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Arrival in Bali, Nusa Lembongan & Nusa Penida

After a fantastic week in Singapore, we flew on Sunday 4th June to Bali, Indonesia. We plan to spend a full month in the area around Bali and Lombok, so should have plenty of time to explore a few areas, a lot of where we are planning to go to is influenced by several friends who have been here before and recommended certain places, but Bali is very well-known tourist spot so we assume it’s where most people will go.

One of the first places we wanted to go was Nusa Lembongan, a small island about 30 minutes from Bali, but because we landed at night, we couldn’t go straight to there, so we headed over to the east side of Bali to Sanur, which is the closest port to get the boat to Nusa Lembongan, it’s more of a holiday destination than a backpacker hub, we just spent a couple of nights there to do some planning for the month ahead and sort out a boat to take us over.

Our first night, we arrived at the airport to find out that what everybody says about the taxi touts at Denpasar airport is 100% true, they are relentless, hundreds of them hassling you all the time, wanting 150,000+ Rupiah (£9) for the taxi journey to Sanur, when we knew the Uber rate was 50,000. We booked an Uber, but soon realised that Uber drivers won’t come anywhere near that part of the airport because they get attacked by the taxi drivers for daring to give people a cheaper ride.

We walked to where the Uber driver told us to meet him, and got to Sanur for 45,000, but we gave him a tip just for saving us a fortune over the airport touts. He actually told us that he was driving somebody else’s car currently because he had his windscreen smashed by the airport drivers who were against Uber and other cheaper taxis. It turns out this would be a theme of transport in Bali.

We only stayed in Sanur for one full day, then the next day went down to the pier for the boat over to Nusa Lembongan, we went with the plan to take the local slow boat, but when we got there, we found out it would take three times longer than a fast boat, for not that much cheaper and the waves were particularly high that day, over three metres, so it was going to be a rough crossing. In the end we got on a fast boat, it was a pretty rough, horrible crossing, but we survived it, it seems that this is the norm here, to be on an overcrowded speed boat smashing in to huge waves with little in the way of safety provisions.

When we arrived in Nusa Lembongan, the boat company drove us straight to where we were staying, we picked up a scooter and set off to go and explore the island. The island is so much busier than we expected it to be, the roads are only narrow and Bemos (small transport trucks with benches in the back) fly up and down all day long making it a bit busy on the roads at times. But as soon as you get away from the main tourist centres, it gets much quieter.

We rode down to dream beach that is known for having big swells but not very swimmable, the views were nice, so we took a couple of pictures then carried on. On the other side of Nusa Lembongan, there is a bridge connecting it to the next island, Nusa Ceningan, and because this is only wide enough for bikes, it means that over there is much calmer and quieter, so over we went on the bike to go and explore the island.

We rode to the furthest south point on the island because we had read that there was a resort there with an infinity pool on the clifftop edge, we soon found it down some bumpy dirt tracks and saw the incredible views out over the ocean and the swells and huge crashing waves below, very nice and peaceful, a world away from the centre of Lembongan.

On the way back we stopped at a clifftop cafe on Lembongan, looking out over the north of the island and the mangroves, the views are just amazing around here. The evening was spent having a couple of Arak (local rice spirit) cocktails watching the sunset over the beach, then a local meal in a warung before relaxing on the terrace playing cards and drank a bottle of port we had brought with us from Singapore airport.

The local food around here in the warungs is amazing, definitely some of the nicest food in Asia, the Nasi Campur, which is a mixed rice dish with whatever they have at that time like tofu, tempe, chicken, green beans, bean sprouts crackers, spicy sambal etc. It is one of our favourite dishes of the trip so far, different every time, cheap, and extremely tasty, especially with the local kecap manis, which is a sweet, thick soy sauce.

Of the three Nusa islands, the furthest one away is Nusa Penida, it’s also the biggest and with very little there is mainly jungle and local villages. We were enjoying Lembongan, but as it was much busier than we were expecting we both agreed we would go and check out Nusa Penida after we had finished here.

After three nights, we packed up our things, jumped on the back of the bikes of the hotel owners and they rode us down to the bridge on the other side of the island where local boats leave to Nusa Penida. They charged us a quite extortionate 100,000 (that’s more than double what the 45 minute Uber cost in Bali) just to take us on their bikes for 10 minutes, but as there is no other public transport or taxis here in Lembongan, we had no choice.

They told us that they knew a boat to Penida would take 15 minutes and was 50,000 each (£3), but as soon as they dropped us off they sped off before even telling any of the boatmen where we wanted to go, so we knew immediately they’d probably lied. There wasn’t many other people waiting to go to Penida, and another couple there had already agreed to pay 100,000 each, but I refused and said we weren’t paying it, after lots of negotiation and us nearly getting back off the boat once, we ended up paying 75,000 each for a tiny little fishing boat to drive for 15 minutes.

As soon as we agreed, two more locals jumped on and we set off, I wasn’t best pleased when we got to the other side and I saw the locals pay 10,000 each. So far it had cost us 250,000 Rupiah (£15) and we’d only travelled about five kilometers.

