The Real-er Bali

Trip Start Feb 27, 2007
Trip End Jun 01, 2007

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Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Bali is a much bigger place than you may be aware of.  With a total land area of over 2000 square miles, the island supports a number of different types of communities and environments.  Since my last entry, I've gotten to see a good bit of this diversity, and it has been much more interesting than I anticipated from my first night here.

When I left Kuta, I headed north to Ubud.  This area is more rural than the southern tourist destinations, and focuses primarily on local culture.  The town is quite small, but the few main streets are packed with local artists selling handmade clothing, jewelry, carvings, and paintings.  While the area sort of thrives on tourism, I was lucky enough to make it here during a low season for tourists - this translates to more opportunity to learn about the culture and cheaper places to stay.  The bungalows where I stayed, called Sania's House, were great.  There were many rooms, all organized in a maze-like garden, and stacked on top of each other - the design made me think of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon.  There were many cats on the premises - one took a liking to me and spent breakfast hanging out in the other chair on my porch.  The staff were also very nice, although one in particular liked me a bit too much.  This guy, Nyoman, was a rather effeminate character - long hair, always wearing capri-style jeans.  He was very friendly and helpful, but he was WAY too eager to give me a traditional Balinese massage.  I avoided it for 4 days before I left Ubud, but by the end his repeated offers became a little uncomfortable - I think there was too much blinking and smiling involved when he spoke to me, and as you can imagine, it was a little off-putting (I did, however, go for a traditional Balinese massage at a real spa in Ubud.  Total cost for one hour: $7 American.  Asia is awesome.).

I spent my time in Ubud soaking up culture, rather than rays.  My first day involved a long walk through a Monkey Forest Preserve.  The monkeys were interesting, but more interesting were the old temples, paths, and the dense jungle scenery there.  Other activities included viewing a Balinese dance called Kecak - this dance was very long and involved: white and red monkey costumes; a 30-man, one and a half hour vocal jam; weird laughter and voices; a man in a horse costume, lulled into a trance and stomping through a pile of smoldering coconut husks!  I also did a day-long bike tour of central Bali.  Among other things, I got to see a giant, ancient caldera that now holds Mount Batur, an active volcano, and its accompanying Lake Batur.  Finally, I went to a museum with many collections of Balinese art, both modern and ancient.

After four days, I decided to leave Ubud in search of even more remote locales to write about for you all.  I ended up coming up to the north shore of Bali.  The area is called Lovina, the town is called Kalibukbuk, and the pace of life is slllllloooooooow.  I really liked the area, but I'm sure I couldn't spend more than a few days here at a time.  There just isn't anything much to do besides eat or lay around - you have to be looking for just those things in order to enjoy it.  My only activity was hanging out with some friends I met here - Hatice, a dutch girl who was a good source of bus conversation on the way up; Rudy, a chef from Copenhagen who just happened to be Filipino, and the staff at my hotel, who are all pretty fun.

For my last day in Bali, I had to head back to Kuta.  I wasn't looking forward to it, but it ended up being a great way to end the trip.  Since I arrived, I had not had a chance to see a good sunset on the island - it was always cloudy at the worst times.  But I caught a great one yesterday that I'm including a photo of.  I also had a good time at perhaps the only chill bar in Kuta - Crusoe's Bar n Restaurant.  The bartenders, who I had met during my first nights in Kuta, are really funny and laid-back - it reminded me a little of good times past in Chicago.  Also present was an Irish surfer who looked as though he hadn't left his spot at the bar a week ago - a good guy with lots of interesting stories.  Anyway, it was a night of good conversation (despite the broken english and impromptu lessons in Bahasa), good food, and cheap, tasty beer.

I am now in Singapore, and will be for the next week - I have a feeling this place is going to be all about food...

Til next week, be well everyone!
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