The Bali Story (in full)

Thought I’d write an account of my “holiday” to Bali.
I could have never have known this photo would be so apt!

It all started out as an offhand comment from my friend Tse that we should go to Bali to escape from Chinese new year in Shanghai. Due to family commitments she would only have the week off before the public holiday, my plan would be to stay two weeks and enjoy the second half of my trip as a backpacker. Week one went roughly as expected, we had our own villa with an open air lounge, kitchen, wifi and not to forget our own private swimming pool. We spent the days idling in the sun, catching up with work and exploring the coast line on a moped, the evenings eating seafood and hanging at painfully cool beach front bars (If you’re going to Bali you must go to Potato Head).

Tse left on Thursday, and I left some of my luggage at the villas (forever) and moved into a funky hostel to make some new friends, by Saturday I had acquired a British guy, two Brazilian girls and a German airhostess, and together we set off to the legendary Gili Islands, which are around two hours south of Bali, just off the coast from Lombok. By the time I arrived Saturday morning I was feeling the onset of the tropics finest stomach infections. Sunday I only got out of bed to briefly look at breakfast and dinner. By Monday afternoon I calculated that at least twice as much water had come out than had gone in, what I was drinking was coming straight out, it was 35 degrees, I’m sweating, and there’s no air-con. I made the executive decision that my last bit of energy should be used to go to hospital. The island is famous for magic mushrooms, I imagine I was going through similar experience on my bike ride through the slum streets of the island dizzy with dehydration. The hospital was a nice modern clinic, the friendly chaps there told me I have a virus, a temperature, not much in the way of blood pressure and ask me if I’d be ok with a drip, “2 litres please” I replied, it’s an instant cure all. That evening I celebrated with chicken pie and mash, of which I managed 2 mouthfuls, it’s the thought that counts.

My new British friend/unfortunate roommate had been out partying till 3am and was fast asleep when I woke up the next morning. I’d noticed him come in, but not the local Gili Crackhead that had followed him and mistakenly stolen my shorts containing my iphone, wallet, credit cards, medicine, boat tickets back to Bali, etc.  (I’d just like to say that the nice german lady owner of woodstock homestay had told us it was completely safe there, I got the feeling she had too many magic mushrooms in her younger years. The island IS full of crackheads. If only i’d read this before i went. All I’d heard were good things. Gili Trawangan… a paradise lost)

I had been planning to get the boat back to Bali that afternoon to explore Ubud, Uluwata and some other nice places, but now I had to go on a mission to collect documentation for insurance. Gili Trawangan doesn’t have a police station, so a trip to Lomobok was required. The boat leaves at “26 passengers have bought tickets” O’clock and a horse and cart is required the other end. The police station consisted of 6 small concrete rooms with a different set of objects in each. A table and chair, a 90’s computer and desk, a bench and TV, a prisoner and bucket. There was no electricity the afternoon I got there and after a couple of hours of watching policemen smoke cigarettes, my hotel clerk chaperon and I headed back to Gili for another night. As I left the prisoner had perked up having a good laugh at my expense and telling me I should have slipped the sergeant a 100,000 (£8,$10,RMB80). What the fuck for? I thought. Later that evening as i was recounting this story to my friends, my camera was stolen from the table.

At seven the next morning with the fever starting to lift I began my journey, first to the police station for another attempt at getting my report. The waters were stormy so the boat was forced to drop me off on a sheltered beach with no roads, if I wasn’t sick I would have enjoyed the motor bike taxi through the coconut forest. After watching a few more cigarettes being expertly smoked by the boys in uniform, they give me my report and the lieutenant gleefully tells me I must give the sergeant 300,000 for having my wallet stolen. I didn’t flinch, handed over half of what a nice German chap had leant me, shook hands and made my escape before they’d had the chance to light up. I reached the harbour (beach) a comfortable hour before my boat departure time, and this is when things started to go wrong. During my extra 24 hours off Bali the swell from the Indian Ocean had now reached 6 meters and I was told by a group of locals “no boats” like it was a punch like to a joke.

