Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Days 37 & 38: On The Road In Bali

"Let's hire a scooter! It means we can get out of Kuta and see the real Bali!"

"I'm not sure..."

"Come on! It's great fun! You'll love it!"

WRONG, Burness.

Many years ago, in Iceland as it happens, I was persuaded to try horse-riding. Just a short trek, ninety minutes up a slope, ninety minutes back. The horse was tiny and slow, and was part of a procession of tiny and slow horses, and the pace was, to put it mildly, leisurely. I was terrified. I had no control whatsoever. The entire time I clung to my tiny and slow horse, at every point at the brink of sliding off sideways, to my injury or even death. It was a white-knuckle ride, and at the very end, my tiny and slow horse actually broke into something of a canter, which I did not at all appreciate. I vowed never to horse ride again, and intend to honour that vow.

Now, replace that tiny and slow horse with a tiny and seemingly fast moped and replace the bare Icelandic hills with a bustling, chaotic Indonesian city and ramp up the fear factor and perpetual sense of crashing, and you may get a picture of how I spent about ten of my hours over the last two days. It turns out that the life of a moped rider is not for me.

In all fairness to Burness, he could not have known that placing me astride a moped would turn me into such a big girlyman, and that what looked to be a two-to-three hour journey would take over six. And while every experience is worthwhile in some manner and I don't regret it now that it's over (and I'm still alive), I'll be happy to take public transport from now on.

We set off early, about 6.30am, with the intention of quickly getting out of the busy Kuta and hitting the quiet country coastal roads, to a scenic place called Amed, on the east coast. Also, with the city quieter early in the morning, it would be easier to get used to the bikes - I'd never ridden before and Burness only a few times. It was a good plan and one deserving of success. Unfortunately, the city was far busier than anticipated and road signs weren't remotely clear, causing us delay. Not helping either was my run in with the police. Trundling along, a red light appeared ahead. Burness had gone straight on, but I had to stop, but there was no room in the right lane (for onwards traffic), so I stuck at the right edge of the left lane until the lights went green. Apparently this is a traffic violation. Police hang about many busy crossroad and one saw me and pulled me over. The fine was, at first, one million rupiah - about £70 - for the violation and for my driving licence not being valid, but upon seeing my look of horror, it was bumped down to just half-a-million. I all but saw it go straight into his back pocket.

I survived the rest of the journey without further arrest, but the traffic barely subsided, and my moment of enjoyment never came. Burness, very patiently, stuck within sight as I chugged along, as old woman and young children buzzed past me. Sometimes I overtook a cyclist. We visited a few things along the way, such a black sand beach and a Hindu temple crossed with a bat cave. The latter featured a real cave full of squeaking bats, hanging upside down, with a Hindu temple assembled around it.

For fans of my earlier sarong wearing, a sarong was also required for this visit.

The roads eventually quietened as we entered something approximating countryside, and then became steep and winding. This is surely great fun for the motorbike aficionado, but for me it meant changing gear a lot and going round corners. Going round corners especially I found displeasing. You have to lean. Yikes.

The reward at the end of this six-plus hour journey of horror? Some beautiful coast and snorkelling around coral reef and a shipwreck.

As it's now been well established that I am a huge sissy, I will happily admit that I'd never snorkelled before and really didn't fancy it at all. The idea of my face being underwater and breathing through a tube sounded too unnatural to enjoy. But Burness persevered, and this time he was right. If only due to how good we both looked.

Snorkelling was great fun, watching brightly coloured fish dart around underwater bushes and rocks, and while not the epic galleon we'd envisaged, the shipwreck was also an interesting feature, dating from the Second World War and now quite overgrown with sea stuff.

Due to the mission involved just getting to Amed, we both decided it would be better to stay the night there rather than have two hours of snorkelling followed by another six hour journey. So we found an attractive hotel looking over the coast, ate and had a few beers, and were both sound asleep shortly after 8pm.

The journey back wasn't so bad. Maybe it was because I was now a seasoned biker, or maybe it was because we knew where we were going, or maybe it was just because I knew that once we stopped it was all over for good, but we took about half the time getting back and the police didn't even look twice at me. Burness managed a mishap however: while stopped to get some photos, he didn't balance his bike properly and it fell, breaking the wing mirror off.

It's off to Malaysia now, and Kuala Lumpur, for the next Wonder on my list, the Petronas Towers. I'll be sorry to see Indonesia go, as it was a great surprise and I could have spent many weeks more than the mere two I managed. I might be a little less sorry to wave goodbye to Kuta though. A tourist city based around Australian holidaymakers, it was obnoxious and depressing at night. By day it wasn't too bad though, and we enjoyed a relaxing day there just eating, drinking, and sitting on the beach. But you can do that sort of thing anywhere with a good beach, so unless you enjoy brash Australian men getting rowdy in the evening and the weary cynicism of the Bali locals, I would suggest a different holiday location. Anywhere else in Indonesia for a start.

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