Indonesia Part 3: Back…back.. to Bali… Bali

Our days of early bedtimes and obscenely early mornings ended when we stepped off the ferry and back into the beachy vacation lifestyle of Bali. We bought tickets for the local (un-air conditioned, PACKED) bus to Pemuteran, a small town in the middle of Barat National Park. Our hotel greeted us with fresh fruit smoothies and flowers on the beds – the perfect start to our third and final leg of the vacation. The park-like grounds of the tiny resort were quiet, serene. We took a couple hours to unpack, relax, and drink tea on the porch of our hotel room before heading to the beach. Unfortunately, mere minutes after arriving, the sky darkened, and fat drops of rain started falling. We made it back to our resort just in time to miss the downpour. None of us were too bothered by the rain – it gave us an excuse to sit and read and listen to the patterned patter of the drops coming down.

 

Jeff and I walked down the dirt road that led to our resort and found a nice restaurant where we ordered brick oven pizza and brought it back to the rooms. After eating our fill, we were all more than ready for bed; we’d been going strong since 1:30 in the morning! It was hard to believe it was still the same days as our Ijen Crater hike – had that been just this morning? The odd hours had my head swimming.

On our first full day back in Bali we booked an excursion to go snorkeling on the reefs of Barat National Park. Several boats took about 20 of us out, and we anchored for our snorkel trip.

Side note: We were the only Americans in the group; this is something I have come to use to gauge how “touristy” a destination is. The more Americans, the more touristy it is. Maybe that’s an unfair stereotype, but it seems that Americans are the last to discover the really cool places. Once they’ve found out about, it’s already overly crowded and unauthentic, though usually easy to navigate and plan. Say what you will about my vacation snobbery, but the places I’ve enjoyed most have been relatively undiscovered by the Western world.

Jeff enjoying the trip out to our snorkelling spot

Jeff enjoying the trip out to our snorkelling spot

Our leader hopped off the boat and we all followed suit, swimming along the edge of the reef drop off. Jeff and I have done some amazing snorkeling in the Philippines, so I wasn’t really expecting this trip to blow my mind. We saw TONS of cool, colorful fish, though. The water over the reef was really shallow in a few places, which made it feel like we were swimming WITH the fish, not just over them.

I got a little bored with the scenery and wandered closer to the drop off where I could see the bubbles from the divers among our group. Here, I could see the shallows over the coral and the immense depths of ocean. The divers’ bubbles were floating up from beneath that ledge, and just as I got over the top of them, a giant sea turtle popped up, most likely spooked by the divers. The relaxing sound of my breath in and out of the snorkel tube immediately ceased as I gawked at the turtle gracefully swimming up and out into the sea. The divers had followed the turtle out and looked up to watch him. They saw me and waved frantically, pointing at the turtle, and I gave the thumbs up. This was, by far, the absolute coolest thing I had ever seen!

Tearing my eyes from the turtle, I popped out of the water and started screaming, “Turtle! Turtle!” as loud as I could so that the other snorkelers would hear me. I was quite a ways from the group (such a rebel). Jeff and Jamie reached me quickly, and I thought Jeff was going to kill me. He couldn’t tell what I was yelling, only catching the fact that I was screaming, and he had assumed I was hurt. Ooops… He got over it quickly and swam out after the turtle. By then, the turtle was swimming downward and was much harder to see than he had been when he first popped out from under the shelf. We watched as he faded into the distance, just a tiny spec in the deep blue.

That experience settled it for me: I was going to put aside my fears and learn to SCUBA dive. Jeff rolled his eyes at my proclamation, “Oh, NOW you’re ready?!” He’d been eager to learn since we’d moved to the Philippines, and I had been extremely hesitant.

We all swam back to the boat for lunch, then some of us went back out to snorkel before it was time to leave. As the boat turned to head back to Pemuteran, we realized we were all FRIED. We’d applied sunscreen, but apparently it hadn’t been enough. I started to feel feverish and a headache formed. By the time we’d returned to our room, I was shivering and aching.

