I was never really keen on visiting Bali. I had been told it had nothing to do with Indonesia and I kind of believed that without needing to see it for myself. And yet, in February 2020, when I ran out of ideas where to spend Chinese new year and also celebrate my birthday, I did. But instead of Bali, completely wooed by beautiful photos and uniform boasting reviews, I decided to travel to Nusa Lembongan, convinced that it could be what I was looking for. Still Bali but not Bali really. See what I mean?
OK. The airport in Bali (Depansar) is probably the worst I have been to. It lacks structure to deal with the large influx of tourists, it’s huge and packed, messy, and a complete pain to get out from. All the waits and checks and stuff took about an hour and that was quick because when I saw the masses of people going towards the passport control, I ran like crazy to go past all of them as I had a boat to catch. And I still waited long AF.
Boat transfer in Sanur
To get to any of the Nusas, you will need to go to Sanur and take a boat there. Make sure you know where exactly you are heading on the islands as there are different boats running different bays. Most hotels and guesthouses will arrange that for you and I advise you use that service as it’s sort of hassle free. Despite the delays at the airport, my transfer worked out well and I got to Sanur harbour just in time. I have to give thumbs up to the guys who picked me up as they drove fast and made a couple phone calls to make sure I got on the boat at 2pm. Sanur itself however was an interesting experience because after my trip to Bangkok in 2017 this was the first place after having been travelling in Asia ever since where I was elegantly ripped off right at the start of the trip. Having been to Indonesia before, I hadn’t expected this as I always felt such practices were rather rare in this country. Guess not.
Slow Counting Scam Tactic in Sanur
There are many tactics scammers use and the one the guy selling tickets did on me was so called slow counting. They are expert. They take your bag so quickly that you lose the sight of it and have no idea which boat it’s on. First mistake. This makes you confused so you want to get it over with quickly and go after your bag. I knew my transfer was Rp. 700, 000, so I had a similar amount in my wallet. I started laying the hundreds one by one, counting to myself along. The rascal at the counter thought he would join and slowly counted with me. After laying the last one, he goes, oh madam one more. It’s just 6 hundred. The minute he said it I knew I was scammed. I tried to locate the hundred somewhere, checking him and the tiny booth, but obviously it was futile. Master of slow counting. The hundred was probably already on his account. Like I said, experts. I told him I hoped karma would get him, since all islanders take some weird pride in karma, yet they still try to rip you off as much as possible in places like that. Then I muttered to myself that I hoped for him to get stuffed with that hundred. The good thing was though that my bag and I made it to Nusa Lembongan just fine.
Beach shock – Jungutbatu, No please
OK. I’m a complete beach junkie. I’ve already mentioned that many times. I booked Segara Beach Inn as it had fantastic reviews, commenting on both the wonderful accommodation and even more wonderful beach. Bloody hell. Another lesson, don’t trust all the reviews and certainly not the retouched Google photos. The guesthouse itself wasn’t that bad though not exactly that great either. But the beach? Holy mishmash!
The beach was in all honesty the worst I had ever been to in my life. Really, I mean, when I badmouthed beaches in my recent post about Phu Quoc, I hadn’t quite seen the beach apocalypse yet. It was laid before my eyes here, on Jungutbatu. It was full of piles of greenish, sleazy sea weed, it stank as a fisherman’s den, it was dirty, hot as coffee, as I made the terrible mistake of dipping in, and it made me want to puke. I was about to cry. ‘Eight days here in this dump, what am I going to do?’, I thought.
Karma gives back – Meeting Maria
So as the start of it seemed rather brutal, and as I washed the dirt from the sea in a not so nice nor soap equipped shower, I tried to set my mind on positives. ‘I’ll read,’ I told myself, trying hard not to sink into deeper depression. After the shower, I quickly dressed and set off for a walk on the beach to see if it’s all the same disaster. As I walked and observed the dirt and loads of boats parked in the shallow murky waters, I saw a woman walking towards me with a somewhat agitated face. “Don’t walk that way,” she said. “There is a dead dog there,” she explained, pointing her finger in that direction. ‘Fuck me and throw me into this cesspool, I’m doomed,’ I cried to myself inside my head. ‘My holiday is doomed,’ I thought. ‘That will be a lot of reading to do and keep my sanity,’ I continued pondering, staring at the dark haired herald of bad news.
Anyways, we started chatting and it turned out Maria was from Greece. Yay! I immediately switched to fluent Greek. You see how sometimes skills you have learnt but thought were useless, come in handy. We instantly created a team, though temporarily only. She had this bossy feel about her, but at the beginning I didn’t mind. Being curious, she immediately said she wanted to see my room. At first I was hesitant but then thought why not. It’s nothing special, so why should I mind, I figured. When she saw that, she moved her corners in a slight disdain, asked me how much I paid, and long story short, within an hour and with her help I moved to a place further down the road where she lived. It’s called Coconut Village.
