Sunday, July 25, 2010

So I went to Bali last weekend...

Four days free, so how could I not? A group going to the Gili Islands off of Lombok nearly seduced me away, but in the end gorgeous temples won out over beautiful beaches. (Though the beach in Sanur wasn't half bad.) Airfare was expensive and a hassle – step one: 2-3 hour traffic-choked drive to the Surabaya airport – so we (Kevin, Samantha, and I) decided to go by travel instead. A travel is a tourist shuttle, pretty common in Indonesia, that picks you up at your door, feeds you dinner, and drives you to wherever. It's basically a big van, with room for about ten passengers and seats that recline like in an airplane. Our trip took twelve hours door-to-door each, but the fare was about $40 round trip and we saved a night's hotel stay. I got picked up a little before 6pm on Thursday night. Around 9 we stopped for dinner at a restaurant owned by the tour company, and at 1am, after 6 hours on the bumpiest roads I've ever encountered, we boarded the ferry. The sea was reasonably calm, but the whole ride a guy with a microphone was walking up and down the aisles selling cheap crap to travelers. The three of us were the only bules on the boat – this is not the tourist route. An hour later we landed in Bali, and a little before 6am the travel dropped us off by the beach in Sanur. First stop was coffee – yes, we slept on the travel, but with seats like an airplane you sleep about as well as on an airplane, but an airplane that accelerates and brakes suddenly and makes liberal use of the horn.

(Tangent on Indonesian drivers: They drive on the left, which I don't entirely understand, since it was the Dutch who colonized here, not the British. Seatbelts are entirely optional, and often don't exist. There's probably four motorbikes for every car on the road, some of whom drive more cautiously than others. The default speed for any sort of rented car or travel is as fast as possible – they want to get where they're going and be done with it. The result of this is that they pass anyone in front of them who isn't going as fast as they'd like, which in practice means everyone. To pass, you pull out into the right lane, make sure nothing bigger than you is coming at you, honk to let the car/truck/bike/bus in fron know they're being passed, accelerate as fast as possible until you've passed everyone or oncoming traffic gets too close, then slam on the brakes as you pull back into your lane so as not to hit whoever you didn't manage to pass. Repeat constantly for the duration of the trip, no matter how windy the roads or how choppy the pavement.)

We found a fancy hotel on the beach for breakfast – fruit with yogurt and banana pancakes that were more like crepes – then Kevin took a bus out to Kuta to surf and Samantha and I rented lounge chairs on the beach for the day. I'd hoped to do some scuba diving – Sanur's got a nice reef offshore a bit – but because of the 'gaping open wound' on my leg (Kevin's words, and reasonably accurate – see my previous post about the knalpot) I stuck to sunbathing while Samantha swam. After lunch – pork, for the first time in a month; Bali is predominantly Hindu rather than Muslim – we did a little shopping on the main road and checked into our hotel. Pak Gatut, one of my teachers at CLS, has a former student, Brant, who lives in Sanur with his Balinese wife, Risna, and they had arranged our room for us. $10 each for the night and we even got hot water and AC. That night we had pizza for dinner., and a gin squash for dessert.

Bali feels like a different country from Java – sort of like Italy and France, you can see the commonalities but it's definitely a different culture. A lot of that I think stems from the difference in religion and the fact that Bali is full of tourists, while Malang at least has very few, especially non-Indonesians. There's no five-times-daily call to prayer in Bali, which means nobody wakes up at 4am; the streets are full of stray dogs instead of the cats you see all over Malang; pork is a common dish but there aren't any food carts on the street; almost no women in jilbabs; the whole pace of life is much slower and more relaxed; there's temples every fifteen feet on the street and offerings every five – Bali smells like incense.

Saturday morning we had breakfast at a cafe with discounts for guests at our inn; hashbrowns and bacon have never tasted so good. Scrambled eggs, duck sausage, and toast with butter too. Nice change from nasi goreng and chicken curry. I did a little more shopping while Samantha read by the pool, until we realized that Bali is an hour ahead of Malang and we'd missed our shuttle to Ubud. So we chilled for two hours til the next one at Brant's bar by the beach, drinking watermelon juice (me) and margaritas (Kevin).

We already had a room reserved on the outskirts of town, but stuck in traffic in the center Samantha saw a place that looked nice and called from the car. They had a triple available at what worked out to about $7 each per night, though in exchange for the great location we got a cold-water shower. The main street in Ubud, Monkey Forest Road, is lined with souvenir shops and consequently mobbed with tourists, at least on the weekend, but we turned onto a side street and found dinner for a third the price of the restos on the main road. Afterwards we went to a legong performance – Balinese traditional dance. Pretty incredible. Plenty of pictures already posted, videos to come once I get reasonably fast internet.

