White Water Rafting in Bali

16 05 2014

Today we were up bright and early to go whitewater rafting.  Irini was our driver, yet another very cheerful chap, and he had been learning to speak English for the past three months.  His conversational skills were very good, and they were a hell of a lot better than our Indonesian!  A father of three, Irini worked from 6am – 8pm each day, had two days off per month and earned about AUD$150 per month.  On top of that, from 9pm – 11pm each night he went to his English lessons.  Boy do they work hard in Bali!

Again we savoured the view as we traveled to our destination about an hour and a half away.  As we made our way up into the forested area and headed towards the Telaga Waja River, the rice fields began to appear more frequently and in the stalls along the roadside men appeared to be hard at work forging masonry, brick or clay materials over black smoking fires.  As we begin to climb up into the hills, Bali’s huge volcano, Mount Batur, appeared on the skyline before us surrounded by a ring of clouds.  It was a spectacular sight.

Before long we arrived at the Alam whitewater rafting base, and on out entry into the base, a great bronze gong was sounded to announce “The Powell’s have arrived”, and men in traditional golden baggy pants and sashes bowed to welcome us.  Once we were all kitted out in our rafting attire, all the groups meandered through the rice fields down to the launching area.  From a distance, it would have looked something like a scene from Platoon or Tour of Duty with the soldiers walking through the long grasses.  However on this occasion, in place of M16′, flack jackets and army issue helmets, we had paddles, life jackets and happy yellow safety helmets.  It was almost as treacherous as walking through a mine field, a number of rafters slipping and falling off the path into ditches and almost twisting ankles on the way down.  This could explain why there is also a flying fox at the Alam base office that some rafters were riding down to the river.  We later discovered they were testing this piece of equipment, and I believe that now this has become the method of transport down to the waiting rafts.  Looks like a lot of fun and what a shame we didn’t get to have a go!

On the river bank we had a brief introductory lesson in rafting etiquette and how to respond to the following phrases: lie down, duck, paddle, relax, jump jump and boom boom.  The latter command was the means our rafting guide would use to communicate “We are going backwards, you can’t see what I can and we’re going to hit something big.  Hang the f*&% on!”

As we were waiting to get into our raft, I noticed that my paddle was faulty – in fact one good swoosh in the water, and it would snap clean in half.  I gestured to one of the guides, held up my paddle and pointed at the great crack in it.  “Oh no,” I mouthed.  “Replacement?”  I had no idea how good his English was and hoped that my gestures and facial expressions would communicate the problem.  Roger thought I looked like I was trying to talk through a pane of glass – you know when you talk really slowly?  And kind of stupid?  Yeah, that was me.

The Australian girl behind me understood just fine.  “Oh my god, you’re going to die on the river!” she taunted a little too loudly, chuckling to her mates at her ‘witty’ comment.  I stared at her, my disdain evident.  “I don’t think it’s that serious, but I’m not going to be much bloody use am I.”  She was wrong to judge me.  No, I wasn’t a prissy princess who was stepping out of her comfort zone for the first time to do something some might consider “death defying.”   Oh no, I was a hard-ass Kiwi, raised in the wop wops of Middle Earth where floating down the Waitaki River on a tractor tyre tube, fishing, camping and pooing in a long drop was my childhood.  At that moment, my replacement paddle arrived.  I grasped it firmly in my white, smooth, nicely moisturised hands.  My Trans-Tasman competitive streak kicked in and I took a mental snapshot of her raft team and guide.  I’m going to beat you down this epic river Australia, I thought.  Even if I do have blister prone hands and one Brit and two Indonesians who have never rafted before!

We clambered into the boat – Rog and I at the front, and our two Jakartan friends behind.  Our guide, Jakey, took the stern and we were off.  He did a fantastic job steering our raft downstream, richocheting us off rocks and cliff faces to achieve the perfect line down the river.  Although Roger would have me believe that he was doing this all on his own.  He’s paddling hard enough, I thought, so let him believe what he wants.  After an hour, I was a bit sick of “Did you see that?  Did you see what I did there?  I’m steering this whole raft by myself.  My sea kayaking skills I’ve honed off Hillary’s have definitely paid off.”

In the end, I blotted out his mosquito drone and let the sounds of the Balinese jungle fill my ears.

