Indonesia- A culinary delight

For anyone who knows Kelly and I, you’ll know we’re massive foodies. We actually planned a huge proportion of this year away based around having a culinary oddesey, and we definitely haven’t been disappointed that’s for sure. We spent nearly six weeks in India eating pretty much entirely street food or home cooked meals, ate our body weight in Banh Mi across all of Vietnam, seriously over indulged on incredible curries in Thailand, and and helped prepare the local delicacies of Kava and Lovo on a tiny island with the villagers in Fiji,to name but a few. Cambodian cuisine was a bit of a let down really, but other than that we’ve been truly blown away by the quality of everything we’ve got to sample, and we’ve certainly been adventurous! I must say, New Zealand was also a big surprise for us. Obviously nowhere near as exciting or spicy as the cuisine in Asia, but the quality of produce and food, and the beer was so high it was impossible to have a bad meal!
Having said all that, Indonesia definitely needs a special mention (or its own blog, which is why you’re here). We didn’t expect a great deal I think it’s safe to say, apart from the obvious dishes like Nasi Goreng (Indonesian fried rice), but there were so many special dishes we discovered we were literally in heaven! This post is based more around advice for fellow woodies exploring Indonesia, so you can get he most out of your food discovery there!

Animal friendly feeding



The first thing to say, is the vegetarian and vegan options on Bali and the surrounding areas are out of this world! Similar to India, the primarily Hindu population on Bali are mainly vegetarian. Mix that with the hippie-chic yoga/surf culture at runs through the veins of the island basically mean on every street, there is somewhere preparing something wonderful and bursting with flavour. The Indonesians love their chilli, and a theirs pack a punch, so take care if you aren’t a fan of hot food, but there are so many traditional dishes that don’t even register on the Scoville scale you shouldn’t really have to worry so much. You’ll be given the opportunity to cover your food in sambal if you like your food spicy. Every place you go will have their own recipe, just watch out as some are seriously hot! 

We spent the first week on Bali basically eating pure vegetarian and vegan meals in an attempt to save some cash, but if you look around and find the good local Warungs (traditional local restaurants) you can find some great deals and certainly find some great grub! If you’re after local food, this is definitely my best recommendation; only eat at the Warungs, and check the menu first. Many places charge tax and service on top of the advertised costs, meaning in some cases you can pay up to 20% on top of the bill! We got caught out by this a couple of times, but you tend to see increased costs like that at the more opulent restaurant or hotel. Just avoid them, the local food is so good, you shouldn’t pay more just to get a nice place and shiny cutlery! 

I’d 100% recommend sampling Tempe, a sort of coarse tofu alternative. If cooked right, it’s bloody lovely. I’ve never seen it anywhere else, but I’ll certainly be looking out for it from now on. 

Western creature comforts

 
If however you aren’t that adventurous with trying new grub, the more western offerings around Bali vary from pretty dire attempts at pizza and pasta, burgers and shnitzel (for all the Aussies obviously) to some absolutely sublime eateries who deliver some outrageously good grub, ranging from super food salads, beautiful home baked breads, avocado and feta on EVERYTHING and some proper good smoothies to accompany. Without question, I’d highly recommend eating around the Canggu area, north of the super touristy (and a bit shit) Kuta, ever so popular with the Aussies again. We stayed here for about 4 days before flying to Malaysia, and didn’t have a bad meal.

 But you find places like this all over Bali and to a point, the island of Gili and Lembongan. Whilst they may not exist in abundance, they are out there, and if you’re lucky enough to find them you won’t be disappointed!


The good old black stuff



Obviously Indonesia is known for its amazing coffee, which is best known to come from the Java region, but hunt out some small coffee houses and you’ll be hard pushed to not find some artisan brewer with a direct relationship with some small plantation somewhere else in Indonesia. I’d highly recommend sampling the Bali coffee, served in the traditional style with the thick grains stuck to the bottom of the cup (remember this before you neck the whole cup), it’s about 10000 (about 60p) rupiah per cup at most places, so way cheaper than an Americano, but still damn tasty. However, if you’re lucky, you’ll find a proper maestro of coffee production and preparation. We were so lucky to discover a small shop called Tales of Coffee right next to our last hotel. This place had only been open four days when we first dropped in, and Kobe, the young Belgian owner was a true master of coffee and chocolate. I’d go as far as comparing him to a molecular gastonomist of coffee and chocolate. We only found this place by chance, when Kelly had a hankering for a hot chocolate, and we ended up back there every day after at least once. Without question, this place made the best hot chocolate we’ve had since leaving the UK, and I’d probably say it’s up there as one of the best I’ve ever had! I sampled a number of coffees, but the best was definitely using beans grown on mount Rinjani, and prepares using the v60 method of slow drip, with meticulous care and attention being paid to the amount of coffee used, the speed of pour, the amount of water soaking the grains, and the final amount of coffee in the pot. Seriously, this attention to detail was definitely worth it, the coffee was some of the best I’ve ever had. Whilst chilling out at this coffee house, Kobe told us how he ended up opening the store. During his travels three years earlier, he fell in love with Indonesia mainly drawn for his love of good coffee, so spent the next six months trying to hunt out a local grower and the best beans. Following a huge effort, he found his array of growers, set up collaborations and business deals, and began to market the product with impeccable delivery, sound business strategy and a solid marketing concept. A couple of years later the company had enough capital to open its first shop, designed entirely by him, decorated with locally sourced woods and products, and covered head to toe in beautiful design and stories of the growers and the origins of their coffee and chocolate. It really was rather inspiring to see a guy so young following his passion and taking the plunge into entrepreneurialism in a foreign land like Indonesia: to do it so successfully is a pure testament to his efforts and love for high quality products. 

This is just one of many stories I could tell like this though. It’s clear many foreigners have decided to do the same in Bali; setting up restaurants and cafes that reflect their personal values, and enable them to live the lives they want to live, whilst delivering quality to the locals and guests of the area. Again this was so good to see, and meant we got to enjoy so many great meals and gear so many stories of how these establishments came to fruition. 

What to look out for



Okay so you get the idea; there’s some damn good grub out there. But as I mentioned earlier the local food varies way more than the well known Nasi Goreng, which is probably one of more boring (albeit filling) dishes you’ll end up eating. There are so many dishes that need a special mention.

