Around The World 1998; Bali Indonesia
Note; this post is recreated from the original wired2theworld website post with the dates below. The old posts were reformatted in 2018 for the 20th anniversary of wired2theworld. As much as possible, the content is unchanged and unedited from the original, only some formatting, spelling, and link errors have been corrected.
October 17, 1998
Yesterday was a very long day. Up early and out of the hostel, walked around Cairns all day in the heat, and then a long evening of fights to Bali. We flew Cairns to Gove (stopped to pick up passengers) and then to Darwin where we had the pleasure of almost a three-hour wait there for the next flight to Denpasar.
While there, we changed more money to Rupiah and discovered that the dollar is falling. Although most people say never to change money at the airport, in this case, I think we got a better deal. Thomas Cook only charged us a flat A$3 fee to change both our leftover A$50 dollar bill and NZ$20 bill. The money changers here in Bali take 4-7% commission, but are notoriously untrustworthy, with calculators that have false rates programmed in, and give back short change. Many also offer less than the airport rate. The dollar has fallen almost 1000 Rupiah since we changed money 10 days ago in Sydney and was as high as 15,000 Rupiah to the dollar last June. However, most prices aren’t set here and seem to adjust accordingly. Even menu prices are written in pencil.
Note from 20 years in the future; the Indonesian Rupiah is about 15,000 to $1 now.
After arriving at the airport at 12:30 AM Bali time, we were much relieved that we had someone there to pick us up and take us to our hotel. The area around the airport, Kuta, is not a very attractive place, and downright intimidating in the middle of the night. By the time we got to the hotel, we were shell shocked.
We’re staying at the Garden View Cottages in an area called Legian right next to Kuta. The hotel is actually quite nice with the rooms set along a winding garden courtyard complete with incense burning shrines and flowering trees. It reminds me of a temple garden. The Lonely Planet lists it in its hotels and says the rooms look a little like concrete boxes but they’re really no, that bad. Tile floors, decent bed with a real mattress, hot water, fridge, bathroom, and air conditioning, what more could you want? I’m sure we paid much more that we should have, but the peace of mind was worth it. The downside; the hotel is a haven for package tourists from Australia and their children. Air conditioning is a must here, the heat and humidity
As I may have said before, everything looks better in the daylight, and it did. We had breakfast in the hotel ( 9000
When you fly into Bali, your ticket will say
Every five feet we walked there was someone there trying to sell us a watch or a hat. There are also women sitting selling fresh pineapples, clothing, sarongs, massage, and henna tattoos. You can rent an umbrella and chairs for the whole day for 35,000 or less. We just walked, checked out the scene and ate a pineapple.
We decided to have lunch at a restaurant right there on the and of course, paid for the privilege of doing so with inflated prices.
On a more cultural note, there is something really nice and interesting going on here. Even in a heavily touristed area such as this, filled with shops and hordes of people, the locals still put out offerings to the gods on a daily basis. These are small parcels made up of banana leaves, filled with rice, fruit, flowers, crackers, and incense. They are then placed on small shrines, statues and right on the sidewalk in front of the shops. This is something that is not done for the benefit of the tourists and some of these offerings can be quite beautiful in their color and composition.
We had a good dinner at Legion Snack restaurant right down the road from the hotel. More fried noodles for me, (
I am truly saddened by our departure from Cairns. I have never experienced the kind of freedom and oneness with nature as I felt while SCUBA diving on the great barrier reef. It was a feeling like no other. I closed my eyes on the airplane, and could transport myself back to the balmy warm Pacific with no trouble at all. I am descending from the surface to the ocean floor, not too quickly, as I am perfectly weighted, slowly blowing bubbles as I go deeper and deeper into the big blue. I am weightless, free from all the burdens of the surface world. Corals wave this way and that, beckoning with millions of fingers, big colorful fish are everywhere… until WHAM! The seatbelt sign has come back on, the plane is dropping out of the sky through heavy tropical turbulence into Indonesian airspace above the legendary surf spot, Uluwatu, onto the ground in
We emerge from the airport customs terminal and are struck instantly by hot, humid air that would offend even the good people of South Texas. The scene around me is more than foreign, it is downright
To her credit, Kristina is calm and together- which is good, because one of us always needs to be- as we search out the driver/ representative from the hotel we booked while still in Cairns. Eventually, we find him, he finds us, I am still in a daze. It is 1:00 in the morning, and we have been traveling all day long.
