Into Australia

I finished my short bike tour of Bali! Luckily, no flat tires or any real problems. People were always super nice and smiled at me all the time. I learned a very basic set of bahasa, and combined with some hand motions, communication wasn’t a problem. The penultimate day of the tour, Mira and I planned to meet up south of Padang Bay and spend the night on a black sand beach.

It took a while to meet up because when a white person asks for directions, the locals will always point some direction, not always the correct way! I imagine that I’m pretty difficult to understand, though! We finally meet up at a park where I’m drinking a coconut drink. Mira rolls up and starts slicing up mangos for a snack. She’s mango crazy – we bought a few kilos of the best mangos you can imagine at the market.

We slowly make our way to the beach , only to find massive amounts of garbage swept up from the ocean. Sometimes the ocean gives the trash back. We found a surf retreat resort not far from our entry point, and they cleaned the beach directly in front of the resort. Strategically, we set up out tent very close by and went for a swim to cool off from the hot day. I’ve been lucky with no rain both times I camped.

The next day, we ride back to Ubud in blistering sun. I got news of my holiday working visa in New Zealand and was in a great mood when we rolled into Ubud. I spent the next day relaxing and saying my goodbyes to Mira and Ari and took a shuttle us to the airport.

Flights to New Zealand go through Australia, so I decided to spend a few days in Perth before I start my job at the end of the week.

Perth is in Western Australia and the entire area is a stark contrast to Bali. It is much drier here, drinking water is a precious commodity. Population density is very low. Prices for everything is high – the cost for two days of mediocre food will buy an entire month of high quality Balinese food. Buildings are drab and uninspired with no hint of the craftsmanship I got accustomed to in Bali.

It’s lush near the ocean, though:
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Elephant Rocks

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The distances around Perth are so large and the sun so strong that I opted for a cheap rental car instead of the usual bicycle. I filled up the gas tank for $75 after touring around the south of Perth. Beautiful beaches, pastures, and many national forests. I saw more kangaroos on the back roads than cars!

 

Salt lakes

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Only one way to go…..

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Stirling Range, Western Australia

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When in Australia….

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Freediving and Bali Goodbye

I completed my Freediving course today. The most recent dives I completed were to 25 meters (82 feet) and they were spectacular. I tried all sorts of permutations on different descents: pulling down on the rope, finning down, eyes closed, hands only ascent.

It’s a eerie feeling as the same breath which swelled your chest on the surface feels like a full exhale at depth. I had to keep reminding myself that yes, I did have the full breath of air in me, it was simply compressed. I feel contractions in my diaphragm as my body alerts me to CO2 buildup, which are initially jarring but I learn to accommodate the movements, as these also trigger the body to lower the heart rate and restrict blood flow to the non vital extremities.

The descent is very different from scuba. It’s fast – for me very fast. Luckily I don’t have a problem with equalization, so I kick down fast and efficiently. Initially, there is resistance to the downward motion, but you quickly build momentum. I’m going faster and faster until I stop kicking – realizing at around 18 meters that I am very negatively buoyant. The lungs have compressed enough that I continue down the line at an amazing one meter per second, unaided! The world gets darker and darker, the lungs get more compressed. Closing my eyes at this point is a very zen period: coasting into the dark abyss with one breath of air, which feels like an empty chest now. Finally, I reach the bottom if the line. I don’t spend much time here, just enough for a forward roll to reposition myself for the ascent. I must fin hard to raise myself, feeling lactic acid burn in my quads. Finally the ascent gets easier and I pop up to the buoy, breathe deep, and prepare for the next dive. It’s very addicting.

Now, a few pictures of me with Mira back in Ubud prior to my departure to my next adventure: Australia.

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Our campsite on the black sand beach. Some trash was cleared away…

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Mira and me enjoying Es Champur (Mixed Ice) in a market

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Babi Guling

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Painting in a strange building that Mira and I found.  The Dutch invaders fighting a properly dressed and armed Balinese woman.

 

Everything is so ornate here:

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Classic Mira

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Magical; classic Bali

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Sunset illuminating a cloud over Amed

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Cafe near the Ubud river

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Don’t I look great with Mira’s glasses?

Freediving

I’ve pulled over in Amed to get training in free diving (apnea diving), something I’ve been pretty interested in for a while. Imagine diving with no tank, no regulator, no vest…no bubbles.

