Saturday, July 04, 2009

Island Time-Bali

Friday, June 26

I'm in Bali now, watching the waitor and the waitress while I have a coffee at a tiny cafe. The back of the cafe is open and facing a rice paddy. There is also a small shrine at which the waitor and waitress our providing daily offerings to the Gods. The offering consists of a dish made out of a leaf filled with rice, vegetables, bread, flowers, and a stick of incense. This makes me feel guilty. I am here, yet know next to nothing about Balinese culture. I don't even know to which Gods/religion they are offering to. I thought most Indonesians were Muslim, but evidently not on Bali.

So how have things been since my last "journal" (or as Cici would say, "diary") entry? I'm feeling increasingly optomistic. We arrived in Bali last night around 8pm after a two hour flight delay (that's budget airlines for ya). Our taxi took us to Ubud, which is near the center of the island. As we got out of the taxi, our driver motioned a young guy over to us. This guy, Made (pronounced "Ma'day") helped us find a guesthouse and took us to a local joint to eat. I'm always hesitant to have people help me, for fear they are going to ask for a large sum of money at the end.

I asked Made why he was helping us and he said he just wanted to introduce himself to us in case we would need a motorbike driver. We might actually take him up on that offer.

July 1

I've had a chance to do and see a lot in the past few days. On a side note, Cici is not feeling so well as she has been having trouble with one of her ears ever since our last flight. We may need to go to the hospital as soon as we make it to a proper city.

Rewinding to Ubud, it's a very charming place. There's a lot of tourists there, though it's not at all crowded (thanks Global Financial Crisis). Since the economy is in a slump, tourism is down here, just like everywhere else.

Ubud is filled with little shops selling handicrafts (as Made calls it), cafes, restaurants, and guesthouses. My first day there I spent walking around and had a delicious (but salty) tuna steak. In the afternoon I went shopping with CiCi. As I probably previously mentioned, she doesn't exercise a lot of restraint in her purchases. I try to reel her in a bit, but I'm afraid of being too bossy/controlling (which I surely am). Her motto is, and this is a direct quote: "Just buy it." I can't live by that, although I'm sure Cici would get on well living in the U.S. as long as she could secure a Mastercard.

My second day in Ubud. . . for some reason I can't remember very clearly. I went out for some local food with Cici. After lunch, ah, I remember now--I am probably just trying to block the unpleasant experience from my memory!

I went to the Monkey Forest, which is one of Ubud's big attractions. I'm not the biggest fan of monkeys to begin with. I haven't had a lot of positive experiences with them--aggressive, rude little beasts. The monkeys at this park were even worse than expected.

When you enter the park you can buy a bunch of bananas to feed the monkeys with. Most people do, thank God I didn't. The monkeys climb all over people trying to take the food. In fact, two monkeys climbed on me and attempted to steal my water bottle. It was terrifying. I could picture one of them grabbing my camera and wallet and then making a break for it while the other one bit me and gave me rabies. Luckily, I managed to get everything into my purse and zip it up, then walked slowly over to a group of people holding food. The monkeys quickly lost interest in me and jumped off. What a relief.

That evening I went out to dinner with Cici and then we went to see a performance at one of Ubud's many temples. It was strange. Basically a large group of half naked men chanting around a fire with a couple of girls dancing around the middle. A "monster" would then come and kidnap one of the women. This went on for about one hour. Then two very young girls (about eight) came out and danced in unison, pretended to die, and then got up and danced again. Repeat three times. The final five minutes consisted of a fire being made, trampled, and then a man walking over the burning ashes (fire dancing). Not sure if it was woth 75,000 rupiah ($7.50).

The third day, our last day, in Ubud was pretty fantastic. We hired Made and his friend Made (no joke, it's a very common day. I think it means "second son") to be our drivers. We started off at 8:30am and they took us to a cave that is carved like a dragon with an open mouth, though it is called Elephant Cave. We then went to a small temple in a valley that was surrounded by waterfalls and rice terraces. The climb back up to the motorbikes was tiring; I thought Cici might not make it. The next part was really cool. We went to a hot spring that is believed to have magical powers. Numerous locals were bathing in it and the Indonesian president's Balinese home even overlooks this sacred spot. Next to the springs is a temple. It was packed full of people, mostly dressed in white, who were providing offerings and praying. Just as we made our way to leave, a performance began right in front of us. Men dressed ornately in white, carrying sticks did a ritual dance as people around us prayed. The sun beat down, but I didn't really mind.

After that we visited an organic farm which produces coffee, cocoa, tea, and various spices. We got to taste ginger tea, ginseng coffee, cocoa, and Balinese coffee. They were all delicious, but the prices they were asking were a bit outrageous. Cici managed to spend $20 there, after haggling for 15 minutes--something I simply didn't have the energy for.

To wrap up our trip we stopped at a viewpoint overlooking a lake and volcano. We were harassed by touts and I found myself buying a bag full of passion fruit from an old lady with catoracs and a t-shirt from another seller. We then had a very disappointing lunch (fried noodles should not equal Ramen noodles) at a restaurant overlooking the lake. At least it only cost $1.20, not as tragic as the god awful 25 euro meal Ming and I had on Andros Island in Greece. Our last stop was a viewpoint that overlooks a stunning rice terrace near Ubud. Overall, a very good day.

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