We had heard and read that the channels between the islands in the Indonesian archipelago are home to some of the most treacherous waters in the world. There are many accounts of swift currents, tidal rips, whirlpools and massive overfalls, the likes of which are not seen anywhere else on the planet. While we’d experienced a few minor occurrences of the above mentioned, we had encountered nothing extraordinary and we’d mostly had smooth sailing. We were beginning to discount these stories as just more “sea tales.” That is, until we encountered the Lombok Strait.
We slipped our mooring at the Sundancer Resort on the south end of Lombok early in the morning, and in a light southerly breeze we were enjoying a nice beam reach westward. The first challenge of the day was an inter-island ferry about 150 feet long and five stories high, heading straight at us. There was plenty of water and we were not in an sort of a channel, so we couldn’t work out if he was trying to give the passengers a closer look at us, or playing an Indonesian version of “chicken.” In all our time sailing in Indonesia, we’d never had one of these “professional” boats play looky-loo with us.
I radioed the ferry bearing down on us on VHF channel 16 to ask his intentions, frivolously hoping that he; a) had a VHF radio, b) knew how to use a VHF radio, c) spoke at least a few words of passable English. No joy. I altered course 20 degrees to the right, clearly indicating to him that I was going to stay clear of him and in standard fashion, pass with our port side to his port side. The ferry altered course 20 degrees to his left and was once again on a collision course with us. I altered course another 20 degrees to my right. He again altered his course 20 degrees to the left, as if he was locked on to his target. I wasn’t enjoying this game at all. Altering course a third time, our headsail then collapsed and we were now in danger of an uncontrolled gybe. I yelled hopelessly into the radio “please turn right immediately!” No joy again. I bolted to the foredeck, madly waving my hands for him to turn away, pointing up to our collapsed headsail. Still no joy. I returned to the helm, switched off the autopilot, and prepared to take drastic evasive action. The ferry passed us to port, with barely a boat length (ours, not his) of sea room-way too close for comfort. The captain came out on to the fly bridge, waved at us and said “thank you.” Had we not been holding on for life as we rolled wildly in his massive wake, we would have waved back at him with a gesture of our appreciation. Expletives deleted.
With “Moonshadow” back on proper course and our heart rates back to a normal range, we relaxed over a cup of tea and carried on sailing towards Bali, marveling at the Corinthian spirit of the Indonesian seafarers, and vowing not to bother trying to avoid oncoming traffic in the future, as it appears to be a completely futile practice.
Passing to the north of Nusa Penida and Lembongan Islands in the Lombok Strait, we noticed on the GPS that we were starting to pick up a tail current. Within a half hour, we were enjoying a 6+ knot push, and indicating an average speed of 14.5 knots over the bottom. Clearing Lembongan Island and turning to a more southerly course, I noticed ahead what appeared to be waves breaking on a reef, right on our course line. I wiped my eyes and had a second look with the binoculars to make sure that I wasn’t hallucinating. Yikes! Checking the chart plotter again, I confirmed that this was what surfers dream about, large, nicely formed breaking waves measuring 2-3 meters with nothing but deep blue water beneath. Having no interest in taking Moonshadow on a surfin’ safari, we gave the area a very wide berth. This was the most prolific overfall that I had ever encountered. I could see where a yacht could easily be rolled, dismasted, chewed up, and spat out by these seas, and apparently, some had. After covering 45 miles in just four and a half hours, we made landfall on Bali at Sunur Bay and took anchorage at a comfortable, but rather unattractive spot off of a fishing village on Serangan Island. We thought to ourselves, so this is Bali? Yuk!
That evening, we hopped a cab into town, caught the sunset at Kuta Beach and enjoyed a lovely dinner at a very cool Balinese style restaurant in the Poppies Lane area of town.
Anchored off Serangan, we felt a bit isolated, so after a couple of days, we moved over to Port Benoa and anchored off the Bali Marina, as there were no berths available. Anchoring there was a bit “cozy,” but we did manage to find a reasonable spot where we could swing with wind and tidal shifts. In addition to seeing a bit of Bali, this would be our first major provisioning point since we left Darwin and fueling point since we left Kupang.
We first set about provisioning, and Bali was, as advertised, a place where we could get almost anything we needed. In addition to two excellent western style grocery stores, Hero and Pepito’s, there was a huge warehouse club called Makro, which was is more or less a carbon copy of Price-Costco in the States. We left Makro with six huge plastic bags (which they charge for) of provisions and a case of Bintang beer, having spent about US$60. The only bad news about Makro was that they accept every major credit card except Visa, and their ATM didn’t work. Fortunately we ran into a yachtie friend who made us a short term loan.
