Uluwatu, South Kuta and So Long, Indonesia

After departing the insanity of Kuta/ Seminyak area, I hopped in a car and went 9 miles south to the Bukit Peninsula. The area is also called South Kuta or Uluwatu, but the name is misleading because it couldn’t be much different than its’ hectic northern neighbor. The 9 miles feels more like 900. It is fairly shocking how different South Kuta is from the tourist epicenter of Kuta Beach. South Kuta is orders of magnitude quieter, with beaches that have 95% less people on them. The lack of other humans in this area makes me like it about the same amount- roughly 95% more than crowded Kuta. 

The traffic is gone, the tourists have vanished, I haven’t seen one ladyboy offering blow jobs, and I can spend hours on the beach without being bothered to buy something every 30 seconds. It is of course not tourist free in the Bukit Peninsula, which is south of the airport, but the difference is huge for how short the distance is. I shouldn’t be so surprised that nearly every tourist in Bali chooses to stay in the madness of Tourist Town, but I simply can’t wrap my head around it. I am definitely not complaining. Having all the silly tourists stay in one area means the rest of the island is nice and quiet. 

Uluwatu Beach. 

I have had a really enjoyable routine during my week in the area. I wake up around 8 am, eat some free hotel breakfast, go to the rooftop pool to swim and read, perhaps take a nap, head out for food and to go exploring, watch a sunset on the beach, return home to clean up and then go get some dinner. Not a bad day. There are a variety of really beautiful beaches in this area, all around a 20 minute scooter ride from my hotel. The hotel itself is unfortunately not right on one of the beaches, but it is very central to reach everything. Most days, I just drive until I find a beach. For most of the week, I picked a new road I had not been on before, so I have visited a variety of different beaches in South Kuta. Each beach is incredible, with only one of them (Padang Padang) having more than a dozen tourists. 

Padang Padang

Several of the beaches have world class surfing, which means the waves are a bit too big and fast for my barely amateur status. Rip Curl sponsors a surf contest at one of the local beaches (Padang Padang) that is going on right now, which is really the only crowded beach in the area. Waves and swells do not bow to human schedules, so there haven’t been any contest days since I got here. They were supposed to have something going on yesterday morning but there wasn’t big enough waves for the pros. The surf is far superior to everything else I have seen while in Indonesia, which I realize is dependent on swell and weather. Three of the beaches had amazing waves, offering long waves to the riders. I can see why Indonesia is such a popular place for the hardcore surf crowd. 

Catching tubes, brah. 

The main tourist attraction in South Kuta is the cliff temple of Uluwatu. It was the only real tourist hub that I have seen so far during my time in the far south of Bali. There was a long line of cars to get into the big parking lot, and bus after bus dropped people off from Kuta to wander around for an hour or two. The cliffs and temple are really impressive, and definitely worth a visit even if you have to swim upstream against the tourist hoard a few times. The other thing to watch out for at Uluwatu are the monkeys. Yes, more monkeys. These ones are scarier and more aggressive than the monkeys I saw in Ubud. I didn’t see anyone get attacked or bitten, but I did see a handful of people get their eyeglasses taken off their head. I am not sure if the monkeys just like the glass/ glasses or they know WE really like them, but either way, they sure do enjoy ripping eyeglasses off of human heads. The monkeys still scare the crap out of me since they are so fast and unpredictable. At one point I was trying to get a picture of a baby monkey and an older one growled at me and started coming closer. Perhaps it was angry that I was snapping pics of her baby, or maybe I was just getting too close. Regardless of the reason I angered the monkey, I swiftly moved away, not wanting to get monkey molested. 

Uluwatu temple and cliffs. 

I stayed at Uluwatu for sunset, which was really cool to watch on top of the big cliffs with the waves crashing far below. This seems to be a popular tourist activity- heading down from Kuta to watch the sunset at Uluwatu. Since that sunset, I have gone to various other beaches where there are hardly any people around. Being around a ton of tourists is tolerable every so often, but secluded beaches are far more enjoyable and peaceful. For how little effort it takes to break away from the Tourist Highway, it is well worth it. Basically a scooter rental and a tiny sense of adventure will allow anyone to avoid the tourist hoard.

It is still a bit surprising how easy it is to get away from Tourist Town. I am thankful for that, since I don’t need to criss cross jungles or get on a 5 hour ferry to avoid the mass of foreigners visiting from their home countries. The difference between South Kuta and Kuta is vast, and their short distance from each other makes that difference even more apparent. Basically, if you come to Bali head south after the airport instead of north and you will have a much better holiday. Unless you enjoy being in the center of Touristville. 

Today is my last in Bali and Indonesia. Tonight I take a red eye from here to Sydney, Australia to enjoy my last 2 weeks of this trip. It is surreal that this four month experience is coming to an end. While it hasn’t even been four months yet, it easily feels more like twelve months. The time has also flown by. When I look back at pictures from earlier in this trip, there are times that it seems like a totally different vacation. “Oh, yea. I was in Thailand a few months ago.’” Crazy. Four months at home would normally have been a little over a quarter at my sales job, trying hard to hit my numbers, earning my bonus, going to the gym, and hanging out with friends. This experience has not surprisingly been incredible, and while I am really looking forward to getting home, it will be sad to have it come to an end. 

