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Tuesday, April 11, 2006
 
Oh, I know, I have been so bad and lazy not updating this page so that I can share the adventures of our trip to Bali.  My apologies, and I hope that you are all still with me here, ready to read and see. 
 
Mike finished work in Brunei on Wednesday, but we were not able to get a flight to Bali until Saturday, so we had a couple uneventful days waiting to go.  Finally, Saturday arrived and we boarded our flight to BALI!  Now, understand, we have been trying to get to Bali for quite some time now, since 2004 when we spent 6 months in Japan (which really isn't that close, we only had to fly two hours from Brunei), so we had Bali built up pretty high in our expectations.
 
A little background for those who need it.  Bali is an Indonesian island in the Indian Ocean.  Unlike most of Indonesia, Bali is predominately Hindu, not Muslim, and a bit hated by the rest of Indonesia because the residents make about twice as much money per year as the rest of Indonesia, due to the tourism industry.  People used to feel pretty safe visiting Bali, and the number one country for tourism to Bali was Australia.  But after the major bombing (by other Indonesians) in Kuta in 2003, tourism really took a major hit.  It was just on the road to recovery when a series of other bombers struck last October 1.  Now the place is basically deserted in comparison to the "old" days before the terrorism.  The Bali people are deeply concerned, as they should be, not only because it affects their wallets, but because it affects the peace of their little island. 
 
The poverty here is noticable, and twice the normal Indonesian wage still only comes out to about $3 a day.  Many, many people are now unemployed as hotels are at 10-25% occupancy, restaurants are closing, and basically things are standing on their last legs financially.  The Bali people are warm, friendly, intelligent, inquisitive people ready to talk to anyone and everyone. . . and also eager to get you into their souvenir shop, pass out time share brochures, give you transport, etc.  The desperation is sad.  This is an island that used to really rock and roll, and the Bali people feel they are under attack by their own countrymen. 
 
Not knowing alot about Bali and where the best places to stay were, we decided to avoid the high traffic, most touristy area at Kuta Beach and booked a hotel in Jimbaran (which is probably all of 8 miles from Kuta, to the south).  I found a hotel online that seemed reasonable, and when we arrived we were only disappointed that we were across the street from "the beach", and not on it.  The hotel was very nice, and they had upgraded us to a suite that was large enough to play football in, but when we arrived it was VERY VERY HOT.  Even the locals would remark as to how hot it was. 
 
Being just below the equator, we expected it to be hot, and didn't know that it was indeed unseasonably warm.  And, our air conditioning units on the room just couldn't keep up with our body temperature.  Our first evening we walked across the street to the beach, which is lined with literally dozens of fresh seafood restaurants (very difficult to pick one).  Once you enter the shanty, you walk all the way through to a table directly on the beach and have your dinner.  We made it over in time to see the sunset, have some Bintang beer, and eat the lovliest seafood dinner I've ever had! 
 
Being newbies and not knowing how much food was involved (which we should of had a clue from the amount listed on the menu), we went for one of the set dinners, which included 4 pounds of lobster, 4 pounds of red snapper, and 2 pounds of squid PLUS potatoes, vegetables, rice and fruit.  It was so delicious, and brought out spaced over about and hour and a half, that we managed to eat just about everything (PIGS!).  With our toes nestled in the sand, our stomachs full, and the cold Bintang flowing, we were quite content to sit and watch the tide roll out and the fishing boats roll in. 
 
But, did I mention that it was HOT!?!?!  At 10:30 at night, we walked down the beach a little further to have a nightcap at a different seafood shanty (not far, and at a very leisurely pace), and were literally dripping with sweat.  Right on the beach, but no breeze and still so, so hot. 
 
That day we laid pretty low around the hotel, spent a lot of time out by the pool, just relaxing.  We decided that Sunday we would hire a car and driver and explore the other beach areas on the south part of the island to see if there was somewhere else we would like to stay.  Jimabaran is a very nice area, but mostly five star plus hotels, like the Intercontinental, The Four Seasons, and the Ritz Carlton.  These complexes are HUGE resorts, unlike anything I've ever seen, and most of the people staying there don't even leave.  They also start at about $275/night. . .  you KNOW we weren't paying anything close to that, but made the nights a little slow and quiet, too much like Brunei!
 
