Bali, Indonesia, March 12
Bali, Indonesia (Part 2)
In the morning we caught a bemo to an intersection near the coastal fishing village of Padangbai, then walked the remaining two kilometers into town. We checked into a room at the Pondok Wisata Sengaran for 40,000 rp ($4 USD), then did a load of sink laundry. In the afternoon we attempted to follow the guidebook's directions to a nearby swimming beach called Bias Tugel. Inevitably, we made a wrong turn. We did eventually make it to the beach, but had to scramble over a long stretch a sharp volcanic rocks to get there (instead of the much easier jungle path). The beach was not very big, but fairly clean and the water was swimmable, though the large waves were breaking right on shore. At the back of the beach along the edge of the jungle, locals had built several huts serving food and drinks. The sand was sprinkled with other western travellers such as ourselves.
As we were resting on the beach in the late afternoon, we were approached by a young Balinese man with a contagious smile who introduced himself as Ketut. He had a nicely printed page of services he offered including fishing trips and guided tours of various sites in Bali. Sue and I had been talking about our next stop and were thinking of heading inland to the mountainous area around Ganung Agung with the intention of climbing to the summit. We worked out a deal with Ketut to drive us to find a hotel in a town near the volcano and show us the sights along the way.
At eleven o'clock the next morning Ketut and his cousin Ketut arrived right on time to pick us up. On the way to the town of Selat at the base of Ganung Agung, we stopped off in Klungkung (also known as Semerapura). We visited the Kerta Gosa (Court of Justice) to see the painted ceiling panels depicting the story of mythological figure Bhima Swarga. In the same compound we looked at the Bale Kambang (Floating Pavilion), historically a receiving area for important guests of the pre-colonial Gelgel Kingdom. The paintings on the roof of this structure depict the story of the Buddhist King Sutasoma. Lastly, we walked through a museum which displayed old photographs and artifacts from kingdoms past. Of particular interest was the story of the "Battle to the Last Blood", a final showdown between the Gelgel Kingdom and the Dutch in 1908. The Dutch prevailed, but the kingdom fought to the last man. The Puputuan Monument was erected as a memorial to the battle.
Continuing on to Selat near Ganung Agung, Ketut and Ketut brought us to the only hotel in the area. The room we looked at was very nice, but very expensive compared to what we had been paying (250,000 rp!). Plus, their fees for a guided climb on Agung were exorbitant. Ketut's cousin suggested a friend of a friend who he knew of as a guide, so we backtracked to the village of Muncan. We arrived to find the guide, I Ketut Uriada, not at home, but through our driver Ketut, we worked out a deal with the wife of Ketut the Guide to stay in the guestroom in their house. She said her husband would be home later and could take us on the climb in the morning. We said goodbye to Ketut's one and two and then Mrs. Ketut the Guide made us a homecooked meal of pork satay and nasi goreng.
We spent the afternoon flipping through photo albums of Ketut's climbs and then walking along the road between the villages observing stone cutting mills and panoramic views of valleys full of rice paddies. Upon returning back to the Casa de Ketut, we found that he had not arrived yet. That was fine with me as my stomach had begun to feel not right. I lay down for a while, then lost my lunch. I continued to rest as Sue had dinner with the family. After dusk, the sounds of a man reciting some Muslim meditations began broadcasting over a loudpeaker from a mosque down the road. We found this interesting and even entertaining for a little while, as we thought we could hear some lyrics from Bobby McFerrin's "Don't Worry, Be Happy" subtley mixed into the imcomprehensible chanting.
Ketut finally arrived home late in the evening. We found out that he actually had not lead any guided climbs in a few months and was not really prepared to do so, but he would arrange for either his brother-in-law or a friend to take us. In any case, would be leaving very early in order to arrive at the summit by sunrise, so we went straight to sleep.
