Bali, Indonesia, February 27
Bali, Indonesia (Part 1)
Today we said goodbye to Australia. I regretted not having had more time to explore Western Australia, but after two months we were ready for some real culture shock. As Sue put it, travelling in Australia was not too unlike being in the States, except everyone had that funny accent. Our next destination is Bali, the more popular tourist destination of the 17,508 islands of the archipelago which comprises the country of Indonesia.
One thing we did not realize before arriving in Bali is that Indonesia is the fourth most populous nation in the world with over 200 million people. We were expecting Bali to be a textbook tropical island paradise, complete with beautiful remote rainforest and pristine postcard beaches. Instead, we found people inhabiting just about every possible stretch of road and an alarming disregard for the environment. Specifically, there was garbage everywhere. Washed up on the beaches, along the roads, clogging the streams and rivers, floating in the ocean water. After we thought about it, though, it shouldn't be surprising considering the amount of people concentrated on the relatively small island. Thankfully, the cultural experience and friendliness of the people more than made up for any scenic disappointments.
Shortly after arrival at Ngurah Rai Airport on a Garuda Indonesia flight, we had our first taste of non-Western culture. In the airport restrooms, we discovered the "squat toilet", known as a "mandi". (Further investigation did uncover Western toilets, however - the conveniences of an international airport!) Next, we exchanged two hundred US dollars and we were instant millionaires! ($1 USD = 10,000 rupiah) That was kind of a weird feeling, having a wallet full of bills with a denomination of '100,000'.
We made a plan to head away from the touristy, commercialized area surrounding the airport and chartered a taxi to the Ubung bus terminal in Denpasar, the capital of Bali. Along the way we tried to absorb the radical change of scenery. We passed some stalwarts of Western influence - McDonald's and KFC, but for the most part there were small storefronts with all signage written in Indonesian, open air markets and food stalls, large gutters and pools filled with stagnant water, stray dogs, roosters, and the occasional beast of burden. And of course, the Balinese people themselves; every street was fairly crowded both with pedestrians and motorbike riders weaving suicidally in and out of traffic. Upon reaching the bus terminal, we were immediately mobbed by a large group of teenage boys all apparently wanting to help carry our backpacks. This was a bit disconcerting and we hurried to get our packs on and secured while keeping a hand on our valuables - a typical reaction. In retrospect, the whole scene was completely harmless. We were the only Westerners in the whole terminal, and as we later discovered, tourists rarely use this level of public transport, so we were something of a novelty.
Before long we were surrounded by a group of men a bit older, trying to find out where we were going and attempting to get us onto whatever bus they were touting for. For the most part, they did not speak English, but we eventually succeeded in finding a bus to our destination, Lovina, for 30,000 rp ($3 USD). We were quickly befriended by the man sitting next to us, Wayan Bindi. He spoke English fairly well and provided a good commentary on the nearly three hour bus ride. Sue pulled out our Indonesian phrasebook and provided much entertainment for the woman sitting next to her who spoke not a word of English.
The route took us out of the urban area around Denpasar and into some low mountainous country where tiered rice paddies covered the hillsides and valleys. Rarely, however, did we pass a section of virgin rainforest near the road; small storefronts and houses constructed of bamboo and corrugated sheet metal were common as were displays of intricate stonework, particularly in the many community Hindu temples and family shrines. Along the way I noticed a clothing shop with a rack of pro-Osama bin Laden T-shirts out on the sidewalk. I asked Wayan about it and he assured me that we had nothing to worry about. I did not mention it to Sue for fear of worrying her, but any uneasy feelings were quickly assuaged. Even though Indonesia is a largely Muslim country, the island of Bali is predominantly Hindu. Considering that the tourism industry is the livelihood of so many Balinese, visitors are well looked after.
A brief note is in order concerning people's names in Bali. The Balinese generally only use four names, according to birth order. The firstborn is Wayan, second is Made (pronounced ma-DAY), third is Nyoman, and the fourth child is named Ketut. If there are more than four children, the fifth begins again with Wayan and the cycle continues. Sometimes (not sure why, maybe to avoid confusion in large families) the name Gede is used instead of Made, and Kardek is used instead of Nyoman.