As we wind through the narrow streets of Kuta, which snake left and right with no apparent logic or method to their layout, I begin to feel my heart beating. It is not a comfortable feeling at all. I realize that for the first time in a lifetime of traveling, I am experiencing culture shock, and not the mild garden variety either, this is full-blown, ice-cold, in your face culture shock. The Blade Runner image has not left me, as the world around me is consistently chaotic and loud, overcrowded and hot, and so humid that my
I look to Kristina for some consolation, “I am not having fun”, I say, with just enough
By morning, I am on the road to recovery, adjusting to my new surroundings, albeit slowly. One step outside the boundary of our hotel and we become victims of the new commercialism in Bali. “You
-“No, thank you.”
“Yes, Yes! I make
-I don’t want a watch.
No! no watch.
And it goes on like this every step of the way from the hotel to the beach, with the only difference being the product for sale. “Transport, you need transport?”, holding their hands up as if to motion ‘steering wheel’ but I am surely not alone in noticing that these kids offering rides don’t have cars at all, only their
October 18, 1998 Ubud
I think the sound I will always associate with Bali is not that of the gamelan but that of the crowing rooster. It is a myth that the rooster crows only in the morning. Here, it is
We arrived in Ubud this morning after a very interesting 2 hour shuttle bus ride. We were the first ones picked up and in went our luggage onto the first row of seats. Then we went on the “scenic” tour of Kuta through it’s back alleys, no wider than the mini van itself. I swear he almost took the handlebars of a bicycle. We then picked up a German couple and in went their bags. Next stop, an Australian couple with three surfboards which were stowed in the area usually reserved for walking. They sat in the front with the driver. All full, right? Wrong. We picked up one more passenger, a guy from San Francisco named Dominic, who we managed to squeeze in. After that it wasn’t a bad ride, though every time the van stopped at a light or going up a hill, it stalled and took a while to get started again. There was a time we thought we’d have to get out and walk.
When we arrived, we had no idea where we were in relation to the town of Ubud. It turns out we are in an area to the southeast called Padangtegal. As soon as we got off the bus we were besieged with touts wanting to show us accommodation. We went to look at one, and although it was nice, he wanted an exorbitant amount for it, so we walked on. Finally, partly out of heat exhaustion, we settled on a guesthouse called Jaya 2 bungalows. For 50,000 a night we got a big upstairs room with a big bed, small fan, bathroom, and super high ceiling made of tied straw and bamboo. It definitely has character. I like it, David hates the fan because it’s virtually useless and it’s humid and hot as hell here.
We walked around for a while checking out the shops, relishing the lack of hard sell we encountered in Kuta (with the exception of the room touts and offers of transport). In search of lunch, we ran into
At night we went to a cultural dance performance of the Kecak and Fire Dance. This is a classical Balinese dance performed by over 100 dancers. There are no musical instruments used, only voice and hand clapping. It is a myth dramatizing the conflict between good and evil. The performers were mostly men, dressed in the traditional ceremonial black and white checked sarong. They chanted and sang in unison as a few others, dressed in elaborate costume acted out the drama.
October 19, 1998 The Monkey Forest and Bliss
This morning we set out for the monkey forest. It’s only a short walk down the road from where we are staying. The forest is made up of large banyan trees and is thankfully very cool and quiet inside. At the entrance you pay 1100
Almost as soon as you enter you see the monkeys. There are now over 200 gray long-tailed Macaaqua Monkeys in residence and they are everywhere, in the trees, on the ground, climbing the vines. They are surprisingly tame and used to being fed by hand by the tourists and the keepers that work in the forest. The forest is comprised not only of the monkey sanctuary, but of a holy temple, Pura Dalem Agung, a mortality temple and cremation graveyard, and a bathing temple. Although the monkeys have the run of the entire place, these temples are still used for ceremonies. The main temple was closed to visitors, though we did get pictures from the outside. The Bathing temple was very interesting and had a beautiful stone carved bridge and steps leading down to it that looked like serpents.
After we left we walked up Monkey Forest Road, had lunch, and perused the central market. David bought a nice blue and white cotton robe for 70,000 rp. and I bought a black, gold and burgundy dress for 40,000 rp.
There is so much we’d like to buy, baskets, wood carved boxes, statues, furniture, it’s overwhelming. We investigated shipping, but the cheapest by sea was a minimum cubic meter box for US$210. This would be ok if we wanted to sell some of the stuff when we got home, or if we’d be home much sooner, but right now it’s not really in the budget. So, we may just buy some small things and carry them until we get to KL and send it from there.
