From now on, whenever I wake up on a travel day and I find an insect in my room I’m going to know it won’t be smooth sailing.
I have an outdoor bathroom in my hotel room – outdoor in that there is no roof, even though there are walls. The open space is covered with netting, and I’ve had a gecko or two in there most nights, which I really don’t mind at all. The shower tray, if you will, is a recessed square that is full of pebbles, and this morning there is a large roach sitting on one of the pebbles.
Thank goodness I’m leaving, I think. I had set my alarm for 8.30, but I woke up before it went off. I finish my breakfast by 9 am, and then I head straight out from the dining room for a walk because I have time and I know I’m travelling all day and may not get a chance to get some steps in.
I walk down the road past where I did my laundry just for a change of scene. After a few hundred metres it takes a right turn into what feels like a concrete passage and then comes out into an open grove of palm trees. A man on a bike pulls up in front of me and turns to look at me. Here we go, I think. He says, “Look, baby Komodo.”
What? I look where he is pointing. “Are you sure?” I ask. “Where?”
“Look,” he says again. I see a telegraph pole and I’m expecting a small lizard to be on there or something, but he is pointing into the open field between a house and some villas.
Woah. I did not expect to see an enormous lizard just sitting out there in the sun. It’s like an alligator. I only see it for about ten seconds because it turns and heads into a hole in the ground. I had read that Komodos are on other islands, but I thought that they only exist in the wild on Komodo island itself. I might not have got to Flores, I think, but at least I’ve seen a Komodo. I really wish I had had a camera with me though.
The road comes out near Sunrise. I hadn’t noticed the small entrance before. It could have saved me some time in the previous days, but oh well. I continue down to the boat station and back to the hotel and I have managed to close the 30-minute activity ring on my Apple Watch.
The roach is still in the shower when I get back. I showered last night before bed, so I don’t really need it, I guess. I finish packing the last couple of items and brush my teeth – luckily the sink is on the other side of the bathroom – and then at 10.15 I check out. I’ll be early for the 10.45 meeting at the travel agent, but no matter.
The agent is fine with me sitting at the desk while we wait. He says he’s expecting 11 people in total. Not long after i sit down a Dutch couple arrives, who are also early. We chat for a few minutes. They’re going back to Bali and will be flying to Jakarta later that night to transfer to their flight home to the Netherlands. I tell the agent about the Komodo and he says that it was a subspecies. Years ago, before electricity and modern entertainment like television and the Internet, people on the island used the Komodo as their entertainment by starving it and then taunting it with food.
More people arrive. Two have not come by 10.45. The agent says we’ll go and he’ll head back for the others later. I strap my bags on and follow the guide.
About 50 metres later he deposits us at a cafe that is full of about 30 people sitting with their bags. We exchange our receipts for a boat ticket and a laminated card on a lanyard. He tells us to wait in the cafe. We can keep our bags there, and, of course, purchase anything if we want to. The boat should be here at 11.30. Someone from the boat crew will come and call us when the boat is here. A British guy next to me says he’s glad that a big group of people will be on the boat – “Safety in numbers,” he says. I laugh and say, “Or more people to eat if we capsize.”
I get an iced coffee and sit down to wait. The cafe is full and a lot of people are pecking at phones or playing cards. I sit at the bar as there are no tables left and ask for an ashtray. The waiter thinks I am ordering nasi goreng. I’m right next to a large TV screen that is blaring out pop videos. I managed to put some names to songs I’ve heard around the island and think Debbie Harry is still looking quite good for her age when Blondie’s latest comeback video comes on. The TV keeps me occupied for about three minutes before I stare around the cafe for the rest of the time. It’s kind of annoying to be waiting for this long, to be honest.
Eventually a man from the boat station comes and says the boat is here. He corrals us all to the jetty where wait in a big gaggle. I try and dart closer to the front of the line so I can have a pick of the seats when I get onto the boat (following a tip I read online). People are disembarking from a boat so it’s a bit of a mess as they try to squeeze past us and people shuffle around to make room for them and their bags.
