1 hour in a broken down van with a bunch of tourists would make anyone thirsty.
Unfortunately, our arrival in Ubud was heralded not by the Bintang angels singing on my tongue, but by us hoisting our packs (high fiving for good measure), navigating the severely under-maintained roads, and arriving at the delightful little collection of traditional Balinese homes which made up Yuliati House (nestled back from the road about 50m), where we were served a nice hot ‘welcome coffee’ before I could run back out to find a mini mart for water (and ice cold nectar of the gods).
I probably should have bought these ‘supplies’ from the ‘Coco Supermarket’ where the shuttle dropped us off, but the onslaught of touts offering us discounted accommodation (“where are you staying!?”), encouraged our speedy departure from the parking lot.
Instead, I found a little hole in the wall ‘family’ mart (Support the local businesses, because I’m pretty sure they live in the 3 sq metres behind the counter), collected the goods, and went back to tell Julie about my little adventure which included noticing a few street food vendors that looked like they might be able to indulge us for our Chinese New Year dinner.
We were supposed to go out for something fancy compliments of Julie’s mom, but all the restaurants seemed to be not really that interesting.
Instead, Julie and I explored the route to the town’s main attraction (the inhabitants of which actually spill out of the forest and into the surrounding neighbourhood),
hit up the supermarket,
and grabed some scrumptious fried tofu with sticky rice (5,000 IDR from a street stall) as a snack.
For dinner, we actually opted for vegetarian takeout from a shady little warung close to our humble abode, eating it on our stunningly beautiful terrace
overlooking a garden full of blossoming flowers, palms, banana, rambutan, and avocado trees
that only got more exquisite as the sun set and the stars came out.
After an uncomfortable sleep crammed together on one of the two twin beds in our second floor private room (they couldn’t afford us a queen room due to availability or something…)
we awoke to what would become the ‘gold breakfast standard’ if you will, in the form of a seemingly simple banana pancake with coffee.
to be served a slightly salty yet sweet almost crepe-like pancake drizzled all over with condensed milk (sorry Monsieur Syrup, you have a rival pancake topper) and fresh bananas from one of the backyard trees cooked perfectly in, a side of one of my favourite spoon-stands-up-in-it coffee (grounds in, colloquially referred to by the weaker ‘coffee drinkers’ as sludge), and a plate of fresh fruit each, made for the perfect start to the day.
Just when we thought our first full day couldn’t get any better, we arrived at the most awesome of natural attractions: the Ubud Monkey Forest!
We had the foresight to grab a couple bunches of bananas for what we expected to be a full day of feeding the sacred critters, but no sooner had we purchased our entrance tickets (20,000 IDR each) and set foot down one of the entrance paths to the forest, then we were literally swarmed by a pack of hungry (greedy? smart?) macaques and in the blink of an eye, our banana supplies were completely diminished.
and us being faced with the option of conveniently buying bananas from the ticket booth (at a significant premium to supermarket prices: 50K vs 10K) decided to do the rounds quickly and then walk back to the supermarket for more (only 10 minutes away on foot).
We spent the rest of the day in this magnificent natural reserve getting to know as many of the ~340 resident crab-eating macaques as possible, including the day and week old additions to the giant family (there were many new mothers and even more little alien/human looking babies suckling at their now freakishly elongated teats),
then went on our merry way in search of human food, but I should mention not before one little ba$tard monkey decided that he didn’t like my slightly underripe offering and chomped on my arm instead, cuing immediate fears of rabies infection.
I’m glad I brought antiseptic wipes…
Update: Here’s a youtube of our monkey adventures!
We stumbled across a bored noodle soup vendor at the side of the road, and decided to grace him with our patronage,
After this, we finally found the post office (during opening hours no less!) and loaded up on stamps so we could send some postcards for the first time since vacating snowy Canada, and I tried my hand at withdrawing money from a foreign ATM for the first time (no luck on the first 4 I tried, but after a call to TD back home using the magicjack app on my iPhone 3G connection, the 5th one decided I was worth it and spat out the desired bills).
Now flush with ‘50,000 dollar’ bills, we decided to rent a scooter and try our hand at navigating the wild wild east roads of Indonesia.