Nasi Campur: A great thali like dish often served vegetarian. This normally consists of about 5-6 small dishes. Most Warungs will offer Tempe in Kekap Manis (Indonesian sweet soy, bloody delicious), Urap Urap (steamed green beans served with grated coconut, crispy onion and beansprouts), Perkedel Jagung (spiced corn fritters), rice and sambal. Every warung will have a slight variance on what’s on offer, what’s in season, and what animal or fish they got in that day, so definitely something to eat again and again.
Soto Ayam: a spicy chicken soup served with noodles and egg. Again is can vary quite a bit, but is normally full with flavours of Kaffir, Lemongrass, garlic and chilli, and will have a lovely dark yellow colour from the ladles of turmeric added. You don’t see this everywhere so if you spot on a menu, get involved!
Bakso: Another broth based dish, this contains beef meatballs, and normally served willed with crispy wontons, egg, beansprouts and bok Choy (if you’re lucky). You’ll see street vendors all over Indonesia selling this for super cheap (£1 a bowl or there abouts) and you’re expected to season as you please with Kekap manis and chilli sauce. Get involved. It’s delicious!
Nasi Lamak: A coconut curry in essence, but normally served on/in pandan leaf. Apparently this is a poplar Malay dish but it’s definitely made a mark here!
Babi Guling: an absolute must if you’re a carnivore. Essentially this is BBQ suckling pig served with a sambal. It’s very simple, but bloody delicious! The meat is marinaded and cooked whole over coals forever. We tried this at a few places and there’s definitely some clear variance, but pretty consistently it was amazing!
Beef rendang: Well, not much needs to be said about this, apart from it MUST be eaten! Rendang is a slow cooked beef curry stewed in coconut milk and filled with an amazing array of spices. This is probably one of my favourite dishes of all time, so I ate my fair share in Indonesia. This really is a must eat meal here, make sure you eat lots of it!
Meat on a stick: Does as it says on the tin. Across all of Indonesia you’ll see tiny stalls cooking tiny skewers of various meats under coals, normally accompanied by a fan to keep the coals roaring. They are sold in bunches of ten normally, and served as spicy as you like (spicy normally means they are dipped in a home made sambal). Just be careful with what you order, there’s been reports recently of some places in Bali serving dog and disguising as other meats, and I ordered some chicken ones that consisted of, let’s just say, less desirable cuts 🤔. Most places serve sate of some kind, but if you spot sate posut BUY IT IMMEDIATELY! Posut is minced beef and coconut, and was just stunning. Sadly, the best places are nearly always off the beaten track, so speak to a local at your home stay about getting the good stuff.

Hunting out the good grub



As I just mentioned, some of e best grub was carefully hidden from tourists, sold down a tiny alley from somewhere definitely not resembling a restaurant. This is pretty common, so make use of the guys you’re staying with to find the hidden gems. 
A simple litmus test anywhere you go though should be the clientele. If a place is empty, there’s probably a reason for it. Nearly every home stay you’ll see will also be a restaurant, tour guide, booking agent, masseuse, and seller of shit touristy stuff, so probably don’t do all things well. The best meals we had were often small Warungs with a few locals sat around chatting and munching. Likewise, if you see groups of expats (for example, the guys working at dive shops) that’s normally a good indicator of good local restaurants. 
And finally, if you want good western or fusion food, or something more polished, I can’t recommend anywhere higher than Canguu, there’s just so much choice and so many quality places to eat, drink, and chill.

Where’s good for what?

Ignoring regional variance here, and talking entirely from my own experience (so definitely not an exhaustive list), but here’s my recommendations for where to go for what.



Nasi Campur: Le Kan in Canguu. This was a perfectly crafted and delivered rendition of this super popular dish. Whilst it was more expensive than we’d pay previously (89k for one big portion with meat) it was light years ahead of other versions we’d had previously. Just be prepared to add about 18% onto the bill for service and tax.
Nasi Lamak: Head to Uluwatu and check out any of the places near Single Fin (a top spot for surfers). There’s loads of places offering great food for good prices.
Vegan grub: Canguu and Ubud are filled with high quality places serving only vegan food. Specifically though I’d recommend Biah Biah in Ubud (a very cheap but excellent place only serving traditional Balinese food in tapas style tiny dishes. You can get a good feed for about £4 easily. Also worth a special mention is the Eco Cafe on Nusa Lembongan. You pay a bit more, but this place really cares about the world. They don’t use any palm oil or products with MSG, Source all their produce from local growers, and only buy rice from a plantation where the staff are paid a good wage and take a cut of profits. They also don’t use any plastic and give discounts on food if you drop off plastic bottles for recycling. 
Rendang: There’s only one place to mention here; Bernadettes in Ubud. This is specially mentioned in lonely planet apparently, and for good reason. They triple cook their rendang and stew in coconut milk for 24 hours. It’s out of this world! There’s no point in eating rendang anywhere else after going here, it’s THAT good!
Babi Guleng: Again, there’s only one contender here. Ibu Oka in Ubud now have three sights because they are that good, but we were recommended to drive out to no3 by locals we chatted with. The opening hours vary daily (basically when it’s gone it’s gone), and it’s kinda tough to find (it’s down a tiny alley but covered in pig statues), but if you go for an early lunch there you won’t be disappointed. 

 Coffee: You’ll probably know this one already if you’ve got this far, but for me, Tales in Canguu is the clear winner for excellent coffee and even better hot chocolate, but also because I really bought into the values of Kobe’s approach to his company, and wanted to support him as much as possible. Rinjani coffee is a real world player in my eyes now!

Meat on a stick: This is almost impossible to recommend, and I couldn’t tell you where to actually go to get it! But the best we had was on Gili T by a mile. I went off cycling with one of the guys working at Cheeky Monkey Homestay to get it, and it was amazing! Just take my earlier advice and speak with locals to find the hidden secrets.

Healthy grub: Betelnut cafe in Canguu (again, I know) delivered some sublime food and smoothies, all delivered to a super high standard and damn tasty. I highly recommend the sustainable fish curry. This varies day to day dependent on the catch but is damn tasty!

Ethical eating

Indonesia is pretty well known for its palm oil growing on Borneo. If you don’t know how much damage this growing is doing, watch this.

 It’s damn hard to avoid palm oil in food anywhere in the world, it’s literally in everything from toothpaste to crisps, but we are trying to avoid it from now on. I had no idea the sagas this is doing to Borneo but also the environment in general. 

Also, lots of places use sauces laden with MSG, which I would recommend avoiding wherever possible, it’s horrible stuff for your body! Places cut corners to save money, and the life of many of the animals served in your meals is probably pretty questionable. If you want to consider ethical consumption, obviously eat predominantly vegan or at least vegetarian, but also search out the places that actively promote their corporate social responsibility. There are so many you’re bound to find somewhere good to eat!

Finally, and I only mention this because you’ll see it everywhere, but I’d recommend avoiding Lawak coffee. This is super famous in Indonesia but particularly in Bali. Driving back from Batur we stopped at a plantation growing teas and coffee, but also producing Lawak coffee. For those that don’t know, this is weasel coffee. The wealals are fed the coffee beans in their husks, and the undigested remains are made into coffee. Unfortunately though, these little guys are almost certainly mistreated 90% of the time. 

We were fortunate to stop at a place that really cared for the weasels, but I still didn’t want to enourage the production so didn’t buy any. I must say, it smelled amazing though. 

So there you go! An unexpected culinary delight found in Indonesia. For any foodie, this is now a firm recommendation for a visit from me! I’m sure the grub on Java and other parts of this vast country are just as good too, so don’t go just on my experience and recommendations. 

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Lembongan islands and Bali part two- Above and below the ocean

And onto our next stop! The Lembongan islands.

Nusa Lembongan, Ceningan, and Penida are another tiny cluster of islands, but this time off the coast of Bali. Unlike the Gili islands, these don’t come with the precursor of parties, honeymooning or chilling, but as synonymous with activities more based in the sea. Kelly has got seriously into her diving on this trip, and I’ve discovered a new found love for surfing and snorkelling, so this next leg was always destined to consist mainly of these activites. Our trip to these islands was primarily based around not being on the islands, but loving the time we could spend in the ocean. Also, these islands are primarily Hindu, so we swapped the Muslim culture for a deeper Hindu vibe which is all so everpresent here. 

