Wild Young Minds: Adventures in the East part 3: Bali & the Gilis

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Adventures in the East part 3: Bali & the Gilis

''Don't go to Kuta'', our guide at the water castle in Yogyakarta said, ''it's full of Australian mosquitoes''. ''What???'', I replied. ''Yeah, you know, all those tourists!'' Ooooooh, I thought. Thank god. My fear of mosquitoes has basically been haunting me during all of my travels over the past few years. Come to think of it, not just the fear haunts me, the mosquitoes themselves rather do. Honestly, they love my smell, my blood or whatever it is. It doesn't matter how much deet I spray, or whether I wear long or short pants, they will always get me. Why fear such little creatures that much, you might think. Well, there are two reasons. The first is that I got a horrible allergic reaction to mosquito bites two years ago, when I was cycling from Berlin to Poland. The poison oak rash I had in San Francisco last september didn't lessen this fear either. The second reason is that mosquitoes in Indonesia are not very innocent. They can actually kill you.

And since I have a mild form of hypochondria, I couldn't stop worrying about those stupid insects. Already in Java, I heard about the disease called dengue, also called breakbone fever. There's no vaccination against dengue, like there is against malaria, so when a mosquito infected by dengue bites you, you're pretty much screwed. When I was sitting in the taxi in Bali, I heard more details about this dengue fever: the mosquitoes are mainly active during the day, they are striped like a zebra and the consequences are high fever, the feeling that all of your bones are broken and some sort of red rash covering your body. Five days before, I was bitten by a mosquito during the day (at the bird market in Yogya), it was a huge mosquito, yes, with black and white stripes, and the incubation period was five to seven days... So if I was to get sick, it'd happen right about now.

I already saw myself laying in my hostel bed, with the feeling that all my bones were broken and no sunny days in Bali left. Typically me. But well, everything turned out fine, all my worries were for nothing and the part I wrote above, was too, come to think of it. Yet, it did remind me of the downsides of the travel, the fears you can have and the differences between tropical destinations and home. In the end, insects didn't hurt me, but that other tropical thing did: the sun. My legs were completely red after the first couple of days in Bali and my tummy too. Ah well, I only had myself to blame.

And now it's time for some positivity. Because there were plenty of positive things happening in Bali. They mainly were: amazing breakfasts, sun sun sun, cocktails and the company of great people. I began my trip through Bali in Canggu, which is known for its good waves and hipster cafes. I stayed at an amazing hostel, called the Farmer's Yard, that a friend of mine recommended. It was all based on the concept of perma culture, but the guests didn't neccessarily needed to help. I would've loved to, but on the other hand: I was yearning for rest and relaxation. So I started my days at Crate Cafe, which was relatively expensive for Indonesian standards, but which served all a hipsters asks for: avocado, shakes, yoghurt with granola, scrambled eggs and more. Sitting there on my own, reading my book, I instantly came into conversation with two Americans: Douglas, a novel writer, and Sean (read more about him here). Afterwards, I saw the lighter of the girl sitting opposite me. It was from Hutspot. She must be Dutch!

And she was. I spent the rest of my time in Canggu with Hannah, a great girl from Amsterdam. The first thing I did was pointing at the book she was reading and then at my tattoo. On the Road! It turned out we had more in common and so we spent a few days at the beach, at restaurants and at bars. We pretty much did the same in Uluwatu, which is in the south of Bali. Uluwatu is known for its surf vibes too, especially Bingin Beach. On Sunday, we joined Douglas to a party at Single Fin. It probably was the most crowded party I've ever been to. At first, I didn't think I'd survive for a long time, since there were so so many drunk Australian and British people, but when the disco beats started upstairs, we started dancing and didn't stop until the end of the party. We finished the day with a fresh dive in the pool in our guest house and I felt ready for Ubud.

Most people know Ubud from the film ''Eat, Pray, Love''. Julia Roberts goes to Ubud, to seek for balance in her life and falls in love with a Brazilian fellow there. I didn't go to Ubud to fall in love - and to be honest, I think Julia Roberts is super annoying - but I was curious after all the promising stories. Ubud is the cultural and spiritual centre of Bali, with lots of spas, yoga places (the Yoga Barn!) and the monkey forest. Also lots of temples. I didn't learn that much about Hinduism while I was there, but I was intrigued by all the offerings they did everyday, by all the sculptures and rituals. In Ubud, I stayed at In Da Lodge, another great hostel. It was huge, which can be a downside, but since I was travelling alone, I embraced this fact.

