Delays and departures

Bali/Flores, Indonesia

Oct 2020

On what should have been day 1 of my boat trip, I woke up early again so when down to see if there was a sunrise again – no really sunshine as it was too cloudy, but it was beautiful with the clouds reflected in the low tide.  What was particularly cool was that the sun was rising one side as the full moon set on other.  It was a great start to the day.

I spent the morning relaxing by the pool (different pool view this morning but still in the shade – no sunburn for me 😂), before checking out and taking a taxi the short distance to the hotel next door to check in for the boat that is not happening.   To kill some time, Harriet and I ended up back at the bar with my new favourite cocktail – the ‘C Cup’ by the pool.

At 2.30 the group of approximately 100 people boarded a bus, not for the boat, but to transfer us to a new hotel in Sanur, a different area of Bali, around 45 minutes away and by happy coincident, Harriet and I were sharing a room. We had plenty of time to kill, so we went off for a quick walk along the waterfront. This area is not as fancy as Nusa Dua but it was still nice with a number of independent bars and restaurants along the waterfront and not just those attached to a fancy hotel.

After a shower and changing in to my ‘first night dress’ we had a quick cocktail before meeting the group for the welcome meeting where we were introduced to some of the expedition staff who will be joining us on the trip.  The company is a family company and in based out of Christchurch and almost the entire family including children are on this trip! But I am most excited about 3 of the staff – Neil Nightingale and Karen Bass, both used to hold senior positions within the BBC Natural History department and who count Sir David Attenborough as a close friend and are responsible for some of his most popular programmes, and Rod Morris, a Kiwi naturalist who is a well-known wildlife photographer and filmmaker – I want to be them when I grow up 😂!

I was lucky enough to sit next to Rod at dinner and enjoyed reminiscing about our previous trips to Komodo – mine was 15 years ago and his was around 25 years ago when he was making a documentary there.    

It was disappointing to be waking up the next morning in another hotel room on Bali rather than on a ship, but my early morning walk had a lovely surprise of a volcano in the distance through the haze – we couldn’t see it at all the day before.

Today’s alternative activity was my idea of hell … 100 + people getting on buses to go on a day trip 🤦🏻‍♀️.  The trip was taking us back to Ubud where Harriet and I had gone the day before and the first stop was the temple we had already been to, so we decided just to wander around the streets and buy more snake fruit (which I had become obsessed with the day before). 

Next stop was a local village which may have been called St Asti Suweta Yowana or perhaps Dusun Lantangidung according to the sign.  We were told that hardly any tourists come to this particular village and although we may have been the only people here at this time, it was clearly set up for tourists!! As with the old Balinese family compound we saw the previous day, these were more modern but set up in the same way and each compound had different artisans doing different crafts – weaving, silver making, rice cakes etc.  More often than not I was distracted by the insects, plants, rice fields etc 🥴

For me, the highlight of the day was the beautiful lunch spot, at the Royal Pita Maha hotel, overlooking the spectacular Ayung river gorge.  Surrounded by jungle and waterfalls, watching white water rafts coming down the river. The food was ok, but the setting was stunning.  Each villa here had a view and its own pool – perhaps a nice spot for another trip lol.

From here we stopped in Ubud town and joined the throngs of tourists walking around the main street.  I decided to avoid the tourist market and headed straight to the main sites in the area.   Firstly, the Saraswati temple dedicated to honour the Hindu Goddess Saraswati – the goddess of learning, literature and art.   It had a beautiful lotus pond and was a peaceful oasis despite being right on the Ubud main drag.

Just down the road, also on the main road was the Ubud Palace (Puri Saren Agung).  Built in the 18th century by some of the finest artists in the country it used to be the official resident of the Ubud royal family.  Today it is a very busy tourist attraction, but it is still definitely worth exploring. 

Both sites were lovely but oh so hot, so I hit the most glorious of tourist spots, Starbucks (yes, they are everywhere) for iced coffee before we headed back to the hotel for a swim, pack bags, dinner and find out what we are doing tomorrow …

Day 3 of my Expedition cruise dawned with us still in Bali but finally about to leave.  Not by boat but by plane …. With a 4.45am wake up, and breakfast before taking a bus to the airport.  It was a surprisingly nice domestic terminal, and it was all very easy, cool and clean.

Apparently, the company had arranged a charter flight, but it fell through at the last minute as there were already two scheduled flights going to Flores during the day that were not full, so we had to use those.  I was luckily on the first Batik Air flight (as were most people) and we almost took over the plane.   I was also lucky enough to get a window seat, so I got the views I missed arriving the dark. I was so glad to be leaving Bali and was finally feeling like the trip was starting. I definitely did not pay all this money to sit in a fancy hotel in Bali – I could actually have done that for much cheaper if I had wanted that kind of holiday.

