Tricky Bali

If you follow my Facebook page, you might have read my (angry) status update from the airport of Bali some weeks ago. In case anyone reading this ever goes to Bali or Gili Trawangan or in case someone comes to this blog looking for travel advice, here are some potential risks of a holiday in the island:

Pickpockets
They are everywhere, so you should always carry your belongings close to your body. Motorbike drivers might grab your bag, wallet or phone while driving next to you and then quickly disappear in the traffic. They tried to do that to a girl staying at my hostel in Kuta, but they only managed to accidentally grab her boob. Which is not nice anyway.

Another girl of the hostel was robbed by children. They came to her when she was sitting in a restaurant, started playing around, making noise and touching her clothes. When they where gone, she realised that she didn’t have any more money in her pockets.

Money exchange
In Kuta, there are “authorized” money changers every 5 meters.

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Before leaving for Lovina and then Gili Trawangan, I needed to change my last 270 Australian dollars (AUD), because Kuta has better exchange rates. The official conversion was around 3,000,000 Indonesian rupies (IDR) at the time.

First place I go to: the man behind the counter brings out 3,000,000 IDR in 50,000 notes. He counts the notes while I’m looking carefully: 3,000,000 IDR. I count the notes myself: 3,000,000 IDR. He proceeds to put all my rupies together and hands them to me. I count the money: now it’s 2,500,000. I tell him “Sorry, there’s money missing”. “No no no, it’s ok”, he says. “But it has to be 3,000,000”, I say. “No no no… hmmm… Commission!”. Commission tu madre, I think I said, and I left with my 270 AUD.

Second place: it all went as in the first shop, but this time I was pretty sure I had counted 3,000,000 IDR myself before leaving. I was already in the restaurant next door when I had a look again at the money and suddenly it was just 2,000,000 IDR. I went straight ahead to the money changer: “Look, 1,000,000 IDR missing, what happend?” He said nothing, he just took my 270 AUD from behind the counter and gave them to me while he got his rupies back. “If you don’t like it, go to another place”, he finally said. “Hey, no, just give me the 3,000,000 rupies”, I told him. “Go to another place”, was his only answer. For your information, 1,000,000 IDR is around 60 EUR. That’s not shortchanging, that’s stealing.

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"What! You've ripped me off again!" - I found this hanging on the wall of a bar in Kuta

In the third and fourth places, I just tried to change 100 AUD and they kept trying to do the same tricks to me. They also used the same excuse when I told them they were ripping me off: “Go to another place”.

The fifth money changer at least had a better excuse. After talking with me for a while, “Where you from, how long you in Kuta”, the point came where I had to tell him “There is money missing”. “No speak English”, he replied. ” But…”. “No English”.

As he had suddenly forgotten his knowledge of the English language, I think he didn’t mind that I left the shop with my Australian dollars saying “**** ***”. (Use your imagination, the words were not actually “Good bye”)

All this happened to me in less than one hour. When I came back to my hostel, they recommended me a good money exchange office where, finally, I got my Indonesian rupies without being tricked.

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So if you ever go to Kuta: always ask at your accommodation for reliable places to change money. Check the official daily rates beforehand. Always count personally and at least twice the money you’re given. Never try to change (as I did) too much money at a time.

The only good thing about the shortchangers/thieves, is that they always gave me my Australian dollars back, admitting their fault.

(Why I didn’t just use an ATM: I’ll write about it in a few weeks)

Monkeys:
Really, be careful. The macaques of Ubud are worse than pickpockets. This little one probably cares a lot about hygiene, as he stole a surgical mask from a Japanese tourist:

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Never leave your pockets or your bag open when you are near wild macaques!

Restaurants
Always check if they charge some special tax, or you might be 10% surprised when getting the bill. Always make sure that the prices on the bill match the prices of the menu. More than once I had to correct the waiter: “Look, it’s 50,000 IDR written on the menu and you are trying to charge me 55,000”.

Pharmacies
On my last day in Kuta, I went to the pharmacy because I had spent the previous days coughing without stop. They wanted to sell me (for around 8 EUR) a blister of ten pills, without a box and without an information leaflet. They weren’t even able to search anywhere for the composition of the pills.

