Kuta (3 days)
Bali welcomed us on Friday 31st October 08, after our 11hr flight, with 30 degrees of hot humid heat. Matahari Bungalows sent us a driver to pick us up amid the chaos of people, signs, bikes, and noise. Off we went to settle in – and what better way to do so than by drinking cocktails at the pool bar... Lovely large pool, cheap cocktails, friendly helpful staff, serene water gardens, and frangipanis of every colour gracing our presence.
Hitting the streets of Kuta we were confronted by organised chaos - shops selling anything and everything; "hello gorgeous want some bling bling?". Bargain for a sale - walk away and they will come after you and lower the price! Delicious fruit smoothies for about $1.50 and hot chilli with every meal... a culinary delight! Smelly markets, cats doing the rounds in restaurants (to eat or be eaten?), man with a pet monkey and road officers who stop traffic so we can cross the busy one way street without getting run over by a million scooters and bikes and fancy cars. Guido sampling the local "chicken" dish for about $1.50 (I've never seen bones like that before!), Balinese music playing in the background, loud Aussies, polite Balinese, hawkers "special price for you, make me lucky!". Kuta beach - overrated as expected - no I don't want to buy a bow and arrow or get a tattoo! Baby peace turtle gone astray from the Bali Bombing 6th anniversary commemoration, cheap Bintang beer and yummy ikan dish wrapped in banana leaves. Gecko's, fruit bats, buddha, shrines, offerings to the gods put outside every shop and residence, incense burning every morning. All you can eat breakfast - chilli on nasi goreng with fresh papaya, pineapple, melon, watermelon and western food to complement. Sunburn, sunbathe, poolside bar, relaxing, unwinding, absorbing the vibrancy and colour of Kuta. We loved it for what it is - although very touristy it retains its charm and culture, a mix of old traditional architecture and modern life working in unison.
Ubud (7 days)
We shuttled to Ubud - instantly appreciating the calm and quiet that Ubud oozes. We got a room on Monkey forest rd for 110,000 rupiah (about $6.10 each for the 3 of us) - score! Starving, gorging, fruit smoothies, and we're ready to brave the legendary Ubud Market. It consumes us and we emerge exhausted, enriched - me and mum already fuelling a new addiction of bargaining on cheap goods. The sky falls on us in a huge downpour (a daily occurrence in the wet season) - running towards home we realise we have no clue where home is... what is it called? Where is it? Lost, laughing, soaking, found! We sit on the veranda listening to thunder storming, lightening, monkeys screeching from the forest next door, gecko's scuttling, traditional music playing, magical moments, lifetime of memories. Every day we venture into the madness of the market to haggle, bargain, and play the game in pursuit of yoga pants, dresses, fake Gucci watches, bags, jewellery… and so on.
Luxurious restaurant dining to sample Indonesia’s finest cuisine and beverages at giveaway prices (but why is there a tail coming out from under that painting?) Live reggae music, bintang and cocktails, charismatic bali boys singing all the gay anthems... Jazz and blues music with 2 for 1 Arak cocktails (Balinese Spirit). Off to “Canderi's” for our favourite sirsak juices, and the menu offers the company of a dog if you are lonely - they even bring the dog to your table and tie it to the table leg so you can pat it while you eat... haha The toothy little Balinese lady smiles at us with her 2 rows of teeth. “Aries Warung” for food and Arie - a funny character who is never short on stories, jokes, advice, magazines, maps, language lessons, and knowledge of all that is Ubud and Bali in general. He entertains us while our food cooks. A treasure and a storyteller who does the best Lumpia (spring rolls) and Nasi Campur (various vege, chicken, and tofu dishes all in one meal) in town and a sensational Smoked Duck that has been slow cooking in Balinese spices for 12hrs to perfection – it literally falls off the bone and melts in your mouth. Followed by the also famous black rice pudding with coconut milk – a sticky delight!
Entering the Monkey Forest I get suckered into buying a bunch of bananas – Macaque monkeys come at me from all directions so I throw the banana's as if they are grenades... and end up dropping the bunch in a mad panic... but the monkeys want more! Poor mum (already petrified) gets a big monkey tugging on her pants, another monkey runs up mum's shoulder, over her head, and down the other side... Guido is happily playing photographer, oblivious to our distress. We scuttle further into the forest to seek solitude at the temples amid a tropical downpour. 100's of monkeys swinging, eating, cleaning, and even guarding the gates to their nirvana... this is their palace. They even venture outside the forest – one sits on the roof at our Hotel Merthayasa sulking and eating when he’s lost a fight and the respect of his peers. Another eats the offerings and scraps from the trash to supplement its daily feeding.
Guido and I venture off the main drag to walk the Rice Paddy Loop Track – away from the tourists and hawkers and into the real Balinese world of quiet village life, tending the rice crops. We get stopped along the way by a guy who I think is trying to sell us buttons for our shirts – this seems plausible to me but I politely decline… Guido later advises me that he was trying to sell us drugs – I’m so naïve! We veer off the track and accidentally enter private property – a dog barks furiously at us so we turn back but another equally furious dog is blocking our exit – we’re trapped between the two dogs who are closing in on us and barking constantly. I’m petrified (a vicious dog attack as a child has left me scared of dogs at the best of times) to the point where I am about to scramble up the bank to escape when Guido tells me the only way out is to walk past one of the dogs… paralysis, shakes, uncontrollable (and totally rational) fear… I scramble up Guido’s back instead and he carries me to safety past the crazy dogs (his rabies immunity is way higher than mine anyway!). Unbitten, unbeaten, back on track we find a luxurious pagoda offering mango lassies overlooking the rice paddies… relaxing the nerves, resting the mind, healing the soul, watching butterflies dancing together.
Guido and I hire a scooter to escape town and head up to Mount Batur National Park. We pass many craft stalls, statues, rice paddies, and come to a road block – policemen force us off our bike and tell us we have a “big problem” because we don’t have an international license. Threatened with losing our bike and going to court, Guido plays the game “how can we solve this here and now?” (i.e. how much ?) Power hungry policeman asks for 300,000 Rupiah ($50) which is heaps to them. Guido negotiates the price down to 100,000 - now the cop is happy and willing to help us on our way (so corrupt!). It even costs money to drive through the national park – volcanoes, crater, lake. At the lakeside temple we get harassed once again to buy postcards, paintings etc but once we step inside the temple… serenity! No hawkers, no sound. A place of worship – respect. On the way home the policemen wave us through – they’ve made enough off us for one day!
Mum and I go to a Legong Trance Show by the Ubud Palace. A stunning live dance and music performance. The gamelan (orchestra) play – an ensemble of tuned percussion, consisting mainly of gongs, metallophones and drums. The instruments all intricately carved and painted. A spiritual journey – each act with different characters, costumes, stories. A cultural treat. One act tells the story of how in order to maintain the health of the village, the gods are invited down into the temple arena to help in the exorcism of evil. When the gods descend, they possess the two young girls, and incite them to perform a complicated duet with their eyes closed, in a trance, in unison. They never miss a beat. When the show wraps up, we walk out and see one of the cast speed past us on his scooter – still in costume. He winks at mum – a sign of good luck, surely.
Hiring bikes to cycle to Goa Gajah (the Elephant Cave) thought to have been a hermitage for 11th century Hindu Priests. Our new routine consists of banana pancakes, fruit and Balinese coffee in the morning, followed by a new pool to soak in, relax, read, talk, drink and enjoy this life of leisure, as we do daily. Off to market, then relax for 1hr with Balinese massages – full body for just under $10! Bliss.