Friday, June 15, 2012
It is well after midnight as I exit the Denpasar airport in Bali with my
nearly empty extremely heavy check-in and my re asonably sized two-ton carry-on* I’m accosted by offers for taxis – a theme that does not end until I’m back inside the airport a few days later. While it is possible to walk a ‘bit’ outside the airport to look for cheaper taxis I opt for the more convenient ones, and only then do I realize my rookie mistake. The hotel recommended by a friend of a friend, that I booked a few days ago, is the wrong one. There were two online, both with the same name, ‘Kuta Indah’ – except one is in Lombok. I’d assumed it was still in the Kuta area, given the name, but it’s not. After a quick negotiation (I believe I probably lost – too late and too tired to really care) I ask them to take me to a street on my map which shows lots of hotels and is near where the shuttle bus will leave from the next morning to take me to Ubud. The first hotel is too expensive but he recommends one down the street…I take it, the room is, well, it’s a place to sleep, which I’d like to do immediately but I’m famished So in search of food I go, ending up at a bar where everyone is absorbed in the soccer game, actually, the entire street is absorbed in the soccer game. I’ve been looking forward to street food, except there is none on this street, most of the places have stopped serving food so there isn’t much of an option, I order Nasi Goreng, it’s so common it can’t go wrong, even at a place which advertises 24 hr food. As soon as I’ve swallowed enough of the food, I hurry back to the hotel so I can sleep. Even if the rooms aren’t great the Balinese always seem to have beautiful courtyards – often with pools:
Kuta isn’t a place I’d choose to come, it’s a bit seedy, from my quick glance at it, it comes across as a seedy beach town – perfect for college students or those just looking for a surf spot with lots of action (and I’m not referring to the waves). I’m staying the night only because it’s close to the airport and Ubud is another hour or so away.
So while Kuta is known for it’s bars and clubs of every kind (and the Bali Bombings) Ubud is known for its artsy community and now (for better or worse) known as the place in Eat, Pray, Love. I wake up early and have my first, and last cup, of Balinese coffee. I like my coffee dark and rich, I don’t even mind coffee where you let the grains settle in the cup but this is more like a coffee syrup (some describe it as mud).
I can’t wait to get to Ubud, but have a few hours to kill before the shuttle leaves. The shuttles are the cheapest option for getting around Bali, it’s not a luxury mode (no a/c) but for approximately 5 usd (50,000 Indonesian rupee or Rp) I really can’t complain. I’m using Peramatour,** who offer a number of other tours, one of which I’m hoping to take is to Uluwatu, a water temple.
The drive up to Ubud is slow, traffic is stop and go and the fumes of gas don’t help (if motion sickness is an issue I’d recommend a company with a/c). Shops overflowing with stone statues and wood work line the road in endless succession. The wood work consists of ornately carved Balinese gates, twisted roots of giant tree trunks and enourmous slabs of wood nearly a meter wide by 3 meters long. I wonder how many trees like that can be left on such a small island with the numbers filling these shops.
I can only assume these are not for tourists, it doesn’t seem like they’d fit in a checked-in piece, not to mention any overhead compartment!
The traffic and shops seem to stay with us the entire trip with only brief respites and nearly two hours later we reach the Perama office in Ubud where we are let off. I catch a ride (for 10,000 Rp – 1usd) past the Monkey Forest, shops, restaurants, and massage parlours to the guesthouse. I’m staying at, Sania’s house, centrally located on one of the side streets . It is a traditional Balinese courtyard home, where multiple buildings and several small courtyards make up the families residence and the guest areas. As I approach the entrance protected by two statues a young man greets me by name and shows me to my simply furnished room, with a private bathroom and a porch where I’m immediately served tea. I happily put my luggage down (which hasn’t gotten any lighter since last night), change and grab a few items so I can start exploring the many, many shops I saw in Ubud on my way here. But first things first, I can not wait to eat – I am starving and having been drooling at the thought of Indonesian food for weeks.
I go in search of a place recommended by Mikal but don’t find it immediately so I take a seat in a restaurant and order vegetarian sate – tempeh and tofu, along with one of the many fruit drinks offered in Bali. Both are delicious and go down quickly. I wander through the craft market full of fabrics, textiles, jewelry, baskets, carvings, scented oils, spices and various souvenirs, resisting for now any temptations before heading down the street. My original plan for this evening was to see the sunset at Uluwatu but decide against that, realizing that I’d have to repeat the same journey I’d just taken to get to Ubud twice I decide against it, that and you need two people minimum to get someone to take you by car. Instead I opt for meandering through shops, visiting the Monkey Forest and getting a massage.
As I’m browsing I see the restaurant so highly recommended by Mikal, Three Monkeys, and even though I’ve eaten less than half an hour ago I decide to stop in. It’s picture-perfect, overlooking a small rice-paddy surrounded by brick walls that border other properties in the centre of town. The entire menu screams out to me, with options ranging from Balinese to Italian everything sounds so good… ok, so, I know part of it is due to having spent the last several months in PNG where food options are ‘limited’. I order the avocado-chocolate soy drink, a homemade soda of ginger and lemon and start with an appetizer. Avocado and chocolate make an unexpectedly delicious combination in my mouth, sweet, not too heavy and just enough chocolate to add flavor – oh sooo yum – I will be back for more! With all the delicious options I want to order more food, my eyes are still hungry but my stomach can’t take it. I roll out of the restaurant to continue browsing my way to the sacred Monkey Forest.
The Monkey Forest is entertaining spot to watch hundreds of monkeys interacting with each other, the Balinese-Hindu temple and visitors brave enough to let them climb on their shoulders – I am NOT one of those visitors, so I just watch. I also securely put any lose item inside my bag as warnings are everywhere that the Monkey’s will take your cameras, sunglasses and don’t even think about trying to hide food – they will find it!
Still stuffed I begin the ‘arduous’ task of picking one of many spots to get a massage. I’m not a fan of the places that stand outside trying to pull you in and so avoid those places. In search of a place mentioned in my guide map*** I don’t find it but come across another at the end of a small, dead end street. It seems nice and no one is outside trying to coerce me in. I settle on a package, not being able to decide between the various services. It’s three hours of awesomeness! First a Swedish-style massage, then a body scrub, a bath (full of flowers), then a facial treatment and finally a cream bath for my hair which leaves it radiantly soft. I have to find out what is in that hair cream!
While I’m not hungry yet, there are so many more restaurants and so I head to Kafe Batan Waru, which, according to my map** is supposed to be a ‘hole-in the wall.’ The food must be good because they’ve obviously expanded into a full-sized restaurant (complete with a website). They look to the traditional methods of Indonesian cooking for their inspiration and, like many of the local restaurants, quote themselves as using locally grown, organic products and with many healthy options. I try the vegetarian Lawar salad – a cole-slaw style salad with jackfruit, young papaya, onions, kaffir leaves and spices, along with Otak-Otak -a Javanese style fish cake which come wrapped in banana leaves. Both are extremely tasty (and hot), I wish I had room for one of the many delicious looking desserts on the menu. I can see my biggest problem in Bali is not having two stomachs.
The night air is lovely and in contrast to PNG it’s quite safe to walk around, not to mention by myself, so I do before going to bed – utterly exhausted.
*How is it that when you start a trip your luggage seems to weigh a ‘reasonable amount’ and by the end it’s cutting holes into your shoulders???
**recommended by Mikal – so helpful!!!
***this map is awesome – summarizes everything I saw in the travel books onto one map – so much smaller and lighter to carry around with you, and , gives recommendations for restaurants, activities, etc. I use it throughout my stay in Bali.