At about 10:30 PM local time, after two sleepless nights and a long layover at Kuala Lumpur, we finally arrived at the Ngurah Rai International Airport completely exhausted, and dying to get some shut eye. Given that none of us spoke the regional language, I wasn’t betting on the night to end on an easy tune either.
After ignoring the outrageously priced international SIM cards at the airport and the nosy taxi drivers waiting on the tourists, we located the Forex counters. It was here when I got my first taste of the huge denominations of the local currency, starting from 2000 IDR and going all the way upto 100,000 IDR. We converted about 400 US Dollars worth of money and found ourselves to be overnight Millionaires. With Fifty Two Million IDRs to count, we counted the money five times and then once more, before starting our journey to Sukawati.
The plan was to get to Padangbai, the port where we were to find boats leaving for the Gili islands. We planned to spend the night in Sukawati, halfway there to Padangbai, thus saving precious half a day’s travel time, while also giving me a chance to observe the rarest of rare “Birds of Paradise” at the Bali bird park. Being a planning freak that I am, I managed to find a place, the only place, within a walking distance from the Bali bird park. The catch, there was no other hotel/hostel for miles in the region. Given that we had a confirmed reservation at the place though, my only concern was to not be scammed by the cab drivers at the airport.
My fellow travel mate and haggle-master, Bharathi, managed to find a driver who agreed to drop us at the hotel for 300,000 IDRs; again, it took me a while to comprehend how much that really was in USD. We grabbed something to eat at the McD drive-through and all was merry. It was at that moment when we noticed the Balinese fascination towards anything Indian, especially Hindus. After am hour’s ride filled with interesting conversation and constant reminders that our dear driver was also a fellow Hindu, we arrived at the Hotel. Contrary to what I was afraid of the driver turned out to be quite the gentleman, yet we had other things to worry about; apparently, the place we booked to spend overnight had been shut down since over a year!!!
After a great deal of honking at the gate (above), a lady in her mid-thirties arrived with the bad news. The Hotel had stopped taking any bookings since the past one and a half years. She looked equally puzzled why and how I had a booking confirmation with me.. With nowhere else to go for miles, the first night in the new country was getting very interesting to say the least..
But in order to understand our total desperation, I have to backtrack to how our journey began back in India.. With the flight to catch at 08:05 AM the next day, we were expected to arrive at the airport by 6:30 AM. Sounds easy enough, that is until you realize that the flight was from Chennai, a place about 350 KM from my workplace in Bangalore. A calculated risk, fruitful at the end considering it cut our travel costs by half. Regardless, we had enough time to plan everything – leave the workplace by 6 PM and get on the Bus by 9 PM, and voila you arrive in Chennai by 5 AM. There was absolutely nothing wrong with my planning, except I didn’t factor in a huge traffic jam on the same bloody day.
Our bus was still three hours away from us at 11:00 PM, and here we were two characters all set for our next adventure with our big rucksacks and fancy passports but no ride to get anywhere. The time kept ticking – oblivious our plans, while the traffic seemed to be getting slower as our desperation kept rising. At 11:30 PM, we decided we either find a different means of transport or bid goodbye to our well researched travel plans. We agreed to take one of the KSRTC government buses leaving for Chennai, but of course there was a catch to it as well. Not only were these buses notorious for breaking down, boarding one of these required prior booking, one we weren’t counting on acquiring in the near future. We kept trying nonetheless!
One of the green buses agreed to take us along provided we were willing sit beside him the entire journey due to the lack of any available seat, an extra payment of Rupees two hundred on top of the ticket price and we were starting to feel lucky once more.
Not long enough though since our luck started running out, the bus broke down on us along the highway.. Not once, but thrice! The driver-cum-mechanic seemed to know his trade and was quick enough to take the engine apart and put it back together each time, thus consuming half an hour of precious time in each iteration. Meanwhile Bharathi kept trying desperately to hitchhike the rest of the way in vain, it seemed unlikely someone would give us a life at this hour. We felt relieved for a minute as one of the cars came to a stop on the highway, clearly on cue to our distress signal… but alas it proved to be one of a patrolling police vehicle. Sigh!! We spent the next few minutes explaining why we had stopped a police vehicle; they looked around inquisitively and even tried to get us a lift to Chennai with one of the passing vehicles. None stopped, and soon enough the bus was ready to be boarded yet again, and fortunately enough took us all the way this time!
<I seem to have lost the photograph I took in the bus, will upload it if I find it sometime in the future>
By some miracle, we made it to Chennai at about 6:30 AM, and thanks to a local friend of Bharathi’s, reached the airport shortly. We were elated that we somehow made it in time, and were literally running the rest of the way to get our boarding passes. The irony though, the flight was delayed by one and a half hours. Well, at least we had an awesome vacation to look forward to…or so we thought!
And so coming back to our main story, it’s easy to understand our angst! We were sleep deprived-flustered travelers desperately looking for a break, and the first night in the new country felt symbolic of all that was to come. With no other hotel or hostel to go to for miles, we requested the lady to let us stay the night. We did have a booking confirmation, and the lady looked equally perplexed about the entire ordeal. After much pondering and a bit of over-acting from the two of us, she agreed to give us a shelter for the night all the while reminding us that the rooms are not prepared for guests. We kept promising to leave at the first light..
The place was beautiful, unbelievably so; and as was proved to us eventually, so was the heart of the people who lived there. After a brief wait, the lady came back and guided us back to the room. It was meticulous in every way imaginable! A working air-conditioner, new soaps, clean towels & bedsheets, a clean room & washroom, even shampoos and soaps to go with it.. Unbelievable!! We were given our keys, and left alone with a smile..
Exhausted as we were, sleep didn’t elude us for long. We woke up from a knock on the door, and there she was, waiting with a tray of breakfast and tea for us both, traditional Balinese breakfast. Human mind is a twisted thing, we started wondering whether we’ll be charged as per our booking or is she going to quote an exorbitant price, probably including the breakfast as an excuse. We decided to be firm about paying as per the booking that we made, but were totally unprepared for was really about to happen.
As it turned out, not only were we not charged anything for the breakfast, but she refused to accept anything for letting us stay the night. We were speechless, and I – a little ashamed! We were greeted with cheerful smile by the daughter and the mother of our host; I will always regret not having taken a photograph with them.
A picture perfect beginning, on the edge with exquisite company…couldn’t have asked for a more delightfully thrilling start to my story…