Updated: Oct 28, 2019
18/08/19 - Time to leave the Nusa islands and get back to Bali. We are taking the "early" fast boat, leaving about 10am to Padang Bai, a port on the SE coast of Bali. Similar craft as the one we caught coming over but the ride is a bit shorter & smoother as the Badung Starit is fairly calm.
Padang Bai is a busy port town in a little bay with one beach area for the excursion & ferry boats and another nearby for larger commercial vessels. We are met on the beach by a young man from the place we are staying in Amed, who loads our backpacks into a Toyota Avanza. He winds his way through the usual hectic traffic on tiny streets with little shops & stalls everywhere.
There are several large gas stations outside of Pedang Bai with multiple pumps and office (no convenience store!). The main gas company is owned by the government. Gas is sold by the liter and comes out to about $2 per US gallon. In the smaller towns they have little hand pumps with 2 grades of fuel - I have not figured out the difference. You will also see the tiny shops with 4 or 5 water bottles filled with gas sitting out in front - I guess for the motor bikes.
The drive north to Amed is about 45 km, cutting across the eastern tip of Bali and climbing a bit into the hills. This is a pretty rural area where many "farms" can be seen along the roadside, ranging from small plots to large fields. This is the dry season so they are growing potatoes, corn & sweet potatoes. During the rainy season most will switch to rice. The road is fairly well maintained and busy with everything from scooters to large trucks.
Up in the hills we pass Taman Tirtagangga, a former royal palace noted for beautiful fountains, ponds and gardens. Almost completely destroyed by eruption of Mt. Agung in 1963 but has been rebuilt. Some locals complain that it has become over crowded with tourists and ugly cafes & souvenir shops have been added.
As we get closer to the coast we begin to see salt making operations. This is a very laborious process that's takes 8 - 10 days to produce salt from seawater. Many salt farmers would barely break even after a season of salt making. Most "farms" near the beach have converted to homestay rooms, cafes or shops. I noticed some nearby salt farms had hoses coming from the ocean so they could pump in the seawater instead of hand carrying.
We roll into Amed about 90 minutes later and notice that almost every other shop has diving adverts in front. Amed has been a poor & remote village that relied on fishing and salt making for livelihood. It was only in 2000 that tarmac was laid on the roads. Telephone lines were installed in 2003 and it took until 2007 for a bridge to be built over a section of the main road that regularly washed away during the rainy season.
But the coastline along here has an abundance of tropical coral reefs and marine life that has been attracting divers for years. With the improvements in infrastructure the diving industry has exploded with many shops offering snorkeling and SCUBA, from shore and from boats. There are also some artificial structures sunk along the beach (like the pyramids) to promote coral growth. The predominant beach and bottom matter is black volcanic sand - coarser near Mt. Agung and finer as you get farther away. Underwater they call this "muck diving" when it is mainly the black, silty sand with random coral.
Our room at DeAdema Guest House was not ready so we left our packs and walked down to The Cup Resto for some coffee on their rooftop, surveying the beautiful coastline, with majestic Mt. Agung dominating the west. Walking back along the beach we took a closer look at all the jukungs (we called them spider boats) lining the shore and plying the waters.
These outriggers are the standard craft used around here for fishing, diving and fun. The (formerly wooden) narrow hulls are HDPE pipe with wooden booms and outriggers, and some have wooden masts for crab-claw sails. The rigging is all held together with heavy monofilament line and sometimes zip-ties. Most have a type of propulsion consisting of a Yamaha or Honda 4hp engine (like a small lawn mower engine) connected to a long shaft extending out the back with a propeller on the end. The pilot starts the engine & drops the shaft into a bracket - then uses a large wooden rudder to steer. A few of the boats use a modern outboard engine. Our host here just received a brand new Yamaha Enduro 15 for his jukung, which cost him about $17,000 US!
The fisherman will take folks out to watch while they fish, catching mackerel and tuna using long lines or nets. Some also travel out to sea about an hour and a half to catch mahi, where they have built a large floating platform of bamboo mats and poles. They hang many small bits of fish or bait to attract small fish, which attract the mahi. Kind of like finding mahi around large patches of sargassum or floating pieces of lumber in south Florida or the keys. We are going to try this on next Sunday!
Our large room at DeAdema was lovely with tiled floors, large bed, small fridge and large porch right on the beach. The cost (~ 35USD) per night included a delicious breakfast with more food & fresh fruit than we could eat.
Monday was my 70th birthday so I celebrated in style - lying about most of the day with a few walks on the beach! A delicious dinner with my wonderful wife and ocean waves rolling in just a few meters away. Walking back to the room we found a group of men hanging out with our host in front of the place. They are Honda Buccok Bali, a local motorcycle club that does charity runs every month all over Bali. They were all very friendly and before I knew it I was doing arak shots with them! Not too bad! After they had left & Susie had turned in I walked a short ways down the beach to hear a local band finish up their last set, playing some Funky Music & some reggae.
This room was only open for 2 nights so on Tuesday we moved down the beach a short ways to Alur Beach Homestay, owned by brother of DeAdema, and very similar in style. Then we took a stroll along the road checking out the dive shops. I was impressed by Adventure Divers, which is run by a lovely Belgian lady named Lisolette and her husband David from London, and has rave reviews on TripAdviser. I booked a trip for Wednesday & will write about the diving soon.
Indonesia allow citizens from many countries to enter without a VISA for 30 days but you need to take extra steps if you want to stay longer. We each purchased a Visa On Arrival when we landed which gives the privilege of a 30 day renewal. But this means either hiring an agent (dicey by many accounts) or going in person to the immigration office (requiring 3 visits!). We are going to try the latter and hope that going to the office in Singaraja in North Bali it will be lees crowded and crazy.
But this also means supplying photocopies of passport & outbound flight. So after much research Susie booked flights to Singapore at the end of September, and I set off on the back of a motorbike to find the nearest copy shop - in Flora - about 4 km away. I have never cared for being on the back of a bike since the very first ride behind my dad on a big Harley. Not that they aren't safe drivers - just don't like the feeling on not being in control. Same with fast cars, boats, etc. But....made it there and back with no more than a few extra white hairs!
Susie walked up to the local school & watched the children preparing for some type of performance. This afternoon (Saturday) we went back but the kids had already gone home from a short Saturday session - we saw them walking down the street in their brown uniforms. The 5 classrooms are very basic with benches, tables & whiteboards, and a small courtyard with pavers & 2 marble "picnic tables". Toilets were pretty yucky. Maybe 20 children to a classroom?
We have made so many new friends and acquaintances so far in Bali it is truly amazing. The Balinese seem to be a very happy people and they enjoy talking and interacting with others. There are many along the streets & beaches that try to sell you something but they are never really obnoxious, and we have seen no one panhandling or asking for handouts. Also enjoying meeting folks from many other countries and learning about their families and travels.
Well the sun is getting low, so time to get out on the beach.
Love and Peace from Amed, Bali.