We were so exhausted from all the relaxation on the Gili Islands that, before returning to Ubud, we decided to go over to Ahmed on the northeast coast of Bali to rest up for the remainder of the vacation. Truthfully, we wanted to get back to Ubud as soon as possible, but we had promised ourselves to scout Ahmed as the site for a future Bali beach vacation spot other than the Gilis.
We bought tickets for the “fast boat” to take us straight from Gili Tee to Ahmed without the necessity of going back through Padang Bai harbor, then hiring a vehicle to drive overland to our destination. Right?
Let me tell you something about booking transportation on Bali. Anybody on Bali can, and will, book any trip you want. It almost never works the way the “booking agent” describes it. Behind the curtain, your “agent” is scurrying around, trading vouchers, taking small fees, consolidating arrangements with other “agents,” and exchanging favors.
It makes a kind of environmental and economic sense. Fuel is expensive. Nobody wants to log four hours on an expensive boat and burn all that fuel just to take two Jenkins on a “fast boat” to Ahmed.
So, you arrive at the departure point:
“So sorry. That boat broke. No worry. You go other boat.”
“Oh yes, very fast boat. Leave three hours. You come back.”
“OK, fast boat, three hours.”
“Maybe two hours.”
“Two hours. Fast boat to Ahmed.”
“No. Fast boat to Padang Bai. Then you take car to Ahmed.”
“More money for car?”
“No, no. We have car ready for. New car. Air condition.”
It’s like that. But here’s the sweet part. It works. Somehow, it always works. You get where you’re going. No one rips you off for more money. Maybe it takes longer, but on Bali, time is “elastic,” in fact that’s exactly what some call it, “rubber time.”
“Everybody put suitcases under this tree. No room in little boat. Suitcases come in other boat.”
Deep sigh. Let it go. And presto, the suitcases arrive, undamaged, just where they’re supposed to be.
We put our suitcases under the tree, jammed aboard the tender for the short cruise out to the “fast boat.” On board, we looked back at Gili Tee for the last time.
The boat was fast, I mean it hauled ass. Many of the passengers wanted to be on the top deck for the exhilarating fresh air and the splendid nautical sights.
Unfortunately, the sea was rough that day. The big boat slammed and crashed through the waves sending huge sprays of water over the top decks, pounding and drenching the miserable passengers. A few of us found shelter under an awning near the pilot house. The rest soon retreated to the dry interior cabin. The dry, pitching, rolling, swooping, swaying, odiferous, urping interior cabin.
Ha ha. That was pretty funny. To a few of us.
When we arrived at Padang Bai we found our car and driver waiting. Well, not exactly. There was a driver, then another driver, then another. There was a car, then a van, then another car. But finally somebody got us sorted out and away we zipped to Ahmed, a drive of about two hours, and what a delightful trip it was. Small villages along the sides of the great holy volcano, Gunung Agung, alternated with rice paddies and tropical rainforests. We luxuriated in our own vehicle, our private driver and guide, just the two of us, and . . . air conditioning.
Ahmed is noted for its Black Sand Beaches. That sounds exotic on a brochure, but what it really means is dark brownish gray rock and mud beaches.
Ahmed is both a town and the general name for a 10 mile stretch of shoreline, mostly fishing villages.
The true glories of Ahmed are off shore. This is one of the premiere scuba and snorkeling destinations in Bali. We plan to spend a few days in Ahmed on our next trip doing just that, diving the still-pristine reefs and the sunken ships just off the coast.
But for this trip, more relaxation was the agenda. We booked, in advance this time, our room in a charming small hotel.
With a lovely pool.
And a mediocre restaurant. Pretty, though, and free WiFi that often worked.
Oddly enough, the best restaurant we found in all of Bali or Gili was on the Ahmed coast. It was good enough to deserve, not just our recommendation, but a bit of commentary. We asked the concierge at the front desk for a tip on a good restaurant.
“Sails!” she said, “That’s the best!”
You know that hotels and restaurants partner up, right? You have to take these recommendations with a grain of salt, and maybe a pinch of saffron, and a few fava beans, and a nice little chianti.
Our concierge called the restaurant which sent a car for us. When was the last time that happened to you? A friendly driver took us about two miles down the coast to the “Sails” restaurant, perched high on a cliff overlooking the sea. From our outdoor table, we could see all the way across the channel to Lombok and the Gili islands from whence we had just arrived.
The fishing boats were returning from their day on the water.
Our waiter arrived. Surprise, he was the same friendly gentleman who had picked us up at the hotel. He was also the cashier and manager. As we were still in “low season,” only two other tables were occupied. The service was expert, and the food, outstanding. CJ’s salad is on the way, preparation for her macadamia encrusted mahi mahi entree. Yum.
Just as it got dark, a big full moon rose over the Lombok volcano and illuminated a slivery road from all the way across the sea. My little camera is too limited to capture the radiance of that moment, so I’ll ask you to use your imagination.
Our waiter, manager, chaperone, and driver returned us to the hotel, but not before executing his duty as the photographer of the obligatory happy couple picture at Sails.
The next day, we hired a driver and headed back, at last, to Ubud. Everything on our trip so far had been a warm up, stretching exercises for the real deal. It’s time to get under the skin, beneath the tourist surface, to find the real Bali. Don’t you think?
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