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Why We Love Asia

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Today’s post comes inspired by the reasons why I truly love Asia. You bargain for things that aren’t accurate, boats come and go and sometimes forget you, and people will try to sell you anything. Even a newspaper that’s four months old.

A few days ago, we left the quiet seclusion of Gili Meno for the third and last island, Gili Air. We had been recommended by a few people to stay at a place called Lucky’s. Eventually, we found it (almost halfway around the island), but were greeted by the wonderful and gracious owner, Luke. Scott and I have decided that the people here are positively lovely…everyone is so friendly, always say hello, and will sometimes sit and chat with you at length about where you are from and where you are going.

Scott seemed like he had finally gotten over his cold, so it was time for us to scuba dive. We had been told that there was some amazing neon coral to see near Gili Air, so we went in search of it. After booking our afternoon dive trip, we went and checked out a local celebration on the island. This was an annual celebration for all the locals of the Gilis, and everybody was in the mood to party. Cops, military, local ladies, everybody was out in full force, and I think we even saw the head military guy getting tossed into the ocean along with everyone else. I wasn’t feeling too well, having been hit a bit with Montezuma’s revenge from the local bacteria, so I went for a lay down while Scott poked around the celebration. The locals apparently embraced all the travellers that attended wholeheartedly, giving out free food to everyone in attendance, and a few white girls were even up on the stage dancing alongside the locals (and some cops and military officers were dancing too! The Gilinese know how to party).

Best Dive Ever

Afterwards, it was time for our dive. We were very fortunate and ended up being the only two divers with our dive master named Robert, a native Gili Island dweller. We asked to go to the really nice coral, like our friend had told us, and we thought that was where he was taking us…but turns out something got lost in translation and we didn’t end up at that site. We did a really awesome dive off Meno though – it was a drift dive because the current was so intense, but we saw piles of things we had never seen before, including two octopuses! That was definitely the highlight. Robert poked him around a bit with an implement and we got to see him move around…it was pretty crazy. The visibility was absolutely unreal – definitely the best we’ve ever had…about 35 meters. You could see for ages in all directions. Every time I am down with the fishies, I just feel that it is so special to be down there. We saw tons of other fish which are escaping me right now, but one of the other highlights was that there was a boat launch wreck that we got to explore. Apparently, there used to be a massive hotel on Meno that would regularly bring 400 guests from Bali. However, after the bombings, there was no longer a market for it, so the hotel closed down…and without regular maintenance, the launch fell apart. The coral growing on it was quite unbelievable.

Back up on the boat, I asked Robert if he had any more dives for the afternoon. He said, no, no more clients. I casually asked if we could go again. He said we could (as long as we had a surface interval of about an hour), but he just had to check with the manager, who agreed. I figured why not…the dive was amazing, it was just the two of us with a good dive master, and there’s just something about diving that gives me endless energy and makes me feel alive.

The second dive was better than the first. Robert now knew that we were chilled and experienced divers, so he gave us a full briefing and went into tons of cool areas to find us neat things. We saw sweetgrass fish, which look like blades of sweetgrass blowing in the wind…two lion fish…a beautiful turtle…tons of my little nemos…a moray (never seen one of those before), and a few different types of eels.

After the dive, we were seriously hoping for some rain. The salt water was really starting to hurt my hair and my skin was screaming at me. It’s kind of funny how much you take for granted having a quick rinse off after being in the ocean. Unfortunately, it rained while we were down for our second dive, and had cleared up by the time we got up, 66 minutes later. It was the longest dive we’ve ever done…because they weren’t really following the rules about having 50 bar at the surface. Again, I love Asia.

We capped off our last night in the Gilis with a lovely dinner in a very romantic gazebo at a posh place just down the street from Lucky’s. We overlooked the sun setting, and later the horizon gave us a wonderful lightening show as we ate.

The next morning, Scott, having some sort of burst of energy, decided to go for a run around the entire island. Kudos to him – I was too lazy. :) Everyone was super friendly to him, always saying “hello!” as he ran by.