Our Rafting Team

Rafting down the Telaga Waja River

The duration of the rafting excursion was 2 1/2 hours (16kms) and for US$88 this was extraordinarily good value!  We went head long into cliff faces, got stuck on giant rocks, were swiped across the legs and faces with hanging tree branches and had mammoth paddle/water fights with the other groups.  Roger kept us all hugely entertained losing his balance and falling backwards, legs flailing in the air, right at the moment when we passed the camera man!  Our Jakartan friends and guides laughed so hard they too nearly fell out of the raft!  “I see your sea kayaking didn’t teach you how to balance Rog!”  I chortled.

Thank goodness he had boxers on underneath!

Ahhh, all the finesse of a sea kayaker!

And then amongst all of that excitement the scenery was stunning.  There were times when we just sat back and let the river carry us through paddy fields, dense jungle and rock faces.  We smiled and waved at locals washing their clothes and children swimming, men working the fields and turned our faces skywards as waterfalls cascaded from huge heights down onto us.  It truly was magical!

Then we came to Bajing Dam….

Kiri didn’t know about the dam.  Roger did.  He had researched the rafting website and knew all about it.  So when we stopped on the river and Jakey said, “Lie Down, Lie Down – Big Boom!“,  I began to get a little concerned.  Once we were all in position, we started drifting slowly towards what I soon determined to be a very distinctive drop off.

As we got closer, I could see a cluster of farmers further down river who had decided that what was about to occur was far more exciting than gathering their rice.

We drifted closer and closer.

Next to me I heard Roger say, “Yeah – now these are the rapids I was hoping for!”

As for me, I was trying to peer over my sandaled feet dangling over the front of our raft, all the while thinking What the hell is this?  How high is this bloody thing?  I can’t see anything.  Those farmers look like they are a long way down.   Oh……..Oh……..Here we go……….

“BOOM BOOM!  BOOM BOOM!” Jakey cried excitedly from the back.  What the hell?  Is he standing up?!

Eyes front…….over the top……………..OMG!!  HOW F*~#ING HIGH?!!!

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Going over the top of the Bajing Dam

And we crashed over.

Now Roger loved it, and while I enjoyed it, forewarned is forearmed – particularly when photographs are being taken.

And had I known that my husband was going to use his Adobe Photoshop to take a close up of this photograph and insist that I post it here, I would have tried for a more cooler, got-it-all-under-control facial expression.

Although the contrast between the two of us is pretty amusing……I guess.

The Close Up - two quite different reactions, don't you agree?

Pleasure and Pain – can you tell who’s who? LOL

(I would like to point out that I have evidence of a Jurassic Park ride at Universal Studios in LA in 2004  where the roles are reversed in a photograph very similar to this one.  Just ask for it – I’m more than willing to slap it up here…..close up included!)

When we finally arrived at the finish (having blitzed my Australian nemesis along the way I might add – although reflecting on the photograph above, I don’t feel quite so rough, tough and stuff now!), we were treated to an orange syrupy drink.  I wondered if it was to combat the bugs that had gone in through our mouths with the water, which we had done so well to avoid since arriving in Bali.  This was followed by a yummy buffet lunch and a certificate of achievement.

After the adrenalin had passed and the sunburn had set in, we climbed back into the mini van and made our way back to Seminyak.  We attended to our sunburnt legs, went for a 90 minute massage, popped into a local restaurant for a bite to eat and then spent our last evening relaxing in our villa.

It had been an amazing three days and we had loved everything that Bali had to offer.  Our plane was due to leave at 8.30am the next morning.  Which brings me to my reflections on Bali…

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Strolling the Streets of Seminyak

7 05 2014

Today we decided that we needed to “go it alone” in Bali, and this can often be the most frightening part of travelling – stepping bravely out into the local area, getting one’s bearings and trying to make it home safely in one piece; a particularly challenging task given the congested traffic and lack of pedestrianised areas in Bali.

We amicably shared the road with cars, tour buses, vans and hundreds of scooters, and while we were initially nervous about that, we discovered that everyone showed a great deal of care and concern for each other.  The primary concern of the people of Bali seems to be that everyone needs to get on their way safely and arrive at their destination safely.  Friendly toots to say “I’m here, take care, I’m coming past” were regular during our trek around the streets of Seminyak.  Although taxis mostly tooted for a potential fare:  “Hey you, Australia!  It’s hot, you’re clearly struggling, how about a ride in my air conditioned van?”  As the humidity set in and my hair went completely “fro”, it was a very tempting offer!

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Pedestrians take the hard shoulder at all times!

No, it’s not a one way road…add another car, five scooters, two taxi vans and a handful of tourists and that’s about right!


