Thursday, May 1, 2014

This Monkey's Gone to Heaven

Why is the last day of vacation always so good - it's like the universe is taunting you, daring you to skip out on real life and sell beads on the beach or finally open Naps & Apps.

I headed out early this morning to the temple at Uluwatu, on the southern tip of Bali.  On the way there, my driver was chatty.  But when we arrived, he got serious, and told me to leave my hat and sunglasses and water in the car.  The monkeys, he warned. They are "aggressive."  (That word again.)  So, with some trepidation, I ditched my stuff - plus the three baby bananas I had stashed in my bag.

We walked up to the temple, and sure enough, there were monkeys. I was flittering past them in my sarong and sash, hoping I wouldn't seem appealing. (And as we walked along, my driver would point to any discarded item, such as a random shoe and say:  See that?  Monkeys.)  They left me alone, but I did see two monkeys jump on a guy's head and shoulders. The guy seemed happy about it, so win-win. At least until he goes back to Australia and realizes he has Ebola or monkey-scratch fever.

There wasn't much to the temple itself.  But the location was everything. A little temple-pagoda sits on the edge of a cliff, while 200m below, waves are crashing into the rocks at the bottom. Otherwise, it's pale aquamarine water out as far as the eye can see.  So beautiful.

After the temple, it was an amazing beach day, and I am reading a good book. Even the French people on the chairs nearby did not bother me.

So now I'm off to the airport, and 25 hours of flying. I'm glad to be coming home, if for no other reason than my clothing - and ergo me - is beginning to pick up an unpleasant odor.

Some Final Tallies:

Hours traveled to/from US - 50
Places visited - 6
Miles biked - 120
Soaking tubs - 4 total, 1 freestanding
Rainshowers - 3, including one outdoors
Near misses on my bike - 3 significant
Weirdos on the trip - 1 (to be distinguished from 3 boring people and 1 know it all)
Fruit baskets in hotels- 5
Cups of monkey poo coffee - 1/12
Foot massages on arrival - 1
Rose-filled bathtubs - 1
Offers in Ubud for special massage - at least 3 (I inferred the special part)
Rooster, caged or free - hundreds, including 3 died pink
Chickens crossing the road - 1
Seaweed flavored Pringles consumed - 1 short stack (Yum!)
Fishes seen while snorkeling - dozens, all over this shipwreck
Fishes eaten while traveling - 1 (sorry, fish friends)
Minutes spent swimming in cholera river - 5 gleeful minutes
Days spent regretting swim in cholera river - 8
Dogs run over - 1, but not by me
Homemade chocolate Easter bunnies - 1
Blessings received - 4 (complete with rice on forehead and neck)
Sarongs worn - 3

And that about sums it up.  Thanks for tuning in the past two weeks.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Last Dance

My last full day in Bali. It was more of the usual lounging, reading napping.

I did venture out for what the hotel billed as a Sunset Bike Ride. There was indeed a pretty sunset. But, they neglected to mention that first there would be a 5k bike ride of death on a super crazy busy road. Most afraid I've been the entire trip, as full-size buses were passing within feet of me.

We ended up at the local fish market. At the end of the day. A very hot day. So, ridiculously smelly. I nearly Bob Eucker-ed all over the nice - if not misguided - hotel guy on the bike. After we went into the market, he kept encouraging me to take pictures. Truly, these were some big fish. But, too smelly. (If anyone ever offers to take you to a fish market at the end of the day, I recommend you decline, and call me for more details of the smells, if you have any doubts.)

We walked outside, and the locals were giving me the stinkeye.  I thought we were going to get jumped.  Then, we gave a guy a bottle of water and he let us pass.  We watched the sunset, and then biked home on death road . . . In the dark . . . With no lights or reflective gear or whatever.

I survived, and tomorrow I'm going to see one last temple, on a cliff. The hotel guy warned me not to wear a hat or sunglasses because the monkeys are "aggressive."  Heh. Monkey fight!

