Here’s my last travel-related quote for the three day quote challenge (see Monday’s blog for more details). Today’s quote is from Ralph Waldo Emerson …
“Do not follow where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail”
Here’s my last travel-related quote for the three day quote challenge (see Monday’s blog for more details). Today’s quote is from Ralph Waldo Emerson …
“Do not follow where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail”
Here’s my second travel-related quote for the three day quote challenge (see yesterday’s blog for more details). Today’s quote is from Gael Attal …
“A ship is safe in the harbour, but that’s not what ships are built for”
Mary has invited me to participate in a three day quote challenge, which I have accepted.
Participant requests: post an inspirational, uplifting quote for three consecutive days and invite three other bloggers to join you.
In turn, I invite:
There is no pressure to accept. Anyone else who would like to participate, please share your favorite quotes with us!
My quotes, in keeping with my blog, are all travel-related. Here’s the first one from J.R.R. Tolkien …
“Not all those who wander are lost”
Medical tourism is booming as increasing numbers of people are electing to have procedures done overseas, usually because of the prohibitive cost of treatment in their home country. Although the data is unreliable, an estimated 750,000 people in America alone travel overseas for medical care each year. I recently became a medical tourist …
When the root supporting an old front crown cracked while I was in the UK on holiday, I had to have it extracted. I got a temporary false tooth on a plate made in the UK and was told my options were to have an implant or a bridge. I decided on an implant but had to wait at least four months for the site to heal. As I was gradually heading back to Perth in Australia where a front implant costs around AU$6,000, I researched getting a dental implant overseas.
Implants involve two main stages with a stay of a couple of weeks for each stage, so I decided on Bali because it is close to Perth and cheap to stay there. Dental implants are also about a quarter of the price of those in Australia. After doing a lot of research online and emailing some of the reputable dentists, I narrowed it down to two dental surgeries in Kuta – Dr Syamsiar Adam at Kuta Dental, and Bali 9-11.
I eventually chose Dr Adam as I had a recommendation from a friend who had recently had implants done by her … and she’d had a recommendation from a friend of hers. I’d also read an article on Weekend Notes about an Australian who’d had her abscessed teeth treated by Dr Adam and raved about her. Dr Adam is very experienced, having graduated in dentistry in 1992, and is the dentist of choice for expats living in Bali.
My first appointment with her was in August 2015. I stayed at Hotel Neo, a short walk from Kuta Dental on the same street (Jalan Patih Jelantik). When I arrived at the dingy looking building I felt a little apprehensive, but my friend had told me not to be put off by appearances. As soon as I met Dr Adam I felt confident. She had a calm, professional manner and spoke good English so was able to answer all my questions and explain what she would do on each of my visits.
Four days later I was back at the dental surgery for the implant operation. I was given an antibiotic tablet and a pain killer before the operation plus a jab and mouth numbing lotion before they started drilling. Once, when I winced, I was instantly given another jab. Throughout the procedure Dr Adam was very calm and hummed along to music, which I found very soothing, and her dental assistant was also very gentle, attentive and proficient.
Drilling the hole for the implant seemed to happen quickly (I was still waiting for the pain!) and then Dr Adam sewed the implant into place and fashioned a temporary tooth, as it was a front tooth I was missing. Altogether, I was in the chair for nearly two hours. When I left, I was given a course of antibiotics, anti-inflammatories and painkillers (for only $30), and a follow up appointment four days later to check the healing process.
On my next visit to Bali, four months later, the temporary tooth Dr Adam had glued in was still firmly in place. She removed it and opened up the implant so she could take an impression for the crown. I was in the chair for 1.5 hours this time. Instead of putting the temporary tooth back, she adjusted my plate (that I had been wearing before I started the procedure) so I could use that as there were only 13 days until my next appointment to fit the crown.
Fitting the crown went well and took only 45 minutes. The tooth was a perfect fit, although I felt the colour could have been a bit better matched. My gum had receded after having no tooth for a year so a small portion of the screw is exposed, but this is above my smile line so you don’t see it. I could have a skin graft to hide it if I felt the need.