Hiring the scooter itself turned out to be easy enough, as all we had to do was ask one of the staff at our guesthouse to hook it up and voila: a cherry red moped arrived (complete with two helmets) for us to ride off into the sunset for the paltry sum of 50,000 IDR per day.
Well, sunrise actually, as we’d planned our trip to Kintamani to start in the morning since we didn’t really know how far it was or how long it would take to get there or what there was to see along the way.
But first things first: we need gas!
We’d seen one or two gas stations around town (apparently Pertamina has a near-monopoly on fuel retail), each with a huge line of scooters waiting at the pumps, but were quickly alerted to what would prove the more efficient and friendly-to-local-businesses way of gassing up.
It didn’t matter if the establishment was a mini mart, warung, gift shop, or other business, we found all of the above and more offering a rack of old liquor and/or soda bottles filled with petrol at the roadside every couple blocks.
They sold a litre at a nickel above station prices (Lima Ribu [5,000]IDR/L as opposed to 4,500 IDR/L), and even though the fuel was of questionable origin and constitution (there are obviously concerns that some of the more short sighted and illustrious folk might think that a bit of water in the gas won’t hurt their pocketbook even though it was sure to wreak havoc on a hired scootscoot engine) it was much more fun getting to know these retailers every litre or so as we made our way around central Bali (although I probably wouldn’t if I owned the bike:p).
We’d been solicited to book a tour to Kintamani and the surrounds a number of times, and we’d seen tons of tours offered from both Ubud and Kuta (and even been recommended to check it out by a few locals!), so we knew we wanted to make our way there, but we were glad to have a bit of freedom to explore on our own, even if it meant risking getting pulled over by the Balinese pork chop patrol and being subjected to standard tourist extortion which we’d heard about but not yet witnessed first hand.
Apparently they set up road blocks along all the major tourist routes and stop all tourists so they can issue a fine (bribe) for not wearing a helmet (the locals don’t wear them, nor do they get stopped for such hazardous behaviour), not having a proper permit (plain bs), or pretty much anything else the guy with the gun can dream up that will put 50,000-350,000 IDR in their pocket.
Julie clinging to my waist for dear life on the rear of the scooter was a dead giveaway that we weren’t from around those parts, as the locals find a way to fit entire families on a sub-100cc moped, and even when there are only two to a bike, they somehow make it look graceful with the lady in the back riding side-saddle or at the very least keeping her hands to herself for a little hair adjusting or other equally unsafe-when-travelling-60km/hr-on-a-bike-on-a-Balinese-road primping activities.
We were lucky enough however, and managed to make it all the way to the famed rice terraces north of Ubud before we were forced to open our wallets.
Even here, it wasn’t until after we’d finished soaking up the absolute beauty of the paddy laden valley (of which we even took a couple pics)
and attempted to get back on our scooter and drive it away from the dirt shoulder whence we’d ‘parked’ that we were approached by a very nice man with a badge demanding payment for entering the ‘tourist area’ of the rice terraces.
I wasn’t really sure what to do, and the language barrier didn’t help much, so I spent 5 minutes arguing with him telling him we weren’t going to pay because we didn’t see a sign (and I wasn’t sure it wasn’t a scam).
He stood directly in front of the scooter and wouldn’t let us leave until eventually he realized he wasn’t going to be able to exact full payment from the stubborn foreigner and decided to give us a ‘2 for 1’ type of deal where he would give us two tickets for the price of one.
The fact that the official-looking tickets were only 5,000 IDR to begin with (~0.50$CAD) to begin with, coupled with his also-official-looking badge and demeanor led me to the conclusion that I should take the discount and stop contributing to the ‘rude foreigner’ stereotype.
10 minutes after we’d made our hasty escape, I noticed a traffic jam up ahead, and instead of stopping to see what the kerfuffle was all about, navigated the flimsy moped onto the dirt shoulder for the first time, and, narrowly avoiding a nosedive into the Balinese gravel, proceeded to unwittingly dodge and evade a police roadblock.
As Julie clutched me tighter, her squeaks of warning being drowned out by the babi-guling-breathed yells of ‘STOP!’, I hastily calculated how much it would cost us to acknowledge said commands.
