Shove off from Flores, on to Lombok and Bali
After Flores I picked up the pace and began island-hopping to Bali. After a four day boat tour featuring snorkels and dragons, I sampled the highs and lows of Lombok by climbing its highest peak and relaxing on some of its island beaches. Following this I ventured over to Bali, where after a bit of fluttering about I met up with Susan on her long anticipated vacation from home.
Editor's note: If the margins seem too narrow because of the frilly boxes on either side of the story, check out the "printable story format" link in the "Story Options" box for a frill-free, and possibly more readable, version. -- Matt
Labuan Bajo, Flores, seemed like a pinnacle of western comforts compared to the relative scarcity in the rest of Flores. This trend continued all the way to Bali -- everywhere more and more comforts that I had previously taken for granted were available. This was instructive, moving up this ramp of western comforts, as I headed towards the more touristed islands, because when I encountered tourists heading in the other direction it was obvious that they were seeing our shared surroundings with different eyes -- the eyes of comforts deprived, rather than the eyes of comforts, normally taken for granted, reinstated. Along with the increased numbers of comforts and tourists came more frequent annoyances, such as hawkers. It was not long before I longed for the days of mere "Hello Mister" irritation I found in Flores. Though the "hello mister" cult abruptly ended off the western shore of Flores, other Indonesian peculiarities remained. For instance, the greetings and comparisons: throughout all of the islands thus far I was commonly greeted with "Hey Long Hair" (in Flores, of course, this was only during the rare circumstance of some greeting other than "hello mister"). I think due primarily to the long hair I was typically compared to Antonio Banderas, Lorenzo Lamas (shudder), or, due to the Indonesian preoccupation with all things football (soccer, second only to badminton), Italian football star and super-defender Fabio Cannavaro. The Antonio reference is not a new one for me, nor is the general Italian reference. I am generally assumed to be Italian unless I have my Tilly hat on and people assume Australian, and in Indonesia they seemed to hone the reference further with the Cannavaro association. But Lamas? Ugh. It seems clear that the Indonesians are struggling to find someone as good looking and modest as I am in their comparisons.
Another interesting feature was the response variety when I told the Indonesians my place of origin. My statement in that regard was usually split about half and half between Texas and Alabama just to see what sort of response I would get for each one. More often than not, when I said Texas, I would get "Hah hah! Texas Fried Chicken!" accompanied by an incredibly excited look on their face. I'd just smile and nod, assuming that they were confused with KFC, which is by far the most common fast food restaurant in SE Asia. As it turns out, up in Denpesar, Bali, (and other cities) there is a similar chain called Texas Fried Chicken. Fancy that. Their responses to the Alabama answer usually involve references to the song "Sweet Home Alabama", which has apparently achieved thorough world-wide fame -- the various members of Lynyrd Skynyrd probably had no idea at the time that it would be so widespread. To be fair, occasionally the responses to Alabama would include references to Forest Gump, but these were more often encountered when dealing with fellow travelers rather than locals -- and more often earning a grimace from me rather than a grin in response to the appraising look that usually followed their summoning of that particular cultural icon. Most would not fully appreciate the reference when I sometimes added with my best slow-Hanks "My momma always said that boy was a travelin' fool."
From Labuan Bajo I hopped on a boat that was to take in many of the sites between Flores and Lombok over the course of a four-day trip. There were seven other tourists on board, companions for the next four days on the boat where we would eat together and sleep on the deck -- punctuated by periodic stops for snorkeling or island excursions. The first stop was nearby Rinca, sister island and dragon habitat of Komodo. The dragons are mostly limited to these two islands, though they do make temporary and periodic forays over to neighboring islands. In the course of the trip we stopped at both islands, each of which are part of a national park set up to allow visitors sightings of the famed reptilian beasts. The setups are similar: the boat pulls up to a small dock where the passengers disembark, run a gauntlet of locals selling carved wooden dragon figurines, and stand in line while everyone fills out ludicrous amounts of personal information in the guest register. (This is where you would normally pay the park fee, good for both islands, but this was included in the boat trip for me.) There is a complex of huts where visitors can lodge for the night if they so choose; around these huts are some enormous lizards, sunning, slowly strolling, and giving the impression of being well-fed. I imagine these dragons around the complex generally are fed regularly from kitchen scraps, presumably, just to ensure that people do have a dragon sighting when they land on the island. After waiting interminably for the registration process, everyone departs on a safari walk led by one of the park rangers, on a two or three mile loop. Though the days are long gone (due to tourist outcry I believe) when regular scheduled feedings of a live goat to the dragons in a large earthen pit used to astonish stunned groups of tourists, there is still a steady population of dragons on the islands and plenty of opportunities for sightings.
