Nov 30, 2009

We're back

There is so much to share with you about our experience, the problem is we saw so much and observed so many different things, how do you organize it all so that people want to read it? I think Ill write about the island of Bali and let Lombok, the Gillis and Taipei go in their own blogs.
We went to Bali first. After we arrived and retrieved our bags, we waited in line for 45 minutes for our visas and to go through immigration. The air was stifling hot and more humid than any florida day. We exchanged money, got a yucky rate of 4 to 10,000 for our won and then found Gustie waiting at the gate with our names on a sign.
Gustie took us for an hour long ride up North to our hotel. On the way he sold us on hiring him for $50.00 to be our driver the next day. Our of the windows of our van you could see hundreds of motorbikes on the roads, many piled with a whole family on the back...children sandwiched between mon and dad, infants inside of sarongs held around moms neck and most without helmets. Also, they drove on the left side of the road, which for some reason is so hard for me to figure out, especially when you turn.
The landscape of Bali, being 3 degrees below the equator is lush with greenery and beautiful flowers everywhere. Each block of road had its own unique craft, one block would be loaded with stone statues of gods, the next with bamboo furniture that looked pier one quality for 300th the price., other stalls had beautiful paintings, silver jewelry or textiles. Dogs roamed the streets, temples and gigantic homes lined the streets and almost everyone was barefoot. There was also no such thing as a garbage truck or dump, everything is burned in these dug out cement holes lining the street. There was quite a bit of smoke from the fires and exhaust from all the motorbikes.
The huge homes are not what you may thing, most people are not wealthy by any means. the homes are just large structures meant for on average 4 generations of one family. Each home has its own temple for prayer and every female in the home has their own kitchen to cook so there is no hostility and the furniture is very sparce. Bali is the only island in Indonesia to be predominantly Hindu. There is a very big difference between the Hindu of Bali and the Muslim of Lombok.

Although Bali relies almost entirely on tourism as their main source of income, their traditions coexist within the tourism. It is not just put on as a tourist attraction. Everyone wears sarongs and sashes when entering a temple, even the men. Offerings are placed a few times daily in different spots around buildings, hotels and even where we rode the elephants.. The offerings are given to "acknowledge the life sustaining forces and prevent disasters such as earthquakes and epidemics." The wimen hold their babies and do not let them touch the ground until they are 105 days old. Bare shoulders are allowed as you can we with the traditional dancers. They use very stiff movements and dramatic eye gestures to enhance their dance.

The tourism industry is Balis source of national income. We came during slow season but June-August is when the island lights up with tourists. The locals are constantly in your face trying to sell you souviners, water, sarongs, transport, jewelry or history lessons. This was the part that Adam and I really didnt like. They were relentless, on every corner...and even more than that. If you told them no thank you, they'd ask three more times and then ask you where you are from to try and get you into conversation to try again to sell you something. They would follow you and stand over you making it very hard to enjoy the country. Everyone is always ripped off with the barganing because it never seems to work out in our favor. I dont understand why everyone cant just price their items fair, we would pay a fair price and be done. The average montly income for the Balinese is $90. American.

Food is inexpensive, Adam and I would eat at a fancy restaurant, 3 courses and a drink for around $20.00 inexpensive meals were around 1.80 a piece. The kids go to school 6 days a week from 7:30 to noon and are seen in teh streets playing or joining their parents at their stalls after school. Our hotel, The Bhaswari Resort was in the middle of the rice fields, about 15 minutes from Ubud. We were the only guests the first night so for $60.00 we had the room overlooking the pool. The room was decked out in flowers and beautiful homemade furniture. The staff was incredibly helpful and wanted nothing more than to make us happy. We had massages for $15.00 and were taxied into town for dinner. The staff was concerned we wanted to be in the city and offered to take us constantly, but we explained we like the natural peaceful beauty of their hotel.

Alright... the places we saw.

First, We went to see the Barong and Keris Dance. This is the historical Balinese Dance is about a lion-like creature, danced by two men, that roams the streets during Galungan to protect households from evil. During temple festivals it battles against Rangda, the queen of witches.

Then, we went to the Silver Factory which was set up like a sweat shop. We were toured around the place and the people working were hunched over in their stall, most without shoes or shirts...no gloves or protective eye wear...soddering and creating jewelry. Each artist is paid by each piece they finish.

In Petulu there are white herons flying abundantly among the fields. They are not caged in, but for some reason, the birds flock to this city in particular to live.

The Tegalalang Rice Terraces were beautiful. We were hounded by many to purchase goodies but we avoided them the best we could to get a glimpse of the fields from above.

Then, Gusite found us a coffee plantation on the side of the road. We stopped and saw many different types of vegetation and fruit trees...snake fruit, pineapple, leechie berries, mango trees, cinnamon trees and many others. Then we tried local coffee, bought some ginsing coffee (so good) and tried the Kopa Lewak coffee. It is made from the dung of an animal that eats coffee beans and cherries and such. The dung is then processed and made into a strong thick coffee that is really expensive. They only create about 500 lbs of it a year.

After that, we rode on to the Kintamani , Gunung Batur and had lunch overlooking it. The volcano is 5,600 ft tall and is 7 miles in diameter. The volcano had its last major eruption in 1994.

On the way back to the hotel, we went and saw Gunung Kawi which is a temple made out of beautiful rock formations. The formations date back to the 11th century and served as royal memorials for members of the Warmadewa dynasty. At the bottom of a billion stairs was a beautiful waterfall, river and more carvings.

The next day, we went to Goa Gajah, an elephant cave, built in the 11th century and was once the home of a buddhist priest. Outside of the cave is a 1000 year old statue of the demonic goddess hariti, who once devoured children but later converted to Buddhism and became their protector. Above the cave entrance is a demonic face with bulging eyeballs who frightens away evil.
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At Monkey Forest in Ubud we bought a bunch of bananas and walked inside. I took the bananas from Adam and a monkey came right up to me and tugged on my pants. I thought what a cute monkey, then it jumped on my back, i screamed and he stole all of our bananas.
Then, we observed hundreds of monkeys eating and running around the park. Another monkey stole my sunglasses right off of my head and as I tried to get them back a big momma of a monkey hissed at me. I screamed again and walked briskly away. Finally he dropped them and Adam went to retrieve them. I believe I now have a small fear of monkeys.

From there, we went Elephant Riding. Elsa was our elephant and she was super sweet and very talented.

The Para Ulun Danu Bratan Temple might have been the most beautiful temple we saw the whole time. It was way up in the north of Bali, located on the 2nd largest lake. It is here that the Balinese worship the Goddess of the lake, Dewi Danu. the temple was built in the 17th century. It was once only reachable by canoe, but because of environment and deforestization, you can now reach it by foot.

The last place we saw was the Mengwi Pura Taman Ayun Royal Temple. As we pulled up we happened to catch a ceremony taking place. Everyone was dressed in colorful robes and carried umbrellas and offerings to the gods. The battery was very low on our camera, so we didn't catch too much of it. But the Mengwi is surrounded completely by a moat. Within the temple, there are many pagodas which represent the masts of sailboats in the middle of a lake.

We went back to the hotel, went out to a fantastic dinner, slept and the woke early to head to the ferry terminal where we were hounded by people to sell us things and carry our bags for us. We were ripped off and paid 300,000 per person instead of 32,000....but that was another story.

Anyway, Bali was an incredible experience and a most beautiful island. Adam will write a blog on Lombok, the Gili Islands and Taipei soon!

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