There is also a big pile of nervous excitement about getting back to the US. The Travel Life has become my new normal. Booking hotels and transportation, getting to the next city, figuring out where to eat, renting scooters, exploring, taking photos, meeting new people, and repeating that process has been my entire life since April. It will be odd being in Australia, since it will be the first country in 3 months where everyone speaks English and are predominately white. It will serve as my halfway house between the third world and home. 

With that, after two months, my wonderful time in Indonsia comes to an end. There were times i was alone at an abandoned villa watching waves slam into volcanic rock. There was a time I was being creepily massaged by a man who may have been 1,000 years old. For the first time I saw a straight line baggage claim and all the chaos that comes with it. I witnessed the tourist insanity of Kuta, never needing to come back. I took dozens of photos with locals at the big temple Borobudur. I got to stay with my wonderful relatives. One morning I watched Team USA in the world cup as the security guard snored on the couch. All tolled, I visited 11 cities, rented a bunch of scooters, took five boat rides, hopped in a bunch of cars, was on four inter-country flights, and met countless amazing locals as well as fellow travelers. The list of great memories goes on and on.

There isnt anything bad to say about this great country. The people were overly friendly and welcoming, everything is amazingly cheap, it is easy enough to get around (as long as the street traffic doesn't swallow you up), and the locations are beautiful. I wouldn’t rank Indonesian food as my favorite (or even in the top five), but it wasn’t gross either. Indonesia is a country I definitely want to visit again, as I feel like I only scratched the surface of this vast collection of islands. So long, Indonesia. See you next time..

Kuta- Australia's Mexico

Right now I am near Kuta, the tourist capital of Indonesia. So far I have survived. My nice hotel is thankfully not in the tourist epicenter (allowing me to hide from the madness), but I did scooter and walk through the main area. It features all the worst aspects of tourism. Thousands of white visitors. Thousands more local vendors selling sunglasses, hats, t-shirts and massages. Name brand stores as far as you can see. A McDonalds on one corner, a Starbucks on the other corner and a Hard Rock Cafe in between the two. My first reaction was “why the fuck would anyone choose to come and spend a holiday here?” Then it hit me- Bali is Australia’s version of Mexico for Americans. Or for your SAT test, Kuta: Australia, Cancun/ Cabo: America. 

Lovely Kuta. 

The difference between Indonesia and Mexico is that in Indo there are magnificent, beautiful and barely visited areas within an hour or two of Kuta. Sadly, once you leave the main resort areas in Mexico, it is mostly a desert wasteland with drug cartels shooting each other by the hundreds. 

I am not judging anyone for choosing to spend their time in Kuta, it is simply a shame to come all this way to sit on the beach to drink beer with thousands of other visitors while locals bother you every three seconds to buy something. If that is your idea of a perfect getaway, have at it. I’m not here to try and stop anyone from having the most tourist-tastic vacation possible. At the same time, I would never subject myself to such insanity for more than a scooter ride. It is stressful. You can’t walk 5 feet without someone asking you to rent a surfboard or buy a t-shirt. I have a scooter rented, but anytime I am not on said scooter there are dozens of people trying to rent me one. The taxis all honk at me to see if I want a ride. While I don’t want knock off Ray Bans or a henna tattoo, I would buy a sign that says “I DONT NEED A FUCKING TAXI.” 

Tourists as far as the eye can see. 

Worse than the shop vendors, beach hawkers or taxi men is when someone will grab my arm to sell me a massage. That has happened to me a few times which I hate. I don’t like being grabbed by strangers, especially when they only want to sell me something. Or even worse than everything I already mentioned, a ladyboy will make a blow job motion to his/ her mouth, inquiring if I would like his/ her oral services. Yes, that happened. I could not sprint away fast enough. My legs were like a whirling ball of dust in a cartoon. Seeing a ladyboy offering a BJ will provide plenty of nightmares for god knows how long. Overall, a place like Kuta isn’t that different from being home, albeit with much warmer weather, lots of annoying hawkers, cheap food, more ladyboys, and a bigger beach. 

Standing on the beach with tourists packed in as far as I could see, while I got harassed to buy shitty sunglasses or get a henna tattoo, stood in stark contrast to many of the places I have gone during my time in both Indonesia and Thailand. Not too far from Kuta is one of my favorite places (not only in Indonesia, but anywhere) Nusa Lembongan. For some people I realize a holiday means checking into a hotel close to the beach, never leaving that square block, drinking dozens of alcoholic beverages, slamming a few hamburgers and pizzas, doing some shopping, taking some selfies, then getting on a flight back home with a tan and telling everyone how amazing Indonesia is. If that is your idea of fun, knock yourself out. That type of holiday is very easy. There isn’t much planning involved besides getting on a flight and taking a taxi from the airport to your hotel, then reversing the same process on the way out of town. 