Lembongan is mainly known for its unique encounters with manta rays and the fairly secretive Mola Mola fish, a deep sea fish that only really comes higher up to the surface for cleaning (I think). Sadly, we arrived just before the Mola Mola season, but regardless there was plenty for us to enjoy! After a day of recuperation from travel, we spent a day exploring the first island, Nusa Lembongan, is a really interesting split of hustle and bustle of busy tourism based strip, deeply entrenched mangrove forest, and desolate, somewhat untouched landscape. It’s so small, we managed to drive round and explore the majority of the island in about two hours, checking out all the local dive shops, potential places to stay, and other activities available. During our ride around, we stumbled across an area known as devils tear which was certainly rather lively, but just around the corner we found these natural infinity pools with almost no other tourists around! 

The island itself is as mentioned already, tiny, but has so much character. It’s very easy to get lost in the outskirts and forget this is one of the most popular destinations in Indonesia for tourists. Sadly though, the island is surrounded by these weird party pontoons, offering water slides, banana boat rides, jet skiing and I’m guessing all day drinking, catering mainly to the Chinese caucus of guests. However, once you look past this, there is so much character on the island you can almost ignore all of this. Lembongan and its neighbour, Ceningan, are actually joined by the iconic yellow bridge. After we’d explored Lembongan, we rode across the rickety yellow bridge for another exploration session. Now Ceningan is definitely an Instagrammers dream, absolutely covered in super trendy beach bars and clubs, covered with the iconic beach swings, trendy beach hut style accommodation painted in bright colours, and surrounded by pretty epic coastal scenery. After a fairly arduous drive across some pretty horrific roads (if you can call them that), we stopped at a couple of spots for a bite to eat, a freshen up with some wonderful fruit tea, and some chill time enjoying some stunning cliff top views. Whilst Cenningan is definitely a less touristy and arguably less maintained island, it certainly has its own charm. We explored the lot (well, the lot that’s accessible by bike across the shocking roads that still exist) in about 2 hours as well, so it’s easily doable in a day. 

ANYWAY, back to the real fun stuff. 

We managed to get arguably the best price for our next few days worth of activities; bonus! This is definitely the best approach for Indonesia; book a place for a night, hunt out the local deals, barter to your hearts content, then settle for the best deal you can get, and enjoy! We decided to book onto a number of trips over the coming days. Kelly went to do the must do dives around the island, whilst I made use of the beginner level surf opportunities and opted for a snorkelling session with a local guide. Now, for anyone coming to these islands, I highly recommend a proper shop around for such activities. We found the cheapest place for diving was called dive concept diving. For two dives around the main manta points, we paid 800000 rupiah, which comes in at about £55, at least a tenner cheaper than most places we found. Watch out for hidden charges, as many places charge extra for heading to manta point (arguably THE place for manta spotting, just off the coast of Nusa Penida) as well as equipment hire. Dive concept didn’t charge for equipment hire,and 150000 rupiah for manta point, so was definitely a good deal! For my surfing, I found this awesome local dude Called Nicky, based in a tiny hut just off the main beach where you will probably land. He charged about 50% what others were attempting to charge, and so ended up paying about £15 for a private two hour surf with tutorial, and around £9 for a three hour snorkelling marathon. I was so happy to book with this guy, I got so much for my money and he was super friendly and jovial throughout. My surfing session was simply perfect. Great waves, just off the coast of the island, with constant support from Nicky offering me 1-2-1 advice. Unlike other surfs I’ve done, it felt like the waves were non stop and relentless, without the constant struggle of swimming back to a good break point. For two hours, I endured 5-6ft waves breaking beautifully across a shallow reef, about 3m below the water level. Sadly this obviously meant on the couple of occasions i wiped out, I did cut my feet up a bit, but regardless this was a quality day on the waves, and way more than I could have initially hoped for. I didn’t get any footage here as I was busy surfing, but here’s some footage of lacerations break, where I spent most of my time surfing 

Whilst I was doing this, Kelly was 30m under the waves, enjoying her time with the majestic mantas. I wish we had more footage of these guys, they really are incredible creatures. Kelly spotted half a dozen across her two dives, and came back utterly mesmerised by them. Obviously, I’m gutted I couldn’t join her but I’m so glad she got to experience them in there natural habitat.

From what we learned on the island, some mantas can reach a wingspan of up to 8m, far bigger than I could have ever comprehended! I think it’s safe to say Kelly didn’t spot any quite this big, but regardless this was definitely a once in a lifetime moment she will never forget, and is definitely a tick off on the list of seeing some pretty incredible sea life! 

So after a pretty epic morning of surfing, I went back out on the ocean for the afternoon to get my own taste of the local offerings under the water. Sadly, I didn’t get to see ant mantas, even though Nicky diligently hunted for them off the coast of Penida, but we did explore 5 spots around the three islands, enjoying coastal mangrove spots, shallow coral, deep ocean, and some amazing fish highways. Now, it surprises me still to say this, but I honestly think the reefs we got to explore were probably the best I’ve seen in the 9 months we’ve been away! Seriously, these reefs were incredible; far better than what we saw off the barrier reef in Australia, and probably en par if not better than the exceptional reefs we saw in Fiji! I was quite simply shocked by this, especially following the poor quality reefs we experienced at the Gili islands, clearly seriously damaged by such a high level of tourism. The array of soft and hard coral, and the colours I saw were spectacular, and im so glad I got experience it. If I could, I would have stayed another week just to spend more time in the sea, and sure Kelly would agree!
Our time on Lembongan was short lived, we only stayed for a few days, in an attempt to see a bit more of Bali. To finish off our trip to these islands, we spent a day exploring Nusa Penida. Although this island is by far the biggest of the three, it’s also by far the most desolate, under developed and un-touristy of the three islands, which I’ve gotta say was a nice change from the norm of the past couple of weeks. Regardless, what it lacked in tourism it certainly didn’t lack in character and beauty. We decided to head to a coastal area I’d discovered on other blogs about Indonesia, but with no maps or data, and paths that once resembled roads, getting there was a challenge! Now we’ve ridden some pretty horrific roads during our time away, but the roads on Penida probably took gold, silver and bronze. Once you’re off the beaten track and away from the port, you’re quickly greeted with what sort of resembles a gravel path, made up primarily of huge boulders dotted all over the place, pot holes baby elephants would get stuck in, and cliff edges right on the edge of the roads. They were certainly a challenge to ride, but that’s all part of the fun I guess. Getting tor the spot we’d aimed for though, made it totally worth the effort…

  • After a long two hour drive, we got back to the only properly populated part of the island, and spent the rest of the day exploring the coastal northern strip. This is just what I imagine Bali must have been been like before Australian tourism dominated so much of it; tiny bamboo shacks covering the coast line, covering the sea with fishing lines and traps, barely any Warungs or signs of civilisation apart from the odd new development obviously gearing up for the hoards of tourists that will soon discover this wonderful chilled out place, and by chance, we discovered a tiny turtle sanctuary! Obviously we had to stop to check it out. Whilst this place looked run down, the work they did was fantastic. Run by locals, they buy the eggs off fisherman who’d usually sell them to hoards of Chinese tourists for lunch, hatch them, and release into the wild once they are ready. This sanctuary relied entirely on volunteers, And I was very happy to hear they had loads of westerners dedicating weeks to supporting these creatures. We were lucky enough to see a bunch that had only hatched a few days earlier, definitely the smallest turtles I’ve seen to date. 

