With lots of time to kill in Cairns and the sun finally being our friend, we figured out the local bus timetable and headed up to Palm Cove for a chilled day at the beach. Luck was on our side as the ticket machine on the bus was broken so we got a free journey! Palm Cove is another lovely holiday resort town and the beach was nice and quiet. Being a little on the red side still, I pitched my area in the shade of the trees while Steph continued in her mission to become a different race several feet away. The beaches here are slightly different from being in Spain as the crocodile and stinger warning signs constantly remind you! There’s lifeguard swimming areas marked, but given my fear of the sea anyway, I think I’ll stick to the sand. Don’t fancy my chances against a croc. I know the trick is to run in a zig zag, but I’ve never fully understood this as like the crocodile, this is not a skill of mine and I wouldn’t get very far!
After a little picnic lunch of chicken and cheese sandwiches, we went and watched the fisherman on the pier for a little while. We decided to treat ourselves to an afternoon ice cream with the money we saved on the bus before heading home for a chilled night at the cinema. We went to see the Martian with Matt Damon, was brilliant and would highly recommend!
As a fresh batch of Australian football players arrive in cairns for a weekend of crazy parties, we thought it best to get away for the weekend. We hitched a ride with our new mate Charles and headed up to Port Douglas for a couple nights. We stayed at United Backpackers, and while it’s more expensive then staying in Cairns, it was such a lovely hostel and finally Steph and I get to sleep in the same room. Port Douglas is about an hour north of Cairns and is a proper holiday resort town. Lots of pretty scenery, cute restaurants and cafes and it’s all so clean, feel a bit like we’re on the set of Stepford Housewives.
Our original plan when we arrived early afternoon was to head to a German beer festival by the marina, but the backpacker budget wouldn’t stretch to 20 dollars for a stein so we headed to the bottle shop in town and had a few beers in the park instead. You know how it goes, one leads to two which leads to ten and despite leaving Cairns to avoid the nightlife, next thing you know it’s 1am in the local bar. Although still a much calmer night then partying with hoards of 20 year old Aussie boys.
Next morning we headed out for a surprisingly good English breakfast in a cheap roadside cafe to help cure our hangovers before heading for a stroll around the weekly arts & crafts market and through the town. After a £2.50 dominos for dinner, we settled in by our hostel pool for movie night and free popcorn.
On the Monday, before getting out bus back to Cairns we headed to 4 mile beach where we spent the day lying on 5ft 4inches of it. I learnt the hard way that Australia sun is stronger then anywhere else I’ve probably been. I’m now the unfortunate owner of a red face, awful sunglass masks and a blistered nose.
Back in cairns and we checked in to a new hostel, Global Central. Definitely not as nice as Gilligans, tiny dorm rooms and Steph and I were both on top bunks which shook like an earthquake every time the person below made any movement. Monday evening was spent at the salt house which is a lovely bar by the marina that offer 4 dollar drinks on Monday nights. Starting to know Cairns a little too well now and overstayed our welcome, looking forward to leaving in a few days.
We’d always said we were just going to snorkel the reef, but speaking to some fellow travellers, we were persuaded that we had to dive. I was a little nervous as the only time I’d tried before, five years ago, I had a few issues with my ears and suffered horrendous sea sickness. I decided however that diving the Great Barrier Reef is a once in a lifetime experience so I would just put up with the pain and hope for the best! It was by far the best decision we made, snorkelling will just never compare. Diving is the most amazing experience (especially if you don’t have to spend the whole time in pain). It’s like the best form of therapy, feels so peaceful under there and you can think of nothing else but breathing and the amazing sights. If I had the money, it would definitely be a new hobby!
We did our trip with Cairns Dive Centre and went to Milln Reef. As we were doing an intro dive, we had an hour lesson on the boat trip out to the reef about the equipment and what to do but the dive instructor managed everything for us really. We had to practice a few exercises before we went down for the first dive and all hold hands to start with but afterwards we could swim alone and we were off chasing a turtle. I thought turtles were slow, but he was a fast little bugger, trying to run away from the big scary breathing machines. Some of the other divers saw reef sharks too but unfortunately we weren’t as lucky. The second dive was so much better as we had longer to explore as we didn’t need to do any exercises. The reef was stunning! We saw the most amazing tropical fish, coral and even a stingray! Was such an amazing trip and have lots of love for Tanya our instructor with Cairns Dive Centre.
At school we gave each other the nicknames Steph Silver and Robyn Red, but from now we like to be known as Scuba Steph and Reef Robyn, diving pros!
Many of the photos are courtesy of Joe the photographer on the boat and Steph’s wonderful go pro skills. Far too many to choose from so hope you enjoy!