The flight from Bali to Labuan Bajo in Flores, took us over a number of islands and a spectacular volcano and its crater lake which accordingly to was Ranjani (Offline working wonders to identify landmarks).  We also flew over Komodo island – which appeared much larger than I remembered from the air.  It was also very arid and almost treeless, such a contrast from lush Ubud/Bali.  Also in contrast to Bali is the culture – people here on Flores are predominately Catholic and Muslim which also lends to different architecture (not that we saw much of it).

Komodo International Airport in Labuan Bajo was much bigger than first time I was here over 15 years ago, as was the town itself.  We had a couple of stops on the way to the hotel, firstly a 20 minute stop at the local fruit and vegetable market.  Not surprisingly it was smelly and hot, but the inside part was much cooler and posher.  Despite the whistlestop visit (and the 100 other people with me), it is always interesting to see the local markets and what is for sale. This was followed by lunch at a restaurant with beautiful harbour views.

Sadly, there were no activities scheduled for the afternoon and those we suggested (having done brief google searches) were knocked back.  So instead of exploring some of the island of Flores, I spent the afternoon chilling by the ocean front pool and then joined Rod, my new favourite naturalist on a short nature walk around the hotel gardens.  Not a terrible way to spend the afternoon, but I would have preferred to have been out exploring the island.

On a brighter note, the day ended with a lovely dinner on the beach, with the backdrop of an amazing sky as the sunset – and volcanos in the distance – photos just don’t do it justice. After a briefing about the upcoming days, I had high hopes for things to come.

The great escape

Bali/Indonesia – October 2022 

It was with great excitement and trepidation that I left for my trip – the first time I’ve had this feeling in a few years.  Adding to the trepidation was the unreliable flights and the continually changing covid requirements which are still making travelling challenging.  And of course, there were no direct flights to Bali yet and it didn’t help that my direct flight from Christchurch to Melbourne was cancelled. The alternative options were a short transfer time or overnight in Auckland and as I am not one to take too many risks, particularly at the beginning of a holiday I took the overnight option.  I was glad I did as I had a fairly easy and relaxed transition through flights. 

I had a few hours to kill in Melbourne and it was great to take the time to meet up with a friend for lunch before my last flight from Melbourne to Bali.   The constant faffing through check in and boarding reminded me why I do not normally choose to travel on Jetstar!

I loved that first hit of tropical air as we disembarked the plan – it was raining, 28C and oh so humid🥴.  I had thought the whole arrival process would be a mess, but it was all pretty organised and quick for most part. First a health check, although all they did was look at my passport and vaccination certificate (luckily, they did not take temperatures as I am sure I was already hot and sweaty despite the aircon).

Next queue was to buy my visa on arrival (IDR500,000 or approximately NZ$60) before moving on to the longest queue, to get through immigration and finally on to luggage collection and customs.  All up, about an hour in total to get through and out.

I had arranged a pickup and finding my name on a board was easy enough, but the actual car pickup area was mayhem – I was worried I would not recognise the driver I had just meet when he finally came around with the car.  Thankfully he could recognise me.  I am not ashamed to say I was a hot mess by the time I got in the air conditioner car.

It was a short 15-20 minute ride to my hotel, including two security checks.  One to get into the area and then again to get into the hotel and I was grateful for the cool towel at check in.  I finally arrived at the hotel almost 24 hours after getting up, with only a couple of hours sleep in between and I was ready for a bed!

Despite a lack of sleep, I still woke up early and so got up for a walk (just missing a downpour).  There were frangipanis everywhere (my favourite flowers) and a slight aroma of incenses in the air as I walked down a lovely jogging track along the beach front (I did not jog of course) passed lots of beautiful hotels and some abandoned ones (though I am not sure if that is covid related as they look like they have been abandoned for much more than 2.5 yrs).

Of course, I realise this is NOT the real Bali and I feel like that in some way I am cheating on it by staying in this fancy hotel area, but it is what I need for a couple of days to relax before the proper trip starts.

I had found a nearby coffee shop on the map but didn’t check opening hours 🤦🏻‍♀️ so ended up back in a nearby hotel for my coffee fix and to read my emails … to see that my trip had all changed … Apparently, the ship I was supposed to be boarding in 3 days’ time had been damaged on its journey to Bali so whilst it was being repaired we are going to have to stay 2 extra nights in Bali (not what I wanted) — then flying to Flores (which I have done before) and then 2 days in a hotel there visiting Komodo.  Finally, then we can hopefully get on the ship – I was sitting there wondering what else we are going to miss out on 🥲 but I guess time will tell.

As I walked back to the hotel to check out the itinerary and I bumped into my friend who was going on the same trip (and who I had caught up with in April on Great Barrier Island) and I ended walking back down the pathway with her to see a local tourist attraction, the Peninsula Nusa Dua Blowhole.  It cost IRD25,000 (NZ$3) to get through the gate to see the odd volcanic (I guess) rock formations and see the blow hole, with scantily clad local tourists posing in front it lol.  It was pretty cool if you managed to catch a big one!

