Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.
I arrived in Bali at noon after a really early morning flight, so spent my first day napping and hanging by my beautiful pool. The next day, I set out to explore the beach and Sanur town. Sounds like an excellent plan, yes? Only two problems, the hotel people can’t tell their right from left and I had no map. Consequently, I ended up on the worst raggedy stretch of beach on the whole island ( well there really was no beach, just rocks) and garbagey streets. Then, thinking I was headed toward the part of town with shops and restaurants, ended up on the street of mechanics and broken/missing/gaping holes sidewalks. And for me to even remark on the state of the sidewalks after spending a month in Thailand really says something. Plus of course, it was brutally hot, so I stopped in the only air conditioned place there was, a place I would never in a million years patronize in the US….KFC. Oh, I have sunk so low . But the 7up I got was excellently refreshing, I must say.
I eventually found a map and realized I had turned right every place I should have turned left, headed home and took a nice cool shower and went out to get some dinner at a local warang ( local outdoor, casual, sometimes very rustic café. I had been warned by my Australian friends about the notoriously bad behavior of their countrymen vacationing in Bali, but I didn’t think I’d be exposed to it so soon. This Aussie guy was a complete and total moron (the kind that thinks if you talk loud enough and toss enough money around, you can get anything you want, in this case the after-hours company of one of the waitresses). Such an ass.
Anyway, the next day I took a cooking class (no bugs on the menu this time!) in a beautiful outdoor kitchen and learned the secret of Indonesian cooking is making a paste of chile, kafir lime leaf, cilantro, garlic, ginger, turmeric, hazelnuts and that indispensable ingredient in all Asian cooking-fish sauce. It’s good food, but Thai is still my hands down favorite.
I did some really nice ocean kayaking in Sanur, as well as some snorkeling on nearby Lembogan island. The boat ride there terrified me. The current and waves halfway across get very swirly and one side of the ocean is higher than the other if you can even imagine such a thing. In Bali you just get on boat (or car/motorcycle) with no idea of the experience of the captain/driver, whether or not they’re licensed/insured… it’s all on faith. Anyway, I tried to relax on the speedboat and ignore the fact that we smacking down hard on the waves and the boat was tipping when I saw all the Balinese women with their babies as calm as cucumbers, so I figured I was probably being a big fat scaredy cat, but I was happy when we landed. I met up with local guy who took me out snorkeling and it was great. After snorkeling in the Keys and comparing that with Mexico, I had fairly low expectations, but the water was crystal clear, the coral was beautiful and there were tons of colorful fish. I had forgotten how much I love that salty/sunny/lazy feeling after a great day in the water.
The beach in Sanur has a nice stretch of walkway and along the path are nice hotels and tons of local shops selling cheap souvenirs. The shopkeepers are relentless-if you accidentally make eye contact (or really, even if you don’t) they are on you. I have never been so interrogated in all my life –where you from, where you going, just look (in my shop), how long you stay in Bali…..They were very nice, so I felt rude ignoring them, but it got to be very annoying. This happened all over the island with taxi/motorcycle drivers, masseuses, tour operators….
It’s hard to find small group day tours here. Most people just hire a guide and car to drive them around and show them the sites. Even though it was weird to have my own private driver/guide, that’s what I did and it was great. He took me to 2 Hindu temples on the coast. The first one, Taneh Lot, is built on a big rock about 50 meters out to sea during high tide, it was just beautiful, and of course I had to see the holy snake that lives in the sacred cave (and give the appropriate donation to the guys in the cave). Then we went to the other temple, Uluwatu, perched high on a cliff, again, really beautiful. There is a walkway along the cliff and I was warned to take off jewelry and put my sunglasses away because of the monkeys. Halfway down the path, one of them jumps this guy and steals his bottle of water and tears off into the jungle. I imagine future archeologists are going to have a field day when they excavate that place 1000 years from now. As I continued down the path, I noticed that all the guides had big sticks to fend off the monkeys (my guide was waiting for me at the entrance) and I was like, "hey, um, where’s my stick?" and there were tons of the creatures at the end of the path. So picture this. A dirt peninsula on the edge of a sheer cliff, with a 100 foot drop to the ocean, no guard rail. Tourists standing on the edge for a photo op with monkeys jumping on them. Tourists panicking and <u>stepping backward</u> closer to the edge as their friends and family laugh hysterically and snap pics. OMG!
Anyway, didn’t hear any screams on my way down so I assume everyone survived. When I got back to the entrance I saw the same monkey from earlier trying to open his purloined bottle of water. He finally got the top off then turned the bottle upside-down, spilled all the water out and proceeded to eat the paper label. I don’t think we’ll have to worry about the Planet of the Apes anytime soon.
Had a great dinner on the beach that day as well. All these restaurants in Jimbaran set up tables on the beach-toes in the sand or in the waves if you catch the incoming tide. They have aquariums of live fish, you pick the one you want and they grill it up for you. Even though I felt bad about sentencing a fish to death, I was really hungry and he was incredibly delicious, one of the best pieces of fish I’ve ever had, as a matter of fact.
The next town I stayed in was Ubud, an inland artsy city. It would have been a great town, but I hated my hotel (fleas, ants, smelly pillows). Every time I tried to check out the staff was incredibly apologetic. They were beyond devastated I wasn’t happy, so I just changed rooms and stayed. I didn’t have the heart to leave. Also, I love to explore a town by walking, but that is almost impossible in Ubud, the sidewalks walks are uneven and are really just broken cement slabs over drainage ditches. Some slabs are completely missing, so you have to pay attention or you’ll fall in the ditch. Tourists have actually died by falling in, getting swept up in the current and drowning, or surviving the fall but dying from an infection they picked up in the water. One day the rain was really coming down and the sidewalks and streets were under a good 6” of water. I almost got knocked down by the current while crossing the street. Crazy!
