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Tuesday, January 03, 2017

Bali Travel Diary - Part 1

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Standing on the train station platform it hadn't really sunk in yet. It hadn't sunk it that I'd just completed a five year law degree and was suddenly free, no longer having to worry about completing assignments and getting to classes. It hadn't sunk in that the end of year getaway my friends and I had planned months ago was finally about to get underway.

The train pulled up onto the platform and I lugged my baggage on board. Of course it wouldn't be a typical travel experience without a little bit of struggle. With my friends already on board, it seemed they had seated themselves right up the front of the train. Getting on in the middle carriage, me and another friend who had gotten on at the same station, woefully carried and dragged my bag through the carriages. Finding our path blocked as we reached the end of one carriage and realised a whole other train had been connected, we quickly scrambled out of one carriage, onto the platform we'd stopped at, and then into the next; and then continued to drag my bag through the carriages until we finally reached the group.

As we all sat together and talked about how excited we were to finally be going on this trip, on the seats in front of us were a group of older women. There was eight of us and eight of them. They chatted away loudly and excited, all adorning Hawaiian shirts and cracking hilarious, inappropriate jokes. When we eventually reached their stop and they filed out of the carriage, looking around at our group, it was like we'd had just had a glimpse into our future. It was quite a beautiful and positive mirror image to be presented with.

When we eventually got to the airport and were able to check in our baggage, it suddenly felt like the holiday had really began. No longer weighed down by our bags, our energy lifted and first priority was to find ourselves cocktails. We descended on the the Heineken House bar and gave the staff plenty to do as we all lined up and ordered ourselves a drink. It was my first time trying the famous 'Cosmopolitan' and boy was it strong!


Before we knew it, it was time to stock up on water and snacks and board our flight.

A smooth take off and equally smooth landing was the first sign that this holiday was going to be a good one. Landing in the hot and humid Bali in December last year, this would be my second visit to the region, but would be quite different from my last.

I last found myself whizzing through the bustling streets of Kuta and Seminyak five years earlier as an infamous schoolie. While Bali schoolies has a preceding reputation, I'm not one to hide my face in shame when I admit where I spent ten days celebrating the end of my school days away. That trip had been only my second time out of the country, and the first with just friends and no parents.

The wonderful coincidence of this journey to Indonesia almost exactly five years later (we went just one week later than I previously had), was that this time I was celebrating finishing University.

We landed at around 10.30pm at Depensar airport, after having left Sydney at around 5.30pm. I unfortunately do not have the gift of being able to sleep on airplanes, in fact I've been burdened with the exact opposite; I find it almost impossible until my body gets to the point it just can't stay awake any longer. As my luck would have it, for me this was about an hour and a half before we landed, meaning I only had about an hours sleep before the lights flicked on and the pilot announced he was beginning to descent - safe to say I was feeling quite wrecked by the time we hit the tarmac.

The airport had a much different feeling to it compared to my last visit. When I touched down back in 2011, the aftermath of the Schapelle Corby scandal and the Bali Bombings was still in the forefront of most people's minds. This created an airport full of tension, overly serious looking staff and many policeman walking around with excessively sized rifles. This didn't dampen the trip at all, in fact, with so many people warning me about how apparently 'horrible' and 'not fun' this place would be, I had such a low expectation that I was actually super surprised with how much I enjoyed myself. What it did do it present to me a noticeable difference during my latest visit.

I wish I could remember the details of my first trip; I feel like there'd be some seriously funny and entertaining stories to tell. Alas, the details of my most recent trip will have to suffice.

This time around there were a lot less serious looking staff, there was not a rifle in sight, and the whole airport had a much more relaxed 'vibe'; another sign to me that this was going to be a good trip.

Feeling wrecked while disembarking the plane, we perked up a little bit as we made our way to baggage collection and realised we were finally on this end of year trip that we'd be looking forward to for months. Things only got better when we walked into the arrivals section to see our driver holding up our sign, full of energy and just looking adorable. The eight of us packed into a mini van and made our way to the region of Ubud.

Ubud is about an hour drive from Denpasar airport. It's considered a major arts and cultural centre for Indonesia, and the district is surrounded by mountains, rainforest and rice paddies. There are also a lot of temples and shrines scattered throughout this region.


Even though we were making our way through the roads and streets in almost the middle of the night,  that didn't cause the hustle and bustle of the city to calm. While there might not be any traffic jams causing you hour upon hour of delays, there were still plenty of people whizzing around in their cars and on their mopeds and motorbikes. For anyone who has never been to Indonesia or never really seen what the road traffic is like there, I would say the majority of the population get around on either mopeds, motorbikes or things that at least look similar to something of the sort. Everyone of all ages piles on to these two-wheeled vehicles, sometimes carrying their pets, assortments of objects or, as we encountered during on our trip back to the airport at the end of our holiday, carrying out daily necessities like breast feeding a child (yep, our bus literally drove past a woman on a bike doing so #strongindependentwoman).