Traveling has made me realise the polarising impact tourism can have on a place. When you compare Lembongan to Penida, you quickly realise how quickly tourism can totally dominate an area. Lembongan was great, but it’s safe to say it was nearly totally saturated by crappy western restaurants offering sub par attempts at western food, crappy home stays charging way too much for very little (we couldn’t get a place for less than £12 a night, and we had a crap fan, a shower than consisted of a hose out the wall, and plenty of rust covering everything it could in the bathroom), which was fine for us, but we certainly felt we were paying over what we should have. Compared to Penida which still relied mainly on the locals trade and consisted of family run businesses, full on eating off the land, and untouched beauty. Sadly I definitely could see the impact of tourism taking over here too, and I reckon in 5 years it will be unrecognisable. I’m just glad we got to experience it as it is now. 

Having said all that, we were both sad to leave these islandsWhilst the tourism traps have their downfalls, there’s something to be said about some level of home comfort that comes with western tourism. Arriving back on Bali, we went straight to Canggu, another area close to the heavily Australian influenced Kuta and Seminyak, but with less posh hotels, swanky bars and beaches filled with broken plastic day beds. Now this place is cool! Imagine the awesomeness and laid back atmosphere of Asia with the hipster chic bars and restaurants of east London. What I really loved about this area was the array of small independent shops and restaurants, offering superbly produced menus of local and western food or boutique products all heavily stylised and polished to an incredibly high standard. Over the next four days we frequented a number of these establishments, and I must say we didn’t have a bad meal once! In particular, Deus Ex Machina may actually be the coolest place I’ve ever been to, and Old Mans Restaurant was a cracking spot for a cheeky Bintang or some Sangria. I’ll probably write a blog about the food and drink scene here as it was so good and so unexpected. 

To add to that, the surfing on the coast was brilliant, albeit probably a bit too strong for me. I spent two days out on the surf, loving every minute, but didn’t catch as many waves as on Lembongan (but definitely got my fill of wipeouts, crashes with other surfers, and a couple of wounds from crashing into said boarders). Regardless, it was again bloody fun. Again no footage of this as I was too busy focusing on not crashing out, but someone else has done some great work with a drone for me!

I definitely think I’ve found a new thing I love! 🏄 🌊 🤘

We’ve managed to find so many cool places here I could easily get stuck here for longer, but sadly we fly tomorrow to Malaysia! Indonesia in a pretty amazing country; I wish we had the chance to see more of it, and we will definitely come back for holidays, hopefully with a bit more cash! 

Right, off for one final surf before we fly. See you soon Indonesia, you will be missed! 

🇮🇩❤️🇲🇾

Gili Islands- Part of the furniture

What feels now like months ago (edit-it was months ago, it was back in December) we spent just short of a week on Koh Rong Samloem, staying at the best hostel in the world, Mad Monkey. This was our first proper taste of island life, and we bloody loved it! Our days consisted of pretty much nothing apart from cooking ourselves, swimming, partying, with a bit of naked bioluminescent swimming at midnight to tip off every awesome night we had there. We also met some of the most awesome people we’ve met on this trip so far. Some we’ve managed to link up with again, some were still in regular contact with, and some we plan to meet up with again in Europe sometime. We met a group of legends on the islands who booked a few days and stayed over three weeks. At this point I didn’t think we’d ever be in the same boat, but I was wrong. 

But Koh Rong Samloem was a full on party, we’ve totally fallen for the normal island life. Everything is just so much more chilled out than mainland life. Waking up to the sound of the sea pretty much every day, with days consisting of beach, swimming, and the simple things in life. I’ve lost count of how many islands we’ve been on now over this trip so far, but it’s got to be over a dozen. 
When we were planning Indonesia over a year ago, we knew we had to visit the Gili islands. This tiny trio of islands off the western coast of Lombok have gained the reputation of a must see destination, but not a real taste of true Indonesia (to be fair Bali isn’t exactly traditional itself either)! But the crystal clear water, opportunities for daily swims with turtles, and the positively laid back vibes were far too appealing, especially after our somewhat failed attempts around Bali earlier in the month. 
So we booked a boat, after quite a bit of deliberation and google searching, and off we went. For anyone considering Gili, I’d first say don’t worry too much about the boat journey. They are somewhat notorious as being a bit shit, with a number of boats breaking down and in more extreme cases, sinking! My one piece of advice would be to book with a bigger company, don’t risk a cheaper local boat. For one, they take about 5 hours rather than two on a bigger boat designed for large numbers of passengers. Our boat journey was smooth, not the most comfortable journey, but smooth, and we got there fine. Regardless of who you book with, you will be entering the vessel like this. 

We booked a nights accommodation on Gili T initially, with the intention of moving to another island for a few days, but once we arrived at cheeky monkey homestay we were made to feel so welcomed and at home, we decided to book another two nights immediately. We were greeted by Rudi, the new owner of the home stay, and immediately introduced to Sofia, his Finnish fiancé . These guys welcomed us with open arms and made us feel right at home. They also had such an abundance of knowledge about the islands and surrounding areas we honestly didn’t feel the need to look around anywhere else. The room we booked was just what was needed, with a private bathroom and good shower, a fan to give Anemoi a run for their money, breakfast included that consisted of fresh fruit, an omelette or pancakes, and at a super cheap price. To top it off each room has a hammock outside the room to complete the package, and they had the cutest cats I’ve ever encountered (they were basically dogs). What more could we ask for (maybe an infinity pool, but for about £8 a night on the Gili islands that’s pushing it a bit). 
The Gili islands each have a unique reputation. Gili T is known as the party island as is by far the most densely populated, Meno is a honeymoon island, and Air is a chill out island. We actually arrived to the islands during Ramadan, so the non stop parties ended by midnight every night (when all the bars closed). This had put others off we spoke to, but for us this was perfect. We certainly weren’t that up for nightly partying till 3am, we are old after all 😉. I think it’s safe to say that if you don’t want a constant party, this is easily avoidable. The bars are all along the port end of the coast, with most hostels and guest houses positioned more inland. We never had an issue with noise, apart from one night when our noisy German neighbours enjoyed peer pong a little too much, and returned as the bars closed to serenade us with terrible renditions of U2 songs. That we could live with.
Gili immediately had a huge appeal to us. There are no vehicles on Gili T, with the primary forms of transportation around the island consisting of horse and cart, bicycles, and if you’re super lazy, electric bikes. We never actually made use of any of these though, the island is only 7km in diameter, you can easily walk around it in two hours, I ran around it in 40mins, and obviously all the main stuff is an easy walk away from wherever you are. As with anywhere, the best way to see the off the beaten track stuff is via foot anyway! Also the welfare of these horses was somewhat questionable so didn’t want to encourage any poor treatment.  The island is riddled with amazing restaurants to please any western tourist, a plethora of high quality dive shops all charging the same price for open water certification, and thousands of people on tiny little stalls littering the beach selling everything from snorkel gear to magic mushrooms (they are totally legal here!!!!). We decided to pass on any hallucinogenic antics, and just enjoy the beach though. As with most places we found in Bali, the local Warungs and street food vendors offer the best array of grub too, so partaking in the offerings of the night market was a somewhat regular occurrence, costing on average about £4 for a feast for two. 