A hot shower helped a little, but I was clearly getting sick. Jeff went down to the main road and found me some medicine, and I crawled into bed to hopefully sleep it off while Jeff and Jamie went out to a reggae bar with the locals we’d met on our snorkel trip. I was disappointed to not be able to go, but there was no way I could’ve enjoyed it. Thankfully, the night in bed did the trick; my fever broke in the middle of the night, and I was feeling MUCH better by morning.

The next day we said our good-byes to the friendly resort staff and headed back to Ubud. The drive through the lush hills was gorgeous! Our driver dropped us off at our hotel, which was right on the river and had a great swimming pool. Our room was HUGE! Living room, kitchen, and balcony, plus the room and bathroom, of course. The only downside was the stairs. Jamie’s leg was still pretty bad, and we had to go up and down several staircases to get to our room.

We grabbed a late lunch at Murni’s, the restaurant across from the hotel. The food was, once again, excellent, and the view of the river and hills was impressive as well.

That night, we had “big” plans (aka, not going to bed before 9) to get dinner and go to the Laughing Buddha bar. After much walking and no progress, we gave up on the Laughing Buddha and stopped for a couple of drinks at another bar before heading home to relax and enjoy our balcony.

The next morning, I woke early and slipped back out to the balcony to read and enjoy the view of the river. I opened the door and found scat all over the balcony floor and one of the chairs. Weird… I pushed the chair aside and took a clean one. When Jamie woke, I showed her the mess, and we agreed that some animal had obviously made its home on our balcony for the night. We didn’t think much more of it, and the hotel staff cleaned it up when they took care of our room that day.

Since we had already spent a few days in Bali prior to our Java trip, Jamie and I had planned out what we wanted to get for souvenirs, and we spent our second day in Ubud shopping. Jeff was thrilled. We eased the pain by taking several breaks for drinks and food. At one of the cafes, we found a bunch of games and pulled out Cards Against Humanity. We ended up staying for over an hour, laughing uncontrollably.

Jeff found a barber and got his hair cut (3 weeks without a buzz – he was looking shaggy!). We went back to the hotel to clean up and headed back out. Fresh and so clean clean, we headed back out to find a place for dinner and drinks to ring in the new year. None of us were looking for the typical, cliche NYE parties, so we moved on when a bar had a cover charge. Several restaurants were already packed, and we were starting to get discouraged. It was already after nine, and we hadn’t even eaten yet. Finally, we stopped at a place we had passed several times – no cover, chill ambience, and a table had JUST opened up at the back – perfect! Dinner was delicious! Drinks were cold and tasty. We ordered a hookah and enjoyed the live music for the evening.

 

After the cheesy countdown to midnight, we paid our bill and headed back to the hotel. Of course, the streets were insanely crowded, but this didn’t last long. Ubud is a VERY laid back town. Most of the young party crowd (wow, I sound so old right now) vacations in Kuta. The Ubud vacationers are there for culture and experience, not parties. By the time we reached our hotel, the streets were empty, but the staff was having a riotous good time in the hotel’s dining area. Very entertaining. 🙂

We turned on the lights to the balcony and found that the mysterious scat scatterer had visited again. Just as we were stepping out to investigate, an apocalyptic SWARM of bugs attacked. Our room had no glass in the windows, so the bugs were easily getting in. We quickly turned off all the lights and hid in the bedroom. Luckily, the bugs hadn’t gotten that far yet, and with the door shut, we were safe. We asked the staff about the bugs and the scat the next morning. They explained that the scat was from some type of bat, which was drawn to the balcony by the bugs. Makes sense… and I’m really glad I didn’t know about the bat until our last day at the hotel.

We spent the day relaxing by the pool, finishing shopping, and just enjoying our vacation.

The next day, we left early for Legian. This was a last-minute group decision. Ubud has no access to the coast, and we decided to end our trip at the beach. The guidebook made Legian sound like a good fit for us, so I had booked a hotel through Agoda a couple days before, and we hired a driver for the trip. Easy enough.

