Trewangan - turtles, Irish bars and the night market
03.11.2012 - 07.11.2012
To break up my time in Bali I decided to head out to the Gili islands. A quick evening phone call by Nyoman Sueren, my Ubud homestay host, and The Fool was all booked on the ferry for the next morning.
A 6.45 shuttle bus start was scheduled however the driver must have had a good lay-in as he was at least 30 minutes late reaching me and still had more pickups afterwards. When the bus was finally jam packed full we had under 55 minutes to complete the drive, all the passenger registration formalities and to board the boat - the only trouble is the journey to Padang Bai always takes well over an hour. The result was that our moody driver went like a maniac trying to make up time, overtaking on blind bends, swerving in and out of lanes of traffic and even jumping red traffic lights on the wrong side of the road. Well, we all lived to tell the tale however pulses were racing and many a sweaty brow was wiped as we all tried to calm ourselves at journeys end. The irony was that we had to wait some time for another bus of punters to arrive before we could board the boat and set off to sea, so he need not have put all of us through the death race experience!
The boat, too, was pretty packed so quite a few passengers sat up on top. Many of them ended up absolutely drenched as the boat carved through the sea towards our paradise islands.
On arrival at the beautiful, idyllic beach the usual accomodation touts were yet again out in force and here I was lucky once more. Whilst one pushy young fellow was trying to promote 3 or 4 different homestay options, a quietly spoken lad next to him offered me a room at his family place for the same price with all the same facilities - bedroom with fan, bathroom, and breakfast included. For some reason I opted to check this place out and, despite the walk some 4 streets back from the beach, I felt comfortable and immediately agreed to stay. The place is called Little Woodstock and it is well worth the money and the few minutes walk into the town.
Bags dumped in the room and it was off to wander around the latest location and seek out some breakfast - like most tourist resorts that have grown in popularity there are numerous eateries and bars, bike, snorkel and flipper hire stalls and little stores selling overpriced everything. There are plenty of choices about where and what to eat, with higher prices reflecting those with a beachfront location while smaller, much cheaper and more traditional places are found one or two streets further back from the shore.
My walk along the front afforded views of the beautiful beach peppered with many colourful boats, the backdrop being the sandy coastline of nearby Gili Manuk and beyond this the brooding, cloud-cloaked presence of Lombok which had started its rainy season a little early (due, no doubt, to the much higher volcanic mountains nestled over there). As I neared the eastern edge of the main street I happened upon that most touristic of all establishments - an Irish Bar complete with unpronouncable gaelic name, a drinks board proclaiming both Guinness and Irish Whiskey (neither of which they appear to have stocked - EVER), staffed entirely by local Balinese and the jewel in their crown, a huge indoor bar area complete with multiple tv screens to show all of the major sporting events! Winner!!
After enjoying a beer or three in the company of Glen, an affable Aussie who, at 45, is visiting various places in Asia with a view to finding his long term retirement location and with some traditional local food safely despatched it was back to the homestay to nap, freshen up and return to Little Ireland to endure the disappointment of an inept Arsenal team capitulating to the arch enemy of all Leeds fans, Man U. High point was that on the way home the night market was still open so I had a tasty take away chicken and noodles supper for just a knicker!!
Day 2 started with a lovely homestay breakfast cooked to order, followed by a solo biped circumnavigation of the whole island (including lengthy chats with several locals, it took about 2.5-3 hours), taking in the wonderful views followed by a well deserved couple of bir bintangs.
Dinner across the road from the homestay was in a small local's place and was nicely filling, the meat quite boney though, then it was off to the Paddy Bar to watch Lewis Hamilton's wretched luck continue in the Abu Dhabi grand prix. I ran into Glen again, who had been on the sauce since mid afternoon and was a little bit the worse for wear (properly pissed actually), before I toddled off to the homestay for a late and cold shower and my bed. Mild exertion can be quite tiring in the heat and humidity - well thats my excuse anyway.
Day 3 was a real breakthrough day: Today I have finally seen LIVE TURTLES SWIMMING IN THE WILD!!.
First thing on the agenda for Monday was a jaunt into town to book a snokelling trip - 3 sites around the 3 Gili islands. Whilst talking to the helpful young lad in the sales booth we discussed the merits of visiting neighbouring Lombok. The options were there but 1) going to see another waterfall just didnt do it for me and 2) the treks up the volcano have been marred by very poor weather and rain. Given that the mountain had been constantly shrouded in cloud since my arrival in the Gilis the thought of trekking and camping in the rain was a no brainer. (I later met a guy who had done that volcano trip and he said that there was no health and safety provision and that parts of the ascent were effectively rockclimbing as it was that steep on occasion).
