Friday, February 27, 2009

Ubud Birthdays and Road Warrior-ing

So Ubud on the island of Bali Indonesia has become one of our favorite spots as today marks our tenth day in the city on the “Island of the Gods”.  We’ve been told by our hosts to not talk about price with our neighbors as we’re paying 100,000 rp (~11,000 rp = $1) and have seen three neighbors come and go, all paying more. We’ve been there long enough that Daewo knows that I like coffee, Leslie likes tea, we both like our eggs hard and Leslie doesn’t like the crust on her toast.

We’ve also learned that there are four main parts to the day in Indonesian Malay.  In the US it’s clearly Morning – Afternoon – Night. In Malay, it’s Pagi – Siah – Sore – Melam. 
Pagi is close to morning and Melam is night, but Siah is about from 10:30 in the morning to about 2-2:30 and then Sore is 2:30 to 5. 
It’s been a bit tough to remember all that happened, because 10 days in the same place start to blend together.  Leslie had a good idea though and recreated our timeline by going through her photos.  There’s a ton of them and we’ll share them with y’all eventually.  
After our last blog we headed to breakfast at the “RiverView Restaurant”.  It was okay, but nothing remarkable before spending the majority of the day goofing around in the pool at the Honeymoon. 
The pool is in a $40 a night place and is quite interesting.  A whole in the jungle is carved for the hotel, with a seperate enclosure for the pool.  20,000rp gets you access where you walk down a path tiled in intricate circular patterns with rocks that look like skipping stones.  The interesting thing about them is that they’re on end, so it takes 4-5 times the amount of rock to cover the same place. Everyplace with stone is covered by a tad bit of moss.  There’s a guy who appears to work full time with the impossible job of taming the moss.
The pool is about 5’8″ deep with a few lawn chairs surrounding it and a gazebo for when it inevitably rains.  Unlike pools in the US, the pool is filled to the brim.  There is a statue of a life-size woman at one end pouring water out of a jar and into a bowl, which is supposed to overflow into the pool.  The constant pounding of the water against the bowl has created a whole in the bottom though, so the bowl never truly fills. 
We’ve met a load of people around this pool, most a bit older than us and either retired or traveling with children and staying at the hotel. 
Compliments have come from a few different people as to our “show”.  The pool is fairly large and if there is nobody else in the pool then Leslie will stand on my shoulders as I attempt to walk along the bottom. 
That night we found another cheap little spot where a plate can run from 8,000rp-12,000.  Tables are communal, so we met a man from Germany and another from Austria and spent the night comparing education systems. 
On the way home we had one of our many encounters with the “shark lady”.  She was named by Lena and Marilyn and is known amongst the tourists for being very pushy with fruit.  She’s a very animated and nice lady, but negotiates like a banshee.
She grabbed me and I thought that I’d get six mangosteens and asked how much.  She started with 30,000, which is WAY too much for mangosteens.  I countered by saying how about 8,000?  She first laughed, then got a bit angry, then looked at me quizically before offering 20.  We eventually settled for six mangosteens for 12.
A holy man nearby then blessed us with good luck by ringing a bell at us.  :)
Day seven saw us decide to go on some hikes through the rice paddies and was remarkable for being the first of Leslie’s birthdays. 
We were thinking that because of the international dateline that her “birthday” was actually 364 days from her previous one, not 365.  At the same time though, it was 2/24.  We solved the quandry by deciding that Leslie was allowed two birthdays this year.  The sheer amount of rice paddies are amazing.  It seems like every spare piece of land in the city has been cultivated into a rice paddy. 
The walk was supposed to be circular, but we ended up finding a river and a “path” that went through a marshy rice paddy.  The good part of the path was probably about 2 feet wide and made of cement tiles.  We turned around and decided to try another path.
Even the rice paddies aren’t free from hawkers though.   One guy had ridden his motorbike out to fish for eels (I think) in the irrigation system of the rice paddy.  Yet, he tried to sell us little bone carvings he’d done.  They were pretty nice though and I thought about it for a second, until I realized I had no idea what I’d do with a little piece of buffalo bone that looked like a frog.
Another woman who worked in the rice paddy said, “follow me”, right after we didn’t buy a bone carving.  We followed as it was the way we were going anyway.  She said “coconut” and grabbed a coconut and started whacking at it with her knife.  
The knife is designed for dealing with bamboo, coconuts and rice.  The wooden handle was about seven inches long and topped with a ten inch blade that was in the shape of a banana.  Her knife blade got stuck in the coconut and came off the handle.  It looked like it had happened before though.  The handle was similar to a file for wood-working I own in the US where you can replace the metal file for different curvatures and courseness. 