During the ride, Wayan informed us that he worked at a beachfront hotel in Lovina, and as we had not made any bookings, he suggested we come along with him and take a look at his hotel. There was no pressure - he made it clear if we didn't like it we could move on and he wouldn't be offended. Of course, with all of the information he was providing - and promising to take us to visit a market, cook us dinner, take us for a tour, etc. we were feeling a bit obliged. Eventually we arrived at the hotel, the Lila Ceta, situated down the end of a narrow road flanked by rice paddies and piles of trash. True, the bungalows were just meters from the beach; however, the beach itself was very small and sprinkled with a good deal of litter. The water was in no way inviting. The courtyard separating the bungalows was strewn with broken stonework and sad little trees. We did not see any other guests. The owner (Wayan's boss), an older woman, showed us inside a bungalow and offered it to us for 150,000 rp per night. We bargained down to 100,000 rp ("final price, good for me, good for you..."). Still not totally satisfied (as the guidebook gave prices for other hotels in the 40,000-60,000 rp range), we accepted her offer considering we were hot and tired and seemed to be not within close walking distance to anything better. It may have been a bit dank and mildewy, but at least it had a Western toilet!
Wayan promised to be back in the morning to take us to the market and left. We settled in, showered, then headed back to the main road to try and find the town center, which we appeared to be a good distance from. Along the way we passed two women from the Netherlands, Maria and Anneke, who were bicycling around Bali. We chatted with them for a while, and as it was getting dark, joined them for dinner at the restaurant in their nearby hotel (which was much nicer and only slightly more expensive than ours...)
Walking back to the Lila Ceta later in the evening we discovered a staple of travel in Bali: the continuous offering of transportation service. One cannot walk down any public road or street in Bali without drawing the question "Transport, yes?" from anyone with a vehicle (or anyone who has a friend or family member who has a vehicle). This is of course part of a much larger stream of incessant inquiries including:
"I already have a watch/sunglasses/necklace." (Accompanied by pointing to item in question.)
"Need new one, yes? Just looking, yes??"
"Shirt/sarong, yes? Good price for you!"
"Wood carving, yes?"
"Balinese mask, yes?"
"Something to eat, yes?"
Something to drink, yes?"
"Happy hour, yes?"
"Braid hair, yes?"
And of course, depending where you are and how much you look like a backpacking Westerner:
"Magic mushroom, yes?"
The following morning we were awakened bright and early by the sound of someone calling us from the front porch of our bungalow. I went outside to find Wayan and two other happy looking fellows. Wayan introduced one of them as his brother and told me that he had a traditional Hindu ceremonial outfit for me to try on. Indeed his brother had a couple of plastic shopping bags in hand and seemed eager to show me the contents. Before I could fully understand what was happening, Wayan and his brother wrapped me in a long, heavy sarong, a white tunic, and some kind of head dressing. I half-heartedly tried to protest, or at least ask some questions, but they paid me no heed as they lifted my arms and and spun me around. When they were finished they took a few steps back to admire their handiwork. They nodded and smiled and seemed immensely pleased. Wayan informed me of the genuine quality of the clothing and I had to agree with him, noting some cigarette burns in the fabric. Struck with a sudden awful thought, I asked what had become of the previous owner of this outfit. Wayan did not seem to understand my question (or pretended not to). I asked them to wait on the porch and went back inside. Sue was sitting up in bed and all but burst out laughing when she realized what had been happening. Photos were quickly taken and she sent me back outside to "get rid of that ridiculous thing", instructions I was happy to comply with. I graciously thanked Wayan and his brother but pointed out that fetching as it was, I simply did not have enough room in my backpack to carry around this fabulous ceremonial gear. Besides, I had not recently received any Hindu temple ceremony invitations. Reluctantly, they took the outfit back and Wayan's brother and his friend left. Wayan said we would head into town after breakfast, which was brought soon after.
