WARNING: THIS POST CONTAINS IRREVERENT COMMENTS AND OCCASIONAL BAD LANGUAGE.
Come to think of it, all of my posts do. I wrote this one while listening to Punk Rock. Viewer discretion is advised.
I decided to take a short break from work this week (a sanity break as I call them). Every expatriate in Port Moresby relishes the opportunity to escape the chaos and the wonderful effect that this has on their state of mind. About a year ago, Air Niugini opened up a direct Bali flight, so I decided to give it a try. It’s about 5 hours flying time from Port Moresby to Bali. It’s quite civilised on the way over but brutal on the way back because they run the flight overnight. What kind of sadistic asshole thinks a 5 hour overnight flight is a good idea?
Anyway, I arrived in Bali a week ago and have been making the most of this tropical island paradise, and exploring a little of the rest of Indonesia in the process.
I started at Denpasar Airport and from there, went to nearby Kuta, as everyone does. This is where the whole Bali thing began. No doubt at the time, some decades ago, it was a lovely little unspoilt, untouched paradise. Now Kuta is a portal to hell and Bali is anything but unspoilt and untouched. In fact, I’d say it’s completely spoilt – like a fat kid poking the screen of his iPhone, smearing chocolate all over it with his sausage fingers.
Nevertheless, there are some delightful parts of Bali and surrounds – one just has to know where to look.
The reason that Kuta is so awful is that the town planning appears to have been organised by Satan himself. A series of nasty, winding back alleys with limited access in and out. They funnel traffic through a few key roads, which of course are the same ones that have all of the tourist shops, bars, cafes and restaurants. As a result, one is constantly forced to consume toxic levels of carcinogenic exhaust fumes and risk being run over by a speeding motorcycle at every turn.
What the “powers that be” don’t seem to realise is that this is an anchor weighing the place down and with a little effort they could redirect traffic and make a few pedestrianised areas, which would make all the difference. They also don’t see that picking up the garbage – especially off the beaches, makes the place infinitely more appealing. People smoke everywhere, all the time. It is incredibly frustrating. Indonesia may have some serious economic problems but it seems that it’s only because they waste all their money on cigarettes. Taxes on tobacco are very low and so 57% of Indonesians smoke regularly and it is the fifth largest tobacco market in the world. Throw in a poor service culture and overpriced shopping and one has to wonder why anyone comes to Bali at all – especially since the Philippines is just up the road and it is so much nicer.
The answer of course, lies in escaping the life-sapping black hole of Kuta and moving out into less populated areas.
I realised quickly that I needed to leave Kuta or risk spending the rest of my life in an Indonesian prison for throttling the next aggressive shopkeeper blowing smoke in my face and grabbing my arm while telling me I should buy an “I Love Bali” t-shirt. After a few hours in Kuta, I was ready to custom order a t-shirt that says, “Bali can kiss my ass”.
But the souvenir shops are quite entertaining. They are all full of wooden dicks. I don’t really understand why. They just seem to like them.
They even have rainbow-coloured, bottle-opener dicks. I didn’t buy one. I already have more rainbow-bottle-opener-dicks than I know what to do with.
In fact, it is puzzling why anyone would say the shopping in Bali is good. All I found were poor-quality imitations, t-shirts I would never wear and tacky souvenirs.
All the genuine products (which are usually only found in the upmarket malls) are more expensive than they are at home in Canada.
Perhaps it’s only because the obnoxious Australians that I encountered here have too much money and little sense of how to spend it.
I did however, have to chuckle at the stores selling stickers with offensive slogans.
I took a moment to point out the grammatical errors in the stickers that this guy was selling.
I said, “Look, if you’re going to insult someone with bigoted pejoratives, you’ve got to get the grammar right”. I am not sure he really took it in, but I like to think that I made the world a better place that day.
My first night in Bali, I was woken at 04:30 by what sounded like a rooster and a dog competing to see which could make the most noise. I rang the front desk just to confirm:
– Reception: Yes, Sir?
– Me: Is that a rooster and a dog making all that noise outside?
– Reception: Yes sir.
– Me: Ok….good….Thanks….Just checking.
I hung up. I would think they could at least kill the rooster for me and serve it for breakfast, but no, they didn’t even offer.