A Komodo dragon sighting is a vivid experience. You can tell yourself that they are a huge lizard before seeing one, and have some familiarity with that abstract concept, but when you finally come face to face with one you can't help but redundantly and helplessly say "Damn, that's huge." The largest ones I saw, perhaps four or five I saw of this calibre, were over ten feet long and around three or four feet wide across the belly. They immediately invoked a fight or flight response in me, perhaps appealing to my ancient embedded reptilian brain deep within my skull, momentarily interrupting its steady administration of glands and heart rate. The feeling was only momentary, because I quickly noticed that these enormous lizards do not move very much -- at least not while they are sunning themselves. There is no doubt that they are aware and watching, despite the black reptilian eyes, because the head will slowly turn as the lizard keeps tabs on its surroundings. The eyes are open most of the time, but every now and then they will blink. Not a quick blink, but a slow, considered blink of constant and deliberate velocity that merely adds to that aura of them knowing you are there. The dragons are so big it makes you wonder if they can actually move, but they can indeed. Occasionally one would nimbly heft that bulk and casually, but slowly, execute that sinuous lizard-stroll where each fore leg is synchronized with the opposite hind leg as the body alternately arcs back and forth.
Apparently they can be quite fast, but not for great distances. When embattled they are quite adept at using their tail as a arcing whip-like club. The younger dragons, which look like a fairly typical monitor lizard, stay in the trees because their older, ground dwelling, relatives consider them just another snack. Even the mid-sized lizards have to be careful of being devoured -- I saw several missing lengths of tail, apparently sacrificed while fleeing a hungry cousin.
Also on the island are wild pigs, water buffalo, macaque monkeys, and all sorts of birds. All of these are preyed upon by the dragons, though only in scavenger mode for the larger animals. Both walks involved sections of thick jungle and dried streambeds, after which we would ascend into the surrounding grassy hills where we could gaze across the beautiful hills and canopy to the ocean below. I did see some wild pigs and plenty of macaques, but no water buffalo. I saw a megapode, the squatty black, orange-legged bird that digs out large earthen nests five or six feet in diameter, covered with rotting vegetation. This rotting vegetation generates enough heat to incubate the eggs. Dragons like these nests also because they can dig up some free snacks -- and occasionally leave eggs of their own. Another bird I spotted was a Green Imperial Pigeon which looks like an enormous green dove. The jungle on these islands is teeming with life; the Komodo dragons are a healthy and well-adapted piece of the tapestry.
Other excursions from the boat included several excellent snorkeling opportunities in the areas within the Komodo sea and off the north coast of Sumbawa. Some day I would like to return and properly visit Sumbawa, but I merely saw if from the sea on this trip. At night, after dinner, I would usually hang around up on the bow of the boat, stretched out under the absolutely brilliant stars, visible from horizon to horizon, sharing sips of arak and conversation with some of the other passengers.
One day after sunrise and breakfast we put in at Pulau Satonda, an island off the north coast of Sumbawa. Formed volcanically, the island is a big caldera surrounding a picturesque inland lake. The lake is not visible from the water or on the beach, but a small walk over a shorter portion of the caldera lip reveals the lake. Along the way I took a side trail to a viewpoint. At the viewpoint was a mostly decayed structure of some sort, an old shed or perhaps a roof over a picnic table at one point. As I was inspecting the structure I came face to face with an eerie reptilian head, green with orange spots, about the size of a goose egg. After a shocked double-take and realization that this was not a snake, I realized that I had finally spotted what had been a great mystery to me up until that point: a real gecko lizard. All of Indonesia is teeming with smaller 'geckos' (called onomatopoeically chuk chuks by the locals) that run rampant inside and out, feasting on mosquitoes and other insects. Though slightly different, these are similar to the geckos we see in America (in Texas, anyway) never more than about four inches longs. Strictly nocturnal, the real geckos are always heard but rarely seen -- and far larger. They sound like some sort of peculiar mellow-voiced bird at night and I had spent considerable time trying to spot one in the foliage. Then I randomly came face to face with one, in the morning, most unexpectedly on that small island. Bag another for the lizard watcher.