The beaches north of Kuta, closer to my hotel, are at least more relaxed and not quite as crowded as the main epicenter of tourist activity. Although "crowded" is a relative term. Nearly every square inch of sandy beach for miles is filled with big lounge chairs and umbrellas. It is still the beach, and eating $5 meals, drinking copious amounts of booze, reading some books, and soaking up the sunshine is a great week for many a traveler. I can understand how people enjoy it, especially if they only have a week off from work life and they don’t want to to do any planning or thinking for their vacation. For the people who have plenty of money to burn, it makes even more sense. You can stay in a luxury hotel right on the beach and take a week off from normal life. It’s comfortable. Pizza, pasta, and hamburgers can be found everywhere, so you never need to worry about ordering local food. 

With all that said, tourist hubs are far from my favorite places. I will take the empty beaches in Nusa Lembongan, Ko Muk, Pulau Nias or anywhere every time over somewhere like Kuta. Being in a crazy place like this made me appreciate the less crowded locations off the main tourist path that much more. I am glad that I saw the craziness of Kuta to know what it is like, and know I don’t need to be back. There have been multiple stops along this trip where I had an entire beach to myself. No one else in sight. There wasn’t anyone checking their iPhone, or offering me a henna tattoo. For most people, they would rather be where all of the tourists gather. It validates the location. “Hey, this place may be crawling with other tourists, and goddamn those vendors sure are annoying, but hey we’re all in this together! Everyone goes to Kuta!” 

Not surprisingly, a crowded area has horrendous traffic. The narrow streets in the area crawl to a standstill every day to the point that my scooter can’t even squeeze past it. It is the exact opposite of the sparsely populated islands I have visited, where I might not see another scooter or car for 10 minutes or more. Driving a few blocks can take an eternity. 

While the insanity of Kuta is not ideal, I still enjoy it here. Even though there are too many tourists here, it is still Bali- how bad could it really be. And, as I mentioned, I can always hide away in my sweet hotel. I also went on a fun scooter ride to Tanah Lot, which is a temple on a tiny island immediately off the coast of Bali. Like most places, once you get a mile away from the beach, the amount of tourists drops exponentially. Not many people visiting Kuta on holiday rent a scooter and go for a drive, so getting away from the insanity was a nice change. The roads, as everywhere in Indonesia, are winding and confusing. Luckily there were a few signs to Tanah Lot so I miraculously didn’t get lost. 

Temple at Tanah Lot. 

It was high tide when I was there, which meant no one could actually walk to the temple. I did get to witness some more exploding waves that I enjoyed. Standing there among hundreds of tourists at Tanah Lot made me think back to a few short weeks ago when I was all alone on a cliff in front of an abandoned villa, watching waves that were twice as big. Those moments spent alone, enjoying the scenery, will be some of my fondest memories from this trip. Doing something similar with countless other visitors made those past experiences that much better. 

Boom.

At this point, there is less than a month left in the Ring of Fire World Tour. I feel like I have been on the road for a year, so having it “only” be 3 months is crazy. Another few days of avoiding the ladyboys in Kuta, then a week in the southern tip of Bali (the Bukit Peninsula) before flying to Australia to box kangaroos and save koalas from falling out of trees. 

Monkeys and Temples in Ubud

I am currently waiting for my bus to take me from Ubud to Kuta, marking the 500th time I will take a shuttle somewhere. Or maybe it just feels like that. Needing to wait for a shuttle is also because I decided to take a shared bus instead of a private car, saving myself $15 for the effort. “Figuring out how to get form Point A to Point B” and “waiting for transportation” will not be on the list of things I miss after this trip is over. Neither will “packing up all my shit ever 4-6 days and making sure I didn’t miss anything.” 

Speaking of missing things, for the first time in 3 months I finally had something: Mexican food. There had been a few Mexican food spots during my travels, but none seemed appealing enough to treat myself to the burrito I had been craving for months. Luckily, the Mexican place in Ubud had a pretty tasty burrito with actual guacamole- a rarity in this part of the world. The burrito itself wasn’t that big, but it was delicious. I wouldn’t travel halfway around the world for another one from the same restaurant, but it was enough to satisfy my burrito craving for another month. Mexican food, real coffee, and an IPA all top the list of items I cannot wait to have when I get back home. Mexican food, as mentioned, barely exists in Asia. Most of the coffee tastes like shit. And the beer all tastes the same- like a generic pilsner. 

The last 5 days of my life have been spent in Ubud, in the middle of Bali away from the beaches. Ubud is where Julia Roberts made love to Javier Bardem during the “Love” portion of Eating, Praying and Loving. Something like that. Besides being away from the coast, the area is higher up from sea level, meaning the temperatures are cooler and clouds are more common. “Cooler” is a very relative term. It simply means that it is not earth scorchingly hot 100% of the time, which is an acceptable change. I do miss being close to the beach, even if that doesn’t mean I am swimming in the ocean every day. The final 10 days of my stay in Indonesia will areas very close to the beach. 