There are not the same kinds of protections offered to construction workers here as there are in the developed world.
Like PNG, nothing is very well maintained in Bali. There are gaping holes in the footpaths all over the place.
It got me thinking about how spoiled we are in the developed world. We expect governments to fix problems like this instantly. And if they don’t and then people hurt themselves falling in a hole because they were too stupid to look beyond the phone in their hands, then they will sue the government. It’s bollocks. In the fucked up countries of the world, if you fall in a hole because you were texting then you’re a moron and you deserved it. You don’t get to sue anyone. You learn to watch where you’re walking. We need to strike a better balance in this age of over litigating that does little more than drive up insurance prices and make lawyers rich.
One thing that I felt compelled to do while in Bali is visit “Ground Zero” – the site of the horrific terrorist bombing of 12 October 2002.
202 people were killed, including 88 Australians, 38 Indonesians and 27 Britons. Another 209 were seriously injured. The location of the attack is now home to a memorial to the victims of the attack. The bomb weighed over a tonne and caused massive damage to the area, leaving a crater one metre deep at the point of the explosion.
The names of all of the victims are listed on a plaque. I was moved to tears reading through the names. Such a tragic waste of life. These were young and vibrant people with much to offer. But evil men, fueled by religious fervour and the promises of an afterlife that doesn’t exist took the lives of all these people, to promote the causes of their religion. These were people with whom I could have had a conversation over a drink and with whom I could have become friends. But they are dead due to religion. It makes me very angry indeed.
The three main perpetrators were tried and executed by firing squad in 2008. A fourth was killed in a shootout with police in 2010 in Jakarta.
While I was there, a number of other tourists came to pay their respects. People from a diverse range of backgrounds, but many of them Australian.
Indonesia is extremely religious. Bali has temples on every corner, like London has pubs.
I’ve concluded that for the (at least) 3,000 years during which people have lived in Bali, they have spent most of that time building temples.
They are everywhere.
One encounters women like these putting out offerings of food and flowers to their gods. It seems a little wasteful to me. Plus it creates a mess on the streets.
At my hotel in Kuta, they served a nice breakfast, including this fruit, which they call “Sala”. It has a skin like a lizard’s.
They also had one of the more bizarre bathroom labels I have ever seen. In case one forgets the correct technique.
These street vendors are amusing. This lady could scarcely have loaded more on her motorcycle if it were the zombie apocalypse and she was hoarding twinkies.
If you need more discs, I would definitely recommend “Get More Disc”.
There are spas every 50 metres throughout the tourist area. This one offers patrons the opportunity to have their feet nibbled by little fish. An intriguing possibility but my feet remained un-nibbled.
I liked these banks of Automatic Teller Machines (ATMs – remember kids, no apostrophes when pluralising abbreviations!) They offer a cute little private glass room for the individual undertaking the transaction.
I foolishly dropped my cell phone a couple of days before departure, so I went to the Samsung Service Centre in Denpasar.
They have a fancy automated, “take a number” system but it is broken so one had to take a number written on a piece of paper (see the little pile of numbers on the bottom left). Of course no one explains any of this. One has to figure it out oneself. As I took my numbered piece of paper, I said, “Makes sense – this is a technology company”. The old guy by the door obviously understood enough English to get my joke and had a chuckle. I waited half an hour to be served and then 10 more minutes for the verdict. My S4 was dead. Deceased. No longer living. I went downstairs and bought an S5. They must factor a certain percentage of their annual sales coming from drunken (or in my case hungover) idiots like me dropping their phones and then having to replace them.
My new phone automatically tells me that it is currently Ramadan. I checked in the calendar options and there is no way to turn it off. There is an “Islamic Calendar Options” menu but in it, one only has the choice to adjust the days slightly. What I was looking for was a button that said, “Gee, thanks but I really don’t care since I’m not a Muslim”. But this is Indonesia so they don’t offer that button.
I took a taxi to Ubud. It cost me $20. I could have caught a bus for $5 but that was leaving hours later and one of my many character flaws is impatience.
Ubud is a much nicer place – still chaotic and disorganised but small enough to retain some charm for now. It’s a little town that is inland and at a higher elevation than Kuta.
Like much of the world, in Indonesia the men do all the talking and the women do most of the work.
