Chapter 2 and the saga continues. Hold onto your hats…
Exhausted from 6 weeks on the road, sleeping in gravel pits and battling mosquitos, Dave and I booked a holiday (from our working holiday) to go to Bali, where we met a bunch of our friends from our hostel back in Perth. Very excited for our trip and keen to get away from Darwin for a bit, we arrived at the airport at noon, just in time to catch our flight… at midnight. Not to worry though, we wiled away the twelve-hour stint in Australia’s least expansive airport with tuna provisions (what else) and a great game (if any of you become profusely bored in an airport) called Hide and Seek the Flip-flop. We ran around the check-in area hiding and seeking the flip-flop for at least half an hour, whilst the airport staff watched two grown adults acting like children on blue smarties. As time-wasting tactics go; it worked, and soon we were on our way to Bali and we boarded a plane which was so cold snow was blowing in through the air conditioning. Dave smugly put on his jumper whilst I dug out my towel to shield myself from the blizzard.
We landed to an onslaught of Balinese people trying to get us to use their taxi, and choosing the least annoying we went to our pretty swanky hotel. Swanky by my standards because it had two pillows, white sheets, a shower and a pool. Reunited with all our old chums, we spent the next three days in various stages of disarray, because trying to organise a group of twelve solo-travellers is no mean feat; especially because at heart we aren’t all very good at being in big groups, which is why we chose to travel alone in the first place… So special congratulations to Kelly who managed to get us all in one place at least twice, at the same time and we visited temples and waterfalls and markets. On one day, four of us loose canons rented motorbikes, risked life and limb on the Balinese roads (don’t fret, all lives and limbs are still attached); giving birth to the self-proclaimed ‘Backpackers of Anarchy’.
Bali’s landscape is beautiful, and it doesn’t take long to get out into the mountains amongst the volcanoes and lakes, which are densely vegetated with tropical forests and rice terraces. The food is also fantastic, and a vast improvement on the past six weeks diet (although I’ve developed a constant craving for raw oats and banana since). For next to nothing you can grab a meal off the streets, turning me into an irritating food photographer because of the novelty: I had a papaya the size of my face for a dollar. More memorably though is the Balinese speciality (I say this because it’s sold everywhere), a dish that we call ‘Pork 5 Ways’ (but sometimes it can be 7 or 8 ways depending on the addition of a fried pig ear or tail). It is this, or perhaps it might quite possibly be the fact that I’d been brushing my teeth with the tap water, that I blame for my subsequent onslaught of Bali Belly.
On the fourth day, Bali Belly Elly was born. Perfect timing, for on that day Dave and I began ‘Road Trip Part 2: The Motorcycle Edition’. With a less than stable stomach (!!!!!) and terrible hangovers we shot off up the highway, out of the city and towards freedom!
An hour later we were rolling our old Honda into a local mechanic (and then another) while we waited for them to get the thing started again. Sure enough, and only for $1 (10,000 rupiah) she roared to life and, jubilant, we were off again. We zoomed around the island and visited black beaches, volcanic lagoons and remote mountain villages and we met a lot of very friendly/curious Balinese who waved us on our way laughing at/with the ginger and the giant who both stuck out like a sore thumb.
It was the first night away when Dave pulled over at a restaurant so I could go in and ask if there was anywhere to stay nearby. Rising to the challenge I wandered in and soon found a seemingly lovely gentleman who assured me in broken English that about ten minutes away and right next to the beach were loads of guesthouses “not large price”. Happy to have somewhere to sleep for the night we saugt out these rooms, and only as tourists do, we emerged onto a strip littered with “karaoke” bars and squint eyed locals who lined the streets and jeered as we drove past: he had directed us to the local red light district. Looking back it probably appeared like Dave was there to pimp me out… In the end we did find a hotel nearby, less of an actual brothel and more of the type of place you go after the “karaoke” bar; with pastel pink walls splattered with lord knows what and a slightly elevated tap for a shower. Road tripping is never easy, and we were both soon asking ourselves how we had managed to get back in a situation where we were permanently filthy, sweaty and struggling to find somewhere to sleep when we were meant to be having a holiday. I think it’s because we’re adventurers and it makes for good stories, but others might disagree.
Things improved (but not the Bali Belly which was worsening by the second), and we spent the next 3 days touring the coast and mountains. We had been planning to climb up Mount Butar since we arrived, so on the penultimate day of our road trip we woke up at 2.30am to climb up the still active volcano (last erupting in the year 2000) and see sunrise. Now, we were faced with two problems. Firstly, we didn’t have a guide and to have one was apparently compulsory. Secondly, my stomach was rumbling louder than the volcano we were about to climb. To solve the former, we met a guy in a supermarket who claimed to be a guide, and he told us he’d take us up at a fee of 30 dollars each: “Good price. Good price”. “No problem” we thought, and he was hired, although the fact he had broken a sweat climbing up three stairs didn’t bode well for the 1700m ascent the next morning. Indeed, after collecting us at some ungodly hour, Putu pulled over to “get a coffee”. 45 minutes later he hopped back in the car and we set off again. Dave and I shared a look. Sure enough, upon arrival, Putu; the lazy, double-crossing, money grabbing b******, slipped another guide some cash to take us up the mountain so he could sit on his bottom and sleep. Anyway, at the end of the day we won, Ari was a brilliant guide and a budding professional photographer who put us through a vigorous photo shoot at the summit: “move here. No here. Put your hands here, like this, yes, goooooddd. Okayyy JUMP”. The trek was rigorous, and I burnt far more energy than I had to spare but it was worth it to see the sunrise over Bali, hitting the craters of the volcanoes and lighting up the lava fields. Fairly exhausted we wound our way back down the mountain (Elly dipping into the shrubbery once or twice… *urgh) and we headed back down the coast and towards the bike rental, because by this point I was on the verge of passing out from running on empty (*ahem).
About an hour away from our destination we pulled over to look up somewhere to stay, for having only had three hours sleep we wanted to be organised so we could go to bed and pass out. The sun was setting, our phones were dying and out of credit, I was functioning at minimal capacity and, oh yes, HA, the bike broke down. It seems ironic that we visited the mechanic more in 5 days than we did in 6 weeks driving the creakiest Land Rover in Australia over 8000 kilometers up the coast… Ah well. As it was a Sunday (of course), everything was closed, but thankfully the ever helpful locals pointed us toward the local mechanic who could help us out. Not so fortunately, to get to him Dave had to push the bike across what must be the only highway in Bali. At rush hour. He had an audience of six: me, the two Mini mart shop owners and three locals who had stopped to watch the show. We all watched with bated breath and shaking heads as Dave heroically dove head first into the challenge and made it across alive, demonstrating true Asian spirit with regards to traffic and road safety. With images of a repaired bike and a full recovery in our heads we watched the mechanic go to work. However, having given it a thorough going over he just looked at us, shook his head and in perfectly understandable Balinese-English said: “dead”. To cut a long story short (because by now you probably get the idea), Dave and I waited for a couple of hours for the rental guys to come and rescue us, and rescue us they did. He arrived, he sat on the bike, and it started. It felt like that moment when you can’t find something for ages and your mum finds it straight away, but more embarrassing because he was laughing his head off at these two filthy, sweaty Brits. The problem? The engine break was on. We had essentially just turned the bike off and didn’t realise we had to turn it back on. The equivalent of asking the plumber out because your hot water isn’t working, only for him to tell you that you haven’t switched it on.
You can’t make this stuff up.