Sunday, January 16, 2011

Bali: Kuta and Ubud in a nutshell

I’m pretty sure we were the only Aussies on the face of the earth who hadn’t visited Bali. Un-Australian, I know. But to be honest, we’d never had the desire. There was always another country or region more appealing. Then my hubby’s family suggested that 18 of us get together for Christmas on the Indonesian island. We agreed, and that’s how our 5-week tour of Indonesia and Malaysia began. We’re mighty glad we went to Bali. We had a top time. And now we can legitimately sing, “I’ve been to Bali, too”!
We stayed in Kuta, which bustled with action both day and night. Motor scooters, cars and taxis constantly cruised along the streets, girls in colourful sarong skirts and t-shirts sat at sidewalk stalls robotically handing out brochures for massages and manicures, and street salesmen offered tattoos and custom-made leather goods. There were more shops than anyone could ever need. From expensive boutique fashion and surf-brand originals to rows and rows of market-style booths selling similar dresses, sarongs, jewellery and fake surf shirts and board shorts boasting ‘Balibong’.  There were large, open-aired pub-style restaurants filled with Aussie men watching the cricket. And any kind of food could be found at the many eateries around town. Balinese men sat by the side of the road on their parked motor scooters crooning, “Transport darrrrling?” (roll your tongue on the r’s like Jerry Hall does in that song “Let’s stick together”) as you walked by, and women with bright red nails reached for your arm offering, “Pedicure, manicure or massage, darrrrrling?” Hundreds of tourists walked the streets in Bintang Pilsener singlets, and many women and girls sported heads full of dangling plaits weighed down with multi-coloured beads – arduously crafted by local women on the beach or in street salons in return for a few tourist dollars.  
Kuta provided a safe amount of difference. The comforts of home, but also a glimpse into another culture and different religions. Amongst the commercial hustle and bustle you could see women carrying large bags filled with who knows what on their heads, Hindu temples, shrines and floral offerings. And you could smell the occasional waft of rotting seafood, rancid mud or urine.
Women in Kuta

Hindu Temple in Kuta

A drive to Ubud gave us a nice dose of Bali’s overall ‘difference’ and an insight into its hill culture. We drove through village after village, each selling different handicrafts: wood and mask carvings, mosaics, stone sculptures, carved timber furniture. A homemaker’s and garden-lover’s paradise! Our driver told us that each village or region had its own traditional handicraft passed down through generations.  If I’d had a trillion bucks and a mighty big shipping container, I could have easily bought each village dry.  
We passed men riding bikes overloaded with plastic bowls, buckets, scouring brushes and other plastic implements, and feather dusters made from rooster and chicken feathers. Motor scooters held several people, with tiny children standing on the front between adult legs, or sleeping on the laps of passengers or drivers. There were women wearing batik sarong skirts carrying long bunches of grass or bowls full of produce on their heads, and dark-skinned, smiling school boys wearing navy blue shorts and crisp white shirts with blue batik patterns. Tiny trucks carried stacked cages of ginger-coloured chickens crammed in so tightly they couldn’t move.
Down narrow side-streets we caught glimpses of Balinese houses through the tiny gateways of their tall, stone fences.  A typical ‘house’ consisted of several free-standing buildings, some with open-aired verandas held up by pillars. The roof tiles, often dotted with bright-green, white or black moss, stepped their way upwards to an ornate, decorative peak at the top, or out to decorative tiles at each corner. Families sat on verandah floors relaxing, women squatted peeling vegetables, children ran around pillars playing, and chickens pecked at the dirt.
Ubud itself was set amongst jungle filled with palms, bamboo and banyan trees. It was laid-back, had a funky feel, and ticked at a much slower pace than Kuta. If ever we go back to Bali, I’m high-tailing it straight to Ubud. I loved it.
Whilst in that area, we visited the Monkey Forest. Holy crap, those monkeys had faces only a mother could kiss. They weren’t the prettiest primates going around. And I wish I could say they had great personalities to make up for their strikingly questionable looks. But they didn’t. From the moment we walked into the forest they glared at us, showed us their fangs, and sat stubbornly in front of us like furry little speed humps. It was clear that we were on their turf and they were the boss. Some were teeny. Others were really old. Some breast fed their young. Some lazed on stone fences. Others hung from horrified tourists trying to rip food from their bags. Not my favourite place to be, but the kids seemed to like it. The forest itself had gorgeous, twisting banyan trees, each with hundreds of roots falling from high branches towards the ground, and it housed a beautifully carved Hindu stone temple.
Can ya see what I'm sayin' here?!

The terraced rice paddies at Tegallellang were stunning. And here's a picture.  

We spent a sunny Christmas day with family at Zanzibar Restaurant, Seminyak, overlooking palm trees and the ocean. Ahhhhhh. Truly awful, this travel business. The food there was delicious. I can highly recommend the grilled swordfish...and the ‘Be Sexy’ cocktail... although the latter didn’t work on me. With my humidity-induced frizz-ball of a head, I looked more like a monkey forest resident than a ‘be sexy’ finalist.  
Christmas traffic back to Kuta can be slow, slow, slow. You get plenty of stationary time to check out what they’re selling in the road-side stalls. Note to you all. When you see a table full of different sized carved, wooden penises don’t say, “Check out the penises!!” too loudly with your window down, unless you want the stall owner to yell back, “I have big one. You want?” Err. Nah tanks.  But it’s kind of you to offer.
That's it in a nutshell. All crammed into one.There’s a couple more Bali adventures to come, though. But they deserve posts all to themselves. Besides. I’m really tired. And brain-dead. And thirsty. My Heineken waits...and since I got this post in tonight, I can rightfully sink it. So I’ll sign off for now.
The boys in the Monkey Forest

Balinese dancing

A Banyan tree

Travelling in style


On the way to Ubud

Hindu Temple at the Monkey Forest
Hindu shrine amongst Banyan roots
The boys near a temple next to the Bali Dynasty
Tips for those travelling with children and for general travellers:
-        Monkey Forest.
      Don't take food in. The monkeys will claw at you and tear at your bag until they get it. You are not supposed to take bottled water into the forest for the same reason. If you buy bananas from the women at the entry to feed the monkeys, you might not get far before you have to ditch them. The monkeys try to take them from you.

The tiles on the toilet floor and entry to the toilets at the forest are really slippery. Our three-year old came a cropper.

Women need covered shoulders to enter the Hindu temple, and I think they need to wear a sarong. Consider taking one. There’s a stand where you can donate money for the use of a sarong.

-        You can hire a taxi for the day. We hired an airconditioned 7-seater van & driver for the day for 350.000 IR. The driver took us around and waited at each stop for us.  

-        Set ground-rules with your driver. Drivers get commission from handicraft shops, or can accumulate points to trade for an item, if they take tourists there. Our drivers would have taken us to loads of different shops if we hadn’t told them to stop. You can’t blame them for trying to make a living. But if you want a full day of sight-seeing without having to pull you kids in and out of the car to see loads of unwanted handicraft stores, you might need to set some ground rules early.

-        Plan your own itinerary and stick to it. Do not let your driver dictate your route. If you hire a car and  driver for a day trip, be really clear about what you want to see and do. Don’t just rely on drivers to take you on a tour of the best spots. We spent too much time at obligatory shop stops.  

-       Beware of traffic light newspaper sellers!  The newspapers they try and sell you at traffic lights might contain Aussie publications, but they are really old! Poor pop spent about AUS$6 on news he’d read a couple of weeks ago.

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