We decided to spend about two weeks in Indonesia. The biggest problem with Indonesia (from my viewpoint) is that it is a collection of a bunch of islands with few transportation options between them. Most islands have airports, but the short flights can quickly increase costs. When/where sea-based options exist, they often fall into three categories:
(A) Fast – speed boat, expensive, non-air-conditioned, usually a rough ride
(B) Slow – public ferry, cheap, smooth ride, takes forever
(C) Longboats, fishing boats (or some other boat made primarily of wood) – no life jackets, poor safety record, weight limits routinely exceeded, daredevil boat captains, sometimes cheap
We wanted to see Sumatra and Flores, but due to the lack of transportation options within our budget, we elected to spend our time on the islands of Bali, Gili, and Lombok.
We arrived on Bali island and headed to Nusa Dua, a primarily rich enclave of high-end resorts. Three nights in a Marriott passed quickly with days of leisure in between. We went to the beach one day and had full-body massages on the beach. 🙂 Spoiled? No way. I really liked this hotel – it was a small resort with one central public space, but it was laid out very well.
After the respite in Nusa Dua, we made our way to Ubud. Ubud is unlike most any other city we’ve been in thus far (30+ and counting). It’s a liberal, artsy place. While noshing on burritos and nachos at a place called Mojo’s, we met an American woman from Seattle who told us that:
1) She learned goldsmith-ing in India, and now made her own traditional Indian gold jewelry, which she sold online
2) Was a musician who played Hindu religious songs
3) Had no clue when she was leaving Ubud, but had been here five weeks already
4) Also organized tours of South India for American customers of her jewelry
Though she was American, her general free-spirit was a fairly accurate representation of this community. The homestay that we’d picked was on one of the main roads in town – in the 1 kilometer length of it, we must have seen at least 20 shops/studios of painters, along with several shops for small boutique fashion labels. A true shoppers paradise!
The Indonesian rupiah conversion rate is about 9,100 to 1 USD. We got cash from an ATM – and we were millionaires! (Well, in Indonesian rupiah anyway, which amounts to 110 USD.)
Our first night, we checked out a traditional Kecak dance show (about 50 minutes long, which cost Rp. 75,000 / 8 USD for each ticket). Part one involved about 40 men singing a rhythm a-capella style with a few male and female performers wearing lots of heavy clothing with bright, colorful patterns dancing in the center. Wikipedia says that it was a trance ritual embedded into the culture, until some German dude showed up in the 1930’s, and somehow convinced the locals to change it into a religious (Hindu) dance. Part two involved a bonfire of coconut shells, which one performer repeatedly toppled over by kicking burning coconut shells towards the audience(!). A few burning shells landed within a foot of each of us – we kicked them back!
The next day we took a day trip to northern Bali, stopping to see some temples, Mount Batur (one of three active volcanoes on the island), Lake Batur (in the valley adjacent to Mount Batur), and a coffee farm (where they told us about Luwak Coffee – coffee berries eaten by civets (like a cat), pooped out, cleaned, roasted, and used for coffee).
Each of the temples we visited was a Hindu temple. They all charged admission to see the temple and all required shoulders and legs to be covered. Rachel had on a blouse and pants, so she was good. I had on a collared shirt and shorts, so I was not good at any of them. The first two temples provided me a free rental sarong (with paid admission).
The third temple we visited was the Besakih (Mother) Temple, which is the grandest temple in all of Bali. It started raining just before we arrived, but we were intent on seeing it, so we walked towards it anyway (with an umbrella). As we exited the parking lot, there was a covered stall that said “Tourist Information” with five employees who screamed at us, and threatened to have me arrested if I even dared to walk past a metal bollard adjacent to their stall without first paying them money for, and putting on, a rental sarong. There was a police officer nearby that nodded at them when they pointed to him and made this claim. Assuming this to be a scam (because the sarongs were free at the last two temples and we were nowhere even close to the entrance yet), I found myself in a heated argument with them for a minute or two. By this time, the rain was pouring down in sheets, so we went back to the car to wait it out. After about five minutes, we gave up and ventured back out. This time, we walked right past the “tourist information” stall, didn’t bother looking them in the eye, and just kept going. We kept walking and made it to the base of the temple. A few more people came up to us insisting that I needed a sarong, but after a few times of saying ‘no’ politely, they backed off. I had already decided to get a sarong to put on, and to pay additional money for it if necessary, but since we didn’t actually go inside the temple (because it was pouring rain and the stone steps up to the temple looked like a gushing waterfall), I did not get one.
On the way back to Ubud, we stopped off in the small village of Klungkung for lunch where I saw another reminder that being a University of Texas graduate is a good thing: