After what seemed an eternity we arrived at LAX, Los Angeles’ renowned airport famous for the X shaped building there (the Theme Building). We had hired a convertable car as we felt it was part of the LA experience, roof down and airco on but it did feel odd.
Before we got in the car we put our bags in the boot (or ‘trunk’, American style), got in and proceeded to put the roof down. Nothing happened, we opened the boot again it all looked fine but still the lid wouldn't go down. Time to ask for help. The guy on the parking lot explained that the roof took up most of the boot and only a tiny piece was over, in this case you might just fit a coat and a small bag that was it. We had two large trolleys (traveling light), our only option was to take the bags out, put the roof down and the bags on the back seat: sorted but not ideal.
We had booked three nights at the Malibu Country Inn. So map in hand, of we jolly well go, traffic being quite busy as it was just after rush hour but the it kept moving and before long we were sailing along the Pacific coast Highway, and wow what views! I loved it immediately. Unfortunately, I'm not the best navigator and we missed our turning for the hotel so we took the next right: a canyon road and within minutes we had climbed Everest. We couldn't see the road over the bonnet it was so steep. We managed to turn around in someone's drive way (thank you) and back down we went. I will avoid that turn off again if I can help it. This time lucky, do a right first left up a steep driveway: home for the next three days.
We chatted to the receptionist as we checked in about what famous people lived around the area. Barbra Streisand and Cher cropped up amongst others. The receptionist, though, said that Barbra never leaves her home anymore but I wasn't so sure that was true. She showed us to our room but it became obvious this one hadn't been cleaned since the last checkout so a new key and bingo a clean room with a view of the beach from the patio.
Now, the beach situation along the Pacific Coast Highway is very odd. Lots are marked as private which even comes down to the fact that if anyone goes onto these beaches security guards turn up very quickly and ask the people to leave. But, here is the crunch: sometimes parts of the beaches are public but the owners of the million dollar homes overlooking these beaches want them kept private and if the people refuse to move the guards call the police. The police arrive and generally side with the guards, which makes the police's job easier, they don't really ever want to get out of their cars let alone arrest people for sitting on a beach. Having said that, there are some beautiful wide sandy beaches for those less well off and still with the same views.
It was getting time for a glass of wine and dinner so back to reception for some dining options as the hotel restaurant was closed. Our closest option was back down the drive along the beach road to a place called The Sunset Restaurant which would do us fine. I parked the car in the car park next door but we noticed a man in a bit of a flap at the car park’s entrance; it turned out to be valet parking something we in Europe are not used to plus the carpark was in spitting distance from the restaurant, we just said next time and in we went. The place was modern and across from the beach. Food ordered and a glass of wine a pleasant meal with a great view as in its name. The journey back to the hotel was less than a mile I was driving and had had two glasses of wine which is something I never do and have never done since, but typical: a cop car turns up just my luck. Luckily, he wasn't interested in us, so back safe and sound.
The beach outside The Sunset Restaurant Malibu
An early morning flight from Amsterdam to Frankfurt in January for our flight to Delhi with Lufthansa. Well, I must say, the Frankfurt to Delhi part flew past… pardon the pun. We arrived in the early hours in Delhi wearing jeans, a T-shirt and a jean jacket. Through passport control: no problems.
Before leaving Amsterdam we had booked a hotel and a pickup from the airport, so outside we were eager to see our names on a board and our driver. It was freezing outside, a jeans jacket was nowhere near warm enough against the icy feel in the air and on the ground; and on top of that no board with our names on it. We waited in the cold for as long as we could, then flew back into the terminal to thaw out for ten minutes, back outside, only still to find our names not being waved with a warm welcome. We waited and waited till eventually the cold got too much, so we decided to phone the hotel; first time no answer, give it five minutes, another try this time a sleepy voice hello. We explained all the obvious but to no avail: nobody was coming for us, great start.
Now what, there was a list of hotels in the terminal building. We wrote the address down of a suitable one and headed out again to find a taxi. We showed the driver, who was covered head to foot in blankets, the address; he shook his head and put our bags in the back but just before we pulled away another dark figure, also covered from head to foot in something, got in the front passenger seat which worried me. Off we go leaving the safety and lights of the airport behind us. Within minutes it was pitch black, the two of us in the back feeling very uncomfortable. The driver repeated the hotel name but suggested another place; we said sternly no, take us to the hotel we asked for. Obviously, he would get a commission from his choice of hotel but ours maybe not.
We were now in the middle of nowhere and the driver started to slow down to a crawling pace, eventually he stopped; my heart beating ten to the dozen. The front passenger got out. “What's happening”, I yelled, only to be told he needed a pee. Oh the relief.. for him and us. After another twenty odd minutes we pulled up outside what in the pitch dark looked like a high rise hotel. We quickly paid the taxi driver and headed in; the reception looked just finished with the smell of paint still in the air. Formalities completed in triplicate we were shown to our room: very basic, cold but everything we might need. Now time to sleep.
The next morning we headed out of our room towards the lift, only to find the structure wasn't complete: you could literally walk off the edge and fall three flights and this in a hotel open to the public, we had to laugh: welcome to India.
As it was almost lunchtime we got a little green and yellow tuk-tuk to Connaught Place and had lunch in the United Coffee House, it looked and has been around for years and full of character. The food was as good as the place looked. After lunch we walked out into Connaught Place and were confronted with an elephant in the middle of this great metropolis. I must say at this point that this was before I knew of the cruelty behind the animal trade, in keeping these poor animals elephants which are born to be wild not trapped by chains. I took photos, something I would never do now, these animals belong in the jungle not in Delhi.