I concluded that since we were already past the tossup, and that turning around would surely mean coughing up a months worth of beer money for not only an ‘improper permit’ bribe fine but now also a ‘dangerous driving’ and ‘evading the po’ fine, it would be more cost effective to leave those sucka’s in my dust…
Did I mention I’m an adult?
I guess the cops had already met their bribe fine quota for the day, so we were lucky to escape in this manner (don’t try this at home kiddies, or you’re likely to end up on everyone’s favourite tv show [even if you’ve somehow forgotten the name, I bet the theme song definitely stuck;)]), but we were surprised to find that an enterprising local who’d witnessed our daring fight from ‘justice’ sped after us to ‘warn’ us of similar roadblocks further on up our chosen road.
While he was at it, he recommended us an alternate route, and matter of factly asked if we’d eaten lunch yet and since we hadn’t was ‘kind’ enough to let us know of a place on said alternate route and that ‘oh by the way I’m going there right now so why don’t you just follow me’…
We turned around to follow him, but something didn’t add up, so instead of going any further, stopped at a previously noticed fruit stand to pick up some manggis, bananas, and other goodies, and to talk things over.
We came to the conclusion that we represented (at the very least) a free lunch to our helpful friend (hopefully nothing more sinister), but since we didn’t want to get taken for suckers, asked the fruit stand matron (her official title) about the existence of more roadblocks up the direction we were headed, only to find that our ‘helpful friend’ was well known for ‘assisting’ foreigners in finding his friends’ restaurant, and that there were not likely to be any more roadblocks up the road.
Our bags now overflowing with fresh fruit, we made our way north to Kintamani without further ado.
Once we made it to the intersection with the ring road around the lip of the crater that made up said destination, we were stopped by an official-looking chap and asked to remit payment yet again in order for us to enter this next tourist area.
The ‘price of admission’ was 25K IDR each, but now that we were aware of this type of state-sanctioned extortion of tourists (the locals don’t have to pay a cent to visit this or other tourist areas… Which is a good thing I guess, but still made us feel like suckers, since we arrived atypically of our own accord on the scooter rather than with one of the millions of big tour busses that arrived every minute to unload a teeming mess of camera toting jollies so they could snap off a few poorly balanced shots before crowding into one of the many ‘authentic’ Balinese restaurants gracing the lip of the crater to enjoy the view again while gorging themselves on the ‘included lunch’ that came with the 40-60$ price of their tour and which would otherwise have cost mere pennies from a real local resto…*takes breath*), we decided to do our part and pay it to get our souvenir ticket and avoid further propagating the rude foreigner image.
We drove around the main road for a bit, but weren’t satisfied we’d come all this way just for that, and decided to take the poorly kempt road down into the basin.
We became immediately aware that Kintamani was meant to be viewed from afar by tourists, since the ramshackle villages down in the basin were ill equipped to deal with the aforementioned gentry.
Chickens ran amok through grimy backyards, small fishing boats dotted the lake as naked old women bathed near the shore, and although most of the roads were very rough, the rugged beauty of the more or less unadulterated scenery made us feel like we had stumbled upon a rare gem of central Bali to which the majority of less adventurous travellers would perhaps never bear witness.
We took a few minutes to bask in the surroundings before hopping back on the scooter to head back out the way we’d come.
And that’s when I noticed the rear tire on our ride was completely flat…
Imagine being as far from ‘civilization’ as possible, in a foreign country, with no idea how to hold a proper conversation in the local tongue, no CAA roadside assistance, and your wheels (no matter how many you’re riding) decide to fail you.
As panic welled up inside me, I remembered that I’d seen one of the aforementioned side-of-the-road petrol stations (rack of old liquor bottles) about a km back the way we’d come, and decided to try slowly riding back to see if they could help us.
This proved mostly impossible, but with a combination of pushing and walking, managed to get the bike back to the little shop, only to find that they had a full-scale (but still hole in the wall) bike shop complete with 2 mechanics working on other bikes.
