Photo Friday: What does a $7 beach bungalow look like?

Posted by Ted on Jun 24, 2011 in Photography

In honor of Afar’sSF Meetup to share travel highlights“, wherein I presented a 30-slide show in 10 minutes on some of the best stories from our Southeast Asian Adventure,

I bring you a $7 beach bungalow.

A $7 beach bungalow on Gili Air

After being not quite the only people in the world to have been unimpressed with our experience in Bali, we escaped to Gili Air, an island small enough to circumambulate¬†in 90 minutes. Our favorite memory of Bali is actually watching the sun set behind it from the comfort of our daybed at ‘Wanderer‘, our home for over two gloriously relaxing weeks.

Sunset over Bali

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Life on Gili Air

Posted by Ted on Oct 11, 2010 in Travel

I’ve never been a fan of flip-flops, the footwear of choice here in Southeast Asia. With a ‘no-shoes’ policy in many homes, restaurants, and spiritual places, their ease of coming on and off one’s feet is certainly a key feature. That and the fact that they are cheap to make, cheap to buy, appropriately minimal in hot climates, and quick to dry during the rainy season. As perfect as they might be, I’ve never gotten used to the feeling of the small strap rubbing against the inside of my big toe or the flip-flopping of the heel with every step that gives the shoe its name. That said, since coming to the Gilis two weeks ago, the velcro straps on my Tevas have been kept blissfully loose.

The smallest of three small islands just off the northwest coast of Lombok, I can walk around Gili Air in 90 minutes along a narrow path of sand and white coral. Looking outward, the four corners of the island offer a different view – to the north, open water as far as the eye can see; the east offers a sunrise over the northern tip of Lombok, and the bulk of the island’s lush green mountains lie to the south, often covered in clouds. My favorite view is from the hammock I recline in as I write this, on the porch of our “Wanderer” bungalow, looking west across the other two Gili islands, and on a good day you can see the sun set behind the outline of Bali’s sacred volcano, Gunung Agung.

Fronting the coastal path are dozens of bungalow compounds, restaurants, bars, dive shops, money changers, tour organizers, and tiny convenience stores selling biscuits, drinks, and toiletries. The only traffic to speak of are other people on two feet or two wheels, be they bicycles or pony carts. The interior of the island is entirely different. Modest homes and fields for cows, chickens, and boat-building are connected by a maze of twisty dirt roads. While tourists are not unwelcome within the village, most stay to the easily navigable coast, especially at night, even if it means a longer walk around the island.

The pace of life is refreshingly slow. Hot days are spent reading, writing, and napping in the shade, or diving and snorkeling beneath the deep blue waves. Warm nights offer the simple pleasures of watching lightning storms over Lombok and listening to music while sitting at a bar with a bottle of Bintang. The hardest decision one faces is where to eat. Restaurants offer typical Indonesian fare such as fried rice and noodles (as well as Italian, Indian, Mexican, and flat-bread pizza), but the real draw is perusing their selections of the day’s catch and picking your own fish to be grilled. The tuna and vegetable kabobs at Zipp Bar or Chill Out are the bomb. Service tends to be slow, but it hardly matters when one isn’t late to get somewhere. This is also balanced out by the fact that one can hang out undisturbed in a beachside cabana for several hours after finishing a meal, reading, napping, or just listening to the surf.

Our time on Gili Air draws to a close, and there is a part of us that wants to spend the rest of our time on this idyllic little island. We’ve dived among sea turtles, lounged on a day bed with kittens, and watched the tides roll in and out over a coral reef. However, more adventures await us, in Singapore, Malaysia, and the rest of Southeast Asia, and so onward and northward we go.

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Strange things are afoot in Bali

Posted by Ted on Oct 2, 2010 in Travel

When we got married a few years ago, Bali had been a top contender as a honeymoon destination. We ultimately ruled it out in favor of Fiji because it was a bit too far from Boston and a sense that it was a bit too weird. This meant that skipping it a few years ago put it high on the list for our Southeast Asian Adventure. As for that sense of Bali being a bit strange? Without a doubt.