We got dropped of at the hotel and I went to check us in, where I found that our reservation had not gone through… and the hotel was fully booked. Jeff and I set off to find a new place to stay while Jamie stayed with all our luggage. Had we had more time, we probably would’ve been pickier, but it was our last day, and we wanted to get to the beach. The first hotel we stopped at was full, but the second one had really gorgeous grounds and had one more room available. We’ll take it!

We went and got our bags and checked in to the new hotel. The manager showed us to our room, and my spirits drooped. I’d been trying to keep positive, even though I was tired and discouraged from our morning travel and hotel disappointment, but once I saw that room, I just couldn’t stay cheery anymore. Peeling paint, rusty refrigerator, sorry excuse for a shower… We dropped our bags and got out of there quickly, sure that the beach make all right in the world.

On our way to the shore, we stopped for breakfast. Legian was packed with loud tourists. If this was the “quiet, laid back” beach, I’m glad I’ll never see Kuta. We ate quickly and walked on to the beach. It was extremely windy out on the sand, but we rented loungers and umbrellas, got drinks, and settled in for a day of fun and sun. Jamie and I were content reading, but Jeff wanted to get in the water, so he headed into the surf. Minutes later, he returned with a disgusted look on his face. Apparently, the water, much like the beach, was full of trash. Disgusting. I ventured as far as the edge of the shore and no further. Plastic immediately clung to my legs, and I could see all kinds of trash around me. Of course I was disturbed by the garbage, by more so I was upset by the cause of this situation: tourists. Bali was a pristine paradise before we all started going there and destroying it.

We left the beach and spent the afternoon at the hotel pool, which was considerably nicer than the room. 🙂

That night we found a great restaurant, Mozzarella, and took our time eating and having a few drinks, reflecting on trip highlights. Everyone named their favorite trip/hotel/meal, craziest memory, favorite driver/guide/local expert. We laughed a lot as we reminisced. It didn’t seem possible that we’d been in Indonesia for nearly three weeks. How was the trip already coming to an end? But as we talked over our memories, I realized just how much we had packed into our three weeks: hikes, sunrises, early AMs, snorkeling, shopping, blue fire, two islands, 6+ cities/areas, UNESCO sites, temples, foreigner photo ops… so many great experiences with two of my favorite people on the planet.

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Our last night on vacation – dinner and reminiscing at Mozzarella

 

 

 

Just a few, random photos from throughout our trip:

 

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Indonesia Part 2: Java at all Hours

For the second leg of our vacation, Jeff, Jamie, and I checked out of our Ubud hotel at 4 AM to make it to the airport in time for our early departure. I wish I could say this would be our only early morning/late evening for the entire trip, but that would be a blatant lie. The Java portion of our journey was all about odd hours.

We landed in Yogyakarta on the morning of December 22nd and made our way to our hotel. The city was typical of most Asian metropolises I’ve experienced thus far: crowded, crazy traffic, less than clean. Fortunately, our hotel was located on a very quiet alley-like street, not even wide enough for cars. This made for a much calmer atmosphere. We had breakfast at a small restaurant across from our hotel and planned to spend the day exploring the city.

The weather in Jogja (nickname for Yogyakarta) was stifling, so our walk around the city was a sweaty one. Unfortunately, we ran into a lot of scammers who tried to convince us that the places we wanted to visit were closed and suggested we visit such-and-such batik center. The guide book warned about exactly this situation. We grew frustrated with it and went back to the hotel to cool down and make plans for dinner.

Omah Dhuwar restaurant was on the opposite side of the city, but it had rave reviews from travelers, so we hailed a cab that night and headed to Kota Gede for a slightly upscale meal. The restaurant was housed in an old mansion and had great ambience. Our table looked out over the garden, which was lit with a soft glow along all the paths. The salmon and mashed potatoes were mighty fine! After our dinner, we headed back to the hotel and were passed out by 8:30. Early mornings make for early bedtimes!

