When I first found out I’d be moving to Indonesia all I could think about was how much traveling I’d be doing here. I had grand plans to visit as many of Indonesia’s otherworldly destinations as humanly possible. Fast forward nine months and I’ve done a pathetically small amount of traveling within Indonesia.
Because I have to do visa runs every two months, my scant traveling time and funds have been spent on other Southeast Asian countries, namely Singapore, Malaysia and Cambodia. Aside from a much needed getaway to Bali late last year, I haven’t explored much else in Indonesia since I moved here, except for Jakarta, of course.
So when Aaron finally got a break from teaching, we decided that a trip to Rinca Island – home of the Komodo dragons – was in order. We had it all planned out. Because there are no direct flights from Jakarta, we decided we’d lay over in Bali for a few days and visit the unspoiled island of Nusa Penida. From there we would hop on a short flight to Labuan Bajo, and spend three nights on the tiny tropical island of Kanawa where we would spend four blissful days living in a rustic beach bungalow, snorkeling the days away and doing island hopping tours to visit beautiful Rinca Island and its ancient inhabitants.
I’ve been waiting to take this trip for a long time, and I was beyond excited that we had finally pulled it together…or so I thought.
Fail #1 – The bad omen
The morning of our big trip, both Aaron and I were ecstatic about our travel plans and relieved to finally get a 10-day break from Jakarta. Our flight was due to leave at 1:30pm and we were eager to just get going. As luck would have it, our plane ended up being delayed by three hours. Flight delays are a fairly common occurrence in Indonesia, and in all of our excitement we weren’t all that phased. But looking back now, I think it was a sign that this trip was doomed before it even got started.
When we finally touched down in Kuta, Bali’s infamous party town, we were jazzed to finally be traveling again. During the past few years we’ve visited Kuta together twice, so it kind of feels like our old stomping grounds. And per usual we checked into our favorite budget hotel and quickly beelined it to Mojo’s Flying Burritos, the best Mexican restaurant in Indonesia.
Fail #2 – The case of the missing wall
We had booked a room at our go-to budget hotel, The Kuta Pavilion. I love this place because it has a pool, smart TV, balcony and king size bed. But the best part is that it only costs about $20 on Agoda. It’s like living in luxury but on a budget. It really
is was one of the best deals in town.
Since my last visit the hotel added two more stories and this time around Aaron and I were put in one of the new rooms. When we walked in we realized that it in no way resembled the spacious and outfitted rooms in the old wing. It was small, with a tiny TV hanging lopsided on the wall; there were no decorations and instead of a king size bed, there were two sad little twin beds pushed together. Oh well, it was still cheap, clean and a decent deal.
I went into the bathroom and that’s when I heard it, the sound of a voice so clear and loud it sounded like someone was standing right next to me, berating me in French. I looked over at the bathroom wall (which we shared with our neighbors) and realized instead of a wall there were slatted wooden shutters. No joke. So there was essentially a two-by-three foot hole in the wall, covered by some picturesque but paper thin shutters. Since the room was so compact we could hear every peep the French couple staying next door made all night. And obviously they could hear us too. To say this was awkward is an understatement.
We were only there for a night so we weren’t all that bothered. Just a little annoyed that our once perfect hotel was no more. But looking back it was another sign things weren’t going our way.
Fail #3 – The unexpected change of events
That same night (exactly five hours into our trip) Aaron received some unexpected news. I won’t go into the details here but we were basically faced with the decision of either canceling our trip to Kanawa and Rinca Islands or potentially missing out on an interesting opportunity.
Obviously, being the responsible adults that we are we decided that this opportunity was just too good to pass up. But I will say there was a lot of pouting going on that night. The French couple next door can probably attest to that…
The news came late Saturday night and we basically needed to get back to Jakarta by Tuesday, which cut our trip short by a week. Not cool.
We decided to suck it up and make the most of our short time on Bali. And since we’d already paid for three nights at a hotel in Nusa Penida, we would go ahead and spend next two nights out there and fly back to Jakarta on Tuesday.
The following afternoon we drove to the coastal town of Sanur and took a 30-minute ferry ride out to Nusa Penida. We arrived around sunset and while we were dejected by the change of plans our spirits were immediately lifted because, at first glance, Nusa Penida was absolutely magical.
