Back to Bali


 December 2 2010

 And again, for something completely different….Bali.

Every island in this archipelago is like a different country. We arrived back in Bali after a couple of long days of traveling – first from Wamena back to Santani to the rather ghastly Ratna Hotel (best in Santani according to LP which tells you something about Santani) where this time the room didn’t stink of mould and no water cascaded about the bathroom, but the toilet didn’t work..We have encountered this a surprising number of times here — no one can make a public toilet filthy like the Chinese, but absolutely no one can destroy a toilet like the Indonesians. Weird — my dictionary has no word for plunger, apparently they do not exist here, when things get backed up they fling buckets of water into them (you can imagine what that does to a blocked toilet) and attack them with toilet brushes, and even notably with broom sticks which really spells the end to the whole thing. Doug’s theory is that all the toilet seats are destroyed because people stand on them, and all the tank covers and indeed the tanks themselves are broken off because people sit on them….Now that we are back in tourist land in Bali it is interesting that the toilets so far are completely intact.

Anyway I digress as usual — we arrived back in Ubud at the charming Oka Wati guesthouse where we hope to meet Barry and Loretta in a week’s time. It is now well and truly the rainy season which basically means a torrential downpour happens each day at about 4 in the afternoon, after an hour it stops and aside from the puddles the disruption is minimal. But when it rains it really really rains, and Oka Wait’s has suffered a major wash out at the side of the property. We hope our rooms will not have fallen into the hole when we return! Six women traverse the property every few minutes carrying baskets of rocks and dirt on their heads to dump into the hole where a number of men are shoring up the property using bags of cement and a hose for water to cement the rocks into place. Ibu Oka Wati has told them they must walk in complete silence to avoid irritating the guests… Ibu is an elegant and quite elderly Balinese woman with a connection to the royal family. She opened one of the earliest guesthouses in Ubud and is absolutely charming to talk to. It is a guesthouse in the old style but very comfortable and artistic — and of course those of us who have tired of fried rice for breakfast are delighted to experience breakfast on the terrace each morning!

We spent a day organizing a car to rent, very cheap here, so that we could set off upcountry for a week before the Carrolls arrive. That night we went out for dinner and had by far the best meal of our trip so far — I guess all the weight we have lost will return quickly now! The Balinese are such artists, the food is presented like a painting — each dish is set out like a still life with embellishments of flowers and leaves. The dinner we had was as good or better than anything we could eat at a fine restaurant in Vancouver – and we even splurged on a bottle of Australian wine. Amazing what a bottle of wine does to even your hardened correspondents after a period of abstinence from alcohol!! Of course the wine cost far more than the food, so we won’t do that again, but we toasted the end of “real traveling” and the beginning of our “holiday`. It was a treat, and all the wait staff spoke English….I will quickly forget all my hard won Indonesian here.

The next day we set off to explore the interior of Bali where we planned to spend a few days around the volcanoes and in the rice terrace areas before heading to the north coast. We have a tiny little Suzuk with a motor about the size of a motor bike`s, of course it is a gear shift and you drive on the left here. Things didn`t start too auspiciously as we clipped a dog in the first 2 minutes as we negotiated our way through the thicket of traffic on Monkey Forest Road. However we didn`t kill it, it ran off yelping, so it wasn`t too bad, and there was no way Doug was going to stop. Traffic is slightly more sane here than in other places we have been, but Asian traffic rules are rather different from Canada`s — you only have to watch the traffic in front so rear view mirrors are extraneous, but you must give way to everyone in front, thus people turn across lanes of traffic and cut in very close after passing, and it is your problem to deal with it. They also like to drive hanging over the white line to discourage people from passing and the motor bikes do not behave like cars, they veer in and out of the traffic, right, left of whatever, in an alarming fashion. Takes both of us to keep alive, and then there is the problem of the labyrinthine streets which, though largely well paved compared to the other islands we`ve been in, are extremely narrow and wind here there and everywhere making map reading a full time job! A good challenge for us, as the other aspects of travel here are far too easy…

We managed to make our way out of the busy streets around Ubud and got into a network of country lanes to wend our way north. Immediately we felt we had gone back to the`old Bali` we remembered from years ago — little villages line the road with tiny lanes going off to temples where we could hear gamelon music being played. We kept stopping and wandering, watched a gamelan orchestra practising in one temple while women making the many daily offerings to the tiny shrines that are everywhere are such a common sight that you almost take them for granted. Devotion to the Hindu religion is a full time occupation here, it imbues every aspect of life.

So many people speak some English here, and I can ask directions in Indonesian, I just can`t always get the reply first try, so we just kept stopping and asking directions and amazingly we made it to Candikuning with no mishaps. Mid afternoon an absolute torrent of rain began, at which point we were climbing a tortuous winding road up the side of a volcano, quite the challenging drive, but I spotted a guesthouse and we pulled in, right beside a beautiful and very famous temple on Danau (Lake) Bratan. Misty and cool, the atmosphere was just enchanting and the reflections of the temple in the lake next morning were my photographer`s dream.

We had a fabulous day next day exploring the Jatiluweh Rice Terraces, where the road winds for miles through myriad levels of fields all with their complicated watering systems which enable the Balinese to get 3 rice crops a year from their land. It was harvest time, so not as green as it would be later, but fascinating to see people still harvesting and threshing by hand. However we were glad to see that some machinery is now in use, rice cultivation is hard hard work. Women were bathing in deep areas of the water system, still bare breasted as in the old days, and men with conical hats and farming implements walked the roads, looking just like those stereotypical Balinese carvings. We wre trying to get to a very venerated temple on the side of the volcano, and encountered a road closure, so had to make several detours — more map work — but managed quite well, the traffic was lighter there but the roads very narrow. We ate crackers and cheese (this is Bal you can buy anything) sitting in the middle of a rice paddy with our feet in an irrigation ditch for a bit of coolness.

On the way back, we were heading for another mountain area to a town called Mondok where we planned to trek for a day or so. As we began to ascend a very torturous mountain road, another storm broke out, thunder, lightening and torrential rain. Somehow, what with the bumper to bumper traffic, the water pouring down the mountain and cascading over the road, the windshield wipers unable to keep up with the pace of the rain –we missed the turn to Mondok (a very tiny country road) and before we knew it we were on the most winding, hair pin bend road heading for Singaraja at the north coast. There was no shoulder to the road, no way to get off, so we had to make a quick change of plan and decided to go to Lovina Beach in the north instead! >> After a harrowing hour of this (a distance of about 28 km) we ended up in Singaraja a fairly big city, capital of the northern province. It was not absolutely clear how we would get to Lovina, but as we stopped for a light, a motor bike rider beside us said, `Where are you going?” (a standard friendly question in Indonesia) so I yelled, which way is Lovina, and he said he worked at a hotel there so he would lead us to it and we could check it out! Fortunately it is a lovely place as we had no intention of going any further once we reached here! We will move on tomorrow as we want to go farther west to where we hope to get some good snorkeling, the beach here is not good for swimming in the rainy seasoin and we are in the middle of a fishing village so quite dirty, but it has been a lovely place to rest for a day. We will try to find Mondok on the return journey — we had our fleece jackets out for Candikuning (1400 metres) and Mondok, and instead we are sweltering here at the beach.

The internet at this hotel has been iffy all day, but it came on tonight so we have sent Doug’s Papua pictures, and I thought I would at least give a bit of an intro to Bali. Every time we come back here we are amazed at the resilience of Balinese culture in the face of the tourist hordes. In the middle of the country, you’d never know there was another tourist on the island, while the southern beaches are just inundated. Still such a charming culture, in many ways quite oblivious to foreigners.


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