The man then says the boat is on its way and that it will pull up on the beach. He directs us down to the boats that lie to the side of the jetty. The queue does an about turn and now I might end up being one of the last ones onto the boat. Someone clambers down the rocks at the side of jetty which will get him directly onto the beach, and I follow suit. The others walk out of the boat station and around the sandy path down to the beach. There are several boats moored and we have to climb over and under several mooring ropes. I get my big backpack caught on one as I duck under.
A fast boat appears and pulls up to the sand. The crew is hanging out on the front of the boat. They jump down and start taking bags and chucking them onto the roof. A ladder is hung onto the side of the boat, which is how we clamber up and onto the boat. There’s about 50 people queuing and I have jostled myself into a position wherein I am about the fifteenth person to get on.
Inside the boat the seats are set out in a 3-3 layout. They look small and there isn’t a lot of legroom. I see a sign for emergency exit so I grab that row, sitting in the aisle. For half a second I thought it might have more legroom, like on a plane. People come in and get seats, and I try to sit looking as though someone could come in to the row and take the window seat.
A German couple asks if they can sit down in the two seats next to me. Of course, I say – I was trying to look as though I was welcoming someone to sit here, but I want the legroom. The man says he thought he had trouble, being 6ft 2in. He can understand why I want the ability to put my legs out.
It’s almost 12 o’clock. The German woman says something about the time, given that we were expecting to leave at 11.30. I say I’ve lived in Asia for over ten years and I have learned that there is time, and then there is Asian time. The boat fills up but is not completely full. I chat a bit more with the Germans, and then the boat is ready to go. The engine starts up and we head off. The German lady says she heard we are going to Lombok first to pick up more passengers.
I was not expecting the boat to be as rough as this. The engine is at full power and the boat is slamming and rocking on the small waves. It’s loud and it’s rough and water slams into the windows. I jokingly say to the Germans that this reminds me of the landing I had in Bali when I flew in from Singapore. He laughs and says he’ll probably sleep. One time he was flying over India and his plane had had horrific turbulence but had slept through it. His fellow passengers could not believe he had done it.
We get into Lombok in about 10 minutes. The driver sits languidly in the cabin smoking a fag as a man in a Coast Guard uniform checks the boat and counts the number of passengers. I guess he’s checking that the boat is not overloaded and I’m glad that there seems to be at least some modicum of safety. But then I notice that the latches on the emergency exit window have been tied up with cable ties. I’m not sure this bodes well.
More passengers come on. A young German couple has to split up – he sits across the aisle from me and she squeezes into the window seat in the row in front. Then a group of four people gets on. I look back and around – there are only a few seats scattered around. The group seems to be speaking Italian. The woman at the front of the group stands for a while look down the cabin. She turns to an Italian chap with hair down to his waist who is wearing women’s clothes – he reminds me of the 80s pop star Marilyn – and says in English that her friend is injured and can’t sit in the middle seat. He gets up and seems confused and then sits down and the Italian woman again says something in Italian about not sitting in the middle. They stand in the aisle looking presumptive while Marilyn just shrugs. They eventually move down the cabin. A woman behind her with her foot bandaged hops down the aisle. Presumably they find seats that work for them.
Picture from Google Images
The engine starts up again and the boat turns round. I suddenly think that if the ride was this rough just in the strait from Gili Air then what the hell will it be like out in the open water? The boat speeds up and it is rough again. So rough. It’s actually a little scary. The waves are quite big and the boat rides up and down and crashes and slams into the water. Water slams against the windows. Some people gasp and squeal and there is some nervous laughter going on. An older French woman sitting behind Marilyn gets herself into the brace position and stuffs her fingers into her ears and squeezes her eyes shut.
A few minutes later it gets worse. We have to turn to get around the headland and now the waves are coming diagonally. The boat is tipping at what looks and feels like a 45-degree angles and the water crashes even more heavily against the windows. Marilyn squeals and then breaks out laughing. I squeeze the back of the seat in front of me, feeling only slightly more secure by holding onto something. I check my watch. We’re only ten minutes into the journey. What the fuck is this going to be like for the next 90 minutes?