We walked around the local town to look for some accommodation, but the only place there was a dive centre, which appropriately, was an absolute dive, and expensive. So we had a scan on the internet, found another town 20 minutes away and headed towards there, that was another 100,000 down for the bemo to take us there. We found the one place there that had decent reviews, they said they had a room but it wasn’t available yet, and there wasn’t anywhere else within walking distance.

We went for some lunch, then waited again and at 2pm they eventually showed us the room, it was the worst room we had seen since we set off, and they wanted more money for it than we had paid at all so far in Indonesia, it was dirty, and absolutely stank.

At this point, it hadn’t been a great day, we’d spent loads of money and hours looking for somewhere to stay and were running out of ideas. You see, that’s the thing about coming to an island where hardly anybody comes to, there’s not much in the way of amenities or choice, but this is what we wanted to see so we had to find a way to fix it.

“A chicken walks in to a bar”

I came up with a plan that we’d leave our bags in the room at the hovel we’d been waiting for and use their bike to go and ride around and find something better. We drove along the coast road for about 10 minutes and found another small village with a temple and a few bungalows, we stopped at one that looked nice but they only had one night available, the other place next door had none available at all, it wasn’t looking good.

But all of a sudden, everything changed, the extremely friendly guy who worked at the bungalows we had asked at told us to follow him, because his cousin had a place that wasn’t finished yet but it was cheaper and available now. So we jumped on the bike and followed him, he pulled up at some bungalows just around the corner that looked practically brand new, and only had locals staying there who come over to the island just to pray at the local temple.

The room was nice, the owners were super happy and friendly, and when we explained that our bags were 10 minutes away and this wasn’t our bike, they came with us to collect our bags, carried them back for us, then even did the round trip a second time to pick me up once I’d taken the previous place their bike back. And all this cost us… nothing. They were just helping us because we were stuck and they were nice people.

It really did restore our faith in people after getting ripped off all morning, and it was certainly a trait of the local people on Nusa Penida, some of the happiest and most friendly people we have come across since we set off, now we were seeing the great side of coming to an island that tourists don’t come to.

The next three days in Nusa Penida were amazing, everywhere we went we got greeted with smiles and people wanting to talk to us. A couple of bungalows down from ours, a family from Bali were sat outside one morning when we were heading out, the guy was asking us about where we had been and we told him we would be going to Ubud next, he said that’s their home and gave us his address and told us if we needed anything to just go to his place.

We explored around Nusa Penida by bike, but it is a big island and the roads, other than the one main coast road, are not actually roads, just bumpy stone strewn tracks where you can’t travel more than about 10km/h. We went to crystal cove beach which was beautiful, but a bit rough for swimming or snorkelling, then went to find another place called Angel Billabong, but we got seriously lost, had no maps and ended up miles away from where we needed to be.

After stopping at a shop for a cold drink, we asked some locals about where we needed to go, they pointed in the right direction then we must have had to ask about fifteen more people over the next hour which way to go, it was exactly how travelling should be done, without Google maps, and just talking to the local people, it was one of my favourite experiences of the trip. In the end, we rode for two hours before we eventually got to Angel Billabong on the longest, bumpiest ‘road’ in the world.

Just outside of where we were staying, right opposite the main Hindu temple of the island was a small locals warung, it was where all the people from around this area go when they go to the temple to pray. We later learnt that the local people around here go around all year to try to pray at each and every temple in the region at least once, each temple has a different significance to them so they travel long distances all the time to visit many temples, quite stunning dedication to their religion.

Back to the warung I was talking about, we went there on our first morning and I had the local Nasi Campur for breakfast and Stac had a coffee, we thought they had mis-calculated the price when they asked us for 15,000 total (90 p). But no, the full Nasi Campur cost 12,000 and a coffee 3,000. We then ate there for breakfast, lunch and dinner for the next two days, even taking dinner as takeaway at our terrace, which they cooked fresh then delivered to us, although it was only about a 50 metre walk 🙂

On our first night, we were sat having a drink overlooking the ocean, when a couple mentioned to us about a ceremony happening that evening at the temple where they would be releasing Turtles in to the ocean as part of a religious ceremony with the local conservation organisation that was rescuing and looking after many animals here, including Turtles.

We went down to the beach in front of the temple, and it was a very special event to be a part of, the village elders came down and performed the ceremony and the turtles were released in to the water. Because of the shallow water sea weed farms, there was the possibility that turtles couldn’t find their way out to the deep, so the locals even went in and swam with them to guide them out and help them find their way out. After the formal ceremony, they came and handed out food boxes to everybody with some local specialities in, because like many place in Asia, food is just a way of life here, life revolves around food… perhaps Stac is actually Indonesian, it’s a thought 🙂

The last day in Nusa Penida we returned to crystal cove beach again and had a swim and relaxed there for the day, we were in two minds whether to stay longer because we had loved Penida so much, but we know we can come back any time in the next month, and we want to go and see Ubud in Bali then head over to Lombok and the Gili Islands, so we decided three days was enough for now and set off back towards Bali, but I’ll tell you all about that next time…

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