Our villa for the next few nights was located up in the rainforest mountains of Ubud, so you can imagine our bus needed to make it's way upwards to get us there. Another thing about Indonesia and it's roads if you've never been there or never really seen them before; apart from in the area near the airport, their roads aren't very wide, in fact the layout of all their regions is so different from our own,  I can understand why people would experience culture shock when traveling there, especially if it was your first time ever leaving your home country.

In Australia, we like to spread everything out. We like big houses with lots of land, spacious offices and buildings with room for huge garden displays and larger than life fountains. In Indonesia, it's basically the polar opposite. They will utilise every single piece of space they can. Houses, shops and stalls are packed in next to each other, most roads are often only big enough for one car to travel one way at a time, and if the road does happen to fit two lanes of traffic it is quite literally only big enough for two cars as long as they are almost touching mirrors.

Continuing with the theme of packing in close, everyone drives nice and close to one another. In Australia people would scream road rage from their windows thinking you were tailgating them, but in Indonesia, a moped cutting in front of a car or bus, or a bus stopping or driving so close to the vehicle in front they are practically touching is nothing out of the ordinary.

Another feature, which I find quite beautiful, is how they seem to build all their structures into the surrounding natural landscape. Trees, shrubs and all sorts of greenery seem to grow with the structures, poking out of any available corner. While it may not make for the most aesthetically pleasing looking streets, they are certainly keeping good relations with Mother Nature in that respect.

Anyway back to our treacherous climb up the steep roads to our villa. While I'd like to think I somewhat got use to making the journey up the mountain when we returned home everyday, there was always a part of me that wasn't so sure if we'd make it up this time around. Driving a manual, our driver (who's name, quite terribly on my part, has escaped me) would drop it into a low gear and rev the shit out of the engine as we slowly wound up the mountain. Mopeds would be zooming around us as they flew up the hill, and every corner turned would be a new descent, which brought a fresh and increased rev in the engine. However, as you can probably figure from me sitting at home recounting this, we made it up and back every single trip.


The villa we stayed in was called Villa Santai, and it was beautiful! When we finally reached the villa and stepped through the entrance doors, we were all completely and utterly blown away! It honestly did not sink in for about 24 hours that we had this entire villa to ourselves. Villa accommodation was never something I had stayed in before because I'd never traveled with such a high number of people before but let me tell you, if you're heading to Bali on a group trip, you can't go past splitting the cost of villa accommodation.

No words or pictures can ever truely capture the beauty that was this villa, but I'll attempt to anyway.

Walking through two big wooden doors, and down a couple of stone steps we were greeted with a beautiful origami display of Christmas trees hanging between the two rooms on either side that were the kitchen and bar area that the staff utilised for us. Beyond that was a specular panoramic view of our villa and the magnetic rainforest view it looked out upon. Walking up on to a covered area, the sitting options were endless. In the middle was a sunken three sided lounge, to the left was a lounge area with a TV and sound system, a covered bar area was situated behind that, and to the right was our huge round dining table which was currently covered with a late dinner that the amazing staff had prepared for us. While my body was dying to get some decent food into it, we all needed a moment to revel in the excitement and beauty of this villa, running around saying 'oh my gosh' and 'no way' more than any group of people should.


Beyond the covered seating area was the undeniable amazing centrepiece of the villa, the infinity pool, which also had two more covered seating areas on either side of it, as well as some double lounge chairs in front of it. Then, to top it all off, the entire top floor looked out onto an amazing rainforest valley. It was so green and luscious, and the sounds of nature surrounded us, it was honestly unbelievable, and we kept expecting to find out that we'd have to share this place with others; but no, it was all for us. So where were the bedrooms?


Directed by one of the staff, we discovered there were a set of stone staircases on each side of the villa which lead down to the bedrooms. With two bedrooms on each side, each had a similar setup. Walking into the rooms you'd be greeted with the king sized bed that was surrounded with a white mosquito net and made you feel super princess-like. As you walked through the little, double wooden doors, to your right would be another single wooden door which lead to a massive dressing room and which had robes hanging waiting for us!

Walking around the massive room, the whole front section was covered with curtains. Drawing back the curtains opened up another amazing view of the mountain valley as well as a screen door which we could open and walk out onto a small grassy area to get a better view. All the way to the other side of the room was the door to the bathroom. Opening the door revealed a double sink area with a massive mirror to our right. Walking further in you came across the open shower and then behind that the toilet area.


We all dumped our stuff and headed back upstairs to down some much needed food and continue to sit in amazement at our accommodation. As we ate we were informed that our driver who had picked us up from the airport wasn't just there for our airport transfer, but to drive us wherever we needed for the entirety of our stay at the villa. Also that the staff and maids we be around if we ever needed anything throughout the day and would be back tomorrow morning to cook our daily complimentary breakfast.

Heading to bed, we weren't quite sure what we were going to do tomorrow, or get up to for the rest of the trip at that, but in that moment all of us were to beside ourselves with excitement, joy and happiness to be in such a beautiful place with each other having just conquered a five year degree, to care. That was tomorrow morning's problem.




Stayed tuned for Part 2 of this Bali travel diary to find out about the terrible torrential downpour that was our first day.

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