Part 2. Bali, Indonesia

Unlike Singapore that was never on my travel radar, Bali has long been just the opposite – the desired land.  In my imagination, Bali held the seductive appeal of a multi-faceted Paradise!..  The Bali of “Eat, Pray, Love”, a film I reluctantly watched on a sleepless cross-Atlantic flight and loved in spite of my own better judgement, was the lover’s dream, the place to enjoy every moment of one’s being.  The Bali of the original book, which I simply had to read, because “the book is always better” (and it was), made the place even more attractive – it was a place of beauty and peace, where one can find one’s true self.  WikiTravel proclaiming Bali to be “the famed Island of the Gods, with its varied landscape of hills and mountains, rugged coastlines and sandy beaches, lush rice terraces and barren volcanic hillsides all providing a picturesque backdrop to its colorful, deeply spiritual and unique culture, stakes a serious claim to be paradise on earth” only confirmed the fact that we needed to go there NOW.  Pretty much every single travelling friend and acquaintance I talked to have been to Bali and was singing praises to the island.  At some point it started sounding like everyone and their mother have been to Bali, absolutely loved the place, and were raving about it.

Turned out – they were still there…  Making a total mess of this long-lusted for Paradise…

What can I say?…  Either the stars collided and conspired to make the Murphy’s Law especially active at the particular time of the year of our visit, or the modern-day maxim of “Too many fucking disappointments are usually a sign of too many fucking expectations” was to blame, but I had a feeling of having been cheated.

To be fair, not everything we experienced on Bali was horrible, even though we came pretty close…  The flight towards the island was quite nice – on approach from the plane Bali looked green and inviting, the surrounding ocean blue and clean, and all this definitely kindled our hopes to the heights they were not supposed to be at.  The higher you rise, the harder you fall – this definitely applied to our expectations of the place.  Or maybe Bali IS supposed to be admired from afar.  Like the Pyramids of Giza, or Stonehenge, where visitors are not allowed inside.  You feel disappointed at first, but then quickly realize that hordes of enthusiastic and determined tourists flooding to any historic site by the thousand on a daily basis can easily even it to the ground in no time. Not you, of course, but all those other idiots!… This should bring if not gratefullness and serenity, but at least contentment with the state of events.

On approach to Bali

Getting a little bit ahead of myself here, I have a piece of earnest advice to any visitor to Bali – if you want to like the place, or at least find any resemblance to what you might have imagined about it, you have to make the effort to go as far from the airport as you possibly can.  Do NOT under any circumstance go anywhere near places like Seminyak or Kuta!  That is, if you are not into the cheesy, kitschy version of Asia with throngs of drunk, high and puking tourists crowding the streets, sex and drugs offered openly on every corner, and ear-splitting music blasting out of nightclubs that dominate the landscape and definitely outnumber the palm trees in the area.

Seriously inebriated and barely-clad visitors were stumbling from one bar to another, buying coke and speed from eager street dealers, all the while pushing prams with cases of booze stacked carefully under the screaming offspring trying to reach out to the beer cans strategically positioned in the cup holders.  The proud face of Western civilization – warts and all!…

Having dropped our bags at the hotel, we headed straight to the beach.  To our major disappointment (which suspiciously started setting in as a theme on Bali) it was crowded and VERY dirty.  Plastic bottles, candy wrappers and God knows what were being collected by tractors (!) into huge piles, which the wind readily scattered back all over the sand.  We were so disappointed with the mayhem we saw, that started seriously considering leaving the following morning, regardless of the fact that our hotel was already paid for 2 nights.  We resisted the urge, though, and decided to give Bali a chance (if only a short one, for the already planned 2 nights).  Beer, found in a colorful gypsy bar on the beach definitely helped with calming our tits…  We sat there, sipped our beverages, gasped at the phenomenally beautiful sunset, trying to relax and watch the world go by.

Gypsy bar at the crowded beach
Beautiful Bali sunset

In hindsight, staying put turned out to be the right decision and we glad we did not run away at the first signs of trouble.  We did see some nice parts of the island, and although our faith in Bali was not restored, its reputation was at least partially reinstated.

Some of the irrelevant highlights from the island included the “Wei Tu Fat” shop (I fucking kid you not!), the more mainstream “Holycow Steakhouse”, and the “Rizky Laundry” joint (sometimes you are better off not knowing…) all spotted out of the taxi window on the way from the airport (oh, how I wish we could have stopped at the “Wei Tu Fat”!!!!….).

Numerous statues all over the island were adorned with colorful cloth skirts (really neat!), and made the place look festive.

One of many statues adorned with a skirt

Another signature sign of Bali was what seemed like billions of roadside shacks selling petrol of suspicious colors not in plastic Sprite bottles (as in the rest of the non-sophisticated Asia!), but in fancy Absolute Vodka glass bottles.  This alone made us doubt whether we came to the right place, for which town/city/island/even fucking country in their right mind goes through THAT much vodka?…  Unless they are buying the empties in bulk from the Swedes, or the Russians…  But that’s way too far to travel for empty bottles, unless said Swedes or Russians make it easier for the locals by coming to Bali on vacation with suitcases full of booze, and still drinking their allotted dozen bottles a week each…  All this is purely a speculation – I honestly have no idea as to why Bali is flooded with empty Absolute bottles.  No matter how they get there, thumbs up for the entrepreneurial spirit of Indonesia, power of Absolute advertisement, or drinking capacity of the Russians/Swedes (or all of the above combined!).  “Making cheap petrol diluted with donkey piss look great again!” should become the new-age slogan for the masses.