“You are not in Europe, what did you expect?”, some might think. Sorry, but the pharmacy had many shelves with an astonishing variety of western marks of shower gels, shampoos, condoms and many other products. If a pharmacy is able to sell a pro-vitamin-hair-revitalizer-with-silk-effect-for-damaged-hair, it should be able to tell me the contraindications of any of its medicines. End of the story.

Drugs
If you are a girl and are having some drinks at a bar: never leave your drink unattended. I heard of some girls of my hostel who were in a bar of Kuta having just a few drinks with some guys they had just met… and the next thing they remembered was waking up the next morning in the hostel with no money in their pockets. I don’t know many other details about this event, but just in case, be careful with what you’re drinking and don’t trust overfriendly strangers.

If you research a little bit online, you might also find articles of people being poisoned with methanol in Gili Trawangan, sometimes with tragic consequences.

Accommodation
One day before leaving for Gili Trawangan, where I had booked the hostel Le Grand Gili Backpacker – La Boheme, I received this email:

“Dear guests,

Unfortunately, Gili – La Boheme is closing its doors. All bookings are cancelled then. We apologize to everyone for this inconvenience.

Best regards,

The staff of Gili – La Boheme”

In Bali and the Gilis, the months of June and July are pretty busy, so it’s not easy to find a place to sleep with such a short notice. Even more if you’re traveling alone and are specifically looking for a bed in a dorm. Luckily enough, I managed to change my plans, spent some days in Lovina and went to Gili T afterwards. I would never recommend the place I stayed at instead of Gili – La Boheme because I felt like crying every time I had to use the dirtiest bathrooms I’ve ever seen

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but, hey: backpacker life.

So bear in mind that plans in Bali might change from one day to another. And never ever stay at a place called Le Grand Gili La Boheme, just in case they decide to reopen the doors.

Short remark: I had booked the hostel with booking.com, and I let them know about the problem. I was surprised by how fast they answered my email, offering me another accommodation instead. The only problem was, this new accommodation was extremely expensive. They assured me that they would give me the difference (400€) (!!!!) (I could spend 100 nights in Laos with that money!) after my stay, but I decided to book another place by myself, as I didn’t want to take the risk of losing money or waiting too long for the amount to be transferred. It’s nice to see that online companies have a good customer service.

Passenger service charge
It’s my last day in Bali, I’m ready to catch my flight to Singapore but… wait! What’s this?

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Bali airport wants 200,000 rupies (12 EUR) from me before I leave. Because I’m a tourist and I deserve to be punished for spending my holiday in the island, I guess.

Just as a comment, in countries like Cambodia and Laos, a departure tax is included in the price of your flight. That way, you know for sure how much you’ll be paying and you might even reconsider going to that country if you are on a low budget. Indonesia, learn from your neighbours!

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Don’t get me wrong: I enjoyed Bali. But if you ever go there, be careful and do some research in advance!

By the way, I’m also on Instagram now: http://www.instagram.com/travelandtofu

πŸ™‚

Vegan Bali & Gili Islands

On my first day in Bali, I checked Happy Cow for vegetarian restaurants. After a long walk from my hostel in Kuta I found Happy Buddha (Jalan Raya Kuta 143). They have a lot of mock meat options and, although that’s not exactly my thing, I was happy to try something different every time I went there. It was also very cheap, I don’t remember well right now but I would say what you see in the picture was less than 3 euro.

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Plus, it was a family restaurant. I have seen this in many other restaurants in Southeast Asia: the kids of the owners are playing behind the counter or outside the place, they might come close to you and smile and then their dad or their mom will grab them by the hand and kindly take them away. Then the little kids will say with their eyes: “but, I wanted to play with the lady :(“. Work-family balance, Asian style. I really like this, because the atmosphere seems to be very relaxed, everyone looks happy and the children get to spend more time with their family when growing up. Of course, this is all about small kids who are still not supposed to be at school!

In Ubud, I tried some raw food at The Seeds of Life (2 Jalan Gootama). It’s funny, my doctor recommended me to never eat raw food or have drinks with ice in Asia and I’m doing both things more than ever. I’m such a rebel. I should rename the blog to “Travel & Tofu & Risk”.

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The food was ok, although a little bit pricey and the portions were not specially big, so after a few hours I was feeling hungry again.

