Friday, April 5, 2013

Spring Break in Bali, Part I: Getting to Amed

Arya Amed Beach Resort.  MsCaroline is there right now in her mind.
MsCaroline has been back from Bali for just over 48 hours now and is slowly coming to terms with beginning to adjust to the change in weather and temperature she has returned to here in Seoul and is grieving over the end of her sunny, restful Bali holidays.
MsCaroline would be just as happy over here, too.  She's not picky.

So far, this adjustment has consisted primarily of washing mountains of laundry and staring gloomily into the refrigerator wondering why in the world she didn't think to clean out the produce drawer before leaving the country for 10 days.  (note:  it is hard enough to come home from an excellent vacation without  also discovering that shallots can, in fact, become a liquid if they are left long enough to their own devices.)  

However, now that the laundry and the vegetables have been sorted, and she has finished reading a depressing novel about New South Wales in the early 1800s  her other urgent tasks, she is ready to share the highlights* of her recent trip to Bali.

*As is usually the case, MsCaroline's notion of 'hightlights' frequently differs from those of your average bear, but she feels certain that, if you wanted the standard useful sort of information that most people share about their holiday travels, you would not be reading her blog anyway.


Regional Airlines:  MsC, MrL, and Son#2 flew to the airport in Denpasar, via Garuda Airlines, the national airline of Indonesia.  This was MsCaroline's first experience with Garuda, which had been recommended to her as the cheapest best carrier by friends who were Bali travel veterans. MsCaroline began to entertain second thoughts about her decision when Garuda's website crashed repeatedly each time she pressed 'enter' after having filled out all the interminable online forms (passport numbers, address,credit card number) and frantic calls to the help center were unproductive. Tickets were eventually purchased through a Byzantine system involving a friend and a Korean credit card, but the whole slightly vague process left MsC with a certain amount of anxiety about whether the transaction had even been valid and, even if it was, whether they would end up flying to Bali seated on packing crates surrounded by livestock in an aircraft    commissioned during the Truman administration.

As it turned out, MsC's fears were unfounded, and flying Garuda was a very pleasant experience, despite their user-hostile website.  The aircraft was modern, the food was excellent, and there were no livestock present.  As a bonus, all the exotically lovely sarong-clad flight attendants namaste-d the deplaning passengers, which, in MsCaroline's book, more than makes up for any number of website deficiencies.  MsCaroline would definitely recommend the airline, although she would also recommend that you bypass their website entirely and just go straight to your nearest Indonesian or Korean friend and have them buy the tickets for you online, which will save you a great deal of time and anguish.

Warning:  Being a (stupid) Westerner in an Indonesian Airport will cost you:  After a flight filled with so much turbulence that MsC was ready to  just go ahead and swim to Bali pleasant journey, the Asia Vus landed at Ngurah Rai International Airport Denpasar, where they were briskly funneled to the 'Visa on Arrival' kiosks, which is where arriving visitors pay US$25 for a 30-day travel visa.  While MsCaroline knew about the VOA, she did not know about the requirement that it be paid in US dollars.  Or that there would be a 3% surcharge if you had to use your credit card.  And yes, you need to pay in US$ (which most people coming from Korea don't have unless they already know the drill) for your Indonesian Visa.  Do not ask MsCaroline why.  Also do not ask why the rules governing the exit tax (yes, of course there's an exit tax) require one to pay in Indonesian Rupiyah, which - in theory - one would have already mostly used up before heading to the airport.  MsCaroline is just pleased that she was smart enough to find out about this detail before the return trip.

Once the Asia Vu family had paid its fees and been herded to the baggage claim, one would assume that all their troubles were over.  In fact, things did seem to be looking up:   they were touched and amazed to observe as a small, efficient swarm of porters materialized at the conveyor belt, swooped up their luggage, and rolled it swiftly to the exit security station as part of what looked like a formal security protocol.  Being Bali newbs, it took MsCaroline and MrL a few minutes to realize that the porters (each carrying one smallish piece of luggage) were entirely unnecessary(yes, you can put your own bag through the security scanner) and that all of them expected to be tipped generously for the 'work' they'd done in rolling four bags approximately 20 meters through the airport (their suggestion:  US$10 per bag.  PER BAG, people.  Needless to say, it didn't happen.)

By the time MsCaroline and her family ransomed schlepped their own luggage out into the hot sunshine and the crowd of roaring transport drivers waving their signs, they were beginning to question the wisdom of their choice of Bali as a vacation destination.  Fortunately, it was at that point their driver from their resort materialized, with a genuine smile and a van with air-conditioning, putting the whole situation into perspective and cheering everyone  up.  MsCaroline should point out here that Darmadede, their driver - who they also saw frequently at the resort, where he works - drove them to and from Amed, was an all-round great guy in possession of driving superpowers, and if you are going to Amed, you should hire him to drive for you.  Really. She has his contact info and will share it.

Darmadede.  What a gem.

