Bali

…and then suddenly we found ourselves in Bali, the most touristy area in Indonesia, and we would quickly find out why. Bali is a beautiful and lush island, a Hindu stronghold in a predominately Muslim country. Bali is known for it’s great cuisine and emphasis on the arts and culture.

We head to Ubud first, a small town with a heightened focus on maintaining it’s traditions and religion. When we arrived a four-day festival was underway celebrating the birthday of the central temple. The streets were filled with locals in traditional dress, and the air chimed with the music of the gamelon (a treat at first but the constant gong-like sound got to Scotty after a while). Despite the festivities, our motivations in Ubud were less about the arts and more about satiating our rumbling bellies.  Our taste buds begged us to break the monotony of rice and noodles and enhance our diets. We obeyed and set out to eat our way through Ubud. These are the highlights:

We gobbled down savory Babi Guling (suckling pig) at Oka’s warung. The plate was filled with a hogde-podge of brown pig product. Despite the utter disregard for beautiful presentation the flavor was pig-arific! My favorite part being the crispy pig skin, which was like a mutant sized version of the chicharones my Grandma Vera made when I was a kid. Not the heart-healthy choice, but oh so good.

We indulged in fried duck at Bali Yoga, eating one whole duck into scant pile of indiscernible remains. We picked that little bird clean!

Our food frenzy continued with the street meat category.  We ate fatty chicken satay in a spicy chili sauce that brought tears to your eyes (in a good way). The female cook sat on the curb with a small coconut-husk burning grill, pulling skewers from an unrefrigerated bucket of raw poultry near her feet. The smell was that of a skilled pied-piper; we did not even try to resist.

On the classier side of things, we had dinner at a beautiful spot called Cafe Lotus. Situated on lotus pond with a beautiful temple as its backdrop, we sat at a table facing the water. But the setting was not the only thing this restaurant had going for it. The food was beautifully prepared and delicious. After Scotty ordered not one, but two meals, I refused to let him out-indulge me so I went ahead and ordered two desserts. Everybody was happy.

We did manage to visit the Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary, home to many long-tailed macaques, temples, and intricate stone carvings. After our last close encounter with aggressive monkeys we wisely entered the sanctuary without any food or sugar-beverages. As it was late in the day, there were not many other visitors and we got to enjoy the area surrounded only by the many monkeys that call this place home.

With hernias looming we caught transport to the east side of Bali to a port town of Padang Bai. Given the copious amounts treats we consumed in Ubud, the food coma finally caught up with us as we reached this relaxed little town and its lovely beach. Though most of our time here was spent in our room, with basket-weaved rattan walls and two birds permanently residing in a recession-sized nest in our bathroom, we did manage to get a couple dives in. After visiting every dive shop in town, we manage to book a trip to the enticingly named “Manta Point” and promise to throw tantrums if we don’t happen to see a manta (no not really!). The boat ride out to the site was a treat in itself as the topography presented us with sheer limestone cliffs and dramatic arches. Though we didn’t actually see a manta, the dive provided a number of new critters and even our favorite sight, 2 octopus.

After many days of inactivity, we are ready to explore and decide to rent a motor-bike. The motor-bike never fails to deliver an interesting, and harrowing experience for both us. This time, we travel no more than 8 kilometers before we get our first treat: a flat tire. Walking the bike to the nearest shop, it takes 45 minutes for the men to figure out what the problem is despite our pointing to the obvious flat, but eventually, they get it and get us back on the road.

Not 5 kilometers later, on a tight curve up a steep hill, the tire goes flat again. We carefully walk the bike 2km back down the narrow, 2-lane road with no shoulder until we find yet another shop. This time, the guy tells us we need to replace the inner-tube and another hour later we are back on the road having already spent more money than it cost to rent the motor-bike for the day. Frustrating? Yes. But that is the last of the problems with the motor-bike and we got to enjoy the rest of the time checking out Eastern Bali’s gorgeous rice-paddies, inquiring about cheap diving in Tulumben (for our next visit), and enjoying a magnificent road-side sunset over the ocean.

Next we head to Kuta for a few days, with substantial trepidation of its reputation as party-central. We are not really looking forward to the perpetual Aussie “spring-breakers” getting wasted and out of hand, but Kuta is near the airport and it is only a few days before we are back on a plane to KL. Arriving in Kuta Beach, I instantly feel at home. Not that warm, familiar, safe home feeling, but the So Cal mall-culture home.  The roads are lined with brand name shops, surfing/beach gear, and up-scale looking hotels and restaurants. Though it is what we had expected it to be we are still a bit shocked by the scene. We walk a lot when we first arrive, visiting many hotels trying to find one in our budget and up to the basic levels of cleanliness.

Kuta was not our favorite stop, but we did find reprieve in surfing. After renting boards on the beach, we headed out to the small, but rideable waves and were quickly hooked and happy we had made it here, if only for this. We got beat up and tossed around in our novice attempts, but quickly fell in love with the challenge of timing the wave and trying to get up – which we both did many times…

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