Oh, and a guy on a little scooter with 4 (!!!!) huge dogs on it!!!!  This was absolutely epic!  He whizzed past us way too fast for any photo opportunity, but I still admire his sense of balance!

The definite highlight of our short stay on Bali was Ubud.  Home to the Monkey Forest and famous rice terraces, Ubud came as close to the paradise island of my imagination, as the hordes of tourists crowding every square inch of the place would allow…

Greeting visitors like a boss

The Monkey Forest’s major appeal was the tourists being the ultimate minority on premises, and outnumbered at least 10 to one by (yes, you guessed right!) – monkeys!  Monkeys were given free reign and run of the place, and they were everywhere – grooming each other on the benches, lazing on the tree branches, paths and railings in the sun, jumping all over the visitors, and stealing everything that was not nailed down.  Despite the big signs at the entrance, and warnings all over the Internet screaming about NOT bringing food or drinks, every 5th visitor to the place seemed to have sneaked in snacks for themselves or monkeys, and ended up paying for it.  The sneaky bastards raided every single bag and rucksack they suspected of containing food, jumping all over their owners with complete disregard to mental or emotional state of the latter, or their willingness to be subjected to the first-degree search of their belongings.  The few visitors, who started freaking out and protesting against such treatment, despite having goodies of interest in their bags, were quickly bitten, scratched, or otherwise insulted, disregarded and left alone with their rage. 

Seeing that en mass our human compatriots seemed to be losing in intelligence to our biological ancestors, filled our hearts with unspeakable joy.  All in all – 5 star recommendations, and our ultimate thumbs up to the Monkey Forest!  Just make sure not to bring any food or water with you, for things can get ugly pretty fast.  Just saying…

Monkeys everywhere!
With a trophy next to some ancient monkey-porn

Ubud also struck us with the sheer number of wood carving shops.  They were everywhere – every second place was a wood carving gallery/shop/whatever, and having walked through the town we can solemnly swear that Ubud has the highest concentration of wood-carving enterprises per square foot anywhere on this planet.  The carvings looked phenomenal, and I guess the supply must be caused or at least supported by the demand, so somebody must actually be buying them. Although for us it was hard to imagine why on Earth would anybody spend a couple hundreds of dollars buying a life-size sculpture of a tiger fighting a giant snake, and then a couple thousand dollars on shipping said sculpture to their place of residence!…  What can I say?….  The intellectual competition keeps being won by monkeys of the Forest at a disturbingly consistent rate…

And coffee!  We were really happy to discover that coffee was really big in Ubud.  Finding a place for a nice espresso or a cappuccino was a no-brainer (and the coffee was really, REALLY good!).  What you also could not help but notice, were the ads for Kopi Luwak all over the place.  The “special” coffee beans, eaten and excreted (yuk!) by an Asian palm civet (a shaggy-looking mix between a rat and a weasel), supposedly adds superfluous flavor to the brew due to it’s being processed through this weird animal’s organism, and is highly priced at 110,000 Indonesian Rupiahs (~$9) for a cup as opposed to 20,000 Rupiahs for a regular cup of espresso (~$2).  Now, why would anybody want to drink something brewed out of the stuff coming from the rat’s ass completely beats me!..  Moreover, if you google Kopi Luwak, pretty much every publicly available source tells you that it tastes disgusting and is completely overrated.  Yet, throngs of tourists can’t wait to try the stuff (mostly because back at home they would be charged ~$80 for a Kopi Luwak espresso, but still…).  As my home-country’s saying goes “Don’t look for logic where you did not put it”…  Another round for the monkeys, it seems…

The famous rice terraces of Ubud
The famous rice terraces of Ubud
The famous rice terraces of Ubud

The rice terraces were not just a tourist show – they were the actual rice patties on a slope of a hill, photographed to death by every visitor to Ubud.  Moreover, you can actually go in there, and walk around the patties, flooded with water, among tiny, stooped, toothless and leather-skinned rice farmers.  Up close and personal, a walk through the rice fields makes you realize how much tedious, raw physical labor is involved in bringing that rice to your table.  It also make you wonder how the most widely consumed staple food of the world is still planted, harvested and threshed by hand.  The sheer amount of manual work needed to produce the average of 700 million tons, consumed by the population of Planet Earth annually is simply unimaginable!…

Every twig is hand-planted and hand-harvested

It took us about an hour and a half to get to Ubud in the early morning hours, and almost 4 to get back to Seminyak crawling through the absolutely fucked up afternoon traffic.  Way too many people on the island!…  Time to rid it of at least two and move on. 

Next stop – Gili Trawangan!

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