…And it was a good thing we headed to bed early, because we were up at 3:30 on the 23rd to travel out to Borobudur temple for sunrise. After our disappointing sunrise – too foggy for good pictures, we admired the massive temple.

Then our friendly driver, Golan, took us to see tofu and pottery production in the town. We stopped at two smaller temples on our way back to Jogja.

 

We were back to the hotel by late afternoon and took a break at the hotel before heading out for drinks at a bar that was supposed to have live music but didn’t. We learned quickly that the guide book was incorrect on several of its listings for restaurants and bars because the neighborhood we were staying in changed frequently.

On our third day in Jogja we “slept in,” getting up at 6:30 to go to Prambanan temple on the outskirts of the city. The temple was magnificent, but the biggest tourist attraction was the tourists! We found ourselves surrounded by Indonesians almost the minute we stepped foot into the area. Of the three of us, Jeff certainly embraced the attention the most. I suffered through countless pictures with a fake smile. We were also approached by ESL students who were visiting the temple on a field trip and had an assignment to speak with English-speaking tourists. This was actually pretty fun… the first time. But after the 5th or 6th group of students had approached each of us, we were burnt out and just wanted to get away.

I had read about a nearby temple, Candi Sewu, so we left the Prambanan area and walked over to the smaller temple. I was very pleasantly surprised to find this temple completely empty! We had the whole compound to ourselves for at least 30 minutes, so we got to explore and take pictures without interruption.

By this time, it was getting really hot, so we headed back to the entrance to meet our taxi driver. It was still fairly early in the day, so we stopped at the Affandi Museum. The art museum was housed in Affandi’s former residence, which was comprised of several cool and eclectic buildings. This place was pretty excellent. We spent the better part of the afternoon exploring and enjoying the atmosphere at the museum.

That night we had dinner at a very small upstairs restaurant called Atap. This was just down another alleyway in our hotel’s neighborhood. All three of us ate an appetizer, full meals, and had drinks for less than $19! The price was no indication of the food quality – it was the best food we had had yet in Jogja!

After dinner, we headed out for a little entertainment at Oxenfree and Lucifers where live music was playing. Not your typical Christmas Eve, but our most enjoyable day in the city!

Christmas was our last day in Jogja. We packed up and had a relaxing day with lunch at a great restaurant – Via Via. This turned out to be more than just a place to eat. Via Via also arranges day trips and runs a small store that sells souvenirs made by women of the nearby towns and villages. Jamie and I stocked up on small souvenirs. I just wish we had found this place sooner; we would’ve eaten lunch there every day if we had known about it!

After lunch, we boarded the train for Surabaya, our stopover on our way to Mt. Bromo. That night we had a “delicious” Christmas feast of packaged foods from the convenience store located on the ground floor of our hotel. The highlight of the night was getting to Skype with Jeff’s family. Christmas has been a hard time for us since moving overseas, and we still haven’t figured out how to make it hurt less, but having Jamie there with us made it so much better than last year when we were alone in Thailand. (Alone in Thailand… I know, I sound like a spoiled brat!)

The next morning, our driver showed up very early, so we had no time for breakfast. We hit the road to Mt. Bromo. It was a lonnnnnng drive, but we did stop at a cool waterfall where were asked to pose for more “white people” photos.

We reached Cemoro Lewang (Mt. Bromo area) in the afternoon and took a little walk around the quaint village. Our hotel was nothing to write home about, but accomodations are minimal in this area of Java, so we didn’t have much for options. It was significantly colder at the higher elevation, and we were thankful to have pants and long sleeves for the night.

Our heads had barely hit the pillow before the alarm was blaring at 2:30 AM, rousing us for the sunrise trip to Mt. Bromo. The hotel provided the most pathetic breakfast I’ve ever seen – basically a piece of bread and some jam – which we munched on while we waited for our jeep. We drove up into the mountains in the dark in a massive caravan. Most people headed to the highest point for the sunrise, but we found a smaller side hill right of the road that was virtually uninhabited and staked our claim on a piece of ground. And sat. And waited. This time it was worth it. Unlike the disappointing sunrise at Borobudur, the sunrise over Bromo was amazing. Smoke furled out of the volcanoes. Clouds unfurled below the peaks, and the sun crept up, changing the scene every minute. I must’ve taken a hundred pictures.