It was hot hot hot by this time, so we walked back towards our hotels, said goodbye to Harriet (she is staying in the hotel next door) and quickly changed and set up under an umbrella by the pool … From some chill time by the pool and some chill time in the room (read nap time) I headed down to the beach and enjoyed a fresh coconut 🤤 and fresh ocean breeze, cutting through the heat of the day.

I met Harriet at her hotel next door for dinner, were we had a beautiful salad and a vodka coconut sorbet cocktails served in coconuts!  (The kind of cocktail I will dream about.)  We asked for knives to eat the coconut and the waitress advised us against eating them as they were old and hard – she could not comprehend it when we tried to explain that that’s how coconuts come in New Zealand.   She was probably horrified when she saw how much we ate 🤤. It was a beautiful evening and the hotels were lovely lit up for the night.

For what should have been my last full day in Bali, I woke up around 2am, but thankfully managed to get back to sleep.  I finally got up around 6am and went for a walk in the opposite direction to the first day.  Passed a few more fancy hotels and then the juxtaposition of an old temple sitting between the hotels and a few locals putting out offerings and praying on the beach.  

For the rest of the day, I had arranged a day trip with Harriet and a driver recommended by a friend.  We had said to her that we were not interested in going to the normal ‘instagram’ spots but left the rest of it up to her.  Of course, I had arrived at the hotel in the dark so had not really seems anything outside of the hotel area, so it was nice to finally be out and about, driving through the narrow streets lined by small shops.  I was very glad to not be driving through the mayhem of cars, small trucks and motorbikes.

Denpasar turned in to the Ubud area without seemingly leaving the urban area, it just became a little greener and our first stop was was at the Pura Puseh Batuan temple – a beautiful 11th century Hindu Temple with a five-tiered Candi Bentar gateway. Although we did appreciate the beautiful buildings and carvings, Harriet and I were both fascinated by the old frangipani trees covered in orchids and the most amazing little snowflake water lilies.  

After some time admiring the beautiful temple architecture, we visited a fruit stall to stock up on my old tropical favourite – mangosteens and find what might be my new favourite – snake fruit.  It’s skin looks exactly like snake skin and it tastes somewhat like a non-slimy jackfruit (another one of my favourites).

Our next stop was another temple but a completely different one to the first.  The Pura Gunung Kawi temple – a World Heritage Site. Gunung Kawi sits at the bottom of a river valley so of course that means a lot of stairs down, passed beautiful fields and a gauntlet of souvenir shops to visit the shrines or tombs, 10 in all, carved out of rock in the steep cliff face during the 11th century.  It is believed the shrines were dedicated to members of the ancient Balinese royal family of King Udayana.

There were not a lot of people, and it was not only beautiful but quiet set in the jungle with the noise of waterfalls and the river.   Heading back up, steps and heat and humidity = sun cream infused sweat dripping into my eyes – not fun but definitely worth the walk.

Passing verdant green rice paddies, the next stop was supposed to be the Water Temple but as it was a full moon day, the temple was crazy busy with local people doing their purification, so we decided to give it a miss and moved on to the Salria Luwak Coffee plantation.

As we walked through the gardens, there were lots of different plants such as coffee (or course), ginger, snake fruit plants and dragon fruit plants (both very weird), pineapples of various varieties, vanilla etc, etc.  And let us not forget the Luwaks (or Asian palm civets).  The animals, with whose help, they create the most expensive coffee in the world.  I’m sure most have heard of it.  The civets eat the coffee berries, once they have passed through the animal and passed out the other end, their poop is collected, cleaned and the coffee beans are deshelled and cleaned again before being ground and sold for extortionate prices around the world.  All that said, it is not a particularly good practice as in most cases, the Civets are captured from the wild and kept in small cages. 

This was not a large plantation like those I saw in Colombia, and most of the work was done by hand but they still had lots of different coffees and teas.  My favourites were Mangosteen tea and Coconut coffee (no surprise there).   I also paid the additional IRD 50,000 (or NZ$6) for the real deal – the Luwak coffee. It was very strong with lots of sludge at the bottom, it was nice, but I am not really sure what all the fuss is about. 

Next up on our whistle stop tour was a traditional Balinese house – here we were shown how the traditional houses were set up with the different rooms in different parts of the compound.  They showed us how to make the offerings they put at the temple and around their houses every day (apparently, they have to make 50-75 of them each day) and also about ceremonial cock fighting … yes you heard that right!!!!  The cocks were already in their bamboo cages ready to be taken to the temple later in the day for their fights.   Apparently now, people also bet on them, but this is not part of the religious aspect of the activity!

Our final stop, was the Tegenuguan waterfall, but first some lunch at the amazing Omma restaurant (it was already 2.30) overlooking the waterfall.  We ate in the restaurant, but it also had a bar and a chic day club with a pool.  All very cool and a great way to finish off the day.

Tomorrow is the big day, the start of my boat trip … but without the boat for the first 4 days!!!  So, we will have to see what tomorrow brings.