We left the land of Oz on Thursday to head to Bali with the rest of the Australian population. According to my Lonely Planet bible, Bali is the “vulgar Oz ghetto not actually found in Australia”. Not sure if I 100% agree with that, but there sure are a lot of Australians in Bali. Who can blame them? When you live on a really big island at the bottom of the world, sometimes you need to escape to a really small island slightly higher up in the world.
Enough about Australia though. We left that place in the dust, with only memories and well over 1000 pictures. And maybe some souvenirs as well.
Our first stop on the Asian leg of this journey is (was) Bali. We originally intended to spend about 6 days here, but as we added extra countries, and moved some dates around so we could meet up with people, it became 3 nights, with only 2 full days in Bali. We set out to make the most of these (less than) 96 hours, though, by minimizing sleep and maximizing beer intake.
We landed at around 2:00 pm, to one of the nicer airports we have seen on our trip. There are really beautiful gardens and Buddhas, and the first thing we noticed was, of course, the wall of hot, humid air that greeted us. Sweaters off, shorts on.
After picking up our bags, we got a taxi to our hotel. Of course, we didn’t actually have a hotel, because when I called to book it on Tuesday, I was told that they don’t book rooms, you just show up. Ok… well, luckily they had a room available. When I asked if we could pay Visa, they said no, cash only, but you can pay tomorrow. I’m not sure that we actually had to pay at all, but we did eventually, because we are good people.
Next stop was the beach, obviously. There’s not much about Kuta (the area in Bali we stayed in) that I have much to say about positively, but the proximity to the beach is one tick in the win column. We hit the beach after walking through a fancy (read: Americanized) mall, then crossing a street (without being hit by either cars or traffic law-defying scooters). It was pretty packed, as Wednesday was some kind of national holiday, and there were many school-girls looking to take their picture with me. Did you know I’m famous in Bali?
We walked along the beach for a while, until the sun started to go down. Our friend Alice who we met on our Great Barrier Reef trip in Cairns was also in Bali, and we had made some plans to meet up with her that night. She and two fellow medical students (another Alice, and Lucy) were in Bali on another “elective”. They spent a few hours at the hospital that day, got their white coats, and thus, they have earned their vacation. Lani and I have some serious questions about these international electives, but according to the girls they’ve already written their exams and graduated, so this is just for fun. Okay with me- so long as I never need a doctor when I’m in England.
Anyhow, Alice squared and Lucy met us at our hotel and we headed out to wander the streets of Kuta in search of dinner and drinks. We found a place that had a nice garden feel, making you forget you’re actually sitting between two pretty gross alleys. We had a few drinks (happy hour is, apparently, all day every day in Bali), some food, and the dinner came to 629,000 Indonesian Riyadh. I think that’s about 40 cents. (Just kidding, it’s more than that; but our dollar goes so much farther in Asia than Oceania that it’s laughable). The other girls had been surfing all afternoon, and were pretty wiped, so we called it an early night at just after midnight.
Next morning, sun is shining and the beach is calling! We got right into our swimsuits and headed to the beach as quickly as we could. We ended up spending some time at the Sheraton dealing with “administrative difficulties”, but I got to finish my book, so I think the morning was well spent.
Lani had a surfing lesson at 2:00 (no surfing for Nemo over here), so we headed back to the surf shop to meet up with Popo Tomato, her surfing instructor. I stopped in for a quick $6 pedicure first, as at this point I only had nail polish on 4 of my toes, which is acceptable as a backpacker in Australia but not once you get to the land of cheap pedicures.
Popo Tomato was recommended to Lani by her friend Derek who spends time in Asia every winter. Lani messaged him the day prior to see if she could set up lessons, to which he responded: “c u in Bali. Smile n relax that my motto”. We took that to mean that he would be happy to give her surf lessons. It worked out, and she spent two hours straight surfing the waves like a pro. I sat on a beach chair and read, also like a pro.
After our beach/surfing time, we decided some more Bali pampering was in order to soothe our sore backpacker bodies. We got massages ($5/hour) at a spa, where we listened to a weird old man get a massage as well, while a small Balinese lady stood on Lani’s back. I wouldn’t let the girl touch my lucky fin, and I think she was a bit sad she didn’t get to stand on me, too.