On one of our provisioning runs, we made a side trip to the public market in Denpasar, the largest city and capital of Bali. This is where the locals shop, and where many of the smaller shops come to get their merchandise. On one street alone, there were literally a hundred shops just selling Balinese fabrics. Merima had a difficult time choosing anything as there was just an overwhelming array of options. One could literally spend days here checking everything out. Because the market occupies acres of space, right in the middle of the city, it is set up in two buildings of four to five stories each, with a maze of narrow walkways through the stalls with merchandise stacked, binned and hung everywhere. Walking through the market, I was ducking half the time. We spent an hour or so wandering around the market, checking out all the interesting merchandise. Along the way, a lady in from one of the shops attached herself to us. She kept trying to guide us to stalls where, we suppose, she would receive some sort of a commission on our purchase. We told her repeatedly that we were just having a look around and did not want or need a guide. She nodded indicating her understanding, but nonetheless kept following us and trying to steer us in one direction or another. We’d finally had enough of the pushy routine and made a fast exit.
Shopping in Kuta, the main tourist town, can be an overwhelming experience. First of all, there are enough shops to keep one busy for a year. There’s so much on offer that it’s hard to know where to start. If you aren’t keen on the Balinese arts and crafts, all the top designers have shops there. With names like Prada, Ralph Lauren, Georgio Armani and many others, it was almost like a southern hemisphere version of Rodeo Drive.
Our main focus was to stock up on DVD’s. At one shop, we bought 50 movie titles for about US$35 for the lot, all genuine of course ;-() Unlike Rodeo Drive, in Kuta there are hundreds of hawkers on the street trying to flog everything from transportation to rental motorbikes to timeshare condominiums. Some of the pitches are very clever and entertaining, others very high pressure and manipulative. After awhile it all became as irritating as a mosquito infestation, and we couldn’t wait to jump into a cab and get the hell out of there. Someone should really tell them that they are driving people away!
Our provisioning was behind us, but we were waiting for fuel. We had no interest in jerry jugging 700 liters of diesel, so we waited patiently while a mega yacht was parked on the only fuel dock on the island of Bali. Apparently this yacht had adopted Indonesia’s policy of “rubber time,” as we were told three days in a row that they were definitely leaving tomorrow. We also couldn’t believe that the marina would block the only fuel dock for a week or so when there were dozens of boats waiting to take on fuel.
With the 100 footer finally off the fuel dock, we wasted no time in getting Moonhshadow along side. The Bali Marina management has apparently attended the Freddie Fastbuck course on “how to screw the cruisers.” Those staying in the marina must pay for both power and water. The power is usually about 190 volts. While this might be an average between 110 volts and 240 volts, it tends not to work too well for either. The water is not potable and contains little green bits of algae, so you can’t even wash your clothes with it. As for the fuel, they charge more than twice the price than at the service station pump. I suppose when you have one of perhaps three or four fuel docks in the entire country, you can charge whatever you want. They also use a unit of measure that we have come to call the Indo-liter. We managed to fit 750 Indo-liters into our 700 liter tank. This process took three and a half hours as the pump was excruciatingly slow. At least the fuel was clean. When I had a conversation with the marina manager about his fuel measurement, he insisted that his pump was accurate and didn’t want to know me. I told him I would be sure to pass the word on to others.
We were fueled up and happily back on the hook. Happy that is, until a couple of locals came over and laid a permanent mooring less than a boat length away from us on our starboard side. This is the sailing version of parking a car on someone else’s front lawn. I called them over and pointed out that we would swing into the mooring when the tide shifted. They said it was too late, that the mooring could not be moved and they suggested we attach the line to our stern. Trying to be good tourists, we did this, and when the tide turned, we had the mooring line fouled in our prop. I managed to cut it free, and then went and had a conversation with the guy who’d put down the mooring, telling him I was going to cut the line well below the water line if he didn’t get it out of our way.
Nothing happened for a few hours, and in the mean time I had a conversation with the harbormaster, who also suggested I cut the line. We were drifting over the line again, so I got my knife out and began to take action. All of a sudden Mr. Mooring came over and wanted to talk. I asked him once again to move his mooring as it was catching my prop and rudder. He wasn’t much concerned about that, only his friggin’ mooring. Trying to protect his mooring, and maybe appease me a bit, he put a line on the end, tied it to an anchor and moved it about a boat length away and put a big plastic ball on it. A pretty lame temporary fix, but it seemed to be OK for awhile. Then the wind shifted, we swung around and had the hard plastic mooring ball banging against our painted hull.
I again got out the knife and removed the ball. I took it over to Mr. Mooring’s boat. I then tied a SCUBA weight to the line and got it out of my way. Mr. Mooring wasn’t too pleased about this. He came up to us and asked what I had done. I explained that his mooring ball was banging against my hull, making a lot of noise, not to mention scratching the paint. He couldn’t have been less concerned and asked where his ball was. I told him I had placed it on his boat. He then said to me “I don’t trust you.”
