We savoured our very last gourmet Bali breakfast as we prepared to farewell the beautiful Claire this morning. We all got to work packing and loading up our bags, hoping those Bali bargains wouldn’t tip us over the all-important 23kg limit! I was so sure mine would be over.
Our check out time was 10am, the same time Claire’s taxi was due to to pick her up but Suzie, Keryn and I weren’t flying out until 10pm. We had a full day left to make the most of the beauty and culture of this unique island before heading back to Sydney with a thump of reality. Putu, our ever helpful villa host, had kindly offered for us to leave our bags at the villa all day. His suggested plan for us was to be dropped off at the affiliated Cunggu Club (pronounced “Choong-goo”, where we’d be able to hang out by the pool and choose from a plethora of exciting activities like water slides, ten pin bowling or trampolining fun. His driver would then pick us up and take us to the airport at 7ish.
Arriving at the Cunggu Club was not unlike being on the Gold Coast. The place was crawling with Australians – even many of the staff speaking in that familiar Aussie twang. They looked to be running a kind of vacation club for ex-pat kids, the majority of them hailing from Down Under. We sat by the pool for a while but as Suzie suggested, the “Choong-goo” Club felt a lot like “Charingbah Pool!” This was no way to spend our last day in a foreign land! We could rub shoulders with our fellow countrymen any day of the week! We decided to get out of there. We’d go on a bit of an exploratory expedition and then return to shower and change, ready for our driver to get us to the airport.
I had been wanting to spend some more time at Uluwatu but up ’til now there hadn’t been time. My friend Wendy had recommended a place called Finn’s Beach near there and though we knew nothing whatsoever about it, we were in a “what the heck?” kind of mood and wanted to check it out. The Cunggu Club staff frowned dubiously when we mentioned our plans, pointing out the obstacles that lay in our path. It was a long way. A taxi there and back would cost an arm and a leg. It would be hard to find a driver that could come straight away. We persevered as driver after driver fell through. We sat on the front steps of the Club, hope rising with every driver that pulled up out the front, only to be crushed when they departed with other lucky passengers aboard. We were doing the maths and calculating the time we’d actually have at the beach, factoring in our 3 hour driving time, there and back. It was going to be tight! Finally, after 45 impatient minutes, OUR driver actually arrived! His name was Ketut.
Ketut was lovely! He’d heard every Rhonda joke going around but despite being the butt of the jokes was still happy to have Australians in his car! We promised not to mention Rhonda. He asked us if we’d tasted a “cat-poo-chino” yet! Ketut was a fountain of information. We heard all about his village up north in Singaraja where the placentas of his three children are buried in a row under his kitchen floor. He taught us lots about his village customs and his family. His name, Ketut, is part of the naming system in Bali; the name given to every fourth born Balinese son.
Pulling up outside Finn’s Beach Club, we calculated we had approximately 40 minutes (yes, only FORTY minutes!) to imbibe the stunning atmosphere of this place before being whisked away to Denpasar. The sky was filled with beautiful white ball lanterns and a crowd gathered on the picturesque lawn for a wedding. As we rounded the corner we saw, way down between the cliffs, a gorgeous white sandy beach with lines of aqua marine surf rolling through into a private cove. It looked like paradise. We descended the winding white rock-clustered staircase, past a perfect infinity edged pool that took maximum advantage of the sublime view, down to where an inclinator took beach going passengers to the serenity below. This serenity came at a price, however, and there was a daily fee of 250,000 rupiah for the privilege! We were only going to be there for 40 minutes! We pleaded with the young girl to waive the fee, assuring her we’d just be having a quick dip. She wouldn’t have a bar of it. Rules were rules. Suzie and Keryn were looking deflated. I could tell they were considering pulling up stumps and heading back but there was NO WAY I was going to turn around and go home after having driven an hour and a half to get there! Not on your nelly! I paid the required 750,000 rupiah – which let’s face it, is a rip off in any currency – and we were given a 450,000 rupiah voucher for drinks, by the girl, who I think by now felt a bit sorry for us. We took the sweaty inclinator ride to the beach below and were even more mesmerised by the colour of the water and the beauty of the place once we were there. A bamboo tree-house-style building with an arched pointed thatched roof, housed a beach bar and complimentary beanbags, banana lounges and cushions were perfectly placed on the beach, their occupants reading or snoozing under broad market umbrellas. It looked too good to be true! We plunged into the clear warm water for the first and last time in Bali and bobbed around in the gentle waves, all the while, keeping a watchful eye on the time! Taking some snaps on the beach, we were interrupted by a very charming chap, from Notting Hill, who kindly offered to take a photo with all of us in it. He explained that his friend was at the wedding up top and he was just enjoying the beach while he waited. He was super friendly and nice!