All in all, I was happy with my implant experience overseas. We stayed in Bali for two weeks on each trip. The two holidays cost me and my partner a total of around AU$4,000 (including flights) and the implant cost AU$1,500 – so it was still cheaper to get my implant done in Bali than Australia.
If you are considering getting medical treatment done overseas, there are several sites that offer advice and information, such as this useful UK based one: http://www.treatmentabroad.com/ If you do your research, it’s possible to get high quality procedures done overseas for a fraction of the price of developed world prices.
People often forget to factor land transport costs into their holiday budget. If you’re staying in one place and not venturing too far afield this doesn’t matter, but if you want to explore the region transport can become a significant cost.
One way to reduce taxi costs is to use new kid on the block, Uber. Uber has been taking the world by storm and is currently available in 67 countries. To get an Uber account you need to join up and register your credit card online. When you want to book a ride, you log into your account and a GPS locates where you are and tells you if there is a driver in the area. If you book the ride, you receive a photo of the driver, the make and registration number of the car and an estimated ETA. You can even track the car online so you know exactly how long you will have to wait.
We’ve used Uber in Australia and Bali and the information in this blog is based mainly on our experiences.
In Bali, Uber is available in the south west, including the gridlocked suburbs of Kuta, Legian and Seminyak. They also go to Ubud and to the airport. The advantages for the customer are obvious, you don’t have to haggle over a price before you start your journey or watch the meter ticking while you’re stuck in horrendous traffic, and the rates are much cheaper.
You also don’t need to deal with money. We caught a normal taxi from Canggu to Legian because Uber cannot pick up fares in Canggu. The driver was vehemently against Uber and kept referring to ‘fucking Uber’, but he provided a good example of why Uber is taking off in Bali. He was on a meter and we were racking up a big bill while stuck in gridlocked traffic, then when it came to pay he tried old Balinese taxi driver trick of claiming not to have any change in order to get a big tip from us.
In Australia, Uber fares are about 20% less than normal taxis. When we got back to Perth early in the morning on New Year’s Eve we got an Uber ride from the airport to Fremantle. The usual fare is over $60, but the Uber ride cost us about $45. The driver had just dropped someone off so was with us within minutes and he was happy because he lived near Fremantle so got a paid trip home.
We discovered that he was an ex taxi driver who has defected to Uber and is very happy about the change. For a start he no longer has to pay over $500 a week for taxi plates and he finds being an Uber driver much more relaxed. No money changes hands as all Uber transactions are done automatically via a registered credit card. This has taken the tension out of his job. No one likes asking for money and he often had a few hundred dollars in his pocket and felt vulnerable operating at night.
Uber hasn’t been in Bali for very long and the drivers we spoke to said that the rates were too low (about a third of normal rates). This makes it difficult for drivers to earn a decent wage, especially on the Ubud run – the rate for this trip is about 100,000RP, which doesn’t even cover the fuel. Uber has told drivers the rates will rise after an introductory period, but no one seemed to know when that would be.
Uber charges a fee for cancellations made more than five minutes after requesting a driver. You can read in my last blog about how we ordered a taxi from Kuta to Padangbai and were charged a cancellation fee because the driver wasn’t allowed to drive that far. We later had the money reimbursed to our account.
In Bali it can take a while for an Uber cab to reach you, even if they are nearby as, in most of the areas they operate, the traffic is gridlocked. However, if your driver is running more than five minutes behind the provided ETA, you won’t be charged a fee if you cancel. We waited nearly half an hour for our Uber driver to reach us in Seminyak and during that time we had to fob off dozens of normal taxis who wanted to pick us up.
When there is more demand for Uber vehicles than there is supply (for example, during bad weather, on public holidays, as a result of public transport failure, etc.), Uber raises its prices to encourage more drivers to pick up passengers.
This happened on New Year’s Eve.
We went to a party a couple of kilometres away from home and were about to order an Uber ride back at about 1.30am when a friend offered us a lift home. We were very grateful to her when we heard the next day how much the ‘surcharge’ had been. Rates were increased by up to nine times the regular price and one Perth man was charged $332 for a 20km ride that would normally have cost $37.