There are many salons here in Ubud that specialize in beauty treatments and Balinese massage. We stopped in at one that is on the same street as our cottage, Nur Salon (28 Hanoman St.) which was also recommended in the Lonely Planet. We made reservations for later in the afternoon for massage and bath.
When we went to leave our room the sky opened up and began to dump rain
Ah, but it was worth it. Although we both had had professional massages before in the states, we did not know what to expect here. For 65,000r. each we got an hour an a half of bliss. For those that wonder, women are massaged by women and men by men.
First, they bring you to an open-air massage room with a thatched roof, a massage table, and a mosaic tile bath. Then they ask you to disrobe completely and lay on the table. Unlike the states, you are not covered up in strategic places by a towel, you are buck naked for an hour and a half. It was a little unnerving at first, but I had to quickly shed my inhibitions and tell myself that this woman massaging me probably sees dozens of naked bodies of all shapes and sizes every week.
The massage begins with “special oils and Balinese herbs and spices.” The massage style seems to be a mix of acupressure and Swedish.
Next came the exfoliating scrub made up of curry paste and herbs. After that gets scrubbed off comes the coating of the entire body in yogurt and a rinse.
Wrap me in a chapati and I could be lunch! Next, into a steaming bath filled with flower petals and a bit of time to relax.
Finally, you get out of the tub and stand there while the massage person soaps you up and then rinses you off. I was impressed with her professionalism throughout the experience. It was bliss.
For dinner, we went to a restaurant that is a long time Ubud institution called Casa Luna. This is a large place owned by an Australian woman, serving contemporary international cuisine and traditional Balinese food. It is expensive by local standards (we spent US12.50) but worth it for a good dining experience. The service was excellent (something rarely encountered here) and the food was really good. We had a nice avocado salad and some garlic focaccia. David had a great pizza with goat cheese, sundried tomato, pesto, and eggplant, and I had
If ever I had any doubts about the theory of evolution, they have all dissolved in the
There is an intelligent look in their eyes when they look at you. The way their little hands and thumbs move when they grab some food and eat it is frighteningly like my own when I come in, hungry, and raid the pantry for cookies and cheese. The way the mothers and newborns interact, and the way the entire family gets together for collective grooming after a meal, all seem to confirm their social and familiar nature, as well as their role as our historic predecessors on the great chain of life.
Nestled deep within the monkey forest, in a small ravine, is the bathing temple. What a beautiful place this was. One must descend a flight of thin stone steps, then cross the deep river gorge over an arched stone bridge, with carved serpents as its railings, with fierce dragon heads on either side. I was impressed. On the far side of the bridge, the bathing pool is sunken deep into the ground, receiving a constant stream of water from the mouths of three animal figures. Behind the pool, an ornate, but not oversized temple structure pays homage to the gods, and protects the pool from evil spirits. The pool was at one time fed by the force of the river, no doubt, but my curiosity led me to follow a small dirt path to the rear of the temple, where I discovered a small electric pump humming away with a PVC feeder tub stretching further down the gorge and into the water below. I imagine that the old plumbing is too difficult to keep clean, and progress is, after all, progress. I just wish I hadn’t seen the pump.
From the monkey forest, we forge ahead. It is time to seek out our own slice of zen at Nur spa. What an experience that was! Kristina outlined the massage process, so I will spare these details, but I must comment on my personal feelings during this bizarre, but ultimately relaxing experience. I have always believed myself to be openminded and was raised with a great deal of social and political awareness by well educated and enlightened people.
But was I ready to put any vestige of homophobia that I might still be harboring to the true test: a full body deep tissue massage, and cleansing, by a young boy! ‘Just breathe deep and relax’ I tell myself, lying buck naked- no little modesty towel- on the massage table, while this kid begins to oil up my shoulders and back. I keep saying to myself, he’s a professional- but he can’t be more than 20. In all honesty, it a bit getting used to, especially when was working on my thighs, but I conquered my phobia and enjoyed the
I have to admit that at one point, I felt quite regal, much like Louis IX must have felt as his suitors bathed him, dressed him, and wiped his royal ass for him after the royal defecation, never lifting a finger of his own. I just stood as I was rinsed with a coconut shell ladle from a cask of warm water, soaped, scrubbed with curry to exfoliate, then with yogurt, to moisturize, rinsed again, and finally, served a cup of ginger tea in a hot rose petal bath after the whole event. Very cool, very relaxing. I dried myself with the towel after the bath, because I simply had to draw the line somewhere.