And it got even better when I was able to communicate our needs (I really just pointed at the tire, and tried to say something simple that was mostly English but made use of two or three appropriate Indonesian words and this got the job done), resulting in the main fellow grabbing the air hose and graciously filling the tire with sweet sweet air.
A quick inspection yielded no major punctures, and we couldn’t hear any hissing, so after tipping the guy 5K IDR (he didn’t charge me for the help, even though I was obviously a tourist with no real alternatives), we thanked them profusely and headed back towards civilization.
… Only to realize a km or so later that the tire was completely flat again, and the innertube had come right out from inside the tire…
Knowing that the shop was close by was very relieving, but it was obvious that some more free air wasn’t going to remedy the situation, and I got apprehensive about the soon-to-be-incurred repair costs.
As we pushed the bike back (again)
we passed another bike shop (who knew there’d be so many options this far into the boonies!) and the owner came out to proposition us for business, kindly offering to repair the tire for 300K IDR (30$!?!), at which point I thanked him for his ‘generosity’ and immediately left (this was the type of person I’d been worried about; one who would take full advantage of the opportunity to lighten the pocketbook of a rich tourist in need).
Our good friends who’d supplied us with air were chuckling as we sheepishly returned, but were more than happy to assist, and after settling on the comparatively paltry sum of 70K IDR (7$) for materials and labour, he immediately got the bike up into his shop, stripped the old innertube, installed a new one, re-set the tire, filled it with air, and had it back on the street in under 5 minutes.
Which was still enough time for a small crowd to gather to see the tall white guy up close, and his petite Asian sidekick snapping off pics of the whole affair.
5 minutes later (2 km?), we noticed someone on another bike following us closely and as he came alongside it looked like one of the mechanics at the shop we’d just left.
And that’s when I realized I hadn’t remitted payment for services rendered!
I’d transferred the bills from my wallet to my pocket to be ready to hand over, but in my sheepish haste and in the excitement of the moment, had neglected to actually complete the transaction.
I felt sooooo bad, and although I could have paid the guy who’d come after us to collect, I insisted on turning around and speeding back to the shop to apologetically transfer the funds to the now outright laughing owner along with a multitude of fervent bows and more sheepish professions of gratitude (in front of the still-gathered crowd).
Having had enough excitement for one day, we racked our brains for anything else we’d forgotten, and finding nothing, headed for something to eat.
This constituted a fried fish lunch from a dirty little roadside shack that commanded a stunning view of the crater and mountains from halfway up.
Our tummies full, we felt like our day was looking up, and proceeded to navigate towards home.
Only to get caught in a flash flood 30 minutes later on our way down one of the biggest hills in Bali…
We’d had the foresight to pack our rain jackets, but the roads turned into rivers merely 5 minutes after the deluge began, and in less than no time everything not covered by goretex was soaked through and through.
The visibility having been reduced to 5 metres, I soon lost my bearings and pulled over to check good old google maps on my 5 month old iPhone that I purchased unlocked so I could use it in just this manner (3G data in Bali was incredibly cheap, as in 1GB prepaid plus 100 minutes of talk time for 60K IDR, and I got service everywhere).
After determining our location and desired direction (keep going the way I’d already chosen), I put the phone in the pocket of my raincoat and we got back underway.
The storm didn’t show any signs of subsiding, but since we wanted to get home, we just kept riding.
Another 30 minutes or so later I lost my bearings again and reached for my phone.
…To find that my pocket was completely full of water, and my that poor iPhone had been taking a rainwater bath for the past 20 minutes.
Needless to say, shaking the water out in the rain didn’t help, and it didn’t feel like booting up after the abuse it had suffered at my fingertips.
I decided that we were still going the right direction, and after finding what looked like a mini mart went in to buy a bag of rice with the hope of salvaging the device.
For some reason, they had all sorts of stuff in the store, but no rice!!!
The next place I stopped had rice, and lots of it, but it appeared to be a wholesaler with a small retail front, and speculating that it would be cheaper to buy some here, proceeded to try and do so.
I pointed to one of the big buckets of rice that looked the cheapest, and asked for a kilo, only to find that the lady didn’t understand me and had to call over a co-worker (or possibly just another customer) to help figure out what I wanted.