The typical breakfast consisted of banana pancakes (just one, though), fresh fruit (usually pineapple, watermelon, or papaya), and *strong* Balinese coffee. I mean strong as in you have to let it sit for a few minutes before drinking to let the coffee silt settle to the bottom. After breakfast, we looked around for Wayan, but were told he had already gone to the market in Singaraja (the closest large town). Thinking we must have misunderstood him earlier, we left word for him that we would be back later and we headed into the central part of Lovina called Kalibukbuk.
Upon arriving in the Kalibukbuk area, we immediately realized that we were staying in the wrong part of Lovina. Many more hotels, restaurants, and shops lined two narrow village streets leading to a much nicer (though not beautiful) beach than the beach at the Lila Ceta. After wandering around for a while and turning down hundreds of requests for "Transport, yes?!" and "Sarong, yes?!", we sat down in a cafe for lunch. We ended up talking at length to a couple of Danish women who were eating there also, Gitte and Annette. It turned out that they were frequent travellers to Bali, and Lovina in particular, and were very familiar with the local people and customs. After lunch they took us to the nearby centrally-located Padang Hotel, run by friends of theirs. We were shown a fantastic room, *much* better than the bungalow at Lila Ceta, for 40,000 rp less! And, we would have access to the pool at the hotel next door.
Shortly thereafter, two young guys from the Padang drove us back to the Lila Ceta to pick up our packs. We felt a bit guilty, like we were abandoning our new friend Wayan, but as Gitte and Annette told us, the locals all expect tourists to move around for better deals and we should not feel bad considering how much we had been overcharged. We had to agree, but as we were leaving the Lila Ceta, we left word for Wayan as to where we would be if he wanted to find us. (We ended up not seeing him again.)
We spent the next couple of days just resting as Sue was not feeling quite right. We did some shopping at a local store that Gitte and Annette had recommended and ended up buying some sarongs, a shirt, and some jewelry. It was our first chance to do some real bargaining which is so common in Bali. Gitte had told us to always go for one quarter of the offered price and work up slowly from there. This seemed to work reasonably well. The funny thing we noticed about bargaining in Bali, especially with women, is that when you don't accept their first offer and come back with your own substantially lower price, they seem mortally distressed. They utter a soft groan of "Oooo...nooo..." and get a very sad, faraway look in their eyes. At first this made us feel awful, until we saw that they all have the same reaction! It's easy to get caught up in the haggling, but we had to keep in mind that sometimes it was just not worth arguing over an extra dollar or two, especially when that amount might feed a whole Balinese family for a day.
We sampled a few different restaurants in town and I tackled the local cuisine while Sue stuck to the blander food until she felt better. Some standard fare was krupuk (shrimp toast/crackers), nasi goreng (fried rice), nasi campur (fried rice with assorted other sides such as vegetables, fried egg, ayam (chicken), ikan (fish), and tempeh (deep-fried soya beans)), gado gado (salad with krupuk and peanut sauce), pepes ikan laut (fish, veggies, and special sauce wrapped in a banana leaf and grilled - Dave's favorite), baksuk (spicy soup with chicken meatballs), sambal (chilli sauce) and of course, satay (kebabs served with peanut sauce).
After dinner one night we hung out at an outdoor place near the beach called "Kantin" with Gitte, Annette, and a bunch of their local friends. We sampled a Balinese liquor called arak of which they were particularly fond. (It's made from sugar cane juice or rice, I don't remember which.) One of them was a singer and guitar player named Suki who entertained us with a wide variety of cover tunes. At Sue's urging, I played a couple of songs during his set break and promptly broke a string on his guitar.
