Parul and I had gone to Indonesia for this year’s vacation. Indonesia is an island country with a mindblowing 17,504 islands! We had spent the first half of the vacation in Lombok. We took a fast boat from Gili Trawangan, our last stop in Lombok, and headed back to Bali for the rest of the the vacation.
A Diving Paradise
The fast boat from Gili Trawangan dropped us at Amed, a small fishing town to the north east of Bali. Amed had been recommended to us multiple times since we had started our vacation. While Trawangan was initially planned as our diving destination, we dropped it in favour of Amed. The fast boat took less than two hours to cross the sea from Lombok to Bali. This boat was definitely faster but much more prone to motion sickness. It jumped from one wave to another, crashing with loud thuds and although we got used to it quickly enough, I would still prefer the slow service across the islands.
We reached Amed and got a free drop-off to our guesthouse. It was towards the far end of Amed, quite beautiful and cozy but right on the highway. We were willing to overlook this slight inconvenience since we were planning to dive anyway, which would keep us out of the guesthouse for most of the day.
Our Guesthouse at Amed
There was always a beautiful view of Agung from the guesthouse that did not influence our decision in any way. 😏
We settled into the place and started looking for a diving school. Having dived last in Koh Tao, I was expecting that I would have to talk to quite a few schools and it would take a day or two to finalize who we were going to dive with. Amed was a much smaller setup with much fewer options to choose from. And the schools mostly sold on language specializations. We talked to two schools and booked our dive for the next day with Bintang Divers.
That night we walked along the beach, listened to some French music play in a reggae bar and eventually settled for a private karaoke session with a group of locals jamming on the far side of the beach. Being the only customers at the shack, we were given a lot of special treatment. Fresh dinner was prepared for us. The band also tried to sing Hindi songs when they realised that we were Indians. All of us drank, sang songs and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. 🍹 🎸 🎤
The next morning we were picked up by Blenk from our guesthouse after breakfast and drove the 2 minutes to Bintang’s office in a van. Brata was the main instructor, a Balinese guy with a friendly warm smile. Blenk was a dive master who assisted Brata. He was a muck expert with an eye for spotting small creatures in the black sand beaches of Amed. Brata was to be Parul’s instructor and Blenk was to be my dive-buddy. This was another first for Parul and our choice of dive sites were delayed till after the pool session when Brata would teach Parul the basics and assess how she was doing. I also practiced my buoyancy in the pool since it had been a while since my last dive and I was doing a refresher course. Both of us did well and the dive site was to be the wreck of USS Liberty in Tualamben.
Tulamben was a 30 minute drive away and the wreck of USS Liberty was the main attraction of this bay. There were a lot of divers in various states of the dive or it’s preparation on the beach. The rocky beach and the crashing waves made the entry a bit difficult but Brata guided us through the process and we found ourselves floating in the ocean without incident. When Blenk pointed his thumb down, I deflated my BCD and we sank into the blue ocean. The wreck was right in front of us and it was HUGE! We sank till the surface and I looked up again after a while and the massiveness of the ship took some digesting. I had never seen a ship this big. The maximum had been some big ferries but never a proper ship.
We spent 40-50 minutes under water, swimming along the wreck and gaining depth as we explored further along it’s length. Then we came back up for a short break and went down again for another 40-50 minute session. There were a lot of fishes we saw that day, Moorish Idols, anemone fishes, eels, groupers, trigger-fish and more. But Amed’s specialty are the underwater creatures. On the fist dive I saw an Orangutan Crab and I was extremely elated. I started looking more closely to what Blenk showed me and we spotted Bubble Coral Shrimp, a giant clam and a Shrimp Goby. And of course there were the Hawksbill Turtles. The used to calmly swim about and chew on food, ambivalent to the excited divers around them.
Orangutan Crab (source)
Turtle be so cool! (source)
We came out satisfied and sat having a simple lunch before we headed back to Amed. The topic of discussion was how I was consuming air twice as fast as everyone else! I have no idea why it was happening but I guess that is how I breathe normally; something I have to improve on, though I have no idea how to go about it. How does one change the way he breathes? Brata suggested meditation. I might just as well give it a try!
That night we sat to see a reggae band perform in a bar. The bar was quite full, probably one of the few places to hit in the small town after nightfall. Neither of us were in a mood to get on the dancing floor, so we got our thrill from watching the ones who did. There were some good ones, there were some funny ones and then there was the likes of us who were too tired to move a limb.
We had decided to stay on in Amed for another dive but we took a day off in between. We had hired a scooter and decided to visit some sites around around Amed. One of the more popular attractions was the Lempuyang Temple. We drove through the scenic country side along winding roads, navigating on Google Maps. We parked the scooter next to the temple and were guided by the temple staff. Wearing sarongs was compulsary for everyone in the temple. They gladly provided one for a small fee that they noted down in the name of donation. There upon, a man explained the temple’s setting to us.
The Lempuyang Temples
Lempuyang was actually a group of seven temples! The first being the most popular one, we visited it for the longest duration, clicking photographs and admiring the view of Mount Agung, a mountain that had us mesmerised during our entire stay in Bali. We also got to witness a Hindu ceremony that was being performed at the temple.