We settled pretty quickly into island life, filling our days with reading, snorkelling and generally doing very little most of the time. My relaxing was somewhat scuppered by a couple on Lombok climbing Rinjani, but that’s a different story. 
One day, Kelly managed to get a free shore dive through one of the many dive companies, for the return of a beach clean. One thing that sadly became apparent to us upon arriving was the sheer amount of rubbish on these otherwise stunning beaches. Sadly, it seems that not all travellers give a shit about the environment, their surroundings, or the state of things for other travellers. Whilst Kelly was out picking litter off coral, I proceeded to run around the island collecting stuff where I could. When I returned to the dive site, I continued to collect 5 sand bags full of crap, mainly consisting of plastic bottles, cigarette packets, straws, nappies (fucking nappies, I mean, come on) and anything else I could lay my hands on. When everyone else emerged from the depths, we continued for another hour in the baking sunshine to collect a dozen bags of crap. Sadly this is a daily occurrence too, and upon the reef there’s even more. Seriously guys, if you travel anywhere, just pick up your crap, don’t use plastic bottles, don’t use straws, and maybe consider the environment. To add to our outrage about the state of the littering, we were invited to a showing of a documentary called plastic ocean. This clearly demonstrated the harsh reality of what we’ve done to the oceans, to islands, and to society now with our constant ingestion of toxic chemicals now leaching into water/food sources. I’d highly recommend hunting this down, and watching it, it was really rather shocking and has definitely changed our outlook on our use of plastic.
This whole environmental concern seems somewhat paradoxical it should be said: there are clearly many people on the island doing what they can to preserve the wildlife and reduce waste wherever possible. All is not lost. 

It wasn’t all doom and gloom though. Whilst we continued to pick up anything we could to clean the place up, we continued to empty the absolutely stunning white sandy beaches. North of the main strip, is an area called turtle point, and I can see why. We proceeded to spend most days there, as without fail we spotted a number of turtles each time we went out. This was just amazing, and getting to enjoy the company of such majestic animals was such an unforgettable moment (or series of moments I should say). We also frequented the Western side of the island, which is far more laid back and pebbled with the more opulent (and obviously expensive) resorts, but greeted us with one of the most breathtaking sunsets we’ve seen on the year so far. 
Oh, and they had swings in the sea, so that was cool!
Before we realised where we’d been, I’d climbed a volcano, gone from a slightly darkened skin tone to something resembling mahogany, and we’d stayed a week! Rudi and Sofia did a great job at keeping us there, we were just far too relaxed to even consider moving too far. We did manage a day exploring Gili Meno, which is well worth a day trip if you’re in the area. Definitely more chilled out, but some great snorkel spots and again an incredibly chilled atmosphere throughout. As soon as we threatened to leave the island, Rudi and Sofia insisted we have a dinner together, and Koman insisted I learn to cook Nasi Goreng for everyone (obviously I duly accepted this kind offer).  Then my mate Kaite arrived and immediately checked into the home stay too. Her and Kelly got on like an absolute house on fire, with a shared love of the ocean and exploration of beautiful places (and an equally twisted humour; didn’t see that coming.) Said dinner quickly amalgamated into a banquet for the whole home stay, with some local friends coming along to have a jam with us. The night was perfect, and polished off with an abundance of the locally produced rice wine. Now we’ve sampled plenty of local alcoholic delicacies on this trip, but this tipped us over the edge. It was quite simply sublime, like a slightly harsher sherry. Kelly with her super sweet tooth got properly into this, and full on suffered the next day, meaning we definitely couldn’t leave. 

Clever move guys….

 We ended up staying twelve days in the end, far more than we had planned, but when you find a place you like so much, why move? The rest of our time consisted of very much the same, with the added extension of beer pong on more than one occasion with Katie and Sofia (let’s just say it was a draw in the end). 
Oh I can’t forget to mention Katie getting serenaded/wooed by the local dude missing his front teeth with a surprisingly good singing voice albeit a bit touchy. I don’t think he succeeded

Basically, what I’m trying to say is, this island is cool, very cool. The people we stayed with made us feel like family, we didn’t want to leave, and loved every minute (apart from the hangovers, definitely didn’t enjoy the hangovers). So whilst this wasn’t a super party fortnight, we got it just right. With the perfect mix of beach life, good people, great music, familiar faces, new friends, Bintang, and time in the ocean we’d well and truly recharged our batteries
Sadly, we had to leave eventually. After 12 days we decided to head to Nusa Lembongan for more of the same. We left cheeky monkey with some lifelong friends, an invite to an upcoming wedding in Lombok, a darker skin colour, some incredible memories swimming with turtles, and our faces on the newly created wall of fame for their longest staying guests at the home stay. If you guys are reading this, thanks for so much awesomeness, and making Gili unforgettable, and making it feel like a home away from home (and accepting us as part of the furniture). 

Mount Rinjani- With my head in the clouds

During this trip overseas, we’ve managed to get a few really decent hikes in; way more than expected. After spending a day exploring a national park unassisted in Cambodia, and traversing down dry waterfalls with nothing more than a poxy rope to hang onto, I didn’t think it would get much tougher than that. Then we spent 3 days in the forests of Northern Thailand, staying with a local Karen tribe and living off the land which again, was a physical and mental challenge. Then we took on Tongariro Alpine crossing in New Zealand; our first experience of an active volcano. Tongarero was certainly a battle at points, but the absolutely breathtaking views throughout made it totally worth it. Then finally, we climbed Mount Batur in Bali at 4am for an in incredible view of the sunrise. That’s pretty much the totality of our hiking experience really: we’ve both really loved the trips we’ve done and both agree they’ve probably been the most rewarding and gratifying excursions we’ve done during this year away: I’d probably go as far as saying they’ve all been some of the best experiences on this trip!

So after seeing a few mates post about Rinjani, I couldn’t really pass on his this opportunity, but as most people seem to, I massively underestimated the task at hand!

I’d like to think of myself as a pretty active person. Over the past 5 years I’ve got really into running. Since my first 5k back in 2012 I’ve now completed over 15 half marathons, a marathon (which ended up being an ultra marathon: long story), then progressed my love for running to obstacle races! Again I’ve probably completed over a dozen of these in the past couple of years now, taking on some of toughest courses in the UK in some pretty challenging conditions (like the depth of a northern winter for example on a course filled with freezing water). The point I’m trying to make is I’m pretty active, I like a challenge, I don’t give up easily, and I hate failure.

Rinjani without a doubt pushed me harder and closer to my breaking point than any race, challenge, or actually, anything else I’ve ever done! Let me tell you the story. To add to this, our tour company was pretty shit, and actually really screwed us over makings things infinitely more difficult. Read on for the full story.

Rinjani is the second highest volcano on the Indonesian ring of fire, with a summit at 3726m. The volcano has formed a massive Caldera, and quite uniquely still has the original volcano visible from the centre. Rinjani last erupted just over a year ago, but wasn’t anything major fortunately. Still, it’s a bloody active volcano! From most reviews I’ve read, people seem to consistently say it’s VERY tough, or use language similar to brutal/it will break you/extreme test of your mental and physical strength/just don’t do it. After some of the treks we’ve done so far in some pretty extreme conditions, I thought I’d be okay, and kind of brushed off most of the comments.