It is now that I miss my phone. What I really want to do is close my eyes and put my music on to block the sounds and just not look at the way the boat is moving and notice the angles we are pitching at. I try to put my head back but the seat is too low. I drop my head into my chest and just close my eyes. I feel that by not seeing what’s happening I feel much comfortable.
The Bali strait between Lombok and Bali is wide and deep and the waves are really high. It’s no wonder the fast boats were cancelled when the seas were rough the day that I took the ferry to Lombok. This is a calm day. I’ve got my eyes closed, but then I feel the entire boat lift and pitch and move to the left and slam back into the water and I jolt my eyes open and grab onto the seat in front of me with both hands. People gasp and squeal and nervously laugh and make noises. It’s quite terrifying.
I take a deep breath and put my head down again. All I can hear is the water slamming into the side of the boat and the hull crashing onto the waves and people gasping. I think to myself that I would rather have spent the $35 on dinner and taken the public ferry. Still 75 minutes to go. I keep my eyes closed and the next few minutes are comparatively calm. If it stays like this I think I might make it through this journey just fine.
Wishful thinking. I once again jolt awake when it feels as if the boat lifts up and flies fifty feet through the air. More screams. Marilyn yells out, “I’m afraid.” People squeal. The older French woman is still in the brace position with her fingers stuffed into her ears. The driver languidly turns around and laughs before turning back to the steering wheel. I think to myself this must be safe, right? This driver must have had some form of training and have some form of experience in this – he must have done this thousands of times and would be aware of how to sail this thing safely and in the right manner, right? Just as I’m thinking this two crew members climb down from the sides of the boat and sit hanging around behind the driver. I didn’t even realise they were out there. I remark to the German lady next to me that at least I don’t have to imagine what it would be like to ride a jetski any more. “This is crazy,” she smiles.
The older French woman sits up from the brace position and looks around, blinking. Her friend sitting next to her points out of the window. I look across and see land. We must have crossed the strait and are heading for the coast of Bali. Things must surely calm down now, right? We must be heading for shallower waters where the waves cannot be so big? The German guy sitting across the aisle from me is looking up our location on Google Maps on his phone and I try to see where we might be. But knowing the shape of Bali and the location of Padang Bai towards to the south of the island and how long we have left of the two-hour journey I know we are still quite far away.
The boat turns to the left. We are now at 45 degrees to the waves and the slamming and pitching and smashing of water into the windows ramps up as the boat rocks and lifts and crashes on the waves. Water comes through the open side door at the front of the cabin and splashes over the couple sitting in the front row several times. The only consolation I have is that if something goes wrong we are not that far from the coast and we could perhaps easily make it to land.
A few minutes later it all calms down again. It’s still rocky and noisy and rough, but not quite as bad now. I don’t need to keep my eyes closed. I can look out of the window and see temples and buildings and the beaches of the north east coast of Bali. The squealing has stopped and people seem to have calmed down. I look at the Germans and say, “I can’t decide whether I am hating this or exhilarated by this,” and she once again says, “This is crazy.”
There’s a bit more roughness to get through as we head down the coast. At each headland I look out for the rocks that I remember at the end of the harbour in Padang Bai and I am relieved when we pass some rocks and I see the harbour and the ferry port. “We’re here,” I say to the Germans. “I remember cos I took the public ferry from here a couple of weeks ago.”
The sense of relief when the engine cuts and we slow down into the harbour is palpable. I don’t think anyone on the boat journey enjoyed what we just went through. I look at my Apple Watch. It has registered over 7,500 steps thanks to the rocking and slamming. As we slow down I feel bold enough to get the camera out and take a couple of snaps of inside the boat and the driver. We moor and we start to disembark. The quay is to the right but we must get out from the left door, clamber along the side of the boat and then climb up and over the roof and hop across a large gap to get onto the concrete pier. It is rammed full of people who are coming off another boat and trudging off the pier and people who are trying to go the other direction to collect their bags. I hear someone from the boat company calling out for passengers and I don’t want to lose my bus so I get my bag as quickly as I can and push my way through the crowd.
