Winter Break (22-23) – Diving and Temple tour
When we looked at the calendar for the Christmas/New Year’s break and saw that we had a month off, we could hardly believe it. This was a longer break than what we had this past summer! However, the four weeks flew by very quickly. For the first two weeks, we traveled around Indonesia to some new islands we hadn’t been to yet and got in such much-needed diving. For the second half of the break, mom/Cindy came to visit Bali.
To show you where we went for the first two weeks, here is a map to get your bearings:
From Canggu, we got a ride to the port town of Padang Bai. It would have been ideal to travel light, but we wanted to bring our own SCUBA gear for the 10-dives package we each got (let’s call it our Christmas gifts to ourselves) on Gili Air. From Padang Bai, we took a ferry to Gili Air. It was affordable and had very little hassle. Being on Gili Air was a great oasis from the busyness of Canggu. No motorized vehicles are allowed on the Gilis. Every now and then, you hear the soft purring of an electric scooter, but no cars/trucks/petrol scooters at all. People get around on foot, horse carriage, or bicycle.
On Gili Air, we dove twice a day at 3W Dive Center. While diving, we were told that this is one of the worst times of year to come diving due to the rainy season; which kicks up a lot of sediment and turbidity in the water. However, despite a rocky day on the ocean when no one could dive due to the waves, we didn’t find any issues. Over the five days of diving, we saw a turtle on each dive and were amazed by the coral and manmade (with coral growing on it) underground structures. There is an (accidental) sunken ship near an old pier that is full of life and color. Our favorite site was called Turtle Point… yes, there were many gigantic turtles including one hawksbill that rivaled Grant’s height. On Christmas, we dove and then did a walking tour about the island, playing cards/darts along the way while snacking.
When we weren’t diving on Gili Air, we explored around the island. One day, we rented bikes and circumnavigated the 5km island. With the sand, the bike touring was slow going. On another afternoon, we did an Indonesian cooking class. We made some local specialties like chicken yellow curry and mie goreng (fried noodles). We always say that the sunsets at our quiet beach in Canggu are the best, but the west coast of Gili Air takes the top prize in this category.
Images from Gili Air:
After our dives were completed, we packed up and said goodbye to Gili Air (for now). We got a ferry to the next island over, Gili Meno. Gili Meno was an (even) quieter version of Gili Air. Known for its turtle sanctuaries (both on the island and in the water), many people will snorkel around this island but never stay on it. Although it was tough (more for Alison than Grant) to find a good coffee in the morning due to the lack of espresso machines, we found its calm charming. For the two days here, we walked around the island each day, snorkeled, and read. At this time in the vacation, the rainy season blues started to kick in. We planned snorkeling for the next day, but woke up to unsafe waves and turbulent winds. Little did we know that the rainy season blues would upset plans for the next few weeks. At the end of our stay on Gili Meno, we got a ferry to Lombok.
Images from Gili Meno:
To tell you the truth, coming back to Lombok was a mini culture shock. We had gotten used to walking around without trucks, cars, or (honk! honk!) scooters. Coming back to Lombok was a reminder that we “weren’t in Kansas anymore”. On Lombok, we stayed near Senggigi Beach. This is where we had come back in October for the Ironman 70.3 I attempted. It is a great place to stay and enjoy; the beaches are all very clean and accessible. We did a one-day tour with a local company to visit some waterfalls closeby. Initially, we had thought about renting a scooter while on the island and exploring the waterfalls ourselves, but at this time in the trip, the rain was consistent and daily. We didn’t want to get stuck out somewhere in the pouring rain. The tour ended up being really interesting and we got a better sense of the cultural and religious aspects of Lombok. Different from Bali, the people of Lombok are primarily Muslim except for small pockets here and there. On the tour, we visited a traditional market, two waterfalls/nature reserve, traditional village, and the oldest mosque in Lombok. The last item wasn’t on the initial program, but the tour guide asked if we would be interested in seeing it. It was an interesting structure to see and hear about; it was deeply embedded into the traditional cultural habitats of the Northern Lombok people.
For New Year’s, we went out to dinner in Senggigi and watched the fireworks on the beach. The various resorts put out the fireworks, so all we had to do was get ourselves to the beach to watch the show. For dinner on New Year’s Eve, and a few other evenings, we went to a restaurant along the main drag called Molly’s. It is run by a Balinese family and each evening the entire family was in the restaurant helping out (or just playing, as was the case for the newborn and toddler). The food was unreal and the environment was cool; so we ended up going back several times while we stayed in Senggigi.