There were some fairly long and protracted moments on the boat where the diesel engines seemed to chug endlessly with no apparent destination in sight. These moments were spent reading, napping, chatting, or eating. We did get into some mischief from time to time -- one moment in particular stands out. Most of us were up on the bow for some breeze and sun, but one young Canadian was zonked out on the deck under the canopy. We noticed that he had to be in the midst of a wonderful dream, because he was pitching a pup tent big as you please. The obligatory snickering and mocking ensued, during which I urged his travel companion to fetch our sleeping friend's camera from his pack. With his own camera we thoroughly documented the scene, replaced the camera, and never mentioned the incident to him. I still wonder what expressions crossed his face as he flipped through that pile of photos -- or better yet, his family if he sent the film home.
The boat trip ended at Labuhan Lombok, on the east coast of Lombok. Disembarking was a bit chaotic since we had to walk with packs over about four other boats and narrow planks in order to get to the docks. At the docks awaited clusters of touts, bemo drivers, coup-counting ass grabbers, and various wharfside lowlifes. We forced our way through this crowd, alert for pickpockets (which is why I noticed and castigated the ass grabbers for targeting some of the women with us), and chartered a bus across the island. The highway along which we rode was more developed and populated than most of what I had seen on Flores -- the difference in wealth was obvious from the start. The feel is different as well; for one thing, cidomos ply the streets, these two-wheeled pony carts. The ponies are always gaily adorned with head dresses of colorful struts and tassels, even if the ponies themselves always seem pretty frothed. So observing the markets and bustling street activities, we rolled on through Mataram and eventually Sengiggi. Some of us were continuing on to Bali from Mataram, and some were headed to the Gili Islands by way of Sengiggi. I was intending to bag Ganung Rinjani, the tallest mountain and polestar of Lombok, which had been taunting me, visible above the clouds all the way from Sarawak. I headed to Sengiggi, one of the larger tourist havens on Lombok (along with the Gili Islands), in order to finalize my mountain plans.
Touts and hawkers tend to move in herds in Indonesia. By natural instinct they swarm from all over Indonesia towards tourist loci and remain there until dislodged by governmental fiat. Kuta, in Bali, used to be one of the worst areas until the government put the kibosh on hawking on the beach. The Gili Islands, I was to gratefully find out later, had similar laws passed. Sengiggi has no such shield and seems to be one of the areas where the hawkers have fled. I showed up in the relative off season in an area where the hawkers are hungry anyway due to the drop in tourist trade resulting from some armed holdups in 2000 along the Rinjani trekking circuit (the locals formed posses to apprehend the perpetrators, and now regularly patrol the area making it quite safe, but the damage to the tourist trade had already been done). I hardly ever had a moment of peace in what would otherwise be quite lovely Sengiggi due to the constant hassle of the touts and hawkers; it engendered a distinct atmosphere of unfriendliness in an area where nobody local says hello unless they have an angle. This is a shame (though I hear India and parts of Africa can be at least as bad or far worse in this regard). I lingered in Sengiggi for a few days, awaiting some like-minded companions with whom I could share the cost of a Rinjani trek. Eventually I teamed up with John, a young teacher from Norway. I was glad to leave Sengiggi and thrilled to be headed towards Ganung Rinjani.
We arose early with our "guide" for a sunrise ride up the coast to Senaru, a village on the slopes of Rinjani, in order to register at the ranger's office and pick up our porters. The first day was a hike up to the crater rim; the first part was over grassy meadows covering the undulating remains of old ash and mud flows from prior eruptions of the volcano. The last segment of the hike was very steep; after about eight hours of hiking we were up in the chill, amongst clouds that obscured whatever contents the sunset might have revealed in the crater itself. Along the way I determined that our "guide" did not know too much about the mountain we were on -- not only that, he was in terrible shape, at odds with the natural state of most Indonesians I'd met. This contrasts mightily with the porters -- we had two porters pacing us the whole way, carrying most of our supplies, and who knew perfectly well where they were and where they were going. Each porter had a stout bamboo pole with two bundles (one on each end), slung over one shoulder; each porter carried around sixty or seventy pounds this way and had no problem keeping up with us -- and they did it all in flip-flops while chain smoking cigarettes. Unbelievable. At the end of each day they would unload everything, set up tents, cook meals (even at lunch this involved building a fire), and pack it up afterwards.