A few of us follow the man off the pier and out onto the road. We gather outside the same tourist information office I was deposited at when I first came to Padang Bai a couple of weeks ago. Taxi touts circle us, trying to ensnare some prey. Basket women roam around. I need the toilet so I nip off and find one. The corner outside the office is lined with cars and mini vans. As I come back to the street a mini van passes by honking. It is full of Marilyn and his group, who are waving their hands out of the window to the tune of the horn.
Soon a bus arrives and people heading for Seminyak are told to get on it. The driver calls out for anyone for Canggu, and two girls say they are going there. He wants to put their luggage in first since Canggu will be the second stop. I say that I am also going to Canggu and can I also get off there, even though my ticket is for Seminyak. I explain that the agent would only sell a ticket to Canggu for a minimum of two people so I could only get a ticket as far as Seminyak since I’m travelling alone. He agrees and puts my bag in with the others.
I get into the van and get the seat behind the driver. The bus fills up. Someone has brought a surfboard with him and it has to be put down the inside of the van. It keeps falling over and knocking someone on the head. They try to adjust it. Basket women tap on the windows, motioning towards their wares. A girl sits next to me and there is one seat left next to her. A couple appears at the doorway. The girl sits down. There are no more seats. They argue about how they will both get into the van. She says she’ll sit on his lap. The driver won’t let her. She turns and leans against the passenger seat saying this is the only way. The driver isn’t happy. I just know what is going to happen. I hear the driver calling out “One person going to Canggu – get on another bus.” I think of all the times I moved around for people on the boat going to Lombok. He’s beckoning me out. I look bewildered and weakly ask, “You’re kicking me off the bus?” The girl next to me laughs nervously. I grab my bag and get off and say under my breath, “It’s only the fiftieth fucking time it’s happened to me on this trip” and jump off.
There’s a small car behind the van. A woman from the group and her daughter are put into the van. There are seven seats in the car, and the driver tells me I can go to Canggu in this car but they have to wait for the next boat before it can leave. He puts my bag inside and tells me to wait. He walks off. A taxi driver keeps bugging me to take his tazi. “I’ve already paid,” I say. The van drives away. The woman and girl are in the car and the engine is running, presumably for the air conditioning. Fuck knows how long it will be before the car moves. The road is small and narrow and soon it is choc-a-block with traffic. Nothing is moving. I haven’t eaten since breakfast and it’s now 2.30 pm so I get some crackers and water from the shop across the street. The driver comes over and talks to me about the crackers. He goes off again. The taxi driver sidles over to me again and attempts his spiel about his taxi being faster and me getting to Canggu quicker. I decline and cross the street. I want to sit down so I sit on the kerb behind the car but soon realise when I get lightheaded that I am sitting next to the car’s exhaust. I get up and sit on a bench, watching a woman sweeping the street with a dustpan and brush. I’m starting to get annoyed and frustrated now.
Half an hour goes by. I wander up and down the street, keeping an eye out for the driver. He’s wearing a red cap so he’s easy to spot. I walk to the waterfront and see another boat come in. Hopefully this will have the people we need so we can start leaving. It’s 3 pm by now. I go back to the travel agent on the corner and hear them gathering people for Seminyak. The driver heads towards the car with two girls and loads their bags into the car. He tells me to get into the front.
The traffic is still not moving. I start to think maybe I should go to the loo again. It’s gonna be a couple of hours before we get to Canggu. I’m about to ask when drivers up the street scramble into cars and the traffic starts to move. We’re off.
I remember the roads from the trip into Padang Bai. There’s a lot of traffic, but once we make it past a traffic light on a crossroads we move more freely and get onto the highway towards Denpassar. The Indonesian woman with her daughter asks where everyone’s from. The girls are German and French. The Indonesian and the German speak in German for a while. Show offs.
The driver apologises for the traffic. It’s just that time of the day, he says. I ask if it’s also because tomorrow is a national holiday – Indonesia’s independence day – and people are travelling around more than usual. It might be, he says.
