A Travellerspoint blog

August 2010

Bali Part 2

Surfing, sightseeing and spas

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See how happy Haru looks – that’s because we finally had some time just to relax on the beach!

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Well, kind of anyway. Today we’re surfing – which I tried, and really enjoyed, in Wales last year; though I think I did worse this year than last year. Haru picked it up quite quickly, as I guessed she would. She’s good at snowboarding and has good balance, while I still spent most of the time with my head underwater – yay!

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This was supposed to be the first of two half day lessons – but we decided after the first we’d had enough and really needed to relax a bit more the next day. So we cancelled the second lesson (which ended up being an epic adventure in itself… but no time to tell that now, but for a while Haru thought I’d been kidnapped!) and we booked a driver to run us around the island sightseeing instead.

I’ve never done that before, but I have to say it’s very convenient in a place like Bali with almost no public transport. We just told him what we wanted to see and he took us, though the driver also suggested places (mostly craft workshops, like this place where they hand dye cloth).

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It was quite interesting, but it was obvious that he was suggesting these places to bring in customers for them, maybe even getting a commission. So after a second stop at a silver workshop (which was much more SHOP than WORK) we declined further suggestions and stuck to our plan.

I really wanted to see how real people live in Bali – so the driver took us to a typical village house and said that it was ok to look around, but we should give a small offering (a couple of dollars) to the family.

The layout was really interesting as rather than having a house the family has a small compound with several small buildings. One is used for cooking, one or two are living/sleeping rooms and there is a large shrine for the family to remember their ancestors.

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There is even a large bed in a central area for laying out corpses when someone dies so that friends and family can come and pay their respects.

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The family’s crops (in this case coconuts) and animals (hens, fighting cocks and a pair of porcupines – which apparently are just pets) are also scattered between the buildings.

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After this detour we made our way to Ubud, a small town in central Bali with a reputation for it's artisans. We stopped here for lunch and to check out a couple of the local temples. The most striking, and typical, feature of Balinese temple architecture is the ornate, triangular, gateways.

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In general this same architecture is repeated again and again, but the details vary significantly and the temples ae full of wonderful statues and carvings - as well as natural features and ceremonial decorations.

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We had enough time for a short walk around the town (and check out the local kites - I bought one on the last day).

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Then we met the driver again to head off to our next destination. We backtracked a little, heading south-west from Ubud to check out Goa Gajah ('The Elephant Cave'). This famous site is named after central figure in the rock carving surrounding the entrance to the cave.

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This might seem mis-leading as it doesn't look much like an elephant now - but it's believed to be suffering from 'Sphinx's syndrom' (eg. It's nose dropped off). The cave itself is small, dim and unremarkable - housing a few small niches with Hindu and Buddist icons.

More impressive is the deep sunk holy springs and baths next to the cave.

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Despite having been around since the 11th century the site was 'rediscovered' in the 1920's and the baths weren't excavaed until the 1950's which is remarkable.

Behind the baths a stepped path drops down into the forest and a stream bed full of huge rocks; many of which are the visibly carved remains of earlier structures. It actually felt kind of unreal, I've seen things like that before - in movies and theme parks - and understanding that these weren't some cheap mock ups, but real ancient ruins was kind of difficult.

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The only problem with Goa Gajah was that it was nicer than we expected and we stayed longer than planned which meant we had to rush to our last point of call - a small coastal temple which is supposed to look magnificent against the setting sun... if we could get there in time!

Unfortnately we didn't make good time, getting caught up in traffic and funeral processions (which I snapped out of the moving car).

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The sun was already soaking the sky red as we drew close, but by the time we made it to the beach there was no more than a hint of pink left. Still Pura Tanah Lot looks great even against a regular early evening sky.

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As it got darker waves, clouds and rocky coast all combined to make quite a moody atmosphere. So we stayed to watch the passing of the light.

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Then it was time to head back from another busy, but really enjoyable day. I really wish we'd had longer for sightseeing, as flicking through the guide book there are some really wonderful places to see in Bali. If I do go again, I'd like to avoid the tourism of Kuta and stay somewhere in the quiter, more natural, north western part of the island; most of which is one huge national park - oh, well maybe next time!

This holiday was about finished though, we had to check out early the next day, but our flight wasn't until midnight. So Haru had the bright idea of booking into a spa resort for the day. We took a few shots of the hotel room (the second one actually - I complained about the first one as it's location meant it got no light and felt damp, so we got moved to a much nicer and bigger room), and we had a last walk around the local streets.

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Which meant I finally got a photo of the wonderful 'petrol stations' I'd been amazed by since we arrived - all over the island, to feed all the scooters, are petrol stands like this one, using any old bottles full of 'premium fuel'.

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Then around mid day we transfered from the hotel to the spa where we had our own mini villa with a private pool.

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Here we enjoyed / endured four hours of spa treatment. Massage, facial, reflexology the works.

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Haru loved it, I found most of it painful but it was a good experience and I loved having the villa to ourselves after the spa treatment was over to just unwind and relax until it was time to head to the airport.

So - conclusions? Well, Bali is interesting and has some beautiful places. The people really understand how much they depend on the tourist money, so generally they really try their best to be friendly and helpful - we got ripped off twice (once in a taxi and once in a resturant) but generally everything was fine. I feel it'd be a really interesting place to explore if you could get out of the tourist centres and find the less developed areas - as I said if ever go back it'll hit the north west for sure.

