Indonesia p4, Bali

Written by on July 14, 2013 in Asia, General with 1 Comment

I have been wanting to explore Bali since my last trip around the world…and since my first four days the month before were more of a nightlife tour where I hardly saw the light of day, I was now ready to try to find the cultural side of this very popular holiday destination.  It is no wonder that it is crawling with Australians and other well-traveled tourists.  Bali is an island surrounded by coral reefs and lined with beautiful beaches, offering great tropical weather year round.  South bali is known for its white sandy beaches and wicked surf breaks, exciting nightlife, great restaurants and fantastic shopping.  North and East Bali are known best for black sandy beaches, active volcanoes, treacherous ravines and tropical forests, and pretty great diving.  And the interior was green and gorgeous, with beautiful rice terraces and volcanoes at every turn.

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I thought the people in Bali were amazing. Blessed with big, bright smiles and glossy black hair, they seemed to ooze warmth and friendliness.  The Balinese people are primarily Hindu, and there were temples and monuments and offerings to the gods seemingly everywhere.  Everyone wanted to help…or sell me something.  But, their smiles were infectious and hard to resist.  And so was the shopping!  Knowing this was one of my last stops in Asia, I set aside a day later on in the trip to buy an extra bag and fill it.  I haven’t done any shopping this year as nothing would fit in my backpack.  But, I’m ready now!

Anyway…I arrived really late and checked in to my first hostel with dorm rooms in it since Hong Kong.  $27 to stay in a 12 bed dorm room in Legian.  I couldn’t believe it.  Eliza had recommended it, that it was really nice, in a good location, had a pool and a good common area for meeting other travellers, which was all true.  I wasn’t planning on sleeping much anyway, so who cared if I had to share with 11 other people?  I met a nice group of twenty-somethings that were headed out in Kuta that night, so decided to tag along early on and hope to convince some to join me late night for another party on the beach.  Look how young they are!!!

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We ended up at the Sky Garden, which is an institution in Kuta, but there was only so much cheesy music I could take, and so made my exit around 2am.  A friend I’d made on my first trip the month before told me there was a good DJ at Cocoon that night, and I was more comfortable the second I arrived.  Cocoon is a beach club kind of like Nikki Beach in South Beach, and the clientele are a little older and dressed to kill.  I immediately met a group of 10 Australian surfers who were there for just a night before heading to Sumatra to find some bigger waves, and ended up following them to another party on the beach where we danced in the sand til just before the sun came up.  Fun night!! 🙂

I spend the next day sleeping and recovering poolside and that was ok with me as it was smoking hot outside.  I took it easy that night and planned my next move.

Ubud seemed like the next logical destination to hit, so I jumped on a shuttle the next morning and was there an hour and half later.  I dropped off my stuff at a non-descript guesthouse and on my way to visit the Monkey Forest, met a 18 year old local named Beni.  Beni started chatting me up, and asked what my plans were for that day and the day after, informing me that he was an aspiring tour guide and would like to practice his English with me.  He invited me to accompany him on a tour of the area on the back of his motorbike…free of charge.  Beni was about 100 pounds wet and completely harmless so I figured why not?  He asked if I wanted him to come to the Monkey Forest with me.  Why not?

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The Sacred Monkey Forest is home to over 300 macaque monkeys, as well as over 100 species of trees and a few temples.  The trees provided a lot of shade, so it was actually a bit cooler inside, although super-humid and not very comfortable, so we walked through quite quickly.  Some of the sculptures were cool, but the monkeys were mischievous and industrious little guys.  I’d been warned that they like to steal sunglasses and other items, so made sure to keep them in my bag.  This little guy could tell he wasn’t getting anything from me!

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Ubud was a cute and quaint little town with cafes that made you think you could be in Europe (except for the heat) and shops/boutiques that cried out to you “buy something”.  They all sold something I would want.  If only I could fit it in my backpack!