Off we went on Sunday morning, on a five hour drive in an unairconditioned van in the steamy heat.  We cruised the coast, first to Nusa Dua, which is a "planned tourist area", again mostly upscale hotels, restaurants and kvetchy souvenir shops.  Oh, and of course, McDonald's and KFC.  Weren't very impressed with the town or the beaches, so off to the next location, Sanur.  Again, a long drive with little pay off, although the beach was a little nicer, not a lot of hotels on it! 
 
A side note on the beaches of southern Bali.  Not what we expected.  When I think of Bali, I think of miles of endless sand, palm trees, blue water, etc.  This, unfortunately, is not what we found.  Maybe I have it confused with what I'm supposed to visualize for Tahiti. . . who knows!?!?  Anyway, there are just as nice of beaches and places to stay anywhere in the Caribbean.  This, in fact, is the Australian Caribbean, I guess.  Now thirty years ago, this all may have been different, but today it's like going to Cancun, but with maybe a little less beach!
 
Back through Depensar (the capital) over to the west coast to Legian and then down to Kuta (hard to tell the difference between these two beaches/towns, as they pretty much bleed right into each other these days).  We ditched our driver for about an hour and went to the internet cafe, had a couple beers and a bite to eat, and surveyed the hotel scene a little.  Decided we were hot enough, and returned to the hotel with the plan that on Monday we would go back to Kuta and find a hotel. 
 
Kuta is a tourist wonderland.  Malls, art markets, water parks, Starbucks, McDonald's, KFC, Pizza Hut, Chi-Chi's, Bubba Gump's, 7-11, you name it, it's here.  There is 8 kilometers of beach here, but still again, not the type of stretch of beach you might imagine in your mind.  A lot of the time the surf is so high, all the way to the break walls along the hotels and shops, that there is no beach, and then when it's out, it's not that lovely to admire. 
 
Monday we went back to Kuta and walked along the strip until we found a hotel we liked (The Discovery at Kartika Plaza)http://www.discoverykartikaplaza.com
which offered us a "promotional rate" of $100/night plus 21% tax, off there normal rate of $180.  Now, I was against this at first, but we found that it was the ONLY resort on Kuta beach that you could still actually sit and look at the ocean from. 
 
Due to the two major bombings in Bali, security is pretty tight, and most of the hotels in Kuta have WALLED OFF THE BEACH ACCESS for security purposes.  Also, due to the same reason, there were barely any people in Bali, as their tourism has fell about 60% since last fall's bomb at the Intercontinental.  Anyway, we were all set to move in on Tuesday.
 
Monday night we walked out of our hotel in Jimbaran to have another scrumptious seafood dinner on the beach, to be astounded that they were ALL CLOSED!.  Now, before we left, we were warned that we would be there during the Balinese New Year, call Nyepi Day, which is a day of total "silence" where everything closes, including the airport.  The idea is that the night before (Nyepi Eve, I guess), the make all kinds of noise and the large, paper mache uga-uga guys are paraded around to scare away all the bad spirits.  Then, the next day, everyone is silent, to not attract the bad spirits back.  Our understanding was that this was going to be on Friday, but it was on Thursday.  However, each neighboring village elects a night that they will have there local celebration, and Monday was it in Jimbaran.  Well, fortunately, we could walk to the next "village" in about fifteen minutes, and enjoy another long strip of seafood shanties and had a MUCH smaller, but equally delicious dinner with the surf licking our toes under the table.  Then we decided to walk up the beach and investigate some of the other hotels in Jimbaran, see what their prices were, and check out the actual beach in Jimbaran.  We ended up at the Intercontinental (where the last Bali bombing was on October 1, 2005) and paid $25 for TWO BEERS!  But, what a lovely place. . . if you were filthy stinking rich.   Walked back home, sweating profusely along the beach.
 
Moved to Kuta on Tuesday morning, the heat had broken quite a bit, there was a great breeze coming off the Indian Ocean and we spent the entire day around the pool and bar area, soaking up the sun, swimming, eating, and having a cocktail or two.  Was the best day!
 
