Our next destination was Ubud in central Bali which was made famous by the book/movie Eat, Pray, Love. We checked in to our homestay in the center of Ubud and spent what time was left in the day walking through the rice fields on the outskirts of town just as the sun was going down. The next day, we wanted to taste one of Bali’s famed dishes, ‘babi guling,’ which translates to suckling pig. The pig is stuffed and infused with a variety of spices and then roasted on the spit. Anthony Bourdain recommended going to Ibu Oka’s which was super convenient because it was just two blocks away from where we were staying. We ordered the ‘special’ which was a combination of pork roll, fried pig meat, sausage and pork skin on rice with vegetables. It was good but if I could do it again, I would have ordered a plate of just the meat, which was definitely the best part.We rented a motorbike for six hours which cost us $2.50 (including gas) and were off to explore the town. Ubud is exactly how you picture Bali to be in your head. There are fields of rice paddies, small temples, monkeys sitting on the street corners and friendly Balinese people waving as you drive down the twisting roads. Small cafes, shops and restaurants are everywhere. It’s touristy, but beautiful and easy to see why people love it so much.
Ubud is a small town and can easily be explored by motorbike in a couple of hours so we started to head north of town towards the rice terraces of Tegalalang. This is what I came to Bali to see because I love rice terraces! We continued driving further north looking for a place to stop for a cup of coffee. We weren’t searching for any ordinary cup of coffee but the famous ‘kopi luwak’ or ‘civet coffee’ which is the most expensive and low-production variety of coffee in the world. We stumbled across Sebatu, where they brew the ‘cat poop coffee’ on location. We started with a tour of their gardens where they grow a variety of different spices, herbs, cacao and coffee beans. We picked a few of the very ripe, red coffee berries to try to feed to one of the many civet cats on their grounds. The civet cats looked like a cross between a ferret and a weasel. They looked cute at first but were vicious little creatures! The civet cats eat the ripe coffee berries which are digested and the bean is passed out of their system. The excrement is collected, washed, peeled, roasted and ground into a coffee…a real delicacy for some! It’s believed that the natural fermentation process in the civet cat’s digestive process creates a more aromatic and less bitter bean. The tour included a complimentary tea/coffee tasting, but we had to pay $5 for a cup of the kopi luwak coffee. According to Wikipedia, a pound of kopi luwak coffee can sell for $200 a pound so I guess we got a good deal! It didn’t taste much different from regular coffee but I do think the coffee grounds have a much stronger aroma than traditional Balinese coffee. We made our way back to Ubud and the next day, were back on the motorbike heading north again. This time, our destination was Mt. Batur, a volcano on the northern side of Bali. The view of the volcano and lake below were beautiful. We had lunch at a restaurant overlooking the views before heading back towards Ubud. On the way back into town, we stopped at a different kopi luwak tour for their complimentary tea/coffee pick-me-up (no cup of kopi luwak this time). As we passed by Tegalalang, we decided to have a walk around the terraces. Thankfully, we visited the terraces in the dry season so we could climb around the hillside to enjoy the views. Once we were back in Ubud, we finalized our preparations for our next destination in Indonesia… Gili Air. The Gili’s are a group of three small islands off the coast of Lombok and Gili Air was said to be the best place of the three to relax and chill out for a few days. The following morning, we took a minivan to Pandangbai, a harbor on the east coast of Bali and boarded a fast-boat which took us to the island of Gili Air.