I have completely detached from my first two days in Indonesia, and I am liking Bali more and more by the hour. Ubud is virtually Hawker free, with the exception of offers for transport, which is manageable and brimming with arts, crafts, and good food. It is unbearably hot, and the fan in our traditional style Bamboo thatched hut still couldn’t blow a feather off the table, but I have become accustomed to sweating profusely, all day long, and most of the night, soaking on average two shirts a day completely through.
October 20, 1998
Today we woke up late, lazed about, read and talked a bit with our new neighbor in the guesthouse, another San Franciscan. We had our morning breakfast
We were going to change some traveler’s checks, but while walking came across one of the only ATM’s in Ubud. The maximum withdrawal allowed was 600,000
On the way back, we stopped and bought a shadow puppet, beautifully painted, and made of leather (80,000 rp.) It is the representation of the Monkey King, Anoman. Tonight we are going to see a Wayang Kulit (shadow play), performed by a Dalang (puppetmaster) who performs in the Ubud Palace and at a place on Monkey Forest Road.
October 20, 1998
Master of Puppets…
The Balinese shadow puppet play Wayang Kulit is reported to be one of the special forms of Balinese art, entertainment, and religious education. The presentations that are held for the benefit of tourists, like myself and my wife, are, most happily, abbreviated from their traditional duration of six to twelve hours long! The puppet show is performed from behind a white semi-translucent screen that looked almost like a small movie projection screen, stretched out between the two front vertical supports which form the raised, square gazebo-like stage area.
Behind the screen, located in the forward central portion of the raised platform is a large flame torch, with a hood to control the amount of light it casts. The use of flame for light is not only a matter of tradition but of style and quality as well. Although electricity is fairly new to the Ubud region, only arriving as a standard source of power within the last decade, and still outrageously expensive, even by Western standards. The flame is best for shadow puppetry because it is alive, and it dances! It brings a living quality to show that electric light could not possibly reproduce. The flame burns with erratic rhythm and flickers to and fro. The puppets take on just enough of this life and unpredictability to add considerable energy and vitality to the show. I have done some shadow puppetry in my 1-2 grade classroom in Los Angeles and have always used a bed sheet and electric light, but it does not produce even close to the same results.
The show is essentially performed by a single
The stories which are told through this form of theatre are all of a religious nature. They are mostly retellings and enactments of Hindu Mythology and tell very basic stories. They all carry some sort of message or moral, which is not too difficult to interpret, even for those whose Indonesian is extremely poor (or non-existent). We were given the benefit of an English language synopsis of the story of the night, and a breakdown of the characters, by silhouette, including the religious significance of each one.
Every so often, for the benefit of the tourists, who were the entire audience here, the Dalang would repeat a scene in English, or do a side by side translation while performing. I was truly impressed with the skill of the performer, especially in his ability to synchronize the movements of the intricate puppet’s mouth with his speech. These puppets are ornately cut out leather, with many articulations, all connected with little brass fasteners, like brads, but more permanent. The ones used in the performance had anywhere from three to five controls, including the mouth, hands, legs, etc. Not an easy feat to manipulate two puppet’s mouths and arms (often thrown up in expressions of exaggerated emotion) while speaking for both, and switching between puppets. My hat is off to this guy, and those of his profession.
I found it especially amusing, I must add as an afterthought, that during this show, we were given the relief of several little comic interludes. Only one or two minutes in length, each, the Dalang treated us to a little Madonna, a bit of Michael Jackson, and then, the piece de resistance: Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinski! I was a bit shocked, thinking at first that the interludes might be for the children, of which there were many in the audience, but I soon left that notion behind. The little skit involved Bill picking up on Monica, in very rudimentary English, and with the use of two interesting puppets (not resembling either person, but actually characters from the Wayang Kulit!). The end of the skit had the two puppets connected most dubiously, along with noises that were reminiscent of some of Ross Perot’s old rhetoric…All in all, a most interesting experience.
October 21, 1998 Cooking Class
I awoke this morning, on one
To her credit, Janet de Neefe, the owner of Casa Luna, gave a wonderful cooking class. It
The classes begin with a refreshing glass of hibiscus tea from flowers in the garden, and introductions around of all the “students”. There were about 15 people in all, quite a few couples, and a healthy mix of Australians, Germans, and Americans (3 of whom currently live in Costa Rica). There were people who liked to cook for fun, some people who worked in restaurants or catering, and an Australian couple who lived and worked as rangers on an isolated “station” in the Northern territory and had to cook for themselves.