After the desired amount was finally bagged up, I was shocked to find the price of the white stuff was astronomically higher than I expected and I was able to garner that it was some special rice from the nearby terraces.
At this point I was so miffed about all the things that had gone awry that I just paid for it and took off, immediately transferring the 700$ CAD now-paperweight to the newly acquired bag-o-rice and headed home for real this time.
The rain stopped completely only a few kms further, and by the time we made it back to Ubud, we were mostly dry.
Just as we were turning down the street to our guesthouse, Julie pointed out a cart full of durians being pulled by a guy on a motorbike (I’ve never had durian, and only ever seen it frozen at the Asian supermarkets back home), so this seemed like a perfect opportunity for me to try it, and the fact that Julie had been craving it immensely and talking about it for a week or two already made my decision to stop easy.
After haggling the price down to 50K IDR (~5$ CAD… not sure if we got suckered, but I know the stuff is pretty expensive) the proprietor spent a few moments selecting a nice ripe durian and then immediately went to town on it with a giant knife (no gloves! what a champ…) expertly coaxing the yellow flesh from out the purportedly stinky king of fruit.
Yes, it has a very strong odour, but tasting the creamy pods of a just-right durian made it easy for me to appreciate rather than extremely hate, and I’d recommend anyone to try it (again if the last time wasn’t a good experience or you didn’t have your mind open enough to begin with).
We stuffed our faces by the roadside, and when we’d had our fill, the guy quickly made a sling out of plastic twine and tied up the rest to go (so we could om-nom-nom the rest on our balcony with all the other fruits we’d purchased earlier).
Although we were pretty beat from the ride, after a quick break at home we somehow (I’m pretty sure it was a combination of eating both the king and queen of fruits that gave us the energy) forced ourselves back out shortly after to check out the highly touted sunset bird nesting ‘attraction’ in the village of Petulu just north of Ubud (literally 10 minutes on the scooter).
Apparently the trees in this village are special or something, and thousands of white herons fly from many kilometres around to roost each and every night, and to $hit all over the streets and unlucky camera-toting tourists below (the locals aren’t immune either, as the herons are not in the habit of discriminating), and we definitely wanted to see this beautiful scene.
Unfortunately, we came too late (5:30-6ish), and all the birds were already at rest when we arrived (apparently you have to go earlier while the sun is still high to see the birds actually flying in… 4pm maybe?), so we went exploring a bit more, finding an empty pond
and a promising night market at which to grab dinner (takeout and fresh watermelon and pineapple juice to enjoy on our balcony ) and (creepily) a few more pics of smiling kids (you’re welcome mom;)).
We spent the following day at monkey forest again,
then booked a shuttle ticket to Padang Bai for the next leg of our journey commencing on the 15th, and scootered around some more (we’d booked the scooter again for another couple days) looking for a new external hard drive to back up our (already unmanageable number of) pictures on and generally just exploring, noticing the crazy number of wood shops
before trying (in vain) to get to Petulu again in time for birds flying into trees, and again exploring instead, this time finding the now full little pond we’d seen the night before teeming with activity of the ‘I-have-no-idea-what-they-are-all-doing’ variety)
grabbing a roadside snack
Valentines day was not a conventional roses-and-chocolate-for-the-better-half type of day, and instead we took the moped out again to finally purchase the new HDD we’d settled on and to explore Gianyar (in search of some elephant gardens or something… which we never found) discover (one of) our future mansions
after which we even made it down to the coast for a beautiful view eastwards from the coast.
We checked out of Yuliati House the following morning, awkwardly left a 20K IDR tip for each of the 3 staff who I felt took good care of us during our stay (probably shouldn’t have, but our old tip-habits were dying hard, and felt that it would be well received… It was definitely awkward though, and we decided to re-evaluate our behavior to better suit the prevailing habits of the culture we were intruding upon), and were picked up on our doorstep for the shuttle to Padang Bai!
PS: If you’ve read this far, thank you for your patience:D
PPS: Yes, we are now over 2 months behind with our bloggggggggggging, but I recently read another blog about something called ‘slow-blogging’, and I’m going to go ahead and call this that…:D