We arose early the next morning at 3 a.m. for a shot at the sunrise on the peak. John opted out, claiming vertigo (Vertigo? On a mountain trek? Yeah -- attempted therapy, I think) and this was probably wise if the claims of vertigo were true. We followed the narrow crater rim up towards the peak for around three hours, in the cold and dark -- or at least, I did. I quickly outpaced my "guide" who ended up turning around at some point and going back to sleep down at camp. I caught up to another group and we slogged up the loose talus, moving slowly due to the altitude. Eventually we made it, exhausted and cold, just in time for an incredible sunrise that slowly revealed other nearby volcanoes, rugged terrain, beaches, seas, and neighboring islands. Rinjani is 3726 meters (12,216 feet), our hike having taken us from 1000 meters at the village. From its summit we could clearly see the highest peaks on both Bali and Sumbawa, west and east. Rinjani itself is amazing -- the crater is enormous and contains a large lake. In the center of this lake a new cinder cone is forming, a perfect conical mountain within the lake within the mountain. The play of shadows across all of this volcanic terrain was beautiful as the sun rose, and I rapidly finished the roll of film in my camera. With shivering hands I dug out my spare roll of film only to discover that the extra roll had already been used -- amateur mistake! I had no ego shot up on that wonderful peak and no more film! Nor did the three other people on the peak with me. A Canadian friend named Sean was kind enough to take a shot of me on the peak, crater and cinder cone in the background, and send a print home for me -- and for once, apparently, a traveler actually followed through on such a promise because the picture arrived. In exchange I will send a couple of my Indonesian money-shots that really capture (hopefully) some aspect of the country to Sean. Coming down from the peak was a blast -- like a pro skier in fresh powder, I leaped and jogged side-to-side down most of what was slow and exhausting talus on the way up. Once back at camp I entertained myself by feeding and socializing with a tribe of macaques that no doubt foraged for scraps on a regular basis around the heavily-used campsite.
After breakfast and a couple of glances at my sheepish guide, we set off into the crater itself, down to the shores of the lake. Here we found an itinerate community of fishermen who filter up from surrounding villages on fishing expeditions. Someone at some point stocked the lake with perch and carp -- the fish have thrived. Nearby where we stopped there was also a set of hot springs gurgling up from the interior of the volcano. I spent the rest of the day alternating between soaking in the hot springs and trying my hand at perch-jerking in the lake with a borrowed cane pole and tapioca as bait. The hot springs were surrounded by steep, green hills through which clouds from below streamed in the breeze and on which families of macaque monkeys prowled and caroused. To one side was the cold runoff from the lake, and to the other were the hot sulfur pools of the spring. One could easily flop between temperature extremes whilst admiring the surreal scenery. We feasted on fish that night (though I only caught some small perch, our porters were more successful). Yes. I ate carp. And it's true what they say, carp is very bony with tiny Y-shaped bones no matter how large the cut of meat, which tastes okay. I also ate fried carp eggs -- surprisingly they weren't that bad, tasting like cornbread sort of -- the texture, though, is sort of crumbly like twice-baked cornbread that has dried out a bit.
The next day we made the arduous climb up the opposite rim of the crater for more fantastic views of the surroundings, early enough so that the daily cloud cover was still at bay. The descent was pretty, but long, around eight hours. The landscape was different than the initial ascent, featuring lush and virgin rainforest full of monkeys and wonderful floral and fruity scents wafting through the trees from unidentified and mysterious jungle plants. What was that? A cure for cancer I just smelled? Nah, probably not, but such was the directions my mind wandered during the descent which eventually ended up in the fields and buildings of another slash-and-burn agricultural village, outside the confines of the national park. In this village, on the opposite side of the mountain, John and I caught our ride to the northwest coast and the famed Gili Islands.
