Cath and I had spent our last afternoon walking around Gili T comparing prices between boats that would bring us back to Bali while Sophie and Joanie would pursue their adventure to Lombok. This time, our plan was to explore the southern part of the so-called “Paradise Island” that we are still yet to encounter after a very deceiving first leg in the center and north part. Our best bet to access Bali South was to cross the sea back to Padangbai and ride on a minibus to Jimbaran - where we have found a clean and cheap accomodation. Cath and I are not of the “glamourous” type and perfectly fine with getting regular accomodation, as long as it’s clean and strategically located. We had estimated that from Jimbaran we could access all major sights within 15 to 30 minutes by taxi.
The boat ride from hell
After visiting countless amounts of booths offering transfers by boat from Gili T to Padangbai, we finally opted for the fairest price and most comfortable boat as per the pictures displayed on a piece of cardboard. The next day, we had just enough time to have breakfast at a small restaurant called “Le P’tit Gili”, a cheap wordplay combining the name of the archipelago with a French expression that can be translated as “The Little Tickle”. After eating our omelette, bowl of fruits and the almighty dragon fruit banana smoothie, we walked with our backpacks to the departure point. I said it before and I’ll say it again! Never trust a picture! What was sold to us as a medium size stable and comfortable boat (just as the one we used on our way here) was nothing more than a small craft sitting about 60 people in the boat hold and all luggage on the deck with no cover whatsoever to protect them from the strong waves on this particular morning. One of my friends told me about this infernal experience of a boat ride as she did the same travel a few weeks earlier. I did not really understand her comment since our boat experience went very smoothly on the way to Gili T. Of course, I understood after the fact that the experience highly depends on the weather forecast, especially while on a smaller boat. And so we left Gili T in a very turmented sea that shook us in every direction as strong waves were hitting the boat from the side. As we could hear a few people unwillingly tasting their breakfast for a second time, Cath and I shared a look and started thinking of an exit strategy in case the waves had won the duel. This terrifying experience did not cease for the whole two-hours it took to reach Bali as the crew members kept distributing plastic bags to passengers. At times, we could feel the boat dropping three meters from the air and hitting hard onto the surface. As my friend explained, it was indeed “the worst boat ride of our lives”. We were finally relieved when we got closer to the coast and waves were suddenly smaller for the last 15 minutes of the ride. When we finally reached Padangbai, everyone was very happy to leave that hell box and set foot on firm ground. That feeling of happiness quickly disappeared when our soaking wet backpacks (inside out) were thrown on the dock for us to pick up. Looking back at this terrifying experience and the way we were fooled through intoto hopping on such a small boat, what we should have done would have been to go to the departure point the day before, observe the boats and make our decision based on reality rather than falsely advertised pictures. Now that we are already on the boat, it is too late to complain or ask for our money back. It was the perfect scam!
Upon our arrival at the hotel, there was no one to be found around the service desk despite mentioning our arrival time in the online reservation form. Fortunately, a phone number along a Whatsapp logo was left at the desk which we used for the manager to show up half an hour later. Despite this small incident, the service was fine very good and we were overall happy about the service. Nothing to compare with our horrible first experience in Ubud a few days earlier.
On our first night, we went for dinner at one of those fish restaurants by the beach. The taxi driver that brought us there had promised we would get a 30% discount on our bill since we used the Blue Bird taxi services. When the bill finally came, not only the fish was overpriced, but the discount was never applied although we showed them the bill from our taxi ride. No way to make them change their minds, we ended up paying after persisting for a few minutes. Jimbaran was a very local area which we essentially treated as a hub for our sightseeing in the southern part of the island. Despite this strategic choice and our bad experience at te fish restaurant, we still found in this area a little jewel of a local restaurant on the boulevard close to our hotel. We liked it so much that we made it our little tradition to have dinner there almost every evening. The staff was very happy to serve foreigners for once and treated us consequently with great courtesy.