In Jimbaran, all the restaurants had fish as a main course. But luckily, all dishes included rice and vegetables as a side dish, so I ate the side dish of my roommates while they had their fish. To be honest, I’ve always hated eating fish, even as a child. I never saw the point of putting something full of spines into your mouth. Why not biting a cactus instead?

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Plus, there’s not need to say that rice with vegetables is one of the cheapest foods you can get anywhere in the world.

In Gili Trawangan I couldn’t find any vegetarian restaurants, so in the places I went to, I just asked for items of the menu that could be veganized. A vegetable pizza without cheese:

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Or a salad without egg:

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I recall having also some tofu burgers that had to be specially made for me because, funny thing, it seems like at least in the Gilis, they enjoy mixing tofu with egg.

All in all, I ate very few protein in Indonesia, so when I spent some days in Singapore afterwards and was able to cook again, I filled my stomach with lots of tofu and beans. I wouldn’t say Bali is a vegan paradise, but at least in the tourist areas everyone speaks some English and the waiters are always happy to find a veganizable dish for you in the menu.

I would put some pictures of the food in Lovina but, as I mentioned on my Bali post, I was sick, and I think everyone knows what steam rice looks like.

Let’s see if in the following days I can write about all the ways you can get ripped off in Bali. It’s going to be a looong post.

By the way, I have twitter now. I’m still learning how to use it, but here it is: http://twitter.com/travelandtofu

Gili Trawangan

Close to the island of Lombok and just a short boat ride away from Bali, you can find the Gili Islands: Gili Trawangan, Gili Meno and Gili Air.

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(Source: http://bali-gili-fastboats.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/3gili.png)

My Lonely Planet bible, Southeast Asia on a shoestring, highly recommended going there for a few days when visiting Bali, so I just couldn’t miss it.

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I decided to go to Gili Trawangan because Meno and Air, although more quiet and peaceful, are basically oriented towards happy couples looking for a romantic holiday. Trawangan is the backpacker island and the only one of the three where you can see these amazing sunsets:

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The first picture is taken from the South of the island, the second one from the North. If you look closely at the last one, you can see Bali’s Mount Agung on the horizon.

On my hunt for sunsets, I discovered this place, totally empty, with no one around:

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Trawangan can also be a romantic destination!

Funny story: after finding this spot, I kept walking along the coastline. I was somewhere in the Northeast of the island, which still has no hotels, no bars, no souvenir shops. I hadn’t seen anyone in a while and only the waves on the beach and the distant sound of a horse carriage would break the silence from time to time. A perfect moment of calm, I thought. Then, I clearly heard someone somewhere in the beach:

– Β‘Mierda, me cago en la puta!

Oh, Spanish people. We are so easy to recognize when we go abroad.

Apart from sunsets, Gili Trawangan also has the kind of beaches that I was looking for: clear water and white sand.

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That clear water also makes the Gilis a perfect place for snorkelling. I took a boat trip that did some stops between the islands at the best snorkelling spots. You could see beautiful coral, colourful little fish and, if lucky, some turtles. For a few seconds, I saw a small turtle swimming free in the ocean and that really made my day.

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Most of the time, I would just relax on the beach sunbathing or walk around the main street looking for cats. Dogs, as well as cars and motorbikes, are not allowed in the island, so cats are the kings of Gili Trawangan. Most of them seem to have a very small tail. I want to believe that it’s just a consequence of their genetic isolation and not a result of some human activity.

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The only sad thing about the island is that horse carriages are used as a substitute for cars and motorbikes. In an island with so much sunlight, wouldn’t it make sense to have vehicles powered by solar energy instead?

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Anyway, I enjoyed my days in Gili Trawangan and I highly recommend the Gilis for people looking for a piece of paradise which still hasn’t been destroyed by mass tourism.

You’ll find some vegan recommendations for Bali and Gili Trawangan in the next post πŸ™‚

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Bali in 10 days

The name Bali had always been connected in my brain to paradise, the same that happens with Hawaii or Fiji. From now on, it will be connected to rip off, a verb you will learn for sure if you visit that island. I collected enough experiences to write a whole post which will be here in the next days. But let’s be positive and focus on the good things now. Meow.

I started my trip in Kuta, as many others do, because it’s very close to the airport.