Sounds perfect right! I thought so…

So I signed up, got the first boat across to Lombok from Gili T, got picked up in a horse and cart and taken to the HQ, met some of my other climbing buddies, got in a cab, got taken to another HQ closer to the start point, jumped onto the black of a flatbed truck, driven to the start, and off we went for a couple of days of hiking. During this three part journey, it became very clear that our group consisted of different skill sets, abilities, knowledge of the task at hand, and confidence. This was all fine, it’s so rare to have a group all at the same level of ability, so we persevered in a group, with our guide and porters. These guys need a special mention. I’m actually questioning if they are human! The porters are employed to carry the gear, food, water, sleeping arrangements (tents, sleeping bags, etc) up Rinjani for the groups. On average each guy was probably carrying around 20-30kg of stuff in two baskets at the end of a bamboo rod. To make matters worse the were doing this either in sandals or barefoot, up a fecking volcano! Sadly these guys didn’t really speak a word of English, as I would have loved some tips from them as they casually trotted up the mountain without missing a step, but it wasn’t meant to be. Unfortunately for us too, our one guide only spoke very basic broken English, so our general level of conversation with the guys in charge was, to be frank, shit. Oh well, we followed them up the mountain at different speeds, all meeting up again at the various stopping points on route. 

As you’d expect from a hike that increases in elevation over 3km, the landscapes we crossed varied greatly. We started trekking though a small forest Area, opening up into glorious agricultural land backed with undulating mountains, followed by huge rolling hills like something you’d expect from a Tolkein novel, huge steep inclines wrapped around volcanic streams, steep inclines with only tree roots anchoring the ground together, then finishing off with just gravel. 

Oh the bloody gravel.

 The two steps forward/one step back gravel. The gravel that filled your shoes within seconds, buried your feet to ankle depth within seconds, send you flying at shallow points, and absolutely zapped all energy you have in your tank for the rest of the hike. And that was all before the end of day one!

So, after six hours of hiking, part of our group made it to base camp on the crater rim, overlooking the caldera. Sadly our group had split up due to differing speeds up the mountain. My small group made it to basecamp first, followed by other members of the group about two hours later. We actually found out our groups had merged with another, doubling the size to 10 climbers. Once we all arrived and got chatting, it sounded like we’d all had very different experiences so far on the climb. One fellow climber turned up around 8pm, accepting she wouldn’t making it to the summit, but feeling hugely satisfied with her achievement for getting to the basecamp, two others made their way up basically on their own after their guides left then, two others struggled the whole way, and the final climber again, pretty much did the lot on their own. Sadly it was very apparent the company we all booked with hadn’t really planned for climbers needing additional support, encouragement, or hadn’t even considered people going at different speeds. 

I can honestly say that this part of the trek alone was more difficult than any of the others I’d done previously, and we weren’t even a third of the way in. By basecamp, we’d spent 6 hours hiking upwards non stop, in the scorching heat of midday sun (’twas a hot ass day, with very few clouds in the sky), across some incredibly tough terrains (at points effectively climbing up the terrain, not hiking), and reaching an elevation of 2500m; so a mile of elevation gained in that six hour stint. The pure elation we all felt when arriving at basecamp made us all forget about the challenges we’d just faced though. Our porters made up our camp right on the edge of the rim, with some truly breathtaking views across the caldera lake, with the sun setting behind another summit of the caldera. I’ve said this a lot on this trip, but this sunset was pretty magical, offering us a wonderful array of pinky red hues as the sun dipped below the mountains, and finally beyond the horizon. My group (Felipe and Pablo from Chile, and Hanz from Germany) all enjoyed a cheeky bintang to reward our speedy efforts alongside this beautiful sunset, it was definitely a well earned beer! To finish off evening, our porters made us an awesome vegetable curry, which we obviously all wolfed down within minutes of being handed to us, before getting an early night. 

The next day, we were due up at 2am, to make the summit for sunset. We’d been warned by fellow climbers that the next day was even tougher, with sections over 60degrees in angle, horrific terrain, and oh yeah, it was PITCH BLACK! Needless to say we were all somewhat apprehensive about this. By bed time, two of our ten strong group accepted they wouldn’t make it so decided to stay in bed (probably very wise). At 230 the following day we set off on the next leg to the summit, and almost immediately hit a whole new level of tough. 

From probably 20 minutes in, we were greeted by the thick gravel again, but this time mixed with an incredibly steep climb through volcanic valleys crumbling at the lightest touch (no holding onto anything for us then). Previously these terrains greeted us independently, but combining them was just bloody horrible! Any morale or energy we had was almost immediately sucked from our bodies as we battled up the terrain for over an hour. To add to this, the ground in places had fully caved in from previous wet periods, resulting in ankle destroying breaks in the ground. I lost my feet down some of these on a number of occasions, and felt pretty lucky to not seriously injure myself (good thing too, we’d have been royally screwed if we had broken anything). To top this off, the only light source we had was the moon, which fortunately was pretty much full, and bloody bright. Sadly our guide only had one head torch for the whole group (useful eh). Surprisingly, I don’t have many photos of this section, but imagine trying to ski uphill in the pitch black, and not fall over boulders, huge roots extending out the ground, whilst being super short of breath. Yeah. That.

Parts of the climb in these sections at points was again actual climbing, requiring full extensions of legs to actually get up; obviously quite tough on the ol’legs after the other parts of the climb. This terrain continued for well over a couple of hours until we hit the edge of the vegetation growth. Now, the real fun started. 

At this point I think I started to get some of the symptoms of altitude sickness. We’d ascended about 500m In the past two hours, with another 700m to go before sunset to the summit. My energy levels just went through the floor, I had a stonking headache, my limbs ached (including my arms which I’d barely used), and I’m pretty sure I got to a point of chatting total bollocks to my fellow climbers (now joined by Julia, an awesome Ukrainian lass with a scary amount of energy, totally full of positivity who really kept me going from this point on). From now on, the hike looked like this.
So, let me try and explain this succinctly. For the next 700m, the climb was only gravel and rock, at least 50degree incline, with high (and freezing) winds battering us on the volcano edge, with literally a 2 foot margIn of error either side of us at points. Seriously, there were areas where a slip to the left would have sent us down the mountain, and to the right into the caldera; nice eh? The terrain was so tough going up I had to stop every 10-20 steps to catch my breath, slipping down at least a step every time, making this even harder. On so many occasions, I honestly thought I couldn’t do it, I’d never make it to the top. I persevered with huge thanks to Pablo and Julia (the group had yet again divided with Felipe and Yahn storming ahead). Looking up was a terrible idea; every time I thought I was closer the summit appeared to be even further away! On so many occasions I thought we’d made it, only to discover there was another point beyond what we could see. As you can imagine this was ugly demoralising and utterly crippling. After probably another two hours of climbing barely 400 metres, we hit a new point, with huge lumps of stone surrounding us, we were nearly there. One final push, and I hit the summit!
You’d think hitting the summit would result in an immediate sense of euphoria and elation. I think at the time I just felt freezing cold, exhausted, and generally a bit confused. We arrived just before sunrise, maybe by ten minutes. It didn’t really dawn on me that I’d done it until the sun actually started to rise in the distance. At that point, I felt totally overwhelmed. Looking down across the huge landscape I’d just climbed filled me with emotion I don’t think I’d ever felt before. I wish I’d filmed it or taken more photos, but I was so cold I couldn’t really use my hands. No joke guys, take gloves with you! The temperature at the summit was barely above zero, and after the best part of 9 months not enduring anything below about 15 Celsius, it felt fucking cold!
So after probably 30 minutes at the summit, we all agreed it was too bloody cold, and decided to descend. Now for anyone who’s done anything like this, you’ll know going down is a full blown quad burner. This was something else though. We spent probably an hour quasi-boot skiing down the main point of the summit, trying our best to not stack it and roll the best part of 500m down a volcano. It wasn’t easy, we all stacked it at least a dozen times, but managed to stop and take photos at some pretty mind blowing views as we descended towards the cloud line. I honestly think some of the views as we climbed down were more impressive, purely down to the change in hue we experienced over the horizon. We spent a good two hours descending the coarse terrain, passing monkeys, sharp cliff edges, vertigo fuelling drops, and some crazy volcanic terrain before getting back to the basecamp. We were obviously overjoyed,and then found out we were the first back, a mere (apparently) 7’hours after setting off, arriving back to a cloud filled camp where we could barely see three for in front of us, and slowly saturating any hair on our bodies with cloud based rain. 

