I arrived in Kuta, Lombok full of expectations, after hearing so many tales of unspoiled paradise from friends and trusted acquaintances. When I go somewhere I’m this hyped up about, reality doesn’t always match the expectations: it happened in the Perhentian Islands, it happened in Hawaii and it nearly happened in Koh Phangan. Unfortunately, it also happened in Kuta. I stuck around for a few days to explore the surrounding areas with a scooter, in search of the magic we’d heard so much about.
One thing that surprised us about Bali was its size. This is no teeny tropical island – like the other Indonesian islands we visited, it’s like a country in its own right. At nearly 100km across you could probably circumnavigate it in a day, but you’d better start early!
And like the other Indonesian islands, it’s sorely lacking in public transport. The options are limited, routes are non-obvious and schedules, in most cases, simply don’t exist. For the budget backpacker, it represents a quandary – the locals clearly get around somehow, but all you see is adverts for private cars or the (generally) overpriced tourist shuttle buses.
One year ago today, on January 1st 2014 at 8am, we locked the door of our flat in Montreal for the last time, leaving behind an empty shell of what was our life of the previous seven years, and dropped the key through the mail slot. As it resonated loudly in the dark empty box, I felt an excitingly familiar feeling in my stomach: we were homeless, the unknown awaited us. It was amazing to ring in the New Year in such a drastic, life changing, exciting way, and the feeling hasn’t left me since.
Ubud was one of those places I was almost certain I was going to dislike. I kept thinking that Eat, Pray, Love would have ruined it for all of us and couldn’t help but wonder if the whole town was going to be full of Elizabeth Gilbert wannabes on a quest to spiritual healing and shakra alignment. Was I going to find myself too “off the beaten path” for a city so taken by the mainstream public’s imagination? Was I going to HATE IT? I was honestly skeptical as our 9th minibus of the day finally drove us into town.
As you might have guessed from the quantity of blog posts that are already piling up here about Bali, we absolutely loved it. A LOT. And for many reasons. The one I’ll be discussing today is jamu, this traditional Indonesian medicinal drink that looks a bit like mango juice and that you might have seen popping up on several warung menus or in baskets on the head of the Jamu Gendong, these women roaming the streets selling their precious potions to the locals every morning.
With its abundance of wellness centers, spas and yoga studios, it’s no wonder Ubud has such a vibrant healthy, raw/vegan, and organic restaurant scene. And if you’ve been following us for some time, you’ll know that this is right up our alley! It is, in fact, one of the many reasons why we lingered around Ubud for so long.
I mentioned in yesterday’s post that we took a freediving class in beautiful Amed, Bali a few weeks ago. Today I wanted to share a little more about Eastern Bali since we loved it so much and spent a fair chunk of time there. I think it’s such a shame that some people come to Bali and see only Kuta. Bali is a lot more than surf and Bintang and I wanted to share with you my little guide to this piece of Eastern Bali that is widely known as Amed.
Would you believe me if I told you that ten years ago, I was a chain smoker. I drank my fair share and took the least interest in what I was ingesting, so long as it had a good quantity of butter, sugar and caffeine. Which is all a bit strange because I lived my teenagehood as a dreadlock-sporting, health-conscious, non-smoking vegetarian treehugger. I guess my early and mid-twenties were just a big careless party where I lost sight of myself a little. Don’t get me wrong, it was freaking awesome and I regret nothing.
One thing anyone who is even mildly technology dependant should do before travelling anywhere for an extended period of time is to have their smart phone unlocked. Having 3G in South East Asia (in fact in any foreign country!) opens up so many possibilities. All of a sudden you are not dependant on tuktuk drivers telling you that your hotel is miles away, you can look up this nice hotel you just stumbled upon on Tripadvisor to see what other people thought of it and you can pretty much just hop on a scooter and go get lost anywhere, knowing that your trusty GPS will always bring you back home at the end of the day. 3G in South East Asia is extremely cheap and surprisingly very fast and reliable in most places.
We went to sea as sailors, but only maybe for my dirty mouth, swearing through my teeth that Gili Air was probably going to suck. Given we seemed to have developed a way to enjoy places others don’t and hate places others love as of late, this was the only logical conclusion. I thought of the Gilis as a place people bookend their 2 week holiday on Bali, just to tick the tropical island checkbox off of their list when wondering what to see in Indonesia. They go to Trawangan to drink themselves silly, Air as newlyweds, and Meno, well, I still don’t know. All we knew was, you can’t really go wrong with a $1 boat ticket and we don’t really drink – so Gili Air it was. Off we went to check out this bunch of clueless red skin honeymooners and see what all the flap was about, hoping to prove my cynical little mind wrong.
Upon leaving the disappointment of Kuta Lombok behind, we set out in search of something a little more authentic. We’d heard of Tetebatu, a small village located at the southern base of Mount Rinjani, but found scant information online and in our travel guide about it. Still we took the chance, hired a driver, left our dysfunctional family behind and blindly booked a room at Kembang Kuning Cottages, crossing our fingers and hoping our hurried decision would once again turn in our favour.
A feast of colours, culture, beauty and devout faith.
With such beauty all around, it’s no wonder Bali boasts such a rich tradition of beauty and spa rituals whose names alone evoke the most exotic and luscious of pampering experiences: boreh, lurlur, temu-temu, avocado cream bath, spice bath – I could just picture myself in one of Ubud’s secret gardens being scrubbed and massaged with rare oils and exotic spices.
The island crossing adventure starts at the bus station. If you’re lucky, it might be an actual station, with classes and prices clearly posted. But it’s just as likely to be a dusty field with a complete free-for-all – in which case, I hope you’re ready to bargain because there’s nothing the locals love more than fleecing backpackers for a ride in a packed, smoke-filled bus. Because yes – smoking is openly permitted on Indonesian buses.