Giving people who have entrusted you with their credit card details nasty surprises like that is, in my view, an unwise move by Uber. In response to complaints, Uber said that customers had to confirm they were prepared to pay the higher fare before the booking was verified … but on New Year’s Eve many of the people requesting rides may not have had all their faculties intact!
Sorry for the long time between posts. I was busy organising our fundraiser for the Rural Agency for Social and Technological Advancement (which incidentally was a great success and raised over $4,000), and then getting my Christmas cards and presents organised before heading off to Bali. That’s where we are now, or rather Lombok to be precise.
We spent our first night in Bali in Kuta before travelling east to Padangbai where boats to Lombok leave from. Travelling around Bali, we tend to hire taxis as they are so reasonably priced and distances are short. Also, public transport is not well publicised. We asked taxi drivers outside our Kuta hotel how much they would charge to take us to Padangbai, a distance of 53km. They said $50.
I had a dental appointment before we left, and we chatted to a gay Indonesian couple in the waiting room. One was in the tourist industry and had a car. He said that his driver would charge about $30 but he recommended using Uber, which he uses all the time especially from the airport. The taxi drivers at the airport seem to have it all stitched up and all quote the same price (AU$15) – our new friend travels from the airport to Kuta for just $5 using Uber.
We’ve used Uber in Australia but hadn’t thought of using it overseas. When we got back to our hotel we booked an Uber ride to Padangbai, the quote was just $12.5. What a bargain! The driver arrived but when we told him where we wanted to go he said he couldn’t drive that far. He rang his boss to check, but no. He quoted us $60 to drive us privately for cash, but we decided we could do better than that, given our other quotes.
Ian later discovered that Uber had charged him a penalty for cancelling an Uber ride! He emailed them to explain that it was the Uber driver who could not fulfil his side of the bargain. We are waiting to hear the outcome. It’s not the money we’re bothered about, as the penalty is only about $1, but the principle.
Meanwhile, back on the pavement outside our Kuta hotel, the next taxi who stopped and asked if we needed his services was metered. We’d been advised to use metered taxis when travelling around Bali as they usually work out cheaper. So we decided to take it.
The traffic getting out of Kuta was very slow. The meter kept ticking over. It soon became obvious that this was not a good idea. We were up to $30 and still only a third of the way to Padangbai. I was getting worried about how much it would cost, but our only option was to carry on or to get out, pay this taxi driver off and they try and negotiate a price for the rest of the journey with another taxi. We decided to stick with it. The meter kept ticking over. I checked it periodically … we were soon past $50 and still a long way from Padangbai.
I told the driver this ride was proving to be a lot more expensive than other quotes we’d had. His reply was that metered taxis are not a good option for long rides. I said he should have told us before we set off, but he claimed he had no idea what it would cost as he rarely drove to Padangbai
The ride ended up costing us $73. Luckily the driver waived the 30% extra charge he could have added for a long one-way journey. Later, while walking around Padangbai, we saw taxis to Kuta advertised for $30.
We had been ripped off, but it was our own fault. As Ian philosophically says, it’s not a matter of if you will get ripped off in these countries but by how much.
The moral of this story is that the best way to travel around Bali by car on short trips is to use Uber. On long trips, try to get an idea of what a journey should cost by asking hotel staff or taxi drivers. Then agree with the driver on a price you are happy with before you set off. That way there will be no nasty surprises!
Ian had to leave Europe and go to India before me, so he looked on the internet for volunteering opportunities. On workaway.com he came across a place called the Rural Agency for Social and Technological Advancement (RASTA). RASTA is a community development organisation in Wayanad at the top of Kerala. He arranged to go there alone for ten days, and then for the two of us to volunteer for about a week after I arrived.
It was midnight on Friday when Ian met me off the plane in Trivandrum, at the southern tip of India. I was exhausted after emotional family goodbyes and a seven hour stopover in Delhi, but we spent a couple of nights at a beautiful homestay set in its own grounds that was an oasis from the busy city
On Sunday we caught the 2.30pm train to Calicut. Ian had organised it before he left the UK via an Australian website as it’s difficult to organise train travel from outside India. Everyone’s name and seat number were posted on bits of paper stuck to the outside of the carriages. It was an express train so didn’t make many stops; even so, it was 10pm by the time we arrived in Calicut – it’s a long way from one end of Kerala to the other!
