Saturday, 1 September 2012

Down south in Bali

It was time for us to move on from Ubud and travel to the south coast of Bali. We needed to head down to Padang Bai to catch the ferry over to the Gili islands, which lie just off the coast of Lombok.

A couple of days in advance (before things started shutting down for Galungan) we went to the Perama office in Ubud to buy our bus tickets. It cost us 50,000 rupiah each - about £3.30.

So it was time to pack up our lives into our rucksacks and leave the Indra Homestay behind.

We'd met a really nice English couple called Justin and Ros during our stay with the Indras, and they gave us some great tips about the Gilis and how to get there, like where to stay and how much we should be paying for things. They were our first encounter with travelers that resulted in some fantastic word-of-mouth advice.

Dave and the luggage at the bus station
Humping our packs down to the Perama office on the Thursday morning, we stocked up on bottled water and after a relatively short wait got onto the bus. It was a decent size but completely full, with no leg room and everyone's luggage piled up front between the passangers and the driver. They really pack you in!

The bus journey itself  was a fun, easy, 90 minute trip. It was great to be out on the road again after being in Ubud for a while, and to see the Balinese landscape whizzing past the windows of our bus. 

There was still a lot of Galungan activity, with penjors lining the roads and people attending religious ceremonies. When we reached the coast we saw a huge gathering of people down by the beach.

We'd found ourselves some accommodation in Padang Bai with  a bit of advance online research. Marco Inn is run by a Dutch guy and his Balinese wife. We contacted Jacob beforehand to make sure they had a room, and this turned out to be a good move. When we all piled off the bus on the main street outside the Padang Bai Perama office, we were immediately hit by the onslaught of guys trying to direct us to their guesthouses. Having something organised in advance was a bonus as it meant we could politely say we already had somewhere booked. 

We found Marco Inn pretty easily and were shown to our room on the first floor. It was small but comfy, with a double bed, cold water shower and one of those toilets that doesn't have a normal flush but instead has a big bucket of water with a cup that you have to empty into the loo to get rid of the 'evidence'. We paid 150,000 rupiah per night - about £10 for the room, with breakfast.

Jacob and his family were really welcoming and there was a small open courtyard where we could chill out and play with their two pet bunny rabbits!

The downside? We were staying really close to the ferry port and centre of town, and it was ridiculously noisy at night. During the day Padang Bai is a pretty sleepy little harbour town but we had a restless, sometimes sleepless, stay. Earplugs were no use when the ferry horn and tannoy, cockerels crowing, dogs barking, and the mosque call to prayer all went off in a ridiculous middle-of-the-night cacophony.

Our main mission was to organise our transport to and from the Gili islands. At that point we didn't really know how long we wanted to stay on the Gilis, but the idea was to head over to Gili Air first for a few days and then see what happened. There are a couple of ways to get over to the islands, mainly the fast boat (quick and expensive) and the public ferry (slow and cheap). We opted for the latter option and had a bit of a scout around for deals; there were loads of local agents advertising the trip and we finally bought our tickets from a guy who was set up at the end of the main street nearest the ferry (Pesona Bintang tours). After some bargaining, we managed to agree upon open return tickets for the two of us for: 
  • ferry from Padang Bai to Lembar
  • bus transfer up to Bangsal
  • boat from Bangsal to Gili Air
  • back from any of the Gili islands whenever we wanted. 
It cost us 400,000 rupiah - about £25 - which we were pretty pleased with. 

As well as the official stuff we needed to sort out, we also spent some time along Padang Bai beach front, which was really pretty with lots of traditional boats moored up and bobbing in the shallows. It was lovely being back at the coast after all that time spent inland in Ubud, and the constant calls from the hawkers had changed from "Transport?!" "Massage!?" to "Diving!?" "Boat trip?!"

We spent two nights in Padang Bai and found a really cheap little warung that fed us well on nasi mie and goreng and where we could pick up the unsecured WiFi from the nearby bar (we didn't have internet access at Marco's)! 

On Saturday morning we got up, repacked, and - using our magic piece of paper from the tour office - boarded the ferry to our desert island getaway.

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