Friday, August 5, 2011

Paradise effing lost

It took until Day Four in Bali for me to begin to appreciate this tropical 'paradise.' Prior to this, you could say there were some 'hiccups' that prevented me from enjoying the experience fully. Though perhaps projectile vomiting occurring simultaneously with explosive diarrhoea would be a more fitting analogy (luckily this is only an analogy, and my kecks remain unsoiled).

If you're a fan of British consumer outrage, feel free to read more and learn all about the series of unfortunate events (only some of which were almost definitely completely my fault) that served to sour my first few days in Indonesia.

If you prefer your blogs happy and optimistic, take a look at the nice volcano picture and then sod off. You don't belong here!

Day One

My introduction to Bali and Indonesia was pretty spectacular, as we flew over a range of volcanoes that coquettishly displayed their cones over the top of the skimpy cloud corset, giving anyone who was so inclined the perfect opportunity to gaze right down their gaping maws. Phwoar!

To keep this spectacle from being too pornographic, and to make it more arty, God (or perhaps the scattering of light particles and the natural rotation of the Earth) created a brilliant sunset to accompany this impossibly photogenic scene.

I forgot to get out my camera though, so tough noogies - here's a slightly less impressive picture stolen from the internet to give you an idea:

If arriving at Bali in the evening is perfect for sexy volcano porn, it's not so convenient if you've stubbornly decided to reject your hotel's offer of a lift and decided to rely on local transport to make your own way to their remote resort.

Despite clearly telling the bus conductor to drop me off at 'Soka' (admittedly he didn't really speak any English, but this is the name of a stop along his route that he should know well), I became concerned after more than an hour had passed. Google Maps had told me it should take about an hour, and the occasional town names I was able to glimpse adorning the front of Indomart stores no longer corresponded to those on my paranoidly-scribbled map.

For once, this paranoia I feel on every single unfamiliar bus and train journey I ever make proved accurate, and when I eventually piped up to ask if we would be getting to Soka soon, the bus conductor looked worried. About 30 minutes later, he gestured that we'd arrived at my destination and let me out. In what turned out to be the wrong place. Perhaps he assumed I could just as easily get a hotel here? (I couldn't). Or, more likely, he wanted to get rid of a problem he realised he was partly responsible for creating.

Because I'm no racist, I didn't let this incident colour my opinion of all Indonesians. Though I stand by my research that Indonesian men are the world's loudest and most unpleasant snorers, based on a comprehensive study of two Indonesians I've shared dorms with in the past. You can't argue with maths.

Heading to the nearest hotel, the manager told me I was in Medewi, some 30 kilometres past my stop. He also didn't have any rooms for this weary traveller, informed me that the bus I'd just been abandoned by was the last one of the day, and that no taxi services operated along this route.

I only had a couple of options left, and chose the more responsible one - I was going to have to swallow my independence and contact my resort for a pick-up. After all, it would probably cost less from here than the 300,000 they charged from the more distant airport (expensive, but not as extortionate as it might sound to anyone not accustomed to paying for their meals with fifty-thousand notes).

At least, that might have been the case if the phone number they'd provided in the email was actually the number of the resort, and not the number of some confused man with no connection to the business whatsoever. Now there was only one option left - but surely I wasn't going to spend the night walking 30 kilometres down a dark country road?

Photos taken retroactively, for illustration purposes - I was a bit too concerned with not dying to record my adventure at the time

I can sometimes go a bit insane under pressure. I don't have panic attacks or visibly break down or anything, but as I started to walk down the non-illuminated main road heading back east along the coast, the rational part of my newly schizophrenic mind was audibly pleading with the insane part to reconsider. 'You're not actually going to walk?!' Rational-Dave ineffectually argued with Insane-Dave, but unfortunately the latter entity occupied the part of my brain that controls my legs.

After an hour or so of dodging traffic and setting off every guard dog along the way, I found another resort (still somehow, depressingly, in Medewi) and was once again told that there were no rooms or taxis. At this point, either Rational-Dave was able to wrestle control from Insane-Dave, or a new, third, even more mentally ill personality came to the fore, and I snuck into the unkempt field opposite the resort to get some sleep and wait for bus services to resume in the morning (or at the very least, for the remainder of my walk to be less hazardous in the daylight).