Here is the first real indication that Sue has adapted completely to life on the road. After we woke up and were getting ready for the hike, Sue was peering into a corner of our room and very casually said, "Hey, look at the size of that cockroach." I looked and it was indeed the largest cockroach I have ever seen. She then just as casually continued packing her bag and paid no more attention to it.
By two o'clock in the morning we were packed into Ketut's truck heading up the road toward the Puri Pasar Agung, a temple on the slopes of the volcano and the beginning of the climb. Along the way we picked up Wayan, a friend of Ketut's who would act as our guide. Ketut told us that a full moon ceremony was currently taking place at the temple and technically climbing is discouraged during those times. Ganung Agung is considered the holiest place on the island of Bali. On another nearby slope, the Pura Besakih (Mother Temple) draws many Balinese pilgrims every year. So on the way back down we would have to split up from Wayan as we neared the temple so he would not be seen with us.
Ketut dropped us off at the base of the temple under cover of darkness and told us he would be back in seven hours to pick us up. To reach the beginning of the trail we had to walk up several long flights of steps to the temple in the darkness. Considering I had not had any food in my stomach and was a bit dehydrated, this took a lot out of me. A half hour later, we were in the thick of the dark rainforest, climbing up the steep trail with only the rays of the full moon filtering through the treetops and the meager beams of our flashlights showing the way. I felt weak and was growing more and more out of breath. Stopping to rest for a minute, I was overcome by a wave of nausea and deposited the better part of the contents of my stomach onto the holy mountain. Sue was asking me if maybe we should go back and Wayan, who spoke no English looked on. Not knowing I was already sick, I'm sure he thought I was just a typical out of shape Westerner. After vomiting I felt much better and we rested a few more minutes while I ate some granola bars and drank lots of water.
We continued on and my stomach settled down, but I was still feeling very weak. The climb was fairly gruelling and I would only be able to move for a few minutes before having to sit and rest for a few more minutes. In this fashion we slowly made our way up toward the tree line. Surprisingly, we encountered another climbing group - two middle-aged Danish women and their guide. They overtook us and after we chatted for a while continued on. As the sun was coming up we had made it to a very steep plain of volcanic rock, but the summit (which we could see) was still another hour or two away. We stopped for an extended rest, ate some more food, and looked out over the southern slope below us as it stretched all the way to the ocean. We could make out the twinkling lights of the temple below and various towns in the distance near the coast. Satisfied that I had made it that far, we decided to start back down in order to make our rendezvous with Ketut in time.
We returned to Ketut's house late in the morning, packed our gear, and then jumped in Ketut's truck for a ride to our next destination, Ubud. Paying Ketut to drive us directly was preferable to the multiple connections we would otherwise need to make using public transport. Plus, we were exhausted and needed to find a hotel and get some sleep. We headed to the Padangtegal section of Ubud, but the hotel which had been recommended to us by the Dutch women we met in Lovina turned out to be too expensive for us. As we were leaving, a young guy who worked at the hotel came out and said he ran a cheaper place nearby. Ketut was nice enough to drive us there and waited to see if we were happy with it. The hotel, Tunjung, turned out to be fine so we thanked Ketut and settled in for a shower and a nap.
Ubud is an inland city located amongst the hills spreading out north of Denpasar and the beach resort towns in the south. It is something of a perceived Balinese cultural mecca, offering art, music, dance, museums, shopping, a great selection of good restaurants, and of course, more tourists than we had seen anywhere else on the island. Having a hunkering for some good Western food, specifically grilled cheese, we headed to a restaurant called the Bali Buddha, which seemed to be our best bet from the guidebook description. Turned out it was right on, and the menu even included grilled cheese! The restaurant included a great organic food store and we picked up some goodies before heading back to the hotel.
As we were lying in bed reading that night, Sue showed an even better indication of her complete transformation into an unphaseable world traveller. Fully absorbed in my book, I thought I heard her say, quite nonchalantly, "Hey, look there's a rat up there." Taking a moment to let that sink in, I looked up to see that, yes, a rat was in fact scurrying along the rafters above us. I looked over at Sue, but she apparently had no more thoughts on the matter as she was back to reading her book. (In the morning I had a word with the owner and he agreed to lower our room rate slightly and also put some traps over the holes in the roof.)
