Saturday, December 05, 2009

Indonesia: Silence Please, the show is about to start


Religious ceremony

Before joining my new job, my friend from overseas and I, we decided to take 6 days off and go somewhere where we haven’t been. After a bit of research, Bali, Indonesia was our choice since there were direct flights to go there. For 2 guys wanting to hang out, this seemed like the natural choice. It has it all, trekking, diving, surfing, white water rafting, its cheap and off course a reputation for partying.


Offerings to the Gods

Being men, we did everything the last minute and we did not really coordinate or gave it much thought since we were sure we can find our way around any city in the world once we got there. So I got there a day early or should I say he came a day late. We stayed in the ‘rowdier’ side of Bali to be close to the action and as close as we can to the beach.

My perception of Bali was that it will resemble Phuket, Thailand. However the place is much, much bigger, more organized, and neater in certain areas. The party scene was a lot more subdued and smaller. The beach was great for surfing, but not as scenic as Phuket. So we lounged around the first couple of days and had great plans for white water rafting, trekking and off course surfing on for the 3rd,4th & 5th day.

A memorial monument for the people who died in the Bali nightclub bombing

However, we found there was a Silent Day religious festival!!! Which we had no clue what it was, until we got a brochure telling us we are not allowed to walk on the streets, drive a car, turn on the lights, put on music or even leave our rooms for a full 24 hours!!! When they said Silent they meant Silent!!

Dress up for the Holy days

We had to cancel our plans and look for a plan B. Plan B was to get out Bali since Silent Day applied to Bali only and not all of Indonesia, so we booked a ferry to the next island Lombok. The island hardly had any entertainment for tourist. Barely 5 large footstall /restraints and half a decent bar/food joint. The weird thing about it was that the Indonesians were Muslims, unlike Bali who are hindu, but many were form Arab, Yemeni origin! Some even spoke some Arabic!!! Some even dressed like Arabs to sway the public opinion to vote for them.

Lombok style elections

From a scenic point of view, Lombok was very pretty and hand some chilled out resorts, but besides trekking and some diving there was not much more, so we had to improvise, and decided to have a early start the next day and figure out what to do. The next day, our Lonely Plant Guidebook said the super tiny Gili Island was the place to be. It’s a very short distance form Lombok and it had a great reputation for parties, restaurants, diving and its was exceptionally beautiful.

Fishing Indonesian style

Transport to Gili was arranged for late afternoon and we had decided to kill time by learning to drive scooters! There were no teachers, just some dudes standing by the street side and we cut a deal with them to teach us for 2 hours and we will pay them. We felt like 2 kids learning to ride bicycles in a park, literally. It was fun for one hour but after that it got old and we did not dare go on the roads.

The 3 Gili islands in the distance

Getting to Gili in a local boat was an adventure in itself, especially when the boat was having trouble starting and we encounter a weather change on the way, which made the journey rough but interesting. By the time we arrived in Gili, it was clear and the island was truly paradise.

Gili Style Transport

There were no cars allowed. You had to walk, rent a bicycle, or ride a horse. The island was around 2 kilometres long, hedonistic, no police on the island, the 250 or so locals were all Muslims who liked to party, dive and took matters super easy. The restaurants were simple but amazing, the wooden cafes were so chilled out, it was a dream. We hit the jackpot. We had such a relaxing time there but we had time constrains and spent less than 48 hours there before heading back to Bali.

Blessed and protected car

I guess having Bali shut down for a day helped Gili become extra lively, but if it wasn’t for the Silent Day Festival we would have never encountered this awesome experience. Sometimes it a blessing in disguise for plan A to be abandoned.