There’s a big lake by the Mt. Batur volcano where I went to canoeing there. We had to put the canoes on our heads and walk down slippery steps along a mucky drainage ditch to put them in the water (why is this part never in the brochure?). The lake was supposedly formed when a Balinese god realized the people of Bali needed fresh water, so he dug out the lake and the resulting pile of dirt became the volcano. The Balinese are Hindu, but with different customs than Indian Hindus. They do not hold cows sacred (well only white ones) and, in fact, sacrifice them during important ceremonies. During the canoe trip we passed a beautiful temple hanging over the lake and could see the openings where the cows loaded with rocks were dumped into the water to drown them for the sacrifice. After the cow dies they haul it up and have a BBQ. In towns that don’t have a lake, they stake a cow or buffalo on a sandbar on the beach and wait for high tide to drown it.
The amount of time, effort and money that goes in to their religious practice is incredible. Every house and store has handmade bamboo trays filled with flowers, leaves and incense on the sidewalk in front of the door. This feeds the evil spirits so they don’t go inside and cause problems. Every house and hotel has at least one small temple or shrine that is filled with offerings every day (flowers, fruit, rice, incense…. Then there is the village temple and the various ceremonies that happen there. It was fairly common to see huge processions of people on the way to temple all dressed up, the women carrying fruit bowls piled high on their heads. I went to a ceremony at an Ubud temple one night-it was quite beautiful.
Most Balinese don’t seem to have a high opinion of their neighbors in Java. For example, the people who own the canoe company came home one day and couldn’t find their two puppies. Turns out the Javanese construction workers next door had made saté out of them. When confronted, they said they were sorry. Sorry they hadn’t shared the puppy saté that is, not sorry about eating them. Horrifying! Some Balinese in the northern part of the island do eat dog, but it’s not really that common because in their religion, dogs are reincarnated thieves and they don’t want to make a mistake of eating one of their former relatives.
I did a great bike ride one day, mostly downhill from the top of the volcano, but some off roading through the rice fields as well. There are few things in the world that are more beautiful than Asian rice fields- makes me want to rip out the grass on my front lawn and replace it with rice when I get home. Along the way we came across three naked brown 5 year olds playing, laughing and splashing in the irrigation ditches. Cutest thing ever. We also stopped at a coffee plantation and I had some Lewak coffee. The lewaks (ferrety opossum-like nocturnal creatures) eat the coffee beans, then poop them out. They are then washed, dried and roasted. It’s quite the delicacy and a pound of beans goes for $300. I also ate durian, a horribly smelly (rancid socks) fruit with a sweet taste but a nasty texture (wallpaper paste). I will not be eating it ever again.
I also did a white water rafting trip down the Ayong river -it was really pretty, with some good rapids, lush jungleand waterfalls along the way. Tons of fun even though the raft capsized. We all fell in and I had to save this one woman who couldn’t swim. We had life jackets on so she wasn’t in any real danger, but she was terrified. Now she is indebted to me and I have free place to stay whenever I go to Mumbai!
After Ubud I headed to the northern coast of the island, the Lovina district. The bus ride was mountainous and full of hairpin turns, probably my least favorite thing in the entire world to do, especially in a torrential tropical downpour and made worse by the road signs which were either big exclamation marks or pictures of skulls and cross bones. By the time we reached level ground, the front of my skirt was soaked where I had been wiping my sweating terrified palms.
I was so happy with my little Lovina hotel after the dump I had in Ubud-clean, shiny, modern, sparkling pool, comfy bed, nice pillows. Yay!!! However... New rule for Bali-always shake your towel out before using… because centipedes. Big ones. I felt something fall on my foot and tickle me and for the first time in my life I actually screamed the word “eeek”! I should have taken a photo but I was too busy smashing it into mush with a flip flop - one hundred creepy little legs flew everywhere.
I got up at 6am to catch a local boat to go out and see the dolphins. What a beautiful morning out on the Bali Sea. We only saw a few dolphins, but just to be out on the water at dawn was incredible. Seeing northern Bali from the boat, I could imagine it as it was in the late 1500’s when the Portuguese and Dutch explorers arrived-magically beautiful mountains, palm trees, and black sand beaches. Now, along with the hotels, there are still families that live just off the beach in wood and thatch shacks, and it’s common to see dogs, roosters and the occasional pig roaming the shore, and sadly, the ever present litter.
The next town I went to was Candidasa, which is known for its dive centers. It’s a small place and very quiet. I had some really great snorkel trips there -sometimes the fish surrounding me were so thick I could barely see. Stunning coral as well, so colorful and so many varieties. The tropical fish were amazing- I saw one that looked like he had just swum out of a Mondrian painting. I was hoping to see some turtles as well, but no luck.
Spent my last couple of days at the beach on the west side of the island and took a surfing lesson. Way big fun! Also very tiring what with all the falling off, jumping the waves and paddling back out to sea. No wonder surfers are in such good shape. I got up a quite a few times and had a couple nice long rides to shore. I’ll definitely be doing that again sometime, although I just read that the best surfing place in Florida is also the shark bite capital of the world-yikes!
On that note, next stop –Cambodia, where I’ll be volunteering at Spitler School in Ang Chagn Village near Siem Reap. I’m actually looking forward to unpacking, settling in for a bit and doing something productive. The party’s over…for now. Bye Bali, you crazy island! <hr width="33%" size="1" align="left" class="msocomoff">