So, Wednesday night was the Nyepi Eve celebrations, and then Thursday we WEREN'T ALLOWED TO LEAVE THE HOTEL (except in an emergency situation) and everything was closed.  Well, everything was pretty much closed from noon on Wednesday til dusk on Friday.  We also WERE NOT ALLOWED TO USE ELECTRIC LIGHT in OUR HOTEL THAT WE WERE PAYING $100/night FOR!  They actually had security patrolling the exterior, looking for light, then they would come and knock on your door and make you turn your lights off.  It was crazy.  I don't recommend coming to Bali during this time!  But, I bet that Bali experiences quite the baby boom nine months after this holiday!
 
Now, Bali is cheap.  You can eat and drink like a king for under $5, stay in a decent hotel on the beach for $20.  The exchange is like 9000 rupiahs to a dollar.  BUT, if you are sequestered in a four star hotel for basically 48 hours and have to eat and drink there, well, it gets a bit expensive!  For more information about Nyepi Day, click here. . http://www.indo.com/indonesia/news353.html
 
We survived the celebrations and the silent day without too much trouble, and the heat broke on Wednesday, bringing in the other factor that must be present on a Stout vacation, RAIN.  It pretty much rained from Thursday morning until we left.  Big cyclone was due to hit on the fourth (three days after we left), so the pre-storms were pretty unnerving.  The sea was swelling, surf was breaking over the walls and up onto the resort, and it RAINED and RAINED. 
 
We met a young gal from Texas who is a petroleum engineer in Jakarta (the capital of Indonesia) and on vacation with her Mom in Bali.  On Saturday after breakfast they hunted us down and let us know that the Australian State Department and the US State Department had issued travel warnings for Bali on Friday, saying their intelligence indicated that there would be a terrorist attack in Indonesia on April 2.  Wonderful. 
 
Spent the morning we were leaving doing some souvenir shopping, getting a few beers to bring back to Brunei (we had a couple days to spend there yet), and having a last cocktail at the Sunset Bar, watching the wind blow, the surf swell, and the rain fall.  Our flight home was at 4 PM, caught that no problem.
 
When we got back to Brunei we did some repacking, and went to bed.  We WERE scheduled to leave on Monday at 7:00 PM for Bangkok. . . . we thought.
 
Sunday morning Mike and I decided to check our tickets to Bangkok, when we realized that my flight was NOT confirmed.  When I called Royal Brunei Airlines, they told me the flight was full and that I was on a waiting list.  Now, my flight home left Bangkok on Tuesday morning at 8:10 AM, and there is only one flight a day from Brunei to Bangkok, so if I wasn't on the Monday flight, I would MISS all the other flights. . .
 
SO, now it was 12:30 and we quick threw all my stuff into my suitcases, grabbed a cab to the airport, paid $500 (!!!!!) for a one way ticket to Bangkok at 3 PM on Thai Airways (I got the LAST seat on this plane).  I got to go to Bangkok a day earlier and leave Mike in Brunei.  When I arrived in Bnagkok I took a cab to the infamous Dynasty Inn, booked myself in (basically the only white woman around), did a little shopping and was planning on meeting Mike at the airport on Monday night, as we had reservations in the dayroom at the airport for overnight.  His flight is leaving at 6:45 AM.  HOWEVER (and you knew this was coming, as it is the way things go it seems), I soon realized that there was NO WAY I was getting into the transit area of the airport (where the dayrooms are) 12 hours before my flight without a boarding pass, etc.  I did try to call JAL (Japan Airlines), but they weren't in the office until 2 PM.  I extended my checkout til 6 PM, hoping there was still a way to get in to see and spend the night with Mike.  Plus, as we were on different flights, we needed to be able to talk to each other in Chicago because I wasn't able to get on the flight home until the next morning and he was on the evening flight.  He was going to try and change his ticket until the next morning and stay overnight with me in Chicago, AND in the rush to get on the flight Sunday, I forgot to get my American SIM card for my phone in Brunei (are you still with me on this, it's starting to sound pretty confusing)!.  Anyway, I finally reach JAL and they tell me NO WAY TO CHECK IN EARLY.  I call Mike in Brunei and tell him he will be along for the evening at the airport in Thailand, and I will be at the Dynasty (so I think). 
 