We wanted to do some sightseeing further afield of Lovina and also some diving, but were postponing any moves until Sue was feeling better. As she was resting in bed one afternoon, I headed over to a local dive shop that had Internet access (and surprisingly fast too!). On the way, I stopped off to see Edy, one of the local purveyors of "Massage, yes?!". I paid her and sent her over to the hotel as a surprise for Sue (who had been hinting that such a massage might be nice in her condition). A couple of hours later I returned to the hotel to see if Edy's massage was worth the 40,000 rp ($4 USD) she charged. Sue was not unhappy with it, but would not have another one, at least not in Lovina. Sue explained that the massage oil used was not unlike Crisco, and afterward she had spent a good deal of time in the shower trying to scrub it off. What do ya want for four bucks?!!
The next day Sue felt well enough to leave the hotel, so we arranged for a tour of the surrounding sights through the hotel staff. They provided us with a guide (whose name I have forgotten but I'm sure it was one of Wayan, Made, Nyoman, or Ketut) and a vehicle and we were off. First, we drove through the town of Singaraja, past an open-air market of fly-covered meat and fish (which altered Sue's choice of food for the next few days), to a small silver factory/shop. The 40 meter high Gitgit Waterfall was next, accessible only by walking down a kilometer-long pathway flanked by souvenir stalls. This was the best place to observe what I call the "Bali Doppler Effect" while walking past each stall: "Halo...yes, sarong, yes? Good price for you, yes? Only 40,000, yes? OK, 30,000, yes? Halo? OK, 10,000, yes!? Last price! Halo! OK! 5,000, yes?!!" Our next stop was at the Brahmavihara Arama Buddhist monastery, where I had the opportunity to wear my fashionable new sarong. We finished up the day at the Banjar Hot Springs, which the guidebook makes sound like a place for a therapeutically refreshing dip, but in fact was more like a big public bathtub. I jumped in briefly while Sue held her breath and waited on the side.
A couple of days later we left Lovina for a day of diving in the Bali Sea at Tulamben on the east coast of Bali. The main attraction in Tulamben is the wreck of a 1915 US cargo ship, the USAT Liberty. Along with a guide, we made two multilevel dives to the wreck, which was covered with coral and all forms of marine life.
After the dive, we remained in Tulamben and hitched a ride from some friendly locals further east toward the town of Amed. Sue and I piled into the back of their van where there were already a few other Balinese people catching a ride. There were two women, two girls, and a young boy. The boy was holding a very calm rooster in his lap inside of what I can only describe as a weaved rooster-carrier. Along the way we picked up another older woman who was carrying a huge bucket on her head. Once inside the van, we saw that the bucket was filled with slimy squid, perhaps one hundred of them, each about one foot long, tied together in large bunches.
A few kilometers down the road, we came to an intersection at which the driver indicated we were in Amed. We hopped out and after studying the signs posted, walked in the direction seem most likely to lead to the hotels described in the guidebook. After about two kilometers, as we were starting to second-guess ourselves, the sky opened up and let out a torrential downpour. Luckily, we were nearby a small bus shelter and we waited out the heaviest part of the rain. After it lightened up a bit, we donned our rain gear and set off again. Due to the heavy rain, a muddy stream was overflowing a small section of the road. A few Balinese children were splashing and playing in the water. As I approached they waved and smiled and yelled "Ha-lo! Ha-lo!" Some of them gathered around and seemed to be asking me questions in Balinese which I obviously did not understand. Remembering that I had a roll of Lifesavers in my pack (and also considering that in my bright green rain poncho I looked like a silly giant Lifesaver myself) I thought it a good idea to hand them out. As I unzipped the top of my pack, the children grew very excited and began yelling and jumping up and down and sticking their little hands in my face. I dug through my pack and pulled out the roll of Lifesavers. When I looked up, I discovered that somehow the group of children surrounding me had mysteriously grown from five or six to more than twenty! And more were on the way! I quickly began dispensing Lifesavers by plucking little hands from the frenzy and pressing the candy into their palms. I tried to get to all of the younger children as the older ones were quick to push their way to the front of the crowd. Soon, my Lifesaver supply was depleted, which was a bit difficult to explain to them. I tried to use sign language to indicate that I would like to take a photo of all of them and I asked them to wait while I took out my camera and crossed to the other side of the road. My effort was in vain, however, as the crowd begain dispersing as soon as the goods stopped flowing and by the time I had my camera ready, most of the children had disappeared.
