Grab and Gojek - A Ray of Light in the Otherwise Dismal Transportation Scene in Bali

Transportation in Bali, at least from the perspective of this budget traveler, is severely broken. Compared to the trains, subways, public buses, ferries, and more of the rest of our trip, travel was so much of a bummer that for mostly this reason, we will have a hard time recommending Bali to prospective travelers.

Don't get me wrong: we saw some really cool stuff. There were oodles of seclude waterfalls, myriad gorgeous rice terraces, innumerable friendly people, countless cute monkeys, delicious food and drink, a really really tall statue, and more. But getting to each of said places was a challenge (and not the good kind of challenge where you feel like you accomplished something afterward, but more like the kind of challenge you might euphemistically call talking to your Trump-supporting uncle about politics.)

Bali's epic fail of a transportation scene is an open secret. The roads are overcrowded and sometimes downright scary due to poor infrastructure investment; the public transportation system that was once in place has pretty much ceased due to all locals now owning their own scooter; the taxi system has been called a "mafia" where prices are monopolistically high and the aggressiveness of the drivers is nerve-rattling; and renting a scooter, while an attractive option, comes with a risk of playing into police bribery*. Most travel guides suggest hiring a driver and private car to take you around to the various sites, but besides costing more than our total daily budget, this option felt just too chauffer-ish.

Enter Grab and Gojek, Asia's answer to Uber and Lyft. Prices are very reasonable and clearly communicated, the drivers never once failed to be friendly, miscommunication is rare since you select destination via the app, and the cars were all airconditioned*. While private ride-share takes away from the travel experience, separating us off in our own little bubble, it was pretty nice when it worked. But many areas ban Grab and Gojek* while others were so remote, there weren't any drivers around.

So what do you do in the absence of good transportation options? We got creative. We rented bikes and took to the back roads. We bummed a ride with the every so friendly locals. We walked...a lot. And, unfortunately, we did less than we would have otherwise. Temples went unseen, beaches went unswam, and chocolate plantations went ungrazed.

If we get a chance to tell you about our epic 2-month Singapore/Malaysia/Indonesia celebration trip, you'll hear about tons of the awesome stuff we saw and did, but you'll also probably hear about why it ended on a bit of a less than positive note all because of Bali's bummer of a transportation scene. So it goes.
Saturday February 1 2020File under: travel, indonesia

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The Photo Not Taken

One of the main tourist attractions in Bali seems to be instagrammable photo ops. The roadside is littered with colorful signs to pose under, [albeit beautifully] woven hearts and nests, and swings galore. Never, however, was this photo-in-lieu-of-actual-culture made more apparent than today at the Handara Gate.

Due to a series of circumstances too convoluted to get into, Della and I hired a private taxi for the day to take us to some sights and drop us off at a somewhat off the beaten path mountain town. Sights included UNESCO World Heritage rice fields (which were pretty magical), a temple on a lake and surrounding gardens (which felt a little like Disneyland, i.e. contrived for tourists but still kind of nice), and the Handara Gate (actually a gate to a golf course resort).

The scene at the gates epitomized the it's-all-about-Instragram phenomenon that we can't help but sometimes feel overwhelmed by. You had to pay $3 and stand in line for 20+ minutes to get your photo op. And that's it. You never got a chance to actually admire the gate, since there was always someone posing there. There wasn't anything else there (unless you wanted to get in a quick 9). These hoards of people drove to this spot to stand in a line to get the photo and leave. But we weren't going to become one of them. We hopped back in our taxi (much to our driver's surprise) and were on our way.

The gates are beautiful. And we understand the draw for sure. And if we pass by again when the line is shorter or we don't have a complicated situation with a taxi driver, maybe we'll join the masses. But at the moment, we couldn't bring ourselves to do it. So instead, I thought I'd Photoshop myself a nice little picture. So I cropped myself out of a jumper from earlier in the day, and badabinga: you can't hardly tell*.

Pictures are a part of travel for sure. It's a great way to remember a place and a time. I cherish some of my travel selfies and look forward to taking many many more. But I hope that the next time I find myself lining up to get a picture in front of a faux cultural icon, I stop and take a moment to reflect. And then probably go post it on Instagram.
Monday January 20 2020File under: travel, indonesia

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Borobudur and Prambanan

One of the things I was excited about in planning a trip to Indonesia was to check out Borobudur, the largest Buddhist temple in the world. I remember taking a class in college that focused heavily on the temple, its intricate carvings, and the symbolism of, well, everything. Whatever knowledge I gained at the time has since gone far away. All that I retained is that Borobudur is kind of a big deal. So Della and I set the alarm for an ungodly hour, saddled up on our rented scooter, and braved the almost certain death of Yogyakarta's highways to get a glimpse.

In short, it was spectacular. We made it early enough that the temple was covered in morning mist and before there were too many people so we could get some goofy pictures. We watched the interpretive video*, ate at the restaurant*, but mostly walked around to look for new angles to take it all in from (always with the photo op, of course).

In the less-than-adequate planning that I did for this trip, I didn't pay much attention to mentions of Prambanan, the nearby temple complex which is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. I figured we'd figure it out when we got here, so that's just what we did. With little in the way of expectations, we again braved the melee of the roads* and struck out for Prambanan.

I don't know that I'd say that Prambanan was more impressive than Borobudur— because the latter had a lot of anticipation and acclaim, both of which usually tend to increase my enjoyment—but it was pretty rad. Esp. after we ran from the hordes at the temple proper and the constant dodging of line-of-selfie-sight, we found the place to be super nice and immensely photogenic.

Two spectacular temples in two unforgettable days*. If you ever find yourself in the area and planning on visiting Borobudur, I encourage you to consider buying the combo ticket for there and Prambanan. I think you'll be happy to did. But maybe consider a taxi to get there instead of scooting. Then you'll be both happy and alive to tell the tale.
Friday January 10 2020File under: travel, indonesia

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Celebrity Status in Indonesia

**Tap on the shoulder** "Photo?"

It would seem that people in Malaysia and Indonesia love to get their picture taken with me and Della. Not necessarily people who we've shared an interaction with or even made eye contact with. Sometimes it's parents herding their shy child to pose with the bule-bule or hip twenty-somethings wanting something for their Instagrams, but other times it is a group of giddy hijab-wearing ladies or families taking a stoic portrait-for-the-mantel. We try to match the tone and appear as fun as possible. Because it is fun! People wanting their photo with us for no reason? We feel like celebrities. The photo session is always followed up with handshakes all around and lots of shared smiles.

The phenomenon seems to happen more where there are less foreign tourists, places we might just be holing up for a day or two to wait for a ferry or catch up on some internetting. In Semarang, Indonesia, a lovely lady at a mall food court* asked for her photo with us because we were her first foreign customers! Naturally, I asked for our photo with her too! At Prambanan, Borobodur's lesser known yet still spectacular cousin, it was such a flurry of one after the next that I had to duck away lest I melt in the blazing sun.

Rarely do we capture the moment, because we're both busy being in the photos. But occasionally, after I've slunk away, I get a chance to snap Della who is always game to keep posing and smiling.

But now that we've hit Bali, it seems like a our fame has run its course. Among the sea of tourists, we're no longer a novelty. And I'm okay with that. The interactions, while sometimes tedious, always seemed to have a genuineness of real excitement and, afterwards, real gratitude. These traits encapsulate our impression of the people here—so nice, so helpful, and so proud of their country*. So until my fame hits back stateside, I at least got a taste of what being a celebrity is all about
Saturday January 4 2020File under: travel, indonesia

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