Day 55: Ubud, Beach Bumming & the Memorial
Trip Start May 20, 2008
77Trip End Aug 19, 2008
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I waded out into the water for a bit but strong rip currents swiftly sent me back into sunbathing mode. And oh, what glorious sunbathing it was. I laid out for the perfect amount of time, getting a good tan and quiting probably only a minute before it went from good tan to bad sunburn. I wandered back to the hotel to fetch my handy guidebook, and used my phone's last bit of battery power to check an incoming text message. It was from Ary! Who knew. "Charlie, the King is being cremated in Ubud (the cultural capital of Bali) either TODAY or tomorrow! Get out there now!" Thrusters engaged. I hired a motorcycle taxi for a borderline fair price and off to Ubud it was. Usually postcards of places look better than real life and instill overly optimistic expectations in you, but the Balinese countryside is one of those rare exceptions that looks exactly like you'd expect it too, if not better. Rolling emerald hills covered in palm trees and rice patties, medieval Islander-style Hindu temples around every corner, a cloud shrouded volcano on the horizon... paradise in every sense of the word. It was enough to numb the pain of me having just missed the cremation ceremony. Can't win them all I guess. I wandered around Ubud for a bit, but there wasn't much else to do here besides watch a Balinese traditional dance (not taking place at the moment) and soak in the atmosphere, so I hitched a ride on another motorcycle taxi back to Kuta.
About ten minutes into the ride, the question came: "So, you know the way to Kuta?" "Umm... no. You don't?" "Ahh no haha." He diverted us fifteen minutes into the boondocks to transfer me to his motorcycle taxi buddy who did in fact know the way to Kuta, though it unnerved me a bit. What if he was diverting me to my doom? Or driving me out of range of other taxis, so his friend could charge me a rip-off price and I'd have no choice but to pay it? All was well in the end, I got to Kuta swiftly and at the agreed upon price. Along the way we passed a volleyball scarecrow with a red smile sloppily painted across it. As it turns out, after being split from Tom Hanks by bad weather, Wilson washed up on the shores of Bali and was put to work guarding rice patties from crows. He seemed happy enough, but I'm sure misses Tom. These taxis (the local public transit doesn't appear to exist) were eating my wallet alive by this point, so I was forced to consider alternative modes of transport. More on that in the next entry.
Kuta nightlife is a boozing wasteland and not much fun when you're traveling solo, so I didn't take much part in it. While people watching after dark however, I stumbled across a square with a large, glowing marble monument with engravings of fearsome Hindu gods and a plaque of names. I figured there was some local civic project that many donated to, and this was the monument giving thanks to them. I approached to snap a picture... the text on the plaque became clearer. The names were international and divided by country, half of them Indonesian, a quarter Australian, and a quarter other random countries. Interesting... I snapped a couple artsy closeups of the Hindu god engravings. Then I re-read the header: "(Indonesian Gibberish) , 12 Okt 2002" Of course. Kuta was bombed by Al Qaeda three times in the same day on Oct 12th '02 and the monument was a memorial to their victims. It hit me much harder than I expected, I remembered reading about the incident in the headlines way back when but now that I was here... Even if Bali is technically part of the same country that has an in some cases dire home-grown Islamocrazy problem, this is the last place in the world (that I've been to) that you'd think would be a target for such things. It's a blissful, happy go lucky, innocent, slightly impoverished island paradise that never did and never would hurt a fly. The locals are magically, sincerely friendly, all they desire is fun and a healthy crop of rice... the thought that 200+ of them were killed in such a manner is just... ugh. It's maddening. Also maddening was the pack of oblivious East Asian tourists who were snapping smiling pictures in front of it, mistaking it for an eye candy landmark same as I initially did.