As promised, Beni picked me up at my guesthouse that morning and off we went to go check out some beautiful rice terraces, where we attempted to go for a hike, but kept losing the trail and ending up in muddy areas.  Oh well.  It was gorgeous, though.  Here’s Beni and his friend (who I feel terrible that I can’t remember his name!?), who joined us on his own motorbike for the first half of the day.

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On the way to our next stop, we got a flat tire.  Lovely.  Well…it turned out ok as I hopped on the back of his friend’s bike and he took me to a spot where I had a tea and coffee tasting which led into a tasting of luwak coffee,  aka  “poopacino”.

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Looks gross, doesn’t it?!?  As highlighted in the movie “The Bucket List”, luwak coffee is the most expensive in the world, garnering >$700/kilogram.  That’s insane!  It’s official name, kopi luwak actually refers to the beans of coffee berries once they have been eaten and excreted by the Asian Palm Civet (otherwise known as a luwak).  According to Wikipedia, “Producers of the coffee beans argue that the process may improve coffee through two mechanisms, selection and digestion. Selection occurs if the civets choose to eat coffee cherries containing better beans. Digestive mechanisms may improve the flavor profile of the coffee beans that have been eaten. The civet eats the berries for the beans’ fleshy pulp, then in the digestive tract, fermentation occurs. The civet’s proteolytic enzymesseep into the beans, making shorter peptides and more free amino acids.  Passing through a civet’s intestines the beans are then defecated with other fecal matter and collected.”  Eww.  Tmi, right?!?  All that said, the coffee was actually REALLY good.  I generally drink coffee with lots of milk and lots of sugar.  I didn’t need either with the luwak coffee.  I drank it black and loved every sip!  Mmmmmm.  🙂

Our next stop was for lunch overlooking this rice field.  How could I not enjoy a giant Bintang, satay ayam with heart shaped rice, and a happy face in my peanut sauce with this view?

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Next stop was at Tamun Ayun, a Royal temple of the Mengwi Empire built in 1934.

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The architecture was unique, although the inner courtyard was closed off to tourists, which was a bummer.

Our last stop was to watch the sunset at Tanah Lot, one of the most over-rated tourist spots in Bali, in my opinion. It was also the first of many disappointing non-sunsets I was going to witness over the coming weeks.

We stopped to fill-up on the way back to Ubud at a typical gas station in Indonesia, before heading back to Ubud.

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I treated Beni to a farewell beer and called it a day, although the open sign on the spa across the street from my guesthouse called to me, and I treated myself to a $8 massage.  If only I could end every day like this!

The next day I decided to take it easy and continue treating myself.  I googled 5* hotels with pools and called a couple to see if they offered day passes for guests to come use their facilities.  I was in luck!  The Hanging Gardens Resort said yes, which is the one I was hoping to go to as I’d seen pictures online and it looked surreal.  I had to take a taxi about 20 minutes out of town through gorgeous rice terraces and village until we came to the resort, which was even more amazing in person.  The day pass cost $20 and was worth every penny!  I took the cascading stairs down the 5 levels to the pool, although they had a funicular onsite for those not wanting to walk up/down.  This pool was the nicest I have ever seen…anywhere in the world.  Big statement!

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It’s tough to see the scale, or the cliff face that this pool is built into, so I had to go down to the lower level to peer over the edge myself.

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I worked on my tan, had some lunch and a couple beers before the skies turned gray and started dumping rain down around 3.  Still, it was definitely worth a visit!

That night I ended up wandering into a reggae bar and met a fun Aussie girl there with a French guy, and a fantastic 70 something Canadian woman named Maxine that literally pulled each and every person at the bar out onto the dance floor with her.  She was amazing.  I told her so and she gave me her “business” card, which showed her title as “gypsy/dancer” and a quote that said “never to old to dance”.  Loved her!

