Fleeing the Madness.
After about a week in Seminyak / Kuta, I had had enough. I LOVED my lush digs with Marlen, but I had been completely denied in my desire to have a “Bali beach” experience. I was reading up on where to go next, and got curious about doing some scuba dives. (Aside: I’ve been saying that 1/3 of this trip is being a tourist, 1/3 is doing pro bono consulting for nonprofits, and 1/3 just going with whim. This one goes in the “whim” category. I had no plans to do this before I saw the brochure.) Getting PADI Certified has been on my bucket list (ever growing, it seems) and for a reason I can’t remember I settled on Bali Hai Diving Adventures. It was a whole package (resort stay and certification course), and it was on an island far away from Kuta. So I signed up, got picked up at Marlen’s by their driver, dropped off at the dock, boarded, and the adventure began!
The ferry ride was a bit odd. Nice boat, as far as ferry boats go. But this one had a 4 piece band on deck playing Beatle’s covers. For a 40 minute ride. They even had time to take a short break in the middle of their set. Hmmm…
Bali Hai Diving Adventures. We arrived at Nusa Lembongan (Nusa = Island), and before we even made it to land, we docked at a big platform, donned wetsuits and took a dive! Our first of 4 required dives. Really really cool! Rosie, our dive instructor, from England, was superb in every way. Smart, friendly, funny, skilled, and talented! So over the side we went! (my TripAdvisor review is here).
For those of you who have been PADI certified, you know how it goes. For the rest of us, it’s just not that hard. You learn how the reasonably simple equipment works. You learn how to not kill yourself. You learn how to not kill your buddy. You learn how to not kill the aquatic life. And you learn how to put on extremely tight neoprene tights. And look good in them. There’s other good stuff, like buoyancy control, gas contamination, O-ring inspection, damn dive tables (still!), and knowing when a trigger fish is angry and when it’s merely grumpy. And, thanks to Rosie, it was all easy, fun and occasionally hilarious. I was 120 feet under the surface, and it was amazing.
Bali Hai Beach Resort. During the course, I stayed at the Bali Hai Beach Resort, at about $147 / night (way out of my price range on this trip, but I think I got a deal for doing the scuba package). You get your own bungalow with A/C, with two pools, beach front, nice lagoon view outdoor bar/restaurant. And very friendly staff. Nothing bad about this place, but it is pricey for this part of the world.
Rama Garden Bungalows. After the course was over, I decided to check out the north end of the island, and booked a lumbung (traditional Balinese hut) through airbnb at Rama Zen Garden Bungalows, for about $30/night. Very clean and modern. Some have no A/C but mosquito netting around the bed, which I loved. And the outdoor shower and bathroom (underneath the bedroom) was well designed, modern and fun! Made me feel Bali that much more. There was something …connecting…about sweating at night under a ceiling fan, open windows, yet safely within the netting. And the lizard, that I’m saying is a big gecko. When you hear a loud croaking sound, directly above your bed, it’s just the friendly neighborhood gecko . He is harmless. And he is lonely. Imagine it’s like a frog in the summer time.
I really liked the host Trinity and her staff at Rama Gardens. She’s partly from Houston, so English clearly wasn’t an issue. And I loved that she was off surfing when I showed up! Her staff very capable of my check in, and was happy to make me anything I liked from their kitchen but excelled in tasty and healthy smoothies and fruit shakes. Meals were all healthy too. The special breakfast for guests was $4, two eggs, fruit, toast and coffee. As with most other restaurants anywhere I’ve traveled, if you order local dishes they are ½ – 2/3 the cost of “Western” dishes. Nasi campur costs $4. Pizza cost $10.
Rama Gardens has few amenities other than the restaurant, like a pool, but a mere 1 min walk down a funky path you’re at the beach and you can swim in the ocean. MUCH nicer beach than Kuta or Seminyak. On Friday nights, the local mostly ex pats, many dive instructors, show up from around the island to party at the Blue Corner Bar, which is a 3 min sandy walk from Rama Gardens. Nothing fancy here, just cold beer, an eclectic and simple but tasty menu, and lots of happy people who never again have to work in a grey cubicle.
