Padangbai. The Indian Ocean. Not the surfer’s paradise on the west coast, but the diver’s paradise on the east coast. Japanese, Dutch, Australian – the latter, big with blond hair and sun reddened skin, out for drinks after a day of diving. And me, escaping the jungle and the insects and the lizards and the rats!
Corn fields, in Bali!
Tuesday morning I climbed aboard a small tourist bus in Ubud, and it wound its way up and down river valleys, past luscious green rice paddies that eventually turned into corn fields, and finally along the coast road to Padangbai. From all description I was expecting a sleepy little town, but there was the usual tourist flap trap that I have come across everywhere else on this once Shangri-la. I was still glad to be here and on my own.
There were about twenty people taking the bus. A few were planning on snorkeling or scuba diving in Padangbai. Some were continuing on, taking the ferry or a catamaran to Lombok. Lombok is now, what Bali was decades ago – a few resorts for tourists, and an island paradise unspoiled. A young German couple was going to the Gili Islands – Trawangan, Meno, and Air, where no motorized vehicles are allowed and police presence is nonexistent. On Trawangan, the pub Tir na Nog claims their location as the smallest island in the world with an Irish pub! I was happy to be heading to Padangbai and the sea, and after an hour and a half bumpy ride it was great to disembark from the crowded bus.
Having memorized the map of the small town, I shouldered my pack and set off, making a detour around the ferry service and the cars and trekkers and motorcycles lined up, waiting for passage. A fifteen minute walk, I found my hotel easily, along a strip of hotels, restaurants, and diving businesses on the road opposite the beach and the bay. Boats were bobbing in the waves, and I could see Lombok on the horizon. My “rice barn” cost $25 a night, and you get what you pay for. There was a bathroom with shower and hot and cold water, but the bedroom upstairs smelled like sweat – and it wasn’t my sweat! Pretty disgusting, but my tolerance level for things non-pristine had been catapulted beyond anything I could have imagined, over the past few weeks.
I left my pack in my room, grabbed my hat and camera, and walked through town, up a hill and then down the other side, to the sand at Blue Lagoon beach. While watching the snorkelers who were out past the reef and the waves pounding on the beach, I had a long conversation with Wayren. She was doing her best to convince me I needed one of her batik sarongs, or maybe even two, and a nice massage for 20,000 Rp, which is only $2.00. I told her maybe tomorrow, and she said tomorrow might never come! I assured her it would, and she told me about her village and her family.
I was very excited for tomorrow to come, because on my walk back to town I took a detour up another big hill, and booked a villa at Bloo Lagoon – advertised as a “sustainable village.” The villas are all privately owned homes that can be rented when the owners are not in residence. I viewed the grounds and the villa I planned to rent, and it was quite lovely, with a view of the bay far, far below. There was a swimming pool, breakfast included, internet in the lobby, and lovely grounds with gardens. I figured I deserved a little break! I wanted a few days, before I headed home, of being the kind of tourist you see in Travel and Leisure ads.
After booking, I trekked back to the village and had a shower, a late dinner, and read my book in my stinky bed until sleep was ready to overwhelm me. I was hoping I wouldn’t have to get up during the night to go to the bathroom, because the steps down to the toilet were very steep with about 18 inches between treads – most definitely against code in the United States. I survived and did not break my neck!
I checked out of Kerti Villa in the morning and had a lovely breakfast down the road, took a hike, spent some time at the beach, and then checked in at Bloo Lagoon Village.
My villa, with a view of of the bay
There was a sign up sheet at the front desk: “120,000 Rp ($12.00) – Special Thai dinner tonight with Thai Chef Sayan.” There were to be: Appetizers, Tom Yum Spicy Soup with Marlin, and the main course of Pengang Curry with Chicken, Morning Glory (otherwise known as the ubiquitous Asian spinach!!) with Oyster sauce, Bean Sprouts stir-fried with Cashews, and dessert of Mango with Ice Cream. I signed up! Then I went and hung out in my villa.
It was wonderful and luxurious. There was a welcome basket of fruit and fresh juice. I drank the juice and ate a whole pineapple (it was a tiny little thing). Heaven. I took a nap, and then got dressed for dinner.
Dinner was on the edge of the terrace with a view of the next bay to the north and Mount Agung, the highest mountain (volcano) on Bali. The mid section of the mountain supported a tutu of clouds, but the top was clear against the sunset sky. I was the first to arrive as the staff scurried about, making sure the table settings were perfect.
A large family sat at the other end of the table set for twelve, and I was soon joined at my end by another woman, two young men, and the owner/manager/architect of Bloo Lagoon Village, Tony. The young men were H who was Belgian, and F, a Swede. They had met surfing at Kuta and decided to join forces for a while. The young woman was Celia Gregory, a London artist and founder of The Marine Foundation. She was in Padangbai to dive the coral reefs, and on her third visit to Bali. She asked me if I had visited any other third world countries. I told her only Ireland, and she laughed and laughed, “Oh you Americans.” I asked her how the reef around Bali was faring, and she leaned over and in a very conspiratorial voice whispered, “No one says. Divers don’t don’t say. I’ll see tomorrow when I go out. I am afraid it isn’t very good.”
