Photographs by: Briana Autran
Written by: Matthew Mayer
Our plane touched down in Bali at Ngurah Rai International Airport after a grueling thirty-six hour flight plan that began at Detroit Metropolitan Airport on Tuesday, March 1st. Between crossing multiple time zones and the International Date Line, we had lost almost an entire day on the flight from Seattle to Taiwan. With flight times ranging from five to thirteen hours and two long layovers we had not slept very much or very comfortably. Needless to say once we were on the ground in Denpasar we found ourselves physically, emotionally, and mentally exhausted. However, being on the cusp of a brand new adventure provided us with what was quite possibly our fifth or sixth wind. We were delirious yet energized and anxious to be done with airports and begin exploring.
After the bitter cold and snow of Detroit, the muggy, oppressive heat of Bali was quite the shock. The air inside the terminal was muggy and smelled of the incense that was burning sporadically throughout the airport. Getting our Visas and going through customs did not take as long as we had anticipated. We were rushed through the Visas upon Arrival stand, and after we picked up our luggage at the baggage claim, we cycled through customs in a matter of minutes. Once we were through customs we rounded the corner and were greeted by a mob of taxi-drivers crammed together on the other side of a metal barricade. All of them were sporting smiles and white signs with names printed or written on them. As Briana had rented a moped in advance, I scanned the crowd and spotted a sign bearing her name. After a quick stop at the currency exchange, we met up with him on the other side of the barrier and he introduced himself as Oka. We proceeded to follow him out of the double doors and into the Bali sun and Indonesia for the first time in either of our lives.
We followed Oka from the terminal to the moped rental facility located a short distance away in a parking garage. Between the two of us and our bags we realized we would need a taxi to help us get to our first stay and Oka was kind enough to help us charter one. As Briana was the one with an International Driver’s Permit, we decided that I would ride in the taxi and she would follow in the Moped. While I loaded the bags in the car, Oka gave Briana a brief introduction to the moped. I asked Bri if she was okay with driving the moped and she informed me that she was fine and had driven one plenty of times before. Satisfied, I hopped in the taxi and gave the address of a place called: Gandhi Hostel, where we would be staying, to the driver. He was an energetic, friendly man by the name of Ketut. I asked him to take it slow as to allow Bri to keep up on the scooter. He smiled and gave me his assurances in near perfect English and with a thumbs up from Bri, we pulled out of the airport access road and on to JL. Bypass Ngurah Rai.
I quickly realized that I was out of my element when Ketut barged his way into traffic on the main road. There was a steady stream of thick traffic consisting of two wheeled vehicles and compact cars in the first lane with the former vastly outnumbering the latter. Ketut nosed his way into the throng with a maneuver that would have been met with blaring horns and obscene gestures if he had made the same move in the States. Here however, He seemed to almost have the right-of-way as most of the drivers casually made room for him to merge in. I quickly looked back and was relieved to see my travel partner hugging the rear bumper as we eased into the madness that is Denpasar rush hour traffic.
Despite the anxiety of the traffic and trying to keep my eyes on Briana in the stamped of scooters and cars, I found myself able to take in the sights and sounds of Denpasar with the acute attentiveness that comes with traveling trough a place that is completely foreign and exciting. The first thing I noticed was the architecture and design of the city. The city was an eclectic jumble of buildings complete with beautifully crafted temples with multi-tiered roofs, ornate split gates, and intricate Hindu statues. There were also concrete shops and offices of the western variety sprinkled throughout. Small shops and street vendors zipped by as we made our way deeper into the city.
Ketut was very talkative. We made steady small talk as he drove and as I looked back every few seconds to keep an eye on Briana. He asked me where we were from, where we were going while in country, and how long we were staying. He pulled various brochures and maps from around the car and subtly advertised his services in hopes of gaining future charters with us. While Ketut kept the conversation lively with his articulated descriptions of Bali and it’s many attractions and activities, I found it difficult to give him my undivided attention. I was filled with anxiety for Briana following behind on her scooter. There were times when Bri would fall behind; disappearing behind a cloud of traffic. She would reappear a short time later just in time to allow me to breathe again. Ketut, noticing my concern, attempted to reassure me by saying that he was keeping an eye on her in the mirrors. I noticed that he was driving a good deal slower than the other taxis on the road in order for her to keep up and for that I was grateful. Despite this, I could not keep myself from continuously looking back through the rear window for her.
A short time later we pulled down a side street named JL. Buana Raya which was barely wide enough for the taxi. The street was lined with more vendors selling street food and other various wares. In front of some of the vendors there were bamboo and wicker cages with chickens and roosters trapped beneath them on the ground. There were small apartment buildings and domiciles with lines upon lines of drying clothes with tenants in front sweeping their stoops with short handled, hand-made brooms. Ketut excitedly pointed out two fellow tourists with American flag tank tops and proclaimed that we must be in the right place. He pulled over in front of the address we had written down for him and Bri pulled in behind us. He helped us unload our things from the back of the car and we paid him as we thanked him for his help. He gave us his card and told us that he would take us anywhere we wanted to go in Bali. As he drove off I noticed that Briana looked a little shaken. I asked her if she was alright and she informed me that she had actually never driven a moped before. I was astonished by her outgoing nature and bravery.