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Marriage is what brings us together today

Right before I left, our admin at work kept telling me that she thought I was going to come back from Bali married. Odd, in that she knew I was traveling solo and she had never read Eat, Pray, Love to put such ideas in her head. Well, she was wrong and I won't be coming home married. (Thank god for Bali's quickie divorces.)

But, I did get the lowdown on Balinese courting and marriage from our guide, Wayanarta. (Sidenote:  men in Bali have the same name based on their birth order. Way an means second born, and a name that sounds like Norman is for fourth born.)

Wayan said there are 5 ways to get married:

1- if a man likes a woman, but she doesn't like him, the man will tell his father. The father arranges to kidnap the woman and force her into a room with the man for one day and one night. Meanwhile, the father tells the whole village that she is with the man [thus sullying her reputation and forcing her hand].  After one day and one night, "they are in love and happy."

2 - if a couple loves each other, but the parents don't approve -maybe because of different castes or money - then the couple moves away to the city for 3-5 years. Then they come back and hope the parents have changed their mind.  We asked what happens if the woman changes her mind during the time away.  Wayan said:  no.  They are in love, they are happy.

3 - couple loves each other, parents approve. Easy peasy.

4 - arranged marriage.

5 - MBA (no idea what the initials stand for)  woman gets pregnant while dating, and then they get married. This is a preferred method, because then it is clear that woman is fertile and can provide offspring. An infertile woman is not getting married.

So, in conclusion, between this and farming topless with a sickle, things don't look too great for Balinese women.

Also, there was no trip to Yogyakarta today.  I had problems with my credit card buying the flights. And then, I was struck down with an amoeba or something, and couldn't have climbed temple ruins in 90-degree heat if my life depended upon it. Instead, I slept 21 hours, praying for an end to the pain and a tall glass of water with ice that is safe to drink.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Selamat Jalan

Yesterday was the end of the bike trip and time to say goodbye to all my new friends.  I was worried about how it would be traveling in an organized group, but it turned out to be great. There were 20 people on the trip, and I genuinely liked most everyone, which is rare given that I don't really like people. And, it was a mix of ages (23-68), solo travelers, couples, and a family.  My trip BFF was a woman my age from Brooklyn, with a great collection of Cole Haan Nike Airs.  (Fortuitously, there was also a recently retired Nike exec who gave me the skinny on the Cole Haan - Nike relationship. Short answer is I need to stockHipile.)

So, we ended the trip in Manggis, on the eastern coast of Bali.  The last night, there was a dinner out by the ocean, with paper lanterns strewn about and cloth covered everything, like a wedding. We had just finished dinner - I had a crazy good Mahi Mahi - when a torrential downpour hit and soaked everyone. I rallied long enough for a lava cake dessert, but that was it.

The next morning, we went out for one last bike ride in the country. Mostly uneventful, though my Brazilian buddy crashed into a stray dog. I don't know if the dog was blind or rabid, but it charged her bike when we were moving along.  My friend was okay, and we did not get bitten. The dog ran away, so I don't know its fate. That might have been the biggest biking drama I witnessed, and I'm surprised incident happen sooner, or with a rooster.  I do regret skipping the 8k loop at the end, because I'm told the women out working with sickles were topless, which seems like a strange sight to bear witness to.  (And a work hazard.  Is there no Balinese OSHA?)

And now, I am in the south of Bali in Jimbaran, on my own for the last few days. Last night, I walked on the beach to the fancy Four Seasons to have one last night at dinner with a few people from the group who had yet to fly home. And now, I have a few days to read, nap, and sit on the beach.  (I did not take a single nap while on the bike trip.  I'm very disappointed in myself and my lackadaisical attitude towards vacation sloth.)

I already miss the biking. I think I biked around 190 km last week.  (Okay - 120 miles.  But doesn't km sound bigger and more impressive and foreign?)  Over the week, I improved a boat load. I was walking my bike up far fewer hills. And, as I suspected, I'm now totally dying to have an expensive titanium bike.