Already on the first night I arrived, I came into contact with a big group of people from all sorts of countries: France, England, Portugal, Canada, the States. We had dinner, went salsa dancing (I surely looked like a freak, but I had lots of fun) and singing. The day after, I joined a couple of girls to go rafting, which was the best. I'd never rafted before, but I love those adventure things. We rafted through amazing landscapes, saw some outrageously beautiful resorts and had a break in the middle of the jungle. Two girls were serving beer, crisps and soda there and so we asked them how they arrived to this isolated  place every day. They had to walk 12 kilometres to get there, every single day, just to sell some stupid tourists a beer or two. Isn't that insane? Travelling through Southeast Asia, you start to realize that the chances we get in the West, are completely impossible for most people in this world. Even asking whether Balinese people ever travel to Europe started to feel foolish at one point. This world...

In a way, staying in Bali made me realize these kind of things most. Bali is paradise on earth. It's warm, it's cheap, it's filled with pretty people, it's like Ibiza but less high-end and more authentic (I have never been to Ibiza, so correct me if I'm wrong). On the other hand, Bali is so much more touristic than Java. Locals mainly treat you as a walking wallet and the white Westerns have taken over. It confronted me with a weird kind of dilemma. As a backpacker, you want to avoid the touristic hotspots, you want to meet locals and discover abandoned places. At the same time, especially when you're alone, meeting other backpackers feels safe and trustworthy. Being somewhere far from the touristic areas can be dangerous, few people speak English and it can be a pain-in-the-ass too. So what to choose? I think the best of both worlds is always a good option. After you've done the first, you appreciate the second more. And the other way around.

The same applied for the Gilis. I started at Gili Trawangan, the party island. The Gilis don't allow cars or buses on the roads, so all you saw were bikes and horses. I really enjoyed biking again, and I discovered the entire island in a day. I went for dinner and drinks with two German girls and two British girls. On the third night, a Belgian girl and a Dutch guy joined and we all went partying. Since it was Ramadan, everything closed at midnight, but it was fine, after drinking for a pretty long time. After Gili T - where I also spent a great afternoon snorkelling - I appreciated Gili Air even more. Less tourists, less hot spots and even more relaxation. I can really say that after two days at Gili Air, I was satisfied. No stress, my sunburn had turned into a damn fine tan and I read more books in those days than in the last month.

And that was when the end of my vacation was already there. I had a long trip ahead of me: taking the boat from Gili Air to Lombok, riding to the airport, flying from Lombok back to Jakarta, from Jakarta to Xiamen and from Xiamen to Amsterdam. This time the layover in China was about 10 hours, so at first, I wasn't sure what to do. I was probably gonna be alone again, with no Chinese money (the machine didn't accept my debet card and I'd forgotten the code for my credit card - I know...) and too much fear I'd miss my connection. What happened was slightly different. Standing in line for the passport control, I met two Belgian guys: Peter and his son. We clicked straight away and decided to explore Xiamen together.

The Belgians had had some trouble with their flight on the way to Indonesia - they had to wait hours and hours, that kind of story - so they'd received compensation for it: 1000 yuan, which is about 135 euros. We ate some good food, strolled around the shopping streets (seriously, China is crazy! So many malls, so many special food stores) and spent the last money on whiskey cokes at the airport. This last day couldn't have been any better, considering the fun we had and the stupid jokes Peter told. He even convinced a Chinese shop-assistant I was the Dutch princess. She yelled: ''No way! I'm so close!'' And ran back to tell her friends and update her Facebook timeline.

Feeling slightly tipsy, we entered the plane and spent the next 11 hours trying to sleep, watching films and making fun of the Chinese doing exercises. Seriously, the woman next to me was hitting her legs for twenty minutes. Hitting it really hard. Ah well, before I knew it, I was gonna spend all my days in the boring Netherlands again. Where we complain about the rain. Well, you know what? I'll try not to, from now on. I'll try not to, because I've been to Java, to Bali and to the Gilis, and because I know I'm a pretty lucky person doing this. End of story :)

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