Time for another tuk-tuk, this time to India Gate, a war memorial. By now it was pleasantly warm, so once we arrived we walked around and were surprised at all the monkeys climbing over and around the walls. It was a fascinating afternoon but the sun was beginning to fade, so we headed back to our hotel. We realised we needed to change some money so we asked the tuk-tuk driver where we could change money. He said the unofficial way gave a better deal and he could take us to a place if we where interested. So off we went on another adventure. By now it was dark as we arrived in a dark part of town with a row of tuk-tuks, their drivers asleep on the back seats covered in blankets, and us. Somebody approached and said “dollars?” We said, “yes, how much?” All very cloak and dagger, but it was a much better rate than the banks if not a bit scarier. So money dealt with, back to the half finished hotel. We had dinner at walking distance, and it was freezing again, shivering all the way there and all the way back. I was pleased to get into bed.
Breakfast out of the way we planned on hiring another tuk-tuk for the day to take us around the highlights that Delhi has to offer of which there are plenty. A very young tuk-tuk driver was the first we came across and we were both happy, thinking we would make his day. Money wise, we agreed on a price and off we rocked. This fort, that palace, then lunch. After lunch our tuk-tuk driver said someone else would take us this afternoon. We cottoned on quick: he'd sold us off to someone cheaper but we weren't having that. We said, either you finish this or we go somewhere else; that soon changed his mind back.
Next stop New Delhi, I have never seen so many people in one place, all heading in different directions; utter chaos. We visited the massive 17th century Red Fort (Mughal Fort), then we had the silly idea of walking up a street just as everybody was finishing work and was walking down the street. Impossible, it was like we were swimming up river in a flood. Turn and go back was our only option. The smog, dust was thick in the air: time to retreat as quick as possible.
The next morning (our last day in Delhi) we decided to visit a few more temples and later on go shopping. I must admit by now I'd seen enough forts and temples for the foreseeable, so shopping here we come. I had in mind to get the Star of India, a semi precious stone and a tiger’s eye stone, so this was our mission for the day.
Next morning we had breakfast and we asked about booking a boat back to Bali after our stay here. They said best for us was to go to one of the travel agents on the strip. We arranged a boat for the last day and headed to the beach for a change of scenery. Our hotel had its own private beach but the only problem was you couldn't get in the sea for sharp coral. The beach itself had lovely white sand and the feel of a Robinson Crusoe island. After an hour or so we decided to cycle around the island and see if there were better beaches. The island is quite small and you can get around it all easily but we never found a beach with access without coral.
Time for a dip in the pool or so we thought, we walked into reception and they asked us if we had booked a boat in a few days. They then informed us that due to a storm between Lombok and Bali all boat services were cancelled for the next days. Why we weren’t told this in the first case I don’t know. So back on our bikes to the travel agent, we explained that we needed to leave on the day we had booked the tickets for and as services were cancelled could we have our money back; we would have to get alternative transport. He wasn't happy; in fact he made it quite plain: no, he would not give us back our money. We insisted and at that moment he flew to the back of his shop, grabbed a knife, jumped over the counter and pointed it at us. We immediately left and backed out onto the Main Street but he followed us, still pointing the knife at us but by now a group of people including locals were asking him what he was doing.
We grabbed our bikes and fled back to the hotel where we explained what had just happened. The hotel owner looked shocked as much as we did, he asked what travel agent it was and with that we went to our room to have a swim and to calm down. We asked reception about flights and after a few phone calls it became very obvious that most were already full with very few options. The only one suitable for us was business class on Garuda, from Lombok to Bali, so we took it.
That evening we went to the restaurant we had earmarked for my partner’s birthday which was by far the best restaurant on that strip. So after a lovely meal time for a beer in one of the bars, we saw one of the other couples from the hotel though they didn't see us. After a very eventful day time to go back to the hotel. The owner of the hotel was waiting for us and handed us the money for our cancelled boat, someone from the travel agency had heard what had happened and delivered the money to the hotel. We thanked him and he explained that there are no police on Gili Trawangan but the law is upheld by the elders of the island, and when any such thing as this happens it means the person would have to leave the island and not come back. If that happened in this case we don't know, but all’s well that ends well again (so we thought!).
Next morning we see our neighbour, fully dressed lying on the sun bed outside his room asleep. We had breakfast and when we got back he was still there alone. Something felt wrong so eventually we went and woke him up and asked if he was ok, obviously not. He said that they had been in the same bar as us last night and got into a conversation with another man who he thought was also a traveller, but not long after that he couldn't remember anything; not how he got back, how long he'd been back, but worst of all his girlfriend wasn't back. What on earth do you do on an island with no police. After about thirty minutes his girlfriend appeared, looking absolutely dreadful, saying she had no idea what had happened to her. We could see she was positively frightened. Obviously, that other man had spiked their drinks but what had he done to her? We could see the horror in her face. It turned out that they were also on the same flight as us from Lombok to Bali but on the whole journey from Gili Trawangan around Lombok in the airport I never heard her speak a word. The pain in her face spoke volumes. After the flight we never saw them again but lessons need to be learnt: never leave your drinks unattended but also should you accept drinks from strangers. But then again, you’re on holiday, you never think this is going to happen to you, bit it can! Would I return to Gili Trawangan? I don't think so.
Born in Chiswick West London, grew up in Royal Berkshire, currently living in Amsterdam, the Netherlands