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  • Writer's pictureJoanna

Time for a Little Vitamin B-ali | Indonesia

Updated: Mar 30

Ahhh... Bali.


Who hasn't heard so much about this place?


For such a tiny little piece of paradise, it sure evokes a colossal amount of controversy when brought up among travellers. Even TikTok and the Indonesian government had become involved in the dispute this year when a young girl made a video outlining all the issues she'd encountered on the island. I was torn between desperately wanting to love it... yet believing all the horrible things I'd heard about it and already finding myself disappointed.


Undoubtedly a lush tropical paradise with stunning beaches and sunsets... but... errr... the traffic, the garbage... and the abnormal amount of tourists flocking there each year have taken its undeniable toll.


In saying this, I realize that I'm a tourist, 100%.

I'm one of very, very many.


Our original flight was meant to leave Singapore, heading for Bali, at around 2 pm, but a couple of months back, we’d received an email stating that our flight had been cancelled and we were both being bumped to a 7 pm flight. Not ideal... at all... and a bit of a major bummer. It meant it wouldn't see us arriving until well after 11 pm.  Not fun... nor did it bode well with our Singapore or Bali plans.


Sure... Singapore was fascinating... but we were both chomping at the bit to get to Bali. Although I’d heard weird and wonderful stories about the grandiosity of the Singapore airport, it didn’t really seem to entice me to want to spend an eternity there waiting for an evening flight.


No.


So… we did what every other desperate traveller would do in a similar situation… we started an online chat with the airline agent and completely lied about our situation. Our deceitfulness worked in our favour and due to the inconvenience of them cancelling our flight in the first place, the agent agreed to change each of our flights to the 7 am departure out of Singapore.


Perfect… things were looking up!


Even though we were only going a hop, skip and a jump away from Kuala Lumpur, it was still an international flight and arrival requirements were always 2-3 hours before departure.  That meant a 4 am start. Ugh. So… although I’ve been to the Singapore airport twice now, I cannot attest to its splendour.


Guess I’ll just have to go back. One day.


We arrived safely in Bali... and I’d arranged for the taxi driver from my hotel to pick us up. The price was a cross between extravagant and reasonable... depending on which way you looked at it... but split between Sammy and myself, it swung towards acceptable. Plus, I was quite looking forward to seeing someone holding a sign with my name on it. That's where the extravagant part of the equation comes in.


Ok... I have made my way through dozens and dozens of airports, but Denpasar International (Bali) certainly took the cake for most befuddling.


The Bali airport was a maze of crazy.


First... you had to stand in one line to pay the visa/entrance requirement. Once you'd paid, you were given a receipt... that almost looked like it could be the visa that got pasted in your passport... but it wasn't.


Second... you had to stand in another lineup to hand over your receipt and have the officer there put a visa into your passport.


Third... we had to do an official declaration. This required scanning a QR code displayed on a stand-alone banner... and filling out an online form. There were computers available for those who were incapable of doing so on their phones, but basically, it was like a health form crossed with an affidavit, swearing we weren’t entering the country with any deadly diseases or dangerous weapons.


Nope. Not today, Indonesia.


I didn't even notice the QR code until Sammy pointed it out to me, so I can't even imagine the confusion of others. Once this was complete, the site provided you with yet another personal QR code... that you presented to yet another border patrol officer once you stood in yet ANOTHER queue.


Have I mentioned the multitude of luggage security checks?


Following this, you had to snake your way through the longest, windiest hallway passage, which eventually... and I mean it when I say 'eventually'... spat you out into the soggy and sticky Bali air.

My taxi driver was at the very tail end of the serpentine street, but we found him.


The taxi from the airport up to where we were staying was almost 2 hours. A place called Sideman.


An old friend, Gordon, was on his way to meet me for a few days. I’d worked with him in the chaotic pub scene of 1998-2000 when I lived in Edinburgh, Scotland. Over the past 26 years, I'd seen him on and off, here and there when I'd made my way in and out of Edinburgh, but it had been a total of 11 years since we'd last seen one other. He was keen to see Bali, keen for a tropical vacation… and so he jumped on a plane... and voila!


The only crummy thing about his holiday was that he only planned to visit Bali for 6 days in total. Now... you do NOT need to be a professional jet-setter to be able to begin to comprehend the sheer horror of spending so much time in flight, only to be met with the crippling effects of jetlag, heat exhaustion, upset stomach and catastrophic sunburn.... to name but a few.



And most of that did happen to Gordon… unfortunately.