It’s romanticized for good reason – pulling yourself head first into deep blue with closed eyes on a single breath is quite a mental and physical test. The world at the bottom of the line opens in such a natural way unachievable with scuba.

I’m tired after the first day of training so I’ll end it here with sunrise on East Bali.

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North Coast

Day three of the tour is complete! I’m a little East of Bondalem on the North coast of Bali. The ride was almost all downhill today and the sky was clear on my descent from 1300 meters.

The island is so populated it’s actually difficult to feel like you’re in nature. All along the roads there are warungs, small markets, and small shops. There’s usually no definition of a city, they all blend together in a way that is strangely reminiscent of Los Angeles. In contrast, Europe had well defined cities with a partition of farmland or forest. I know the roads near Ubud are nicer so I’m planning on getting back to that area and exploring more.

People are super friendly, nearly everybody yelling hello as I bike by. The few who have push bikes usually follow me. About half of the time I kindly ignore, but the other half I’m playful and coax the to go faster to catch me and ride along. I need to learn “you ride like a grandma!” In bahasa for added effect (sorry grandma, I bet you could a bike pretty quick!)

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Oh, bats and chameleons on the side of the road. Normal. I almost ran into these guys.

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One of the lakes in central Bali

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Kitty took interest in my mie goreing (fried noodle)

Highlands

Today’s ride was tough. I now know why Balinese call bicycles “push bikes” trudging up ridiculous grades to a mountain pass. Luckily I have time and my backpack isn’t very heavy. Add rain, a sore throat, and a feeling of low energy and this day was pretty short!

The first order of business today was to watch the launch of SES8 on the Falcon 9. I woke up around t-minus 30 minutes. Amazingly, I watched a live broadcast of a rocket going to space from a handheld device on an island across the world. The future is now! I got on my bike to visit the Uluandu Balinese temple perched on the coast of a mountain lake. I have to say it was fairly unremarkable, but I’ve certainly been desensitized after seeing so many beautiful temples all around the island. I slowly see the demographic change to more Muslim as I head into the north.

I ascended to about 1300 meters, only slightly below a thick cloud layer. I suspect this cloud layer is permanent in this rainy reason. Although it shielded me from the sun a bit, it made views less spectacular. On the descent, I passed many shops selling civet coffee, I’ll let you google that. I ended up rolling into an all-in-one homestay restaurant tour agency and tattoo parlor (why not?….) around 5:30. The price was better than I expected, about $11, and has a really nice view of the mountains and western accommodation (hot shower, electricity, towels, toilet paper)

The prices of massages here are awesome, so I’m going to get a Balinese massage in an hour. If only I had this luxury in Europe! Touring in Bali is pretty different than Europe in many ways: first, the roads are steep and unsigned. I use an awesome application, pocket earth, which caches offline map data from OSM and OCM so I can see where I’m going without asking people at every intersection.

Second, there’s not really any stealth camping spots. Roads are pretty busy everywhere, and I think I’d have a tough time camping most nights. Accommodation is everywhere, though, and because a tour of Bali is so short the accommodation doesn’t add up to be super expensive.

Third, it would be silly to carry any cooking gear. Food is everywhere, delicious, and very inexpensive, $1-$3 for a good meal at a warung.

The locals drivers accommodate bicycles much better than any European county I biked through!

This guy is cooking my sate with a fan.

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Cool temple

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Rice, Rice, Baby! The flags are attached together with string, so when the guy pulls on the string, all the flags move and birds are scared off!

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After riding my way up a ridiculously steep hill, I passed a bunch of men and (gorgeous!) women. Turns out I was at the end of a big ceremony!

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Ubud and the Road Ahead

Wow, a lot has happened since my last post. I decided to stay on Gili T after Edwin left and get my Rescue Diver certification. People say that it’s the only worthwhile PADI certification out there, and I tend to agree with them (after a very bad AOW instructor).

Although the diving in Gili T isn’t really that great (certainly not worth the hype, especially compared to Tulamben), there is a glut of five star PADI and SSI schools on the island. This makes for an instructor war which increases the quality of the instruction. I had an excellent instructor, Daris from Blue Marlin dive, along with two dive masters in training for my three day rescue class. I learned quite a bit through contrived but necessary examples. The first exercise was to gather my gear, from the bottom of the pool, across the pool, in one breath! Never knew I could hold my breath for so long.