And I can’t recommend it enough. Beautiful place, beautiful family, beautiful sleep and way cheaper! Thanks karma! Yuni, the owner, went above and beyond and made my stay truly enjoyable. Do check them out if you want to stay in this area. I believe that if you ride a motorbike, this could be a perfect spot then.
We spent the evening with Maria, having dinner, chatting, me having beers and it was great. I felt so much better. And having a conversation in Greek, really didn’t think this would happen here in Asia. Maria also gave me another idea, and that is to go to Ubud instead of staying there for 8 days. Meeting her was a blessing.
Trip to Nusa Penida
The next day we went to Nusa Penida by boat just to check it out. It was interesting. Maria was a Greek living in Germany. She had all the attributes of a Greek and a German, which was a mix hard to handle for me at times, but I saw her as a saviour and tried to perceive it all positively. I had to control my emotions so as not to snap at her when she snapped at me. Because I knew that would end badly. So I just kinda followed her somewhat patiently, knowing this was her last day, so there was no point taking it too seriously.
But that boss in her was good at times. When our bodies were swung violently left and right in the tuk tuk – take the serpentines, hills and Indonesian tuk tuk driver mindset, and you don’t need a roller coaster – Maria, banging on the driver’s cabin, shouted: “Heeeeeey, slow down you crazy!” which was the Greek in her. “Or, provide us with a belt so that we don’t kill ourselves here!” which was the German. That moment all my energy went to holding the laugh outburst. That was just super hilarious, though I had to give it to her, it probably wasn’t the safest ride. But belt? In a tuk tuk? I’m still laughing as I write this.
Upon reaching Nusa Penida, we ended up having nice lunch and a chat (that is after Maria almost scolded me for ordering an avocado smoothie which would held us up some 5 to 10 minutes – but Indonesian avocado smoothies are to die for, so sorry no chance I’d skip that), hanging out with a bunch of local kids. I also had a swim which pretty much sucked too but it was definitely better than the previous one.
For the record, Nusa Penida’s landscape is even more dramatic and hilly. The whole island is even less developed than its sister Nusa Lembongan so if you go, make sure you have a good motorbike, driving skills and insurance.
Exploring Nusa Lembongan
The next morning I set my mind on finding a better beach, whatever the cost. I arranged renting a bicycle with Yuni and meant to go to the Mushroom bay. If I omit the fact that I had to push the rusty and worn down bicycle most of the times, as the terrain of the island is rather hilly and dramatic, it was a nice excursion around the island and suddenly life seemed better.
When I reached Mushroom bay, I made some friends on the way in cozy coffee shop Mushroom espresso and finally discovered a beach that was beautiful, ‘swimmable’ and totally up my street. Wooohooo! There were distractions, but compared to Jungutbatu it was a complete paradise! Yay, I found my spot!
Tour around the islands
Nanda, my new friend from Mushroom espresso, offered a tour around Nusa Lembongan and Nusa Cenigan at a discounted price, which still cost a lot more as we roamed the island two days in a row and I invited Nanda for all food and drinks. But it was well worth it. He made me see awesome places and also took loads of great pictures of me, so this is probably the first time I had photos of myself visiting a place. Totally worth the penny. Without Nanda and his motorbike tours this trip would have probably been a disaster. But like this, I saw most of the greatest spots and had great company along. Thanks mate:)
We started the tour here. Bloody awesome. Totally the highlight of it. Just look at the photos. I could honestly spend here all day. Must go-to spot if you are there!
Another awesome viewpoint with apparently great photographers:) We had a beer here too. It’s on Nusa Ceningan and opposite is Nusa Penida.
And how do I put it? Another great spot for chilling, observing the landscape and having fun. We chilled by the amazing infinity pool. You have to pay for it but we just used it for photos, which the owner happily agreed to and then you can just sit next to it and look around. If you are game for cliff jumping, that’s just a few steps away, but that’s not something I would be into. I prefer the beer and chilling.
Just a few steps away from Mushroom bay is Secret Beach. Personally I found these two spots the best for swimming and enjoying the beach wibe. Indeed totally up my street. As a spoilt beach lover, this is really absolutely worth the visit to the island.
And so, even if I rarely come to a place twice, and even if this one didn’t impress me so much at the beginning, and also maybe because it was so harder to find the right spot, I kinda figured, that it would be nice to do it again, at the right place from the start, enjoying the surroundings. As booking in advance has always paid off, I booked a flight and a partially refundable hotel (which I never do either, but I was like why shouldn’t I? ) and then ‘rona’ struck!!! Now I have no idea what’s going to happen. Again, we live and learn. Luckily, the accommodation won’t be charged but I might lose the flight. Let’s see. If I am lucky, along with the whole world, and things improve, I might be able to say hi to my friend Nanda and these amazing beaches in September. And if not? Well, luckily I have had this experience to go back to and think of the wonderful time I had there with all the people I met and amazing places I saw. Terima kasih banyak banyak.