A private car, a ferry and a rainy walk separated us from our accommodation in Kuta and Gili Trawangan, a small and tropical island, referred to as the Ibiza of Indonesia, this nickname did raise our eyebrows but we were excited by the prospect of its clear water, turtle population and more myself than Anna and Joe, access to a few lively bars.
There are little to no motorised vehicles on Gili Trawangan with the main mode of transport being bicycle and the taxis are all horse and carts.
Our hostel was quirky and entirely made out of reclaimed and recycled materials from the island which was novel and provided a fun place to rest.
The first evening spent here was a night out, our first proper one since Joe arrived and despite it not being anything like we would choose to attend in the UK, we decided to embrace it, put on our dancing shoes and pulled out our best Dad moves.
One of the larger bars on the strip had live music on so we went and investigated, a local cover band who sang anything from Bon Jovi to Ed Sheeran with a surprising amount of Oasis inbetween.
Finishing the evening in shameless fashion and English tradition, we ate a kebab and stumbled back to our hostel.
Unsurprisingly we woke up later than usual on our first full day on the island, rented some bicycles and set off to have an explore.
Weak and hungover we stopped after a short ride, barely avoiding horses and tourists along the way and got some food looking out onto the ocean. We had been enticed by the bean bags which proved a perfectly adequate seat in which to mong out in for a while.
After some food, Joe and I wandered into the ocean to a swing which sat just off shore.
The swing looks more fun that it was, some mad man built it over the sharpest coral he could seemingly find which made our mounts and dismounts extremely unsmooth, much to Anna’s delight.
As has been the case throughout much of Indonesia, the heavens opened on us so we moved inside to some much harder chairs and waited out the storm.
Once passed, we took the bikes around the circumference of the island which only took around an hour.
We had to settle for a still photograph of us on the bikes as when attempting the action shot, and Anna will hate me for putting this on here but frankly I found it too funny to ignore, her technique whilst riding and taking a photo left much to be desired as she nearly fell off the bike!
Having seen a lot of the island in a relatively short amount of time, we took our rusty old bikes, now all with flat tires, back to the hostel where we intended to do our laundry and potentially move on the next day before we were informed by our extremely laid back, and I often suspected extremely stoned host, that laundry could only be done in the mornings.
Deciding to give our hangovers some time to fester we all sat on our beds and played on our respective gadgets for a while before going for some dinner at a nearby restaurant.
The restaurant was owned by an old Australian hippie type who was very friendly and also very excited to show me his magic mushrooms, an odd thing to show us as we had politely declined taking any and they aren’t the prettiest things to look at.
Handing our laundry over the next morning we took the same rusty, flat tired bikes out again, struggling as the mud paths which lead through the island were softened by another torrential rainfall the previous night. We went to a reccomended spot to snorkel and to see the turtles, although we had been told we would need to be lucky to catch a glimpse of one without being on a tour.
Having rented some gear, the three of us blindly set off into the sea but the waves were a little too big so Anna decided she would rather sit this one out.
Joe and I had a little swim about, no turtles in sight but we did manage to see some pretty impressive and thankfully, finally, colourful coral and interesting fish.
We came into shore satisfied but a little frustrated as we wanted to catch sight of a turtle, a tourist then pointed out a floating bit of plastic, almost like a buoy, some way out offshore and informed us that is where we would most likely be able to see turtles.
With quite a strong current we had to walk right up the beach before getting into the water so that we wouldn’t be dragged straight past it.
We swam way out and finally reached the plastic, it was based in uncomfortably deep water where visibility was OK straight down but you couldn’t see much further than 20 metres around you in all directions.
Just as we were ready to give up we noticed a large turtle, some 30ft below us gracefully gliding through the water. Despite my anxiety of the deep water we were in and tired limbs from swimming out to that point it was worth it and we both nearly swallowed a large portion of sea water smiling through our breathing tubes.
Joe had kindly kept it secret until we got back on land that he predicted the location of a dive site to a famous area to see tiger sharks was near to where we had swum and looking it up later, he was right. I am glad I wasn’t aware of this whilst in the water as they can be quite aggressive.
