I took a British flight on December 23, which brought me from Venice to Heathrow, and from there to Doha and finally Denpasar, the largest city in Bali, located in its southern tip. About the trip I can report the following bits:
- My experience at the Heathrow airport confirms it is the worst airport of a European capital. In this case, I can report having to take two buses, with a connection and a huge queue in between, to change from Terminal 2 to Terminal 4. Not only did the change of terminal take over one hour (not kidding): I can testify e.g. that the second bus took a unexplicable detour, then stopped in the middle of a parking site of airplanes for over 10 minutes.
- Signs at the Terminal were really confusing. I am not a newbie traveller, and I am of at least average intelligence, but managed to find myself wondering which way to go more than once (and other people were similarly baffled). This is a sign of poor design and organization.
- The security line at Terminal 4 was very long, and led to a single open x-ray machine. This was watched by personnel who literally had their hands in their pockets (and there was another x-ray machine not in operation). I could have a conversation with the young lad with a suit who yelled at the customers to remove jackets and laptops and liquids in advance (without "please" or some similar courteous addressing) about the organization of the checkpoint. He argued that the slowness of the queue was due to people not following instructions - which was ridiculous, as the bottleneck was clearly the x-ray machine and not the extra lag or manual checks. So not only can't these people do their job: they are incompetent _and_ presumptuous.
- Speaking of something else: Qatar Airways (who partnered with BA for the flights from and to Doha) had an excellent service, comfortable economy class seats, and reasonably good food.
- Unfortunately another place where we experienced long queueing was the Denpasar immigration checkpoint. Maybe we were just unlucky, but it took us 40 minutes to get through.
The destination of our trip so far was not Bali, but a smaller island 10km East of it, called Lembongan. You can get there with a 30' boat ride. Lembongan is a very relaxing place, quite touristic but not overcrowded -at least this time of the year. The island faces the Bali sea on its North and East side, and the Indian ocean on the South. There are strong currents around the island, so swimming far from the beach is not recommended, alas. I could witness a curious phenomenon in the channel between Bali and Lembongan, while being carried on a fast boat: there was a spot in the channel where the current was very strong, and opposite to the direction of the wind. This created some very angry-looking waves.
Before traveling here I saw some Youtube videos where it was claimed the snorkeling was "mediocre at best" in this area. I find this totally false. While I am not scuba diver (for some reason I don't fancy breathing bottled oxygen, plus I like to swim free of equipment and can dive in apnea for as long as it takes to see the sights) and may not claim to be very experienced on the matter in general, I did see underwater sights during several visits to the Caribbean (Cuba, Jamaica, the Yucatan peninsula, Santo Domingo, Guadaloupe), as well as of course in a number of sites in the Mediterranean (e.g. the Elba and Giglio islands, the Sardinian coast, the Lampedusa island, the Dalmatian coast, many locations in Greece, Cyprus). And I was extremely happy with the marine life here in Lembongan and the nearby Penida island: incredible colours and variety of corals, and fish of all kinds; the Crystal beach corals in Penida island are hard to beat. On top of this, a boat trip around the island with snorkeling stops in various locations costs as little as $9!
(The image above is not mine, but it is taken at the crystal bay place, and is a good representation of the marine life you get to see in a snorkeling tour)
If getting here hits your wallet, the stay will not add much to that: prices are low wherever you turn. If you are into Yoga, here you find many businesses offering sessions at 4 dollars per hour. The same goes for massages of all kinds (at $9 per hour!). A three-course meal at a good restaurant with cocktails, drinks and all will hardly cost more than $20, and you can usually get more than what you need for $10.
December is supposedly low season here, and it shows in terms of occupancy - at my hotel, the Mahagiri resort, most of the couches around the pool are empty. I guess the weather can be better in other seasons; for example, today the sky is cloudy - but yesterday and the day before the sun was strong enough to burn my back in spite of the precautions I took.
(Above: a view of the beachside at Mahagiri resort)
When I was planning the trip, my biggest concern was sanitary. Hepatitis A, typhoid fever, rabies, dengue fever, malaria, japanese brain fever. That's quite a bit to handle if you are a bit paranoid with these sorts of things. However, I got vaccine shots for the first three, after which what still concerned me were the last three, which you can get from mosquito bites. And none of them is something you want to risk getting.
So I brought a deet-based repellent with me and am using it regularly, and I can report that I got no bites in these first four days in the area. I did see a few mosquitoes around (very few), but it seems that the situation is under control. So either they are doing some kind of active pest control, or the repellent I am using is as effective as they claim (there are serious tests that show that deet-based repellent is the only one that really works, with the possible exception of lemongrass-based ones).
(Above, with my wife at a bar in front of the Lembongan harbour)
What else? The balinese people are wonderful. They are really kind and ready to help in any situation, they are respectful and smiling. And they generally speak a very good English. This is a strongly positive aspect of spending your time here.
All in all, I am very happy of having chosen to spend my Christmas vacations here, and I look forward to one more relaxing week in this paradise. Hopefully I won't get the dengue fever!