She began the class with about an hour’s introduction to all the basic ingredients, from spices to vegetables, of Indonesian food. Each of these we got to smell, touch, taste. These were broken down by fragrant seeds and nuts such as candlenut (like a macadamia) and coriander seeds, rhizomes and roots like ginger and turmeric, the sour flavors (kaffir lime), the sweet and salty flavors (fish paste and palm sugar), the hottest flavor (chiles), the coconut and its’ multitude of uses, cooking oil, the basics ( garlic, fried onion) , and herbs and leaves.
After a short break, we were shown how to assemble these ingredients. First rujak, which is a sweet and sour sauce used as a dressing, and a dip for fruit. it combines all the flavors of sweet, sour, spicy and salty. I’m sure it was good, but this was one of those points where the smell alone was enough to drive me from the table in my illness. Dave assures me it was good.
Next came the curries, which all begin as a mixture of various spices and chilies, ground by hand with a mortar and pestle into a paste. Everyone got a chance to try. These “curries” not a thick sauce like the Indian curries that most westerners are used to. They are, in reality, a spice mixture that can be turned into a sauce, or simply used as in ingredient. After all the food was cooked, everyone sat down to eat the feast.
For a look at some of the recipes from the first class, click here…
October 27, 1998 Playing Catch-up…
We’re sitting here in the
The past few days we haven’t found the time to write but I’ll try now to bring is up to date. After the cooking
In Lovina, we got off the bus and walked toward the beach. We were quite shocked at the prices of the first few hotels we checked. They quoted prices in US dollars which is always a bad sign to start. The first one wanted US$40 which is a bit difficult to accept after only spending US$7 a night. So we walked on and found the Puri Bali Resort (listed in Lonely Planet) which was 80,000
The next morning we got up at 5:30 AM to do the one tourist thing in Lovina. This is to go out and see the dolphins that come in to feed in the early morning. Cool, I thought, I finally get to see my dolphins!
So we walk down to the beach and get into this tiny outrigger canoe with a lawnmower motor on the back. We spend the next hour and forty minutes crisscrossing the bay in search of the elusive dolphins along with about thirty other boats. Finally, we see them, about five of them arch through the surface of the water and all boats head toward them. We chase them and they swim away. All in all, I didn’t find it a particularly rewarding experience. We got sunburned and seasick chasing dolphins that didn’t want to be near us. Others we talked to said that they saw more in less time so I guess it’s just a hit or miss thing.
I decided I couldn’t go 48 hours without sleep, so we moved to an air-conditioned room (160,000 rp.), well worth it for a good night’s sleep. We spent most of the rest of our time there out at the pool talking with other travelers, all moaning about the decline of the dollar to the Rupiah. Since we’ve been here it has declined almost 2000 to the dollar. It’s always the case of “you should have been here 3 months ago”.
We had a few days left in Bali, so we decided to go back to Ubud, and stay at the Honeymoon Guesthouse and attend another cooking class. This was great and we’re so glad we did it. The guesthouse is quite nice with Balinese antiques in the rooms, mosquito nets, fans, etc. and a great big breakfast. Guests get 10% discount on cooking classes.
In the early morning, before the
In the early morning, however, it is filled with locals doing their daily food and home shopping and has a completely different atmosphere. We walked around a bit, marveling at the colorful flowers for use in the daily offerings, the women with baskets filled with all manner of food and fruit, and the vendors hawking their wares. It was not an uncommon thing to see women carrying their daily purchases, or items for sale, in large baskets on their heads. David bought himself a blue and white cotton batik robe.
Monday’s cooking class was much smaller, only six people, and focused on fish, in two
For a look at some of the recipes from the second class, click here…
After the class, we had errands to run, and the day turned into one of those where nothing will go right. All the ATMs stopped working in Ubud, a fact which we did not discover until we walked all over town to try them all. Then we tried to mail a package home with just a few of the souvenirs we purchased and some clothes. For only 3 kilos, it would have cost us over US$50 to mail it sea post which could take months. We are carrying it to Malaysia.
That night we had the pleasure of dining at the new restaurant owned by Casa Luna. It is not open yet, but they were doing a trial run for family and friends. The restaurant will be called Indus and it is on the road north of Ubud, overlooking a river and a valley. It is a beautiful restaurant, large and in the Balinese style, but it would fit right in at any Four Seasons resort (which is the market they are aiming for).
We sat and had dinner with the other guests of the guesthouse, Mick and Sarah Bleith, brother and sister from Australia, and Sarah’s daughter Ella. The food began quite promisingly, prawns wrapped in rice paper and fried with a spicy dipping sauce, and smoked salmon dolmades with