Rama Gardens is kind of tricky to get find, but just trust your guts and your smartphone GPS, look for the signs, and you’ll make it. I rented a motorbike near Bali Hai Tides Hotel (south end of the island) and found my way. The trick – just keep driving until you think you’re on the wrong road, check your GPS, get back on track, and you’ll find it. Pretty good signage from the main road at the path to the place. You can also rent a “pick up”, but I was impatient waiting for the trucks to show up. (more on Lembongan taxi/pickups here). Full time local staff is very friendly and speaks English well enough.
If you REALLY want a Bali hut on the beach, I’d say look at Yoga Beach Villas. Same area as Rama Garden and Blue Corners Bar, but fancier (ie, a pool) and it’s on the beach (well, not sand under your bungalow, on the beach, but 10 short steps to it.
Nusa Ceningan. On my last full day in the island, I took my motorbike across the “Yellow Bridge” to Nusa Ceningan. Trucks/cars can’t go on this island because there are no roads for them. Just paths with some old pavement over rocks that largely has decomposed to roughness. But my rental motorbike handled it just fine. Key word: rental. As in Not Mine. It’s a very small island, so you take the circular path up a decent incline and have lunch at the Ceningan Cliff Rest Area (aka restaurant). Great view of the channel between Nusa Penida and of Nusa Penida as well. It was a sedate lunch for me, with the only other people being a German couple that didn’t want to talk with me (or couldn’t, who knows). Then a gaggle of Japanese students showed up and I was surrounded by bantering photographers. I was sitting at just ONE of the chairs along the table facing the channel, and I had, at one point, 3 such intrepids pointing cameras at me, and past me, from very close quarters. Like less than a foot. I remember fondly my time in Japan last summer, but I don’t remember that sort of frenzied descent on an otherwise serene viewpoint. Ah well, they seemed to be having fun, so what’s the harm? Anyway, a nice little tour of a different island.
Main road on Nusa Ceningan
As you’re riding around, on the coast, you’ll see the local industry out in full force. Seaweed cultivation! Seems every house along the way had long sheets of seaweed drying in the sun, sometimes near their house, sometimes in the road, sometimes…wherever there was relatively flat land. I didn’t figure out what they do with this seaweed, since none of the local dishes had it. Maybe export?
Bits about Touring Nusa Lembongan
Motorscooter rental. Aim for about 50-70,000 per day ($4-6). If you run out of gas, don’t expect to find a filling station on Nusa Lembongan. Instead, look for the roadside Petrol businesses that will sell you a a liter or two of petrol from an old water or juice bottle. You buy it ($2) they pour it in your tank, and they refill the bottle later. If no one is at the stand, just leave 20,000, pour your own, and leave the bottle.
ATM. Since there is but ONE ATM on the island, with a location known only to locals, I advise you stock up on cash before you go to the island. If you must get to it, it’s on the road that runs to the beach just south of …well…never mind. Ask a local!
Bugs. There are mosquitos and flies. But not oppressively so. Still, prepare.
Laundry. The folks at Rama Garden did mine very nicely for $2/kg. It was more expensive at Bali Hai Beach Resort. Give them 24 hours.
Electricity. Same plugs as in the rest of SE Asia, the round two prong jobbies. You can buy a converter plug at any hardware store for $1. Again, since all of my electronics are made for the global market, I don’t need a power conditioner. My MacAir, Samsung Galaxy, Kindle, and even Canon camera battery charger all handle the dual voltage nicely.
Okay, that’s it for the first half of my Bali trip. Next few days are in Ubud and Permuteran. With a dive at Nusa Menjongan. Stay tuned….
Here are some random shots from Nusa Lembongan…