We come through Sanur. This is where I first stayed in Bali back in 2006. We get to a large intersection with a large hotel on one corner and I say I always remember this intersection from when I stayed here before. We chat about my previous trips to Bali.
After an hour the French girl asks if we can stop at a toilet. I’m glad she asked, I say, cos I need it too and I was just going to bite my lip and try to hold on. He finds a Circle K convenience store and we take a break. I grab some more snacks because I’m still hungry. It starts to look like the sun is going down. The driver thinks it will take us another 40 minutes to get to Seminyak.
We crawl through Denpasar and eventually get out to the other side. The driver takes some back roads through the countryside to get to Seminyak. Everything starts to feel familiar. I almost feel at one point that we might be on the road that leads to the villa I stayed in two years ago, but it isn’t.
When we get to the Sunset Road in Seminyak the traffic is at a standstill. Nothing is moving at all. The driver laughs that maybe we will get to Canggu by midnight. The Indonesian woman says she will get out here and walk, so the driver does a U-turn and drops her off. We can head back through the country roads to get into Canggu.
The girls ask where I’m staying. I don’t have a phone, so I don’t know exactly how to get there, I say. I wrote out the address on a scrap of paper so I could show a taxi driver when I thought I would be getting off the bus in Seminyak. She looks up our locations on her phone. The driver says he will drop us at Finn’s Recreation Club, a Canggu landmark, but our hotels are quite far from there. The girls ask if he can take us further. She thrusts the phone at me so I can show it to the driver. He tries to look but he’s driving. The girls offer him more money if he takes us further towards the centre of Canggu.
The thing with Canggu is that is a really awkward layout. Just a few years ago it was mainly rice fields and farmland, but it has developed rather quickly. There are three roads which run parallel to each other, but only one small road cuts through all three. Consequently it requires quite a detour to get to where we’re staying. I check the maps and see a road that cuts through, and I guide us there. The French girl keeps wresting the phone from me and starting the Google Maps directions but it’s going to take us on that long detour. I am certain we can get through the shortcut so I turn off the directions and guide us there.
When we get there, however, there is a no-entry sign, so we have to take the detour. There’s quite a lot of traffic and I laughingly remark that I’m probably not going to make it to sunset cocktails on the roof, then. I help direct the driver, cos I’m studying the map trying to remember how I would get to my place from where we’ve agreed to get dropped off. The French girl grabs the phone and starts the directions again and I almost throttle her.
We get to the drop off point and the girls get their bags. I look at the phone one last time to try and remember how to get to my hotel and then the driver says he’ll drive me. It’s only 400 metres according to the map. I accept and we drive off. The road my hotel is on is down a bumpy, rutted road, which surprises me a little given that it is a new, modern hotel. I see the pool when I check in and I really hope the mystery room is one with pool access. I’m only a little disappointed when she says I’m on the second floor.
No matter. The room is nice and I’ve got a sea view from the balcony. I drop the bags and I head up to the roof top to see the sun going down. The sky is going golden and it’s nice, but I’ve been spoiled by the sunsets on Gili Air.
I’m hungry so I head out into the town to get my bearings. The road goes through rice fields and it is really dark. I wish I had my phone torch again. I wander up the street looking for somewhere to eat. I settle on a place called Bro restaurant that is a Chinese-French fusion place. The xiao long bao is good, but not quite as good as the ones I’ve had in Shanghai.
Every restaurant and cafe I look into has a healthy menu – all raw dishes and power smoothies; vegetables-in-a-basket-in-the-fridge-type establishments. This seems to be the trend in Canggu, which is the most hipster-ish area of Bali. I get a coffee and a raw chocolate mint pie in a funky cafe called Vide, and then head back towards the centre of the road. I keep going down straight instead of forking off to the right towards my hotel. Here I find boutiques and coffee shops and more restaurants. It’s all hipsterish and funky.