We landed on Gili Trawangan, the largest of the three islands known redundantly as the "Gili Islands", which properly translated means "Island Islands", which on second thought might actually make sense considering that the Gilis are satellites of Lombok, which is itself an island. The Gilis are one of the few tourist hubs on Lombok, and they are little slices of paradise. Since hawking is disallowed on the islands and they are mostly populated by tourists, I had the distinct feeling of being in the Land of the Lotus Eaters. John and I split a bungalow and mellowed out. Lazy days of beaches, less lazy nights of excellent food and bar scenes. You can get a full red snapper over a foot long split and grilled before your eyes for around three bucks -- expensive by Indonesian standards, but well worth it to tourists such as myself. The bar scene was reminiscent of Kuta -- movies on big screen TV, unless you happen to be the bar where the roving nightly party resides. The roving party involves the thump-thump music and "Bali" boys trying to hit on Western women. For me, I think I was enjoying the access to a variety of foods most of all. There is plenty of scuba opportunities off of the islands but I did not take advantage of the diving since I was saving for Bali.
There was one disturbing incident while on the islands. One night I attended a beach laid-back party. The beach was quite comfortable that night and I ended up staying late, chatting with a friend from the boat over from Flores. Late that night, perhaps around 3 a.m., we began to see steady bursts of light on the far horizon. At first I thought it was lightning, but quickly realized that the consistent-sized spherical bursts of light were actually bombs or mortars going off in an attack on some far-away city. After an initial bout of anxiety when I thought I was facing west (which would indicate Jakarta, Bali seeming unlikely) I realized that I was facing east. Across Sumbawa, across Flores, across West Timor,I was witnessing an assault on some city in East Timor. The attack lasted for at least three hours as I stayed on the beach, morbidly fascinated. When the sun rose at dawn the skys were clear, except for an enormous dark plume of smoke rising from a city in flames. The smoke cloud rose high into the air, sheared off at the top by high atmospheric winds. The entire cloud took on a brilliant pink hue as the sun continued to rise. I went to sleep soon thereafter, and when I woke I immediatly hit the internet, searching all of the news sites for incidents in East Timor or thereabouts -- not a single reference, anywhere. I suppose that cities getting destroyed by bombs in East Timor simply is no longer newsworthy.
After several, mostly languid, days on Gili Trawangan I set into motion and caught the ferry to Bali (parting ways with John, who zipped up to Lovina) in order to check out potential diving sites and scoping out the towns so I would have my bearings once Susan arrived. After several days I ended up in Ubud, from where I based myself in order to pick up Susan from the airport in Denpasar.
After a bit of nervous anticipation I picked up Susan from the airport for a well-received and happy reunion; back in Ubud we spent the rest of the night (and much of the visit, for that matter) catching up on all that has transpired. Ubud is a pleasant town, center of the so-called "cultural" tourism in Bali where they focus more on traditional dance, handicrafts, and traditional shopping; this, opposed to the more typical Kuta-style party-hard surfer dude form of tourism. For a few days we checked out Ubud, shopping and haggling for jewelry mostly, interspersed with enjoying some of the fine dining that can be found in the town. We visited the Monkey Forest, a nearby area of jungle surrounding two small temples and full of hundreds of hyper and rapacious macaque monkeys. The monkeys are revered, if not quite worshiped, in this forest and form some part of the focus of two temples. They are a little too pampered, I think -- one hint of foodstuffs on your person and the scene rapidly transforms from serene monkey forest to some twisted scene from The Birds where the persistent, cute monkeys suddenly take on a more ominous and creepy attitude, meanacingly demonstrating that they know exactly where the snacks are hidden. Unfortunately these were not the delightful and entertaining sort of macaques I encountered up on Rinjani; I fear Susan might have acquired a low opinion of macaques after that. Monkeys aside, the forest was very beautiful and we hiked down several trails down into the lush gullies where streams gurgled through well-worn rock crevasses down amongst the roots, loam, and foliage.