We were definitely not obsessed with Agung! 😁
Then we took the scooty and drove to the second temple, which was a short distance away. There were a lot of locals going in the direction on foot, all dresses primarily in white and add a heavy touch of spirituality to the entire setting. The route from the second to the seventh was a mildly challenging uphill hike. Parul decided to sit this one out because her knees were giving her some trouble. I went up a short way, only to be driven back by a group of rogue monkeys. Then I took an alternative route that took me directly to the sixth temple and then the seventh.
Trail to the Seventh
The last temple made the climb worth the effort. The route was scenic and the temple presented another spectacular view of Agung. A random man struck up a conversation with me and more people gathered around. I learnt a lot about Balinese Hinduism during that conversation; how it subtly differed from Indian Hinduism, the concept of household temples, the main gods, the main temples, etc.
The Seventh Temple
More Agung 🌋
I walked back down quickly since it had been almost two hours since I had started climbing. Parul had been making friends and eating the temple offerings with an old shopkeeper when I came back. I sat to catch a breather and then jumped on the scooter and drove away. On the way down, the scooty, surely enough, started throwing tantrums. The front brake failed on the steep decline! It was a scary enough situation and initially I tried going down slowly using the rear brakes. But in parts I had to walk with the scooty and then too barely managed to control it. The front brakes started working on their own after a while and then failed again after a few more curves! 😒 The motto still holds.
Always trust a scooty for an adventure!
Everything was alright once we reached flat land. We were headed to another place of interest close by. This was an ancient palace called Tirta Gangga. It was another short ride but it was close to sunset by the time we reached. The scenery had changed to terrace farms right before the destination and the sunset lighting added a touch of magic to the scenery.
Tirta Gangga Waterworks
We barely got half an hour of sunlight at the palace. Tirta Gannga was a nice and quiet place, very befitting of a palace. There were spectacular water works - fountains, ponds and pools. The main pool was famed to provided long life to anyone who swam in it and was open to visitors as well but we had reached post the closing time of the pool.
There was some very impressive sculpting as well around a courtyard. The details were highly impressive and there was a lifelike quality to the statues in the approaching darkness.
Sculptures at the Courtyard
We waited till the sun went down, walked around the gardens and went back to fetch our scooter to take us back to Amed. It was a day well spent.
The fourth day in Amed, we went back to Bintang’s office for another dive. This time we were diving off the coast of Amed at a spot called the Pyramid. I even tried my hand at underwater photography using my action camera with disastrous results. I still have not got the hang of it.
The dive was quite beautiful. This time there was no ship to awe at but there was an abundance of marine life. The moment we went in, I spotted a sting ray on the floor. While I was excitedly pointing at it, I realised that the entire floor was swarming with them! We swam around the corals and spotted a lot of colourful fishes. There were the usual idols, anemone fishes and sweetlips. We even saw scorpion fishes, groupers, lionfish, ribbon eels and dart fish. There were the turtles again. Parul saw three of them while I saw only one. 😭
But it was the smaller creatures that stole the thunder once again. There was a candy crab, some beautiful chromodoris and the one that fascinated the most was the painted spiny lobster. Beautiful and mesmerising!
The Diving Experience
We came out and thanked Brata and Blenk for the dives. They had made it super easy and fun for us. We chilled at the beach for a bit, drinking a couple of beers and then returned to make arrangements for leaving Amed the next day.
⭐ Bintang! ⭐
While we had initially planned on staying and chilling in Amed, making it our last destination, Parul’s craving for a white sand beach drove us to find an alternate ending for the trip. We finalized on Nusa Lembongan, an island to the south east of Bali. Thus ensued another day of travel. We started early from Amed and reached Sanur towards mid-day. The traffic in Bali was rather hectic but surprisingly no one was honking incessantly or driving irresponsibly! I had thought Indonesia to be much more like India in this regard. But I guess the lack of traffic sense is peculiar only to our part of the world.
We reached Sanur too late to catch a public ferry to Lembongan. The alternatives being too costly, we decided to spend a day in Sanur, checking out the beachside, drinking cheap beer, bargaining for wind chimes, etc.
The next morning we were at the pier to catch the ferry and were shipped quickly to Nusa Lembongan. As usual, we had a free drop to the hotel. One often needs to ask for these free transfers, since it is never mentioned during the ticket sale. We got a drop to our hotel in the heart of the island and checked in and spread ourselves out.
This was the part of our trip when we were going to do nothing. While Lembongan has much to offer; beautiful beaches, paddle boating, mangrove forest tours, snorkelling, diving, kayaking and more, we were interested in none of it. We just rented out a scooter and spent three idle days hunting for shacks to drink in, warungs to eat in and spending time in the guest house’s swimming pool. The guest house was comfortable enough to keep us in the bed for long hours and we had books and beers to keep us company. It was an ideal end to a vacation.