The next day, with laundry finally done, we packed up, got back onto the ferry and left the island, only later realising that some of Anna’s clothes had been lost in the wash and that one of my t shirts, a red one I have had for years, taken to festivals, on holidays and one of the last remaining items I still had from the start of the trip, had been swapped for a different red one, RIP old friend…
Taking a car from the port in Bangsal to Senaru, a small town, known for some good trekking and waterfalls, we checked into another guesthouse and went to get some food at the only restaurant open in the town.
This turned out to be a fatal move for Joe as he was bed ridden for the next 36 hours with food poisoning.
Anna and I were also effectively bed ridden too as being so close to the huge Mount Rinjani, it seemed to pull all of the storm clouds in the surrounding area in, resulting in a very slow day watching torrential rain from our room.
That night we bore witness to one of the craziest storms I have seen, with thunder literally shaking our room and lighting striking frequently and closely. The previous evening the lightning had actually hit the town’s main electrical supply and cut off the power for a few hours.
Luckily I really enjoy watching lightening storms so although I couldn’t sleep, I was entertained.
Joe felt strong enough to travel the next day so we got a car to Sengiggi, it being the largest port town on the island in order to try and get a boat to Bali.
With information on the internet difficult to come across we had to guess where a boat may be leaving from and made it just too late. The car we took to the next port had a fuel leak which took some time to repair.
Hilariously and completely in fitting with laid back Indonesian culture, having found a mechanic, he was smoking a lit cigarette whilst fixing this, I’m no scientist but I am quite sure that petrol and fire don’t go well together.
We made it to the other port with around ten minutes to spare before the boat, a large ferry, set off on a five hour journey towards Bali.
Arriving in the dark, we somehow found the public bus driver amongst a sea of disgruntled local taxi drivers and he took us to Ubud, a city towards the middle of the island and as far north as we had time to explore before our final flight out of Asia.
We got to Ubud quite late at night we didn’t get a chance to see much upon arrival but could immediately tell the difference with the less touristy islands such as Lombok and here, with more affluent neighbourhoods and posher looking shops on show.
Renting bikes from our hostel the next morning we drove around half an hour to the rice terraces which looked beautiful but I think they are more of a touristy gimmick as there wasn’t much rice actually growing here!
From here we continued on to visit a large waterfall but in typical fashion, the heavens opened and we had to take shelter first in a mini market and then at the hostel.
Not fancying the waterfall, which supposedly can be swam in, unless it was nice and sunny, we opted for a cave temple not too far from the accommodation.
Men and women had to wear sarongs to enter which was an uncomfortable experience before entering the temple where you were obviously not alone in wearing these garments.
I noticed that the stadium for Bali United FC, a true powerhouse of the Indonesian Premier League, wasn’t far so we drove over to have a look after returning our sarongs. Strangely the gates to the stands were open when we arrived and you could freely wander around the stadium, also noticing there was a match against the mighty Persija Jakarta a few days later, a sporting event held up there in regard with the Monaco Grand Prix, The FA Cup Final or Wimbledon, we made plans to return.
Joe had a bit of a thirst with it being a Friday, that he had been ill and off the Bintangs (the local beer) for a few days so we found the street with the seemingly highest concentration of bars on it and headed there to try and find a good one.
I had read an article with a quote in it saying that “music to Indonesians is what football is to Brazilians, hand any one a guitar and if he says he can’t play, he will know a few songs, if he says that he can, he will shred like Eddie Van Helen” and this was evident as nearly every bar here had live music on, or about to start.
It took a couple of bars to find something refined to our tastes but when he heard Metallica being well covered from down the road, we headed in that direction. The band were great, covering a lot of classic songs, the singer, with dreadlocks down to his knees chose Anna out of the crowd to sing the power ballad, ‘I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing’ by Aerosmith to, grabbing her hand, much to my delight and to her horror.
We decided to move onto Canggu, a little surf town but not before visiting the large waterfall that we never made it to the previous day.
The water was still a little too dirty to warrant swimming in from the previous few days of rainfall.
