We departed from the gray, wet skies of Auckland to warm, tropical Bali. By 9:30pm we were off the plane, through customs, and scanning the sea of namecards awaiting in arrivals. Unfortunately, to no avail. After searching again and again, we logged onto the airport wifi to try and get in touch with our AirBnB host, who had promised us an airport pickup. As is our luck, she had forgotten. We were stranded and tasked with the chore of getting a cab to take us an hour’s drive to a residential neighborhood. We lucked into an extremely nice driver, however, Reynaldo.
Once at our AirBnB, our host, Max welcomed us into our empty (for now) house and showed us around. We were beat, so we agreed to meet Max in the morning to set up a scooter rental and get our SIM cards sorted, then turned in early.
The next morning we had a scooter delivered and our host gave us a little lesson. As J is usually the driver between the two of us, Max suggested he head out and drive around a bit on his own to get comfortable before adding a passenger. His first outing was to follow Max (with me on the back of her scooter) to the nearby cell shop where we got our local SIM cards.
Once our phones were activated, Max zipped off to an appointment, and I began walking back to the house while J went off to practice a bit more.
J arrived back at the house shortly after myself and we quickly realized we might have a problem.
No scootenanny for us.
Scooters are definitely the way to get around Bali. Especially if staying in an area populated primarily by locals. Cabs simply do not want to pick up or drop off in those locations, at least that was the impression we received.
Our initial plan was to base ourselves in Canggu and explore the island by scooter. J had some (minimal) scooter riding experience before we arrived, and I had total confidence that he would be comfortable driving us both around. I probably should have checked with him beforehand. Whoops.
Turns out scootering in congested Canggu (on the left side of the road, no less) is stressful. The moment I hopped on the back of the scooter with J, I could sense how anxious and uncomfortable he felt driving with me as his passenger. Which in turn made me anxious and uncomfortable. I quickly removed myself and suggested he go back out to get a bit more driving under his belt.
In need of petrol, I suggested he go fill up then come back and we could try again. J didn’t really want to go without me. Annoyed that I was pushing him to keep at it, he zoomed off before I had a chance to retrieve my wallet from the underseat compartment, where I had stashed it just moments before. All in all not a big deal, except that it had the house key tucked inside… and ever the unprepared nomad, my phone had about 5% battery.
A matter of minutes pass and J calls me. When I answer he abruptly says, “Let me just text you instead.” Ok, strange. Seconds later I receive a text message saying he’s been stopped by the police. I begin sending a slew of panicked messages and calling him repeatedly to no answer. Who does that! I freaked out for a solid 10 minutes until he finally answered the phone and let me know he was ok and heading back to the house.
When he got back he relayed his story. In search of petrol and at a loss, J approached a cop to ask for directions to which the officer immediately requested his license and registration. Turns out you technically are supposed to have an International Driver’s License to drive in Indonesia – a fact that slipped our minds as we don’t need one for New Zealand.
Sans IDL, the officer began his shakedown. Essentially telling J that the fine was 1,000,000 Rp, but he could just pay him 200,000 Rp to get out of the ticket. Upon later research we have discovered that this is fairly common, and if you find yourself in this situation, simply request to be given a written ticket to pay at the station and they will usually let you go, as they are only interested in lining their pockets. All in all it could have been much worse, as 200,000 Rp was equivalent to just under $15 at the time of writing.
After J experiencing his police ordeal and my panic stricken moments between phone calls, we opted to call it a day on exploring. We used the AirBnB’s high-speed wifi to get some work done and research potential transportation alternatives for our time in Bali. After going through our options, I attempted driving the scooter solo. If I could get the hang of it, then we could rent two, one for each of us. With my terrible motoring skills, and even worse balance it just wasn’t in the cards for me. J headed out to try again, but we eventually decided to try our second day in Bali as if we were without our own wheels. Just to see how hard it would be to get around.
In the AM we opted to walk to a well known restaurant, Betelnut Cafe, for breakfast. It was about a 40 minute walk, and while we did get to see some beautiful scenery, it was clear this was not a pedestrian friendly area. No sidewalks, narrow streets and lots of traffic made for an unnerving walk. But we made it and had a great breakfast of smoothie bowls and iced herbal tea.
While we were enjoying our meal it began to rain. Of course. We waited it out, then continued on our walk another 45 minutes to Echo Beach, a popular surf spot. By the time we made it the beach was completely empty, save for a handful of surfers.
We enjoyed sitting and watching them catch waves for a while before booking a couple of pedicure appointments for the afternoon. We had a spot of lunch (and a couple of Pina Colodas, why the hell not) before having our tired feet treated. Not wanting to ruin my new polished toes, we opted to get a cab to take us back to our house.
This is when we realized just how difficult it would be for us to stay based in our little neighborhood. We couldn’t find a single cab in the area and every electronic avenue we tried ended up in canceled rides. Some incurring penalty fees – thanks, Uber. Eventually we gave up and began the long slog back by foot. We were completely knackered by the time we made it, and rested a bit before heading out to a nearby restaurant for dinner.
Our experience that day cemented our decision to alter our plans. After another four days, we would depart Canggu for Ubud. Until that point, there were a handful of good eating options within easy walking distance, so at least we were covered for food.
We spent our days moving from one hotspot to another, wandering the neighborhood and enjoying the heat. At night we were aurally harassed by screeching feral cats. Cats that our neighbors fed daily. Each evening on our way back from dinner we would pass piles of leftover rice and bones left out to be scavenged. One thing we were beginning to notice about the Balinese people was that they care for domesticated animals, whether they belong to them or not. It seemed to us that strays were regarded as a community responsibility, as opposed to liability to be dealt with, as they are in so many countries. [Maybe I’m completely misinterpreting what I experienced, but that is just the impression I was left with.]
The start of our trip fell a bit below expectation, but I remember our time in Canggu fondly, nonetheless.
Next up: Ubud.