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The beach was big, people say it has good waves if you like surfing, the sunsets are nice… but honestly, as it happened to me with the coastline of Australia, I didn’t find it much better than many of the beaches we have in Spain. Well, I must admit that we definitely don’t have these gates of Hindu influence at the entrance of any beach:

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In case you don’t know, although most of the population of Indonesia is Muslim, the main religion in the island of Bali is Hinduism. Wikipedia can tell you why: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hinduism_in_Indonesia

On one of my nights in Kuta, I went with my hostel roommates to have dinner at Jimbaran beach. It was the first time that I ate in a restaurant literally on the beach:

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I’ll write a big post about vegan food in Bali in the next days πŸ™‚

From Kuta, I did a one-day trip to Ubud:

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That picture is from the Museum Puri Lukisan. Even if you don’t enjoy art exhibitions very much, the buildings and gardens of the museum are worth seeing.

The small baskets you see in the forefront are daily offerings of the Balinese to their Gods. You can find them not just in this museum, but every few metres in every street of Bali.

Just behind the museum there is a vast extension of rice fields:

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Once again, my smartphone camera couldn’t capture this place as it really is. For me, it was a haven of peace: no tourists, no motorbikes, just some Balinese farmers, a cow here, some ducks there. And that all just a few minutes away from one of the busiest streets of Ubud.

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Being me, the animal-hugger, I also had to go to the Monkey Forest, where many macaques live.

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I had fun watching them but they are not as cute as it seems. They especially enjoy jumping on people’s backs and stealing anything they can put their hands on, so you have to be careful with your wallet, camera or whatever they can grab.

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I loved the babies. The idea of touching them didn’t even come to my mind: I bet their mums are perfectly capable of biting you in the face if you dare to approach them.

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There were also some… hmm… disturbing sculptures in the forest like this one:

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And I found this one quite funny. It looks like a monkey and a turtle going together on some drug trip, don’t you think?

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Some of the souvenirs were funny as well:

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And the day after Ubud, I went on a roadtrip with my roommates E. and N. all the way up to Lovina. We did some stops on the way, first in Candidasa:

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Then in Amed:

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After that we visited the water palace of Tirtagangga:

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But what impressed me the most of the whole roadtrip was seeing Mount Agung at sunset:

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It’s Bali’s highest peak and it has a perfect vulcano shape that reminded me of Mount Fuji. Incredibly beautiful, at least for weird people like me who like symmetries.

Lovina, in the north of Bali, was our last stop:

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The sand is dark due to vulcanic ashes. There are also some dolphins that gather every morning near the beach, and every accommodation offers boat rides to see them. I was so happy when I found out about it! Dolphins are one of my favourite animals but sadly, most of the times, if you want to get close to them, it has to be in some dolphin park where they are treated like clowns. Not my thing.

But then my stomach decided it was time to have some seasickness a couple of hours before my boat ride (weird stomach, I know), so I had to cancel my dolphin trip and spend the following days eating water and rice, rice and water. Maybe I didn’t miss that much. I’ll try to believe that The Simpsons were right and dolphins are evil creatures.

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So Bali was not exactly what I had expected. But then I went to the island of Gili Trawangan and that was indeed paradise. I’ll write about it on my next post!

Melbourne and some Australian fauna

After 6 days in Sydney, I got on a train to Melbourne (34 EUR for an 11-hour ride, that’s cheaper than in Europe) to check another city in Australia.

Although I was freezing all the time (Melbourne can get pretty cold in winter), I enjoyed the city much more than Sydney. Here are a few of the things I saw:

Remebrance Shrine, built to remember the Australian victims of the two world wars:

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Immigration museum

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As I mentioned on my last post, Australia was first a land where British convicts were sent to work. Afterwards, non-convict inmigrants from all over the world kept joining the country, so it has indeed been influenced by immigration. In this museum, you can see, for example, a reproduction of the inside of the first ships that traveled to Australia

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or do a simulated interview to some virtual candidates who want to live in Australia nowadays:

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Here I felt as if, for a change, I was like that nice immigration officer in Las Vegas who found my plans of doing a round-the-world trip on my own extremely suspicious and wasn’t so convinced of letting me enter his country. Oh, I wish I could show him all my passport stamps right now.