Overall, Ubud was nice and quiet, filled with all sorts of temples and an area that could double as the pre-pre-prequel to Planet of the Apes called the Monkey Forest. It unfortunately rained a good amount of the time, which makes it less enjoyable to do any outdoor activities. One day I rented a scooter and went on a decent tour of the Ubud area to visit a large temple. If I am staying in the area featuring a bunch of old temples then I need to visit at least one of them. It was cloudy and drizzling, which made me experience something for only the second time in 3 months- the feeling of being cold. At that moment when I had goose bumps, riding in a light rain on the scooter I wished that the hoodie which has been packed away at the bottom of my big backpack for several months was around my shoulders. Thankfully, I found the temple without getting soaked. In Indonesia, street signs are barely existent, and finding anything without street signs is about as difficult as it sounds. Usually I just drive until I get tired, hungry, or find something interesting. 

On the way, I came across a beautiful rice paddy terrace cut into the hillside. This was clearly a popular tourist stop, since there were restaurants and T-shirt stalls lining the street. Green, perfectly terraced rice fields going down a steep hillside are always amazing to see. Partly, I think, because there is no such thing (that I am aware of) back home in the States. 

Once I parked the scooter and before getting to the temple itself, I had to run the gauntlet of tourist stalls. You can always tell how close you are to a given local attraction by counting “Tourist Stalls Per Square Foot.” The TSPSF here was quite high. I got to enjoy a ruse the proprietors of these stalls attempt to pull on any unsuspecting MR TOURIST MAN that happens to pass by. The temple requires anyone visiting to have covered legs, or to wear a sarong if you are wearing shorts. I am always, 100% of the time wearing shorts here because it is too damn hot for pants. Also I didn’t bring any pants. So what the kiosk operators try and convince passerbys like me to do is buy a sarong from them. MISTER! YOU NEED SARONG! TEMPLE! These sarongs were already impressively cheap at $2, and quickly got discounted to $1 in the blink of an eye once I was 3 feet past their shop. I saw through this ploy to separate me from $1 and continued walking, laughing as each of them played the same game and dropping the price in half instantly. I was confident that the temple would provide free sarongs (as other temples have done on this trip). More importantly, I was 100% positive that I did not want to own a sarong, no matter how cheap the price. 

As expected, the temple provided a sarong free of charge after I paid my $1.50 entry fee. The temple itself was pretty impressive, covering an area that spanned a river and featured large carvings into the rock face of several rock hills. Built 1,000 years ago, I wandered around marveling at the construction and trying to picture what it was like back when the thing was built. Thinking of people/ monks/ workers walking around, living their much simpler lives. The main concerns must have been pleasing the gods, having food, making babies, carving more statues, and doing some more praying to the gods. No bills to pay or taxes to worry about. Although they didn’t have sweet iPhones to play tunes into their ear holes while exploring 1,000 year old temples either. Their lives were also completely confined to the immediate area in which they lived. No one ever hopped on a cross ocean flight or sailing vessel to visit far off lands. They were born, lived, and died within a few miles of the same place. 

Which isn’t that different than a lot of locals I have met during my trip either. Almost zero of the local Indonesian, Thai or Malaysian people have ever left their main island. Going to another country is nearly unheard of. Mostly it is because of money. When you make $200 a month, spending $1,000 to fly half way across the world is pretty much out of the question. It definitely makes me feel lucky that I was born in a country that allows me to earn enough money to explore these parts of the earth. 

Besides trying to picture what life was like so long ago, the other thing I think about when visiting 1,000 year old temples is what it becomes over time. I am sure there were centuries when the  temple was looted, frequented by squatters, or left abandoned. And now, in 2014, it is visited on a daily basis by foreign tourists all snapping photos and avoiding the aggressive kiosk workers out front before heading off to visit another relic of the past. It is interesting what things become. Built 1,000 years ago as a monument to the gods, it is now a place where visitors snap 1,000 pictures a day and run off to the next site. 

The other local site in Ubud that I visited was the Monkey Forest. This was walking distance from my hotel, so after walking a few hundred yards and paying $3, I was inside the Land of the Monkeys. I am admittedly terrified of the monkeys, especially after seeing a girl get bit bad enough to break her skin way back in Ko Phi Phi. The monkeys are fast as fuck and very unpredictable. I was thankful that most of the tourists in the park were not mindlessly feeding the monkeys Doritos and Popcorn, which would only make them more aggressive. Mini bananas seemed to be a sanctioned food to give the monkey residents, and a lot of monkies were climbing on the humans to get an aforementioned banana. I enjoyed watching both the monkeys and the humans observing the monkeys. It also wasn’t clear to me how the monkeys knew how to stay IN the Monkey Forest area. Right outside are roads, cars, motorbikes, restaurants and stores. The monkeys know to stay out of these more populated areas- How? 

The thinking monkey. 

The baby monkeys were the best. They would wrestle with other monkeys, mostly babies, and try to run around. Often they didn’t get too far because their moms were holding onto their tails. Several dozen, or maybe even a hundred, monkeys ran, jumped and climbed all over the forest. My head was on a swivel, not wanting to get attacked by a rogue. Anytime a monkey ran by my feet from behind it scared the crap out of me. I didn’t see anyone actually get attacked, but there were monkeys that went into peoples bags/ purses and I opted to not have the same fate. 

