Thursday, January 24, 2008


Driving into Ubud, neither Emma, I, nor the taxi driver knew where our street was. So he dropped us off and we walked around somewhat aimlessly, sweaty and laden with stuff. No street signs, no map, no clues. One small alley had a few signs pointing to homestays, and after walking past one, an older lady cried after us, "Please. Please, looking for stay? Come. Look." Emma stayed in the street as the lady led me to the back of her family compound to a small building with two rooms. She showed me inside; I saw a clean queensize bed and a small bathroom and a ceiling fan and figured, Good Enough. She said 50,000 rp per night, breakfast included. Quick calculation: $5. Gave Emma the headnod.

We stayed there three nights. We'd later realize the room smelled like anti-flea dog shampoo, the sink drained onto the floor and into the nearby shower drain, the toilet did not flush but instead there was a small hose hanging from the wall, the bed boards were too short for the bedframe, and a rooster lived outside our window. This rooster in particular began the neighborhood's roosters in a collective chant at 3am. The place afforded us a few chuckles. The owners were extremely kind and we only used the room as a sanctuary from the humidity.

Before Ubud, we had been in Sanur, a small coastal town east of the largest city in Bali, Denpasar. Coming from the airport, we had arrived in the midst of a huge rain and lightning storm. Walking around, the amount of trinkets and trash and pleading and pawning was a bit overwhelming. It was embarrassing how much the guesthouse staff waited on us - tea and coffee whenever, great eggs, toast, and fruit in the morning at our asking. We took a walk along the beach and saw people hoping to sell a dusty bottle of Coke for 50 cents or whatever, and a few hundred meters later saw chubby white shirtless tourists getting a massage at their hotel's beachside pool.

The next day we rented bikes ($2 total) and explored a bit. Emma sacked up and bit her lip for the 1km stretch we rode on the side of the highway (there were no connecting sideroads, I swear!). We rode a few kilometers out to the end of a spit, and found a beach with a dozen shacks that rented surfboards. We bought a couple beers and cokes and took a board out for an hour, not caring that it had been cracked down the middle and reglued. The water was a great color and it was fun to play in the waves.

Living in general, we've begun settling into a more relaxed paranoia, although I confess Emma's still a bit of a hypochondriac. ("I'm not a hypochondriac, I just have many valid concerns!") To ward off traveller's diarrhea, we have been (almost without fail) avoiding ice cubes, ice cream, and tap water. (We don't even brush our teeth with tap water.) And we've begun our malaria treatment. (We've only seen a few mosquitos so far.) So far so good.

My favorite part of Bali: by chance, we came just as one of their biggest biannual festivals began. The day after we arrived to Ubud, families were huddled on the sides of the streets constructing large bamboo poles that began very straight, rising 25 feet or so, then curving and hanging down delicately over the street. They carefully adorned them with ornamental grasses and fresh flowers and other decorations. Walking down our little alley we would pass under a dozen of these, and they looked really great in the morning and at dusk.

It was cool to see the Hindu influence in general. Each day many would construct small offerings of flowers and rice in a handmade leaf container and place them on the designated part of the nearby statue; each home and business seemed to have one, as well as the family, neighborhood, and town temples, of course. I liked seeing the thatched roofs in the temples as well as the little golden umbrellas poised over some of the statues.

On the day of the festival, everyone dressed in their celebration attire, and most women would get a ride to the temple on a moped while they held a basket filled with offerings. We also saw some women walking to the nearest temple balancing huge arrangements of fruit on their head.

I decided I really wanted to rent a moped. Because of the celebrations, most of the guys offering this were off praying, but one guy had a friend of a friend willing to rent me one, so I paid him $10 for two days. Straight Dumb-And-Dumber-style, Emma and I drove up to the top of the volcano and saw the lake in the crater. A few worries about oncoming rain and low gas brought us back down the hill after an hour or so exploring the towns at the summit, and we got a bit lost on the way back, but returned in one piece no problem.

One time when we were eating dinner, Jimmy Buffett had come on and I felt like an American abroad. But motoring up the only mountain in Bali, passing little villages with their stone temples, looking out over terraced rice fields, crossing bridges over jungle ravines, and having the sky and the puffy clouds -- still an American abroad but somehow better. Bali was great.


Maggie Fick said...

Yooowa Emma and Chris,
I finally discovered your blog and am so happy to hear about your adventures!

It sounds like you are having amazing time, and I am jealous of the mopedding and biking.

Your 5 dollar motel sounds like a good deal, i was just in mali on vacay and my friend and i had to pay 6 bucks a piece to sleep on a roof and use an outdoor toilet, but hey, there were pretty stars.

I'm not sure if you have posted somewhere your travel itinerary, but i just wanted to say again that you should come to west africa before june! i have heard that there are cheap flights from dubai to cities like accra and bamako.

my tentative plan is to leave niger in early june, go to bamako and meet a friend and then go with him to guinea for a few wks. then i want to fly to dubai and on to thailand to meet up with nora and becky.

sorry this is an annoying blog comment, but i figured this was a good way to get in touch with ya. enjoy bali and hope to be in touch soon!
xoxoxo mags

Polly said...

Eleanor says: "outstanding"! I'm traveling with you in my dreams!