Well we woke up fresh from that exhausting trip in a small port town of Padang Bai. Feeling good, great actually, after our exhausting trip, we looked at the world with new eyes and were pleased with what we found. For a port town, Padang Bai is really small, but it has numerous small restaurants to choose from, serving tasty food. The atmosphere is totally laid back, and within walking distance were two hidden beaches. The first one, Blue Dolphin Beach, was in a small cove. The waves were coming in hard, and the beach part was small, but the snorkeling was nice. There were plenty of fish to look at in the turbulent waters, as well a lots of trash, which I did not like. Too many people think that when they toss a plastic bag it just disappears, but that is never the case, it always end up some where it shouldn’t, making something beautiful ugly.
Yvonne wanted to do some shopping so I wandered around looking for secret beach, which as you can imagine, was harder to find then you would believe. I wandered down through the Muslim neighborhood, towards the water and a dirtier section of the port. There was a concrete walled pool off the water where local woman and kids were showering. Clearly the wrong place. So I turned around when a guy carrying five coconuts asked if I was looking for the beach. Well yeah, so he waved for me to follow along. Pass the bathing section, up a steep goat trail, along a ridge, and down an equally steep goat trail, where I fell on my ass twice. But was it worth it. The beach was way better than the other, cleaner, with crazy waves for body surfing, and I mean crazy. I got dashed in the sand with such force that I was just like a rag doll, it was so exhilarating.
The next day we decided to rent a scooter, and see a bit of Bali on our own terms. First let me tell you, this drive was a cakewalk compared to my trial by fire in Yogyakarta. The roads were smooth, there was one car or bike in a space at a time, they were polite, and passing was done with blinkers. What a concept. So we did a lot of twisty fun roads, going up and down hills. I bought a really nice pair of Oakleys for three dollars, a very hard bargain let me tell you. At one point near the top of a hill a monkey shot across the road, no kidding. Well we turned a bend and there were heaps of monkeys, congregating near a shrine. So the Hindus leave offerings to the gods, and the monkeys take the offerings. Does that make the monkeys the gods, I don’t know, just asking?
Well for me monkeys in the wild are totally cool, and this may have been my first time seeing them in the wild. They were everywhere, running back and forth across the road, carrying babies on their bellies, chasing each other in and out of the trees, pure monkey business I tell you.
Well after having more fun then a barrel of monkeys there, we continued on our journey of discovery. Yvonne had read about a gorgeous beach from a hand drawn map on a scrap piece of paper, called Virgin Beach. So of course we had to check it out. So we traveled down a crazy twisty dirt road in search of it, and there was a massive marijuana farm, and men with machine guns, and a secret group of backpackers there. It was our slice of heaven. OK, that was all from a movie, but there certainly were not any virgins there either. But what a hell of a beach. Probably a kilometer long, with cliffs jutting out at either ends. The water was so clear, and the waves so big here, that when people were carried up on a large wave, you could see their entire body through the water, right down to their feet. well maybe not so good for people watching me, seeing how my suit tends to drop down, haha.
The snorkelling was awesome here too. You had to go pretty far out, but the reef was in good condition, plenty of moorish idols, trigger fish, and box fish. I even saw a young green moray eel. But the best thing about this place was its food. We were at a Warung, which is a local restaurant, and the owner brings out today’s catch, which consisted of a small barracuda, three red snappers, a few king prawns, and a squid. I chose a lovely red snapper, and he grilled it up right there. A half hour later I was eating my perfectly grilled fish, with potatoes, rice, and a salad, all for ten bucks. Plus an ice-cold Bintang, it really was the best seafood meal I have ever had.
The only bad part of this trip was that I left my mask and snorkel hanging on the beach umbrella. I had that set for over fifteen years, and brought it everywhere with me. It had a wide glass viewing panel, and side glass panels too. So you could see everything. Plus it fit my big nose easily, not an easy thing to find around here. So for me it was a huge loss, but these things happen.
On the way home we checked out the last beach, Black Sand beach. This we went down some rutted roads, to an abandoned hotel complex on the top of a bluff. Someone had put some serious money in this complex, it would have been the biggest building around, but it looked like all work stopped a few years back, so nature was slowly retaking it. We got some directions from some kids, and backtracked to a small dirt path. It felt like we were in someones back yard, with two boats being worked on there, but no one was around. Past the boats was the black sand, which seemed to go for miles. The black sand is made from lava, there was even some old lava trails going into the sea. We climbed over them and found a large pool of water about twenty feet from the ocean. There was a cave connecting the ocean to it, and every time a wave came in it would make a loud boof which echoed and then water would shoot up in the pool. If this was in the states there would be tourists everywhere, but no one was around at all. It was very peaceful, and we were proud of our little discovery.
We liked it here so much we stayed around Padang Bai a few days, so my feelings about Bali were not all accurate. You see, I pretty much hated Bali after that first night coming in with the bus scam. Plus, it was modern, nice roads, clean toilets, lots of westerners. I did not come half way around the world to hang out with a bunch of sun burnt speedo wearing Europeans, if I wanted that, I would have gone to Greece. It’s lacking in a bit of cultural diversity. Plus everything was more expensive, rooms, food, and beer. I still feel no need to go to the main commercial beaches, which are massive tourist traps with drunk twenty something’s puking all over and fornicating on the beach. Like I said, I’m not twenty anymore.