A young taxi driver with perfect English took pity on me after hearing my plight from the motor bike taxi driver (he’d been listening and smoking at the police station too). Cut to 20 mins later and I’m having breakfast with his family in a Lombok village. If it wasn’t for the red motor bike he’d taken me there on, the scene was straight out of national geographic. If only I’d had a camera, or a camera phone, or a stomach capable of eating anything. After a string of phone calls, his brother’s cousin’s husband’s son tells him that there is a public ferry leaving from the south of Lombok, it takes seven hours but it’s only £2 and will get me to Bali today. Today now being fairly important as my flight to Hong Kong is tomorrow at 4pm! 200,000 goes to my new friend, a mad dash through a couple of villages and I’m stuffed onto a minibus of full of bemused Germans who are also trying to get the infamous public ferry. One bumpy picturesque mountain monkey filled hour later and I’m at a dusty ferry terminal, it’s 10 am. “no ferrys” we’re told, but this time with less humor.

By lunch time, the ferry terminal (a shanty town of fried noodle vendors and a half finished waiting room) is buzzing with worried back packers, German holidaymakers, and a hundred local truck drivers. “There might be a boat at 5am tomorrow morning, you can fly but all flights are sold out anyway. Oh, and don’t get a hotel, the boat might leave at 3”. So we settle in for 16 hours on the floor of the waiting room, until at 9pm the local news turns up (a man with a digicam). A ferry has almost sunk in 7 meter waves Government says no boats for 3 days. (At least I wasn’t on the one that almost sank, 202 Ferry Passengers Rescued In High-Seas Drama in Indonesia)

At this point I’m not sure if my insurance covers me spending another 4 days on a tropical island, and to be honest I’d had enough. I want a non salt water shower and internet. Fortunately I’d now been joined by the girls and boys I’d met at the Bali hostel, they lent me some more money and before long we’re hurtling down Lombok’s only main road to the airport for lack of better options. We’re in the first 15 tourist to reach the airport, everything is closed (of course) but some French people seem to be doing well chatting up a security guard whose wife works for an airline. By 11pm and a small bribe, we have tickets to Surabaya in East Java at 9am the next morning, all going well I can make a connecting flight to Bali which will land at 2pm, cutting it fine, but it’s the only option. At this point I’ve not eaten 4 days, I’m not hungry, I just want a hotel not a concrete floor, an hour later I’m curled up in a damp musty bed, I don’t sleep for fear of not waking up (I have no phone to set an alarm).

Back from the hotel, a banana milk shake for breakfast and all is good, we land in Surabaya smoothly! There is Starbucks and free internet in this gargantuan 90’s airport terminal, we’re the only white people there. Flight to Bali is confirmed for 12:45, it’s running 15 mins late, it’s only an hour away, so I’ll be there at 2, only no one told me about the time difference when we booked the ticket. The planes lands at 3:01, there’s no stand, an agonizingly slow bus ride to the terminal, I barely bid my fellow travels farewell and I’m off. They couldn’t have put domestic arrivals and the Cathy Pacific check in desk further away, I’m running and literally jumping peoples suitcases, cut the line at security and hoof my bag into the X-ray. The 2 litres of water I drank on the plane is sweated out along with the last of the virus, no one seems to want to body search me as I walk through the metal detector at the same time as a grumpy Chinese tourist. I make check in, tax, immigration and arrive at the boarding gate just before final call.

The air stewardess served up the most perfect bland fish and rice, my first meal in 6 days, the swanky Hong Kong airport hotel already charged my credit card that morning and didn’t even ask to see it, (I’d taken the risk not to cancel it for this reason) I had blissful shower and solid night’s sleep. By 10 am I was back in a spookily quiet Shanghai, made the plane to my house in under an hour, which is incredible, home in time to prepare for the insurance claims. In all the years of travelling this is the first time I’ve taken travel insurance for a short trip. They’re going to fucking love me!

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