Bali by scooter

On day two of our bali trip we gave in to the lure of scooter hire – a notoriously cheap backpackers mode of transport on the island. And for a price of only $12 (AUD) we were able to hire 2 scooters and spent a whole day exploring Bali with complete freedom to choose where we wanted to go and where we wanted to stop.

I have no regrets.

We started early to make the most of the day. Our Airbnb host being kind enough to arrange the hire for us and ride me into the centre of Ubud, while Sam rode double with Casey on a seperate family scooter to collect our rentals. Once there, we signed a single receipt, handed over some cash, selected helmets, photographed the scooters and were off! Almost… We just had one slight hiccup to correct. That would end up turning into quite a panic..

Just as we were discussing how to get to our first destination we realised that none of us had bought our drivers licenses to the hire office… A simple enough problem to solve one would think. All we had to do was return to our accomodation and collect a drivers license (at least one of us would be covered if we ran into police) before departing for the day.. But this simple solution quickly went wrong..

Our plan was to follow our host back to her home on the scooters we had just hired so that we could set off immediately from there.. We departed with me on one scooter and Sam and Casey doubling on a second (as Sam is the most experienced rider of the three of us). But it quickly became apparent that our Scootering skills were a little rusty.. And although we weren’t struggling to balance and we weren’t crashing into strangers.. we were having some trouble keeping up with our host! Who SPED off ahead of us, eager, obviously, to be done with us for the day and have us on our way. And although at first she seemed to be stopping at intersections and pulling aside to wait for at least me to catch up with her, her patience didn’t last long. And in my panic to keep up with our host I lost track of Casey and San in my rear view mirror.. And suddenly, I  couldn’t see either party as I found myself rolling down an entirely unfamiliar street.

Panic set in as I continued to follow the road for a few more minutes sure, at first, that our host must still be ahead of me. Then, doubt sunk through me, as my racing ahead through traffic yielded no results to my search. Finally, fear hit, as I came to the realisation that I must have taken a wrong turn at some point and was now lost in a foreign country, where I didn’t speak the local language, alone, with a scooter that I had no documentation for (Sam had the hire reciept for both scooters with him).

But surely? I reasoned, Sam and Casey must be coming up behind me at any moment. Even if I had lost our host, they should have been following me, as I was the one in the middle of our chain?!

So I pulled over.

I waited.

Traffic passed. More traffic passed.

From this far back in the queue there was no way that they could have seen me and been following me..

They weren’t coming. Was it possible that they had overtaken me without my noticing? Questions like this rushed through my mind as I perched roadside with my scooter trying to call into action my logical mind instead of my panicked one.

I had to at least try asking for help. So I scootered forward a few meters towards a couple of men manning a roadside refreshment stand and letting out a big breath to calm myself asked “Mas Ubud?”. And my fear must have been written all over my face because the younger of the two men didn’t just explain to me that I was indeed going in the wrong direction and needed to turn back, but took a moment to calm me, distracting me from my stress by asking me where I was from, telling me to be careful and telling me I was going to be OK. And it was this one moment of kindness that was all it took to calm me back into a sane mind. Knowing that there were indeed kind locals on this island and not just tour operators out to milk me of my money was all the relief I needed. So I thanked the kind men, turned my scooter back into the traffic and returned up the treelined hill I had just descended in search of a “white statue” at which I now knew I had to turn left. And surely enough this white statue was an excellent marker and soon I was back on the right path. And although I had many doubtful moments along my way, convincing myself at times that I needed to ask for more directions or had missed a second turn off, a familiar store or landmark would always present itself just as I was beginning to loose hope and would urge me to keep on going.

After the longest 15 or 20 minutes of my life I made it back to our accomodation. To the screaming of Sam and Casey and our host. Feeling proud and capable and alive.

As it turned out Sam and Casey had seen me take my wrong turn, but had only followed me briefly before second guessing my direction and second guessing whether it was me at all that they had seen make the turn. So they too had had to turn back and fluke their way home to our accomodation without our host. And in fact they only made it back moments before I did. They had only to endure a few minutes of terror, calling my cellphone which was in Sam’s backpack and realizing how isolated I was before I sped passed our driveway and jumped with significant relief from my scooters seat.

It was, we all agreed, a truly ‘Bali’ experience. One which tested our abilities to think straight under pressure and left us ultimately feeling giddy with relief, refreshed and more confident.

And we still had a whole day ahead of us… So with all of our affairs finally in order we took off in the direction of Jatiluwih – home to the most beautiful rice paddies in Bali.