Off to the beach and an attempt to book a flight for tomorrow to the neighboring island of Java, to see some temple ruins.  

Friday, April 25, 2014

Selamat Pagi!

Good morning!  We have been biking along the northern coast of Bali the last few days, moving from a town called Tembok to another called Maggis.  (I had to look up the name of the current town - with no clocks, spotty internet, and guides handling everything, it has been very easy to check out.  Most days, it takes a concerted effort to figure out what day of the week it is.)

The towns up here don't see a ton of tourists - or apparently people on bikes - so we have been getting a great reception as we bike along the way.  Many people come out of their house and yell "Hello" or "Hi."  Particularly the kids.  I think the adults are wondering what would compel a rational person to bike in this heat.

Truly, the heat and humidity feel like wading through a velvet fog, or a bowl of pudding. The only solution I have found is to dump a bottle of water on my head every 5 km.
(I am going to try to make this a thing on hot days in DC this summer - regardless of whether I have a bike.)

Have I made it sound like all we are doing is biking?  If so, it is because I was trying to sound impressive. In actuality, we are only biking part of each day.  The rest of the time has been spent snorkeling, eating, lounging by the pool, and the occasional spa treatment.

At Spa Village, I decided to get a aloe cucumber body wrap. It was cheap and the place is called Spa Village. You have to, right?  Based on prior experience in the U.S., I was expecting some sort of masque or lotion for your body. Instead, they poured what looked like cucumber gazpacho all over, and then wrapped me in plastic.  Strange. I ended up smelling like salad.

At the moment, I'm lying in bed, staring out at the ocean.  Thinking of getting up for breakfast. Wondering what day it is.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Bicycle, Bicycle!

I'm writing from Lovina, a small town on the northern coast of Bali. We're here largely as a stopover on our way to another coastal town, whose name escapes me at the moment.

The last few days were spent in Ubud, a growing town in the middle of the island, nestled at the foot of several mountains.  Which is to say there is no beach.  But there is a thriving ex-pat and artist community. (Ubud was the locale for Eat, Pray, Love.)

We spent our time in Ubud biking through the outer environs and rafting.  I did take an afternoon off from biking to toodle around town, hoping to find some art. While I can say that we passed what seemed like legitimate galleries on the edges of town, all the art I came across in town was of the Nudies and Tigers variety. (I'm puzzled that no one seems to have thought of joining the two for one giant tiger, nudie canvas spectacular. That, I would have bought.)

Can we talk about the biking?

On my way from the airport, I was musing that traffic in Bali is much like other parts of Asia:  lots of motos weaving around, and traffic lanes seem to be merely advisory. It had not occurred to me at that point that this is where I would be biking.

Around Ubud, we were biking through lush, vibrant green rice paddies. Everywhere I looked, there were fascinating things to see - ornate temples on family compounds, stone statues of Gods, etc. But, it was all I could do to stay on my bike, so regrettably I have no pictures. And I even saw a giant 20 foot sculpture/statue that I can only describe as a a blue smurf-like Hindu God riding a frog. (A picture would have been helpful, I know.)

Today we rode in the northern part of the island.  I was careening down a mountain, in the rain, trying very hard not to hit:  motos, cars, trucks, children standing on the side of the road clapping for us, roosters, stray dogs, various men with sicles for rice harvesting, a different group gathered around a man with a gun, potholes, etc.  (Oddly, the whole time I have an old Morrissey song stuck in my head:  Hairdresser on Fire.)  Insane, and yet still slightly less scary than riding on Massachusetts Avenue or Florida Avenue.

Tomorrow we head for that other town. The only part I remember is that our hotel is called Spa Village, and I may be able to get a four hand massage.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Things I Learned Today

1. Try not to use the word menses in your first conversation with someone.

2. Kopi Luwak (aka "monkey poo coffee") also not a good idea.