The first sight on the list was the Uluwatu Temple located on the edge of a cliff of the southern part of Bali. Getting there was very easy. All we had to do was to book a Grab ride and wait for our driver to show up. A short ride of 15 minutes brought us to the main entrance where our driver suggested he stayed with us the whole day. We had plans to wander around the sight for a few hours but our driver reassured us that visiting the whole sight would only takes us two hours at most. If he doesn’t mind waiting around in his car for so long, by all means... Just before starting our visit, the driver left us with one last advice neither to bring bananas nor to keep our sunglasses visible. Apparently, monkeys can smell bananas from very far. Therefore, we better not have any at hand in order to avoid any adverse encounter. Consequently, we left all food supplies in the car. On these valuable words we paid our entrance ticket office and wrapped a sarong around our waists before making our way into the sight. We had to cross a path in between trees in order to get to the cornice. Once there, a stunning view on the cliff-hanging temple awaited us. We walked the whole site from one end to the other. The only deception was that the temple was not open to visitors as a barricade kept us away from accessing it. Throughout our visit, we crossed paths with a man who invited visitors to hold pieces of bananas in the air. This of course invited the monkeys to come around and snatch the banana off the visitor’s hands. The man would then take pictures for the visitors to keep as souvenirs. We saw a couple play along. As for us, “Thanks, but no thanks!” As predicted by our driver, we had enough of two hours to complete the whole visit. On our way out we stopped for a quick bite by the parking lot where we had yet another bowl of Soto Ayam - the chicken soup we fell in love with during our travel through Indonesia.
When we got to Padang Padang Beach, our devoted taxi driver asked us once more if we wanted him to wait for us. However, our plan was to lye on the beach for hours and work on our tan (not that I needed it, but my caucasian friend Cath definitely did). Therefore, we decided to split without knowing how to get back to Jimbaran later. We made our was down the stairs, daypack on our backs and a few supplies in our hands, after paying a small fee of 5000 IDR. When we got to the end of the stairway, a group of monkeys gathered in front of us waiting to hand them our bananas. As they were getting closer to us, Cath and I wondered whether we should abandon the bag of supplies and run away. This is when a local women told is to hold the bag as high as possible and walk through the group of monkeys. I have to admit I was a little skeptical about this strategy but it ended up working. All's well ends well, we made it to the beach with all of our belongings.
The beach was not very large but beautiful. Among the services available we could count a handful of snack bars, a t-shirt and sarong shop, and a surfboard rental desk. Most people came for surfing, swimming and sunbathing, but others - a group of local men - came to take pictures. They had a scheme going on that was very easy to detect and yet, none of the tourists complained. The scheme was that they would pose for their friends to take a picture of them, but what they were really doing was to take a picture of the girls in bikini in the background. I mean, why would you take a picture with rocks in the background when the beautiful beach is right in front of you?
After a few hours on the beach enjoying the sun, it was time to go back right before sunset. “Let’s call a Grab!”, I thought. I did find a ride, but the driver asked us (once again) a far too high price. We gently declined and walked to the public transportation parking lot where we were once more offered to be transported at an exorbitant price. We also met a family from Quebec who generously offered to tag along with them in their driver which would have been perfect. However, their accomodation was right around the corner and it wouldn’t help us much. At this point, we desperately tried the Grab app again hoping to find a good samaritan who would not be too greedy. We finally found a driver through the app! Although his price was fair, he had the very odd request to pick us up about 300 meters from where we were currently located. On top of that, he asked we waited in a parking lot behind a store - out of sight from any passerby. That sounded sketchy, but we still took that risk as we ran out of options. When we got to the meeting point, I asked Cath to stay by the road while I waited alone until I made sure the driver was not a thread for our security. In the end, everything went fine. The driver explained to us that the reason for this odd rendez-vous was that the public transportation in the southern part of Bali is controlled by a local mafia that refuses the establishment of any alternative transportation service (e.g. Grab, Go-Jek, Uber, etc.). Consequently, those app drivers are only allowed to drop passengers, but no pick up is tolerated. That explained the unreasonable prices and suspicious requests. I guess Grab drivers are only willing to pick up passengers is the price is worth taking such a risk.