And surely enough after a long but exhilarating 2 hours of travel; sweeping between cars, buses, scooters, pedestrians, stray dogs and what ever else the roads of Bali could throw at us we arrived in Jatiluwih. Incident-free.

We stopped here for an hour or so for lunch at a gorgeous outdoor restaurant that served traditional foods and seated guests in small hut-like platforms with low tables and cushion seating, and which had a spectacular view out over the terraced rice fields. The food was delicious, the fields were beautiful and the service was friendly and we were already completely satisfied with day two in Bali.

But there was more to see!

As rain clouds gathered and condensed overhead we sped off towards Baturiti botanical gardens. But unfortunately those rain clouds didn’t hold out for long. Soon a light shower was falling upon us as we fled to our next destination. And unfortunately with all of our morning distraction we were quickly running out of daylight as well. But as is the nature of rain in the tropics the shower didn’t last long and we arrived at the botanical gardens with ease. For a few dollars we gained entry to the largest botanical garden I have ever seen, and spent an hour strolling though what was really more of a park (with trees and hills) than a garden (with flower beds and conservatories). And along the way the rain began to fall again – a little heavier this time. But as we were already wet from our ride we were not deterred and continued through the park quite happily in search of flowers and cacti. And soon we had an additional member to our pack following us loyally about the place – a gorgeous stray dog who we belovedly named ‘Pooch’. He even followed us into a conservatory and frightened some other, less friendly guests. In fact in our hour with Pooch we grew very attached to his quiet and gentle nature. He was by no means a rabid stray and when it came time for us to leave him and return to our scooters we were quite reluctant to say goodbye.

The gardens themselves of course we’re also lovely and with rain coming down they were blissfully empty. The size of the space was the only obstacle, with so much ground to cover to find a flower bed. But we managed to lay eyes upon many cacti and a few orchids in the couple of garden spaces that we did find amongst the park, so we were ultimately pleased with our visit.

And we headed off with the rain halted again, deciding that our next stop would have to be Ubud to return our scooters before our deadline at 6pm.

But half way into our journey… The rain came again.. This time MUCH harder than before.

Soon we were pulled over in a monsoon style downpour with low visibility, dropping temperatures and a deadline approaching. We knew we had to continue.

We quickly transfered everything precious and electronic from our backpack into the under-seat compartment of the scooters, wrapped a sarong around Sam’s shoulders (in a meek attempt to stop his shiverring) and pushed on into the storm.

We continued to weave through traffic, avoiding cars and scooters and potholes as before. Heads low to avoid the rain flying into our faces. And I must say, while I later found out from Sam and Casey that they had found the situation very stressful and we’re panic-stricken for a large part of the ride home.. I personally quite enjoyed the drama of the situation. I enjoyed being so exposed to the elements. So in nature. And surviving. Owning every turn and obstical with relative ease. Wind on my face. Undergoing a true, unadulterated adventure. It was real freedom. It was wild freedom. It was exactly what I seek in Asia.

And we arrived back in Ubud well before 6pm. Mission accomplished.

Our night ended with another delicious Indonesian dinner and a show – a traditional Balinese dance performance that we found in the middle of Ubud which was both entertaining and beautiful. The female dancers were immaculately dressed with beautiful make-up and intricate headwear and performed their subtle, bird-like movements with precision timing. While the males donned huge, heavy costumes that were terrifying and showy. For an entrance fee of only 100,000 Rupiah (about $10AUD) it was a brilliant end to the evening.

And we again made it back to our bed late and ready for a deep sleep.

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From one island to the next. Our first taste of Koh Tao

It took a couple of ferries and a bus to get from Phi Phi to Koh Tao..
But all connecting trips like this are run extremely efficiently in Thailand.
When you check in for your first ride your receipt (which you are given when you book these long haul journeys) is exchanged for 2 stickers and a number of tickets equal to the number of transfers you have to make. One sticker is for your bag and one is for your self. The stickers are colour coded so that your end destination can easily be determined by any Thai employees who see you, and you can therefore be pointed in the right direction very efficiently, without having to struggle with any language barriers. The colour code system also means, that like fish in an ocean looking for the right school, you can group together or follow others with the same tag as you if your unsure of where to go…
And the tickets are taken off your hands as you board each mode of transportation, so that everyone knows you’ve paid.
It brilliant.