After the sunrise, Jeff and I “hiked” the massive staircase up to the top of Bromo. It was packed with people, so took a couple of photos and went back down to meet Jamie. She had hurt her leg in the dark trip up the steep hill to our viewpoint and wisely chose to sit out of the Mt. Bromo “hike.”

At this point, it was still early morning, and we headed back to the hotel to pack up and move on to our final destination on the island of Java: Ijen Crater.

This leg of the trip was nothing short of brutal. 6+ hours in the car, ROUGH roads, and a driver who spook almost no English. It poured rain for a majority of the drive, which had me very nervous about the hike that was planned for the following day. I was so happy to FINALLY arrive at the hotel in the late afternoon. Imagine my disappointment when we were shown to one of the crappiest hotel rooms I’ve ever stayed in. Ugh.

After dropping our bags, we went to the outdoor dining area where we played euchre as more and more guests showed up. There’s only one reason to stay at Catimor, and that’s the hike to Ijen, so we knew everyone there would be with us on our trek the next day. We ate a subpar dinner and headed to bed at 8 PM… so we could be up at 12:40 AM for the hike. I am pretty sure Jeff and Jamie were mentally cursing me as we packed up a mere 4 hours after going to bed and headed out for yet ANOTHER early morning trip.

The Ijen hike turned out to be a lot longer than what I had read in descriptions online. Jamie’s leg was still really bothering her, so I felt terrible about the 2-hour uphill climb. She decided to stay at the top, rather than hike down into the crater. I really wanted her to go with us, but two minutes into the descent, I was so glad she hadn’t! The “trail” into the crater was craggy, ridiculously step, and very challenging. Jeff and I were questioning whether it was even worth it. It took 45-1hr to get down, and this was in virtually pitch-black darkness. Our guide had a flash light, and there were plenty of others on the trek as well, so we could mostly see where we were going. I was shocked to see people in flip flops or flimsy shoes and “city” clothes. We were in hiking pants and tennis shoes, and it was hard enough that way.

We FINALLY made it to the bottom and took a set on the rocks. At first, we couldn’t see much, and the sulphuric clouds were overwhelming. Within a minute, we say flashes of blue across the bottom the crater, and we instantly forgot about the long hike up and down to get here. It was absolutely stunning! The blue flames are caused by the extreme temperatures in the crater. The vents shoot out the heated steam, which makes contact with the sulphuric air and causes the reaction. As the morning wore on, we could see more and more intense blue flames. The sulphur made my eyes water and my throat burn so bad there were times I didn’t think I could take it, but we stuck it out to watch the “light show.” I later read that this is the only place in the world where you can see this, though it used to be visible in other places, like Mt. Vesuvius.

Once the sun came up, we could see Kawah Ijen, the world’s largest acidic lake, at the bottom of the crater. The water was an opaque mint green, like nothing I had ever seen before.

On our way back up the crater, we encountered the sulphur miners. These men hike up, into, and back out of Ijen every day carrying 70-80 kg of sulphur in woven baskets. They make 2-3 trips each day. Naturally, they are in phenomenal shape. How they can survive that terrible smell and grueling hike is beyond me. They had my utmost respect, and Jeff and I did our best to stay out of their way as we climbed the crater.

The trip out was much faster, maybe 15 minutes, and we reunited with Jamie for the lonnnnng downhill walk. I was ridiculously happy when we spotted our young driver at the end of the trek.

Our drive from Ijen to the ferry was fairly quick. We bought our tickets, and before we knew it, we were saying sayonara to Java. I was really glad we made the efforts to see this part of Indonesia, but the Java portion of our vacation was by no means relaxing. Needless to say, we were all very excited to be heading back to Bali to end our trip.