After inquiry, she indicated she wanted us to buy the coconut for 20K.  We politely declined and went on our way, but even the rice paddies were trying to sell us stuff!
After finishing that walk we went on another “shortcut” to get back to Monkey Forest.  We didn’t take pictures the first time and hoped to get some better ones.  That walk wasn’t as interesting as the first, but did give us a handy new route that cut out the activity of the main road. 
This trip to the monkey forest was quite disappointing.  First, it was sore (late afternoon) after our hikes so the monkeys weren’t playing in the pool and most had retired for the evening.  We weren’t going to get good pictures so Leslie sat down next to a tree to get a picture taken. . . . . and immediately got bit on the butt by a monstrous ant. 
She screamed and jumped into the air.  She described the pain as worse than a bee sting and still has a welt four days later. She’s been a trooper though!
Trip 2 to the monkey forest wasn’t a complete loss though, as we found another path that gave us some cool statues and a chance to hike along the river.  I kept thinking “where are the monkeys” until I smacked myself in the forehead and looked up. There they were resting, playing and living about 300 feet above our heads in the treetops.
We then headed back for a quick shower before going to dinner.  The way to dinner was blocked by about 200 schoolchildren, all dressed in sarongs and white shirts (yes, the men wear sarongs).  I did feel good to see that somethings never change as a junior-high age guy grabbed a girls ponytail before she marched away in “disgust” while giggling with her girlfriend. 
“Devilicious” was the destination for dinner that night as we had some excellent vanilla iced tea, deviled eggs for 4K, vegetable shish kebob and chicken kiev for $3.50 each.  We had to rush a bit as we wanted to go to another dance that evening.
It’s fun to buy things from people on the street because both the hawkers and us are so used to saying “no” that “yes” makes everyone happy.  
First, we said we’d buy tickets from a few teenaged boys.  They kept trying to get us to go to a more expensive version of the dance we’d already seen.  Eventually, we walked away as they kept telling us why it was good.  An older lady offered us a new dance and we said okay, but the teenagers kept following us.  They informed us they had the ticket too.  Diplomatically, we bought one ticket from each of them. 
On the way back to the dance, we again went by Shark Lady.  She now recognized us and came running over.  “You buy mangosteen?”  She explained to us that the 12K for yesterday’s mangosteens was for small mangosteens that weren’t very good.  Today, she had much better mangosteens that were bigger and more juicy.  She demanded 20 and eventually we bought for 15.   She also gave us directions to the dance.
The first thing I noticed at the dance was that one of the older holy men (I don’t know the proper Hindu term) looked at me a bit odd.   He was about 80 and wearing all white.  I said, “Salamat melam” (good evening) and he looked at me quizzically before referencing my Arsenal shirt.  “You like Arsenal?  I am MU!” he said defiantly and stubbornly.  “Ronaldo very good.”  I didn’t argue with the elderly Manchester United supporter, but did think it was cool that we’d found common ground. 
The dance was different this time as it was accompanied by a traditional xylophone as opposed to human beatboxes.  There were a few different dances as opposed to a complete story and the culmination was the “Barong”, which is a huge mythical creature with a complex mask, moving jaw, and massive amounts of hair. 
Day 8 in Ubud (Leslie b-day #2)  saw us rent a motorbike for the first time.  We traveled around to the surrounding villages looking at different types of art they had for sale.  I picked up a small mask that I thought was neat for 60K rp.  I now have to carry it for a month, but I should be okay. 
One of the highlights had to be Arna Museum, which had loads of paintings and some very nice grounds.  Leslie got some pictures of some women putting together offerings for the gods. 
The proper Balinese-Hindu offering has three parts:  fresh flowers, water and incense.  They are then put in front of stores and homes for “good luck” throughout the day.  They’re usually about four inches square and sitting in a small open box.  We try not to step on them as they’re on the sidewalk.  They’re inevitably kicked over by the end of the day.  On particularly auspicious days the little boxes are stacked.  For ceremonies the offerings become larger and more complex. 
As we left it began to rain and we put on our raincoats.  This was our first experience with the “problem” with our coats and motorbikes.  The coats do a great job of covering the top, but they’re built for walking or hiking, not sitting in the rain.  As a result, our legs got SOAKED.
It doesn’t rain for long in Bali.  Rain in the Pacific Northwest is like an old metal watering can, slow, predictable and steady.  Rain in Bali is like having someone pour a five gallon water jug over your head.  It only lasts a second, but you get DRENCHED.