Forgotten by the Boat

Scallywag's and a great shot of the island from the boat

Scallywag's and a great shot of the island from the boat

I had arranged for us to be picked up from Gili Air at 10:30. We were supposed to get picked up at Gili T, but I figured it would give us a bit more time in the morning if they just came directly to the island we were on…and it didn’t seem like a big deal. According to their pamphlet, they always go to both islands. I had a bad feeling about it though…and I should have trusted my gut. We were supposed to wait on the beach outside Scallywag’s, a pretty upscale restaurant. So, we ordered some fresh squeezed juice and hunkered down to wait. And wait we did. Finally, at 11:40, I thought that this wasn’t right. The waitress told us that the Island Getaway boat came every day, usually between 10:30 and 11. It was too late. The staff at Scallywag’s were amazing, and called the boat company for us. Yep, we’d been forgotten. But it was ok, the girl would send the boat at 11. We were confused – it was past 11. She said she’d call us back. We didn’t hear anything.

We waited some more, thinking that we’d likely be spending another night on the Gilis since this was becoming very confusing…..until we saw a small red boat (the big boat we were taking was also red). They were dropping some people off…and looked like they were going to turn away until Scott ran out to talk to them. Yes, they were here to pick us up, even though they almost left without us again. So onto this small jet boat we go…in the direction of Lombok. We were like, where the eff are they taking us?! Is this costing extra?! Of course, no communication about the plans…because this is how Asia rolls. You just go with the flow.

Our 15 minutes on Lombok

Our 15 minutes on Lombok

We land at Lombok (ok, cool, so we get to see another Indonesian island!) and are told the big boat is going to come pick us up. We lounge around at the harbour for awhile, while chickens are roaming everywhere. (side note: I have decided that we are lucky with our grain fed chickens at home. The chicken here kind of sucks and it hard and rubbery…and I think it’s because they let them roam free and eat whatever they can find – they ate some of our chocolate bun crumbs and bits of orange. Yum.) Finally, we are told to go…so we get back on the small boat which takes us virtually out to the middle of the sea to load us onto the big boat. It was a bit daunting loading on open water while the small boat bobbed alongside us, only held by two men between the boats linking arms. They take safety seriously here in Asia. The boat driver’s warning of “be careful” made me fell much better. :p

At last, we were back on our boat to Bali. Our stupid 4 hour boat which was supposed to take 2 and give us coffee, tea and fruit. We only got water, and a very poorly engineered toilet which acted more like a geyser as the boat bobbed over the waves.

We decided to go back to Kuta and stay at our old faithful Hotel Arena. They had a beautiful pool and seemed reasonably priced compared to the other options. We did a little market research on the way (methodology: numerous hawkers ask: “you want room? I give good price.” My reply: “how much?” They reply, I pretend it’s too expensive, and we move on.) Turned out though, Hotel Arena was full! So was everything else! We were so shocked…they had room at 11 p.m when we landed last Friday! How could this be?! All we wanted was a good thorough swim in non-salty water and a hot shower to wash it off with. Finally we found a place at Mimpi Bungalows, next door, who wanted to charge us more for a crappier room with two twin beds. We obliged, since we didn’t see many other options. We weren’t impressed though…we got way less for way more money. Their pool was out of commission, and they didn’t have hot water showers like they advertised. Bastards.

A chicken eating garbage out of a boat

A chicken eating garbage out of a boat

We booked our bus to Ubud for the next day and went for dinner at our old faithful homey restaurant down the street. It’s funny how a place can become so familiar and feel like home even though you’ve been there twice in the span of a week. The equivalent of six bucks got us fresh squeezed strawberry juice, a mango lassi, nasi campur (our fav indonesian dish) and a delicious curry. Again, why I love Asia. You put up with a lot, but at the end of the day, it’s totally worth it.