One of my favorite moments, apart from watching the mini-monkeys wobble around like they were drunk, was when one of them opened a coconut. After peeling away all of the husk, one monkey tried biting and peeling open the main part with the edible coconut. That monkey gave up, leaving the de-husked coconut for someone else to try. Instantly, a second monkey jumped to the coconut and started picking it up and dropping it. After fifteen or so drops, the coconut cracked enough for the monkey to pry it open. They didn’t seem to know that the coconut water is delicious, letting that spill out onto the ground. Once the Coconut Opener had enough, he abandoned the broken open coconut and other monkeys instantly jumped on to enjoy a taste of something other than banana. 

A final aspect of the Monkey Forest that was fascinating to me was all of the other tourists watching the monkeys. The Monkey Forest is basically a zoo without fences or cages. Because of that, there will be very different ways in which the animals and people interact with each other. Most of the people were watching and taking photos (myself included). Others were trying to feed them while not getting attacked or stuff stolen from them. Seeing humans marvel at animals and take millions of photos is always an interesting thing to observe. 

Since starting this post and finishing it, I have arrived safely in Seminyak. It took a shuttle bus and a taxi, but only cost $10 instead of the $25 for a private car. Money well saved. My hotel is one of the nicest I have ever stayed in, all for a whopping $35 a night. It isn’t a monster resort, but compared to most of the places I have stayed on this trip it is a 12 star resort. Impressing me isn’t terribly difficult after 3 months on the road, but it is still nice to be impressed all the same. The next 5 days will be spent relaxing, reading, writing, sleeping, and eating in Seminyak. Almost as good as spending that same amount of time in a cubicle staring at a computer. Almost. 

Gili Trawangan- Young Backpacker Heaven

The last 5 days of this trip have been spent reading, relaxing, biking and observing the species of 20-something backpackers on the small island of Gili Trawangan. Located right off the coast of Lombok, Gili T is one of 3 Gili Islands, along with Gili Air and Gili Meno, that have become tourist hotspots in Indonesia. While Nusa Lembongan had its’ share of tourists, it is clearly not a part of the Main Backpacker Trail. Gili T, on the other hand, appears to be smack dab in the center of any good backpacker’s Southeast Asia tour. 

Gili Trawangan is the largest of the three islands, though it is still really small. If I were to return to the Gilis, I would definitely be opting to stay at either Meno or Air. Gili T is still a beautiful place- pristine beaches (a nice lack of trash- not always the case on beaches in Asia), no motorized vehicles, and easy to get around. There are enough restaurants that you could be here for a few months and never eat at the same place twice. The food is delicious (and relatively cheap), and the weather is perfect. It also has more young backpackers than I would like to be around for any extended period of time. The amount of bracelets, necklaces and tattoos per capita would shatter records in most parts of the world. If a Jack Sparrow look-a-like contest broke out, there would be a long line of potential contestants, each with a legitimate claim at the title. 

Besides the braceletted-tattood-longhaired-or-dreadlocked backpackers, Gili T is populated with scuba diving enthusiasts, families, couples, and locals (mostly from the nearby island of Lombok). The backpackers are here to party and soak up the sun, the scuba divers are here to (you guessed it) scuba, the couples and families lounge on the beach and eat food, and the locals do all of the work. 

As I mentioned, there is no motorized transport on the island. The options for getting around are walking, bicycling, or horse drawn cart. After I disembarked from my boat ride from Lembongan, I opted for a horse cart ride to my hotel. I feel bad for the horses, as I am sure they are treated like shit and are overworked. Someone told me their life expectancy is only 5 years, which is crazy low for a horse. The bouncy ride in the back of a horse cart was worth my $3.50, especially since I didn’t know exactly where I was going, but I did feel bad contributing to the daily punishment the horse gets. One of the challenges when reaching any new destination is finding where the fuck my accommodations are, and being taken directly to the front door removes the chance of me getting lost while carrying 40 lbs of stuff. 

Local transport. 

Gili T has one main “road” along the beach which has the majority of shops, restaurants, and hotels for the island. One day I rented a bike and did a few laps around the entire island. At a leisurely pace (and with several stops for photos), circumnavigating the island takes about an hour. The island is sparsely populated, yet every inch of it seems to be spoken for. There are palm tree farms, houses, hotels, abandoned hotels, or in progress hotels across every area of the island. I didn’t see any untouched/ unspoiled land, except the beaches, at any point in my island tour. 

Main Street

The beaches here really are spectacular. White sand leads out to crystal clear blue water. It is impressively free from trash, a feat that must be accomplished by hard work from the locals. My guess is that the tourist crowd is not part of any clean up efforts. While the beaches are easy on the eyes, walking out into the water for a swim can be a bit of a challenge. The sand quickly turns into broken coral and rocks, so walking out is far from comfortable. I attempted to go for an ocean swim and only made it out to above my knees before giving up and just splashing water over my head to cool off. The coral was unkind. It wasn’t the kind of coral that will tear your skin up and have you running to the local clinic for bandages, but walking on it was still difficult and painful. 