Our little hotel was only half built upon arrival in Canggu, which explained the extremely cheap rooms despite them being brand new. This also provided the opportunity to witness Asian building regulations, different from those in the UK as flip flops are preferred to the steel toe cap, caps to hard hats and bamboo poles and scaffold to steel.
The rain started up pretty heavily again by the time we had made the most of the hot and powerful showers, a rare treat this side of the world, so we braved a beer run and sat infront of our rooms for the evening.
We went down to the beach the next morning with the intention of surfing but I, for a reason still unknown as the waves looked great, decided against it and Joe went in alone.
There was a market on in Canggu that day so we looked around there, Anna getting a legitimate pair of ‘Ray Balis’ sunglasses… good try Asia!
That afternoon there was a skateboard competition at the local skatepark, we happily went along to witness this for an hour or two but not being quite as into it as I was once, this was enough time spent watching them!
The next day we drove some way down the coast to Seminyak, only five kilometres from Canggu but due to the lack of a coastal road linking all of these places, it took 45 minutes to reach the beach.
I tried surfing this time but the water was so choppy, whenever you did manage to get to your feet, a wave was coming back from the shore to knock you off so I called it a day and grabbed a beer, sticking to what I was best at!
Driving back to Canggu, via a market stall where I replaced my recently broken flip flops, (they didn’t have a bad run, lasting me from Thailand and being worn most days, having only cost around £1.50) where I bargained the shop owner down from the hilarious price of around £25 to just £5, still completely aware I was paying over the odds but with only one shoe, I just had the one leg to stand on with my bargaining!
Having gotten the taste for beer relatively early on in the day, we dropped our bikes off and found a taxi to take us into town and to some bars.
This is one of the first places in Asia (where we have been) with more than one bar which could be considered decent by Western standards (or just to my taste) so we enjoyed listening to relatively obscure disco as the sun was setting before moving onto a bar further into the town where there was live music.
The band weren’t great but the bar was cool, having an adjoining shop selling old motorbikes and surf boards by the brand who own the place, Deus.
Not able to book a taxi with Grab or Uber, Bali is very strict on these companies with the drivers working for those companies often victims of assault from the local taxi firms, so we took an overpriced car arranged from the bar we were in back to the hotel.
Waking up a little worse for wear we had a slow morning the next day, heading to a little cafe we had been to the day before for a good breakfast.
We didn’t have many plans that day until the evening when Anna had become obsessesed with the idea of going to see Bali United play football (it took some persuading for me to want to go) back in Ubud, just over an hours drive by scooter.
With the anticipation getting too much for her and the general boredom of waiting for Joe and I, we set off quite early to the game.
On the way a local on his motorbike pulled up and drove alongside me shouting something we couldn’t make out.
A little freaked out I sped up but he persisted ,following us for a while before I realised he was just trying to give us directions to wherever it was we were going, what a lovely nutjob that man turned out to be!
Amongst the first bikes in the car park, we got tickets and then regretted the early set off as the 25,000 seat stadium is in quite a remote location but we did manage to entertain ourselves with street food and beer until the advertised kick off time of 7.30pm.
The atmosphere was pretty good outside the stadium with drummers, renditions of poorly translated football songs made famous in England and a near capacity stadium of locals proudly wearing their team’s colour.
We got into the stadium at 7pm but oddly the game didn’t kick off until 8.30pm by which time I had run out of cigarettes and snacks whilst the stadium full of locals waited patiently.
Once the game did kick off, the quality wasn’t great but the fans were noisy and due to the lack of skill possessed by the goalkeepers, it was pretty entertaining, Bali defeating Jakarta Persija 3-2.
After sitting on the bikes for nearly 90 minutes, concrete seats for over 2 hours and the bikes for another 60 minutes, it was amazing to take the weight off our backsides and lie down that night!
Once we finally did wake up after what seemed like a very comfy sleep, I went into town to get my last tattoo of the trip (Mum will be pleased to know), a homage to the things we tried for the first time out here. Three is the magic number and as it turns out that is the amount of new tattoos I have had since leaving the UK, oops!