How does one politely say 'I told you so,' when I continue to throw caution to the wind every time I travel? My entire life is full of rookie mistakes and I rarely ever escape heat exhaustion, sunburn, jet lag, blisters or diarrhea. Ever.


Oh well...


Six days it was and six days it would be!


For the first three days, I had chosen a lovely location called Uma Agung Tera Bali Sidemen. It was a charming hotel, set right on the outskirts of the peaceful village. Sideman seemed the perfect location for a more relaxed atmosphere, with stunning views of the lush rice fields.


I arrived to find a very romantic setting... for a genuinely not-romantic encounter with an old friend. There was a fairy tale infinity pool, exotic flowers and fauna, the words "LOVE" written out in enormous letters... and a sole, king-size bed in my previously requested 'TWO BEDS" bungalow.


Shit.


Ummm... what do I do????


I turned and shot the bellboy a very perplexed look.


"There are supposed to be two beds...?"


He smiled and advanced quickly to show me the back area of the bungalow... and another full room, with two twin beds. Phewf. This place reminded me of an Italian cottage. It was an odd layout, but it would definitely do the trick. After I'd sorted out my luggage, I headed out for a walk to explore Sideman and pick up some snacks for the room.


I spent the early evening sipping wine on our patio... listening to the harmonious sound of the nearby waterfall... and smacking myself senseless in a desperate attempt to murder the multitude of big, buzzing bugs that decided I was their new landing post and punching bag. Finally, when I could no longer keep my composure, I had to retreat indoors, closing all doors and windows to escape the aggression. It was beyond...


Gordon got in a couple of hours later and we had a fabulous evening of reminiscing. It was really lovely for him to fly all the way to see me. I don't think he was as initially enamoured with the hotel bungalow as I was. As I had arrived first, I rightfully claimed the king-size bed in the front room... and he was banished to the back, with no opening windows and the rippling flow of the waterfall that ultimately kept him yearning to pee throughout the night.


Also... the flying vermin that had originally tried to ambush me, had found their way inside through the bathroom window. In doing so, they had ultimately met their demise by drowning in the remnants of the shower water on the floor.


Ok... imagine this, if you will.

I'm not talking about 20-30 bugs...

Nope.

Not at all.


I'm guessing there were upwards of 300-400 (or more) big brown bugs... dead on the shower floor. This monstrous massacre needed to be cleaned up... and it took quite a few swabs of toilet paper to get the job done. Of course, I thought this might be a nightly occurrence, but odd that it never happened again. Not while we were there, anyway...


It's creepy to think that they were gunning for me... and died doing so. Valiant attempt though.



While we were in Sideman, we did a lovely walk through the rice fields, and as pretty as it was, it was the obscene number of nude men bathing in the streams and small waterfalls that caught our attention. It's a real thing here.


Just strip down, later up and jump in...


On Gordon's first full day in Bali, we rented mopeds and spent hours travelling around the interior of Bali.


I must touch on the moped subject briefly,


These mopeds we were given that morning were brand-new, beautiful mopeds. These were NOT your run-of-the-mill, crap contraptions that every tourist and their uncle drives. No. No. No. These were high class, shiny and worthy of applause. So much so, that I was frightened that my incessant streak of bad luck would ultimately lead to their collapse. I was afraid to touch it, let alone saddle up and tour around on it. I was so fascinated with this shimmer and sheen that I completely gapped on where we were when we picked them up... and getting them back to their original location the following morning was more difficult than either Gordon or I had anticipated.


It was a fabulous day. We just drove... and for a while, we let the roads decide where we had to go. There was no real specific plan. We had a couple of places pinpointed on my map... but just casually adventured along, taking in the sights of the numerous temples, the small villages with their ornate poles beautifying the streets, and the wonderful nature of the rice fields and the rainforests along the way. I said hello to every single dog we passed and we even stopped at a local market and a local grill along the way to try some Indonesian food specialties.


Everything was great... and then it wasn't...


I have to admit that I'm pretty good at navigation. I think I am, anyway. If we need to get there, I can usually get us there. If we need to get home, I can figure out exactly how to make it happen. BUT... these are all done with the assistance of a couple of pretty valuable lifelines.


1. My phone.

2. Wi-Fi or data.


You take away one (or both) of those things... and I'm done.

There is NO way I can properly navigate Bali without them.


Why?


  1. I don’t own a paper Bali map.

  2. I’ve never been to Bali before.

  3. I don’t have a compass.

  4. I'm shit at reading the sun.

  5. I can’t read Indonesian.

Am I heading south? Maybe.

