Thursday, September 25, 2008

Beginning Bali

Diving being done, and thoughts of early home going having been dashed, we embarked with our hired driver/guide Dewa to see some of Bali and eventually end up at our hotel.

Leaving the airport at Denpasar, he first took us through the tourist district of Kuta. This was where the famous terrorist nightclub bombing took place back in 2002 (one year, one month, and one day after 9/11). We saw the memorial erected at the site, but didn't stop to spend time there. Our main reaction to Kuta was that we were really glad we had elected to stay elsewhere. Didn't really need the chain stores and nightclubs that could be in any tourist beach town in the world.

But we had expected this. Our friend Sharon had recommended not only that we hire Dewa, but that we spend our few days in something more like the real Bali, so we're in Ubud, about 45 minutes north of the tourists. The streets are narrower, the shops are smaller and have local flavor instead of designer labels. And it's really rather quiet.

On the drive up, we stopped at several places, including both stone and wood carving places and a small, local temple. Bali is known for both its carving crafts and its batik cloth, as well as its Hindu temples and dancing. The carvings are just amazing, even though we know they're produced in quantity for the tourist market. It is really high-quality stuff.

The temple was interesting. It's quite old, and constantly being renovated. But it has the sincere feel of a local church. Much less pretense than temples we visited in Fiji, for example.

We stopped for lunch at a local restaurant. Their pizza oven is in the stomach of a large carved stone turtle (wish I’d gotten a picture!). The dining room is on the top floor, open on all sides so you can see the surrounding country, which is largely rice fields. It was very calm and peaceful, and the food authentic and tasty (we skipped the pizza and had curry and fried noodles with veggies).

Then we stopped to check into our hotel, the Tunjung Mas Bungalows. It's a small place (6 bungalows, I believe), but quiet and lovely, easy walking distance to town. The name translates as "Golden Lotus Flower," and there are lots of lovely flowers on the grounds.

We then visited the Monkey Forest, where there are, unsurprisingly, about 300 macaque monkeys in residence. They're a hoot, running all about doing monkey business and delighting the tourists. Interestingly, there is a Hindu cemetery in the middle of the forest on a hill, and there was a community burial going on which we watched some of. I was not aware that in Bali, at least, they bury their dead for a while, then eventually exhume them for a mass cremation. The purpose is to save the expense of individual funerals.

After visiting Dewa's shop and his wife's, too, we crashed at the hotel for a bit before heading off to dinner at Bebek Bengil, which translates to the Dirty Duck Diner. It's a lovely setting, built on what used to be rice fields. It's extensive, but doesn't feel big or crowded, as the facilities are really well designed. There is flowing water and fountains throughout, and tables that feel private. The food was quite tasty, and we both tried cocktails made with arak, the local liquor. Rather a strong flavor, so we switched to Bintang, the local pilsner beer.

Whew! Long, busy day, and we have to get up in the morning to go river rafting and elephant riding before Jan's spa appointment and Balinese dancing at the old palace. Hey, short visit, no time to waste!

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