After 32 hours of travel we arrived in Denpasar, Bali. I finally got to ride in one of those huge planes with three columns of seats like you see in the movies. Our flight from LA to Taipei, Taiwan was 14 hours. We had a four hour layover and then another five hour flight to Bali. I watched a few movies, ate the airplane food, and desperately tried to sleep. It’s not so easy sitting up.
After going through customs we were immediately bombarded with taxi drivers wanting us to be their customer. Hundreds of drivers lined the exit of the airport, all yelling at us, “Taxi?” “Transport?” It was overwhelming and a little scary, especially because some of them walked up and started guiding us to their car. We were adament about walking to our accommodation because we wanted to see the lay of the land on foot. It took some confidence but we managed to get through the current of taxi drivers and onto the streets of Denpasar. That’s when it got interesting. There is absolutely no organization to the streets of Bali. Streets would end randomly, one-ways wouldn’t be marked, and there are hardly sidewalks. With the help of a previously downloaded Google map of the city, we found our path to Kuta Beach.
Now, from what we read Kuta Beach is an absolute hell-hole of a place. It has been taken over with tourists, particularly Australians, who have come on holiday looking to party. Like the city center of Denpasar, the streets are a tangled mess lined with miles of souvenir shops, bars, and restaurants. There were hotels on every corner, and of course, taxi drivers trying to drive us. Also motor bikes. Hundreds of motor bikes. The streets were busy and we quickly learned to look not only left and right to cross, but also forward and backward. There was trash in the streets and little dogs running everywhere.
Our hotel was near the beach and was somewhat of a homestay. We could tell a family lived there because there were three generations walking around making food, cleaning, and feeding their many caged pets (birds and squirrels).
Our room was simple: bed, nightstand, closet, and bathroom. We unpacked quickly and went out to explore. We were extremely tired from all the travel and walking, so we went into a nearby restaurant for dinner. I ordered a dish not knowing what it was. It was fried rice and wasn’t so bad. My lemon water was absolutely refreshing after walking in the humid heat all afternoon.
Bali is absolutely beautiful in the mornings. It’s not too hot yet and the ocean is a relaxing, cool temperature. We went swimming in the ocean every morning and got sun burned every morning. There were stunning sunsets.
Why did we choose Kuta knowing so many others did not recommend it? Kuta Beach is known for its surfing, particularly for beginners. Learning to surf was one of my main goals for this trip, so we chose Kuta to start with. We took a lesson one afternoon from one of the schools near our hotel. Marc and I had our own instructor for 2.5 hours. By the end of the class we were able to stand up on our own on the white wash. Experienced surfers may chuckle, but I was impressed with how well we picked it up even as beginners. Surfing is a lot like yoga in that you need balance and a mindful attitude. When you’re on the wave you must only think of your body alignment, balance, and the feeling of the board beneath your feet — like a yoga mat.
I really loved it, and we rented a board from some guy on the beach the next morning to practice. We learned how far out to go to catch a good wave, and we also started learning how the tides change throughout the day. I was scared at first about falling and having the board smack my head. Overall falling isn’t harmful, at least not in two feet of water!
Kuta Beach is crowded, but you could still find a nice beach bar to enjoy a Bintang.
We also booked a tour one afternoon to see Uluwatu Temple, a traditional Balinese fire dance, and a beach candlelight dinner. We snagged a “Cheap Free Tours” pamphlet from the airport and found this half-day tour. We were picked up at 3:00 p.m. and driven south. It started raining while we drove (yay rainy season!), and the rain continued to beat down as we reached our destination. The entrance to the temple was flooded. We saw a huge run off add to it. We sat in the car for a very long time as more and more cars got backed up. Motorbikes zoomed to the front and they too were stuck in their tracks. Locals were getting out of their cars and homes to assess the situation. It was quite the ordeal. We sat in the car wondering if our tour would be fulfilled…
After about 45 minutes a police officer managed the traffic into the temple grounds. It was still raining so I knew we would be soaking wet walking around the temple. Our driver/guide walked us through the rainforest to the cliff on the west coast. From there we had a vantage point of Uluwatu Temple on a higher cliff to the left.
There were a lot of other people there walking along cliff-side slippery path. There were monkeys climbing along the railing and they were much bigger than the other monkeys I’ve seen up close. They were the size of a two-year-old. Our guide warned Marc who was trying to get a picture not to get too close because they tend to grab phones from people’s hands.
We explored the temple for a little bit and our guide educated us. We learned there are tiers of temples. Uluwatu is a public temple, meaning anyone can go there. It’s only used on special occasions, such as a full moon. There are also community temples and family temples. Something clicked when I learned that. Back at our hotel there was a central temple statue that must have been the family’s temple.
After touring the temple we went to the stadium for the fire dance. It was still raining hard, and we were soaked through our ponchos and shoes. The dance started with 45 men coming out, circling up and chanting. They were singing and performing choreographed hand movements. There were designated singing leaders who would chant certain phrases while the others were chanting something else in unison. The dance was a series of acts telling a story about Hindu gods. Their costumes were incredible: bright, intricate, and ostentatious. It was very absorbing, and I was glad to see a traditional Balinese dance (it was on my must-do list).
After the dance we were brought to a seafood restaurant located on the beach. We were suppose to dine in the sand but because of the rain we ate indoors. The seafood was incredible. We had spawn, shrimp, mussels, and squid. It was served with steamed rice, string beans, and corn soup.
There was a small band going around playing tunes for tips. They would ask what country the restaurant goers were from and then play a song from that country. They played “Hello” by Lionel Richie for us. At first when they began I thought it was “Hello” by Adele, and so I started singing along with the wrong lyrics. So embarrassing.
The next morning we were to make our way to Sanur in order to catch our boat to Nusa Lembongan. I successfully haggled with the taxi driver using this tip I figured out on my own. I didn’t think there would be Uber drivers in Bali but there are. I downloaded the app and now when I punch in our destination I can see how much it would cost to get there with an Uber. Using that price as my “no more” amount, I feel confident negotiating prices with local drivers knowing if they so no I can always Uber. Marc says we shouldn’t just use Uber though because it’s too American. He’s right in a way, because I did feel more confident after being able to talk the driver down to a fair price.
As we waited for our public boat to depart from Sanur, we had a perfect view of Mt. Agung from the coast. The boat ride would take 1.5 hours to the tiny island of Nusa Lembangon where we would stay for three nights.