Besides the amazing beaches surrounding the island, the highlights have been the food and the locals. There is a nightly food market by the pier with a variety of carts offering all sorts of incredibly tasty and fresh meals. My favorite option are the carts with sate meat on a stick. You can pick from a variety of seafood, chicken, or beef sate sticks to go with a helping of rice and veggies. Tonight, for example, I picked out a tuna sate, 5 small chickens, and 2 beef sticks. They cooked it up fresh while I waited, and I got to sit down and enjoy some piping hot meat sticks and tasty veggies. Total cost- $5.50. There are also plenty of options for fresh fish, calimari, shrimp, noodles and more. The restaurants I have tried all offer really good food as well. The only downside at the restaurants (not the night market) seems to be the wait for food- it often takes about an hour from ordering to eating. 

The locals, most of whom are from the nearby main island of Lombok, were all really nice and friendly. In every region of Indonesia, the locals have been some of the happiest and friendliest people of any country I have been to. One day while I was watching a sunset on the west coast of Gili T, a local man came and sat next to me and started chatting. The standard questions always come first- “Where are you from,” and “No have girlfriend?” There is constant interest in the fact that I am traveling by myself and that I don’t have a girlfriend or wife. After the initial questions were done, he hung around and we had a semi-real conversation. He told me about his family on Lombok, and that he has lived on Gili T for 20 years. We also talked a bit about religion. He, like the majority of Indonesians from Lombok (and most of the country) are Muslim. Right now is Ramadan, which means that Muslims spend the month fasting during the day. While the conversation was always very nice and friendly (never argumentative), he did find it hard to comprehend that I didn’t believe in any sort of God. Before we went our separate ways, he did ask me what it was like to “be with an American girl,” and that he likes blondes with big butts. This gave me a nice, hearty laugh. 

I also spent a few hours chatting with another local, Andy, who runs one of the many travel agent kiosks on the island. His english is good enough for us to have a real conversation. Almost all of the locals are really friendly, but most only know handful of English words. Andy and I covered all sorts of topics, and it was great to get insight from someone who is from the area. He had an endless amount of questions about how much things cost in America, and was constantly amazed at how expensive most things are. Andy couldn’t quite understand the concept of people in America moving out of their parents house at 18 and rarely moving back. It was fun comparing and contrasting differences between our two home nations, and getting to know someone from this part of the world more than at a surface level. Andy, like Sunset-Man-Who-Likes-Big-American-Butts, is also fasting during the day for Ramadan, sleeps at the travel agent kiosk, and makes pretty good money for a local. 

Earlier this week, while living on this small island, the Indonesian vote for president happened. I had been hearing about it the entire time I have been traveling though the country, and was a little bummed that I was somewhere without actual voting. My hope was to see what it was like to be around a large election in a foreign country. There was no voting on Gili T, meaning any locals who wanted to vote needed to take a boat to Lombok. Not surprisingly, apathy reigned larger than the desire to vote- most Indonesians I talked to didn’t bother to go to Lombok and cast a vote. There were two candidates running, and all over Indonesia were thousands of posters, banners, billboards and signs promoting one of the two candidates. I happened to remember Jokowi and his running mate JK (pronounced J-Kah), which were “Number 2” on the ballot. Because I actually knew one of the candidates (from seeing all of the signage), I pretended I liked Jokowi and asked the locals if they were voting for him. They all enjoyed this and said “Jokowi!” to me many times. Most Indonesians I spoke to did like Jokowi (who is supposedly the “people’s candidate”). Although Jokowi claimed victory, the other candidate challenged the results so a counting of votes is expected to take weeks. A not surprising development for a country where everything takes a long time. Jokowi- J Kah, number 2! 

While it has a few too many young and drunk backpackers to make it a perfect vacation spot, I can see why Gili Trawangan is such a popular location for all sorts of travelers. There are all sorts of late night party options, all sorts of food options (including many western foods like pizza and pasta), no traffic, beautiful beaches and cheap lodging. I would be curious to see the other Gili Islands to compare. It has been another enjoyable stop on the trip, and it was a real pleasure getting to know some friendly locals. 

Tomorrow morning I will head back to Bali- this time to Ubud (made famous in the book Eat, Pray, Love). I had a big internal debate over the course of a day, deciding whether to go to Lombok for a bit or going back to Bali for the remainder of my time in Indonesia. There are no bad decisions, but I do get stressed out regarding which location to go. Which one is better? Which one has better accommodations? Which one has the easier route to get there? Eventually, after obsessive internet research and input from both locals and friends, the decision was made- back to Bali. 

It is also weird to think I “only” have a month left of this trip. Normally, in my corporate working days, a month trip would be MASSIVE. Now, as a part of this 4 month adventure, it doesn’t even seem THAT long. ONLY a month left. I have 2 more weeks in Bali, and then off to Australia for the final leg of the Ring of Fire World Tour. 