We stayed in Calicut overnight then, after a huge breakfast, we caught a bus to Kalpetta at about midday. For two hours the bus wound its way uphill around nine hairpin bends; as we climbed higher the air became cooler and cleaner. Finally, in Kalpetta we caught an auto to Kamblakkad which took another 20 minutes.
It was about 3pm on Monday when we were dropped off outside RASTA. Everyone had gone to a wedding but Omana T.K., the director and driving force behind the organisation, soon arrived. She was very happy to see Ian again and to meet me. She told me about RASTA’s history.
It is a non-government, not for profit organisation in a poor district where 17% of the community are tribal people. RASTA was established in 1987, and is committed to empowering tribes, economically and socially disadvantaged women and marginalized farmers, as well as preserving the unique natural environment of southern India.
RASTA has completed over eighty projects on topics including education, housing, sanitation, tribal development, farming, environmental protection and waste management. Omana, a passionate advocate for women’s empowerment, is now encouraging local women to train in solar technology. So far, solar lights have been installed in 145 village homes.
Omana asked us back to her house for tea and cake as we hadn’t eaten since breakfast and were starving. That kept us going until dinner, which we ate in the dining room at RASTA with other volunteers and staff. The food was simple but delicious south Indian vegetarian fare, made with locally grown organic produce.
The next day I met with Omana to find out what I could do to help. She told me that the organisation was struggling financially due to the global financial crisis and aid agencies withdrawing from Kerala. Her vision is for RASTA to become financially sustainable so it can continue to help the disadvantaged local community without relying on outside assistance.
Wayanad is situated in the Western Ghats, a beautiful unpolluted region of India with many natural attractions. Omana’s idea is to open a homestay and eco-tourism business at RASTA. The accommodation facilities at RASTA need to be decorated and furnished to a standard suitable for paying guests. There is also a large, round, half-finished structure, which is central to Omana’s vision. Once completed, this building will provide an additional seven bedrooms plus a relaxation area for yoga, meditation and ayurveda treatments.
Eco-tours could be organised to tribal hamlets, farms, women’s organisations, local schools and temples, allowing visitors to participate in local life and learn from the culture while supporting a grassroots organisation. Increasing the number of guests will also provide employment for the local community, as more staff will be needed to look after the visitors.
We decided that my skills could best be utilised by writing promotional material to attract more volunteers and funding, while Ian painted rooms and cleared a vegetable patch for planting. We worked for at least five hours a day. In our spare time we walked around the area, marvelling at the peaceful lanes, the simplicity of village life and the friendliness of the locals.
Omana took us to visit some of the local tribal people whose sturdy homes had been built from RASTA-funded projects. Although their dwellings were very simple, they were a vast improvement on the huts they had been living in before. We were humbled by the generosity of the households we visited; they all brought us drinks and snacks despite having so little for themselves. One family even cooked a yam for us on a fire in the middle of the room. The villagers also gave us a tour of their thriving vegetable plots, which had been established using seed and farming expertise provided by RASTA.
When we saw first-hand how much RASTA has helped the local community, we offered to organise a fundraiser in Australia to raise funds for the completion of the homestay. The resulting ‘Bollywood Extravaganza fundraiser for RASTA’ will be held on 28 November 2015.
While in Sri Lanka we organised a three day hiking trip to the Knuckles National Park (two hours north east of Kandy) with a guide called Gamini, whose name I remembered by thinking of a gammy knee. On the first day, we walked 20km through low bush and scrub with spectacular mountains in the distance. It was an ideal walking day – bright and sunny with not a cloud in sight, yet not too hot.
When we stopped for lunch near a rocky outcrop, Gamini told us that leopards tend to hang around these areas. Numerous leopard droppings confirmed this. Leopards obviously have a very efficient digestive system as all that is left of their prey in their poo is hair and small bones.
We climbed up to a viewpoint where we could see for miles and our only company were a couple of serpent eagles, then we retraced our tracks and walked on a few more kilometres to a permanent camp site for trekking parties. The camp site had a flush toilet, hot showers, a kitchen, an undercover dining / bonfire area, and the tents were pitched under wooden shelters. It was after 6pm and dusk by the time we got there. The rain started shortly after we arrived, softly at first.