Ubud has two things going for it – the Monkey Forest and the Rice Paddies.
The Monkey Forest is truly delightful. It is literally overrun with monkeys. They are everywhere.
I’ve always loved monkeys and I especially enjoyed seeing them when I visited India some years ago. But I never saw anything like the number of monkeys there that they have in Ubud.
There is very little that is cuter than a monkey, except of course a baby monkey.
Look at the humanity in this mother’s comforting arms. It’s easy to see that we primates are related. In fact, I’d say these monkeys showed more humanity than some of the people I have met.
I was warned in India that the monkeys carry rabies and one requires several large needles in the ass to prevent rabies if one is bitten by a monkey.
So I avoided getting too close. Some of them were very agressive – grabbing bananas straight out of people’s hands and fighting with each other. Who knows why. Monkey business I suppose.
I was particularly taken with this bridge with the dragon sculptures. It looks like something straight out of an Indiana Jones film.
The temple next door is also impressive. I like the statue of the woman with the big jugs.
Intricately carved statues adorn almost every corner of every alley in the park.
Near the exit, there is a spectacular temple that would be a major tourist destination in its own right if it were in Canada.
At night, they shut down all lighting in and around the monkey forest to maintain a natural habitat for the monkeys. I decided to walk to the centre of town and I asked the staff at the hotel how to get there. They advised that I walk through the monkey park. So I walked down there and got as far as the gate.
There is a big sign saying, “For safety and security do not walk through the monkey forest at night”. I took a few steps inside. It was absolutely pitch black and creepy as hell. I had visions of the video game “Temple Run” where one is fleeing hoards of beastly monkeys in a temple. The thought of me being torn to shreds by the cute little fur balls was enough to put me off. I decided that discretion is the better part of valour (a quote from Shakespeare’s Henry IV Part I, by the way), and I postponed my trip to town until the next day. No way was I going to let the monkeys tear me apart and eat my flesh.
The other thing that’s great about Ubud is the terraced rice fields just out of town.
The scenery is just staggering.
It’s a valley through which a river runs, with steep sides that have been cut into terraces to hold water for rice production.
The area is so lush and green, that it creates a most compelling scene.
This old guy came along with his baskets on a stick. He encouraged me to try them out.
I even got to put on the little Vietcong hat that he wears and get my photo taken. I gave him a generous tip for his time. Poor chap looked like he could use it.
Near the rice fields, there is a coffee farm.
They grow the beans and then make the coffee on site.
They dry it out in these baskets and then pound the shit out of it with a mortar and pestle.
However, the most expensive coffee in the world is made a little differently.
This is an Asian palm civet (Paradoxurus hermaphroditus), known as a Luwak in Bali. They get these little fellows to eat the seeds of the coffee berries. Then when they poop them out, they pull out the seeds, grind them up and make Luwak coffee out of them. I wish I were joking people but I’m not. This is all true. How this technique was discovered I don’t even want to know.
Anyway, the coffee farm produces Luwak and other types of coffee and offers a sampler to guests.
The sampler includes eight beverages, mostly coffee, but a couple of varieties of tea as well. My favourite was the vanilla coffee. I tried them all and then stayed awake until 2 am.
But for an extra $5, one can try the Luwak coffee. I figured what the hell. I’ll try your little Balinese poop drink.
I was highly sceptical. But then suddenly…
You know what? It’s pretty good. Whatever those little rodent things do to it in their digestive tracts, it comes out tasting pretty damn good.
On the way back to town from the rice paddies, I saw lots of these ladies carrying stuff on their heads.
I asked about it and I was told that they carry offerings for their gods. Most people are Hindus on Bali.
But I’m not sure what gods would need with the soda can in the middle of the pile.
They were everywhere.
They also have hundreds of stores selling carved god statues.
Media include, stone, wood and metal.
And if you didn’t pick up all the gods you needed at the last store – don’t worry, there’ll be another fifty metres up the road.
“Graven idols sold here. Get your graven idols. Buy two gods, get one free.”
But my favourite was this statue on the right. What do you do if you are a Buddhist who also owns a discotheque? Well that’s easy, buy a giant mirror-ball Buddha of course. And if you need one, I can tell you which store to go to.
