After the hustle and bustle of Seminyak, I was ready for a few days at a more relaxed pace. I booked 4 nights at a homestay on nearby Nusa Penida island and happened to mention my plans to the girl in the "pod" above me, who enthusiastically asked if she could join me. I figured it would be nice to have a travel buddy so I acquiesced to her request. We both packed our bags as quickly as possible then took the Scooter to Earth Cafe for one last meal on the mainland. Around 2 PM, we hailed a taksi on the street and negotiated a price of 200,000 IDR ($14 USD) to take us to the port at at Sanur, which was roughly an hour away on the East coast.
We had quite the hike across the sand to get to the one stall selling tickets to Nusa Penida, and then we had to wait. The original plan was to take a local junkur boat which was a bit slower but cost only about 50,000 IDR, but apparently they only ferry people across in the morning so we were charged what I'm almost certain was an inflated tourist price of 175,000 IDR ($12) each for the speedboat. We didn't have the luxury of boardwalks or docks. Instead we had to carry our bags precariously over a rock jetty and then take off our shoes and walk barefoot up to the back of the boat, which was anchored just offshore. I was glad I wore shorts because the water crept up slightly past my knees. Once we selected our seats and got situated, my new German friend Sandra and I realized we were the only tourists/white people on board. (Nusa Penida is not a huge tourist destination, like most of the other nearby islands.)
About an hour later we arrived on the island, this time with a makeshift little dock. We didn't see any taxis in the vicinity (anywhere else in Bali, you would immediately be greeted by a sporadic chorus of men yelling "taxi? Taxi!) so we immediately negotiated 2 scooter rentals at a cost of $250,000 ($17 USD or $4.25/day) each for the duration of our stay.
I had used the speedboat wifi to search for our homestay address on my maps app and the directions were to the Kutampi area towards the center of the island. We rode up and down ragged, hilly roads for the better part of two hours without finding it, or any other homestay for that matter. We stopped a few times for petrol and/or directions and most of the kids in the area would gather around us as if we were visitors from another planet. I got the feeling most tourists didn't head inland so we headed back towards the coast. We finally found our homestay about three hours after arriving and long after the sun had set. We had dinner at a nearby Warung before going to bed. Warung means local eating place in Indonesian and it's pretty much your only option for eating on this island. It's cheap and offers a variety of traditional cuisine like Nasi Garang.
The next day Sandra and I each got great full body massages for 100,000 ($6.85 USD) and toured the northeast coast via scooters. The drive was gorgeous and wrapped around the Rocky, cliff-y coast and wound through small seaside villages and sparse swathes of forest. It reminded me of the pacific coast highway in California, albeit far less maintained. There were tons of potholes and in some parts, the road dissolved completely into loose rocks and asphalt shrapnel.
We were on a mission to find the Giri Putri Cave Temple, which we did after unknowingly passing it twice already. (Less tourists = less signage.) we walked up about a hundred steps before reaching the entrance where we donned sarongs, made obligatory donations and met a few monks that doused us with holy water before we finally crawled through the small, narrow cave opening.
Once inside, it was like something straight out of an Indiana Jones movie. (Except for the modern lighting and fans that were dispersed throughout the massive cavern.) It was dimly lit but we could still see several alters and seating areas and hear the steady drip drip drip of water droplets splashing into small puddles on the hard floor. We even heard the squeaking of some small, winged creatures that my travel buddy referred to as "the flying mouse" which made me giggle before saying we call it "bat" in English. But after she taught me the German word Fledermaus, I understood that she used the literal translation. It was eerie since we were the only two people exploring the cave at the time, but it is still used on a regular basis for religious rituals and is thought to have been inhabited for thousands of years.
We headed back to the home stay and walked the few meters to the beach to watch the sunset. I climbed out onto a jetty to get a better view and got mobbed by local kids saying "Miss, miss, where you from? What's your name? Just one, miss," referring to the collection of bracelets around my left wrist. They each wanted a bracelet and were even tugging at some of them but I said no because I didn't have enough bracelets for everyone, and because I don't want to give them away anyways. The kids soon dispersed after that.
