Beautiful Bali!

Tuesday, June 1, 2004
Bali is one of those places you always hear about – a tropical paradise on the other side of the world. For me, the image it conjured up was exactly that, a tropical paradise. But the reality is that despite the fact that Bali is a tropical paradise, it exists in a country with more than its fair share of crime, corruption and poverty. Add to that the terrorist bombings of recent past and it becomes quite easy to forget sometimes that you are really in paradise, especially when you are in Kuta (where the bomb in the nightclub went off last year). There is a gigantic hole where the club used to be, plus the World Bank is sponsoring a renovation of the Kuta sewerage system, Indonesia style. The sewers are directly below all the sidewalks. They’ve got every sidewalk in the entire area torn up with giant holes everywhere. And, it appears that there are less than a dozen people working on the project. The work is so slow it practically looks abandoned!

One place in Bali that still does seem like paradise is the town called Ubud… where we spent five days! It’s tropical in all the ways you would think of – complete with monkey forests, temples, and palaces. One night we went to see the traditional Monkey Trance Dance, which was cool. And, you get to stay in traditional Bali family homes. These homes are big tropical gardens where the whole extended family lives. In the ones where the tourists get to stay, the families still live there but they add a couple of rooms for extra income! There are all sorts of intricacies about the traditional home as well; it is shaped like person - with a head, body and anus… that’s where they put all the trash and the compost heap. There is always a giant doorway complete
with grimacing statues to keep out the evil spirits. Also, the little paths leading around the family complex and to the rooms are extremely curvy and practically overgrown with tropical jungle. This is to confuse any evil spirits that make it past the grimacing statues! And, apparently evil spirits can’t make 90 degree turns, especially if they can’t find the path in the first place.

After soaking up the atmosphere of Ubud, Rob and I and a Nepali Peace Corps Volunteer named Trey, rented a car for two days to avoid the typical tourist extortion. We wanted to go to the wreck of the U.S. Liberty and hike up one of the volcanoes. The wreck was fantastic, and I only went snorkeling! I think it is one of the few wrecked ships that can actually be snorkeled. Rob and Trey went scuba diving and said it was the best dive site they have ever been to. It is an American cargo ship that the Japanese torpedoed in World War II. The Americans towed it to shore so that the Japanese wouldn’t benefit from its contents. It sat on that eastern Bali shore until the force of nearby volcanic eruption tossed it into the ocean. It plunged just far enough so that it is entirely immersed under water. It is now home to an abundance of coral and fish! You can have a look at Rob’s website if you want to see underwater photos from the wreck.

After going to the ship wreck, we spent the day driving to the volcano and all the while admiring the unbelievably gorgeous views of the ocean, volcanoes, and rice paddies galore. The road map we bought was very unspecific and the roads we were driving on were virtually unmarked, so we took many wrong turns. We even thought that we went to Bali’s most religious site which is perched halfway up a volcano at the end of a road. But, as we found out from a local when we stopped for directions all the roads go in the area go halfway up the volcano and have a temple perched at the top! Of course they do! We just chose the wrong road.

That night after NOT going to Bali’s most religious temple we went to the volcano and were accosted by the local volcano mafia. There is only one road into town and when we arrived at that intersection there were THREE men on motorcycles there waiting. We promptly ignored them and carried on trying to find the hotel we found in our guidebook. Those three motorcycles followed us the whole way yelling, “We are not mafia! We only want to help! We will show you a hotel!” Sure, we believe you. They tried to block the road, they tried rolling down the windows, etc. but fortunately Rob just plowed through them. Our hotel was renovating their restaurant, so they let us eat on the balcony of the room… and sure enough… who comes sauntering in eating food provided our hotel but the most persistent of the moped drivers. Trey chased him out.

All of the touts have gotten together and forbidden hikers to go up the mountain without a guide – and you can only get a guide from the mafia. When we tried driving to the parking lot where we intended to start our hike from, the same thing happened, only this time the mafia moped man (MMM) prevented us from finding that parking lot and from actually climbing. He told us that we’d fall off the mountain if we didn’t use a guide and then proceeded to show us photos of bloody people being carried off in stretchers because they didn’t use a guide. And (even though he claimed to not be mafia) he threatened to have fifteen of his friends block the road if we didn’t pay him as our guide. After at least an hour of driving and getting followed, we decided to just enjoy the scenery that was near us and went tromping through the lava, going no further than 10 feet from the road while Rob stayed with the car. The best part was, one of the Swedish tourists we picked up from the side of the road (miles from their destination) actually spoke Indonesian! She talked to MMM and eventually he drove away. All in all it was still a fun two-day road trip, but I can’t say I’d recommend it!

We have just happily arrived to Malaysian Borneo for the next few weeks!

Love, Alison


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