The second night in Ubud we checked out one of the traditional Balinese dance performances, one of the more popular ones about Barong and Rangda. It's a pretty straightforward good vs. evil story involving kings and soldiers being manipulated by the good, but mischievous, Barong, and the evil witch-lady-monster Rangda. The Barong is played by two people and looks like a shaggy dragon/lion combination. The dance was very eye-catching, particularly the part where the minions of Rangda, a group of masked women, let loose their routine. I kept watching the drummer, though. Some of the rhythms he was pounding out on his double-headed drum were amazing; the rest of the jangly but melodic music was provided by a sizeable gamelan orchestra.
Bali is famous for their 'Balinese Smoked Duck' (plucked from the many duck parades that ply the surrounding rice paddies) which we feasted on later that night. I had enjoyed a particular local restaurant before (as it turns out, with Derrin and Lucy from Komodo diving, the boat ride, and on Gili Trawangan) and had been hankering for some of that luscious smoked duck, on their recommendation. The restaurants that offer the dish typically request that you order it twenty-four hours in advance since they smoke it for twelve hours. That duck was succulent and fantastic, and our toes only curled further when we tried out black rice pudding for dessert. I'd never seen black rice, before -- the uncooked grains are black, or dark purple anyway -- but this concoction is wonderful. It's cooked in coconut cream and has a texture not unlike porridge, served sweet. Ah!
After more shopping, eating, and wandering around in Ubud we headed out to the coastal town of Padangbai -- the same port town in which I landed off of the ferry from Lombok. Padangbai, despite being a port town, is relatively quiet despite numerous nearby attractions. It is primarily a fishing village centered around a small curved beach onto which the local and colorful fishing boats are pulled each day. There are two rocky headlands surrounding this small bay; on either side of the headlands are small, secluded white sand beaches where the few tourists in town tend to congregate for catching rays. These beaches have warungs (food shanties) set up on the beach and sell simple food and drink to the beachcombers. We immediately headed for one of these beaches for some sunning. Outside of these white sand coves, at least to the south, the beaches dramatically turn into long, black sand beaches. We visited one of these black sand beaches for a while; the problem with black sand beaches, as neat as they are, is that they get hot and are not very suitable for lolling about. That day we had walked to the black beach along the road, but decided to try and skirt the coastal headland to get back to the white beach cove from the day before. This was a great call; along the way we walked across and studied some amazing lava flows and tubes. Based on the radial pattern of some of the formations, Susan said that the flows probably formed beneath water where lava will blossom out into large alternating cracking and expanding polyps. There were other striking mineral formations in the black lava, white veins of some sort that varied in width and heterogeneity based on how quickly the fresh lava cooled during formation. In all of this there were obvious lava tubes and, more visibly, blowholes and surging exhaust vents from waves crashing under the formations and our feet. It was an extremely interesting walk, though hot, and we made it finally back to the white beach for more sunning.
One of the main points in going to Padangbai, other than the beaches, was that it could also be used as a base of operations for diving excursions over by Ahmed. We signed up with Gecko, the local dive honchos, for a trip the next morning out to the U.S.S. Liberty, a cargo vessel sunk by the Japanese right off of the coast of Bali during WWII. The beach near the wreck is formed of smooth, fist-sized black stones that gurgle and click as each wave gently rolls in. Directly from this beach we headed out to the wreck itself, which begins a mere sixty yards off shore. This was Susan's first dive since she was certified; our dive master was taking things very easy and did a wonderful job. Along the way we fed some bananas to the fish in an amazing display of frenzy and greed that nearly reminded me of Monkey Forest. The Liberty was a pretty big cargo ship; the divable portion is the stern, which from only around twenty feet deep stretches down beyond 150 feet. We only went down to around eighty-five feet along the eerie remains. There is lots of topography to explore on the wreck which serves as host to all sorts of fish and reef life; we gave it a good look even though it's a big enough wreck to require at least two dives for full exploration. After the dive we had lunch and did a nearby wall dive with even more reef life. We followed a bluewater traverse out to the wall itself, and in the wide blue we saw schools of jackfish and tuna cruising -- indicated mostly by the simultaneous darting burst every fish in the vicinity performed each time one of these predatory schools came near. The wall was a healthy wall with diverse life -- Susan was particularly jubilant to see a beautiful moray eel. Both dives went off without a hitch, a wonderful outing for us both. That night we fraternized with the jocular Bob, owner of the dive shop, who was kind enough to invite us to a local (and I mean local) favorite restaurant where we dined on some absolutely incredibly succulent marinated beef roast -- maddeningly enough the name of the dish escapes me, though I still have sweet dreams about the flavor.
