managing a rental car in Bali - or rather, how to ensure a heart attack

We decided pretty early on that we would rent a car during our stint in Bali.  Since we were traveling to several different areas, some of which were at least four hours apart, we knew it would probably be more cost effective than hiring a driver for each of the separate treks.  Of course, we always like to have the freedom to stop off anywhere we want, thus making our experience more tailor-made to those who end up on the tour cattle train.  We worked it out that we could rent a car for an entire week for the price that it cost us to catch a two-hour taxi ride!  This math pretty much sealed the deal for us.  Finding a rental car, however, would prove a bit more difficult.  Renting wheels in Bali was certainly a different experience than what most of us might be used to in the Western world.  While most touristy areas feature a number of posters promoting car or motorcycle rentals, the trick is finding the right vendor who is both reputable and also willing to charge a fair price.

Luckily we found the right combination upon entering into an artist’s shop in Kerobokan that also doubled as a small car rental agency.  Our contact at Surya Jaya Rent Car was “G’day” (perhaps a nickname to appear the hordes of Australian tourists who flood through Kuta each and every day), a local artist who shows his Balinese-style paintings in several shops in the neighborhood.  We soon agreed upon a price and arranged for the car to be delivered later in the day to our hotel.  What was so unusual about the transaction was that they never took down a credit card number and only glanced at our passports, choosing not even to take down our driver’s license numbers.  After questioning the ease of the transaction, G’day simply stated, “Please don’t make a big dent, but little scratches are okay.”


Regrettably, the initial transaction was the easiest part of our rental experience in Bali.  Once we got our hands on the steering wheel of our Suzuki jeep, it was all downhill - sometimes quite literally.  With hordes of motorbikes darting out from all sides, super narrow roads with big potholes that lead up steep mountains, and drivers heading straight for you before they pass going in the opposite direction, maneuvering through Bali was a bit like Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride at Disneyland.  Having driven all over the world, and in some crazy places like the mountains of Tunisia and Italy, we can safely say Bali offers some of the worst conditions, somewhat like a cross between “Russian Roulette” and a video game.  Quite simply, it’s not advised for the timid or non-aggressive driver.

For this reason, we chose to avoid night-driving as much as possible since we already required every bit of our faculties to get through even the well-lit journeys.  Surprisingly, with so many vehicles on the road, we rarely encountered any traffic.  In Indonesia, every vehicle is always on the move and no one needs to wait for too long to make their turn or switch lanes.  Some of the boldest drivers are the ones on two-seater motorcycles who corral their entire family onto their bikes, covering them with simple jackets or hats during afternoon rainstorms!  Yikes. 

Persistent as we are, we managed to rack up plenty of miles on our car without ever receiving a single scratch.  (Though it must be said, there were plenty of near misses!)  On our last day in Bali, G’day went above and beyond the call of duty by meeting us near the airport at a souvenir shop so we could save money by not having to take a cab to the airport.  He was a gem, and if you are brave enough to tackle the roads when you are in Bali, we wholeheartedly recommend his services.

Surya Jaya Rent Car - Jalan Batu Belig 8A, Kerobokan, Bali, 011 (62) 819-1667-6773

ferry ride from Banyuwangi to Gilimanuk

Banyuwangi, Banyuwangi, Banyuwangi.  We love that name.  It simply just rolls of the tongue.  More importantly, Banyuwangi is the town located at the eastern edge of Java where most people head out from the “mainland” to journey to the island of Bali.  (People apparently do this for work every day in much the same way those from Staten Island come to Manhattan.)  If you are driving by car, you can simply wheel it on up to the vessel at Ketapang Harbor, or if you are on foot or bicycle, you may also ride as a passenger like we did.  (Our ticket was included in the price of our tour with Exotissimo.)

For some odd reason, ferry rides always seem to promote a festive atmosphere - even on the most mundane of days.  This adventure was no exception. Even before we left dock we were treated to an unexpected surprise.  As the massive three-story beast was still loading passengers, a gaggle of young boys paid their fare, climbed all the way to the top of the boat and then proceeded to jump off into the cobalt blue waters below!  Assisted by a mask and flippers, the quasi-snorkelers egged people from the boat to throw them money into the water!  And you better believe the tourists followed suit!  The teens entertained young and old alike as they dived deep in the crystalline waters for fallen coins.  Sadly, as the ferry disembarked for Bali, we had to leave them behind.

The passage ahead of us was a rather breezy 45 minutes from Banyuwangi to Gilimanuk.  Even though the mass of water does not seem that far to cross, because of the strong currents, the ferry has to make a bit of a “U” path to reach the other side.  This trajectory certainly prolongs the expedition.  Ultimately we would have enjoyed the trip better if it was not for the annoying barker who remained on his mic for over 20 minutes in attempts to sell passengers the cheapest of toys and rankest of clothing!  Proving that sometimes subtlety is the better approach, we were more impressed by the funky music and performance DVD’s and CD’s touted toward the back.  One DVD featured a group of skaters in monkey masks doing their thing to classic gamelan music.  Very cool.

After downing a couple of delicious pastries, we were already at the Gilimanuk dock.  We passed over to threshold, said our dear goodbyes to the fabulous Herman Jaya (our guide from East Java) and headed out of the parking lot to our next adventure in Bali.   

Ferries run back and forth between Gilimanuk in Bali to Ketapang every 30 minutes or so, and are operated 24 hours a day!  The journey takes about 45 minutes, although loading and unloading can take much longer.  The cost of passage is 7,000 IDR for foot passengers (about 75 cents USD) and 95,000 IDR for cars (about $10.75 USD).

ASDP Ferry Terminal - Jalan Gatot Subroto, Ketapang Harbor, East Java, 011 (62) 333-413730