After our trip to Mount Bromo, we asked the concierge at The Majapahit his opinion on getting to the Ijen crater, which lies further east in Java. He was incredibly helpful and organised a driver to take us all the way down to Banyiwangi (7 hours' drive), a hotel for us to stay in that night, a jeep to take us to the crater parking area as well as the original driver to take us then onto Bali! Considering The Majapahit usually organise trips to the Ijen from their hotel and returning to their hotel, this specialised itinerary for us was really kind of him.
During the long drive to Banyiwangi, our driver needed to stop for some food (and I needed to use the loo….even though the roadside facilities are no where NEAR pleasant!) and, while he was eating (and I was hiding in the car from the voracious mosquitoes), three trucks full of soldiers pulled up at the food stalls. As we were in a rather remote part of Java by that point Alex's height, white skin and ginger hair became somewhat of a commodity for these soldiers and Alex found himself with a queue of men wanting to take a photo with him. This has become standard fare really as, in Asia, they are very interested in white skin …we often find ourselves the subject of someone's “stealthy” photos (though they are about as subtle as a punch in the face!) or with people asking for photos with us. These soldiers were really enthusiastic and sweet and even asked Alex if his “wife” could come out of the car to be in a few photos too.
Later on in our journey, we were starving and asked to stop at a roadside stall for noodles. Our driver was incredulous that we would want to eat somewhere like that and even asked us if we'd ever “tried noodles before”! Needless to say, once again, we were stared and giggled at but the food was delicious and a bowl only cost 20p so it was worth it! Alex had two bowls full….such extravagance! Haha!
That night, we grabbed a few hours' sleep before being picked up at 4.30am by our jeep driver who made the hour drive to the car park at the bottom of the Ijen mountain. From there, at 5.30am, we started the 3km hike up the mountain. Now, I am NOT an athlete…I'm not even very fit….so I struggled all the way up. Luckily for me, Alex is incredibly patient and supportive so I was able to take my time and moan as much as I liked! The only problem was, as we'd set off, one of the miners (more on them in a second) had decided he would walk with us; there were times when I was very embarrassed by needing to stop again and he just wouldn't go on ahead without us. Having said that, having someone who knows the climb so well and could chivvy me on with “only 100m more of uphill, then it gets flat again” was actually pretty helpful.
The reason there were miners making the climb alongside us was that, at the top of this mountain is a huge sulphur lake, from which they mine the yellow rock to sell. Each miner makes the 3km climb, extracts 90kg of rock and carries it down the mountain on his shoulders….all for the measley amount of £2.50 a load! Our unofficial guide told us they would usually do about two trips a day. Needless to say, the workload is far far heavier than the payment would indicate. It's akin to slave labour really.
When we reached the top, all my grumbling was forgotten as the lake was really very beautiful! The billowing clouds of sulphur gas, however, stung your eyes and burnt your lungs so we had to make sure our noses and mouths were covered when the wind changed in our direction. As we had become quite friendly with our little guide, he decided to take Alex down into the miners' area (“madam should stay up here though”) where Alex was able to take some great photos which the other tourists weren't getting! As a thanks, Alex gave our guide 200,000rupiah (£11) which, considering his usual payment for lugging 90kg or rock up and down a mountain, I imagine was a help. I can see why he wasn't going to be easily shaken on my stumbling and grumbling on the way up!
After the Ijen, our driver Anton (not his real name, but the one he gave us nonetheless!) drove us over to Bali! We were very shocked by the 3 bribes he had to give, just to be let onto the island from the ferry. Each time, a policeman would pull our car over, Anton would wind down the window and lazily reach his arm out and the policeman would take the notes in his hand. We asked what would happen if he didn't pay the bribe, but Anton didn't know…! Ominous!
Bali is very beautiful as, along with the general Asian feel of the landscape (rice paddies, jungle vegetation etc), there are gorgeous Hindu temples, beautifully ornate doorways and lovely bamboo decorations alongside the road. Alex will happily agree with me that I am becoming door obsessed! The amount of times I have exclaimed “what a gorgeous door!” or pointed out door workshops alongside the road as we whizz by, or tried to take photos of doors is becoming a bit silly now! Well done Bali, your doors are magnificent!
We headed straight to a town called Seminyak to meet JJ who is a friend from home! JJ is one of my brother's best friends and we conspired to meet up without telling my brother and then surprise him with a Skype call! (He was VERY surprised when we managed to get hold of him! Haha!) JJ has been working in Shanghai for 3 months and is in Bali for a month to unwind before heading back to Blighty! It's been lovely seeing a friendly face from home and, despite the poor boy being pole axed by crippling food poisoning, we had a really nice time! He had been in Seminyak for a while so too jus to the beach to watch the sun go down and then to a gorgeous restaurant for dinner! If you want fine dining at reasonable prices, go to Seminyak! The place is crammed with resorts, restaurants and shopping! Not exactly the idyllic island life one imagines for Bali but fun nonetheless!
The sunset on the beach at Seminyak
After two nights in Seminyak, the three of us headed to Ubud where JJ was meeting some other friends and Alex and I had booked into a hotel to relax. Ubud is, again, not how I imagined it would be as it's a lot more tourist-y than I had thought, but it's still lovely! We've spent the last few days wandering around, eating, drinking, reading etc! On Wednesday, however, I wanted to go to a local life drawing class as I haven't been able to do any drawing for 5 months! We went to the one art supply shop we could find reference to online, bought our sketch pads, pencils, sharpener and rubber and, on our morning, hopped into a taxi who swore he knew where the art gallery (Pranoto's art gallery) was. However, after driving up and down the road a few times, it was clear he didn't actually know if it was there or not. We hopped out as we had about 5 minutes to spare before the class was due to start and started to ask around….turns out the gallery moved! Miles away! So, we hopped into another taxi who took us there and, when we arrived (10 minutes late), were greeted by two men outside the gallery. I told them we were there for the lesson and they told me it wasn't running that day as…..Pranoto's wife had died 2 days ago. We were mortified as it appeared we'd arrived during a wake of sorts. People milled about in the gallery and Pranoto himself came out to welcome us and invite us to look around. Needless to say, after admiring the work (Pranoto's, in particular, was beautiful!), we made a hasty exit as we didn't want to impose!
Yesterday, we decided to head to Tanah Lot, which is a temple out to sea on the west coast of Bali as Alex had been told it was worth visiting and quiet. However, when we turned up (after an hour's drive), we were met by coach loads of tourists, stalls selling tat as far as they eye can see and a temple so overrun with people, the rocks around it were barely visible! We were intending to stay for sunset and for Alex to get some nice photos but, after an hour, we realised we were more interested in the sky than the temple itself. We decided to head back to Ubud instead of waiting it out….and to get ahead of the crowds! However, our driver told us about a temple in the mountains which has very few visitors so we might try to head there in the next few days!
Today we are heading to Amed, which is a town on the east coast of Bali and there are no cash points! We imagine it's going to be much quieter and more like the Bali we imagined! Let's see, shall we? 🙂
Nb. We arrived in Amed before I could publish this post. Amed is NOT the idyllic Bali we imagined. It is dirty and disjointed. Our hotel was practically falling apart at the seams and so, after wandering around the miles of road (no taxis anywhere!), we found a villa which looked much cleaner and friendlier….we are moving there shortly!