikely at this point.

Expecting the Unexpected in Bali

Bali is a very different place, but we are already getting the hang of backpacking around here. We???re used to dealing in rupiah, which has an exchange rate of approximately 8,800 to $1, and figuring out what the prices should be. (And in the process figured out that we did indeed get ripped off on our hotel in Kuta.) We successfully dealt with our first ???tourist scam.??? (A driver took us to a tourist trap restaurant with a beautiful view of Mount Batur, but the drinks were four times as much as they should have been.) Car rides, while not exactly comfortable, have ceased to be a heart-stopping adventure. (I???ve even figured out that honking a horn means many things, including, ???I???m passing you,??? ???Move over, I???m passing you and there???s oncoming traffic,??? ???Tourist, do you need a ride???? and the universal, ???Get out of my way, you idiot!???.) And as far as bartering goes, we???re still not great at it, but improving all the time.

I???m even starting to get used to many of the strange sights we see every day, like the cargo people balance on motorbikes.?? A family of four, a dozen water cooler jugs and huge baskets of produce are all things we???ve seen perched on mopeds. All the restaurants and warungs are open-air and nobody bats an eye when a stray cat or a chicken wanders in. Speaking of the chickens, they wake us up almost every dawn???no need to set an alarm clock!

The interesting religion here, while not exactly clear to us, is no longer a cause of constant surprise. Most of Indonesia is Muslim, but the island of Bali is Hindu. It???s not like the Hinduism of India, though. It???s more a unique blend of Bali native beliefs and Hinduism. They believe there are many spirits that play an active role in life and need to be kept happy. Apparently, these spirits are not satisfied very easily, as the Balinese are constantly setting out small offerings to them. The gifts are small boxes, about the size of my palm, and are usually filled with flowers and food. Sometimes they leave a burning incense stick with the offerings as well. These little trays are on the sidewalks outside of every doorway???so basically, they???re everywhere. Brad had a hard time not stepping on them when we first got here.

We???ve seen more of the countryside and spent time in small towns and villages. I???m constantly struck by how lush and green everything looks outside the cities. In Tirta Gangga, we went on a short hike up a hill near Mount Agung, where we had a 360?? view of green rice terraces and trees.

My favorite adventure so far happened while we were biking outside of Lovina. Around lunchtime, we rode by a small warung that smelled really good. It looked like just a few tables with locals eating, nothing fancy. We stopped and went up to the guy standing there. He asked us if we wanted fried rice, and I said no. Then he popped open a cooler and, to our surprise, started holding up dead fish. I asked if he grilled them and he said yes, we could pick any of them. We couldn???t tell what types of fish they were, so we just picked a red one and asked how much it was. 25,000 and it included rice and vegetables. We said that???s fine and then he lead us around the corner to this really nice eating area right off the beach where there were many more people eating. Later, he brings out our meal and, sure enough, it???s the exact same fish, just grilled up nicely. I???d never been served a whole fish before and we weren???t quite sure how to go about eating it, but once we figured it out, it was delicious. So we enjoyed this awesome, fresh, fancy-restaurant- quality, ocean view lunch for $2.84.

Even scuba diving had some interesting surprises.??Women carried all of our equipment for us, and they balanced everything-including air tanks-on their heads and shoulders.??It was also the first time we experienced the??phenomenon of having no idea what our divemaster was saying above water, but understanding him perfectly underwater. We did three dives, two at the wreck of the USAT Liberty and one off the shore of Jemeluk. It was our first time diving a shipwreck and we really enjoyed it. The Liberty sunk in 1963, so by now it???s covered by coral and a lot has been destroyed, but we could still make out some of its features. I thought it was interesting how a disaster for us could become a home for so many different fish and creatures. It was a pretty striking example of the circle of life (although nobody died when the Liberty sank). Our dive in Jemeluk wasn???t quite as exciting, but we did see several lion fish and even a scorpion fish, which apparently is one of the world???s most poisonous fish and there???s no antivenin available. Good thing it didn???t sting us!

We???ll keep trying to post our pictures, but it???s been hard to find an Internet connection quick enough for uploading. Our next stop will be the island of Lombok. I don???t really know anything about Lombok, so I???m looking forward to seeing how it compares to Bali. Until then, goodbye and I hope everyone had a nice Thanksgiving!

Out and Ubud

We???re in Ubud now and it???s much nicer than Kuta. In a way it???s just as touristy, except the tourism here is kind of cool because it???s all centered around art. The shops lining the streets in Kuta all sell the same kind of crap: cheesy t-shirts, fake designer sunglasses, keychains, etc. Here, they mostly sell beautiful wood carvings, paintings, sarongs and sculptures. They???re of varying quality, of course, but it???s still nice to see so much celebration of the arts.

I was also surprised by how easy it is to get out of town here. There are two main streets, Monkey Forest Road and Jilan Raya Ubud, where all the crowds and shops are. Off of those streets, you can walk in any direction and be surrounded by beautiful rice paddies in about fifteen minutes. We???ve spent whole days walking. One of the first places we explored was the Sacred Monkey Forest. The monkeys that live there are actually long-tailed macaques and they???re not very nice at all. They???re known for snatching things right out of people???s hands. I saw a couple of them actually jump on people to try and get whatever they were holding! Luckily, none of them jumped on us.

We also went for a long walk through the countryside where we saw beautiful rice paddies and coconut trees. It was probably exactly how you picture Asia in your head. There were even men using cows to plow the fields. It was so quiet and peaceful, especially compared to the noise and traffic in the city. And then we took a wrong turn and our little 8.5 kilometer walk became more like a 15 kilometer walk. Oh well, at least we weren???t in a hurry to get back!

In the evening we went to a dance performance. Since Ubud is the cultural center of the island, there are tons of different dances and venues to choose from. After doing some research online and getting even more confused, we just randomly picked one. I wasn???t expecting much, but it was amazing! The one we picked was the Kecak Fire and Trance Dance presented by the Desa Adat Sambahan troupe in the Pura Batu Karu. It was held outside in the temple ???courtyard??? under a huge tree. A chorus of men singing and chanting rhythmically made up all the music and dialogue. The dancers, in beautiful costumes, danced and acted out the story. The style of dance is very unique. They keep their eyes open very wide and constantly move their arms, hands and fingers into awkward-looking positions.

They were acting out a section of the Hindu epic Ramayana. The story is a bit complicated, but the general gist is that the evil Rahwana kidnaps Princess Sita while her husband, Prince Rama, is out hunting a magical golden deer. He then tries to get her back and is helped by monkeys and the King of the Birds. Interestingly, the Kecak is only part of the story, so it ended before Rama got Sita back. The story was printed on the program, but they did a good job acting out. Even though it was all in another language, I could follow along with what was happening and who was who.

When that dance was over, there was the much shorter Trance Fire Dance. A man came out and dumped a pile of coconut husks on the ground and lit them on fire. Then another man, dressed as a horse, came out and ran through the fire barefoot, shuffling the husks and embers all over the place, while the chorus men chanted. The first man swept the embers and flaming husks back together in the center and the horse scattered them with his feet again. This pattern continued until the fire was totally out. Apparently it???s supposed to protect society from evil forces and epidemics, but I???m not quite sure how it does that.

As you can probably tell from this long post, Bali is a very interesting place and it???s been quite an experience for us. Despite often feeling lost (literally and figuratively), we are really enjoying our time here. Internet connections haven???t been the greatest, but we???ll upload some pictures as soon as we can!