We docked on the island and set off towards the north end where we had reserved accommodations. We ditched our stuff in the room and went straight for a swim in the warm, crystal clear water. The beach isn’t the best due to the washed up coral but the ocean views were pretty amazing. That night, we walked to a local warung (Indonesian for small restaurant) called Warung Muslim. We went for the ‘nasai campur’ which literally translates to ‘mixed rice.’ It’s a heaping pile of white rice, hot chilis, vegetables, fried tofu, shredded chicken and peanuts for 15,000 rupiah (about $1.50). It’s sooo delicious that we came back every day for lunch during our six day stay on Gili Air. Locals and tourists alike love it so much its become an institution. If you visit Gili Air, a trip to the warung is a must – don’t let the looks of the food stall scare you away.We heard that to fully appreciate everything the Gilis have to offer, you have to go on a few dives so we decided Gili Air was the perfect place to take our open water scuba course. I’ve been on a few resort dives in the Caymen Islands and Chris and I did a dive in Cozumel but we wanted the real deal. We chose a three day course with Manta Dive and were paired with two other girls, SeYoung from South Korea, Alex from Switzerland and our instructor, Jan (pronounced Yawn), also Swiss.
The first day, we were in the pool learning four basic scuba skills. We were surprised but very excited to find out that we were going on our first dive that afternoon. Our first dive was to a max depth of 12 meters (40 feet) with the first 15 minutes practicing the skills we learned and the last 45 minutes on a fun dive exploring the reef. The visibility was amazing, it was easily 25 meters (82+ feet) and we saw some cool reef fish we’ve never seen before, a moray eel and some beautiful coral. Sorry, no underwater photos, our camera only works up to 10 meters. The next day was very similar. We started in the pool doing drills and learning skills and then were back in the ocean in the afternoon. Our second dive was a drift dive so we didn’t have to swim at all; we were just carried away by the current. The entire ocean floor was a giant bed of coral, it looked like a garden in the sea – so pretty! We also saw our first sea turtle…so awesome.
That night, we moved out of our room to a sweet bungalow right next door to the dive shop (and a closer walk to the warung!). It was just a few meters from the beach and we were able to pick-up the WiFi from the dive shop and it cost us just $13 a night…score!The third and last day, we didn’t go into the pool at all, we just had one morning dive and one afternoon dive but this time to a depth of 18 meters (60 feet). Again, the visibility on all of these dives was ridiculous – you could see so far. Even when we were in the boat, you could look down and see the ocean floor. It was some of the clearest water either of us has ever been in. On our last two dives we saw giant clams, tons of sea anemones with clown fish, puffer fish, another moray eel, heaps of angelfish, parrotfish and many more fish and coral (I love coral!) that we had to look up and log because we had never seen them before. We saw several sea turtles and were able to get so close to them I couldn’t believe they didn’t get scared away.
Each of our dives was unique and we learned something different. It was nice that our four dive locations were spread out among the three Gili islands so we were able to see a little of each island. After completing our four dives, we took a quick swim test and written test and that was it – we were certified divers! We had such a great group and our instructor was awesome. It was so weird waking up the next day not having a dive scheduled. Instead of diving, we rented snorkel gear for $1.50 each, and went snorkeling right off the beach. For some reason, our expectations were really low so we were blown away by all the sea life just a few meters off the shore. This time, we had our underwater camera in tow so were able to snap a few photos of the sea life. Because we grossly over-estimated the cost of snorkeling in Asia, we decided to pool the snorkeling money we received from our honeyfund and put it towards the ultimate snorkeling experience…scuba certifications. So a huge thanks to the following people in no particular order: Mary Tom and David Thor, the Kronengolds, Jessica Simmons, Ben Barasky, Anna Williams and Jon Bak, Virginia Waldkirch, Emily Flowers, Dayne Murray and the Smittles for helping us get certified! We had an absolute amazing time learning to dive and now that we are certified, we are certified for life. It’s something we look forward to doing for many years to come so thank you all for getting us started on a new hobby we can enjoy together!
That evening, we finally had time to walk around the entire island which took just over an hour. The island is closed to cars and motorbikes and there’s a nice trail you can take along the coast all the way around. Afterwards, we enjoyed dinner at Wiwin Café, our usual restaurant to sit right on the water. We went there every night because it had cheap and delicious local and western dishes and the ambiance was amazing. We will definitely miss the Gilis! We contemplated extending our stay for a few more days but I don’t believe we’d ever think it was a good time to leave. From here, we head to southern Lombok in search of some killer waves brah!