The first thing we did when we got there was walk across the street to the beach and stroll along the shore. It was dusk and the sky was a charcoal gray from the rain storm that was rolling in. It was beautiful. We knew we only had one full day to explore Nusa Penida, but at that moment we vowed to make the most of it.
Fail #4 – The motorcycle accident
I love nothing more than exploring new places on a scooter and Nusa Penida is the perfect places to do just that. Aaron and I set off to explore the island early the next morning. We decided to get two bikes because, in my opinion, it’s just more fun to drive your own.
The island is actually quite large compared to neighboring Nusa Lembongan and Nusa Ceningan. And because we knew relatively little about it and had nothing more than a crude map to guide our way, we knew we would inevitably get lost. But that’s half the fun right?
As we quickly found out, Nusa Penida is a special place. Unlike much of Bali and neighboring Nusa Lembongan, tourists don’t really go to Nusa Penida. Riding around the island feels a little bit like going back in time, and for Bali it’s pretty much as authentic as it gets. There are Balinese temples, smiling locals and stunning vistas around every turn.
After riding for 30 minutes we came across the stunning Crystal Bay, and I couldn’t for the life of me figure out why tourists don’t come here. That being said the lack of tourism on the island was fine with me because it’s definitely the most authentic place I’ve visited in Indonesia.
There isn’t all that much information about Nusa Penida out there, but I had heard that there is a particularly cool waterfall with natural swimming holes at the far corner of the island. So after taking in the view at Crystal Bay, we decided Temeling Waterfall would be next on our agenda.
After taking a wrong turn and getting lost for well over an hour we finally found the turnoff for the waterfall. What started as a wide, paved road immediately transformed into a three-foot-wide strip of concrete that twisted and turned through the jungle. It was muddy and slick from the previous evening’s rainstorm but somehow Aaron and I were careening along the path like pros. We’ve got this…
The road became more and more steep, and considering I’m a pretty anxious person by nature this ‘road’ was causing me all sorts of panic. The paved path eventually transformed into a crude dirt path, with treacherous patches of sand, rocks and mud. I was trailing Aaron and started to get a little antsy. While we weren’t having too much trouble descending the steep hills, I kept wondering how I was going to get back up the road.
Suddenly I saw Aaron’s break lights ahead of me. I pulled up behind him and looked on as he pondered the next, very steep, hill in front of us. I was thinking there was no way. Even if I manage to get down the hill there’s zero possibility I’ll make it back up.
I was about to suggest that we just walk the rest of the way when Aaron dipped down the hill with the confidence of a professional BMX rider. For a few seconds he made it look really easy. If he can do it, I can do it, I thought. I was a split second from heading down the hill when Aaron vanished from sight, disappearing from the horizon line as if he’d been sucked into the earth. I couldn’t see him but I heard the loud and brief sound of the bike revving full throttle, followed by “fuck” and then nothing.
I was trying, with all of my might, to keep my scooter from sliding down the hill (those things are heavy!). All I wanted to do was run down there to see if Aaron was okay, but I couldn’t move without having my scooter topple down the hill. When I finally got down to him, Aaron was standing next to the bike, which was lying on its side at the bottom of the hill. The mirror was dangling off the console and one side of the scooter was all scraped up. Aaron was a bit bloody and cut up but he was fine.
We both looked up the sharp incline in front of us, which looked unimaginably daunting at that moment, and wondered how the hell we were going to get the bike back up. What have we gotten ourselves into? The problem was that the road was actually just sand at that point. And when Aaron had hit the breaks going down the hill, the scooter slid. We would have the same problem trying to get back up.
Aaron slowly walked alongside the scooter, gently revving the engine and inching it up the hill. I followed behind giving it a push every time it got stuck in the sand. I’m not sure how, but we eventually made it back up to the top of the hill.
Aside for some cuts and nasty bruises he was just fine. But it could have been really bad. At that point I couldn’t help but think maybe we were doomed. Maybe there was a reason that fate cut our trip short and sent us back to Jakarta.
Sometimes traveling can be frustrating; oftentimes things just don’t go according to plan. It happens. But despite the fact that our big Indonesia trip was pretty much a failure we still had a blast exploring Nusa Penida.
We spent the rest of the day speeding around the the island, getting ridiculously lost and having the time our our lives. When it came time to fly back to Jakarta, we were grateful that we’d had the chance to discover another hidden gem in this amazing country, and even more happy that we were both coming home in one piece.
Have you ever had a trip where everything just seemed to go horribly wrong? Do tell!