I definitely did not meet anyone in Ubud who even remotely resembled Felipe, Javier Bardem’s character in Eat, Pray, Love, so figured it was time to move on.  Not that that was a goal or anything 🙂

Anxious to get back underwater, I found someone to drive me the long way to Tulamben, a town in East Bali with a famous shipwreck dive called the USAT LIberty.  En route the scenery was beautiful and it was really nice to pass through some untouristed villages and get out of the awful traffic I’d experienced in the South.  We stopped off at Tirta Gangga, which used to be a Water Palace for the King back in [xxx].  Now it was full of local children on field trips from other parts of Bali and a few tourists.

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In addition to a few prominent water features, including a couple lakes, a few fountains, a pool for kids to swim in, and the biggest koi fish I’ve ever seen, there were some fun kooky statues/sculptures on the grounds, too.

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After an icy cold Bintang, we were back on the road and arrived in Tulamben about an hour later.  To even call Tulamben a town is a stretch.  There are about 10 dive shops, most attached to small guesthouses on a 400 meter stretch of road  and that is it.  I sorted out my diving for the next day and had a very early night.

The Liberty was a US Army transport ship that was torpedoed by the Japanese in 1942 and beached in the village of Tulamben.  Apparently some tremors from nearby Mount Agung, the largest volcano in Bali, in 1963 shook the wreck off the beach and now it sits in 30-100 feet of water, just offshore.  I had been told by many divers throughout my Southeast Asia travels that this dive was a “MUST”, so here I was.  I’d also heard it gets extremely crowded, so made sure to be one of the first out there at 6am.  It was worth waking up early for!

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There is something eery about diving on a shipwreck, but I love checking out the different compartments of the ship and trying to sort out what it must have been like before it sank.  Wrecks that have been underwater for decades always have interesting coral formations and sea life that have made their homes there, making an interesting combination to keep most divers happy, including me.

For our second dive of the day, we went to a site called Soraya, which was known for muck diving, which I’d enjoyed so much in Lembeh.  The entire dive site was spent crawling along the black sandy bottom looking for interesting and unique creatures.  Here I saw my first harlequin shrimps, which were super-cool!

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In the afternoon, we went back out to dive the wreck again, which seemed like a completely different dive to me as the light was different and we went the other way around.  We also managed to miss the midday crowds, so it was just me and my dive guide out there, which was AWESOME!

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I’d been contemplating my next move for a couple days, and was happy to hear that my friends Alex and Stefan, whom I’d been diving with in Sulawesi, were in Nusa Lembongan, an island off the SE coast of Bali, for the next few days.  They made my decision very simple, as they were hilarious and I knew we’d have a blast.  I talked a couple guys from my guesthouse into sharing a taxi the next morning to Sanur, hopped on a ferry, and left Mount Agung in our wake.

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Before I knew it, I was happily sipping an icy Bintang in the pool that afternoon.  Stefan and Alex had negotiated an awesome rate at the Nitya Homestay, which was a gorgeous guesthouse with A/C and a pool, just aways back from the beach.  They’d also hooked up with the cheapest dive company of my entire trip.  500,000 rupiah for a 2 tank boat dive with equipment.  That’s $25/dive.  Score!

After being alone for the last few weeks, it was really nice to reunite with them and we shared lots of laughs, some great dives and several Bintangs before I had to say goodbye a few days later.  But, it was not before I saw what I came to Nusa Lembongan to see…more MANTAS!

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Have I mentioned how much I love manta rays?!?  We saw at least 10 of them on a dive site called Manta Bay. They were playing in the waves near the surface, and were not scared of the divers or snorkellers in the least.  It was awesome!

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I can’t think of a better way to end my time in Bali.  Look…I’m a manta!  A manta wanna-be, that is 😉  They are so majestic and awesome.  LOVE them!

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We were going to stay an extra day, but after that dive, I knew it wasn’t going to get any better than this!   It was sad to say goodbye again to Stefan and Alex, but I am sure that I will see them again somewhere in this world…hopefully in another fabulous dive spot.

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  1. Herb Glatter says:

    Fantastic! 🙂

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