We went for lunch at Deus Ex Machina, the bar we were in a couple of nights earlier and noticed they had a promotion on that night offering a free tattoo if you bought a taco, after some contemplation we decided it would be for the best to move out of town that afternoon so we booked a car to take us to Uluwatu pronto!
Once we arrived the lady at the hotel offered us motorbikes free of charge to take to see the sunset, providing we rented them tomorrow which was so nice.
We drove to a temple positioned on the cliff faces, made famous by many stock photos of Bali having been taken here and home to some very mischevious monkeys.
We saw one lady have both of her flip flops stolen by the monkeys and instead of helping like the gentleman I should be, I just stared, pointed and laughed at her.
On the way back, the maps app we have been using, Maps.me, decided, not for the first time, to take us on a very interesting route, so it took a long time and some odd ‘roads’ for us to get back!
It does this as it isn’t programmed for vehicles, rather just walking. In a strange way I will miss riding bikes and using it for navigation as whilst not funny at the time and having been a catalyst for many arguments between Anna and I, it has been quite funny in hindsight.
Uluwatu is a national park, very green and hilly with an amazing coastline, quite similar, I would imagine, to a tropical Devon!
We set off the next morning (our last full day in Asia) on the bikes as we had heard rumours of an abandoned plane in a quarry and with the intentions of doing something a little stupid in order to climb on and in it, we set off to find it.
Unfortunately, the walls to the quarry were huge and steep and the only road in was a chained up high metal gate so entry was impossible, whilst I was potentially up for something a little stupid, it would have been very stupid to attempt a descent to here.
After this minor disappointment, despite it looking cool but not making much sense being where it was, we headed to the coast and took up a seat at a pretty expensive bar, understandably so considering the view of the coastline that belonged to it and had a reminiscent beer, talking about the past month together before moving onto somewhere more affordable for lunch.
Joe wasn’t feeling too well having damaged his shoulder and neck surfing so as he went for a sleep, Anna and I set off to find her some new flip flops, her’s having broken earlier that day, coincidentally close to the day mine broke as we purchased them together.
I was determined to find her a pair having earlier given her a piggy back between the bar and restaurant then back to the bikes due to the floor being too hot! So determined that we actually bought a real branded product from a real shop opposed to some fake branded goods which has become the norm!
I also took advantage of Asian pricing whilst I still could and getting a haircut and doing some laundry.
Joe felt a bit better by the time we had returned so we went out for dinner.
Dissapointingly, our last day in Asia was spent sheltering from the rain although thankfully the kindness of the hotel owner didn’t stop at the free bike rental but she also let us stay way past our check out time until 8pm when our airport transfer collected us.
It was a strange feeling getting to the airport knowing that this leg of the journey was now over, Australia will be a big change of pace, culture and a very different experience but the previous five months have been absolutely unbelievable!
Indonesia is yet another country I have completely fallen in love with and is spread across approximately 18,000 islands, 6,000 of which are inhabited.
Due to this the culture changes obviously and dramatically across even the few which we managed to visit.
We had been warned the food wasn’t great here with the country renowned for having a sweet tooth but we only found this to be the case in East Java, the food elsewhere being really good!
The Indonesian people are so laid back, proper islanders who are amongst the smiliest we have found throughout Asia, they also seemed almost as determined to go out of their way to help us as some of the Thai people we encountered.
There is so much to do here, we had one of the busiest months we have had on the trip having visited volcano’s, rainforests, mountains, waterfalls, beaches and even islands where dragons live!
I have said this in summary to most countries visited on this trip but I really mean it when I say we will have to return to Indonesia, there is so much here which we missed!
From India to Indonesia we have seen (,smelt in some cases in India) and experienced some amazing things, not least our first taste of long term travel, which I sense may become addictive!
Without getting too spiritual, this has opened my eyes to a lot and probably changed me slightly but most of all, it has been an unbelievably fun extended holiday and we have been lucky enough to make some great friends, as well as meet a few existing ones along the way, so bring on the next chapter, a small step towards reality, Australia!