On the third day we booked a trip to snorkel with Manta Rays. There are two spots on the island for this: Manta Point and Manta Bay; the latter was closer to our home stay. We were put on a small, local boat with four other tourists from Jakarta, a captain and one crew member. He drove us northwest towards the straight between Nusa Penida & Nusa Lembongan but the water turned out to be too choppy so we had to turn around. Instead, we went to two different reefs and snorkels around admiring the rainbow of coral and fish. I was pleasantly surprised at how bio-diverse it was, comparable to the Great Barrier Reef which I explored in June. Sandra and I were very conscious of the coral and careful not to damage or even touch any of it. The Jakartans, however, were NGAF. They stood on the delicate creatures with their flippers and I saw chunks of coral break off and float helplessly to the floor as they carelessly kicked on and around the reef. Such a shame that these "kids" (who appeared to be only slightly younger than me) are so ignorant or apathetic or both. Getting a few good snorkel selfies is more important than saving some coral, right? I really wanted to say something but it wouldn't have changed anything except make the boat ride more awkward.
We tried once more to go through the straight but the water was still too rough so we headed back to where we started. I'm pretty disappointed that we didn't get to our ultimate destination nor see any manta rays. We had lunch at a nearby Warung and then Sandra and I stopped to visit the beachfront Ped temple, which is the biggest one on the island. There were tons of locals around, preparing for a full moon celebration that would happen later that weekend.
BAD LUCK LEMBONGAN
On the fourth morning, Sandra and I packed our bags and decided to head to the smaller yet more popular island of Nusa Lembongan. We first had to drive our scooters back to our original port of entry then try to find some kind of transportation across the water. You can literally see the island across the water so it's a really short trip but you don't have a ton of options for getting there and the locals know this so they try to get as much money out of you as they can. Sandra and I haggled their original quote of 350,000 IDR down to 150,000 ($10 USD), which is still too much. We got into a teeny tiny boat that would capsize if we didn't balance the weight properly. It's the first time I've been on a boat that I had some doubt about whether or not we would safely complete our journey. But we did, and our "captain" dropped us off on a random beach which we had to hike up before crossing a narrow, rickety old bridge by foot. It was so narrow that only one scooter (forget about cars) could drive over at a time so we had to keep stopping and turning sideways with our rucksacks hanging over the edge to let the wheeled traffic through.
After crossing over, Sandra and I decided we needed transport to our hotel so we stopped at the first place we saw a car that we thought might be able to drive us the rest of the way to our destination. The guy with the shop and car instead convinced us to rent the only working scooter that he had and he would guide us to the hotel and carry my rucksack so Sandra and I would fit on said scooter. Let me tell you, this poor machine has seen better days. Both rear view mirrors were missing, neither the speedometer nor the odometer worked and it was covered in dings and scratches. It's like Lembongan gets all the old hand-me-down scooters from Kuta on the mainland.
Regardless, we made it to the other side of the island and had to trudge across the sand to find our hotel, the Tanis Villas, which took forever because it was hidden behind all the other resorts and we walked into all the wrong ones first. The room was clean with a large bed, bathroom and air con and the property had a pool with a water slide and a restaurant where we ended up eating lunch and I was finally able to satisfy the pizza craving that I had since Seminyak.
It was still pretty early in the day so we decided to explore the island; Sandra steering the scooter and me sitting on the back of the seat.