After a little power nap I awoke to find out the rest of the group still weren’t back though, nearly 2 hours later. An hour later they emerged. These guys had been hiking for nearly 9 hours in total, and we’re obviously exhausted. 

Then everything went to shit.

In an indistinguishable level of broken English, our one guide decided to let us know because our group arrived back so late, we couldn’t do the next leg of our trip, apparently due to the time we were going to eventually set off. We were given two options; stay at basecamp, stuck on the cloud, waiting for the impending storm to unleash its fury all over us, or hike from basecamp to the hot pools (our next stop) and back: a total of 8 hours additional hiking minimum. As you can imagine, the mood in the camp at this point was one of pure deflation. Apparently the guys who came back later had also been told to turn around before the summit, then arrived to discover their tent dismantled, stuff just on the edge of the crater gathering a Lovely layer of dirt and dew. After an internal discussion with our group, we all agreed this was quickly turning into a shambolic situation, so we should just cut our losses and head back to the start. 

The porters were clearly not happy about this, so quickly packed everything up at camp, and set off down the mountain. We did our best to follow, but through cloud and rain, and down some pretty treacherous terrain we didn’t stand a chance. Within five minutes are group had divided again, the porters were long gone, and we worked our way down the mountain on our own.

Fortunately, and by pure chance, I’d tracked the whole hike on my garmin watch, which left a breadcrumb trail the whole way back! Once I discovered this the worries of our group were somewhat alleviated, but we were still concerned about the rest of our group following behind us (but no idea how far). The next hour consisted of a very wet hike though forest areas, along slippery and tree root laden land, down again some very steep slopes that were now akin to a mud run. Needless to say, it was again energy sapping! After a fairly hefty soaking we had another 5 hours at least of hiking, and around 1000m to descend. I think my speedy group must have just been on a pure adrenaline rush as we totally steamed through it, stopping a couple of times to eat a super healthy and balanced meal of Oreos and peanuts. I ended up taping everyone’s knees, as well as a group of Malaysian tourists on their way up; the descend had been tough on the old joints! After 5 arduous hours though, we made it to the flatlands: the end was in sight, but still no sign of our porters, or the rest of our group! Sadly, we managed to get lost right at the last point, had to hitch a lift on the back of a tomato truck into the local village, to try and find our company. I managed to get in touch with my home stay owner Rudi, who superb! They unleashed the fury on our tour operator and got them to sort their lives out and help us. After another 2 hours of total faff, we managed to get our hiking company to accept some level of responsibility for the pretty shambolic second day. They sent a flatbed to pick us up, another one followed for the rest of our group, and we headed back to HQ. After a further bit of discussion with the boss, I managed to get transport for all the climbers to their respective hotels and destinations, which included a private boat for me to get back to Gili T. By this point, all we really cared about was getting back safe, so that was good enough. 

So in total, we spent just short of 15 hours hiking, covering over 20 miles, ascending and descending over 2500m through. 

Looking back though. It was bloody awesome and so worth the pain. 
I feel such a huge sense of accomplishment from completing it, and in a great time, especially considering all the crap we endured. The classic phrase what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger has never felt so true to me. Our culture today is obsessively focussed on unrealistically positive expectations: not everything will be smooth sailing in everything you do, and not everything that’s good will be fun. But picking personal challenges, taking them on head first, and kicking those challenges square in the nuts is without question the best way to grow as a person. I feel that more than ever now. 

Bali part one- Start as you mean to go on 

For the vast majority of this trip, we’ve had a plan. The plan has stemmed from a spreadsheet of budgets, itineraries, and things to do and see. Up until Australia this plan was pretty meticulously adhered to, with some obvious shifts when we get scuppered by typhoons, or when we’ve heard of local secrets of just up to date information on places. When we have moved away from the plan, or just not had a plan for certain sections, we’ve had some unforgettable times! We’ve ended up on a near deserted island off the coast of Cambodia for the best part of a week, we’ve stayed with local families and celebrated Hindu festivals, spent 3 weeks driving the east coast of Australia, the list goes on. So when it came to booking up the next leg of our journey, we thought we’d just wing it. For this stage, this involved booking a flight to bali, and booking a flight closer to home just over 3 months later, with no real plan in between. We had similar between Vietnam and New Zealand and that worked out great! 

This one didn’t start out quite as smoothly though…

So there we were, preparing to board our flight to bali, when we were informed we needed a flight out of Indonesia before they’d let us board a flight! Our rough plan was to spend a month or two working our way across the archipelago towards Malaysia, when we’d cross the boarder. Well that didn’t pan out; with only a couple of hours till our flight we booked what we could: a flight 28 days later to KL. here’s the second part of the initial fail. We had planned to spend closer to 2 months here, but the visa situation has recently changed. We had the choice of a 30day visa waiver, or bouncing in and out of the country to effectively get a new visa. Sadly the extended tourist visa needed some pre planning, a visit to an embassy, all that jazz. Even if we’d wanted to do that (which I guess we would have) doing that whilst driving 4000km wouldn’t have really worked. So now we had a flight out and a massively restricted timeframe in Indonesia. We ended up booking flights out of bali, meaning we’d probably miss a bunch of the route we’d hoped to complete. 

But ho hum; these things happen. 