There is also a wonderful hippie culture blossoming in Ubud. Yoga studios abound, including the incredible Yoga Barn, which should probably be called the Yoga Factory, since they process around 1,000 yogis per day there. At first world prices of course, despite the third world service levels. But they do have an incredible restaurant full of organic food at extremely reasonable prices.
I stayed at the Swasti Eco Cottages.
It’s easy to tell it’s an eco lodge because the bathrooms have rocks in them and are exposed to the open air. I asked the guy who showed me to my room if mosquitoes would get in. He said that there are hardly any mosquitoes in the area. He lied. There were millions of the little bastards and, naturally, the open roof allowed them all to come flooding in.
They have their own organic garden on the premises and they serve terrific meals like this tofu steak with a milkshake made of fresh blueberries.
The grounds are delightful and the pool area is especially relaxing. I practiced yoga there in the morning too.
Continuing with the hippy theme, this little wooden latch at the top of the door is literally the only way to lock it.
So while I lay in bed at night I could rest easy knowing that my friend the wooden latch would keep the terrorists out.
Ubud is a sleepy town but there is a hint of a night life. This cover band were highly entertaining.
I walked to the Ubud Palace, which is not that big because the king dude actually lives there so the public area is small.
After two days in Ubud I decided that I needed some coast time so I decided to leave Bali and check out a different part of Indonesia – the Gili Islands.
The journey began with a bus ride to Padangbai on the East Coast of Bali, where we signed in for the next leg – a boat crossing to Lombok. It was arguably the most disorganised arrangement for transport that I have ever encountered. The check in took place in a restaurant. A crowded, cramped restaurant and the desk was right at the back. Why, one can only imagine. But trying to get about 60 passengers through the restaurant with all of their luggage was utter chaos.
The boat was quite fast – powered by 6 large outboard motors. It’s a clever approach because they can be swapped out if one breaks down, rather than maintaining one or two large motors.
We arrived at Gili Trawangan – the largest of the “Gili” islands and the unloading was just as chaotic as the boarding. Bags were lost, feet were wet and sunburn ensued due to the wait to disembark.
However, the unpleasant journey was soon forgotten as the delights of this tropical island became apparent.
I don’t do horses but I figured that I should at least try it once.
The island is small enough that one can walk the whole way around it in about two hours.
This is me circumnavigating the island, listening to my tunes.
I wasn’t the only one taking selfies. This woman is a professional – she has a telescopic stick for taking better selfies.
There is a kind of main street, where most of the action takes place. And then dotted around the rest of the island there are resorts like this one.
Fortunately, along came this selfless chap who picked up a bunch of rubbish off the beach and in doing so, restored a little faith in humanity. Unfortunately, both Bali and Lombok require hoards of like-minded people if they’re to clean up the beaches. They are covered in rubbish and the authorities don’t seem the least bit motivated to change that. They don’t seem to realise that pristine beaches are what the tourists come to see.
At least for now, there are enough nice areas to make it a lovely island to visit. But in the years to come it will most likely deteriorate and become like Kuta.
There’s not much of a night life in the Gilis either, but there are a few bars. Most people seem to forage for food in the evenings and not much else.
I spent a few hours by the pool. It just seemed too much effort to go and swim in the ocean. Though I did on occasion.
There were a lot of surfers around so I assume that the surf was up. I wouldn’t know. People often assume that I surf because I grew up in Australia. I explain to them that I lived 5 hours inland.
The next morning, I enjoyed breakfast on the beach. There are worse places to eat breakfast, I’ll concede.
I watched the sun rise as I ate my cereal and omelette and these guys went past on horses. Indonesia is rather nice in places.
Then it was time to head to the beach and wait for my boat. I watched them unload the cartons of “Bintang” beer (literally “Star Beer”). People drink a LOT of this stuff in Indonesia.
I arrived way before I needed to, in order to make sure that I didn’t miss my boat. While I waited, I watched these poor backpackers board a vessel that did not appear seaworthy at all. My boat was much more sturdy and comfortable.
Comfortable enough to sleep. I guess partying all night takes its toll.
Back in Denpasar, I found a lovely hotel for my final night of my mini-holiday.
I enjoyed my last day in Bali, loafing by the pool and eating mangoes. I don’t ask for much more from life than that.
Until next postcard…