Next time - No time to even unpack: I touch down in Osaka and hop on a train for Nagoya, so I don't miss the world Cos-play Summit!!

Posted by DKJM74 02:03 Comments (0)

Bali Part 1

Rafting, Elephant Riding and Scuba Diving

Ah! Meta-travel, after a year in Japan the time has come to take a holiday (and finally make use of the re-entry visa I got in the first month).

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Bali isn't a place I've ever thought about going, but Haru wanted to go and I'm pretty happy going anywhere. Plus I was interested in seeing an asian country that wasn't Japan (which is a bit like the UK is to Europe; part of but somehow outside).

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So on the 25th of July we flew from Osaka to Ngurah Rai International Airport, by the time we arrived it was already getting dark so the first day consisted of travel, checking into the hotel and a short walk on the beach.

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We were staying in the tourist centre of Kuta, which is packed with hotels along the beach front and masses of visitors (mainly Australian and Japanese). Most people come here for the surfing, and the whole area is peppered with familiar brand names like McDonald's, the Hard Rock Cafe or Starbucks.

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Though I was surprised to see a whole shop devoted to Emily the Strange!

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Kuta is located on the neck of a peninsula jutting out south from the main body of the island, and once you leave this area the whole landscape changes as well. With long roads winding through hills, fields and thick forests - though everywhere is crammed with people on scooters. It's a kind of organised chaos, and a community that clearly depends on the tourist industry to survive (everybody speaks at least English and Japanese it seems). Even the rural areas are full of craft workshops producing the goods for sale in the tourist areas.

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These were some of my first impressions riding in the back of our pick up car the next morning. We were on our way to the white water rafting launch point on the river Ayung.

The river Ayung isn't too wild, with grade 2 and 3 rapids, but it is very scenic with long stretches through rocky valleys banked with lush trees. This means that the ride is fun without ever feeling really risky or too demanding. The sides of the valley have all been etched with wonderful carvings, which although quite modern are still very impressive and must have taken considerable work considering the location.

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Most of two hour run downstream we were paddling and navigating the river, but we did get to stop a couple of times and snap some pictures.

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At the landing site, we got changed, ate and waited for the transfer to the second part of the days trip; the Elephant Safari park in Taro, which is home to the world's largest herd of rescued Sumatran Elephants (rescued from other parts of Indonesia where their habitat is threatened).

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This is also a breeding colony with elephants of all ages most of which you can get quite close to and interact with - I even got to help out with the elephant show (holding up numbers for the elephant's maths problems).

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The admission price also includes a 45min elephant ride through Taro forest, which was a first for both of us.

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This pretty much set the pattern for most of the holiday, each day we'd get picked up and dropped off at the hotel by the tour operator of whatever activity we were doing that day. The next day was a longer trip to the north east of the island for scuba diving, we were heading to Tulamben for 3 dives on the wreck of the USS Liberty.

(Here you can see Kuta near the Airport on the bottom left and Tulamben the topmost place marked on the right).
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The drivers were good and willing to stop anywhere along the way for photo ops. Which included a surprise encounter with Balinese monkeys, some spectacular terraced rice fields and a (still active) volcano; Mount Agung.

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I was a little nervous as I hadn't dived since I was in Egypt 6 years ago, but I was pleased to find it all came back really easily. The actual dives were beach entry dives, so we just geared up and got straight in.

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The first dive was a refresher dive just to check we were still fine with everything, with the second and third dives being on the wreck itself. While there wasn't as much to see as on Egypt's coral reefs, there were still some impressive sights and the wreck has become like an artificial reef attracting a lot of new life.

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The actual wreck is found around 10 meters deep, near the rudder, and goes as deep as 30m by the time you reach the prow.

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Here's a brief history of the ship from Wikipedia -

At the time of the United States' entry into World War II in December 1941, USAT Liberty was in the Pacific. In January 1942, she was en route from Australia to the Philippines with a cargo of railway parts and rubber. On 11 January, Liberty was torpedoed by Japanese submarine I-166 about 10 nautical miles (19 km) southwest of the Lombok Strait. U.S. destroyer Paul Jones and Dutch destroyer Van Ghent took the damaged ship in tow attempting to reach Singaraja, the Dutch port and administrative centre for the Lesser Sunda Islands, on the north coast of Bali. However she was taking too much water and so was beached on the eastern shore of Bali at Tulamben so that the cargo and fittings could be salvaged.

In 1963 the tremors associated with the eruption of Mount Agung caused the vessel to slip off the beach, and she now lies on a sand slope in 30 to 100 feet (9.1 to 30 m) of water, providing one of the most popular dives off Bali.

This was only my second time wreck diving, and was very exciting.

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We even encountered a rather large Barracuda inside the hull.

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After such a long break from diving, three dives was pretty exhausting but it was well worth it. We resurfaced again feeling tired, but happy.

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So, that was the first two full days of the holiday - we hit the ground running, that's for sure. Next day was surfing in Kuta and, after that, time for a bit more relaxed sightseeing - I'll write about that next time!

Posted by DKJM74 01:04 Comments (0)

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