Water Explosions

Mesmerizing. Relentless. Powerful. I watched these waves for hours. It was one of the coolest things I have ever had the pleasure of watching, and I did it for the majority of my time in Nusa Lembongan. I wrote more about my time in Nusa Lembongan in the previous post. These photos deserved their own posting. 

Sanur and Nusa Lembongan

Quick note- I put the all the big crashing wave pictures in the next post. 

After my nice detour back to the first world in the form of Singapore, I hopped on my 10th flight in the last 2 1/2 months to head back to Indonesia- this time heading to Bali. I decided to skip the drunken tourist madness known as Kuta and stayed in the area of Sanur instead. Sanur was really slow and quiet- which I like. There wasn’t much to do, so I relaxed, read, wandered around the beach and treated myself to some excellent Japanese food for the monster price of $8 a meal. It was really nice to be back at the beach. There is something always calming and relaxing about being right at the shore of the ocean. I can just sit and stare or read for hours. 

My stay in Sanur also coincided with Team USA’s World Cup round of 16 game against Belgium. Unfortunately kickoff was at the ungodly time of 4 am, so I had the dilemma of either trying to sleep for a few hours before peeling myself out of bed or simply staying up until game time- which also meant staying up until 6. The decision was made- staying up all night it was. For some reason the TV in my hotel room didn’t broadcast the game- it was only shown on the TV in the hotel lobby, which happened to be the smallest television in current operation anywhere on the planet. I have no evidence to confirm this, but there aren’t too many TVs ever created that are much smaller. So after reading, watching TV, and surfing around online I made my way to the tiny lobby at 3:59 am for kickoff. One thing I miss big time from home is watching sports on a large TV in high definition. At least I got to watch the game live- better than nothing. The game (as everyone already knows) was a disappointment, but I will never forget the experience. Especially since the graveyard shift employee/ security guard slept and snored loudly on a small couch during the entire game. 

Once my 4 nights stay was done in Sanur, I got on a small boat to take me and a group of fellow tourists to the island of Nusa Lembongan- which is technically part of Bali. The boat ride wasn’t terribly long but it was incredibly sketchy. I am not sure if the ocean is always so rough, but it sure was the day of my boat ride. The fiberglass boat slammed into the medium sized waves, making large banging sounds every time and causing me to bounce in my seat. The loud banging sound of the fiberglass boat on water made me picture the front of the hull simply snapping off, sending all of us onboard into the open ocean for a swim. Thankfully that didn’t happen. 

The boat successfully navigated the waves in between Bali and Lembongan, dropping us off onto the beach. My hotel was a short way up the road, so I gathered my bags and trekked a few hundred yards to my new temporary home. This hotel is excellent- right on the water, AC, huge windows letting in plenty of natural light, and a large private balcony overlooking the blue ocean. 

Decent view from my hotel room balcony. 

Lembongan is amazing- my kind of place. A relatively small island with crystal clear water, not too many tourists, cheap food, cheap scooter rental and incredible natural beauty. Granted, there are is a decent tourist population here, but there aren’t THAT many people on the island period, so the level of other tourists never feels overwhelming. On my second day I rented a scooter ($14 for 3 days rental which is really cheap) and headed off to explore the island. A fun aspect to scootering around small islands is you can’t get (too) lost. There aren’t very many roads, so unless I fell into the ocean and drifted away the farthest away from my hotel I could possibly get is a few miles. After riding along the narrow cement boardwalk in front of my hotel for a hundred yards, I headed a bit inland to the nearest street. At that point, I could go right or left. Left it was. 

View of the main road in Nusa Lembongan

I had briefly checked a map before leaving, so I had a general idea of where I was on the island and what my options were to get around it. There was only one road for most of the time, and based on the map it would dead end after awhile. I continued going until the dead end, passing endless amounts of seaweed drying by the roadside (apparently this is a big export for the island, with most of it going to the Asian cosmetics industry). I made my way past the large mangrove forest, along a quiet stretch of beach, and eventually to the end of the road. After walking up and down the beach a bit, I headed back the way I came, but turned left again before making it all the way back to my hotel. Nusa Lembongan has a very close island neighbor in Nusa Cenigan. I had seen photos of the sketchy, rickety bridge that connected the two, so of course I had to find and venture to the other island. 

I wound my way across the island, bouncing over the many potholes in the road. As is the case with a lot of roads in this part of the world, there are many sections that are FAR from smooth. I came across the local dump with smoke rising in the air, passed many local residents, and eventually found the bridge. It is a super cool, small bridge spanning the few hundred yards or so in between the two islands. Before crossing I hopped off the scooter to take a better look as well as some photos. Before walking up to the bridge itself, I noticed how the majority of all the supplies or the island are imported- by hand. Technically by head+hand to be more accurate. Women were lining up to take large bundled boxes of food, water, beer or other supplies off of a boat, loaded them onto their padded heads, and lugged them into a truck or elsewhere in the area. It was impressive to see the amount of physical labor necessary to get all the supplies for the island actually ONTO the island. The unloading also meant there was a loading process on the other end- doubling the work. I counted my lucky stars to not have pulled manual labor duty on Nusa Lembongan. 

Island import business in action. 