Over the next couple of days we explored Ubud, spending some time in the central market and some of the shops. When my shopping quotient was fulfilled, I worked on updating the website while Sue dutifully pressed on.
One afternoon we walked through the Mandala Wisata Wanara Wana (Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary) just south of the town center. The forest includes three temples celebrating the Tri Hita Karana Doctrine of the Balinese Hindu philosophy amidst an ecological reserve, and a whole lot of monkeys known as Balinese macaques (Macaca fascicularis). The monkeys were very visible and approachable, due mainly to the fact that locals sell bananas to tourists to feed to them. The monkeys showed no fear as they would climb all over you to check your pockets for food (or anything else they can run away with.) The video camera I have been using has a swing out screen which can be flipped over so that the subject can watch themselves as they are being filmed. This turned out to be highly entertaining as the monkeys would see themselves on the screen and cautiously approach, first shyly touching the screen then jumping back. Eventually they would come right up to the screen and stare into it and I would move the zoom in and out which would cause them to jump back again. A couple very curious monkeys went so far as to put their mouths on the screen, attempting to either kiss or taste their digital reflection.
That night we went to the Padangtegal Dance Stage and watched a performance of the traditional Balinese Kecak (Monkey) and Fire Dance. From a handout given at the performance:
"Kecak is of the classical dance style, and is performed by over one hundred dancers and singers. The Music is unique to this performancee, for there are no musical instruments. The sounds you will hear are the human voice and some handclapping. The story is taken from the great Ramayana epic, written hundreds of years ago by the Indian Hindu author Bagawan Walmiki.
This myth dramatizes the eternal conflict between good (Dharma) and evil (Adharma). The forces of good are symbolized by Rama and his allies, while Rahwana and his allies are symbolized by evil. Both were kings: Rama of Ayodia, and Rahwana of Alengka."
On our last day in Ubud, Sue made arrangements for us to have a full body massage and pedicure at the Bodyworks Day Spa. I think this was the highlight of our trip to Bali for her, so I only resisted slightly. I tried to make the case that my feet may not be allowed in the place, but Sue assured me that the women who give these pedicures enjoy a challenge.
I wouldn't go so far as to say the massage was enjoyable, but it was interesting. For one thing, it was fairly painful. I assumed it was supposed to be, and tried to keep my grimaces to a minimum. (Sue told me later that they watch your face to see when it's too much and ease up.) This was followed by some "exfoliation" process in which they rub sandpaper grit all over you and then comes something really unexpected. All I'm going to say about that is that I never expected under any circumstances to have yogurt on my butt. This was followed by soaking in a hot bath which wasn't bad since we hadn't had a hot shower in a long time, but of course, the surface of the water was covered with flower petals.
The pedicure was slightly more traumatic, as I was surrounded by several older Asian women customers who surely were wondering what I was doing there. I also think they were talking about me. The woman who did my pedicure was resolute and surprisingly didn't seem to mind at all. However, during the course of the pedicure I began to suspect that "she" was actually a "he". When I aired my suspicions with Sue afterward, she thoroughly disagreed, but I'm still not so sure. And of course, Sue happily videotaped the whole event.
In the afternoon we took a bus to the beach town of Sanur and checked into a seedy little place on the main drag. We were only staying for one night with the intention of taking a ferry to the island of Nusa Lembongan for (to quote the guidebook) "white sand, blue waters, and barrelling waves." Yeah, that sounded good to us! After we checked in we wandered down to the 'resort' end of the town and walked through the main lobby of the Hyatt past all of their clear, clean swimming pools and charming outdoor restaurants to take a look at their very clean beach complete with umbrellas and padded lounge chairs. And then having tortured ourselves enough, we went back into town, had a cheap, average meal and retired for the night.