There were ten of us at the campsite that night – apart from our contingent of four (our driver joined us), there was a camp master and assistant, and two young guides from another company who were accompanying two Australian university students (who sounded American).
Gamini had told us he was meeting his girlfriend at the camp, and he kept up the pretence until it was time to introduce her to us. His curvaceous girlfriend turned out to be … a bottle of Arak! We’d brought a bottle of wine and between us all we polished the alcohol off during the pre-dinner revelry. The camp master lit a bonfire and the Sri Lankans put on displays of drumming, singing and dancing. Then it was our turn to sing songs from our country. I found it difficult to remember any Australian songs but between the four of us we managed.
After dinner (delicious curries with rice) we went to bed exhausted, but a storm ravaged our tent all night and kept waking us up. I was very grateful the tent was pitched under a shelter as I’m sure it would have blown away if it was in the open. It was still raining heavily in the morning so we didn’t rush to get up.
By the time we’d finished breakfast the rain had eased and Gamini decided to go ahead with the day’s hike, although he had to change the route as the river was too high to cross safely. We only had 12km to walk and most of it was downhill through tea plantations and rice paddies. We passed a few small villages with temples and little shops. On the wildlife side, we spotted a small barking deer and a giant squirrel. We also saw more leopard poo and no stray dogs, giving weight to the theory that leopards are venturing out of the jungle and supplementing their diet with dogs (see my last blog, ‘There be leopards’).
Mid-afternoon our driver met us at a little road side stall and drove us for a couple of hours to a lake. The camp master rowed us across the lake to our next campsite where our tents were set up on flat boats. A water monitor noseying around the boats seemed unperturbed by our presence. This campsite was not as flash as the other one. The drop toilet was situated away from the campsite and there were no showers, but we had a dip in the lake to compensate.
Overnight there was another storm which rocked the boat and blew the tent around, but I was so tired that I slept through it. The next morning we went on an early boat tour around the lake and spotted some night herons. After breakfast we were rowed back across the lake to the car.
It was still raining heavily and too wet to hike so Gamini took us to an Aboriginal village, where an Aboriginal man showed us how to light fires without matches, sang us a traditional lullaby and gave an archery display using handmade bows and arrows. We visited one of the Aboriginal houses which was tiny, very basic and housed six people. Gamini told us that there are a lot of disabilities among the Aboriginal people because of inbreeding, and that three of our host’s six children were disabled.
Our driver drove us back to Kandy in the pouring rain. Several times he had to swerve to avoid heaps of dirt where soil had washed down from above the road. By that evening we were at our guest house in Kandy. It wasn’t flash but had the things we needed most after a few days in the bush – a hot shower, a comfortable bed and a laundry service!
We caught the train from Haputale to Kandy. This route passes through the Houghton Plains National Park and is one of the most scenic railway journeys in Sri Lanka. We treated ourselves and bought first class tickets. The viewing carriages in first class have full glass windows (which you can’t open) and air conditioning, but here’s a tip – you get just as good a view in second class and you can open the windows!
The journey took five and a half hours so by the time we’d arrived in Kandy, done some business in town and got transport to our accommodation in Hanthana it was nearly 6pm. Our tuk tuk driver had told us that Hanthana was a long way out of town, up a big hill and there were no facilities nearby. We thought he was just saying that to get a better fare, but it was indeed a bit of a hike and situated in a residential part of the city.
Our hosts, Lesley and Prabha, were there to welcome us and show us to our room on the top floor of their house. We were the only guests at the time so had the floor to ourselves. The accommodation was fine but I was tired, hungry (as we hadn’t eaten since breakfast), grumpy and didn’t want to stay so far from the city. We told them we’d changed our plans and would only be staying one night, instead of two.
There were no restaurants nearby but our hosts drove us into the city, dropped us off at an Indian café, and then gave us a guided tour of Kandy by night on the way back. Afterwards they gave us a couple of beers for a nightcap. I felt better about our situation after having something to eat and our hosts were very kind. Besides, they had not taken our protestations of only staying one night seriously and had suggested things we could do the next day. Maybe I could handle another night in Hanthana?
