East Bali: Cabs, shipwrecks and an elephant named Boris

Early morning in Ubud, Bali.

With cars driving on the left hand side and motorbikes weaving through the narrow streets, I was hard at work summoning up my courage. We wanted to travel from Ubud to the east coast of Bali. The plan was for me to do the driving.

Finding a vehicle was no problem. Ubud offered a range of cars for hire at great rates. However, a couple issues seemed to nag. First, insurance coverage was a little shady and unclear. Second, although I can drive standard, I wasn’t so eager to do so on my opposite side.

I started reading about renting a car in Bali online and was quickly convinced to seek an alternative. Beyond horrendous roads and driving conditions, several travellers reported troubles with police officers looking for bribes and facing tremendous difficulties with authorities and other drivers if in an accident.

Up bright and early, I went for a stroll along Monkey Forest road (photo above) and made arrangements with the first cab driver I found. In Ubud, the streets are littered with cab drivers sitting on the curb or outside the shops, smoking cigarettes. Unfortunately, as there were few tourists at this time, smoking and sitting would occupy the majority of their time. One cabbie I chatted with told me he hadn’t had a customer in two days.

We headed off to the small seaside town of Pedangbai. Our drive was uneventful. The roads were clear and in good shape. There was just one hiccup. Halfway through our trip we were briefly stopped to make way for traffic. Up ahead, a car was blocking the opposite side of the road next to a police car. As we slowly drove past, the seemingly natural inclination to look at an accident took hold. However, there was no broken glass or damages. The only thing I saw was a European couple about the same age as Sara and I. And they looked scared.

Our driver briefly chatted with the police officer and they exchanged a laugh. We drove off and I asked him what that was about. He held up his hand and rubbed his thumb against his two fingers. “Money,” he said.

I’m glad I took a cab.

Pedangbai was a lovely little place with friendly seafood restaurants and rolling waves providing a soundtrack for the evening. A short stroll over a hill led to a large coral-filled lagoon perfect for snorkling.

We spent a couple days here reading, relaxing, eating fresh fish. Wonderful.

Sara walks along a black sand beach on Bali's far east coast.

Next, we hired another cab to the far east of Bali, an area known as the Amed coast. In 1942, a Japanese torpedo hit the American transport ship the USAT Liberty in the Lombak Strait. Unable to tow the vessel any further, the U.S. navy dragged it up on the east coast of Bali in order to salvage parts and supplies. More than 20 years later, a volcano erupted knocking the ship back into the water where it sits today more than 30 metres deep.

The USAT Liberty is regarded as one of the world’s safest shipwreck divesites. It’s fairly shallow, open and offers lots of coral and aquatic life. It really was quite remarkable. So much so, that we did three dives here – two during the day and one at night.

On our drive from Amed to Ubud.

The next day we travelled back to Ubud with the brother of our diving guide. Rather than the direct route, we asked to go through the volcanoes and hills past lush jungle and small villages with temples and statues. We stopped to enjoy the scenary (just missing the rain behind us) and also at a fruit plantation where we had a sample of some of the most expensive coffee in the world, the kopi luwak. Sold at around $75 for a 200g bag, these beans are harvested from the feces of the civet, a cat-like animal that allegedly only eats the very best coffee and then adds to the flavour through digestion. In the end, the coffee tasted like shit. Kidding.

Back in Ubud, we had long talked about an elephant tour while in Asia. With our time sadly coming to an end, we found an elephant sanctuary near Ubud that apparently treated its animals well and the two of us headed off on a tour through the bush with our new friend Boris.

Less than two days later we would be in Australia.

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