We first wanted to find a tourist shop to pick up a map so we'd have a general idea about where we were going. We stopped at the first one we encountered and the skinny guy with hollow cheeks that we spoke to said we had to book a tour with him in order to get a map. We said we had no time or interest to invest in another snorkeling trip or a mangrove tour and decided to find a map elsewhere. He begrudgingly gave us a map anyways but I think he may have silently cursed us under his breath. A short time later, Sandra stopped at a small shop to check out some clothes and other trinkets but I had zero interest in shopping after lugging my heavy rucksack around all morning; I didn't need one more single thing to become a burden on my back. So I sat and waited until her curiosity was satisfied and we decided to turn the scooter around to find the one ATM on the entire island. She started the ignition and was attempting to turn the scooter around in the street when she accidentally accelerated and knocked over three other scooters like a line of dominoes. Employees of the nearby spa came rushing out to assess the damage. Two of the bikes seemed fine but the left mirror and metal stick attached to it had popped off of one of the bikes. A short, plump woman picked it up and said it was her bike that was damaged and that we needed to get a mechanic to fix the metal attachment at the bottom of the stick which had snapped off. She tried to convince Sandra to leave me there at the spa as insurance that she would come back, and I can understand her concern, but we both refused and promised to return.
We first had to find the ATM because we were sure the mechanic would only accept cash. We finally found it only to discover that it was out of order. So we continued on to the mechanic and would pool what little cash we had to pay for the repair. He quickly used a vice to pull off the damaged metal piece, but then said that he didn't have a replacement. We asked if he could call another mechanic on the island to see if they had the part but he said he didn't know any of them or their phone numbers. He couldn't/wouldn't even give us an estimate for how much the part and the repair would cost. We were still frustrated and trying to figure out a solution when out of nowhere, the skinny, hollow-faced map man from earlier appeared on a scooter. The mechanic hopped on the back of the guy's bike and the two sped off down the road, leaving us even more irritated.
We had no choice but to drive back to the spa, where we easily found the woman waiting for us. She said we had to pay her 200,000 IDR ($13.60 USD) for a new part that would have to be ordered and shipped from Jakarta. Sandra handed over the cash and we were pretty sure she paid a bit too much but glad the woman didn't insist on a more outrageous amount.
Understandably, Sandra didn't want to drive anymore so I took over. We meandered around the island for a few more hours and then decided to get massages to distress from the events of the day before heading back to the hotel. We had the worst massages ever and Sandra questioned whether her sweaty-handed masseuse even had any formal training (and possibly a fever). There were several spas throughout the island but somehow we managed to pick the worst one.
We took a quick dip in the pool to cool off and then went to the room to clean up before dinner. She showered first and then just as I was about to have my turn, the power went out so I had to shower in the dark and without hot water. The lights and air con came back on after I finished, of course.
I wore a dress and mascara for the first time in weeks and we headed to a beachfront restaurant. There was only one table left so we sat there, which apparently made us invisible because it took a good 20 minutes to get anyone's attention and subsequently get some menus EVEN THOUGH plenty of other tourists were replacing other tables that came available and were seated and greeted and served drinks immediately. Few things annoy me as much as inconsistent service. If everyone was having to wait around, that's one thing, but at least three other couples that arrived after us had their food and drinks before we did. And the caipiroska that I ordered was terrible - one of the worst-tasting and watered down cocktails I've ever had in my life. The food was ok; I ordered gado-gado and soup and Sandra had a seafood salad.
After dinner we dragged out feet across the sand back to the hotel and went to bed, ready for the bad day to be over. Except it wasn't. At around 3 AM, I woke up to pee and found the bathroom occupied. I heard My friend retching inside and thought it best to search for another one. I went outside using my iPhone as a flashlight and searched the pool area, the restaurant and the reception area to no avail. I returned to the room and asked to borrow the bathroom really quick and she obliged. She went back into the bathroom, sick out of both ends, for a long time before re-emerging. I suspected the infamous Bali Belly, perhaps from the seafood at dinner, and gave her one of my Ciproflaxin pills to help. I felt really bad for her but was thankful it wasn't me. The next morning we had to pack up and take a speedboat back to Bali and we sat in the very back, hoping to minimize Sandra's odds of seasickness. After a 45 minute, fast and bumpy trip, we arrived back at Sanur, wished each other the best and went our separate ways. I was headed south to surf camp in Pedangpedang and she was headed north to a different surf camp in Canggu. (Later I found out via WhatsApp that she ended up going to the hospital and they diagnosed Bali Belly and prescribed a bunch of meds to rid her of it.)