There was a great deal of talk about the sustainable architecture of the village and Bali’s tourism issues. There was even more talk about diving, of which I knew nothing, so I learned a lot. All of the young people had dived in Egypt – something I had never heard about. Celia described it, saying, “Well God made the deserts of Egypt, and then he put all the beauty in the sea.” You could tell a diver was talking! I later looked up the Red Sea and found,
More than 1200 species of fish have been recorded in the Red Sea, and around 10% of these are found nowhere else. This also includes 42 species of deepwater fish. The rich diversity is in part due to the 1,240 miles of coral reef extending along its coastline; these finging reefs are 5000-7000 years. The reefs form platforms and sometimes lagoons along the coast and occasional other features such as cylinders. These coastal reefs are also visited by pelagic species of red sea fish, including some of the forty-four species of shark.
The conversation was increasingly monopolized by H who drank great quantities of Bintang, and I left at 9 pm for my lovely, breezy, surf-sound-filled villa. I read until I couldn’t keep my eyes open any longer.
In the morning I had breakfast beside the pool with Suzanne, whom I also met last night. She is originally from Santa Cruz, for the past seven years living in Thailand with her Thai husband who also happened to be last night’s chef. They run a snorkeling business from their home in Thailand – Sun Island Tours. They were, fortunately, out in deep water when the tsunami hit last year, and survived no worse for wear, unlike the home they were building and the home in which they resided. They have since rebuilt, figuring lightening doesn’t strike twice in the same place, and the length of their 100-foot home reaches out over the ocean. When the tide is in it sits over 15 feet of water, and when the tide is out there is sand underneath. Besides the snorkeling business, she also sells her watercolors there.
After breakfast I changed into my suit and grabbed a spot in the shade next to the pool. And there I sat with my books, my computer, my camera, and a cup of Bali coffee; paradise.
After days of hanging out at the pool, wandering the sea shore and the village, eating poolside for dinner every evening, and enjoying Storm beer – a Balinese pale ale which was very nice – it was time to head back inland. D and her son Yanni met me on the beach Saturday afternoon.
We rented some snorkel equipment for D and Y. I was happy to sit on the beach and watch the waves come in and out, contemplating the meaning of life as the sea bubbled and churned in front of me.
But D said, “Come out and snorkel beyond the reef with me, the fish are beautiful.” I knew the fish were beautiful, because I put the goggles on and swam around in an open area near the shore.
“I’m not a strong swimmer, and I’ve never snorkeled before. I think I probably shouldn’t.”
She said, “No, no, no, don’t be a chicken. Come on. When the wave comes, just float, and then swim when it goes back out.”
The water went immediately from three feet deep to way over my head in a channel between the coral. I had the tube in my mouth, looking at fish, when the first wave came. That one filled my snorkel tube, and thus my mouth, with salt water. I made it to the surface when the second wave hit. Okay, don’t panic… you can hold your breath. Then the current came from underneath, grabbed me by the legs, and dragged me out with it.
One does not swim against an ocean current – I know that now. The next wave came and picked me up and threw me back on top of the reef, relatively near shore. I swam and swam and managed to get a few feet closer to the beach. The under current tried to drag me back out again, but I decided there was no way I was going to go. I managed to grab on to a rock as the water crashed over me, until the water went out again and I was able to stand up and stagger to the sandy shore. Just a little worse for wear; blood pouring from my legs, my feet, my hip, my arm, and my hands. Coral is very sharp! No more snorkeling for me that day, and if I ever go snorkeling again, it is going to be somewhere absolutely calm where there are no waves.
So here I am, back in Tegallinggah. Y has a friend over for a few days, and they want to see the shadow puppet play in the village this evening, so I am looking forward to that. And then two more days and I come home! That hot water faucet is going to be quite novel.
7 thoughts on “Bali – 9”
Oh, here’s what I’ve been waiting for – the water! Once again your photos are exquisite – the colors are beautiful. Blue Lagoon beach is probably my fav, although the view of Mount Agung is the kind of “layered” view I really enjoy – almost watercolor-ish.
I could feel every bit of your experience with the snorkeling. I’d never done any diving until going to the Virgin Islands, and it took me a bit of time to get accustomed enough to the techniques to really enjoy it. Our water was much more placid, although in some places like Thunderball Cave you had to watch the tides. It always amazed me that something as fragile as coral could be so hard and sharp!
Now, for another of those special little small-world moments – I’d already seen photos of Ko Lanta, where your acquaintances have their dive shop. Friends from Austin whose boat I worked on left here years ago for a circumnavigation. They did it all, and then started over, and they’re still out there cruising.
I learned about Ko Lanta and Phi Phi Islands from them. They were in Phuket the day of the tsunami. About 50 boats had gathered for a Christmas dinner on Phuket beach, and then, on Boxing Day, they were anchored out off the beach. They were lucky – they felt the wave on its way in to shore, hauled anchor and then hauled themselves to deep water and weren’t harmed. But when they finally left Phuket, headed across the Andaman sea on their way toward the Red Sea, they had to constantly be on watch for half-submerged debris – washers and cars and refrigerators and….
