Sunday, June 7, 2009

Finally: The Indonesia Trip

Sorry for the massive delay. I know I got you all hot and bothered when I posted the youtube video of the Balinese trance dancer kicking around flaming coconut husks and I know that the post about Malaysia left you wondering what happened in Bali!

Bali is a mixed bag. The best parts are unreal: terraced rice paddies up the sides of active and inactive volcanos, black sand beaches, natural hot springs, mountain paths, artisan villages, great massages, delicious food and drink at unbelievably inexpensive prices. Oh, and the waves. This place is a surfer's mecca for a reason.

The worst parts mainly exist in the most touristy places. The advantages of cheap night spots and English speakers are outweighed by the disgusting excess, too many South African and Australian tourists, all surrounded by poverty and annoyance in the form of beggars and hawkers (respectively).

We started out in Kuta, which is an example of the latter. Though its beaches were pristine, they were overrun with surf instructors and masseauses, so we decided to take a shared bus the next morning to the inland city of Ubud. We were much happier here. We got two rooms ($8 each) in a nice rice paddy-side bungelow and set off to discover the town.
ubud rice paddy hotel
Ubud is where we caught the tribal dance, had some massages (I did), bought a few dresses (they did), ate a great meal and tried Balinese rice wine. In the morning we went off on a trek/rafting expedition. I'm being generous calling it an expedition, but it was pretty amazing. Rafting beneath a jungle canopy usually is.

That night we took a three hour car ride to the former tourist town of Lovina. Lovina is known for its black sand beaches, but overall we weren't thrilled by this ghost town of a former tourist resort. We did meet a great couple there that let us tag along in their Jeep. This afforded us the ability to see some things we otherwise wouldn't have.

Such as, a mountain top buddhist temple. Bali is very buddhist, while Java/peninsular Indonesia is much more Muslim. This place was surreal. Completely isolated and multi-leveled. We kept going up staircases until we reached an amazing temple. I've been using a picture of my sitting in a Budda pose there as my Facebook profile picture ever since we got back from Indonesia.
bali mountain buddhist temple
Our generous drivers led us to some steller mountain-top views as well. The top of the mountains were unbelievably beautiful. We didn't encounter any English speakers, so our new friend's limited Indonesian came in handy. It's funny hearing a Brit of Indonesian heritage speak his mother's tongue with a thick accent.
bali volcano view
The last day we headed back closer to the airport where we booked a luxury hotel (50USD/night) and headed out to a beach that we heard had some of the best waves in Bali. We were surprised when we arrived and very few people were in the water. We quickly learned that this was because the waves were legitimately life-threatening. I'm not exagerrating when I say that they were easily 10-15 feet from trough to crest. And that meant, even when you were standing in a shallow area, a wave could hammer you. It also meant very few areas were actually shallow - the waves had created a pretty steep drop off.

For someone of with aquatic ability as limited as mine, I risked my life more than I should have. Veronica, who was a lifeguard at Camp Harlam, laughed as I gasped for air being pummeled by successive waves. This picture didn't capture the moment when Veronica, who had been floating on her back, was literally flipped by an incoming wave. I swam over - fearing from her life - and she emerged from the foam screaming "Oh my god that was so cool did you see that!?! Again! Again!"
bali beaches
I give Bali, on the whole, two thumbs up. Ignore the tourist hubs. Do your own thing. Meet random fun people and you will end up screaming "Again! Again!" too!