|Traditional Balinese Music|
Bali – 16-23 September 2011 (approx. – yes I know I’m a long way behind)
Things we learnt about Bali:
- Kuta (the main tourist town) is busy, loud and tacky. Very tacky.
- There are a LOT of Australians in Kuta.
- An astonishing proportion of the Australians in Kuta choose to dress in exactly the same attire as each other. It’s amusing and a little worrying.
- Monkeys are little bastards. They are also surprisingly adept at business.
|Traditional Balinese Dance and Costumes|
After several days of hard travelling, trekking up volcanoes and picking volcano ash out of places volcano ash was never meant to see, we were understandably excited about arriving in Bali. While struggling up the seemingly endless inclines, I had pictured stepping off the boat and immediately running down a white sand beach into the crystal clear sea. I would emerge and Jess would be sitting on the beach, suddenly in her bikini, holding an ice cold beer for me. It would be the perfect reward for all our hard work.
Unfortunately, as is increasingly becoming the case, things didn’t quite work out as we planned. After an hour on the ferry from Java we arrived in the dusty, desolate port town on the west coast of Bali. There was nothing resembling a beach or blue sea, or much else for that matter. No problem, you’re thinking, Bali’s small. A short hop on the bus will do it and they’ll be sipping cold beer in the tropical sea. We walked in the searing heat, lugging our heavy bags to the bus station where we were shepherded on to a “bemo” to Kuta, the main tourist resort. A bemo is the bastard son of a shit coach and a crappy mini-bus. I suppose it’s either an oversized mini-bus or a midget coach, depending on which way you look at it. It’s cramped, the seats are tiny and anyone topping 5 feet can’t fit their legs in front of their body. Of course there’s no air conditioning and the tiny slats masquerading as windows are little more than a token gesture. After surviving an attempted rip off by the ticket man (he tried to charge us double despite there being a huge sign in English clearly stating the price for our journey), our bags were stuffed under our feet and on our laps. The bemo was so full that there were 3 people to 2 of the tiny seats, people on those people’s laps, people in between those people’s legs and stools down the aisle for piles of people to sit on. Oh, and more people between those people’s legs. I’m not remotely exaggerating when I say that I could not move a single part of my body so much as an inch. Not even my toes. I couldn’t even scratch my knee if I wanted to. The body heat combined with the scorching temperatures outside and the lack of ventilation inside made it unbearably hot. That’s when everyone on the bemo starting smoking. A little later the child behind us started vomiting. It was nothing short of hell of on earth. For 5 hours. When we got to Kuta it was dark. No beach, no clear blue sea, no beer. Just sweat, cramp, hunger and fatigue. Living the dream.
Things did pick up somewhat. It’s amazing what relaxing by a pool in the sun with a beer does for the morale. Kuta, however, was not the idyllic beach paradise we had imagined, not by a long shot. The beach was packed, covered in litter and the sea had a brownish hue that when combined with the deep aroma of sewage in the air, caused us grave concern.
Now before I go on, a disclaimer. I have several Australian friends. I am very fond of Australians. Nothing written here on this blog affects my affection for my Australian friends and all those Australians I may meet in the future. I mean, I’m moving to Australia. I wouldn’t be doing that if I had a problem with Australians, right? Now, Kuta has a LOT of Australians in it. And while, of course, many of them are very nice people, there really are a large number of a certain kind of Australian. Most of them are male and they tend to wear a strict uniform consisting of board shorts, a sleeveless vest (invariably with the logo of Indonesia’s most popular beer, Bintang), trucker hat and flip flops. You can hear them coming through the loud vulgarities being emitted from their mouths. They are in Bali to drink as much as they possibly can in the large number of clubs and bars playing horrifically loud and horrifically bad pop music. There is something deeply unsettling about watching a dance floor of shoulder to shoulder, sweaty, topless Australian men dancing to Lady Gaga. The overriding image I have is of watching a pack of 5 of them literally all dressed in the same uniform, beers in hand, strutting down the street swearing loudly when the pack leader suddenly and inexplicably takes his Bintang vest off, swings it around his head and starts roaring like some kind of gorilla. The rest of the pack showed their approval by also roaring in unison. Attenborough eat your heart out.
We also found that the entrepreneurs of Bali are sharp enough to play to the tastes of their clientele. We were eating our breakfast when we couldn’t help but overhear the two very loud Australian girls nearby, with the broadest accents we’d ever heard. One was apparently on the phone to her boyfriend back in Oz. “I got you a souvenir! Yeah it’s fucking awesome! It’s a t-shirt but instead of iPod, it says iPood!” I nearly choked on my omelette. She also eagerly described to him how she was “so fucking tanned I look like I’m black”. There was also an absolutely roaring trade in bumper stickers, which the Australians were snapping up. Some of our favourite ones were – “Brendan (or any other name you can think of) is a fucking queer” and “Two in the pink, one in the stink”, accompanied by a silhouette of a hand with the index, middle and little fingers extended. Classy. Finally, to our horror, when we picked up a cocktail menu in a bar we found that one of the specials was named “Black Bastard”. Crass, misogynistic, homophobic and racist; we absolutely loved Kuta. Not really of course, it was pretty horrific. We soon found it unbearable and quickly moved on to pastures new.