In the morning we were up early to catch a shuttle bus down to the "ferry terminal". This turned out to involve being dropped off down the road from the beach, walking about a half kilometer to the beach with our backpacks, then down onto the beach, and finally sloshing through the shallow water to reach a semi-dilapidated boat. After two hours of motoring through the Badung Strait (half of which time it was raining and the ferry had open windows...), we arrived at Nusa Lembongan. Disembarking into the shallow water and sloshing up onto the beach, we found the place a bit disappointing. The "white sand" was more greyish and strewn with garbage. The "blue waters" looked a bit murky, and the "barelling waves" were breaking far offshore. We walked along the beach a bit with a small crowd of other backpackers and negotiated an upstairs bungalow room at a place called Ketut's Losmen.
We stayed on Lembongan for a couple of days. The weather was not great, and exploring the surrounding area did not reveal any better beaches. Seaweed harvesting for cosmetics is big business for the locals and most of the nearby beaches were filled with piles of seaweed drying out, which smells something awful. One day we hiked inland along a jungle road through two villages and ended up at a place called Mushroom Beach which was slightly nicer than our beach (no seaweed) and had some upscale resorts (one of which we toured). We also looked at another (much) less expensive hotel and ended up having dinner there overlooking the surf which was kind of nice. We spent the evenings at a little surfer cafe near our hotel where movies were shown at night.
We returned to Sanur via the ferry and caught a bus to the place we had been largely avoiding so far - the infamous Kuta Beach. Kuta is the developed, commercialized, touristy place which most people head to first when they get to Bali. The beach is supposedly "stunning" as well. We actually chose to stay in Legian which is the more upmarket neighbor to the north of Kuta, but in reality it was hard to tell where one ended and the other began. We looked at a few dingy hotels before finding the Suri Wathi Beach Hotel, which was definitely a pearl in the rough. The rooms were large and clean, bathroom was acceptable, sheets were changed every day, the staff was friendly and helpful, and they had a pool! This turned out to be an even better bonus after we soon discovered that again the beach was a big disappointment. The break was decent for surfing, but as for laying on the beach to read or taking a refreshing swim, it held little appeal.
We spent our final few days in Bali there in Legian and Kuta. We did a bunch of shopping and Sue convinced me to throw away my toxic sandals and buy a new pair of Teva's. We also sampled several different restaurants, not too unhappy to find some decent Western food.
One evening we were walking down the crowded main street of the shopping area and as we passed by a small, slightly seedy looking Balinese guy, he gave me an inquiring look and subtly asked "Marijuana, yes?" Now bear in mind that in Indonesia, narcotics offenses are pretty serious business. I don't think they have the death penalty like in Singapore, but the punishment is something severe. So I stopped and looked at the guy and in a very loud voice called out, "MARIJUANA???!" The guy turned pale and quickly turned and tried to blend in with the crowd filing past. In retrospect, I would have felt badly if he had been dragged away in irons, but at the time it was really funny.
On Sunday we found our way to the "Gereja Kristen Protestan di Bali - Jemaat Legian", the Protestant Christian Church of Bali - Congregation of Legian. We were actually pretty surprised to find a Christian church at all, considering the majority Hindu influence on the island. The service was lead by a retired Methodist minister from the US named Bruce Falker who was volunteering to lead the church in Bali for six months. Music was provided by a singing group from another of the Indonesian islands where they had been persecuted for their Christian beliefs and were forced to leave their homes. After service we met Tom and Louanne Aitken of Bridges International, another American couple spending time in Bali to minister to the local people. Tom and Louanne took Sue and I and the Balinese musicians out to lunch at a local 'warung' (restaurant). Unfortunately, we couldn't stay long because we were trying to catch a bus back to Padangbai to look for our driver/tour guide friend Ketut. We wanted to invite him to the evening service at the church which was given in Indonesian.