Then Kelly’s bag got left in Australia….and my favourite (and only) hoodie got left at the airport…

We booked last minute a hotel near to the airport. We were due to land about 2am local time so just needed a bed. The flight was over an hour late taking off, and after sorting out Kelly’s bag info we didn’t even get out of the airport till way gone 3! Being the last people in an airport is a very weird experience… The hotel was a total dump, stank of bug spray, cheap bleach and moth balls, and overall was a total shit hole, but it was a bed. After a few hours sleep we got out as quickly as possible. 
At this point things started to look up. We decided to book into a new hotel that looked amazing, as we’d had enough already of bad hotels (and we’ve stayed in some howlers on this trip). Semimpi basecamp was a brand new hotel in Between Seminyak and Kuda (the Ibiza for aussies). By a country mile this was the nicest place we’ve stayed so far in 8 months! It oozed hipster-chic styling in the rooms, showed movies over the pool at night, served great food, and the staff went above and beyond the call of duty to make sure we were happy! We hired a scooter to explore the surrounding areas of Kuda and Seminyak, and got a proper feel for the area. The rumours are true though guys, Kuda really is the Magaluf for Aussies! The beaches are wall to wall plastic day beds, littered with hawkers selling sarongs and fake Oakleys, whilst the streets feel like any Aussie city, covered in designer surfware stores; not what we were looking for. Seminyak was definitely en par with western opulence, but with slightly more chill. We decided to check out Potato Head, a beach club loads of people recommended to us. And I can see why it was so highly recommended, this place was pretty amazing! A beautiful pool with a swim up bar overlooked a stunning stretch of private beach with an incredible sunset view, cocktails to die for, and a menu that would satisfy any foodie. As you can imagine, it was absolutely filled to the brim with beautiful people all after that idyllic Instagram selfie; obviously we didn’t partake in such heresy, but did enjoy a couple of diet cokes that cost more than most meals we’ve had here. Still, well worth checking out if you’re in Bali. 

One real supeise for us was bumping into Natalie, one of Kelly’s sort of cousins (no blood relations but as good as). We had hoped to see her in Darwin where she now lives but it was just too far to get to in the van. Catching up after so long was great, and as ever seeing a friendly face in a foreign land was just awesome. By pure chance we also managed to link up with my old colleague Katie For a night of reminiscence. 
 After Kelly’s bag finally got to bali our next stop on the list was the inland town of Ubud. There’s nothing else to say about Ubud apart from it’s a bloody cool place! I was trying to figure out where it reminded me of, and the closest I can get to is Chiang Mai in Thailand. Like Chiang Mai, Ubud has held on tight to its traditional cultures, architecture and mashed it nicely with a chilled western vibe. Ubud boasts a huge collection of ancient temples hidden down unexpected back alleys and through shop fronts. We actually found this one hidden behind a Starbucks; what a find! 

Perhaps the most amazing thing though was what lies just on the outskirts. On one of day’s exploring inner Ubud, we literally took a turn right, and within a minute you’d have no idea we were adjacent to a town. We stumbled across fields of rice paddies, surrounded by nothing more than more fields: what a find! For me this was one of the highlights of Ubud as it was so unexpected. We actually did this again at a slightly better known route with again, spectacular views. 

As we were in ubud we had to visit the Monkey forest. It’s safe to say both of us were a little apprehensive about this after our last escapade at a similar temple in India, when Kelly got bitten by a little bugger wanting a banana. The monkeys here were just as michevous; nicking tourists water, sunglasses and hats all over the place, and raiding people’s bags for the slight chance of some grub. Fortunately we were okay this time, and the views along the coast were definitely worth the risk. 
We’ve definitely decided one of the best ways to explore is on a bike. We spent a day driving everywhere and anywhere outside of Ubud, with literally no idea where we’d end up. The only thing we planned to see was a local waterfall, which according to our bike renter, was pretty unknown on tourism routes. He was right; we pretty much had the whole thing to ourselves! After a five minute hike down to the water I had far too much fun getting soaked before heading back to the bike. Another quick search on google maps showed us another waterfall to potentially check out. After a 40 minute ride we hit the entrance, paid our 10000 rupiah entrance fee (less than £1), and made the steep, un-paved hike down to the water. This was definitely not in any lonely planet books or on many blogs. To get to the waterfall, we had to walk along rice canals, down some super steep walkways, through a cave or two, and squeeze through some pretty tiny gaps between rocks, but we made it! Typically it was less impressive than the previous waterfall, but the hike was certainly interesting, and we really did feel like the only people for miles. This is why I love just hiring a bike, the freedom it gives you to see stuff totally off tourist trap routes can totally make a trip. 

Our day continued in a similar guise; just checking google maps, finding somewhere or something that might be of interest, and riding there. We ended up riding through a small parade of people dressed up for a Hindu celebration, a bunch of villages with the cutest kids flying kites (the Bali kite festival is on now), before heading back to the city to enjoy the famous Balinese delicacy, Ibu Oka (roast suckling pig).
Finally, to burn off the high calorie grub we had just consumed, another hike was in order. This time on a slightly more well trodden path; alongside a valley run surrounded by fruit and rice growing. This was another stunning walk called the Campuhan Ridge Walk, definitely recommended if you’re ever in Ubud. 

To finish off our time in Ubud, we decided to climb a volcano (as you do). 

Okay so that sounds crazy; but it’s not that bad. Mount Batur is north east of Ubud, and summits at 1714m. We set off at 2am to make sure we made it for sunrise, which we did with 30 minutes to spare. What a great hike! For the last 400m the terrain was pretty tough, made up primarily of dust or big rocks. With the dodgy terrain, thin air and chilly temperatures (oh and that it was still dark) it wasn’t the easiest, but so worth it. Whilst we battled against clouds, when they did break, the views were truly breathtaking. 

So you’re probably thinking this doesn’t sound like much failing right? Yeah, we did some more fail, don’t you worry. 

Again, we took recommendations from a bunch of fellow travelers we have met, and ventured south. I was desperate to get some more surfing in, so we decided to head to Bingin beach on the south west of the island. Everyone we had spoken to advised we leave our bags at the top of a very high cliff edge, and search the local hotels for a place to stay rather than booking anywhere online in advance. So off I ventured, up and down the very steep steps to the beach and back, stopping at every hotel, guesthouse and villa I could find. 90% were either out of our price range by at least three fold, or were full. After two hours of very sweaty searching we finally found a place for 250k right on the beach. Whilst it was basic as anything, it was still the most expensive room we’ve paid for in Indonesia thus far! But to be honest I didn’t care with a view like this. 

So here’s the next big fail. The swells were apparently huge, abnormally huge for the next few days, hence why everywhere was full I guess! This meant no novice surfing could really take place anywhere on this southern ridge of bali. The waves for the next few days averaged anywhere between 10-14ft, I would have almost certainly died giving that a go. So there we were, in a surfers paradise, without being able to surf, and running out of cash too (no ATM nearby and we didn’t have transport). Needless to say we decided to move on and cut our losses pretty quickly. Still, I’m very glad we made it down there to witness some seriously skilful surfing and a sunset like this. 

The following day, we battled for over an hour to get an uber (companies like uber and grab are apparently banned by the local taxi mafia as they at least cut fees by half of normal local cabbies) to get to Uluwatu. Fortunately we managed to land a genuinely nice cabbie who drove us around a few hotels whilst we haggled for the best price. Once we found a place I went on another hunt for a bike to rent. Again, fail time! Everywhere had sold out of all their bikes! After another 90 minutes of fairly frustrating hunting for a scooter, I finally got one and we ventured along the coast to check out the pro surfers who’d traveled here for the freakishly big waves, as well as another monkey temple; this time right on a beautiful coast line. These photos really don’t do the surf or the temples justice though. 
So after all this fail, we both agreed to just give up and go to a tiny island just off Lombok for a bit. We jumped on a boat to Gili T, where I’m sat now writing this blog. We’ve done very little for the last week apart from run around the island (the whole 7k of it), lie on white sandy beaches, read, snorkel with turtles, clean beaches, dive, and generally chill. Oh I did do one more thing, which was such an experience it deserves its own blog. Watch this space