Category Archives: travel

Renting and Riding a Motorbike in Bali

Bali, like most other south-east Asian beach destinations, is best seen by bike. The cool breeze and the green surroundings make me pick a motorbike over a car any day. So if you choose to rent a bike, here’s the lowdown, as on May 2014. There are other articles/forums out there with information, but I found the information either out of date or too distributed.

Note: Exchange rate of $1 = 11,500 Rupaiah

1. Price: The base price you could get for a motorbike is about 40,000 rupiah. You can expect them to start haggling from 70,000 rupiah, but eventually come down to about 50,000. I have read online that you could rent geared bikes for cheaper, but all bikes in Kuta are automatic now, so it is almost impossible to get a geared motorbike. If you rent it for more days (say a week or more), then you could get a reduced rate of 40,000 rupiah. Compare this with the price of a car, 150,000 rupiah and the car won’t really seem very expensive. It is more a matter of riding style than of price.

2. Insurance: Different vendors have different “insurance policies”. Insurance, be forewarned, is as informal as it gets on this island. Let alone a document, there is barely a verbal description of the insurance. Some vendors mean excess (you pay $250 if the bike is stolen or broken into pieces), while some only cover theft. Either way, you need to pay up if there are any dents or scratches. So take pictures of the bike before you get a handover so that you are both agreed on the pre-existing condition of the bike. Also, I have heard that some vendors try and rip you off by charging a bomb for minor scratches, so be firm and bargain if you do put some scratches on it.

3. Route: Do you have a pre-planned route, or are you going to wing it the entire trip? Either way, if you plan to cross any hills then make sure you have a good bike. I rented a 100cc and, in hindsight, it wasn’t the smartest thing to do. The bike really struggled climbing some hills and the front brake gave way on the way down. Also, it was difficult to accelerate although a good top speed (60kmph) could be maintained once it was achieved. So if you want to cross the hill regions towards the east or the north, I would suggest you get a better bike. It also depends on the weight it needs to carry. With about 15kgs of luggage and my wife riding pillion, my bike really struggled at times, and she had to get off and walk about a kilometre in different stretches. Yet, 95% of the time it served me well. Always remember to finalize the bike before negotiating a price. Because if you negotiate before finalizing the model, then your vendor is going to give you an older/screwed up bike.

4. Check everything: Make sure the lock is working fine. Even if you have a verbal agreement on theft insurance, better be safe than sorry. Check that the helmets aren’t rusty and are easy to click. This could be painful in places like Legian and Ubud where you hop from one place to another just a few metres away. As you can probably tell, this was the case with me. Most importantly, the ignition should be working fine. Agree upon the amount of petrol that he is giving you, so you can return the same amount back to him.

5. Petrol: Petrol is really cheap on the island (6,500 rupiah/litre), but the problem is its availability. Gas stations are few and far between, and if you are driving around the island, then you would definitely have a few situations where you think you are going to run out of petrol. Random people sell petrol on the streets, in bottles of Absolut Vodka. I am not sure how reliable this petrol is (could be mixed with kerosene which is cheaper), but it seemed like the thing to do. You can buy Absolut Petrol for about 8,000 rupiah although they might ask 10,000 rupiah for it (depends on how deep you are). But I tried as much as possible to fill up at gas stations to avoid a smoky carburettor in this green island.

6. License: You are required to have an international license to drive in Bali. You could either bring it from your home country, or get it here (Sanghyang St) for about 350,000 rupaiah (including bribe amount). Or you could choose to ignore it and drive around and pay up when you are caught. I landed in Bali on a Friday and the police station was closed on Saturday and Sunday. I couldn’t wait until Monday morning, so I started driving without a license. Now I am on the last leg of my trip, having already driven around 400km with 100km more to go, and I haven’t been pulled over a single time. To be precise, I was pulled over to pay tolls, but never got asked my license and registration (which my vendor did not give me anyway).

7. Planning your time: On a typical rented bike you can maintain an average speed of 40kmph. In Indonesia, like in most other Asian countries, the motorbikes tend to squeeze through the holes while the cars are waiting in traffic. In places like Legian and Ubud this cuts down travel time by almost 90% (another reason why I got a bike instead of a car). But traffic or no traffic, when you are doing trips between cities, plan with 40kmph while you are traveling. If you are hitting mountains (like the route between Ubud and Singaraja or the route between Kintamani and Amed) then that stretch could drop to 20-30kmph. Don’t let Google Maps or anyone else tell you otherwise.

8. Finding your way: Road signs are good but not everywhere. So you need to rely on other means to find your way. You could get a map from the first hotel you stay at and use that to guide you (even petrol stations are marked in the map). Or you could drive around and ask fellow bikers without stopping. Or you could get a data sim card (about 120,000 rupiah) which gives you 3.5GB of data (EDGE speed) and use that to navigate. We did a mix of all three depending on the context. So we would use the physical map for broad directions, turn on Google Maps at intersections (which are very few in number), and ask along the way to reconfirm. The good news is that most of the cities/towns/villages in Bali are built along a single street. So all you need to do is to figure out how to get from Town A to Town B. Once you get to Town B, you can drive along the street and look for a sign for your hotel/restaurant/dive center or ask someone. Everyone knows every single establishment in his/her town. 9. When to head out: I have driven early morning (7am-11am), afternoon (1pm-3pm), evening (330-430pm) and mid-morning (930am-130pm). I found early mornings the most enjoyable rides. If you plan to stop at some spots along the way (eg. Tanah Lot or Pura Besakih) then make sure you check their opening timings if you plan to leave early.

Hope you find this information useful. Bali is thoroughly enjoyable for divers, snorkelers, party people as well as chillers-out. I hope you have a great time there!