Our first day tour from cairns was a trip up to Cape Tribulation and into the rainforest. Our guide Jimbo (spitting image of Jim Davidson) picked us up at 7am, bouncing with energy and blaring music from the bus. Jim made this trip for us, he was so enthusiastic and knowledgeable with some proper dad jokes along the way. Wish I’d put my camera down at times and written notes as I’m struggling to remember many of the things we were taught now.
First stop was Mossman Gorge where we had a welcome smoke ceremony with an aboriginal who put natural paints on our faces. A little walk around the fire and we are officially welcomed into Australia!
We went for a little walk through the rainforest and walked over the most horrific suspension bridge for some views of the Daintree river. Many people went for a little dip but I forgot my swimmies. Walking back to the bus the heavens opened and we got absolutely drenched!
We then continued our journey north and after a little wildlife boat trip to spot some crocodiles and cross the river, we arrived at cape tribulation beach. This is the only place in the world where two unesco heritage sights meet: the Great Barrier Reef and the Daintree Rainforest.
After a well deserved lunch we went for another walk though the rainforest and Jim told us all about the different trees and plants. Genuinely never thought trees could be that interesting, completely different from anything I’ve seen before. We arrived back home about 7, tired and ready for bed!
We have officially arrived in Australia, this is all very real now! We arrived in cairns on Friday with a plan to stay a week before heading off down the east coast. But there’s no real plans and we’re very flexible, which is handy as one week in cairns has already been extended to two (but more on that later)
We are staying at a hostel called Gilligans as we’d heard it was THE place to stay. It’s absolutely massive and has its own club downstairs. After checking in and finding out they’d put us in separate dorms, we went for a walk round the bar/pool area to discover we were the only girls in sight. Turns out at this time of year Australia football teams from the south come to Gilligans for a lads piss up weekend. The rooms are pretty nice, a few annoying things like no plugs near the beds, but other then that it’s all good. Paying for the cheaper rooms does have its drawbacks though – we’re in 2 of the 4 rooms on the whole floor that don’t have balconies and are unfortunately situated just above the DJ booth in the bar downstairs that plays loud music til 3am every night and 5am on Friday and Saturday. You can literally feel the bed shake with the base coming up through the floor. At least it drowns out the guy snoring in the bed next to me. As they say ‘if you can’t beat them, join them’ and we’ve definitely got to know the cairns nightlife well since arriving.
As for cairns, arriving from the airport and driving through the suburbs and town, we weren’t particularly excited. We’d heard lots of people describe it as backwards and it does feel like we’re in America in a mid-country state with its old buildings and cars. It’s hardly the most beautiful town I’ve seen, but at least it’s small and compact so we can walk everywhere, and after a few days we’re really starting to warm to it and found the nicer places. Especially after a miserable start and the sun came out. I think coming from Asia as well it has a very homely feel as it’s nice to be surrounded by familiar things. We got so excited going to the supermarket and seeing food we’d been missing and also new exciting things. Supermarkets here are amazing and being able to cook for ourselves rather then eat out every meal is such a great feeling.
We’ve not done huge amounts yet as it’s taken us quite a while to sort out Australian sims and bank cards. Moving money from UK to an Australia account is harder then I thought, and have my sisters help and patience to thank massively! So for the first few days we’ve just been chilling around town, the hostel and the lagoon. We also spent about three hours with Charles from happy travels booking most of our east coast travel. Being used to Asia and the ability to book tours a few hours before, we didn’t think that being unorganised would be an issue. But it sort of is! Basically all the popular trips book up early and the soonest we could get on the whitsundays boat we liked is 31st October, hence hanging around Cairns for longer than planned! In a few hours we’d spent a grand each booking whitsundyas, magnetic island, Fraser Island, Reef diving, hop on hop off bus to Sydney and many more little bits a long the way. We’ve gone from not having any plans to a full on two month itinerary, and a lot less money in the bank!
The locals are making me really dislike lots of the western tourists. Bit of a generalisation but Indonesians are so sweet and polite, whereas I’ve yet to see a western tourist say thank you when I hold the door for them. I think of all countries I’ve been to Indonesians are my favourite and they probably speak some of the best English in all of South East Asia. The locals we’ve met are all so accommodating and happy and everyone just wants to say hello and ask where we’re from. Although apparently being from london must mean I’m cockney! Even those trying to sell you something or ask you into their restaurant/spa take ‘no thanks’ very easily. So far I’ve never felt pressured, threatened or in danger being in this country. I’m sure there are bad guys out there, there always will be but apart from being asked ‘taxi? Maybe tomorrow?’ far too often, we’ve met some lovely locals who are interested to learn about us, help us and even understand some good banter! They struggle a little with customer service, which can often be slow, but I think that’s because they genuinely don’t want to bother you.
You learn in Bali very quickly that time doesn’t really mean anything, 11am could mean anytime between 11am and 1pm, but be there half an hour before because you never know! It’s a very relaxed lifestyle and they seem to eat and sleep a lot and for many of them there days are spent sitting with friends or having a snooze outside their shop waiting for a sale or someone to finally say yes they need a taxi.