The last temple that was on our sightseeing list was Tanah Lot. This temple is special because it is located on a giant rock which is completely surrounded by water when tide is high. Conversely, it is only accessible when tide is low. So, we called a Grab in the morning and drove to Canggu - where the temple is located. As expected, the temple and its surrounding where beautiful. Once again, the temple was not accessible to visitors. Not only this, but a shenanigan was going on where locals sitting at the foot of the stairway would make you pay to access go further up the rock. Of course, all visitors thought they were paying to access the temple while it was only to go up a few steps to a closed gate. Luckily, we knew about this scheme as the Canadian family we met at Padang Padang had told us about their experience. Another shenanigan was the so-called “Holy Snake”. A man dressed up as a monk is sitting in a cave with as mall mound before him to hide the snake from being viewed by passersby. A sign is hung on the forefront of the mound asking to pay a few to be granted to priviledge to see the snake. I don’t don’t know what was so holy about it, but I managed to find many pictures online. Therefore, if you ever visit the Tanah Lot temple, you can avoid encouraging this scam. After taking a few pictures, we left the area while way too many Chinese tourists were playing along with the scams, placing themselves in our frame although it was clear we were trying to capture a shot, and taking ridiculous risks while posing for pictures themselves (e.g. getting very close to the slippery cliff to take selfies with wave splashes on the background). This could have easily gone wrong.
We left the temple to go and meet two friends from back home for lunch. Alexandre and Gabriel are the co-founders of Barefoot Surf Travel, a Surf Camp I had the pleasure to stay at while travelling through Nicaragua in 2013. Since then, their business has grown significantly and they now also have operations in Bali. During our lunch at (name), we caught up on our lives and careers. I must saw I was really impressed with their vision and overall business model. After dinner, we went by the beach as per their recommendations and stayed there until sunset. Observing surfers riding on waves while enjoying food and drinks to an awesome live DJ set at the Old Man’s surfer bar made us understand why our Barefoot Surf Travel friends chose Canggu to establish their new school as it is definitely the surfer’s paradise. While there, we could barely tell we were still in Indonesia as it would have been very credible to say we were somewhere in Australia.
While at the beach observing the surfers, a funny incident happened which brought me back to my childhood. When I was young and playing hockey for the local team, I used to foolishly think some players in the changing room were talented just because they had more expensive gear. It always made me laugh when I noticed later on the ice that they had nothing on me and my cheaper equipment. That’s when I learnt the true meaning of the famous idiom: “You can’t judge a book by its cover”. While at the beach, Cath was ready to leave when we noticed a couple getting ready for their surfing session. They were all geared up with expensive outfits and even had matching surfboards - blue for the man and pink for the lady. I then told Cath to wait a few moments as my childhood memories came back to mind. I wanted to see what these two were capable of. After a neverending stretching routine that aimed to warm up every possible muscle of their bodies, they finally tucked their rashguards into their swimsuits (even the lady’s into her bikini bottom, which I thought was really weird) and jumped into the water. At the first wave they’ve encountered, no sign of neither a duck nor a turtle dive. There was our first clue, but let us no jump into conclusions too quickly and give these two the benefit of the doubt. Obviously, after about ten attempts to catch a single wave, still no sign of getting even close to standing on their boards. We then got fed up of watching the non pro couple and switched our attention to a man with a bodyboard trying to complete a full flip in the air while propelled by a wave. That was much more entertaining! I guess the couple’s money would have been better spent in surfing lessons at Barefoot Surf Travel rather than in fancy gear. I know these observations sound chauvinistic, but it amuses me to observe people from far and judge them. It’s one of my rare indulgences that I enjoy while travelling alone. I just sit a at café and enjoy a warm cup of coffee while observing the passersby.
We were ready to leave Canggu and started walking toward the main road in search for a taxi when Cath yelled some Quebec slang gibberish to two men walking on the other side of the road. “Who is she talking to?”, I thought. Of course, I didn’t recognize any of the two men, but Cath sure did as she works in the media and communications industry. It was an up-and-coming stand-up comedian from Montreal by the name of Jay Du Temple with his best friend. Jay was in town for the shooting of the famous (in Quebec) reality show “Occupation Double”. When I got to Bali and posted my first instagram photo, a lot of (female) friends from back home reached out and asked as a joke if I was a contender on the show. The show’s premise is a dating game where participants are are confronted to different challenges in their quest for finding their true love. Obviously, all participants are meticulously selected based on their high plastic/flesh ratio, surprisingly low IQ and high propensity fo drama. There are the key ingredients to a successful reality show! So sorry to disappoint all of you, but I was really in Bali just for vacation and nothing more! After talking a few minutes talking, Jay invited us to join him and his friend Joey for dinner at a nearby restaurant. The conversation kept going and in the blink of an eye it was already late. At this point, we had two choices: 1) call it a night and go back to our quarters in Jimbaran, or 2) follow Jay and Joey to a party with “Occupation Double”’s production crew. The choice was obvious! Let’s get the party started! We spent the rest of the evening throwing rounds at each other until the party faded out.