Eventually we made it to the Jemeluk Beach area of Amed where a few hotels, restaurants, and dive shops lined the single road through town. A Dutch girl in the largest dive shop pointed us in the direction of the Bamboo Bali Bungalows, a very nice place on a hill overlooking the ocean run by a man named Gede and his family. From the porch of our bungalow we could see the local jukung (fishing boats) heading out from the beach for the late afternoon fishing session. With their long, narrow hulls and outriggers, they looked like a bunch of little spiders skittering across the water. Gede prepared some fantastic fresh grilled tuna fish for dinner in the hotel's restaurant and afterward we spent the evening talking with Made, who was a traveller from Germany, and some of the locals who worked at the hotel. One of them, a shy young guy also named Made, gave Sue a necklace as a token of friendship.
The next morning we rented some fins from a local dive shop and set out for a couple hours of snorkelling off the beach. We saw some huge (more than one foot across) bright blue starfish, various tropical fishes, and also, unfortunately, quite a bit of litter floating in the water. The rain storm of the previous day had probably washed a lot of it down the rivers into the ocean. Upon returning to the bungalow, I discovered that the key which had been in my pocket was missing, probably lost in the ocean. We took a walk along the beach to see if it may have washed up to no avail. For the rest of the day we had to climb in and out of the fairly high window on the front porch until Gede returned and they were able to saw the old lock off and replace it.
The following day we caught a bemo (kind of a public mini-bus) outside the hotel back to a main road where we chartered a young guy with a pickup truck to drive us to the town of Candidasa on the southern coast of Bali. There wasn't enough room for all of us in the cab, so I stuffed myself into the passenger side, while Sue sat amongst a load of firewood in the truck bed. Along the way we passed through the mountainous region of the western slope of Ganung Agung, an active volcano which is the highest point on the island. We passed through the resortish town of Tirtagangga, then descended back toward sea level until we arrived at Candidasa on the shore of the Indian Ocean.
Our ride dropped us off in front of the Kelapa Mas Hotel. The place seemed fairly popular with an older crowd and was mostly full. The bungalow we were shown was right next to the tiny but clean beach, but it was a bit expensive at 120,000 rp ($12 USD). We debated for a while, and then decided the refreshing ocean breeze was worth the money and checked in.
After exploring the town a bit, we went on a snorkelling trip out to a small island with an enterprising young Balinese man in his jukung. The water was clean and we saw some good coral, lots of fish, and a big sea turtle. That evening we ate dinner at the hotel's restaurant, during which we were treated to a performance of the traditional Balinese Legong dance. After dinner we spent the night at a place called the Iguana Lounge listening to a Balinese cover band of teenage boys performing such hits as Extreme's "More Than Words" and Mr. Big's "To Be With You" in twelve-part harmony.
We started out the day, Suzanne's 31st birthday, by taking another snorkelling trip with our young friend in his boat. We rode for about an hour to a place called Blue Lagoon. The snorkelling here was not as good as the previous day's site because there was a good amount of litter in the water as well as some bizarre ethereal coelenterates floating about which seemed to cause a slight sting when brushing against us.
In the afternoon we chartered a ride to the nearby Bali Aga village of Tengaran. Here, the native Balinese people live very traditional lives, supporting themselves by farming and wonderful craftwork which is sold to shops in the bigger towns. We observed a woman using a 'tenun' to weave fabric using the double ikat ('geringsing') technique. We saw lots of great basket work and a young artist demonstrated his talent for us. But what we had really come for was the (in)famous Balinese cockfight. Following the directions we were given ("right down the first road until you get to the big banyan tree"), we found the cockfighting ring amidst a country fair type scene, Balinese style. There were old women cooking and selling homemade dishes, children laughing and chasing each other around, while the men were huddled around various games of chance spread out on the ground, smoking cigarettes and throwing down money. We actually even saw the children getting into the act, betting coins on a game called 'kocokan' which appeared similar to roulette. They were gathered around a large mat sectioned into boxes each of which contained a colorful cartoonish-looking Hindu god or an animal. A man had three largish six-sided die, the faces matching the various icons on the mat. After the bets were placed, the dice were put into a bowl, shaken up, and dumped onto the mat with the resulting faces showing up determining the winning bets.