Being a third world country there are always going to be some massive differences in how they live as it’s much more rustic and rural. In the Gili’s in particular there were chickens, goats and cows just roaming free but then we’ve also seen vans carrying chicks painted in bright colours in very tight cages. One guy we spoke to also didn’t understand why we don’t watch cock fighting in England. And while we’ve seen areas where they seem much poorer, there’s less signs of extreme poverty that I saw travelling Vietnam and Cambodia.
Typically health and safety standards are questionable, we’ve seen lots of dodgy building work and scaffolding that would never be allowed in England! You have to really keep your eye on where you’re walking too as there’s lots of cracks and holes in the pavement. There’s been a lot of trips along the way but I’ve only fully fallen over once, which for someone as clumsy as I am, that’s something to be proud of.
I’ve yet to see any road rage yet either, although everyone pretty much just drives wherever and however they want with just a beep of the horn to warn those around. Most people mainly travel by motor bike or scooter though so there’s a lot of weaving going on! And they won’t travel alone on their bikes, you’ll often see a couple with a toddler balancing in the middle with the dog. Likewise they seem to be very strong and women will often walk past with extremely heavy object casually balanced on their heads with no effort at all. If only we could carry out backpacks so easily!
A blog about the people wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the pets. Even cats and dogs here seem more friendly then in other countries. For some reasons the cats surrounding me at dinner don’t bother me as much as usual. Steph became a little obsessed with all the cats on the Gili’s, taking photos of any animal she laid her eyes on.
We have so many adorable pictures of the locals to choose from so here’s just a selection…
I also can’t ignore talking about the amazing food we’ve had. Indonesian food is possibly my favourite South East Asia cuisine, although it’s a close one with Thai. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a lot of rice so I couldn’t eat it every night of the week. The most common dish to eat is Nasi Goreng, which is fried rice with vegetables, chicken and a fried egg on top. It’s often served with prawn crackers (Thai style rather than Chinese) and chicken sate with peanut sauce. There’s lots of variations though and often they come with seafood too. There’s also Mie Goreng which is the same dish just with noodles instead of rice. The other dish I’ve eaten a lot of is Chicken Sate with peanut sauce and rice. Beef rendang is another popular one on the menu which I’ve always thought was Malaysian but maybe it’s a dish they share. Also shredded chicken which I’ve made the mistake of ordering twice, it’s the cheap bits of chicken cooked in lots of spices and too much fish sauce. Not a fan of this dish.
In Gili T we often had dinner at the night market where you pick whatever you fancied, buffet style, and it was priced based on what you had. While we were in Gili Air we did a cooking class which was so much fun. We made :
Gado Gado – fried veg
Peanut sauce – to go with our veg. We were particularly proud of this, super delicious
Mie Goreng – not normally a noodle fan but I rather enjoyed this
Chicken Yellow Curry – far too spicy for my liking but Steph enjoyed it
Chicken Taliwang – a sort of marinated chicken. I really enjoyed this and would definitely make again
Kelapon – a desert with a weird squishy texture. Strange at first but absolutely loved them!
The class was so much fun, recipes were pretty easy to make and the chef in charge was very sweet and funny. We met two very interesting women too that live on boats, was very jealous hearing about their lifestyle! Overall very enjoyable, and lots of good food.
After a day spent by the pool – and getting a little burnt – we put on our fanciest outfits for a posh night out. We’d heard Rock Bar in Jimbaran was not to be missed, so thought we’d push the boat out and treat ourselves on our penultimate night. The bar is part of the Ayana resort and I’ve never been in anywhere so fancy before. I do not belong here! Even entering the resort they had to check the car and we drove a good few miles through the grounds to arrive at the hotel. To get to the bar we had to walk past many fountains, swimming pools, restaurants and two weddings. After walking down the many stairs (only hotel guests are allowed to use the lift) we were exported to a seat overlooking the sea and sunset. I’ve never seen so many staff in a bar before, and the were all super attentive and friendly. The sunset wasn’t the best again, but the sky was clear and the atmosphere was amazing. Would highly recommend. As much as we would have loved to spend the whole evening there, at 200,000 (£10) a drink it was definitely out of our price range so we got a taxi to Kuta to make the most of our evening with £1.50 drinks. Needless to say the next morning the cheap alcohol wasn’t our friend!