What is not brilliant however, is the way that large bags are stowed on ferries in Thailand.. Because, they aren’t really ‘stowed’ at all… They’re just piled.
And this isn’t a problem because I fear that the possessions I’m carrying around in my back pack will be damaged in said pile. It’s a problem because it makes the disembarking process a painfully slow one…
All of the bags will be stacked in a tall pile along the wall at one end of the ship. And there’s very little chance that you know or can see where your bag has been placed in the pile, unless you are one of the last traveller’s on to the boat, and your bag is on top.. AND there are no staff appointed to the task of unloading the bags once the ferry has reached it’s port.. Its just a giant free for all..
So, every time the ferry docks, a huge crowd of people surge forward to try and dig their possessions out of 1 giant, overcrowded pile.. and it’s anarchy.

But, despite this one recurring issue, our journeys have all been smooth within Asia – once we’ve figured out where we’re going and how we’re going to get there that is (usually through online research and asking around at tour shops).. which is something that we generally leave until the last minute, to give us maximum flexibility.

But anyway!!! We made it to the island of Koh Tao – which lies just off the coast of Thailand. And we stayed for five nights there, riding around on a very cheaply hired scooter and doing A LOT of snorkeling.
It was beautiful. It was amazing. It was fun. It was super nice to be spending so much time in the water, saved from the heat. And! we got to stay in our very own bungalow.

Within our first 2 days on the island we had sorted out a cheap scooter hire (at 150 Baht, or about NZ$7.50 a day) AND a cheap snorkel hire (at 100 Baht, or about NZ$5 a day). So with the help of an extremely comprehensive guide book, we immediately set off to see some fish!

We spent our first full day on the island (after the night of our arrival) zipping around on our hired scooter to as many beaches as we could find and fit in. We somehow managed to navigate the roads despite a poor map which only showed half of the roads which actually existed.. and we made it to a good number of snorkeling spots as a result!

Our first stop was Jansom Bay – a privately owned beach (so we had to pay a 100 Baht fee to swim there) with white coral sands and the very definition of crystal clear waters.
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Little fish were present there, swarming at our feet curiously as soon as we stepped into the ocean. And they were the same friendly blue and white stripped fish that I had already come to love at Phi Phi. But with these ones swimming so far into the shore and in such clear waters, it was hilarious just to stand and watch them as they swarmed over to each new visitor who entered the water, to suss them out. And one of them was even brave enough to take a nibble at me! Although I do think it was just going for the dead skin around one of my itchy bites – so they remain a friendly image in my mind.

And there were also LOTS of big, black cucumbers about as well, and some larger, beautifully coloured, almost fluorescent fish as we swam out deeper. AND there was one rock which was covered in these really cool little anemones! Which were about the size of a thumb nail, and looked kind of like short, thick pipe cleaners. They came in every colour possible! – red, orange, purple, yellow.. There were even green ones with white tips that looked like tiny Christmas trees! and whenever something swam too near.. they would retract back into the rock they were fixed on in a fraction of a second, leaving no trace of their beautiful selves behind.
They were my favourite find for this location.

Our second stop was at a much bigger beach called Chalok Baan Kao Bay and from this one we waded out to sea and then climbed over a hill to reach Cape June Juea and June Juea Bay. Although when I say “we waded out to sea” I mean, Sam walked though the shin deep water, dragging me (floating, with a snorkel) behind him.
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There was nothing to see at Chalok Baan Kao fish wise. It was just super warm, shallow waters and weird sticky, slimy feeling sand.
And Cape June Juea was quite rough, and also really shallow – far to shallow to snorkel comfortably over the sea bed which was littered with sharp, broken coral skeletons and slick black sea cucumbers.
BUT the best must’ve just been waiting for last, because at June Juea Bay we got to swim with a huge school of sardines!
And at first I have to admit, they terrified me… So many of these little fish had packed themselves so tightly together in a school, that there was no way that you could see through to the other side of the crowd. All that was visible was a thick wall of fish that disappeared gradually into shadow.. and initially I thought that they might be schooling around something bigger than themselves – which was a terrifying concept considering how close they were to me. But as it turns out, we may just have been that ‘something bigger’ because they soon began circling around us, and I even felt a few attempt to jump over my back. And it was incredible. Suddenly the whole ocean was hidden from us by this living wall, which darted and swayed and rearranged itself constantly around us. And every move we made would cause a new rearrangement, so that the fish were always outlining our form from a safe distance.
But of course they soon had to move on.. and without them, the bay suddenly felt empty.. So we watched giant crabs crawl over rocks above the sea for a while. And then began the walk and the wade back to the shore of Chalok Ban Kao Beach.

We managed to spend an entire day snorkeling between these beaches and bays. And ultimately we returned home, satisfied with a full days touristing.