You have to tell about the last photo! Your beach art? or found art? Is that a word done in stones across the top? Are the black stones volcanic? Is it an offering to the Great God of Vacations? I could ask even more questions about it, but I’ll stop!
Hi Linda…. it is a small world sometimes, isn’t it? I love these kinds of coincidences. Suzanne, of Ko Lanta, had coincidentally met my cousin last year at a party. Not so surprising, as expats do tend to hang out together, but still…..
The beach art – not mine. There were various children at the beach all week, but I didn’t notice anyone hanging out on this corner of the beach creating anything. I think the black stones were volcanic… there was that nearby Mt. Agung. It appeared to be a name across the top, but the stones had been kicked about, and it was no longer legible. It was clear that the first letter was a K……. certainly in reference to my name!! I believe it was an offering to the Great God of the Sea – for giving me back
Q, Now I’m going to be a generalist and say how much I’m enjoying these Bali entries. Not very exacting words, but everyone of them has me reading…every word. The things you tell and choose to tell open up doors. The pictures are awesome, the perfect counterpart, though I wonder how much we “miss” sometimes in regard to totally “being there” because we’re busy taking pictures.
Oddly, one of the things that resonates from this recent entry is the fact that there are people on the move, traveling, and strangers meeting one another and deciding to travel together for awhile, like the surfers you mention. Good grief, how energizing and mind-expanding is that? Meeting people from everywhere is, to me, as important as finding new places is. It all goes together … It’s frighteningly easy to be provincial.
And now, on a mundane note – I agree with you about my stupid blog template. I wanted something new, clean, but with stuff to read. It’s cramping my photo style, though, as you also noted, and well, I will have to do something about it. Even if it’s returning to the “old” look. No, I haven’t time to go create my own right now. Rats. (oops, sorry, shouldn’t say that given your rat experiences in Bali!) Anyway, stay tuned…
I agree, Oh; it is wonderful meeting people native to wherever one is visiting, and it is equally fascinating to meet other travelers. So interesting to exchange impressions and ideas and views of a place foreign to both of you. Interpretations of a people and place are compounded… exponentially.
I’m glad you change to template on your blog – the bee photos are wonderful now!
I cannot believe how incredible these photos are! A true feast for the eyes, absolutely wonderful colors and composition and everything else. The colors of the water are magnificent!
Thank you for sharing your experiences and your artistic eye. SPECTACULAR!
Suko, thank you so much – for the compliment and the visit. I can’t tell you how much fun it is to share my experiences, and to have people interested enough to comment is definitely double fudge frosting on the cake!!
Oh, my gosh — you were in rip currents. That has to be so terrifying no matter how strong a swimmer you are. I’m very glad you were ok.
On a more fun note, oh, that villa! It looks gorgeous and your meal sounded divine. I have loved every minute, every word of these posts. They take me to a spot I’ve never been, will probably never be, and yet I feel as though I’ve been on your journey with you. (Although I’m glad not to be in the sweaty room!) And all that blue! Oh, my — I love the water so much and to see it through your eyes.
Finally one other thing that I’ve loved about your journey. That’s how you met and had so many interactions with the people who live in Bali. I had some of that in Japan, but they were people Rick or I already knew. And a bit of that in Paris, but only a bit. You have done it to the max, and the result, I think, is an experience you’ll never forget.
You can keep posting anything you want about Bali anytime and you’ll have at least one eager reader in me!
Hi Jeanie. Nice to hear from you – thanks! The start up for my year this fall has me a bit overwhelmed…. but I do have one more post I want to do about Bali. The end of the trip! This past Sunday I cooked a Balinese meal for family and friends, and it was a HIT!! Hot peppers and all.
You are right – meeting people while traveling is really the cherry on top. Meeting locals, and also getting the perspective of other travels from other countries really made the trip double interesting. It was quite an experience. Now I have to decide where to go next year!!
I’m sure I’ve said it before but it bears repeating…I cannot get over the richness of colors, at least as far as the images you post anyway. Each picture makes Bali seem so alive with colors that leap out at you. Gorgeous!
It was easy to take pictures there, Carl – everywhere I looked was so beautiful. The jungle, the water, the people…. sometimes I just gaped and totally forgot I had a camera with me!
Hey, Q! I just gave you a silly-but-sincere award. Come on over to my place to check it out!
I’ll be right over!!! 🙂
Just for the pure enjoyment of it, I’ve gone back with a cup of coffee and a little time and read all of your posts in succession. I agree with jeanie – anytime you want to offer us a bit more of Bali, we’ll be here. And never be afraid to post just your photos with a tiny bit of commentary – the images are as stunning as your words are evocative.
A happy holiday weekend to you, and a lovely, easy beginning to the year.
Ah Linda, you are so kind. The beginning of the year has been extremely difficult for me. Thank you for the encouragement to post just pictures. I have taken you up on it, and it was easy for me to do… no pressure! Thanks for being supportive and loyal – I appreciate you.