After a while, the men started taking up the seats around the cockfighting ring and we saw the two unlucky animals being brought out by their owners. After being passed around the crowd so the bettors could ascertain the cock's fighting ability, a long, sharp blade called a 'taji' was tied to one of the legs. After this, the cock's were paraded around the ring by their owner's as the din of the bettors reached a crescendo. Then the cocks were released and they went at each other, squawking, flapping their wings and jumping in the air to strike with their feet. After the first such skirmish, the cocks were separated again and then put back together in close quarters under a large basket. After another quick frenzy of fighting, the winner was somehow determined. The action was so quick that we couldn't tell who the winner and loser was (the fight is apparently not to the death), but after the fight I took a closer look at the cocks as the blades were being untied and one definitely seemed in worse shape than the other. The owner of the winning cock gets to keep the leg (and taji) of the loser, while the winner goes on to fight again another day. The Balinese justify this inhumane pastime by rationalizing that all of the cocks will eventually be sacrificed somehow, so the means of their demise does not matter.
To celebrate Sue's birthday, we went to dinner that night at the Lotus Seaview restaurant in Candidasa and sat at a table near the ocean with a view of the sunset. The gracious restaurant manager, I Wayan Kariasa, provided a small birthday cake complete with a candle for dessert and put on a CD of "Happy Birthday" sung in Balinese. (And then proceded to leave it on repeat so we and the other restaurant patrons could hear it several times.)
Dave sporting traditional Hindu temple attire
The Dolphin Statue, Lovina Beach
The Lion King, Singaraja
A silversmith at work, Singaraja
Shrine guardian with party hat? (Never did get a good explanation for this...), Gitgit Falls
Gitgit Falls (1)
Gitgit Falls (2)
Crossing the rickety bridge near base of Gitgit Falls
Forest shrine, Gitgit Falls
Brahmavihara Arama Buddhist Monastery (1)
Brahmavihara Arama Buddhist Monastery (2)
Brahmavihara Arama Buddhist Monastery (3)
Brahmavihara Arama Buddhist Monastery (4)
Brahmavihara Arama Buddhist Monastery (5)
Brahmavihara Arama Buddhist Monastery (6)
Brahmavihara Arama Buddhist Monastery (7)
Banjar Hot Springs (1)
Banjar Hot Springs (2)
The rooster-carrier, road to Amed
Travelling mates, road to Amed
'Jukung' fishing boat, Amed
"Welcome to Jemeluk Beach" or something like that
This little pig went to market, this little pig stayed home... (Amed)
The troops are getting restless... (Amed)
Chow time! (Amed)
Rice paddies, Road to Tirtagangga
Getting a ride to Candidasa
Legong Dancer, Candidasa
Double ikan weaving, Tengaran
Kids playing 'kokocan', Tengaran
The Big Banyan Tree, Tengaran
Shop sign, Tengaran
Not sure what happened here... (Tengaran)
Beast of burden, tengaran
Rice paddies near Candidasa
Gamelan players at the Lotus Seaview (Sue's birthday), Candidasa
WARNING: The remaining pictures in this set are from a Balinese cockfight. Some people may find them offensive (they are not gory, however.)
Choosing a 'taji' (blade) for the cockfight, Tengaran
Tying on the taji (1), Tengaran
Tying on the taji (2), Tengaran
Displaying the contendor for the bettors, Tengaran
Ruffling the cock to prepare it for battle, Tengaran
The betting reaches a crescendo just before the fight starts, Tengaran
The fight begins, Tengaran
Round two - in the basket, Tengaran