I call down to the desk at around 3 PM to tell the Dynasty I need to spend another night, and they inform me that they have SOLD MY ROOM and THEY ARE FULL!  Great.  Now I have no place to stay.  I run across the street to the internet cafe to try and find a hotel near the airport that doesn't cost over $200/night. . .
 
On Expedia.com I find the Quality Suites, right near the airport, and as I'm getting ready to book it, I think, this is silly, I should just call them and ask for a better rate.  So, I run back across the street to my hotel, call them, and they tell me there is nothing available for the night.  Hmmm. . . I just about booked it on Expedia.  Back across the street I go, and book into the hotel (in two hours time), on line!  Go figure. 
 
Grab a cab, go to the hotel (which was nice, part of the RCI Time Share deal, although I would never trade nights to stay at the Bangkok Airport!), hit the outdoor food market for dinner, the 7-11 for beer and holed up in my room.  Called Mike in his dayroom after his flight arrived, told him I was going to take the 5 AM shuttle to the airport, try to get checked in in time to meet him before his flight and get the SIM card, and told him the backup plan was to call my folks if anything should change (i.e., he's not going to the hotel, he wasn't able to change his flight, whatever).
 
Although my flight doesn't leave until 8 AM, I got up at 4:30, caught the 5 AM shuttle, and STOOD FIRST IN LINE FOR AN HOUR before they came to start checking us in for the flight.  So, obviously, I missed my husband one more time, as he was already on his flight by the time I got into the airport.
 
Then, after 20 hours of flying, I finally arrive in Chicago.  Grab a cab and tell him to take me to the Extended Stay O'Hare and he tells me he doesn't know where that is.  I get mad, grab my bags back out of the cab, go back inside and call my folks, who then tell me that Mike was unable to change his flight for the next morning and is flying home that night.  SH*T!!!!!!! 
 
Now I decide to try and get back through security into the American Airlines transfer area that I just came out of and see if I can change my flight to that night (in case there were any cancellations).  Finally, I get back in, stand in line, and talk to the people at the desk.  GOOD NEWS!  They tell me there is a seat available on Mike's flight (which leaves in 40 minutes 3 terminals away), but that I have to pay $150.  Now, I already paid $150 to change these tickets once, and the ONLY reason I was on the next morning flight was there weren't any seats on this flight, so WHY SHOULD I HAVE TO PAY AGAIN NOW THAT THERE IS A SEAT AVAILABLE!?!?!  As I'm waiting for the manager (and time is ticking by quickly) they also tell me that American Airlines has changes there international flight luggage weight to 50 pounds (my bag weights 60).  I tell them I LEFT TWO MONTHS AGO, BEFORE THEY CHANGED THIS RULE. . .GOD!!!!!!!!
 
In the end, I got my boarding pass and my bag checked without spending a dime, the flight was delayed another 45 minutes, and Mike and I exchanged big hugs in the terminal, before turning unhappy (from all the flying, etc), and called and cancelled our hotel room 10 minutes before we would have had to pay a cancellation fee.  While we were waiting for the plane to arrive from Grand Rapids, Mike finally gave me my SIM card, which didn't work, because THE WHOLE TIME I HAD MY SIM CARD IN MY OLD PHONE WHICH WE HAD BOTH FORGOT ABOUT!!!!! hahaha.  What a couple idiots.
 
And, then we got home.  What a wonderful feeling.
 
Pictures of Bali follow, and if you want updates while we're at home, click the Posts from Home link!
 
 

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View from top of the hotel in Jimbaran over the roofs of the seafood restaurants. . . .YUMMY

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Mikey swimming in the pool

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Sunset over the Indian Ocean during our dinner!

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Beach at Sanur

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Part of pre-Nyepi Day celebration. . . parade down to the beach

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Some strange llama-like apparition in the parade

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Pool area at our new hotel in Kuta

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Looking down the beach from our resort