Saturday, October 5, 2013

Bali Journal

Travel journal September 14 to 23, 2013

The Balinese are dark skinned, dark haired people with sometimes good, sometimes bad teeth.   Most all I have encountered have smiled and said hello, almost looking at me as if I am highly unusual - some novelty.  This goes especially for those who live in the immediate vicinity of Pukutatan, where we are staying at Medewi Bay Retreat for four days.  Our accommodations are amazing, of course.  All Australians or westerners here,  no Balinese.  Those who work here are Balinese and very good with service.  

The towns and buildings in general are made for the tropics.  Homes tend to be in small neighborhoods with narrow roads for access.  Lots of chickens range freely.  The roosters have been waking me early. In each neighborhood the houses are constructed of mainly gray stone, wood carved windows, and red tile roofs.  Some structures are covered in stucco or are made of red brick.  Each neighborhood appears  to have its own Hindu Temple.  Some are very elaborate and large.  All have carved stone that is incredibly beautiful.  These structures and neighborhoods are tucked into the jungle itself so that everywhere you look there are banana trees and coconut palms as well as flowering trees and hibiscus.  The locals seems to prefer driving scooters rather than cars, but most appear to be quite new, even the scooters.  Most everyone wears a helmet.  Occasionally you might see a family of four on a scooter, but not so much as in the Philippines.  

Both yesterday and today we walked the 10 minutes to the beach.  It is on the northern western coast where there is black sand, created from island volcanoes.  The blackest of the sand is powdery like flour and jet black ash.  The first foray to the beach we found lost of pink seashells, a few sand dollars, and black stones and lots of purple jellyfish that do sting, as Anna found out.  The second time, there was a dead pufferfish to add to the mix.  It was quite large, the size of a small a loaf of bread.  The third time, which was this morning, there were barely any jellyfish or shells, but there was loads of garbage that had washed ashore.  Mostly various plastic bags or food wrappers.  At all times the beach was nearly deserted, so we are definitely not in a developed area.  

Today we braved the local bus service.  The bus ride to Negara is about 45 minutes.  The buses are full of locals, and the local fare is about 1 dollar for the 45 minutes.  Or at least that is what we were expected to pay.  The buses themselves are quite old and dusty with open windows and narrow seats and aisles.  But we did fine and the man next to Anna was happy.  Along the way we passed open and terraced rice fields with an occasional worker hoeing the mud.  We saw egrets and water buffalo, chickens and goats.  There are also many wandering dogs.  In Negara we found a mall with loads of cheap plastic toys and cheap clothes.  There was also an arcade where the kids each got three games for a total of $2.  Lunch cost the family $3.  Crazy!

Tuesday.

Day trip from Mdewei bay retreat.

Left at 8:10 am.   Began our trip up the mountain and stopped at an old banyan tree, that is so big it has a hole in it the size of a road.  Well, actually the road goes right through it,  on the roadside our guide pointed out a banana tree with bananas, a coffee plant, and chocolate cocoa tree with the pods hanging down off the trunk and branches.  Women in brightly colored sarongs were carrying supplies on their heads walked about, dogs and kittens too. 

The hot springs up on the northern coast  were great.  There were three spots.  One larger pool and two smaller areas with lion heads spitting out the warm water onto your shoulders.  It was a lovely setting.  Venders were selling swim suits and cloth and bracelets along the path in.  There were many Aussies and French there.  The water was as expected,  sulfury.  It reminded us of the emerald pool in Thailand.   It took about two hours to arrive there.  After about forty minutes we were own our way to the Northern shore to go snorkeling.  After much ado getting Anna the right size of fins, we headed out onto a very long pier over the black sand and onto a private long boat with a pilot and a guide.  Our guide pointed out Java, a volcanic island.  In fact we saw three volcanic islands, but I'm not sure if they were all Java.  The boat took us toward an island  30 minutes away where we put on our gear - minus life vests - and got into the azure water near the white sand beach but right over the coral reef area.  At first we were in quite shallow water, but then we ventured to a bit deeper water.  At points we were swimming right along an abrupt drop off, (seemingly an abyss) which was a strange feeling.  We saw all kinds of fish and coral.  Best snorkeling so far that we have experienced.  The school of black fish was fun to glide over and at one point the guide dove down and picked up a huge blue starfish for us to hold.  Alec released it back to the depth. Alec still doesn't like the mask, so he wore fins and goggles and came up for frequent breaths.  But the cool thing is he was able to dive down under too.  We boarded the boat, had lunch, rested a bit, then headed out for a second swim.  Great time!  Brilliant!