After Padangbai we headed back to Ubud so that we could hook up with a local acquaintance, Pico, whom I had initially met my first time through Ubud. I drafted Pico into taking Susan and I of a quick tour of some of the volcanoes, temples, and rice paddies of the central mountainous region of Bali. Between the two volcanoes Ganung Batur and Ganung Abong is a truly monstrous crater partly filled with a huge crescent lake. Down through this crater we drove, agog at calamities that must have once been, and out along the rim. We toured an enormous temple at the base of Abong, an impressive multi-level example of the Balinese temple (but unfortunately very touristy and infested with self-described and deceiving local "guardians" who refuse to call themselves "guides who foist their unwanted services on you because you don't know what to expect and then berate you when your 'voluntary' contribution is not as much as what they were hoping for"). Afterwards we had an enjoyable drive through the countryside of the region, spying on rice paddies and scenic vistas before returning to Ubud.
We then set out to Sanur, another beach scene in southern Bali. It's a very different atmosphere from, say, Kuta. The crowd here seems a bit more tame, older but not old, gaudy in dress (probably Australian), and certainly borrowing from the cruise-ship mentality. Sanur itself is pleasant enough, with plenty of good deals on resorts and beach lodgings. A long beach walk stretches down the length of the town, providing seaside dining and bands of questionable skills. Most of the time in Sanur we spent lazing about, doing nothing in particular but enjoying ourselves. The Sanur surf is curious; a significant reef lies about a half a mile off the coast which keeps the waves pretty calm. During the broad tidal flux, the area of water between shore and this reef becomes a shallow pond, stranding boats in the sand close to shore. One night we darted across to the west side of the peninsula for the famed seaside dining and sunsets of Jimbaran. The day was overcast, so the sunset was not as spectacular as one might hope, but the seafood was top notch. After selecting our two fat snapper from the ice we sat down at a table out on the sand of the beach. The grilled snapper was presented to us with an impressive spread of accoutrements on which we stuffed ourselves. It was hands down some of the best red snapper I've ever had.
The next day or so was very mellow, no doubt the impending end of Susan's vacation weighing heavily on both of our minds. We were both very sad when I dropped her off at the airport later that evening. It was a wonderful and enjoyable visit, the end of which left me wobbling.
I had one more day before my flight to Singapore. I headed back to where I started in Indonesia, Kuta. It was very strange returning there; for one thing, tourist season had started to pick up and it was far, far more crowded than when I first arrived there. In addition, after two months I felt old-hat at the whole Indonesian thing. Kuta seemed less interesting, fake, and familiar all at once. I watched a movie in one of the bars (Snatch, very good, extremely entertaining), and headed out to the airport the next day. Unfortunately I had made a miscalculation and had stayed 61 days rather than 60 days as was allowed on my visa: as a most rude 'thank you' for staying and spending money in their country, the immigration official was kind enough to bilk me for twenty U.S. dollars -- a very expensive day in Indonesia to be sure. I was in a mood to raise holy hell since I knew this troll was not charging me the official fine, if any, but I swallowed my bile, forked over the dough, concentrated on all the wonderful experiences I'd had in Indonesia, and hopped on a plane to Singapore.
Excerpt from the Beer Lover's Almanac: Things slightly improve in Lombok and Bali, as opposed to Flores. The everpresent Bintang, the only option in Flores, is of course still well represented in isles west. In addition there is the questionable cheap and too sweet lager Bali Hai. But in a blinding burst of twilight in this beer-forsaken part of the world, there is the somewhat functional lager Anker. Perhaps I have gone through withdrawal and my taster is unduly influenced by lack of quality -- perhaps this is why I found Anker somewhat appealing. But Susan, whose taster has not been ravaged like mine, seemed to agree that Anker was a somewhat functional lager, at best, and the lesser of three evils, at worst.
Editor's note: Yes, the timeliness of my postings has suffered, lately, but it is mostly due to steady encounters with friends or lack of an affordable net drop. Fear not.
Till next time, where I will describe adventuring in Singapore and Malaysia, brachiating from friend to friend.