The next day, Ian looked at our location on his iPad to work out if there was a shorter route into town by foot (there was). While he was looking, he discovered there was a National Park just a short walk away. Indeed our accommodation was called ‘Jungle View’ and Lesley had told us that they had seen leopards in the vicinity. We decided to make the most of our situation and go to the jungle at dusk to look for the Sri Lankan leopard (Panthera pardus kotiya).
After spending the day in Kandy, we set off on our leopard spotting trip about 5.30pm. There were no obvious tracks among the trees and we were worried about getting lost, so we stayed near the edge of the jungle. We heard lots of birds but not much else. Eventually, we made our way out and sat by a clearing enjoying the lovely night.
It was then that I heard it. A blood-curdling, guttural growl. It was terrifying and my flight or fight instinct kicked in. I jumped up expecting to see a leopard emerge from the forest at any moment. Then suddenly all the dogs in the vicinity started to bark and howl. Amazingly, Ian hadn’t heard anything.
We found out later that, as their territory and food source is dwindling, leopards have started to eat dogs. Also, when I played the sound of a leopard growling on the internet it sounded exactly like what I had heard that night. So it is very likely that the dogs … and I … heard a leopard that night, and that we had got rather too close for comfort to one of these magnificent big cats.
While in Sri Lanka we had to decide whether to go to Haputale or Ella as we didn’t have time to visit both. I read and reread the write ups in our Lonely Planet guide book. Ella sounded more touristy and it was further to travel so we eventually settled on Haputale, a small, nondescript town clinging to a steep hillside.
When we arrived it was raining and the town looked rather foreboding, but our guest house (ABC) was welcoming. Guests share the downstairs living area with the family who run it, which gives it a homely feel.
The next morning it was fine and we caught the 8.30am bus to Dambatenne Tea Factory which leaves from behind the main bus stop. The tea factory is 11km from Haputale along a narrow, very scenic road and takes about half an hour (it costs 28RP each way).
Dambatenne Tea Factory was built in 1890 by the Scottish tea baron Thomas Lipton. Lipton wanted to make tea available to everybody by providing good quality tea at affordable prices. To do this he needed to cut out the middle men and sell his tea directly ‘from the tea garden to the tea pot’. To this end, he began buying tea estates in Sri Lanka and arranging low cost packaging and shipping overseas.
But we weren’t there to see the tea factory; our destination was ‘Lipton’s Seat’, a 7km walk from the tea factory (at 1,970m above sea level). This vantage point with a view said to rival that of nearby World’s End, is where Lipton is said to have sat and contemplated his empire.
By the time we set off from Dambatenne Tea Factory it was 9am. The guide book said to leave earlier as it is often too cloudy to see anything after 10am, but we were optimistic. We walked up a narrow road that zig-zagged uphill between terraced tea plantations so steep we wondered how it was humanely possible to pick the tea, past tea pickers’ villages, schools and temples.
We chatted to some of the early birds we met coming down who told us about the amazing view at the top. But by the time we got there it was 11am and the guide book was right – the view was completely obscured by cloud. So we did the only thing possible in such circumstances … we had a cup of tea!
A Canadian couple we’d met on the way up had told us that the primitive tea stall near Lipton’s Seat sold very good tea at a very cheap price. We ordered tea, but it was accompanied by a tray of breakfast – samosas, rotis, chick peas, tomato chutney and a couple of plates of sweets. Although we’d had breakfast it looked so delicious we decided to have an early lunch. It tasted as good as it looked but the bill was a bit steep (560RP). However, as we hadn’t asked the price before we ate we couldn’t complain.
Then we sat under the rotunda at Lipton’s Seat and chatted to some Dutch people while we waited to see if the cloud would clear. After a while a fragment of cloud rolled back to reveal a small section of spectacular scenery. Encouraged, we stayed and watched until, eventually, the cloud completely lifted and we got to see the whole valley. It was definitely a sight worth waiting for.
On our way back down the tea-covered hillside we contemplated how a nice cup of tea can solve many of life’s little problems; and how lucky we’d been to see the magnificent view that inspired Thomas Lipton without having to get up at the crack of dawn!