|"Umm, I'll have... umm... one of those please."|
Luckily the rest of Bali turned out to be beautiful. We ate great seafood in Jimbaran and sunbathed on stunning beaches in Balangan. We went to a crumbling temple in Ulu Watu that had a large group of long tailed macaques (monkeys to you and me) in residence. We had been warned not to wear hats or sunglasses and to ensure bags were closed and tightly gripped at all times. We soon saw why as the tidy little racket the monkeys had going on with the locals was revealed. The scam was thus: the monkeys jump around all cute, attracting (mostly Japanese) tourists. Said tourists gawp and gaze like mindless fools until a monkey swings down and steals the hat, or sunglasses, off the head of some poor unsuspecting person. Tourist screams, monkey runs away beyond the fence and out of reach. Along comes a lovely Indonesian person who is conveniently carrying a banana or an egg. The monkey approaches our hero and happily exchanges the cherished fashion item for the tasty morsel. Tourist is delighted, can’t thank Mr. Indonesian enough and tips him handsomely. Tourist’s head or eyes are again shielded from the sun, Indonesian man has made a good few Rupiah and the cheeky monkey is enjoying a free dinner. Everyone’s happy. We walked around and saw the identical routine play out 4 or 5 times in 15 minutes before we decided we had seen enough of these very capitalist and very Asian monkeys.
|Relaxing after a hard day's work|
As it turned out, the business savvy macaques of Ulu Watu were not the only simian encounter we had on Bali. We headed inland to the hill town of Ubud. While it’s a place that is very well geared to tourists, it has managed to steer clear of the crass tackiness of Kuta. Aside from the wide variety of good food available, the main past times are trekking around the local hills and visiting the town’s Monkey Forest Sanctuary. The sanctuary is basically a crumbling temple surrounded by a small forest which is home to a sizable, and not very likable, troop of macaques. The sanctuary’s brochure is fronted by a cute looking, doe eyed monkey. It turns out the actual residents are nothing like their sad faced representative. The sanctuary’s ticket booth was selling bunches of bananas to feed the monkeys and Jess, being Jess, was desperate to feed them. Once bitten twice shy clearly is not a saying prominent in her vocabulary. I made clear that I would have NOTHING to do with this endeavour and in we strolled, bananas in Jess’ bag. There were immediately quite a few monkeys around and the American chap in front of us pulled a banana out of his bag. He hadn’t even so much as extended his arm when 5 or 6 monkeys attacked him. They were biting his arms and head and going straight for the bananas in the bag. In sheer terror, he managed to throw the bananas away from him and get the monkeys off. I turned to Jess to witness the predictable look of fear growing on her face. She waited until no monkeys were looking and quickly discarded the entire bunch.
|Yeah, you'll sit near them after getting rid of your bananas|
|"You looking at me?"|
This warning was not enough, however. We watched several tourists get mobbed by the little bastards but at one stage Jess spotted a couple of very cute young monkeys. She found half a banana on the floor so went over to feed them. One of them was very friendly and came and sat on her lap to eat the banana. He tried to have a cheeky look in her bag but nothing too aggressive. This scene clearly upset his companion, who decided to jump up and bite Jess on the arm. She ran off quickly and this little monkey actually chased her, clearly determined to rob her of the contents of her bag. It took me confronting this little fellow, growling, with my teeth showing to finally be rid of him. Overall, I hope this experience proves to be the one that finally teaches Jess that monkeys are arseholes and best avoided.
|False sense of security|
The other story of note happened during a trek in a river valley near Ubud. It was a stunning setting but it was hard work on a PRETTY humid day. I did not actually realise it was possible for a human being to sweat so profusely. It got to the point where I looked as though I had just been for a swim fully clothed. That would be fine, except for the fact that I began to smell so bad that Jess could no longer walk behind me. She described it as the “worst anyone has ever smelt”. It even made ME feel sick. Why I’m sharing this with you I don’t know; it just feels like a story worthy of historical note. In 28 years that was the smelliest I, or perhaps anyone, has ever been.
|It's a shame that photographs don't accurately portray smell|
|I looked like I had been swimming in this|
|It was worth the sweat though|
Finally, as I mentioned in previous blogs, I have been trying to track down Arsenal supporters groups as we travel around. It turned out that a new Arsenal Fan Club had started in Bali just a month earlier. So we arranged to meet them in another town to watch the Blackburn v Arsenal game. Much like the Jogja Gooners, it was wonderful to see the genuine passion the Bali Gooners have for the club. They knew all the songs and sung their hearts out all game, even when we were losing. It was actually a horrible game and best forgotten but the Bali Gooners’ insatiable support, enthusiasm and hospitality more than made up for the terrible result. Here’s to the Bali Gooners!
I know it’s been a long while since my previous blog and I will endeavour to speed up the posts and catch up. Although the blogs are still about Indonesia, we have just arrived in Philippines. I am about 5 bogs behind right now so have my work cut out. My excuse is that we have been having a frigging nightmare with the travelling lately – flights being cancelled, resulting in missed international flights, resulting in overstaying visas resulting in hefty fines. Also as we get further off the beaten track a decent internet connection becomes an increasingly rare thing. I’ll try and get a few more out over the next couple of weeks. Until next time…