We walked up to the front of the hostel and were greeted by the manager. He introduced himself as Made. He helped us with our bags, then proceeded to check us in on his antiquated IBM computer. We began to take in the hostel itself. The structure was of built in traditional Balinese style. It had four stories. Each story had high ceilings giving it a spacious vibe. It was ornately decorated throughout and had a beautiful marble staircase that we followed with our eyes up to the fourth floor. The first floor was home to the office, kitchen, common area, laundry room, and what looked to be where the manager and his family stayed. Made and his family were exceedingly friendly and made us feel right at home as they showed us to our room on the third floor.
Our room was a 10’x 10′ bare-walled room with two large windows forming the walls facing outward into the common area. They had placed tapestries over these for privacy. The inner two walls of the room were white and bare. The emptiness of the room was augmented by the harsh fluorescent light hanging from the ceiling. There was a small air-conditioning unit running on the wall which provided a noticeably cooler environment than the mugginess of the first floor and common areas. The bed was a single queen-sized mattress on the floor with clean bedding and pillows. Made again bid us welcome and told us that he would be downstairs should we need anything. He also handed us a menu with a few simple, yet inticing items complete with cheap prices and a note at the top stating that they would be available 24/7. There was a sign on the door that read: No smoking, no sex, no drugs, and quiet time begins at 10:00 pm.
At this point, Briana and I were beyond exhausted and none too happy with our individual hygiene after almost forty-eight hours of continuous travel. We decided that we would take showers, order some food, and turn in for the night. After a couple of cold showers, we picked out a meal to share from the menu and I went downstairs to place the order. We settled on a dish of noodles, eggs, and veggies. Upon returning upstairs with our meal, I noticed a couple drinking beer and chatting on the balcony of our floor. While sharing our meal, which turned out to be both tasty and filling, I decided to go meet the couple on the balcony in hopes of gaining useful information.
Our neighbors turned out to be a friendly couple from Cape Town, South Africa named Francois and Angelique. They were kind enough to impart what wisdom they had. They had only been on Bali for a week but had explored rather extensively. Francois informed me that while Denpasar was interesting, it was dirty, crowded, and busy in comparison to other cities. He told me about the upcoming celebration of Nyepi and the Day of Silence which we will cover more extensively later. He also told me that the local taxi drivers charge extortionist prices and that, while illegal in Bali, Uber was the more economical choice. I thanked him the useful information and headed back to the room to tell Briana what I had found out. With our exhaustion levels reaching critical mass, we decided to hit the sack. We were both in a deep sleep within seconds of turning out the lights.
March 4th, 2016
We awoke feeling completely refreshed after a long comatose sleep. We went downstairs and enjoyed a hearty, complimentary breakfast, complete with tea and Balinese coffee. We decided to spend the day exploring the streets of Denpasar surrounding the Gandhi Hostel and that later we would make plans and book our next stay in Ubud. After getting cleaned up and packing a day pack we set out on foot from the hostel.
We walked from the Gandhi Hostel and up JL. Buana Raya back to the main road. We took pictures of landmarks as we turned down different roads as a kind of trail of photgraphic breadcrumbs. Briana brought along her Nikon D800 with an 85mm and a 24mm lens for different shots of interesting sites and people. We entertained ourselves by checking out different shops and venders while Bri took shots of landmarks, people, places, and buildings. We must have looked like the complete tourists we were with the combination of picture taking and the fact that we were the only non-locals for miles around.
We meandered down main roads, side streets, and alley-ways. We entered countless shops and venders; all the while asking several of the local residents if Bri could take their photographs. We were pleased to find that everyone we encountered was friendly, helpful, and excited to have their picture taken. The cuisine and wares at the shops, restaurants, and vendors was extremely affordable and we stopped at a juice stand and ordered a couple of dragon fruit smoothies. Having walked around Denpasar for miles and hours; we found ourselves hot, tired, and hungry. We decided to head back to the hostel to eat while we planned the next leg of our adventure.
A major part of our travel plans was to spend some time in Ubud. One reason was to meet up and spend some time with our friend Nicola who we had met while WWOOFing on the Maui Dragon Fruit Farm. Nicola was already in Ubud for an English as a second language program and we were very excited to see her. The other reason for going to Ubud was that it is a very popular tourist destination in Bali. After some brief research, Briana was delighted to find an Air B&B accommodation in Ubud at a place called: Firefly Bamboo Eco Resort located in the middle of beautiful rice fields. We would be staying in a bamboo nest on stilts overlooking the rice paddies for a very affordable $12 USD a night. Bri and I were very excited about the find due to the beautiful pictures, glowing reviews, and our shared affinity for anything resembling a tree house. Satisfied, we took a couple of quick showers and ate another delicious, filling meal. After chatting with our new friends from South Africa, we went to sleep content and excited about what might lay in store for us the next day in Ubud.