If you notice any updates on the prices/road conditions/anything else, do let me know so I can update the post. Cheers and happy travels!

World’s Best Restaurant

If I had a restaurant, this is what the menu would have:

Appetizers
1. Patatas Bravas and Calamari, Barca
2. Yuca fries & Peruvian corn, NY
3. Asparagus Soup from Intercontinental Semiramis, Cairo
4. Tom Yum Soup from Thai Express, SGP
5. Crispy Chilli Baby Corn from Fifth Season, SGP

Entrees
1. Lamb and Rice from Platters, NY
2. Shawarma from Mamouns, NY
3. Chicken 65 from Paradise, HYD
4. Biryani from Bawarchi, HYD
5. Chicken Pita from Nandos, JHB
6. Sushi from L’Asiatique, Le Pacha 1901, Cairo
7. Steak and Bibimbap from Mannaland, DXB
8. Chicken Burger from Burger Fuel, DXB
9. Haleem from Tolichowki, HYD

Desserts
1. Tiramisu from Zibetto, NY
2. Churros, BR
3. Kubani ka Meetha, HYD
4. Crepes from MacDougal, NY
5. Basundi from Shanbagh, HYD

The storm before the calm

I was told it’s a big deal to quit a good job and take off to the mountains. In my mind it was simple. You quit. And then you leave. And you don’t look back.

I read somewhere that it is as if the continent of South America was built for travellers. I believe that it is built for people who are looking for answers without knowing the question. Maybe the answer will be the question that needs to be asked.

And this mystery piques my curiosity enough to allow for an unwavering motivation that does not falter despite the temptation of a rosy job offer, or a cosy bed. Distant lands hold promise, and I have every intention of unravelling this pledge.

But then, Hello World!

An Indian passport doesn’t get you very far in this judgmental world. Access to money, rightfully yours and legally earned, is a bitch. Human Resources moonlight as blood-sucking vampires. Friends make it hard to leave.

The world is a factory, and it is designed to be a nightmare for people who choose to leave the assembly line.

I think this is good. In fact it is great!

Much like a bachelor party before a wedding, this limbo period has been a test. It has re-introduced me to all the worthy temptations, and has awakened me to the challenges that lie ahead. And yet I choose to take the plunge. I choose to distance myself from familiarity to embrace something without knowing what it is. And if THIS does not say “I do,” then I don’t know what does.

Machu Picchu awaits. So do the high plains of Bolivia, the iguanas of Ecuador and the streets of Medellin. Vamanos!

Zambia

Chapter 0: Prelude
I have been asked a million times. Why Zambia? And as I paid for my expensive flight, I asked myself a million times. Why Zambia? My first stop in Livingstone, the land of wannabe backpackers with laptops and iPods, strategically positioned tattoos, and ‘I dont care, but I do care’ attitudes. My second stop, Lusaka, a place with nothing of interest even to the most curious.

And then I flew to Luangwa.

I rode a tiny plane with an hour’s worth of bumpy riding to the middle of nowhere. As we landed, the plane came to a harsh halt. A herd of impala was crossing the runway. A lady ran to welcome us to Mfuwe, and led me out of the airport where kids played football in the midst of some bush. It looked like the local football clubs had a huge following. At least among the deer and the warthogs. It hit me. After traveling for so long in the African continent, I had finally reached Africa.

Chapter 1: Home

8pm. I am guided to my tent by a man who has never been more than two kilometres from where he was born. His torch barely lights up the path. There’s a swishing sound from the grass. Was it a snake, or was it the wind? I can’t tell – except I don’t feel the wind blowing on my face.

My sagging sense of observation is suddenly awakened by a loud grunt about ten metres from me. Gah, it’s just the resident hippo, incorrigible in his mating endeavor. We hear the elephants breaking branches ahead of us. Diligently we get off the path and walk through the grass, in the direction of my tent.

I unzip my tent, crouch, and dutifully remind myself to conduct my regular checks. The hole in the mesh is still blocked, that’s a good sign. But the magazine I leaned flimsily against the gaping hole in the back has slid off, so I set it up again. My mind begins to wander – why has the magazine slid from its designated spot? The ground is even, and the magazine isn’t heavy. Did the snake from the morning make its way into my tent, thereby displacing the magazine? I shut my eyes to force such thoughts out of my head. It is impossible to sleep when your mind is seeking signs of a trespassing snake.

I keep the light on to keep the elephants away from my tent. Although no one believes this, I maintain that elephants stay away from lit tents. The moths break through my tender blockades and make a dash for the only light in the vicinity. I try to ignore them so I can fall asleep, but the frogs come bouncing in, in hot pursuit of the moths. I curse. I don’t want any snakes coming in, chasing the frogs. After the close call with a curious green mamba in Livingstone, I was pretty much done with snakes for the rest of my life.

Lights off. I’d rather take on elephants than snakes. Toss. Turn. Toss. Turn. This is my second sleepless night, the first one ruined by the horny hippo stomping around my tent. For a wannabe wildlife expert who grew up in cities scared of domestic lizards, it is hard to sleep when a hippo, a croc, lethal snakes and a whole herd of hungry elephants are lurking nearby, barely separated by a layer of linen that wouldn’t hold against a human punch, leave alone a passionate animal.

I give up and force myself out of bed. This is war. This is redemption. This is the preceding moment that will define my wildlife escapades of the future.

I have to face the grass. And all that it brings with it.

I crouch, unzip my tent, reset the magazine with two fingers and walk alone in the darkness back to civilization.

Fifteen minutes later, I tried to be unsurprised about still being alive. I browse through a narrow collection of books. I couldn’t more randomly have found a more appropriate book to keep me company over the next few days. The Trouble With Africa.