At the bus office we found that the bus was booked, so we had to charter private transport in a van. This actually turned out better, because it was faster and direct, albeit more expensive. Once in Padangbai, Sue headed out to the beach where we had originally met Ketut while I waited in the van with our driver (also named Ketut). Sue eventually returned with Ketut, who could not make it to service that night, but promised to attend the following week. We gave him the program from the service with directions to the church and headed back to Legian. Along the way we got to talking with Ketut our driver and he ended up coming to the service with us instead, so the trip was worth it after all.
On our last day in Bali we hired a driver to take us to Tanah Lot, which means "Temple of the Earth in the Sea". Along some rocky promontories jutting out into the Indian Ocean north of Kuta, a temple complex was built in the 16th century. From postcards we had seen of it we expected something much grander (doesn't that always seem to be the case?), but the sun setting over the ocean beyond the rocks was beautiful.
Kerta Gosa Ceiling (1), Semerapura
Kerta Gosa (2), Semerapura
Kerta Gosa Ceiling (3), Semerapura
The Old Man keeping watch in the Bale Kambang, Semerapura
Bale Kambang Ceiling, Semerapura
Barong Ket, the "good magic" monster, Semerapura
Puputuan Monument (background), Semerapura
School's out! (Selat)
Mandi style toilet at Ketut's house (just so you have a clear idea of what we're talking about!), Muncan
Rice paddies (1), Muncan
Rice paddies (2), Muncan
Harvesting the rice, Muncan
Stonecutting factory, Muncan
Taking a break on the Gunung Agung climb
Sunrise on Gunung Agung
Puri Pasar Agung (Temple) on the southern slopes of Gunung Agung
I Wayan Uriada, the "Rough Guide" and family, Muncan
Monkey Forest Sanctuary (1), Ubud
Monkey Forest Sanctuary (2), Ubud
Monkey Forest Sanctuary (3), Ubud
Monkey Forest Sanctuary (4), Ubud
Monkey Forest Sanctuary (5), Ubud
Monkey Forest Sanctuary (6) ("Got a light?"), Ubud
Monkey Forest Sanctuary (7) ("Evolution of a Foothand"), Ubud
Monkey Forest Sanctuary (8) ("No water bottle!"), Ubud
Monkey Forest Sanctuary (9) ("Yes water bottle!!"), Ubud
Monkey Forest Sanctuary (10) ("A little higher, please..."), Ubud
Monkey Forest Sanctuary (11), Ubud
Monkey Forest Sanctuary (12), Ubud
Monkey Forest Sanctuary (13), Ubud
Monkey Forest Sanctuary (14), Ubud
Monkey Forest Sanctuary (15), Ubud
Monkey Forest Sanctuary (16), Ubud
Monkey Forest Sanctuary (17), Ubud
Monkey Forest Sanctuary (18), Ubud
Monkey Forest Sanctuary (19), Ubud
Monkey Forest Sanctuary (20), Ubud
Monkey Forest Sanctuary (21), Ubud
Monkey Forest Sanctuary (22), Ubud
Monkey Forest Sanctuary (23), Ubud
Evil King Rahwana - Kecak Dance, Ubud
Sita and the Golden Deer - Kecak Dance, Ubud
The Garuda - Kecak Dance, Ubud
Seriously, no one should ever have to do this...
Dave and the happy owner of our hotel, Ubud
South Bali coast from the ferry to Lembongan
Cliff over Monkey Beach, Nusa Lembongan
Monkey Beach, Nusa Lembongan
Fishing in Monkey Beach cove, Nusa Lembongan
Church in Legian
Inside of the church in Legian
Dodi helping me say goodbye to the old sandals
Tanah Lot (1)
Tanah Lot (2)
Tanah Lot (3)
Tanah Lot (4)
Tanah Lot (5)
Tanah Lot (6)
Tanah Lot (7)
Hindu family shrine (1), Legian
Hindu family shrine (2), Legian
Hindu family shrine (3), Legian