Before leaving Medewi Bay Retreat in Pekutatan, Brent won a week for two at one of four resorts set to be used in the next two years!  How cool is that.  

Wednesday

Took the trip to Ubud with the driver.  We stopped to see batik and a silver shop on the way.  Brent got a replacement wedding band there that cost me $35.  It is lovely and handmade.

Our new place called Bali Putra Villas is amazing too.  It is right in the middle of the bustling town of Ubud, but you walk way in to reach the villas, past wet rice fields, so that all sound disappears but that of birds and roosters crowing.  We have a two story, two bedroom, tiled floor, with kitchen, porch, and balcony, mosquito nets around the bed.  We have managed to convince the kids to sleep in the same double bed for most nights on the trip, so that is nice.

Thursday - Monday
Thursday was the big biking trip with a large KIS group.  Maureen and Al had arranged it for us.  We were picked up at our villa in a van, taken to the inside rim of a huge volcano.  There we had a lovely Balinese breakfast buffet as we waited for the others to arrive.  We gazed at the horizon - a beautiful large volcanic lake, more volcanic cones inside the larger one, and a mining operation.  Our entertaining guide told us about the indigenous people who live on the lake and don't like to get visitors; they still inbreed, wearing nearly nothing and live as they have for thousands of years.  

After all the troops arrived, we loaded our vans and headed to the Civet Coffee plantation and processing center.  This is the Cat Poop coffee that is so expensive ($80/cup in NYC).  Brent tried some after our little tour and explanation of how the coffee beans only stay in their digestive tract for 40 minutes.  After coffee and tea samples we were on our way to the bikes.

The bicycle ride was fabulous, lasting several hours and all downhill.  Anna and Brent went up ahead and Alec and I trailed last, which was fine.  The day was rather leisurely with stops at a few different rice fields, a Balinese home, the home of our main tour guide, and much beauty to see in each town we passed through.  At the end of our journey was another buffet of Balinese cuisine.  Our tour guide told us more about Balinese culture (such as the MBA - marriage by accident - that is, getting a woman pregnant and having to marry her or go to jail for 3 years).  At his home we were able to see his whole family wood carving beautiful window shutters - even the 10 year old!  The living areas were for extended families, very small and basic, with no apparent electricity.  Each family unit has their own Hindu temple - quite large and elaborate.  Families never sell their property and the youngest son must take over the home and care for the family.  Men can marry a second wife as long as the first wife agrees; the first wife can then give all the mundane housejobs to the younger wife.  Babies aren't to touch the ground until 100 days.  All this AND we got to see the pigs and piglets that they owned.  Another interesting fact was that the mothers awake at 5 AM to cook the day's meal over wood coals; there's just 1 meal a day and anyone can eat at anytime throughout the day.  We learned so much and saw so much!

In the evening we again went off with Maureen and Al to see a Balinese Dance Show at a temple.  The costumes were quite elaborate with lots of gold; there were monsters and musicians and dancing women.  The women had every single movement choreographed, including much to say with their big eyes and fingers, held very taut.

Much of the rest of our stay in Ubud consisted of shopping sprees and $6 massages and different kinds of food.  However, further highlights were the visit to the Monkey Forest not far from where we stayed AND the Cremation Ceremony (in the Monkey Forest).  It turns out that everyone is to be cremated here.  If you aren't rich enough to have a private cremation, then you participate in the community Cremation Ceremony that takes place once every 5 years.  We just so happened to be in Ubud during the event.  Native Balinese kept telling us to go; we all needed to wear sarongs, though.  So we ended up buying a few more so that Alec and Brent had something to wear.  Alec was not pleased.

So, eventually it was time to leave.  We had a full day ahead of us since our plane wasn't scheduled to leave until just after midnight Sunday night.  So, we hired a taxi driver (for $35 for the entire day) and went to Sanur Beach.  We hadn't heard too much about which beaches were best on the southern part, but it was near the airport.  The beach was okay - very crowded, mostly with locals, but there was a nice walking path just behind the beach which was lined with little novelty shops.  After spending much of the day there, the driver took us to a spot for dinner.  It was lovely!  The sun was setting, the tables were outside, planted in the sand and right next to the ocean.  The breeze was light and the menu was fresh fish that we could pick out ourselves from the vats.

A perfect almost-ending to our stay in Bali.  

The adventure at the airport was another matter. . . one I'd rather forget, so I shall not go into detail here.

Salamat tinggal (goodbye!0