We booked it home and then intended to go on a tour of coffeeshops to find Lewak coffee (the coffee from the animal that poops coffee beans).  It was not for sale at the first place we went, but the guy working got such a kick out of the fact that we were looking for it he went and got it out of his personal stash for us.  He gave us his last cup so we gave him 20K instead of the 12 he asked for. 
I must say, it was good coffee.  It was much smoother than most we get and didn’t taste at all acidic.  He showed us some grounds and they were very fluffy.  They almost had the consistency of powdered sugar.  Big thanks to Wayan Kembar of Coffee and Copper.  You can see their site at He also gave us some good tips on where to go. 
We then spent WAY too much money at an all-you-can-eat buffet on “Balinese Night”.  It was really good though and they brought in a guy who did Jack Johnson/Bob Marley type folk songs.   He was pretty good and did requests.  He played “Stairway to Heaven” after Leslie requested Zepelin.  The food was great, but the bill ended up being $28.  No more of that!
Day nine started by heading back to Coffee and Copper because we saw they had Eggs Benedict.  It ended up being a sandwich with little hollandaise, but it was okay. 
We then took our motorbike on a trip Wayan recommended to see some villages before heading to the market to get more of the traveling dresses Leslie likes.  They’re light and roll up into a ball about the size of your fist, so they’re good to pack.  She decided she wanted some different colors so we went back to find them. 
The dresses are obviously mass produced and sold at wholesale to the people in the market.  As a result, Leslie quickly found that they could be had for 30K.  (~$3) 
The salespeople wish Leslie hadn’t figured that out.  Negotiating with her is like when a soccer goalie makes a save with their nose.  Yeah, they got the sale, but OUCH!
Leslie would say, “how much for the dress” at which point the salesman would try for somewhere 100-120K. 
Leslie would say, “how about 30?” 
The salesman would respong, “90?”
 ”I bought one for 30,” said Leslie
“Will you buy for 50?” 
“How about 30?”
Then, Leslie would start to walk away and the salesman would say, “okay, 30.”  One gave her a bit of a glare, but I was proud.  On the way out we ran into Wayan Kembar again and talked for a bit.
A local ceremony happened that day where there were men inside the temple while the women remained outside.  They had brought large baskets of offerings on their head and lined them up outside the temple.  A few of the xylophones played while tourists gathered to try and figure out what was happening.  We watched for a bit before heading off to continue our day. 
The ceremony had closed down a main drag and as a result I fought with traffic.  It was my first time when the motorbikes had reached three across a single lane.  Leslie took pictures from the back as I sweated in the front. 
Wayan had indicated  that we could take the motorbike down the rice-walk, so we tried, but it was VERY interesting.  I did okay with Leslie on the back, but the trail was only about a foot wide at times and I got dangerously close to crashing into the irrigation system, trees, rocks, coconuts, workers, etc.  We eventually parked and walked about half the way to the nice Salamik Organic restaurant Wayan had recommended.   Leslie had a great Shish Kabob overlooking the rice paddies.
We ended up with a firm desire for more mangosteen, so returned to the shark lady.  This time, she recognized and I said, matter-of-factly, “six for 15?”  She said okay, but proceeded to pick out the tiniest mangosteens ever!  We were not happy and are done dealing with the shark lady.  That is NOT how you treat repeat customers!
The rest of the day was eaten up at the pool with a sad discussion.  
Ubud has become the midway point of our trip and we’ve begun to cut out places in order to see others.  We’ve also determined that we should have dealth with the Vietnam visa issue while we were in Bangkok. 
As a result, we’ve bailed on Lovina and the Gili Islands in Bali and will be flying to Bangkok on Sunday.  Then, we’ll take a bus onto our next stop.
So, we were all depressed about not being able to go to Lovina that night back at the hotel until I looked at Leslie and said, “hey, wanna go to Lovina tomorrow?”
“But we don’t have time,” she responded.  I looked at her and hung the motorbike key from my hand and she smiled.
Day ten saw us wake up in the morning and borrow a map from an internet place we’ve been using.  We then hopped on the motorbike and pointed it north. We really didn’t have much of a clue where we were going, but knew that there were only a few main roads that should direct us there. 
We took a left out of our little place and went about 10 minutes before finding a breakfast joint than gave us a great English Breakfast for $3.50.  The English do some things very well, and breakfast is one of them.  For those who’ve never seen one, here’s wikipedia. 
We then started heading north.  We went buy a load of little towns and soon made it to places devoid of foreigners.  The towns were small, but the construction was continuing throughout. 
The fact that elections are right around the corner moved to center stage as blue, red, yellow and red/white flags flew along the highway showing allegiance to a particular political party.  Huge campaign posters flew and the local popularity of Barack Obama showed as one candidate had coopted “Yes We Can” (written in English) as his message. 