Surfing in Kuta

Scott and I really wanted to sample the night life before we left Kuta, but we were pretty exhausted from the stressful day we had had with just trying to get to Bali, so we opted out. We also wanted to wake up early and catch some waves before leaving for Ubud. And boy, are we glad we did. We got up early this morning and rented some really nice surf boards for an hour. The beach at Kuta, although disgusting to swim in (it was filled with dead anchovies when we got there), has the most amazing surf we’ve ever seen. It’s totally for beginners, with waves that are so consistent and perfect all along the beach, in virtually every weather condition imaginable. Scott and I both had such an amazing time starting off our day like that. And we both got up on the board and did quite well too…it was success all around!

We boarded our “bus” later in the morning. We were prepared for a two hour ride, even though Ubud is only 25 km away from Kuta. The slowness is due to the fact that the roads are so insane and traffic is so cramped. They managed to squish 8 people into a non air-con van that comfortably seated 6, safely seated 7 (even though all seat belts are removed here…so different from Oz, where anytime we got into ANY vehicle, we were told to buckle up). So efficient here…I love Asia.

The Newspaper Incident

The ride was pretty uneventful until, while seated in a bit of gridlock, some guys came by to sell us newspapers. The newspapers looked legit, shrink wrapped and all. They ask “where you from? I have newspaper from there.” We said Canada. They don’t have anything. Scott asked for the New York times (we are a bit out of touch with the news…we have no idea what’s going on in the world) and the guy threw him “The Times” – a British paper. Scott was trying to get his money out of his wallet to pay for it, but our van started to pull away…so we left the guy unpaid, with a newspaper in hand. I took a look at the cover – the date was blanked out. I said to Scott – I bet you it’s old. We opened it up, and discovered it was from October 19, 2009! Unbelievable! Thank god we hadn’t paid the guy. We figured we got off easy, as we were now moving quickly and taking several turns. About five minutes later, however, our van pulls over and the newspaper guy is there, asking for his money! We told him no way…the newspaper was way out of date – his scam was blown open. He took it back begrudgingly. It’s amazing what people here will do to trick you for a quick buck. I was a bit worried he’d follow our van and harass us when we got dropped off…but luckily he didn’t. Phew. So, to anyone travelling this part of the world…don’t accept newspapers from guys on the street!

Crazy Monkeys

A monkey accosting poor Kenna

A monkey accosting poor Kenna

We arrived in Ubud, and split up to find a decent hotel (it’s our new rule to do substantial research before committing to a place…and only accepting something that we are happy with so we don’t have a Mimpi replay). We finally settled on a nice cheapie that is quite central, but just slightly off the beaten track. We dumped our stuff and went to find the monkey sanctuary that is touted in our tour book. We’re pretty close, so it was easy to find. Upon entering, a lady was selling bananas, so we figured, what they hey, let’s feed the little monkeys. BAD IDEA (Randy and Stacey, do not buy bananas when you come here unless you want monkeys to harass you). The macaque monkeys are little bastards, and started jumping on us and hissing for the bananas. They literally climbed up on to us, and tried to rip open my purse and bag, and one actually bit me (don’t worry he didn’t pierce the skin). Having just bought a few new silk dresses, I was not happy that the monkeys were trying to claw their way into its plastic bag, and Scott and I kept playing keep-away with the monkeys. This aggravated them even more, and it was just a bad situation overall. Finally, after we gave away all the bananas and the smell had gone away, they seemed to leave us alone, which was good because they were really creeping me out.

Crazy Monkeys

Crazy Monkeys

Afterwards, we headed home and Scott just went out to get some information about some local dances that our book was talking about. He came back with a whole bunch of information, and a guy from a local travel shop had given him his cell phone #. We had started to hatch a plan on how to get to another town, Lovina, tomorrow, and we texted this guy and asked him how much to get there. The next thing we know, he called Scott’s iPhone and said “I’m at your hotel, come outside to meet me.” Creepy. Again, I love Asia! It turned out the guy was really nice, and is giving us a helluva deal. We’re hiring him to drive us all around Ubud, then all the way to Lovina, stopping at a bunch of cool waterfalls and hikes along the way. We’ve heard from other people that this is the way to do things, so let’s hope it turns out!


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