Thursday, December 17, 2009

23 Bali, Indonesia

Getting from the airport to town in a new destination is always an interesting exercise. In some places there are special shuttles or trains, in others taxis are the only option, and when we're lucky, public transportation is available. In Bali this meant the bemo, and despite being less than direct and the fact that taxis were fairly cheap we were determined to do things the "local" way. We walked off the airport grounds sweltering beneath the midday sun to the major road and waited to hail down a bemo, all the while being coaxed by cabbies and their allies that this would take too long, wouldn't bring us where we wanted to go, and was generally the wrong decision. Finally a rickety little bus pulled up and asked us to pay what we knew was twice the standard price to get to Denpasar's main station. Yes, you have to bargain for everything--even public transportation--in Indonesia. We talked the driver down and piled in with our bags, getting sweatier and more smooshed with each new passenger on the drive into town. Here we had to negotiate for another bemo to Sanur, our chosen beach, with two other riders who wanted us all to pay some extra rupiah so we could go direct. We agreed, but are still convinced this pair of locals were probably plants. The transfer took us an hour and a half, but all in all only set us back $1.50 USD each.

You'd think we'd had enough hassle for one day, but no, we insisted on scouring town for the best value hotel room in all of Sanur. Some twenty hotels, two sweat-drenched shirts, and an hour and a half later we settled on a private bungalow at Prima Cottages. First stop: the swimming pool. So refreshing, so beautiful...we'd finally arrived in Bali.We split most of our time on the island between that wonderfully landscaped pool and the beach two blocks away. While not quite as scenic as those we visited in Thailand, this beach had the benefit of being nearly abandoned for a majority of the time. The most crowded it got was on the Sunday we were there, when it was filled with Indonesian families enjoying the weekend sun. There are also plenty of opportunities for water sports. We chose parasailing, which Patrick had been aching to do since Thailand. So. Much. Fun. It was incredibly cheap at $12 USD each, and correspondingly casual as they hooked each of us up in turn, took us for a spin, and trusted us to figure out how to land ourselves with the aid of some flag waving.

For our big excursion from the beach/pool, we arranged for a driver to take us on a day trip with highlight to be the volcano, Mt. Batur. However within the first half hour we realized that Mandel had his own agenda. He was much more enthusiastic to take us to craft demonstrations (read: souvenir shops) where he was undoubtedly expecting a commission, and had all sorts of new excuses for us why the itinerary we had in mind was not possible. Argument ensued, which ultimately resulted in us being stranded on the side of the road in an unknown location about ten miles outside Sanur.

Luckily we were able to patch together a series of taxi rides that ended up encompassing the activities we'd intended at the cost we'd originally budgeted. We visited the disappointingly underwhelming Mt. Batur, stopped at some rice paddies, sampled some delightfully tasty teas, coffees, and cocoa at a nearby plantation, and roamed the streets of artsy Ubud--though the heat and humidity made it impossible for us to wander far. We made it back to our pool for a swim before nightfall.

By the time we left Bali we were really ready to get out of Southeast Asia. It's a wonderful place to travel, but a challenging place as well. Some things we'll miss: meals for $1 USD; 15-cent draft beer; spicy garlic chili sauce as the standard table condiment; being able to explore ancient sites minus the security ropes, feeling like a celebrity when regional tourists ask us to pose for a picture with them (presumably because our complexions and western dress is a novelty worthy of photo documentation). Some things we won't miss: being unable to walk down the street unsolicited; noodle soup; cockroaches (though we have become experts at killing them); approaching every conversation with a local with skepticism; the smell of durian. And don't even try to offer us a massage.

View more pictures from Bali here.

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