After leaving Ubud, we came to Jimbaran on the Bukit peninsula to see out our last few days in Bali before making the move to Australia. It’s a bit of a funny place really and we’ve figured it’s not best suited to us. The whole of the Bukit seems very resort based and a little on the pricey side. Unlike anywhere else we’ve been, it’s not possible to stroll out of the hotel and find a decent restaurant. We’re staying right on Jimbaran bay which is famous for all the seafood restaurants on the beach, it’s just that we don’t have the money to afford them. So if you’re not driving yourself, then really you have to get a taxi to a specific restaurant or resort as there doesn’t seem to be a central area where many places are based. For our first day we went down to the beach which was beautiful and very quiet, apart from some massive crabs! At 4pm we hired a taxi man to take us to Uluwatu temple to admire the views and watch a Kecack dance at sunset. The temple wasn’t really much to see, but the scenery and the cliffs were incredible. The Kecack dance was so fascinating and mesmerising to watch. There is no band, the music comes from a chorus of 30 men (like a Balinese version of ‘Pitch Perfect’). Throughout the dance there were three dancing girls and a series of interesting panto style characters to add a comedic element. The amount of disrespectful audience members was slightly infuriating, there was lots of talking going on and the amount of people leaving early was just embarrassing, especially at the end when they finished by praying. As for the sunset…we seemed to continue our bad luck as it was cloudy and not exactly the best! But it didn’t really matter as we’d enjoyed everything else.
After it finished we got back in our taxi and asked him to take us to a restaurant I’d read about that was only 15 minutes away. I showed the taxi driver the map (which in hindsight I don’t think he could read) but he called his friend to find out and set off. After 30 minutes of driving in the wrong direction we checked with him and he was still happy he was going to right way. Until 20 minutes later and a call from his friend had him hysterically laughing only to turn around and drive 45 minutes back to the restaurant. Then the main road was closed so we had to drive a massive diversion. Despite leaving Ulutlwatu at 7pm, we finally arrived at the restaurant two hours later only to discover it was closed. So off we went, back in the taxi for another 45 minutes to just go and have dinner in our hotel. What an absolute failure of an evening!
I’ve mentioned before that the book Eat Pray Love has drawn a lot of tourism to Ubud, with lots of people coming to experience the spiritual side of Bali. It is possible to visit Ketut, the medicine man featured in the book/film but we’d not heard good things about going as it’s expensive and everyone gets the same teachings. Stephanie and I were genuinely interested in some spiritual healing, not just getting a photo with ‘that guy from that film’.
We did a fair bit of research as we were very aware there were lots of con men around trying to take our money to tell us that we will live for a hundred years. We visited the yoga barn in town and decided to book a therapy session with a lady called Jana. Obviously it’s an incredibly personal experience and while I’m happy being an open book, I think I’ll keep most the things she told me to myself. I know lots of people reading will be very sceptical and don’t believe in any of this, but it’s something that really fascinates me and I’m very open to the idea of it.
So much of what Jana said to me was incredibly true for where I am in my life right now. She read my cards which were largely related to starting a new life/journey, leaving negativity behind and being my own strongest resource. We then had a conversation about my fears and upsets and she talked to me about my inner energy and chakras. She mentioned how easily affected I am by other people’s energy and I need to meditate and strengthen my energy to block out negative people. The session finished with me lying on a bed while she lay crystals on me and burnt some sage to help clear out any energy that I have pushed aside and ignored. I genuinely felt waves of emotion come out and it was quite an unpleasant feeling that left me drained and emotional at the end.
I know people won’t believe me (mainly my dad) but I loved the experience and opening myself up the spiritual word. I think it’s something I’d like to explore further in the future and do some more reading into meditation and chakras to help strengthen my energy and become the best version of myself.
We continued our relaxing day by going for an aromatherapy massage and then an evening yoga class back at the yoga barn. It was probably the biggest yoga class I’ve been in (maybe 50 people) but it was really good with the breeze blowing through the studio as we focused on our breathing and our downward dog. Now if we could just ignore all the Mosquitos attacking us…
Our time in Ubud has come to an end as we are heading back to the beach today. We have absolutely loved our time here and it’s all felt very peaceful, healthy and spiritual. We’ve not had a single alcoholic beverage in 5 days!
Being a fashion girl it was only a matter of time before I had to post about shopping! Ubud is the place to come in Bali if you’re after something. You can get pretty much anything and there’s some very odd-looking things around too (they seem to like anything penis shaped…). There’s a whole mix of cute boutique and the massive market where everyone is pretty much selling the same things. Some of the fashion leaves a little to be desired although there’s some nice tops for a few quid that you would easily see in Topshop for £35. The homeware and decorations are what mainly excite me and I could definitely decorate my whole flat with things I’ve seen in the last few days! Ubud is famous for its art and batik so there are lots of amazing pictures and fabrics to be seen around too. You are spoilt for choice.
We’re not exactly in the best position to buy anything right now as we only have our backpacks and don’t know when we will next be home. So apart from a £3 sarong (and Steph’s one coaster) we just participated in some good old window shopping! Hopefully I’ll get to come back one day with an empty suitcase waiting to be filled with goodies.