Having procured a ticket for the snorkelling and finally located my free flippers I joined about 25 other intrepid tube suckers on our jolly green boat and we headed up the shore of Gili Trawangan to the first snorkel site (easily recognised by the plethora of swimmers already there from other boats). The water was very pleasantly warm and the views were pretty damned good for the price (£6.50 for the 5 hour trip) with the fish being small but plentiful and the coral somewhat less dense than on the Great Barrier Reef but with some much bigger individual corals in the mix.
After a good swim around it was off to a site off of Gili Meno for a guided trip along the "reef" to spot and briefly follow the timid wild turtles. Finally, after my barren attempts in Oz, I got to see some of these beautiful, languid creatures just doing their stuff in their own back yard. We were priviledged to see 3 individuals, the last of which was the biggest of the day with a shell measuring about 60cm across, munching on coral before surfacing for air and then just easing out to sea, away from the many masked pairs of eyes and wafting flippered feet of our gawping group. It is gratifying to know that such a simple creature can entrance an eager crowd of humanoids simply by being seen!
Guided tour section completed we then headed across to a site off of Gili Air where the captain suggested we be very careful - prudent and yet obvious advice as the wind had picked up and was encouraging the pretty big waves shorewards over the coral.
My mask sprung a constant leak so it was back to the boat a bit early to await lunch on Gili Air itself - seafood fried noodles notable only for the fact that said seafood comprised exclusively of a few small prawns! Our journey home was an adventure in itself - out in the open sea the waves were pretty big and our course was about 45 degrees right of head on, the result being that our sturdy old clinker pitched and yawed constantly in the increasing swell, with everybody being regularly doused in spray as we ploughed into and across each wave. Whilst a few of the passengers were clearly unnerved by the trip nobody screamed (much) and all lunches were retained.
Back on dry land The Fool sought to procure a cheap fishing charter however prices for the single traveller proved prohibitive so it looks like fishing off the jetty tomorrow provided the wind dies a bit and I can find some bait. A brisk walk around the western end of the town to see the sunset at the "Paradise Sunset Bar" run by an aussie called Rob was enjoyed whilst downing a couple of cheeky Bintangs with Glen, followed by watching a crazy fire juggler. and then a trip to the night market for supper. I selected a red snapper from an array of fresh fish which was then barbequed with lemon and garlic and served with rice and a garnish for the princely sum of IR50,000 (or £3.35 in old english). Beautiful!!
Last full day
With the wind up, the sea choppy and the Fool unable to source some bait the fishing aspect of this island trip was finally binned off, so priorities were booking a return ticket to Bali and . . . . erm, well that was it!!
Having haggled the price down to the cost of the original trip out it was a day dedicated to enjoying a bit of downtime and some more fried noodles before another night market supper (white snapper, not as tasty and much more boney than his ginger coloured cousin) before an early night. The weather had been moody all day and finally, in the middle of the night we had a reasonable downpour, sufficient to take the temperature down to "comfortable".
Departure morning comprised breakfast, packing and waiting at the shore for our 10.30 fast boat to arrive.
On the return leg the boats call at both of the other Gili islands as well as Lombok so the journey time is significantly longer. The choppy conditions out in the open sea found out a few passengers, with a couple of unfortunate ladies losing their breakfasts in the most uncomfortable manner. Back at Padang Bai it bordered on pandemonium at times as people and luggage were finally reunited and with the charter guy trying to put the right number of people in the right sized vans to get to their onward destinations. Our shuttle back to Kuta was a compact 7 seater minibus which, somehow, managed to take all 7 of us and all of the assorted backpacks, suitcases etc inside by way of human tetris. Given the crazy shuttle ride from Ubud on my way out I had hoped for a straightforward and gentle 90 minute transfer through Bali's incessant traffic. Sadly this was not to be as about half way back to Legian our driver (who looked about 14) started to give a couple of guys on a motorbike a bit of a close call, almost running into the back of them and then forcing them to the side of the road. The boys had the temerity to pull up alongside and return the verbals at which point our driver swerved violently towards them, literally forcing them off of the tarmac. A repeated attempt to berate our driver resulted in another crazy swerve, this time hitting the bike broadside, bending/breaking their wing mirror. Needless to say the fight was now on and the bikers buzzed around the minibus like an angry wasp, trying to get us to pull over to sort things out while our driver continued to try to swat them, using our bus to do it. At one point they were seen to pull over ahead of us and, as our driver again ignored them, they picked up some rocks to use on us (fortunately they didnt throw them). The battle carried on for several kilometres and included a reprisal attack by the bikers who kicked out at and smashed the shuttle's nearside rear light covers. The driver ignored the pleas and demands of all of us passengers not to carry on with his crazy antics however the matter was finally "settled" by a long argument at a set of traffic lights. Both parties having made their point the bikers drove away leaving us to hope that our driver could complete the journey without further incident which, fortunately, he did.
And so endeth the Gili section of the Indonesian leg of the trip.