I didn't know if Bali has snakes or dangerous insects, but Genuinely-Mentally-Ill-Dave figured that putting on some jeans and a coat would provide sufficient protection as he lay against his backpack and slept for a couple of hours. It was actually pretty nice to be out in the world like this, if you ignore the occasional ominous sounds of crunching foliage and the rain that woke me up at 3AM, requiring a dash for cover to protect my precious laptop. How could I hope to write an overlong, bitter blog post about all this without it?

I resumed walking at about 6AM, and a helpful motorcycling woman told me where I could wait for a bus - even offering me 10,000 rupiah if I didn't have the fare (admittedly this exchanges to less than 1 GBP, but still very generous!) In fact, this generosity frustrated me - how was I supposed to bear a racist grudge against all Indonesians now that one of them had helped me out?

This is where the story gets less interesting, as I soon boarded the bus and it uncharacteristically stopped at the right place this time, which was easier to spot in the daylight. My resort didn't even make me pay for the first night when I wasn't around... which meant I came out of all this slightly financially better off, now that I think about it.

And that's all that matters, right? You can't put a price on stress and near-death experiences, after all.

Day Two

It turns out Bali does have snakes, as one somehow got into my room today while I caught up on sleep. I say 'somehow,' but it probably had something to do with the conveniently snake-sized gap under the back door of my bungalow, which I chased it back out of.

This place is pretty nice, and reminds me a lot of places I stayed in Thailand and Malaysia. Right down the absence of Wi-Fi internet or any internet service at all, despite false statements on the resort's website.

This was a little annoying, especially as I was hoping to spend my first couple of days catching up on work, but I've been in this situation many times before - and it turned out the internet café is just a short and scenic bus journey to the next town (Berjara) and prices are very fair. Maybe in a couple of days I'd start to enjoy being disconnected and have to find other enjoyable ways to waste my time - but at present, there was still plenty of stress available to keep me from getting complacent.

Now I had a place to stay and resources for work, money became the most pressing concern, as none of the precious ATMs I found in Berjara accepted Visa cards. Serves me right for choosing a bank with such an obscure card provider, I suppose - whoever heard of 'Visa?' (Or, less sarcastically and more honestly, it's another reminder that I perhaps shouldn't be relying on a single card while travelling to all corners of the Earth).

I only risked buying one meal today, but Rational-Dave decided he couldn't allow that to continue, and that I needed to devote the next day to finding a suitable cashpoint. Rational-Dave can be a boring square sometimes, but I couldn't have got this far without him.

Day Three

I reluctantly returned to Medewi just over 24 hours after spending a slightly scarring night here, and once again regretted stepping off the bus when it turned out the ATMs in this place don't accept Visa cards after all.

Another jaunt further along the coastal road to Negara City finally relieved much of my stress (I've never seen the word 'city' more loosely applied - it seemed to be smaller than the village where I grew up), and I made the most of the Visa-friendly ATM by withdrawing a few million rupiah to see me through the next couple of weeks. Don't get excited, that's only a couple of hundred pounds.

I said don't get excited, buttmunch

Having spent most of the day on this cash quest, I ate some nice Indonesian food, went back to the bungalow and did some bloody work. Writing fifteen pages about business broadband and another few about Forex trading really helped me unwind and I finally started to relax. If you somehow haven't noticed, I'm a strange guy.

Maybe now I can actually start to enjoy this place, where I'm on self-imposed exile for the rest of the month (Indonesia immigration generously doesn't allow the torture to endure more than 30 days). I read that some people actually come to Bali on holiday, so there must be something more to it once the island runs out of ideas to stress me the hell out. I'll let you know.


  1. haha i'm sorry that i laugh reading ur blog about ur trip in Bali :D

  2. Hi Dave, enjoyed your hilarious indo travel blog posts. I was googling for photos about money and excited and found your site. I was wondering whether I could have permission to use your photo holding the rupiahs for a blog post about first salary experience. Your expression holding rupiahs is perfect.

    1. You can if you want to. It wasn't supposed to be serious though!

  3. I know.. Your face looked like it was the first time you saw money. Similar to someone receiving their first paycheck lol