We met a few street sellers on our walkabout but had decided to avoid all marketplaces on this trip.  While these sellers were hawking their wares, we found them much nicer to deal with than those in Patong Beach who followed and nagged their customers for at least three blocks.  The advice we had read from a number of travel sites prior to arriving in Bali (don’t make eye contact, don’t speak to them, just ignore them….a bit like how Roger is with car salesmen!) was quickly cast aside by us.  We found this advice made us very dismissive and extremely rude, and instead we discovered that  a friendly hello, smile and polite no thank you was enough.  There was only one occasion where a persistent street seller practically climbed in next to Roger in the back seat of our mini-van, thrusting his goods in his face and saying “Only $1!  Only $1!”   After many firm no-thank-yous, and Roger on the point of grabbing his carved ivory horn and ramming it somewhere unpleasant, our guide Nowa came to our rescue and politely told him to sling his hook.  Discussing this in the back of the van as we drove away (Wow $1, that was pretty cheap for such a nice horn!), Nowa told us that actually no, it was a ploy, and the goods would probably be more in the range of $100.

We found the chaps on the scooters who pulled up alongside us, and the men hanging around Seminyak Square selling dubious looking scratchy tickets, to be the most deserving of any disdain.  These gents were annoying and less likely to give up if you didn’t keep walking.  However, as a female, I was less affected by their solicitations.  I found that their ‘pitch’ was for Roger’s benefit.  They always addressed him and never bothered with me.  It could have been they were terrified of my hair, but more likely it was because of the gender roles in their culture.  Roger, as the man, would be considered to be the alpha male of our little pack, the ‘trouser wearer’, and the one carrying the wad of cash in the aforementioned trousers.  Little did they know that all Roger was carrying in his wallet were two duplicate Midland library cards, his Dome coffee voucher from his Sunday morning lyrca clad bike rides and a receipt from the Pound Shop from England dated July 2007.  In fact, Miss Moneypenny here was the one with the cash and truth be told, she was a pretty soft touch when it came to parting with her money……but they let her walk on by.

However, I didn’t mind being ignored.  It left me to smile and wave at people going about their daily chores, including workers on a nearby local building site who turned out to be an extraordinary thing to watch.  The site was just metres from our villa and in a stiffling heat, the men worked hard lugging tiles and buckets of cement up bamboo scaffolding to a third, fourth or fifth storey of a new villa complex.  No protective clothing, no safety harnessing.  They would offer a friendly wave and a smile if it was forthcoming from us first.  One young man even began dancing gleefully (and precariously for that matter) on the edge of the fourth floor slab, so thrilled was he at the attention he was receiving!  Such happy, friendly people.  I was also considerably impressed to see a woman holding her own amongst the predominantly male work force, and stood watching slackjawed as she climbed a bamboo ladder with a bag of clay balanced perfectly on her head.  Respect sistah!

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The beach at Seminyak was beautiful, although we had heard the beaches in Bali were no good, terrible in fact!  Just another rumour to quash I guess.  Perhaps they are not so good down in Kuta?  And it was completely empty while we there but for a few swimmers, beach walkers and surfers.  We managed to find a great little place for a traditional Balinese massage called Cool Spa.  The girls here were fantastic, cleaning our tired feet for us then rubbing aromatherapy oils into our tense, work weary muscles for a full 90 minutes.  And for a very reasonable AUD$21.

For dinner we wanted to try a burger bar that had been listed as the Number 1 place to eat in Seminyak on Trip Advisor called Wacko Burgers.  We walked past it three times before we actually found it, tucked away at the back of a market place.  It really was as delicious as all the reviews stated.  The sauce…..there was something about the wacko sauce!  And for AUD$5 we got a very filling burger, salad and fries.  Perfect!  Even though we had to sit outside dripping in the heat because the air-conditioned interior was full.

We finally arrived back at our villa and fell immediately into the pool.  It had been a hot HOT day, albeit very quiet and relaxing.  But that was why we had chosen Bali in the first place for our holiday.  We needed to get away from Perth, and we wanted to be pampered with massages and our own pool.  We were certainly making the most of it, and we had found our way around Seminyak just fine.  And as an added bonus, tonight we found the mosquito coil in our villa – only three nights after we arrived!  Although, we had survived the mossies beautifully so far: only three bites between us to scrat at.

Feeling that tomorrow we needed to get back out into the wilds of Bali, we booked a white water rafting trip with a company called Alam.  They had been recommended to us by Nowa the day before.  It had been a while since I had balanced on the inflated sides of a raft and faced the white water of nature….Austria in 2003 I believe.  As for Roger, well, he’d never done it before.  He was so excited he could barely sleep and cursed the fact that he hadn’t pushed Santa harder for a Go Pro for Christmas!