How many of us have envisioned the beaches of far-off Bali, the tropical destination in the Far East, the palm trees, trade winds, fruit drinks and stunning beauties – all too far away from the U.S. for most Americans to even contemplate ever experiencing? Was it the movie and play South Pacific that ingrained those romantic images in our heads? Or the travel brochures and their eloquent descriptions of life in one of the world’s most exotic locales?
For those who are not aware, Bali is part of Indonesia, albeit nearly 500 miles from where I am in Batam. Roughly the distance from my former home in Sarasota, Fla., to my family’s homes in Atlanta, which I used to drive at least annually. Now, it’s a relatively short plane ride, as opposed to the 24 hours of travel that would be necessary from the U.S. East Coast.
I have decided to treat myself to a birthday present with a trip to Bali – all by myself. Another adventure!
Securing a flight, however, was also an adventure. The usual “Westerner” Web sites, such as Travelocity or even Cheapoair (which I had been using for my travels), do not list low-fare Indonesian airlines. They do list Garuda Indonesia, the country’s flagship airline, but the fares are not cheap. A search of “air fares Batam to Bali” did find a suitable local site in English (www.wego.com.id). The difference in fares on this site for Lion Air, for example, are typically 1/3 to 1/2 the fares on Garuda. And flying on Lion Air will give me the most culturally immersive experience.
The wego site is typical – choose your starting and ending points and your travel days, and a long list of flights and fares appears. Check off what you want and then go to the payment section. Pretty ordinary stuff, except …
… The site wouldn’t let me complete the transaction, instead bouncing me back and forth, asking for my password (again) on one page and then asking for the special credit card (CV) code, and then back to entering my password, and then to the CV code, and back again – a continuous, never-ending loop.
So my boss suggested going to a travel agency in town. This was on Monday afternoon. My travel would occur on an Indonesian holiday weekend, so seats would go fast and I was only four days from leaving. Trouble was, our company vehicle kept being used for other things – and I was rapidly coming down with my latest illness. By about 4 pm, I was fighting fever and had no desire to go into town. Risma to the rescue.
Risma is my assistant and seemingly knows everyone here, as well as what they do. She handed me a business card for a local woman who lives across the street from me with her Aussie husband. Who knew she was a travel agent? It’ a common practice here for the bules to set up their Indonesian partners in business. In fact, many of the bars in town are run by Indonesian women but financed by their bule partners.
Ambar, the travel agent, and her husband, Laurie, were just married, which means Laurie,
an Aussie, is now a Muslim. He works for an oil and gas industry training outfit called Australian Skills Training. Anyway, I sent Ambar an e-mail with the information for the flights I wanted, plus the hotel I wanted to book. Then I crawled to my apartment and spent the next 14 hours on my back fighting fever.
The next morning, only halfway recovered, I went to work and found an e-mail that my flights were booked. Ambar suggested I book the hotel myself online because it would be cheaper, which I did.
So how I do I pay with my credit card for the flights, I asked Ambar? “Our people will be there shortly,” she replied. Sure enough, within 20 minutes they were at my office to swipe my card. The price for the round trip was slightly more than 2 million rupiah, or about $220. Next time, Ambar gets my business.
I fly out Friday morning at 9 and arrive in Bali at 2:20, with a stop in Surabaya. I return on Tuesday, June 19, stopping over in Jakarta, the capital.
My hotel in Bali is the Balisani Padma Hotel (http://www.bali-sani.com/padma/), where I’ve rented a bungalow for $37 US a night. The hotel, all in Bali-style rough-hewn timbers, rattan and thatched roofs, is a block away from the beach and a short walk to the Bali kampung bule (Westerner bar area).
I will be bringing my camera and laptop, of course, so expect postings on this site from Bali this weekend. I’ll try to remember to take some video, as well. Aah, three days of sun, beach, fruit drinks and wanitas (women). And I may be bringing along my new, handmade Hawaiian shirts. More on that later.