Watching the minute hand circle a few too many times and well aware of our curfew closing in on us, we ventured up to the bar for a quick cocktail – as you do! Suzie and I indulged in an Espresso-tini and Keryn enjoyed a fresh pineapple juice. There was some confusion with our bar credit but once we broke down the language barrier (still missing Miss Indonesia) we understood we still had 100000 rupiah left to spend! We immediately thought we should buy our English gentleman a beer. Suzie went down to give him the good news and, being the gentleman he was, he opted to join us! He introduced himself as Dom and was just so nice, impressing us with his innovative business idea (escapethecity.org) seeming genuinely interested in us and what we were up to. He was the kind of guy you’d love your daughter to bring home to meet the family. Hoping we hadn’t come across as cougars, we made him aware of our time restraints and shook his hand as we left. I’m sure he thought we were nuts! Maybe we were!
We took the inclinator to the top of the cliff and then had an anxious (sweat inducing) run up the stairs to find Ketut waiting for us, wide-eyed and tapping his watch. How much fun can you have in forty minutes?! Lots! Feeling chuffed that we’d “lived a little” and been so spontaneous and daring, we climbed aboard Ketut’s car in a collective good mood! The trip home, though an hour and a half, flew by. His smoother than smooth fm radio station playing covers of soft rock songs with Indonesian accents certainly left a lot to be desired! Suzie inquired what Ketut’s favourite music was. He told us his favourites were Scorpions (a German heavy metal band from the 80s) and Michael Jackson! How could we help it? We broke spontaneously into song, starting with Jacko’s early career highlights and working our way through his back catalogue. Ketut, though too shy to join in despite our goading, was clearly enjoying it. Our trip culminated with our romantic rendition, in tune with the radio cover version, of Endless Love. Ketut concurred with us, uttering “it was so romantic!” He shook our hands warmly, gave us his business cards and then waved us off.
Our airport shuttle was already waiting at the Cunggu Club so we asked him politely to give us five minutes for a shower and change. Emerging from the steamy shower, I had put my dress on ready for the flight. Suzie, seeing my attire told me I was “so organised to have even brought a brunch coat!” Wish I had been.
The number one rule we were told about Denpasar Airport was: NEVER let anyone take your bags. As soon as we got out of the car, a couple of official looking, uniformed guys were ready with baggage trolleys and before we could say “hot like a sunrise”, they had hauled our bags onto the trolleys and were encouraging us to follow them through the airport. They asked us what flight we were on and did a damn good job of making us think they were trustworthy. After we had taken off behind them we all realised the error of our ways and began to panic. Mumbling under our breath, we instructed them to stop. They were not too happy about that and stood close to us demanding a tip. They refused to leave until they had some cash. What a scam! Something to be wary of in the future.
We were checked scrupulously by the Indonesian customs officials who asked to see our passports no less than TEN times! The security was on steroids. Our bags went through the x-ray machine, were all cleared, and then checked AGAIN! We even got a post x-ray pat down! Keryn tried to pay the exit tax with her $US but it was rejected because of a slight (microscopic) tear in the note. They really like their US dollars to be blemish free! They also insisted that Keryn throw out her newly purchased water bottle, much to her annoyance. Schapelle Corby has a lot to answer for! We had a nervous hike to the gate before take off, splitting up to go to money changers, toilets and shops, we hadn’t realised it was a 7 minute walk (the sign said so) to the gate! There was a last minute gate change and we were surprised to have the automatic doors open to reveal, not a plane, but a bus!
We noticed once we were finally onboard that there were quite a few empty seats in the rows surrounding us. Suzie asked if it might be possible to spread out a bit. “After the seatbelt light goes off”, we were told. Well, it seems we weren’t alone in our quest for a good night’s sleep. No sooner had the last twinkle from the seat belt sign been extinguished and there was a veritable stampede up the aisle! People were frantically pushing and shoving to get in first and one girl was jumping up and down (I thought she was going to crash the little plane!) The plane was still in take off position for goodness’ sake! With that we kissed the thought of a decent sleep goodbye and due to Virgin’s lack of provision of a pillow, head-bobbed in and out of a restless slumber for the next 6 hours.
Reflecting on our trip now I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to go away with such a wonderful bunch of women. We’d certainly come a long way from our first day paranoia about being robbed, getting Bali belly and having drugs planted on us. Even Keryn (Mrs Hygiene) had eased up on the hand sanitiser that she’d brought to Bali by the bucketload only to find it was provided wherever we went. We’d also grown to love the gentle, patient and caring Balinese people and their beautiful country. I hope one day we’ll be back!