Driving to Amed:  It took approximately 3 hours to get to the dive resort,  a distance of approximately 51 kilometers, primarily because most of the route from Denpasar to Amed consists of a narrow, two-lane road that winds through the mountains (quote from Son#2:  "So, is Bali just one road?") and which must also be shared with a plethora of families on motor scooters, pedestrians carrying baskets on their heads, chickens, lethargic dogs, and the occasional goat(extra props to Darmadede for not hitting any of them at dusk in occasionally driving rain.)  After stopping on the way for dinner in Candidasa, the Asia Vus arrived in the early evening at their hotel, the Arya Amed Beach Resort, where they proposed to spend the next 4 days completing their Open Water Dive Course   They were shown immediately to their 'Bungalow Suite,' which was more or less as advertised: a charming freestanding bungalow with its own veranda overlooking the resort's lush tropical plantings, and  complete with a feature commonly found in Bali:  the outdoor bathroom.

View of the next bungalow's roof from our outdoor bathroom.

Now, before you start having visions of a pit toilet and a shower made out of garbage bags and an old coffee can, rest assured that the bathroom fixtures themselves were Western, modern, and clean (and MsC realizes that, based on what you've read before on this blog, that's not always a given.)  The bathroom was perfectly fine, excepting the fact that it was entirely outdoors.  Oh, there was an overhang (although MsC questioned just how much protection it would have provided if there had been any sort of strong wind,) but the bathroom was essentially an al fresco arrangement.   Now, MsCaroline concedes that the idea of an outdoor bathroom is very romantic and charming:

Outdoor shower +tropical foilage=theoretically romantic.  Taken from the loo. Note cat on wall.
  In fact, when the AsiaVus were in Belize, they stayed in a jungle lodge in a 'tree house' which also included an outdoor shower that overlooked the jungle and the river below, so MsC is no stranger to the charms of outdoor ablutions.
Tree House in Belize with outdoor shower.  Note that only the shower was outdoors.
While MsC had anticipated showering in a tropical outdoor setting, she was not expecting to be performing her other bathroom activities in an outdoor setting - no matter how high the wall or how lush the plantings.  Therefore, when she opened the bathroom door of the bungalow, she was slightly taken aback to discover a charming* open-air arrangement.  Imagine, if you will, that your sink, toilet, and bathtub are located on the equivalent of your patio or back deck, and that you also have the option of stepping down to a shower in the courtyard.  Granted, there is a 2-meter high wall around the whole thing, but the nature of the resort is such that, whether you are answering a call of nature, brushing your teeth, or washing your hair, you are also listening to the footsteps and voices of passersby as they traipse past your bungalow on their way to the pool or the restaurant, and it is at least equally certain that they can hear you, too.  Just think about that for a moment.

On top of this, there was the aspect of the indoor/outdoor bathroom that none of the romantic photos had included:  namely, the insects.   MsC - although she considers herself reasonably intrepid - draws the line at having to brush spiderwebs and centipedes off the toilet seat before she sits down on it; and she draws a further line at having to shuffle her feet while positioned on said toilet seat to avoid having them crawled on by ants.  Whenever she had cause to be seated, she found herself constantly scanning her surroundings so as to be alert to the approach of anything that might bite her, sting her,drop on her, or just generally freak her out.  (The slinking feral cat that perched on top of the garden wall and fixed her with its unblinking eyes while she performed her ablutions was actually rather welcome by comparison.)  In addition, MsC - although she is not afraid of snakes in theory - nonetheless has a very vivid imagination, and could only imagine what she might find - or, worse, what she might not notice - if she had to get up in the middle of the night to visit the loo. (Needless to say, she did not.)

This is not to say that MsC does not see the potential attraction of the outdoor bathroom.  In fact, if one were a frisky newlywed, the idea of some naughty hijinks in the outdoor shower or soaking tub, just a few feet away from one's unsuspecting fellow resort guests, might have a certain flagrant appeal.  However, the close proximity of Son#2 and the extremely high insect-to-mammal ratio in the bathroom area neatly squelched any randy thoughts that the outdoor shower might have inspired.  Accordingly, after a restless night full of spider dreams, MsC (wet blanket that she is) contacted the main office and requested a transfer from the charming bungalow to two more pedestrian standard rooms. Both of these, while far less exotic, had enclosed facilities, only a smattering of ants, and several resident lizards who bothered no one and seemed to keep the mosquito population in check.
MsCaroline is not complaining about how awesome this resort was. She just preferred an indoor bathroom.
Let MsC hasten to point out that she loved the resort, which was picturesque, scenic, and full of friendly Balinese staff.  From what she could see in the trip reviews, most right-thinking tourists found the open-air loos to be a tropical delight and a real highlight of their resort experience.  MsC is not blaming the resort for her personal hangups, and is simply grateful that she was able to find a room with an enclosed WC.