Once I had spent enough time marveling at the local manual import business and snapped some photos of the sweet bridge, I made my way across to Nusa Cenigan. The bridge is super sketchy, consisting of what seem to be loose wood planks. The wood is thankfully securely in place, but there are a few planks missing, it makes a loud rumbling sound as you cross it, and it just doesn’t feel super safe. I had already seen a dozen scooters make it across, and clearly there were thousands more than went over and back every year, but it couldn’t help me from envisioning the bridge snapping, sending me and the scooter tumbling into the ocean. 

I drove around Cenigan for a bit, which is a smaller island than Lembongan. I made it to the ocean, and there were some decent sized waves breaking a hundred yards away from the shore. Then I looked to my right, back to Lembongan, and I saw huge waves breaking right onto the volcanic rock cliffs and exploding into the sky. THAT is where I need to be. I jumped back on the scooter, successfully transversed the sketchy bridge again, and cruised back to Lembongan. There are no street signs, so finding these big crashing waves would simply be trial and error. There were a few dead ends, but eventually I found an area that seemed promising. The small dirt road kept going and going. I made a few rights and a few lefts and I found myself at the end of the road. The scooter got parked, and I went to see if I could view these big crashing waves. 

What I found was amazing. There was an abounded villa  RIGHT on the cliff- one of the prime locations on the entire island. There were remnants of a once operational kitchen, a bedroom directly overlooking the ocean, and a nearly empty pool. I wonder what happened to this place- if it ran out of money or what. Regardless of what the hell happened to this once beautiful (and livable) place, I had an entire corner cliffside property all to myself. And the view was spectacular. 

Anybody home? 

Anybody home? 

From where I stood, I could see all sorts of waves smashing into the rock shore, which created gigantic water explosions. I wandered around the corner, and witnessed one of the most epic free shows of my life. Over and over, huge waves would roll to the shore, and there was one shelf of rock where the water would all hit, sending a HUGE fountain of water shooting 50+ feet into the air. It was phenomenal. 

Boom

After watching these waves explode one after another for at least a few hours, I went to find another outcropping of rocks that were causing water explosions as well. It turned out to be Devil’s Tear, which is a well known site for waves slamming into the shore. I stood in awe, taking photos and watching this brilliant display from mother nature. Every 10-15 minutes, a big set of waves would come toward the shore, sending an enormous amount of water blasting into the sky. The water and waves were so powerful. Relentless. Just when I thought it might have died down, another big set of waves would come in. BOOM. Thousands of gallons would explode once again into the sky. After being mesmerized for most of the day, I headed home after the sun went down. I don’t love scootering in the dark- partly because I can’t see the nasty potholes as well and partly because it is much easier to get lost. Before, I mentioned that it is hard to get lost on an island, which is true. However I managed to get at least temporarily lost. There was one section of roads that forks in 4 directions, and I managed to go on the two wrong roads before finding the correct one. It was a bit frustrating, especially since I was starving, but I knew eventually one road would get me home. My days in Lembongan consisted of eating breakfast, gearing up, and heading to the coast to watch the waves meet the shore. Taking photos of the waves were both fun and challenging, and no two waves were ever the same. Even without taking photos, simply watching this natural display of ocean slamming into rock was one of the best things I have watched in my life. I spent hours enjoying the water explosions. When I got hungry, I would tell myself “ok, after the next BIG one I will get some food.” Inevitably I would be there for another hour or so, finding it hard to peel myself away from the view. It was addicting watching the waves. 

It was also a time I was happy to be traveling by myself. If I was with anyone else, they would enjoy the wave show but then want to leave after no more than an hour. I was perfectly content watching the big waves for hours on end. 

Oh, and the sunsets were beyond spectacular. I captured some of the best photos I have ever taken in my life. Mother Nature deserves most of the credit- all I did was push a button on the camera. Yesterday, hanging out at my favorite deserted villa, the waves were relatively small (compared to the last few days at least). I was getting ready to head home, since the photos wouldn’t be anything too special. Before walking away, I saw a group of dolphins swimming out to sea. Even though I could only see their fins pop out of the water every so often, it is always a cool sight seeing dolphins in the ocean. Then there were crabs crawling down the side of the cliff. Then I looked back and the sunset was magnificent. Thanks to the dolphins I stuck around long enough to enjoy another sunset show extravaganza. 

The 4th of July also coincided with my time in Lembongan. The 4th is one of my favorite holidays back home- a time for cold beer, tasty BBQ and big fireworks. Although I was in Vietnam last year, so I have made a habit of not being in my homeland for the holiday. I did miss being with friends and family that day, and proudly wore a Team USA basketball jersey to celebrate the occasion. I didn’t run into any other Americans, but I did enjoy several Bintang beers at night. 

Between the ocean show and the sweet abandoned villa on the coast, I can easily say that Nusa Lembongan is one of my favorite locations on earth. Tomorrow I head to Gili Trawangan, another small island, off the coast of Lombok instead of Bali. Unfortunately there won’t be wave explosion shows on the shore, but living the island life sure is a great way to spend my time.