One-A-Week # 5 A day of exploring Nusa Penida Island

To sum up today’s post quickly; I fell for a tourist trap! Naturally, all the issues associated with this kind of travel were prevalent. However, this is not to say that I had a bad day, merely something I wasn’t use to and usually avoid. At the end of the day, it still felt like I had a good time. I don’t want to deter anyone from Nusa Penida by giving the wrong impression or by labelling it a tourist trap, but hopefully my experience will help you to make an informed decision on whether or not you travel to Nusa Penida and how you will do it.

My journey around Nusa Penida actually began the day prior. While walking down a popular street-food market in Denpasar, I was approached by a man. Clothed in the typical surfer’s attire with knee height board shorts, a long singlet and long hair, he immediately tried to persuade me to walk over to his vendor; “Come here, I give you cheap price”. I was a little hesitant at first because I had fallen for a tourist trap before when sold a ticket by a similar vendor in Thailand. Curiosity got the better of me after glimpsing some posters depicting crystal clear waters that had been stuck to his stall. I inquired about them and he told me that it was Nusa Penida, and that he could arrange transport around the island. (And he was adamant about it being “cheap” and giving me a great deal…. sigh). I wasn’t as much concerned about the price of the tour as much as was about how busy it would be. This was my biggest question and he told me that this time of year, on the front of the rainy season, was the downtime, so there wouldn’t be very many. After a bit of haggling, I hesitantly agreed to a price and purchased two one-day tickets for a guided tour around the island.

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We were up at 6:40 am the next day to meet at Sanur Beach, the location of our ferry to the island, by 8 am. Before the day had even begun we were not optimistic about how it would turn out; from our hotel room we could hear a faint hum outside, so we went outside to investigate. We were shocked by what we saw. After several weeks of no rain, it seemed to have all come in an instant; it was torrential. We had planned to ride our scooter to the meeting point, but after seeing the rain we didn’t think that was I good idea. Firstly, we had no rain gear. Secondly, my camera gear doesn’t do too well in water. Luckily, we were able to hail a passing taxi. I think the cabby knew we had no other options because he jacked the prices up, nearly 200,000 IDR for about 10km, and he was not adjusting the price no matter how hard we tried to haggle. Reluctantly we said yes. (At this point we were considering turning around and giving up on the day, but we persevered).

On the way to the ferry pick-up location, the rain began to slow and some rays of sun even shone through. It was a promising sign. We were a bit late to reaching the ferry due to the traffic being slowed to almost gridlock. The ferry operators were very understanding and after showing them our tickets and wading through waist-deep water, we were on the ferry and bound for Nusa Penida. The rain stopped along the way, although it remained cloudy and the occasional shower could be seen in the distance over the fleeting Sanur Beach.

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We reached the island in no time and were surprised when we were welcomed by our driver – until this point all our drivers in Bali had been consistently late. He was a friendly man with a cheering smile and covered, from arm to toes, in tattoos. He showed us to his car and we began the drive to Broken Beach. It was only several kilometres away, but it took nearly an hour to reach due to the severely deteriorated state of the road and the continuous stream of traffic from the opposite direction that made navigating the one-car-wide road difficult. Although the car made it there with all its parts in tack.

Broken Beach was not what I expected nor what I was hoping for. There was people everywhere! It was down to a dawdle just to descend the stairs to the beach because there was so many people. Don’t get me wrong, Broken Beach itself is incredible and every bit as beautiful as the brochures depicted, but it’s difficult to truly embrace a place when you spend all your time trying to navigate between people and not trip on the rocky path. It only now dawned on me that the perceptions of me and the tourism operator from the prior not about what busy is are dramatically different. In fact, many of the locals even said it wasn’t that busy. But to me it was pandemonium. Determined not to let the circumstances stop me from taking pictures, I attempted to take some shots, and with some creative cropping and waiting for some opportunistic moments I managed to get some good pics. (I have written a post under the ‘travel’ heading specifically focused on how to take insta-worthy pictures in busy locations).

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It was difficult to relax without being in the way of people so we moved on quickly. The next location was the Kelingking beach, famed for its beauty and resemblance of a resting dinosaur. After enduring another hour of potholes, dodging the local children who had just finished school, avoiding all manner of animals and climbing vertical hills in our tiny car we reached the top of the stairs that lead down to the beach. There may have been just as many people as the last stop but I really couldn’t fault this place. We picked one of the many tables perched precariously on the cliff and dug into our packed lunch while gazing out across the glimmering water at passing boats. Just 3 metres in front of us was a ledge, before a 180-degree vertical cliff face that drops directly down 200 metres to the ocean. It was a truly amazing location to eat our lunch and one of the best places I have ever eaten in Bali. It didn’t even seem to matter that my rice was hard and curry was cold.

To the right of us was the popularised stairway leading down to a beach with glistening white sands and perfect blue water. The beach itself seems to be an oddity when looking down at it. Nestled into a little cove, it was a literally a small slice of heaven. The cove was perfect, but as soon as you exited the protected location, the water darkened to a murky blue and the wind howled by, cooling the day. We began walking down the steps but was stopped by our guide who told us we wouldn’t have time if we wanted to visit the next location. It was a difficult decision, stay in paradise and risk missing what the next place had to offer or leave and risk the next place not being as perfect as this was. We eventually came to the decision to risk it and visit the next location. And so, we hopped in the car and hit the bumpy road for the final destination of the day.

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Hidden amongst a thicket of palm trees, residing in a small valley was our final destination. I never caught to name of the place, but it was a peaceful little beach with a dainty little cafe. The water was blue, the hammocks strung amongst the palm trees were relaxing and there was great vibe about the place. While it kind of didn’t live up to the hype of the prior destination it was still a nice place to relax and sip cocktails while we waited for our ferry to return.

After a couple of hours relaxing on the beach, the sun was beginning to set in the sky, so we decided to make our way over to the location where our ferry would pick us up. We left a bit early so we could view the area. It presented an interesting contrast between what tourists experience and the real Bali. Shanty old shacks lined the beach just several hundred metres down the road from where we had been sipping cocktails moments before. Many didn’t have windows; the weatherboard was falling away from the frame; rusty, hole-ridden rooves covered most houses. Somehow the people seemed happy though. Whenever we passed a local and they caught our eyes they would always return a smile. Some would even incite a conversation. We would have loved to talk to some but, unfortunately, we had been walking a bit slow and needed to hurry along to catch our ferry in time.

We entered the island earlier that day very sceptical. We may have fallen into somewhat of a tourist trap and not been able to get the kind of photos I would prefer, but we had a great time. Next time, we intend to visit the island and stay for 3 or 4 days so we are able to travel around on our own plan, see more of the area and, maybe, we will be able to sit down and have a long conversation with many of the people who call this beautiful place home. After all, what’s the point of travelling if you bind yourself to only seeing the glamourous side of a location and never delve in and experience the cultural and social differences that make a country unique?

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