Like most who arrive by plane, our first stop was Kuta, just north of the airport. Warned not to stay long by guidebooks and friends, our 10p arrival after a long day of travel from Bangkok meant that we needed to find someplace relatively close-by to crash. To give us a full day of rest and planning our escape, we arranged two nights at Hotel Sayang Maha Mertha in the slightly quieter north edge of town. Overrun with tourists, Krazy Kuta’s famed beach is littered with trash and the narrow streets are slow moving rivers of noisy traffic. We couldn’t wait to leave.

We dubbed Ubud as being ‘Better than Kuta’, but while worthwhile, our three days there were distinctly unsatisfying. Supposedly the center of cultural and spiritual enlightenment, the Eat, Pray, Love crowd might find it distressing that it’s just another tourist town with its share of Starbucks, RipCurl, Dolce & Gabbana, and the ubiquitous Circle K. Thankfully, we didn’t have to stay in Ubud itself, finding a ‘homestay’ in Siangan, across from a rice paddy in a small village about 15 minutes away. A must-see in Ubud is the Sacred Monkey Forest, which we snuck into one morning before the ticket booth opened – there are no gates, and the locals use the walkways to get around. When the cheeky macaques weren’t eating yams, grooming each other, or engaging in random sexual acts, they swarmed us looking for handouts. During a moment of distraction while looking at a map, one of the monkeys made off with our sunscreen. We eventually got it back after he’d lost interest, albeit with a few bite marks. Our one foray into culture was watching a ‘Kecak and Fire Trance Dance’, wherein a hundred men provided vocal chatter during a reenactment of the story of Rama and Sita being tricked by Rawana, followed by a man on a hobby horse kicking around flaming coconuts.

We left Ubud after three days and rode a ‘bemo’ – their local mass transport, essentially a large van with bus seats – and headed southeast to Padang Bai, where we caught the slow boat to Lombok. The first westerners to board, we were the center of a feeding frenzy of pushy vendors. We inadvertently discovered an unspoken rule upon trying to buy some water when we said we were not interested in the first vendor’s small water in favor of the larger bottle being offered by vendor #2. Apparently, the first vendor gets dibs, so we had to first buy from them before we could buy from the second seller. Amusingly, we could have bought the large bottle, chilled, from the boat’s bar for the same price. Almost five hours later, we pulled into Lembar harbor and met our onward transport to Senggigi, where we spent the night.

Finally, the next morning we hopped on a dive boat bound for Gili Air, the closest of three small islands off the northwest coast of Lombok. The furthest is Gili Trawangan, the party island which most of the tourists flock to, with nightly parties going late into the night. Sleepy Gili Meno is the quiet middle island, and like the story of the three bears, Gili Air is just right – chill and relaxed, but with a number of restaurants and lodging options. With a bit of an “anything goes” mentality, there is no police force on any of the islands, and any issues need to be brought to the village elder. Because of their small size, the Gilis are blessedly free of motor vehicles – one gets around by donkey cart, bicycle, or their own two feet.

We were met at the dock by a tout who showed us to one of the best bungalows on the island, which also happens to be one of the cheapest. Situated on the quiet southwestern corner of Gili Air, we have a view of Lombok, the other Gilis, and the sun sets behind Bali in the distance. The price? We negotiated down to $8/night from $11. While Gili T might be the craziest island, Gili Air is not without strange character. Walking down the sandy path that circumnavigates the island (which takes about 90 minutes), many of the bar/restaurants and lodging complexes have a distinctly Burning Man theme camp feel to them, beckoning passers-by to stop in and hang out for as long as they like. The pinnacle of absurd familiarity is the day-glo blacklit Space Bar, complete with aliens, lights, and a kick-ass sound system playing psytrance. Needless to say, we feel right at home.

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