At the end of the road just before the entrance to the beach I come to Old Man’s bar, a landmark spot I read about in my guides. It is next to the beach. It is crowded and rowdy and dance music is pumping out of it. I decide it’s not for me tonight, so I turn back and take a road to the left which runs parallel to the beach. Here is The Lawns, another landmark bar. I peer through the gate and see bean bags on the lawn but I decide to try it another night. The road is dark when the buildings end, and I am unsure whether to continue down it but I do. A bike comes up behind me. An American couple is riding on it. I see from their light that we have come to a concrete wall covered in graffiti. “Have we come to the end of the world?!” I hear the American guy say. The road turns off to the right and I see my hotel about half a kilometre away.
Across the road from the hotel is a bar called Monggo’s and I decide I’ll get a drink there. It is a kind of garden and I take a seat inside. I order a drink, and then decide to move and sit at the bar. A guy is sitting there on his own at one end of the bar and an older woman is talking to another woman at the other end of the bar and there is a nice gap between them so I sit in the middle and just mind my own business. The woman to my right is Australian and she is telling her American companion to get out and go to Flores before it tips into a tourist destination – she will not regret it. A car pulls up and the American leaves. The Australian talks over me to the guy on my left, who is called Tom and is British. He’s been staring at his phone for ages.
He goes to the bathroom. I’m just minding my own business. I get a small beer. The Australian woman looks at me and says hi. “You’re… um” she begins. “I know you, don’t I?” No, I say, I’ve only been here a couple of hours. I tell her I’ve been to Bali before, and she has lived here for seven years. I say I missed the chance to go to Flores and she chews my ear off telling me I simply have to get there as soon as I can. I’m using just a few words to report this exchange, but it goes on for a while because she really is quite garralous. She bends my ear off about how Australians now are changing into nationalistic types who want to protect their country and how when she goes back there she doesn’t understand the mindset any more. She says this in response to me saying I have been reviewing my future in Korea and tells me I wouldn’t be able to cope if I went back to the UK if I’ve been in Asia for so long. I get the story of how her father recently died and there were huge legal problems and she couldn’t make the lawyers understand the situation they were in here in Indonesia…
This goes on for a while. When I come back from the bathroom Tom is surrounded by three or four friends. Kim, the Australian, says she needs to get him to help her make spreadsheets because she’s renovating a house and doesn’t do numbers well and he is smart. She calls out to him. Then she bangs her fist on the table and yells to one of his friends, “Do you know who I am? Do you know who I fucking am?” The guy looks up and says, “Kim?” It turns out his mother was her best friend and she partially raised him and hasn’t seem him for twenty years or so and there is lots of hugging and crying and “Oh my god-ding.” By now the bar is closing the but the owner lets us buy more bottles and we end up in a rag tag group sitting outside the bar drinking and chatting. Tom runs a business and also sells alcohol to bars and knows 11 languages and decides he will try to learn Korean as well. Zach, Kim’s friend’s son, and his partner David run a fashion company called The Mode Collective and are going on a business trip to Korea later this year. They regale me with stories about why the decided to leave Australia and live in Bali. Two girls who have been flirty with Tom give up when he doesn’t show any interest – I understand from his conversations with Kim that his girl ran away to Jakarta and is apparently getting married to someone else. Fireworks for Independence Day are let off somewhere down by the beach and Kim’s Bali dog, Blackie, gets frightened.
I am really quite enjoying being around this disparate group, given that for the last month I haven’t really hung out with people in this way. We carry on drinking until about 1.30 am. All three of them say they have to get up early for work – even though it’s a national holiday, they are running international businesses and it’s only a Wednesday. Kim lives just around the corner. The bar owner is going to ride Tom back to wherever he lives and then come back for Zach and David. I ask about transport options in the area since I read that Canggu doesn’t really have any, and it seems motorbike rides are the main way to get around. That’s fine with me; I’ve got a bit of experience under my belt now.
The party breaks up and I head back to the hotel. After the all the ups and downs of today I’m not actually that tired, though tonight is the first night that I can see I feel quite drunk. I make a coffee from the sachets in the room and sit on the balcony for a while, hoping that I won’t have problems with bugs or roaches in this room. It’s 3 a.m. when I crawl into bed, and after the day’s exertions I am hoping for a deep, long sleep.