State Library of Victoria

Free entrance! Free exhibitions! Free wifi! I spent some hours there, it has really a lot to see. It was so beautiful and I’m such a bookworm that, by the end, I wished I was a student again so that I could spend countless hours studying on one of those tables which were like pieces of art.

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Royal Exhibition Building

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I do like visiting Unesco sites, and I wasn’t going to make an exception in Melbourne. This building from the 19th century held the International Exhibition in 1880. After so many years, it is still used, for example, as a place for examinations of the University of Victoria.

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In the guided visit of the hall (it’s not allowed to visit it on your own), the chairs and tables were almost perfectly aligned waiting for the students. It must be great to do your exams in a place so full of history, don’t you think?

St Kilda penguins

Every day at sunset, a group of penguins goes back to their home in St Kilda pier. And an even bigger group of humans gathers there to see them:

It’s quite hard to make good pictures or videos because, for the wellbeing of the little penguins, using flash is not allowed. But I had a great time watching them for an hour, despite the freezing weather.

Great Ocean Road

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Following the road along the coast west of Melbourne, you can get to the 12 Apostles:

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This rock formations are one of the best-known tourist attractions of Australia, but I wasn’t very impressed. The North coast of Spain is full of landscapes like these ones although it’s still almost undiscovered by foreign tourists. And there are no tourist-helicopters disturbing you or snakes, spiders and ticks wanting to kill you πŸ™‚

A little bit more far away there is the London Arch:

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Until 1990 it was still connected to the shore and was actually called London Bridge, but one of its archs collapsed and it looks slightly different now.

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No one was hurt physically on the day when the bridge lost its arch, but there is a funny story to tell. That 15th of January, a couple was actually trapped on the new-formed arch after the collapse. They had to wait for hours until a helicopter was able to rescue them and soon after, they were in all the newspapers and TV channels. Happy ending, because they survived. Not so happy, because they shouldn’t have been there: they were married, but each of them to another person, and their respective partners found out about the rescue and the cheating live on TV. So, apart from the risk of getting bad karma, this is another reason why you shouldn’t cheat on your partner: you never know when your 15 minutes of fame might come.

On the Great Ocean Road trip, there were also some stops to see some Australian fauna in the wild. Believe me when I tell you that these are kangaroos jumping free on a golf field:

And look, this is a koala:

So I was able to see wild penguins, koalas, kangaroos and, wait, magpies as well:

You don’t need to go to a zoo to see animals! Plus, it’s much more rewarding to search for them by yourself than to just look at them through a glass window or a fence.

Before clicking “post”, here are my vegan discoveries in Melbourne:

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After many months of using whatever shower gel I could find, I came across this vegan one in Melbourne. Yes, shower gels and almost all cosmetic products usually have some animal product in them, so I’m happy when I find somehting marked with the vegan sign.

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I hate throwing away food, I really do. But in one of my hostels, I found a jar of Vegemite for breakfast, checked that it had no suspicious animal ingredients and put some of it on my toast. Uuuggg, disgusting! If it looks like Nutella, it should taste like Nutella, I thought. But it was very salty and alltogether, disgusting. I had to throw away the toast, I just couldn’t get it close to my mouth anymore after the first bite.

Maybe Australians are just used to that taste of “salty Nutella”. It reminded me of the time I gave salty popcorn to a German friend and she immediately had to get it out of her mouth while her eyes were telling me: “Do you want to kill me or what!?”. In Germany, popcorn is usually sweet, in case you didn’t know.

That’s all for now. It is taking me a lot of time to update my blog. It is actually taking me a lot of time to do anything, actually. I never thought I would say this but I’m tired of travelling. I understand now why Willy Fog wanted to do his trip around the world in no more than 80 days: I’m now on my 104th day and if you asked me right know if I would rather see the stunning temples of Angkor Wat in Cambodia or just be at home with my parents or just have some beers with a person that I’ve known for more than one week… it would be a hard decision.

Anyway, I will be back in Spain on the 15th of August, and I am planning to enjoy my time in Asia as much as possible during this last month. Afterwards, it will be time for job seeking and I really need to charge my batteries because that’s an exhausting task.

I will try to write about my two weeks in Bali soon, I promise πŸ™‚