Sunday we took a tour of the temples in the area – Goa Gaja, the elephant caves; Pejeng; Gunung Kawi; Tampak Siring, the holy springs; Kintamani; lunch overlooking Gunung Batur and Lake Batur; and a coffee plantation, because why not. It was the three of us, a Spanish couple, a Frenchman, and a driver in a van driving site to site, and honestly all the temples were amazing; I took more pictures than any reasonable person should. At Goa Gaja we hiked into the jungle to see a little temple tucked into a hillside; at Gunung Kawi I managed to kick my burn going down the steps down the mountain and made it bleed, then spent the rest of that visit limping around; and at Tampak Siring I dipped my leg into a special pool devoted to health and I swear it didn't hurt the rest of the day, for the first time in a week. The coffee plantation had free tastings of most of their products, and for Rp 30,000 you could get a small cup of kopi luwak. Kopi luwak (civet coffee) is made from beans that have already passed through the digestive system of a luwak, a little animal that looks like a cross between a cat and a ferret and apparently likes eating coffee berries. Apparently the digestive enzymes in the luwak's stomach alter the bean's chemistry and improve the flavor; in the US it can go for $100 or more per pound. Of course I had to try it. Turns out I still don't like coffee, not even really expensive coffee, but Samantha and Kevin were happy to finish the cup for me.

We were supposed to get back to Ubud around 3pm, but with all the souvenir shopping we didn't get back til around six. All the sites had lines of souvenir stalls, most with the same crap but a few, especially at Gunung Kawi, with some beautiful crafts – coconuts carved into lamps, carved ox bones and skulls, wooden masks and batik sarongs. I bought a few gifts, took pictures of a few especially nice bone carvings. I got some pretty good deals – they don't expect a bule who knows how to bargain, much less one who can bargain in Indonesian. At each site the sellers got more insistent, until by the end they were wrapping scarves around our waists as we tried to cross the street and holding handfuls of postcards through the car windows.

That night we went to see a kacek performance, described in the tourist office as a traditional 'fire and trance dance'. Unlike legong, which is accompanied by a gamelan orchestra, in kacek a group of men sit around a fire and sing a capella while the dancers dance around and through them. The last bit had a guy on a hobby horse, ostensibly in a trance, dancing around and occasionally over a bonfire of coconut husks. I could barely watch. Afterwards we stopped for dinner at an Indian place, where Kevin had his first-ever samosa, then to bed.

Monday morning, after banana pancakes at the hotel, Kevin went back to Kuta to surf again and Samantha and I headed off on our own. I poked around the Ubud Palace and a few local temples, looked in a few souvenir shops, then went to the monkey forest, which is exactly what it sounds like – a patch of forest with some lovely temples and a whole lot of monkeys. The monkeys are small-ish and completely uninterested in humans, though completely unafraid as well, unless of course you happen to have food – bananas sell for Rp 20,000 a bunch at the entrance. Mostly they sit on or near the path and do monkey-ish things – fight, groom, swing on vines, eat yams, play with the fountains. One monkey held her baby by the tail as he tried to run off. The one temple I made it to was where locals get cremated after they die – most gruesome stone carvings I've seen yet. Walking back to town I had been thinking about getting a massage, which go for cheap here, but instead I ended up in a Doktor Ikan shop – for Rp 55,000 you sit on a bench for half an hour with your feet in a tank of water while little inch-long fish nibble at your dead skin. It's a strange sensation, kind of tingly, and an even stranger sight to see hundreds of tiny fish swarm your legs, but my feet came out nice and soft, which after a month of walking around Malang in sandals was a nice change. Lunch was babi guling, spit-roasted pig stuffed with spices and served with rice and veggies. The warung was packed but the food was cheap and delicious – those Javanese are really missing out.

At two we caught the shuttle back to Sanur, where the travel was supposed to pick us up at 5:30. To kill the time til then Samantha and I decided to get massages and body scrubs while Kevin drank beers at Brant's bar. The massage turned out to be not the best I've ever had – especially when she forgot about my burn and squeezed it, hard, through the sheet – but the body scrub was nice, especially since my Sempu sunburn was peeling, and the whole hour and a half cost about ten bucks each.

At 5:30 we were waiting outside Restaurant Piccadilly for the travel to come pick us up. At 6:00 they hadn't come yet, so I called the company, who said they were stuck in traffic. At 6:15 we went into the restaurant, where a British guy Kevin had met at the bar bought us all beers and we ordered french fries and garlic bread. At 7pm the travel finally came, and at eight it broke down. An hour later we were on our way again, and thanks to our driver, who drove like a crazy person to get us there on time, I got dropped off at home a little before 6am. Class started at eight. Needless to say, I slept well that night.

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