The Grab driver we booked was a bit too sketchy in my opinion. He insisted to go through dark country roads instead of well lighted streets. While a little inebriated, the worst came to mind as to what could possibly happen in a foreign country at 3:00am. I usually have a non negotiable policy when it comes to a taxi driver refusing to follow the route i ask him to take. With my phone in hand and its navigation app fired up, I could clearly see that his path was not the most optimal one. The language barriere didn’t help the cause and made it really difficult for him to put his thoughts into words. Cath tried to calmed me down as I was ordering the driver to stop the car so we can leave and call a more collaborative taxi. She made a lot of sense when she mentioned the driver was probably attempting to avoid the mafia while picking up passengers in the southern part of Bali. Indeed, as soon as we passed the country road we ended up on a boulevard which we recognized right away. Again, all's well ends well... but, I’d better be safe than sorry.
We spent our last days wandering around Kuta, a very (but VERY) touristic area filled with hotels, restaurants and souvenir shops. Our last days were composed of sunbathing sessions at the beach, souvenir shopping and massages. While we really enjoyed getting 60-minute full body massages for que equivalent of 10 EUR, we did not enjoy so much the attitude of the local shop owners. The conversation usually starts with the same series of questions.l as they keep referring to me as “Boss” and make complete abstraction of Cath as she is a woman and therefore, “should not possibly participate to any type of negotiation”. This deplorable behavior from the locals truly irritated the strong and independent feminist Quebec woman that is Cath, as well she should, while they always directly talked to me for any kind of request. As we were shopping for a taxi driver-style short sleeve button shirt with a nice batik pattern for Cath’s brother, the starting price were completely unreasonable. The conversation went a little something like this:
Him: “Boss, welcome! Where are you from?”
This question alone rose enough suspicions for us to forecast a high selling price. I usually skip this question and ask for the price directly. No need to waste anybody’s time. I won’t be more incline to buy your goods simply because you are interested to know the name of the chicken you are willing to pluck.
Me: “How much for this shirt?"
Him: “For you, my friend...”
(Coining the term “my friend” added up to my already high-enough suspicions.)
Him: “...very good price: 600 000 IDR.”
I have a very strict policy when it comes to negotiating with “financial terrorists”. If they show disrespect to my intelligence by asking for an unreasonably high price, I simply walk away without even commenting in their offer and that’s precisely what we did.
There must be 500 meters separating the beach from the barbershop where I intended on getting a fresh cut. Over this distance, we must have heard a hundred times the same broken disk of people over-insisting on providing us all possible services. Once more, it was the “broker” behavior all over again. “Boss, what do you need? Shirt? Souvenirs? Scooter? Massage? Cheap, cheap!” It really got to my nerves that a foreigner in Kuta can't even enjoy a simple walk without being harassed by locals. I understand they are trying to make a living, but what are the odds that someone passing by stores without even looking will all of a sudden answer to the local’s cat calling and end up spending an incredible amount of money? It’s backwards that I finally reached the barbershop. While I was getting my fresh cut, it was Blondie Cath’s turn to get harassed by some bench squatters flirting with her. Cath lasted ten minutes after which she left the barbershop to go unwind on the beach. We met later on and headed for our last dinner in Indonesia. We noticed a traditional restaurant close to where the Grab driver had dropped us earlier. It was the perfect dinner to end our adventures on a good note. For the very reasonable price of 500 000 IDR, we had access to a buffet of traditional Balinese dishes and a live folk dancing show. While tasting the delicious local flavors and admiring the dancers’ prowesses for the last time, we reminded ourselves of all the good times we had during our vacation. We cheered to an awesome time and many more to come.