It all started out great. We hired someone to drive us an hour south to the town of Padang Bai where we’d been told we could hire a boat to take us to Nusa Lembongan, an island off the southeast coast of mainland Bali. When we got there we met a kind, old man named Norman (I swear we didn’t make up his name this time) who offered to take us. We boarded his tiny jukung, this time more prepared – sunblock on, luggage protected in large plastic bags. For the most part the water was perfectly smooth. The sun was out. Only a few times did we get splashed making Normal howl with laughter and yell, “Bali!” Jolian looked back at me at one point during the hour long ride, smiling, and said that this was exactly what he’d imagined when we were planning the trip. We were completely enjoying the rare fulfillment you get when a place lives up to your expectations. Then our day started to turn south. I blame it on the backpack.
Norman dropped us off at Mushroom Beach, which Lonely Planet describes as “a perfect crescent of white sand.” The beach was pretty nice, but I definitely wouldn’t call it perfect. We started going from hotel to hotel to see about availability and prices. The first place we saw wasn’t very nice. On the way to the second, the heat and weight of the backpack started to get to me. Jolian decided to have me sit in the shade with the bags while he found us a place to stay. Sweet man. But all the rest of the accommodations were overpriced, blaring pop music, full of kids playing pool volleyball – not exactly what we had in mind. We decided to leave Mushroom Beach and hire a boat to take us to Jungut Batu, the largest beach on the island where the majority of hotels are located, hoping to have better luck there. But when we got there we found the water full of seaweed farms, that being the island’s main industry, and the beach unswimmable, completely covered in seaweed. Maybe teenage water volleyball wasn’t so bad after all?
We started walking along the beach, again searching for a place to stay, quickly realizing we were going the wrong way. The places seemed to be getting worse and worse. There were hawkers everywhere stopping us every few steps. Completely drenched in sweat from the staggering heat (seriously y’all, I’ve never been more hot), my shoulders aching from the weight of the bag, and nauseated from smell of drying seaweed, we decided to stop at a bar to get a drink, cool down, and regroup. We sat down and were immediately swarmed with flies (I swear flies are going to take over that island) and covered in gigantic ants. As I swatted all around me, I looked over at my normally laid back, go-with-the-flow husband who was slamming ants on the table with his palm, completely enraged. Uh-oh, we were both melting down. We needed a plan of action asap. I have a friend who’d written in an email about this island, “IF YOU DO ANYTHING IN BALI, DO THIS.” She’d warned me the place she’d stayed at was pretty basic, but it had to be better than what we’d seen. Something had compelled her to write in all caps. The bar had wi-fi, so I pulled out my iphone and booked us for 2 nights at this hotel. The bartender pointed us in the right direction – down the seawall and then up all those stairs. Ugh. Backpacks back on, we made the grueling walk/climb. Once we got to the top, it seemed noticeably better. The view was stunning with blocks of seaweed farms in the water below. The hotels seemed pretty nice. But as we kept walking it started to lose its charm. There were vacant lots full of drying seaweed and trash, chickens pecking about, and the sound of construction. Where was that coming from? Could it be? Yep, the hotel we’d just booked with a no cancellation policy had construction going on from 9 – 5 every day. Awesome. We ate dinner and went to bed early, vowing to wipe the slate clean and try to discover what the caps were all about tomorrow.
Jolian went diving the next morning with the hope of seeing manta rays, and although he didn’t, he still had a nice dive. I enjoyed some alone time, reading and drinking cappuccinos at a cafe. It seemed to be the start of a good day. In the afternoon we rented a motor bike to discover the island. Jolian had never driven one, but quickly picked it up. Luckily, there are no cars on the island, so it was relatively easy driving and I was able to control my nervous gasping Jolian loves so much. It was so fun to ride all over the island, the wind blowing (so a break from flies), seeing pretty coves and seaweed farms. Then we stopped on the south side of the island at a cove called Dream Beach that my friend had said was best for swimming. It was gorgeous. This was it. The caps. Finally the perfect crescent of white sand with huge turquoise waves crashing on shore. Behind the beach was a cliff with a restaurant and adorable hotel, Dream Beach Huts, 17 charming huts set around a two-level infinity pool overlooking the stunning beach. We had a delicious lunch of grilled Mahi Mahi and paid $5 for use of their pool and lounge chairs for the day. Sitting in the pool, book in one hand, Bintang in the other, I realized this had been one of the best days of our trip. How quickly things change.
We would’ve moved hotels and stayed at Dream Beach the rest of our trip, but we’d already booked a boat to Lombok the next day back when we were still hating the island. If I could go back I would’ve booked Dream Beach Huts ahead of time and they’d have met us at the boat and provided our transfer to the hotel, eliminating all backpack carrying, ant slapping meltdowns. Hindsight is always 20/20. At least we had one wonderful day and finally figured out what was behind the caps.