It's worth noting that Amed (actually, a collection of 6 or so small villages, all loosely referred to as 'Amed') is extremely rural, and - except for the dive shops, and hotel/restaurants catering to divers and snorkelers - doesn't have much of a tourist infrastructure.  It is, in truth, not much fun for shoppers - unless one wishes to shop for chickens or papayas; fortunately, MsC is not much of a shopper, and as long as she had access to cold beer and coffee, she was perfectly happy to forego any retail therapy. As for the rest of Amed,  the resorts and restaurants, while adequate and reasonably clean, are designed to provide a place to sleep and a place to eat for people who have traveled to the coast to experience some of Bali's fantastic marine life. The resorts and dive hotels are loosely scattered up and down the coast road, interspersed with fields, dwellings, the occasional restaurant, and the trappings of a rural, mostly agricultural, community.
The 'main drag' in Amed.
 When the AsiaVus walked across the street to the small convenience shop for some instant coffee and beer (priorities, people,) they had to shoo chickens out of their way, and passed more than one placid, tethered cow whilst walking to dinner at a nearby restaurant.  No sidewalks, no streetlights. People bathing in roadside ditches, and women walking by with baskets full of fruit, laundry, or flowers on their heads.
MsCaroline is not exaggerating about the rural nature of Amed.  This is only a few steps east of our resort, on the beach.  It is a chicken coop.  Lucky chickens.
As one fellow diver suggested, it was as close to the 'real' Bali as one can get, and miles away (both figuratively and literally) from the bright lights and tourism frenzy of places like Kuta and Ubud.
Bringing in the catamaran after an early-morning trip

The next morning, after a poolside breakfast, the Asia Vu family made its way to the van sent to collect them by their Dive Shop, and headed off to the first day of their Open Water Dive Course, and the beginning of MsCaroline's Trial By Water.  Stay tuned for Part II.




*highly subjective description

12 comments:

Circles in the Sand said...

Looks amazing! What an adventure, even going to the toilet!!

MsCaroline said...

Trust you to put it in a positive light! 'Adventure' was not the word I was thinking at 10 pm, I can assure you!

Nance said...

I was with you until the Outdoor Toilet. After all of the other Inconveniences of the journey, to have an Outdoor Toilet as one's reward is heartbreaking.

Is there an Indoor Toilet anyplace within driving/walking distance? Because I would Hold It until I got there every single time.

I don't even eat outdoors. Good heavens.

MsCaroline said...

Nance - I hear you. And let me tell you, if there hadn't been an indoor-toilet-room available, I would probably have just waited the 4 days until we got to Ubud. On the plus side, the next time I go to Bali, I'll know what to ask for...

broken biro said...

I feel your concern! Had an outdoor bathroom in Mexico with a sand-covered (deliberately!) floor and we spent our mornings guessing what animal each set of footprints was made by.... Eek!

Bali must have been 'hell'. 8-/ (that's my 'unconvinced' expression bt the way)

MsCaroline said...

BB- The sand prints must have been a fun little game - but I'm sure it would have added considerably to my anxiety - what you don't know can't hurt you - right? And yes - how we all 'suffered' in Bali. It's a miracle I'm even alive to tell the tale. (can you tell I'm counting down the days until I can go back?)

Karen said...

I truly did live vicariously with you through this post, Carolyne. I have to gush a bit and say this was really fabulously well written...I feel a bit now like I spent some time in a tropical paradise (except for the outdoor bathroom-I'm with you on that!). Cold here this AM, a bit of a disappointment after yesterday 50ish and (almost)balmy weather. Definitely needed my "mini-vacation" after a week that included ongoing paperwork nightmares, a shooting scare at Leah's school (near heart attack experience for Mom), the end of the high school quarter 3 (frantic emailing to teachers and harassing of Joshua in order to ensure passing grades) and Katie's birthday (14! Done with my last 13 yr. old!). One more week until Spring Break, which will be spent nowhere exotic but will be welcome still! Can't wait for the diving stories!

MsCaroline said...

Karen, you sound more than ready for Spring Break to me - it's been a longer-than-usual winter and I think we're all ready for a change. I enjoyed Bali - mostly because I was warm! - but it's nice to be back in a country where I'm not always worried about catching something from the tap water if I happen to forget and brush my teeth with it!

Trish Burgess said...

Oh this is a corker of a post, Ms C. I'm not one for being comfortable with people hearing my ablutions at the best of times (always lay a sheet of paper down first)so I would have been well and truly constipated if I'd been there. Good for you swapping rooms - not romantic when teenage boys are around.
Beer and coffee - that's my girl!

MsCaroline said...

Trish - Exactly my thinking - it would have been a miserable 5 days for me between the insects and the too-public setting! I'll take 'private' over 'exotic' any day - although the next place we went did manage to combine the 2 pretty creatively.

BavarianSojourn said...

I would definitely not have liked the outside toilet!! I would have ended up with a serious kidney infection and wouldn't have peed all week at the thought of all those centipedes!! The resort looks lovely though!!

MsCaroline said...

E-Yes, it's a good thing the resort was so lovely, because otherwise I'd have just packed up right then and there. I was highly motivated to find a workable solution!