So we booked our speed boat to the Gili Islands off Lombok. The Gili’s are three small islands, off the main coast of Lombok. They have no motor vehicles on them, just bikes and horse-drawn carriages, called cidomos. The biggest is Gili Trawangan, which is considered the craziest. Then there is Gili Meno, the smallest, and closest to Lombok is Gili Air.
Gili Trawangan has a small hill coming out of the center. The east side of the island has a town, where you will find lots of bars, restaurants, dive shops, and hotels. It’s packed with businesses, loud music, and a general twenty something party scene. There are Irish bars, English, tecno, new wave, and anything else you can think of. People tend to be loud and drunk on this end. There is a loop-hole in Indonesian law that makes magic mushrooms legal. So there are signs everywhere advertising them, and they even have magic mushroom shakes. The farther away from town you get, the quieter it gets, till you end up just having empty beaches and forest. This section is peaceful and relaxing.
As soon as you get off the boat a bunch of guys harass the hell out of you, asking you to check out their place, go to their restaurant, and all that. We ignore them and walk with full gear for a kilometer or so, checking individual places. One dude followed us the whole way, no matter how politely we told him to get lost.
After walking for thirty minutes with all our gear on we met a guy named Adi who said he had what we were looking for. He led us around a very long concrete wall through a yard, to two hidden bungalows. I thought the wall might be a sea break or something like that. We were skeeved out ar first, but the place was actually great. It was an A-frame, with an outdoor bathroom, air conditioning, and over the wall you could see the beach. Our bungalow was about half way between the town and the peaceful northern half of the island. We later found out that the original owner who bought the property twenty years ago decided he wanted to use the land, and all kinds of people had been squatting on it, building bungalows and businesses on it and making money from it. So our place was illegal, but for twenty bucks a night, we didn’t complain.
The snorkelling was ok here, most the coral was dynamited, but they had been working hard to refurbish the coral reefs and a lot of life was coming back. All you had to do was walk out from our hut, dip into the sea, and there was sea life everywhere. But I did not have a snorkel, and the new one we got for Yvonne was crap. So I booked a diving trip instead. The diving was ok, but my guide made a wrong turn, so we wandered for twenty minutes before we found hidden reef. It was not that impressive, with very delicate corals, but we had half the time we should have. Saw a sea turtle too, which always excites me. Ran out of air, only second time in my life this had happened, but I just buddy breathed with our guide, no problem at all. On the ride back though we saw a four-foot blue marlin jumping six feet out of the water three times. That was really impressive to see how powerful and beautiful it was.
My dive partner was a british guy dating a korean australian. He’s a dive master who lives in Thailand and occasionally guides divers. One time he was surfacing and a boat ran over him. There was a nail sticking out of he boat that caught him and dragged him for thirty feet. I’m pretty sure that would have ended my diving career. Then another time he was leading a group and one of the divers had an epileptic fit, but did not notify him ahead of time that he was epileptic. After that experience he decided to end his career as a dive master, probably would have gotten me to quit too. He saved the guy, but was clawed, punched, and hit while thirty feet under water, it’s a miracle they both survived.
After diving I went back to our bungalow, but Yvonne was off cycling the island. We had read that it takes forty minutes to cycle around, so I figured I would go the opposite way and meet up with her. Ha, forty minutes, my ass. Once I passed our bungalow, the road became a sandy rut. Reminded me of riding bikes at the cabin when I was ten. There was a hill on a curve that would be really sandy at the bottom. All four of us kids would pedal as hard as we could to get through the sand, but more often than not we would wipe out in the sand. It was good fun, and here I was thirty years later doing the same thing. While I was cycling past beach bars, bungalows, cabins, and weird giant resorts with concrete ships and whales, I looked at every parked bike I saw looking for hers. I kept thinking she had to be some where on my path, but at some point I realized that we had missed each other. I figured it would be quicker to go the rest of the way around then to head back. So now I put my back into it, because the sun was setting, and I was really thirsty for a beer. Well an hour and half later, I made it to the other side. I ripped through the town, beeping my horn, and swerving around horse carriages and drunks. It really was a blast. I made it past our bungalow again, the sun was down, and here comes Yvonne walking her bike through the sand. I had missed her completely at the beginning, and even though I searched the beach bar she was at, I missed her sitting on a bean bag enjoying a Bingtang and the sunset. Well, I needed a beer, so we went back and had another Bingtang on the bean bag. Diving and biking all in one day, that’s hard work. I thought this was supposed to be a holiday.
That night we went out on the town. We had grilled fish on the beach. Then we stopped by the Irish pub, of course, and had another beer. While hopping on our bikes to head out, we noticed a very funny thing. There were people dancing like crazy, but there was no music. It was seriously strange, and everyone looked so stupid with these giant 1970’s headsets on. So of course, we had to try it. So we popped on these stylish head sets and danced the night away. Who cares how stupid we looked, we were having fun at the Silent Disco Party dancing to Prince.
We also used our time to organize a trip to the Komodo Islands. Sadly, we just missed the boat heading out, but if we wanted to reverse our trip around, and take the boat back to Gili Islands, we could meet up with them in Flores. Why not, we would need to fly one way or the other either way, so we booked a flight too. Then we parted ways with Adi, our banana pancake making king, and hopped on the fast boat again.
Back in our favorite place Padang Bai again, I felt like testing my luck and heading back to Virgin Beach again, to see if they had my snorkel set, and you know what, they did. He was letting his friend borrow it, but got it back for me in time to have some fabulous grilled fish again. It was over a week since we had left it. This was the third time I lost something and found it. Knock on wood, I was thrilled to be reconnected with my mask. Life is good.