Ubud: Have car, will travel

Trip Start Sep 24, 2009
Trip End Apr 30, 2010

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Where I stayed
Gusti’s Garden Homestay

Flag of Indonesia  , Bali,
Sunday, October 18, 2009

Alan arrived on the 14th, and we had a couple of quiet days of pool time and walking and exploring, letting him acclimatize to the heat, and the craziness of Kuta.   I was keen to get moving as Kuta was starting to wear me out!  I had spent a few more days than I intended in Kuta since I came back from Gili Trawangan a bit early, and it was starting to wear a bit thin.   You seriously cannot walk down the street without hearing "You want sunglasses/watch/transport/T-shirt/massage?" every single step of the way.  I was having fun with it on my first few days – but by the end, my patience was running out.

We spent some of the time organizing our flight to Flores on 24 Oct, and hiring a car for travelling around Bali for about 8-9 days.

Have wheels, will travel!

A basic, cheap 3-door Suzuki Katana goes for 100,000rp a day – about NZD$15 standard price.  They are basically tin cans on wheels with no leg room, no engine power – and probably wouldn't pass a warrant of fitness in NZ!  However – that’s what the budget allows for, so that’s what we were getting. 

These are not your typical Avis rental car agencies.  One guy, when asked about what happens if we break down in northern Bali, hours away from Kuta, he told us we would have to pay to get it fixed.  I don’t think so!!  Another guy told us 'no problem, not to worry, that they would come and fix it’.   When it comes to the crunch, I suspect the level of service will not vary much between the two places.  So, after handing over some cash to the second guy, and filling in a simple form, we took off in our little tin can.

We headed up to Ubud – about 20km north of Kuta (and about 2 hours driving time!).  At this stage we didn’t have a map and were relying on the maps in the Lonely Planet guidebook and road signs (or so we thought).  Of course, the driving here is insane, and the roads are worse!  It’s like driving through a maze – you’re heading north and the road suddenly does a 45-degree turn in another direction.  After a few of these you feel like you have gone around the block twice.  What looks like a major intersection on the map is basically a junction where two very narrow, unmarked roads cross over, often without street signs.  We got there mostly by pulling over every so often and just asking someone if we were heading in the right direction.   (Things did get better once we got north of Ubud – at least we found more frequent road signs).

Ubud is the ‘cultural centre’ of Bali; I was last there 15 or 20 years ago – and it certainly isn’t how I remember!  In my memory, Ubud was a lovely peaceful village.  Now it doesn’t seem to be much better than Kuta!  We did manage to find some nice peaceful walks through the rice fields, although the sellers are still out there waiting, even in the rice fields!  (“You want cold drink?”)  It was nice to get away from the traffic noise and the busy-ness of central Ubud.

Lake Batur – Trunyan Village

We decided to stay 3 nights in Ubud to give us time to do day trips around the area, but not have to worry about leaving bags in the car.  On our second day we headed further north into the mountains, to Gunung Batur (Mt Batur).  Gunung Batur is a volcanic mountain, with a large crater lake, and townships along the crater rim.

We first drove around the crater rim, before following a road down in the crater itself and alongside the crater lake.  Most people tend to go down towards an area with hot springs, but we ended up going down a quieter, less busy area, towards Trunyan.  Trunyan is a Bali Aga village that practices unique customs not found anywhere else in Bali.  We met up with a villager that offered to take us by canoe to a remote area only accessible by boat.   One of the Bali Aga customs is that they don’t bury their dead, but instead lay them in shallow pits in the ground, and cover them with cloth and bamboo cages (presumably to keep animals away from the decomposing bodies).  There is a special type tree (the only one in Bali) that supposedly removes the smell of the decomposing bodies.

The villager offered an exorbitant price (350,000rp = NZD$52) to take us in his canoe to this rare and very special cemetery.  We bargained him down to 200,000rp which I knew was definitely far too much – but I could see in Alan’s eyes that he was keen to go, and they guy didn’t want to go any lower.  So off we went.  We were promised that this was an all-inclusive price, including any entry fees, donations, etc.

First, we had to follow him another 5km around the lake or so to the village where the boat left from.  What a road!!  We went up and down some very steep and sharp bends.  At one point, the car seemed as thought it wouldn’t make it up the hill.  I had visions of having to get out and walk up the hill, carrying the carton of water bottles that that we had in the car!

When we arrived at the village, our villager friend ditched us with his brother who spoke little English, but apparently it was no problem as I could speak Indonesian.  When I explained that Alan couldn’t speak Indonesian, he said no worries, that I could translate.  Already, we could see that we probably wouldn’t get value for money here! 

This ‘canoe’ had definitely seen better days, but at least we were never far from land, and it only took 15 minutes or so to get to the cemetery.   We got a friendly welcome from the ‘caretaker’ and a very quick guided tour.  It was quick because there really wasn’t much to see!  They pointed out the special tree; we saw a few of the bamboo-covered pits and a pile of skulls further up the hill.  And there was rubbish everywhere, including a few bones, etc scattered around.  Some of the rubbish (water bottles, jandals, and other plastic bits and pieces) is supposed to be the offerings given to the dead.  They have a maximum of 11 people left lying there; when the 12th body shows up, the push the bones of the longest- lying body to the side, and take his skull up the hill to make way for the new body.

As we were leaving, the caretaker hit us up for money for cigarettes and as ‘offerings’ to the dead.  I politely explained that we had paid an ‘all-inclusive’ price (and heavily inflated, at that!).  He argued that the money we paid was for a donation, which is different to the offerings to the dead.  As we got out of the boat at the end, the two guys that rowed us out then strongly suggested that we give them a decent for cigarettes.  So the battle of everyone wanting a slice of our money continues!

I’m really not sure what we expected, and whilst it was interesting, there really wasn’t much to see and certainly wasn’t worth the money we paid.  Oh well – it was an experience all the same, and we are both now fairly weary of paying for ‘tours’ without having a better understanding of what it is we are going to get!

More temples, more donations, and lots of walking!

We spent the next day visiting some of the standard temples – Ubud Sacred Monkey Forest, Goa Gajah and Yeh Pulu.  We started quite early in the morning which meant we avoided the tour bus groups – and it was just a bit cooler!
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