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The party atmosphere combined with $200 being stolen out of my hotel room made me leave the island once my class was done. I set my sights in Ubud, the cultural capital of Bali. Imagine a city comprised of thirty something new-agers riding around on motorbikes and you have a pretty good feel of the city. Yoga and meditation classes and retreats are offered for a spectacularly high price that must make the locals’ eyes roll all the way to the back of your head. Coincidently, also a yoga technique that’s taught in the workshops.

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Ubud is where all of the stone and wood carvings on the island originate, among silver and gold jewelry. You can buy pretty much anything here, from a custom ordered bison wood carving to a crystal necklace. Luckily for me, there’s also a nice bike shop! GPS coordinates (8.51908S 115.26875E). They mostly sell new polygon bikes which seem pretty solid. A few used (second push bike) bikes are available and I picked one up for $80 in pretty good condition, with a promise from the owner to buy back at 60% of the price! I opted for a helmet ($12, wow!) and a better saddle. They set me up with a nice back rack with jury rigged handlebars attached with spare tube and zip ties so I could haul my backpack. I’m now on the first night on my tour in Batu Riti after a grueling 7371593463 meter climb which took about 5 hours.

Back to Ubud: I met Marco, an Italian traveler with a guitar, on the bus from Padang Bai to Ubud. We decided to cut costs and get a room together and ended up at a homestay close to the center for about $8 each. Even the homestays in Ubud are adjunct temples! Beautiful decoration in the wood and stone work, with a grandmotherly figure to boot. Weena waited up for us until 3am the first night, and cooked a delicious banana pancake and fruit salad in the morning.

Marco and I were up to explore the town after our absurdly inexpensive massages and started walking the streets with a bintang in hand. After live music at a hookah lounge, we end up at the only late night destination in Ubud, CP. We played some pool and met two Indonesian women, Mira and Ari, and in a light stupor agreed to meet up the next day. While enjoying the morning pancakes and waiting out the rain playing guitar, Mira bicycles over. She toured Bali and Lombok on bicycle, so we immediately hit it off. Miraculously, the rain stopped and Marco rented a bike. We were ready to roll!

Mira took us around the Ubud area at a breakneck pace, feather earrings flying as wildly as her limbs as she listens to her headphones while we try to keep up. We saw gorgeous temples, rice terraces, and freaky scarecrows before eating food from the Padang region (West Sumatra, where Mira is from). To reiterate, there’s only awesome and super awesome food on this island, and this was in the latter category.

On the way back, Mira took us to a secret part of the river which carved out huge water channels that you could sit in. Felt better than the massage! We were burning time until we would meet back up with Ari at an “ecstatic dance” at the yoga barn. This turned out to be totally insane, and my first ecstatic dance experience. It is simply a huge dance floor with a DJ playing weird music and everybody dancing like a maniac for two hours. I started laughing at first but got into it!

After the dance, we got food with Ari and Nina joining the group. More Padang food … excellent. We made plans to travel by bicycle to Sanur, then take the ferry to Nusa Panida, a large island in the South East of Bali, and relax on the beach. Fast forward and at 5pm we’re in on an untouristy island riding motorbikes to Crystal Bay. We got a tip from a local that the bay next to Crystal Bay was even better. With essentially no proper planning, the five of us end up on a deserted picture perfect beach with a three person tent, one sleeping bag, ten liters of water and a bag of peanuts. We made the best of it and snorkeled, buried Nina in sand (yes we remembered her before we left!), and jumped through hoops before sleeping on the beach.

We got a good nights sleep and the next afternoon Mira, Marco and I went to a Hindu spiritual purification ceremony, about two hours by bike from Ubud. Mira had been there before and obviously speaks bahasa so we navigated our way to the temple. The process was strange for me (also not certain why I need purification) and started with a ten minute meditation with the healer (maybe oracle would be a better term, apparently she gives advice and can see the future) followed by a cleansing with liters of water poured on your head, always with her chanting in beautiful tones. Marco and I were among the few white people there, with maybe 30 people being purified in about an hour. Many locals (especially the women) let out intense sounds when water was poured in them – from orgasmic to crying to dry heaving. I can’t say that I had a strong experience, but it certainly gives people an outlet for whatever they may need to tell to the world. It’s times like these where I take comfort my belief of the Scientific Method.

We had a going away dinner that night for Nina, who is returning to the US next week. Marco turned to the stove and cooked a delicious pasta dish and I provided the red wine. We said our goodbyes and Marco and I left the next day to Thailand, and I started my bike tour!

Rice fields near Ubud

Rice fields near Ubud