Well, by this time I had had a gutful of his antics and began to show my irritation. I attempted to explain to him that he had no right to place a mooring under a legally anchored boat in a public anchorage, and that I had politely asked him on more than one occasion to move it. I continued to explain how his mooring had fouled my prop and anchor, damaging my bottom paint, and how his mooring ball was scratching my hull paint. He was oblivious to all this and only wanted to know where his mooring line had gone. I explained to him that it was on the bottom, and pointed in the direction. I told him that I was leaving in a few days, and that he was welcome to keep my SCUBA weight. Yes, we were soooooooooooo ready to leave Bali.
With all that out of the way, it was time to see a bit of Bali. We contacted a driver/guide by the name of Ketut Suara, who had been recommended to us by our friend and regular MooCrew Todd. Ketut showed up in a very comfortable, nearly new car to give us an all day tour of Bali. He spoke very good English and was able to give us a lot of information about Bali and the places we visited.
We drove about 45 minutes to the town of Ubud in the middle of the island, where we first visited the Monkey Forest, a beautiful rainforest park that is home to a band of very cheeky long-tail macaque monkeys. We purchased a bunch of “official Monkey Forest bananas” so we could feed them. Now the monkeys didn’t seem to actually like to be “fed.” Rather, they preferred to sneak up on us steal whatever they could grab from us and eat that which was edible. We had a leisurely walk through the forest, visited a sacred temple on the grounds, and enjoyed the various antics of the monkeys. My favorite photo of the day was of one particular monkey, perched on a limb, which turned my way, looked straight into the camera, and just stuck out his tongue at me.
Ubud is known as Bali’s center of “cultural tourism,” where people come to enjoy and purchase Balinese art, dine in its excellent restaurants, and relax in its spas. We spent a few hours exploring the galleries and shops, and enjoyed some low pressure (finally!) shopping. Merima had recently earned her black-belt in bargaining, so I don’t think any of the merchants in Ubud made much money that day.
From Ubud, Ketut drove us through the countryside, past farmlands, rice paddies and quaint villages, up a long gentle slope to the rim of the Gunung Batur volcano. We lunched in a restaurant perched right on the rim, enjoying the spectacular views of the volcanic cones, lake and villages inside of the crater.
After lunch, we headed back downhill, on another of Bali’s narrow and winding roads. We were obviously in a fruit farming area, as we passed numerous roadside stands, each offering an array of local fruits, all beautifully arranged in tall cone-shaped stacks. On one road, for a mile or two where there was a neat row of trees on either side, the trunks of the trees had been painted in red and white bands, signifying the Indonesian flag, in honor of Independence Day.
Our next stop was at Pura Samuan Tiga, a Hindu temple near Ubud, sections of which date back to the 11th century. I just happened to be wearing shorts that day, so in order to enter the temple, I had to rent and wear a bright orange sarong. I felt a bit like the Dali Lama, traipsing around in this getup, but found it well worth it as we took in the beauty and solitude of the grounds, and the incredibly ornate temple structures.
Ketut was well versed on rice farming, having done a bit himself before becoming an entrepreneur. We learned a bit about the process, and that Bali produces some of the best quality rice in Indonesia. Even if we couldn’t fully appreciate the subtle differences in the various varieties of rice, we could enjoy the beauty of the terraced rice paddies which are a trademark of Bali. As we worked our way back towards Denpasar, we stopped a few times to view the amazing networks of hand-crafted terraces and aqueducts in the lush green valleys of Bali.
Between rice fields were numerous small villages. Each one is known for a particular type of art or craft. As we drove through, we could see people laboring away in small open workshops, carving, weaving, assembling, polishing and painting. Much of their handiwork was stacked up along the road, or on display at a local outlet. If you had the time, and were looking for bargains, this is where you would go, right to the source. Importers ply these villages and buy container loads of this stuff for shipment all over the world.
We’d had enough touring for the day, so returned to Moonshadow for a shower, and then headed out to Samaya Beach to the legendary Kudeta. Kudeta is a beach club/restaurant/night club, and is about as trendy as they come in Bali. The complex is stunning, the food and service as good as gets anywhere in the first world, and the prices, apparently imported from the States. We had a fantastic meal accompanied by a bottle of California chardonnay.
In retrospect, we feel that Bali is almost a world unto itself inside Indonesia, embodying some of the best and the worst of the country. In one respect it’s sort of a Hawaii with lots of temples, a place that has unfortunately become victim of its own beauty and accessibility, spoiled by tourism. To some it’s simply a tropical extension of Sydney and Melbourne’s party scene. On one hand, we encountered some very friendly, kind and gentle people, stunning architecture and spectacular scenery. On the other, we were put off by the overdevelopment, lack of waste management, smog, congestion, poor infrastructure and excessive greed of those trying to extract every last possible Rupiah from the tourists. We were irritated by a few people who were just plain stupid or inconsiderate. At the end of the day, we feel that Bali is much better suited to the tourist who flies in and out and spends a week or so at a resort hotel, enjoying the beaches, surf, sunsets, scenery, culture, spas and fine dining. For the yachtie, Bali like most of Indonesia, it is seriously lacking in facilities, services and attitude that make for a notable cruising destination. Next time, we’d give it a miss.