Bali – March 17, 2009

I’m sitting in my room in the guesthouse I’m staying at in Ubud, eating peanuts.  It’s 7:30 p.m.  I won’t be leaving my room again til tomorrow.  Why, you ask.  Because I’m staying on a very rural street with no street lights, so once the sun sets, you’re basically wandering around blind.  I attempted this my first night here, and was freaked out because all the dogs were out barking at me, and I couldn’t see any of them.  Imagine wandering down a dark lane in an unfamiliar city with countless dogs growling at you as you pass their territory.  I was on my way to eat but chickened out and stopped at the nearest little shop (operating in front of someone’s house selling about a tenth of what 7-11 would) and grabbed a few random packages that looked edible.  They barely spoke English so I confirmed “Tanpa daging?” (without meat in Indonesian) and they said yah, but otherwise I had no idea what they were.

decorating for the celebration at my guesthouse

The Balinese people are preparing for a ceremony that starts tomorrow.  They’ve been making these heavily decorated big bamboo structures for the past few days.  They’re also decorating all the pillars and statues in their temples with colorful fabric.  I’m not sure why or for what, but I do know that Hindu celebrations are VERY elaborate and this is proving to be no exception.

I’ve been in Ubud since Friday.  I was so excited to come here because it’s the spiritual, cultural, and art capital of Bali.  I had really high expectations for Ubud, which I’m afraid weren’t met.  There are heaps of art shops and galleries, but it’s nearly impossible to go into someone’s shop without being pressured for a sale.  Actually, it’s nearly impossible to walk down the street without someone wanting you to buy something.

This is my least favorite thing about this island.  I despise people yelling “transport?” “taxi?” “manicure?” “massage?” endlessly when I’m just trying to take a leisurely walk and have a look around.  When you are ready to purchase something, you have to bargain for it.  The starting offer is usually outrageous.  By the time you settle on a price, you wonder if you’re getting ripped off?  Sometimes I just want to go into a store and pick up an object or a piece of art and look at the price tag just out of curiosity.  But there are no price tags here.  If you ask someone how much it costs, you’re really saying to them “I’m interested in purchasing this, bargain with me until I give in.”

Ubud is overrun with expats.  They scoot around on their motorbikes, wearing local clothes and eating in all the expat restaurants that donate back to the community.  For some reason these people annoy me… I feel like they stare and glare at the tourists and want to keep this town for themselves.

Yesterday I went on a tour around Ubud with a man that recruited me to this guesthouse.  When I arrived on the bus, I was greeted by this man who had pictures of the guesthouse and quoted me a cheap price and offered to take me there for free.  SOLD!  He charged me $150,000 IDR (under $14 USD) for a tour on the back of his motorbike to see 2 temples, views of the rice terraces, a volcano, a lake, a plantation, all on routes through the villages around Ubud.

rices terraces around Ubud

My favorite part was the view of the rice terraces… it’s amazing how the rice I eat comes from such a beautiful place.  I also enjoyed driving through the teeny farming communities.  The local people were bathing on the side of the road in a moat-type stream in front of the houses.  According to my guidebook, the people think they are invisible when they’re bathing, and so I saw 2 women in their bra and underwear washing themselves in this very modest country.  Even though I had a helmet on to conceal my face, and was wearing a sarong, with skin the same color as theirs, I still stood out like a sore thumb and everyone stared at me as we drove past.

The coffee plantation was a highlight for a caffeine fiend like me.  It, like everything else, is run by a family.  I walked though a narrow path of labeled plants to an outdoor setting with an old man with a few rotted teeth stirring a massive pot of coffee beans over a fire.  A girl about the age of 10 poured me samples of hot chocolate, lemon tea, ginger tea, and mocha.  The mocha was TO DIE FOR!  I mean probably the best mocha I’ve ever had… this coming from someone who has had a mocha roughly every day for the past 3-4 years in 7 countries.  I of course bought a bag from a very pregnant member of the family who also told me about the world’s most expensive coffee, which comes from a cat’s poop (watch the movie the Bucket List – it does exist!)

We stopped in front of the volcano so I could take pictures and I was overwhelmed by touts.  Never before have I been approached by 4 people at the same time, trying to sell me a chess set, fruit, and bracelets.  My guide abandoned me so he could sit with some of his mates without me around and leave me to fend off the vultures solo.  Next we went to a couple temples, the last of which I was escorted around (by a holy man/priest) after I left a donation, and then was asked for even more money from this man after his tour… very spiritual :(

I’m over Ubud at this point… I’m going to Padang Bai, which is a port town for ferries to Lombok and another island off Bali.  It supposedly has a laid-back vibe and a beach, which is just what I’m in the mood for.

Sampai jumpa lagi!

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