Dinner was at a very delicious little place right next to Popo Tomato’s surf HQ, and came highly recommended by Popo and all of his fellow Tomatoes. It was very delicious, and cost $3. Including a beer.
The food/surfing/massage combo wore Lani out, so she had a quick power nap on our wonderful balcony. She was then energized and headed out for a nice evening with her friend Martin, a German guy (of course) who she met at Tomato. My lucky fin is being extra lucky these days, so I’m opting for trying to rest and get some sleep (which isn’t easy when you can only sleep on your right side. But who’s complaining- I’m in paradise, here!). I told Lani to send me a text if she wasn’t going to be home by 1:00 am, but then fell asleep and decided she was probably fine. My cousin intuition told me she was okay. I was right- she was getting a 1:30 am pedicure (of course. Why wouldn’t a pedicure place be open at 1:30 am?!).
On Saturday, we had arranged for a day tour to Ubud, an area of Bali north of Kuta which is meant to be beautiful, and much more Balinese than Kuta has become. Our driver for the day, Ketut, picked us up in our A/C (thank god) vehicle at 8:45 am and we set off for our first stop, a traditional Barong dance show. Our ticket came with a “Playbill” that supposedly explained the show, but actually the broken English left us with a few more questions than we came in with. All I can really tell you is that there was a tiger, who bit the nose off someone, and then other people got mad, and there was fighting and killing of each other. The costumes were really cool, though!
Our next stop was Pura Penataran Sasih, the only temple in Bali that you can go in and explore. It was very beautiful, and a quiet, contemplative moment in the hot sun is always nice.
We then proceeded north towards Ubud, which Ketut told us was the “centre of Arts and Crafts”. We stopped at a silver making factory, but declined the offer of a Batik printing factory. Instead, Ketut took us to a coffee plantation, in the traditional Balinese style. Here, we were shown around the plantation, where we saw vanilla, bananas, ginger, coconuts, coca and coffee beans growing that are later used in the production of the plantation’s products. We also saw the Luwak, which is an animal that eats coffee beans at night, and then through natural fermentation the coffee becomes more delicious and then is pooped out by the Luwak, collected by the farmer, and processed to become very special (very expensive) coffee.
The tour concluded with a tasting of all 15 of their coffee and tea varieties, as well as their chocolate and alcohol (we tried the rice wine, but after spending 6 months in Israel, I know better than to get started on Arak). We thought you would all be so proud that we were tasting something other than beer or wine, but alas some wine snuck in there! Our very favourite, however, was the Coconut Coffee which is a very tasty treat that we will be bringing home.
We next headed to Ubud to meet Alice and her friends for lunch. We were meant to meet at a place called Toro Sushi at 1:00 pm. Turns out, there are two Toro Sushi restaurants in Ubud, and we separately enjoyed delicious sushi lunches, wondering what happened to the other. Lani and I spent some time after lunch doing some shopping in Ubud, where there are really cute shops, with nice shopkeepers who are not hawkers (read: the opposite of Kuta shopping).
Ketut then took us to Tegalalang to the rice terraces. We spent about 45 minutes getting lost in fields of rice, thinking about how much work goes into making rice, and how long it takes to get 1 kg. of rice vs. how long it takes for this country to go through 1 kg. of rice. That’s a lot of hours spent farming and harvesting rice! Ketut told us that his family has a rice farm in his home village that he used to work in after school when he was younger, before he moved to Kuta for more work opportunities.
Our final, penultimate stop was the Ubud Monkey Forest. I don’t think I need to tell you what we saw here— monkeys!! Although I see monkeys as evil five-fingered thieves, Lani is quite enamoured with them and we spent some time watching them climb, swing, eat, and just generally monkey around. Watch out for the monkey business!
We then headed back to Kuta, which ended up taking a realllllly long time due to traffic. We actually ended up parking and walking at the end, as it was a million times faster than driving (which was really just sitting in traffic at that point). Another ETB for Ms. Lucky Fin, while Lani went out galavanting with Martin and the other Tomatos. We woke up this morning at 3:30 in order to start our journey towards Vietnam.
And thus concludes our very quick Bali Hop!