The Art of Chilling
On the evenings, when the sun grew mild, we headed out to explore the island. The western part of Nusa Lembongan is humbling. There is a beach called the Dream Beach and the adjoining Devil’s Tear. The waves here are the hugest I have ever seen. They crash on the rocky face of the island with intimidating force, spraying water into the air. We reached with enough day time on hands to awe at the overwhelming force of the water. The sunset, which is supposed to be spectacular, was shrouded in clouds but we had seen enough amazing sunsets on this trip already. It was the water and huge waves that had all my attention.
Devil's Tear 👹
We rode around every evening and night on the island. There were a few live music gigs going on around the island but we usually chose quieter spots to have some delicious food. I was enjoying the seafood while Parul was mostly tripping on her favourite of the trip - Mie Goreng (fried noodles).
Riding Around Lembongan
The last day of our stay in Lembongan we went to check out Nusa Ceningan, a smaller island to the south east of Lembongan. Ceningan is much less popular with the tourists than Lembongan mostly due to accessebility from the pier and because of the lack of other facilities. However, it was way more raw and beautiful than Lembongan.
We crossed the eye-catching yellow bridge connecting Lembongan to Ceningan and rode on the other side. There was a particular beach we were looking for that we never found. But instead, I forced the scooter up the steep and badly made road.
Sea Weed Farms
We took a random road heading towards the cliffside and found ourselves at a beautiful point called Ceningan Cliffs. There was a beautiful view of Nusa Penida from here with the island looking huge, beautiful and untouched. We spent some time here, sitting and enjoying the breeze with some beer.
Nusa Penida on the other side
Then we moved on to a beach called the Secret Beach. While it was on a well marked road, there were very still very few people there. This beach had a cove like structure that broke down the huge waves at visible distance. It was quite exhilerating to watch. We settled down in the sand and spent the afternoon there; reading, playing around in the sea, clicking photos and drinking more beer. I even ventured a little far into the sea and was forcefully pushed down and back by the water. Oceans are scary!
Perks of the Secret Beach 😆 🍑
Other perks of the Secret Beach
There was a hotel right at this beach that we had considered while booking our Lembongan trip but the dates that we were looking for were not available. We immediately regretted not having another couple of days to spend in this beautiful island and must have thought of all possibilities of what could work, right from spending the last night here, cancelling existing booking and rescheduling flights! 😝
We left late in the afternoon when we got hungry and found some food in a local shop. There was Nasi Campur so we hogged on. The television was playing a dubbed version of some Indian tele-series which Parul could identify. 😂
Indian TV Series for world domination 🙈
Post lunch, we headed to another point called the Blue Lagoon. There were as many shades of blue to be seen as can be imagined. The white of the surf, followed by the light blue of breaking waves, followed by taints deeper and deeper and eventially a different shade of the sky at the horizon. It was picture perfect beautiful.
We saw the sunset from the Mahana Point, a point on a cliff where you could jump off with a surfboard if surfing was your thing. Here the waves were just as huge but swelled calmly before crashing further off at the beach in a distance. I was continuously tripping over the enormity of the waves out here. It was a real shame that we had not discovered Ceningan earlier on the trip!
Another day, another beautiful sunset
Back to India
The next morning, we took another boat ride back to Sanur. This was one day before our flight back was due and the idea was to be closer to airport and to avoid weather uncertainities that could disrupt boat services. But we did not want to return to Kuta so we decided to spend the night in Canggu instead. It is a smaller and less touristy verision of Kuta to the north of it. It looked much like an expat place to me, with branded shops, bakeries and restaurants advertising vegan food.
We checked into the small bamboo hut that we had booked but it was quite a way from the beach. We decided to skip the beach and went hunting for a good tattoo shop to get Parul another first. Babayaga Tattoo was one of the places we had checked online and their work seemed pretty impressive. It was a Russian run and operated outfit. It was not cheap, but I had come to realise that the saying actually held true.
Good tattoos are not cheap and cheap tattoos are not good!
So Parul decided to go ahead with it and Anastasia, her artist, made a sketch for her. It was very much what she was looking for and so an hour later, Parul had a shiny new tattoo on her right leg. [:D]
Work in Progress
On our way out, we ran into one of the most random shops I have ever been to. They sold vinyls, CDs, casettes, figurines, Super Mario and what not! It was an interesting hour long shuffling through the shop’s catalogue while browsing and listening to music. The shop’s owner engaged us in an interesting conversation about music and we ended up picking up a Steely Dan LP!
We had some Nasi Campur on the way and returned to the room with a few Radlers and spent the night intending to rest. Little did we know that the neighbourhood roosters would be up and cock-a-doodling from 2 in the night!
The next morning we packed up in a sleep deprived state, ate one last meal of Nasi Campur, and booked a cab to the airport. The cabbie put on Hindi songs as soon as he realised that we were Indians. Not that we were big fans of Bollywood music, but we had found it difficult to explain throughout the trip and we were not about to start now.
The airport treated us to one last meal of Indonesian food and Balinese dance that we had managed to dodge till then. Indonesia had been much lovelier than I had expected. We left with a strong intention to come back to the country. There was so much this country had to offer!
Here is the complete album of the Bali leg of the vacation.