About an hour into our trip we noticed that we were heading up hill and it was becoming cooler.  We had been weaving around construction vehicles that belched black smoke out their tailpipes (catalytic convertors are optional here).  The traffic was light as we slowly made our way up the mountain.  We then stopped to look at the map and became famous. 
Tourists were a bit of a rarity in the place we stopped and the local schoolchildren were out.  Six of them came running over to us to say hi.  They all posed for a picture with five looking rather jubilant.  The sixth was very serious and apparently was a burgeoning bird trainer.  He looked very solumn and held a baby bird of prey that looked like a falcon in his hand.  Another sat by me on the bike and looked at the map as he tried to figure out what it was. 
Their english didn’t consist of more than, “hi”, “bye” and “how you?”, just like my Bahasa Indonesian!  Some older folks found us fairly quickly.  They knew, “won’t you buy sarong?” and “you like painting?”  The meant it was time to go, as making faces at kids is much more fun than being sold sarongs you don’t want.  They were kind enough to give us directions as well as the hard sell.  
We took a left and found ourselves back on the top of Mt. Batur overlooking the volcano, which was NOT where we thought we were going.  We added an hour to our trip, but thought it was okay. 
I thought we were about halfway there when we began descending on the other side.  At this point, it was cold.  The people around us were wearing jeans and parkas on their motorbikes.  We had put on our raincoats for warmth.  Soon enough, we saw the first wearing a raincover, then the second, then the skies opened up. 
This time, we could not go home and there was no cover in the middle of the jungle on the mountain.  We had no choice, so kept going.  We got completely drenched, but were still in pretty good spirits.
Ten minutes later the rain broke, leaving us soaked.  It didn’t take long to dry though as we headed down the mountain with the gradually warming climate. 
Civilization resumed towards the bottom as we shed the raincoats and made a left to travel along the coast.   The sun beat down from overhead and I could feel the burn beginning in my forearms.  I couldn’t change positions as I had to be prepared to brake. 
Three hours and fifteen minutes after we began in Ubud we pulled into Lovina.  It was a decent little beach town, but didn’t seem as fun as the Thai islands.  We found a retaurant and had a decent lunch. 
The beach was completely black though, due to the recent volcanic eruption.  The tide was in, so there wasn’t much walking to be done and we weren’t there to hang out on the beach anyway.  We were road-warrioring!
A quick check of the map showed us a better way to return to Ubud, so we took a different turn and found the main road we had originally tried to head down.   It was interesting as it was definitely built more for motorbikes than cars.  Two cars could pass going opposite ways, but barely.  The road was skinny and actually pretty well banked so that the motorbikes could go quickly without losing traction.
About thirty minutes into the return route the rain came again.  This time, we just took it in stride and continued on.  Both times, the rain came it was on the north side of the mountains.   We stopped by another lake on the way back to take some pictures, but not for too long.  We also found a much larger “monkey forest” on the top of the mountain.  There were hundreds of monkeys lining either side of the road and they did not look anywhere near as friendly as the ones in Ubud.  I found the best way to see these monkeys was at 20mph. 
The road back did not obviously go through to Ubud, so we found ourselves staring at the map trying to figure out how to get back as we rolled through rice patties and small villages.  Eventually, it felt like we were getting closer to civilization as the traffic became thicker . . . .and thicker. . . . . and thicker.
The lanes didn’t so much increase in number as they just got bigger.   My first realization that we’d hit the city was a stop sign.  I pulled up behind a truck and stopped.  Soon, a bike pulled up next to us, and then next to them. . … I then realized we were at a five way intersection and there were six motorbikes in a row behind the trucks. 
I fought my way to the left and pulled over so we could look at the map.  Leslie asked a guy fishing in the waste-water system how to get to Ubud and he said “straight .  . . left”.  We took the next left and went about ten minutes before pulling over and asking again.  The guy said we were going the right way and told us “next right”.  We took a right at the “T” and ten minutes later saw a sign for Ubud. 
Elation triumphed as we made our way home through Ubud.  When we got off the bike at Pondok Indah we noticed our knees. 
We had put on sunscreen while standing and the knees had been exposed when we sat down on the bike, pulling shorts up another 4 inches.  As a result, we both have stripes of sunburn on our knees.  :(
After a few showers we headed back to “The Yellow Sign Place” (we don’t know what it’s really called) and ate dinner for $4 at the communal table while chit chatting with Toto from Czech Republic, Mara from Italy and Yo from Japan.  The rain came again and the evening ended with us heading home for a well-deserved rest.

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