And I heading north? Could be.

Am I heading east? Good possibility.


I DON'T KNOW!!!


Then I get frustrated.



So... let's step back in time, briefly.


At the very beginning of my trip, I paid a substantial amount of money for a Southeast Asian ESIM. It was a bit of an intimidating purchase, as it still is because on my own, I can never seem to be able to figure it out. Fortunately, I had some help guaranteeing it was properly installed and even more help to ensure it was turned on when I arrived in Thailand. The ESIM served me well. It was good until either May 7th or until I reached 100GB… whichever came first. Turns out I was reaching my limit in Bali... and at about 97.3%... and meandering through the back roads of Bali, it decided to expire.


My luck...


Why on that exact day? At that exact time? When I was rightfully owed another 2.7%... I will never understand... but... it was a force to be reckoned with.


All of a sudden I had no access to my maps... and that minor inconvenience resulted in me not knowing where we were, where we were going or how to even begin to return to our hotel.

Gordon didn’t have any wifi either, so he was no help in that department. It was the blind, leading the blind.


I insisted we find WIFI before I continued any further.


As soon as we found a location that allowed me to connect, I downloaded an Indonesian ESIM to take the place of the one that had just run out. Disatrously for me, in the process of doing so, I accidentally deleted it as soon as it uploaded, mistaking it for the old I should have been deleting. I need help with things like this. Seriously, I do. It was a nightmare… and I was cursing myself for having let it happen.


Why am I always dealt the hassle end of the stick?


Finally, I targeted a mobile phone location that sold SIM cards and we made our way there as quickly as our shiny scooters could carry us. The place was in Ubud, about an hour or so away... and I was an awful driver for the entire journey. It's difficult to drive a moped, keep your eyes on the road, be vigilant of other drivers coming at you from a multitude of different directions, say hello to street dogs, take in the scenery and watch Google Maps on my phone the entire time to make sure we're going the right way.


NOT. Easy.


Rightfully, someone should have hit me and put me out of my misery... and theirs.


It’s too bad we had to make this inconvenient detour, as it really cut into our exploration time. We could have done so much more travelling through the lush landscapes and to the pristine beaches we’d read about, had I the proper directional devices… but it wasn’t in our cards for the day.


What was in our cards though, was a frightful monsoon. A monsoon so bad, the road flooded with water and we had to take refuge on the small outdoor steps of a local mini-mart. I thought my phone was going to have to be submerged into a bag of rice for a week. It was dripping before I even had a moment to pull over. We kept thinking the rain would eventually pass… but it didn’t. Tired of waiting out the storm, we decided to purchase a pair of those cheap plastic bag ponchos and carry on through the traffic and the atmospheric river.


Ugh.

A few days earlier, I'd heard myself say, "I don't even remember what rain is like anymore." I jinxed us. Stupid move, Jo.


The rain eventually gave up... but kept its constant threat there to not let us get too excited for blue skies or sunshine. Regardless of another pending storm, we managed to take in a couple of waterfalls on our way back.


Tukad Cepung Waterfall

Tukad Cepung Waterfall was the most majestic waterfall I've ever seen. Getting there was a feat, as we climbed down, down, down the gigantic steps... only to have to wade through rushing streams and clamber over rocks... getting absolutely drenched in the process. The outcome was worth it though... and a magnificent photo, I might add!


Our next stop was Taman Sari Waterfall and its natural pool. If we thought the first one was down, this one took us even further. Gordon jumped in to cool off, but I opted to stay dry. Both waterfalls were lovely... surrounded by natural green rainforest... and extrememly Instagrammable. We were in Bali, afterall.


Bali reminds me a lot of Costa Rica. You pull over, you pay. You park, you pay. You hit the trail, you pay. There is nothing that doesn't come fully equipped with someone standing there waiting to take your money.


It was a great day and we did make it back in one peice... despite the rain... and the getting lost... and the lack of wifi... and the traffic... and the darkness that settled in while we were still on the road… and the multitude of bugs that splattered our face as soon as the sun went down…


It really was a great day.


I think the best part of the day was when I popped into a wee shop to buy a refreshing drink. The door to the cooler was quite sticky, so I really put my muscle into it... heave ho.. and open...

Well there was certainly egg on my face, as I attempted to open the Coke fridge door the wrong way and broke the decorative hinge on the side of it. It was horrifying... to say the least... and I don't think the girls knew what to think or do.


I'm a clown...

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