To get back to Bali from Lombok, we had planned on the same way that we arrived – via the ferry through Padang Bai. However, with the rainy season in general, and a typhoon coming up from Australia, all fast ferries were canceled for several days. We showed up in the morning to take the fast ferry, and were given the alternative option for that day – to take the slow ferry back to Bali. The company apologized profusely and told us that many people from the Gilis were trying to get back to Bali, and had to choose this same option. Gilis to Lombok is a very short distance, and they were able to get onto Lombok but not back west. We accepted the only option presented to us and loaded onto a bus with a group of people in the same situation. We arrived at the fast ferry dock and could see that many people were in the same “boat” as us – many were upset and unsure if they would make their plane flight from Bali that evening. We waited a while in the dock, and then boarded the large ferry boat along with piles of cars and buses. On the boat, we waited another hour before we took off. We were told the slow ferry is normally four hours, so we had bought some snacks and food from the vendors selling them in the dock. We were happy we had bought those snacks because the ride ended up taking more than five hours. The ferry couldn’t go as fast as its normal speed due to the large waves. There were many moments of turbulence on the boat and luggage/water bottles flying from one side to another as we went over a wave. I can’t imagine what a small ferry boat would have been like if a large ferry was even having trouble staying steady. There were a couple of panicked moments on my part (“Grant, we should get on our BCDS, right?”), but Grant calmed me down and said everything would be ok. We had taken two dramamine when we boarded, but many people were sea sick over the side due to the waves. We finally arrived in Padang Bai and got a car back home. We were thankful it all worked out safely!
My mom arrived a couple days later in Bali. I wanted to show mom the real Bali so I got myself food poisoning on the first day she arrived. Jokes! But seriously…the latte was bad news. Food poisoning is a crazy physical phenomenon – as soon as it’s over, you feel right as rain. However, during, all you can do is curl yourself on the stone floor, shiver, and pray for it to pass. At one point, while throwing up multiple times in a row, I prayed to God. To all the Gods. Into the bottom of the toilet. Praying for it to pass. Let’s just say, I get very religious after a bad latte.
We had many exciting plans for when mom was here. We hadn’t been to Uluwatu since arriving in Bali in August so we were excited to bring her there. We took a car down and stayed a couple nights in order to see the beaches and temple. By the time we arrived in Uluwatu, unfortunately, Grant had now fallen ill with something. Rainy season blues, eh? Mom and I walked around some of the beaches and explored the beautiful wonders of Uluwatu. I want to live there…seriously. The crystal blue waters, beautiful sand, and cool vibes from the surfers make this an amazing place. For Christmas, I had given my mom the “temple tour” while she came here to visit. On the agenda were the following temples: Uluwatu, Ubud, and Tanah Lot. We walked over to Uluwatu Temple (not far from our Airbnb) and bought tickets to see the Kecak Dance performance. This was a truly unique experience. I hadn’t seen it before, and had only heard about how spectacular it was. The performance acted out a famous Balinese myth through costumes, dancing, and the vocals of a group of multi-aged men. I would love to go back again at some point!
On the way back from Uluwatu, we stopped at the GWK statue. One reason Grant and I love having people visit is it gives us the excuse to go and see items that we wouldn’t normally visit. This statue was super impressive and a huge feat for Indonesia – it’s the fourth tallest statue in the world!!
After Uluwatu, mom and I went to Ubud. Grant had intended to come as well but still wasn’t feeling 100%. Mom and I had a great time in Ubud. We went to the monkey forest, did a bird watching tour (highly recommended), and went to the water temple. This temple is one of the few places where tourists are allowed to visit. I was a bit hesitant at first because I didn’t want to feel like a poser/fake person for visiting the temple. However, our tour guide was super helpful and explained every step and why each step is necessary (the ritual behind it). At the water temple, there are three large areas where the ritual occurs. Each area has a focus – the body, the soul, and the dream/forgiveness. In each spot, you do the ritual in a different way and with a different perspective in your mind. This is where our tour guide was helpful in explaining the parts. To my surprise, there were fish swimming around in the area with us. The water all comes from a holy spring that is found underground. After the rituals, our tour guide brought us to see the spring. It is magical where the water is coming up because there is sand on top, and it moves the sand in a circular pattern. It was mesmerizing and beautiful how the sand spins upon itself. We went to the water temple with an old friend from Bulgaria named Petar. He had been living and working in Ubud and following some of the local customs and practices. Thus, he was able to go into the actual temple where the activities of the priest are happening while my mom and I walked around the outskirts. Overall, it was an interesting experience and I would like to revisit the temple.
After Ubud, it was time for me and Grant to head back to school. Mom kept herself busy while we were at school. One afternoon after school, we went to the third and final temple along the “temple tour” – Tanah Lot. We had the great fortune of attending the temple on the same evening as its “birthday”. Twice a year, people attend their village temple to celebrate its creation. There were many people there at Tanah Lot, giving offerings/blessings, playing music, and having family picnics along the green areas. It was very special and nice to see how people actually celebrate. Of course, we couldn’t go into the actual Pura (Temple) because we aren’t Hindu and don’t know the practices, but we could see the gist of what people wear, what they bring, and how they act at these types of ceremonies.
On the last weekend that mom was in Bali, we took her to a (bonus) temple in Bedugul. We stayed overnight in the calm and cool town of Bedugul. We went to the Botanical Gardens and famous temple there while eating some great local food!
Despite the rainy season, overall, mom got very lucky while she was here. We got wet a few times while we were out and about, but it didn’t dampen the plans terribly. With a heavy heart, mom headed back to the airport while we were at school one afternoon. See you in June when we are home this summer!