We walked through rice paddies in 90F degree heat and 100 percent humidity to enjoy Sari Organic. From the main road, pedestrians would surely miss it and after a 15-minute walk Jill and I started questioning our sanity and our sense of direction. We finally arrived and after a serious hand washing and bathroom stop (I was so sweaty I could barely get my undies back up), I slurped (more like gulped) the sweetest mango lassi to date and then inhaled or maybe devoured the most delicious pizza I’ve had in years. Jill went for the healthy version of a beet salad that made me a little envious but her mean green pure juice concoction left me wanting to question her sense of taste. She loved it but after traveling together for a month I can cough it up to the Midwestern in me who appreciates normalcy and the New Yorker in her who savors weird. There is something to be said for sweating. It works up an appetite or maybe makes your realize you should refurbish nutrients rather quickly. We gave up on sightseeing for the day and bolted to the spa for massages and pampering.
Since it was my pre-birthday dinner and a Saturday, we gussied up for a night on the town only to find out that the already sleepy town goes dark at 9:30 pm. A restaurant, Nuri’s Nacho Mama, owned by an Indonesian and an American would surely be happening on a Saturday, right? Nope, instead it was hopping with flies, a local favorite. It also could use some tips on what constitutes Mexican food. Jill’s quesadilla consisted of a tortilla with a layer of melted cheese and my burrito well it wasn’t much more edible. They made guacamole with yogurt! When in Rome, do as the Romans do and eat local and that means Indonesian not Mexican. We won’t be detouring like that again. I was just excited my sexy shirt got some Australian men noticing me and not my body odor or sweat beads.
Our Bike Ride
Finally, we recovered from the daily grind of sightseeing in India and felt ready to embark on a few more Balinese adventures. Jill and I booked a downhill bike ride through the countryside of Ubud. We started our journey overlooking Batur Mountain, an active volcano with volcanic ash remnants sprinkled with regrowth peaking up on its slopes. Smoke billowed from the volcano peak with slivers of sunshine breaking through the clouds. Next to the volcano sat a crater lake with a hint of morning fog lingering over its crystal clear waters. Alas, cooler temperatures accompanied these breathtaking views and my appreciation of all that Bali had to offer.
Before we got started, we visited a plantation of sorts also known as a tourist trap. Bali’s most lucrative cash crops are cloves, coffee, cocoa, vanilla, tapioca and taro. We sampled a handful of teas, coffees, mangostein and coconut water, as well as “Cat-Poo.” Our very clever guide tempted us with “cat-poo-ccino,” a type of coffee bean that comes from an animal called the Asian Palm Civet. Luwak is the most expensive coffee in the world. Kopi luwak refers to the beans of coffee berries once they have been eaten and excreted by the Asian Palm Civet. The coffee tasted very bitter and while I enjoy some flavor to my coffee this isn’t quite what I had in mind.
The time had come for us to disembark and as we geared up and checked our breaks. The sky gave way to thunderous rolls and cracks of lightening right when we mounted our bikes. When we signed up for the trip, we were more concerned about the downhill part than the weather permitting part and thus the ride evolved from fanciful sightseeing to one of survival. There have been several times on this trip where Jill and I have looked at each other and said Joyce and Bobbi (our moms) would not approve and this was one such time. Jill took off downhill like the wind where I remained back from the pack repeatedly testing my breaks (remember deluge, lightening and downhill).
We made several stops along the way but the most interesting was a family compound where we saw how a village family lives and works together. This particular family had five generations living together producing baskets and rugs from bamboo. There was one kitchen shared by all, a family temple and then each “family” lives in a unit (really small bedrooms). Let’s say the great grandfather passes on, his son would then move into his home and on and on. Our guide, Ring, was quite the character but also a great source of information. He explained that the oldest son must leave the family compound when he marries and that married women are required to move to their husband’s family compound. A Chinese/American couple were as fascinated as I was about the culture and the Chinese woman kept asking about premarital sex and women’s rights. Ring explained that there is premarital sex going on but he referred to those situations as MBAs(Marriage By Accident). If the woman gets pregnant, the man must marry her or go to jail for three years if he choses not to marry. If he runs, then he gets 10 years in jail. Most men in this situation just end up taking a second wife. As for women, they have no rights.
It was really a shame the rains did not clear during our voyage because we missed seeing the villages and instead sped through puddles and mud. At certain points, I could not even see in front of me with the rain pounding on the bike and pavement and my forearms burning in pain after clutching the breaks for an hour. We zigzagged through neighborhoods, mud filled rice paddies and family temples until we all stopped cold at the entrance to an impassable “river.” Already beyond soaked, I didn’t even attempt to ride through it and found myself giving into Mother Nature. I walked my bike through two feet of dirty disgusting water and at the other end tried really hard not to beg to be taken home. When we finally got to lunch, the sun beamed on us as if to say better luck next time. It gave me a great excuse to devour my food.
During lunch, we had a great opportunity to hear from Ring about his daily life in Bali. He is 23 and went to school until he was 18. He had to pay for his schooling and therefore could not afford to further pursue his studies. The government has started funding primary and secondary education, which will hopefully mean more children will go to school. Ring is Muslim and explained to the group that some politicians are paying people to convert from Hinduism to Islam and some are getting as much as $10,000 USD. In a country where the average job pays about $90 a month, that type of money is appealing. Ring believes the current government in Indonesia is bad and he is concerned the changes being implemented will be detrimental to the everyday life of the Balinese people.
Few other fun facts
- Balinese people eat only when they are hungry. They don’t feel comfortable eating in front of others either so there are no family or group dinners.
- Women cook at 5 am every morning and that is the food for the day. Since most homes don’t have a refrigeration system, I am not sure I would want to taste chicken at the end of the day.
- Ring said he could move out of his home (he really wants to live independently) but he would need to move back when he is married.
- Indonesians do not look into the eyes of their elders. They look down at their feet. Ring said he had a very hard time when he started working with non-Indonesian tourists because they kept looking at him.
- The children are named in order. Regardless of being male or female, each person receives one of four names based on birth order. There is some variation in the four names as a result of caste or region but they tend to be the same. For example, the firstborn is “Wokalayan” (Wayan or Yan, for short), second is “Made,” third is “Nyoman” or “Komang” (Man or Mang for short), and fourth is “Ketut” (Tut).
- Driving, falling coconuts and swimming are the leading causes of death in Bali.
- Wooden baskets, placemats and purses are a handmade Balinese tradition and a shopping and shipping nightmare for me (and the Japanese).
- Yoga in rice paddies is a very relaxing and beautiful experience but at dusk when the mosquitoes are ready for sweet blood it is nearly impossible for me to quiet my mind or body. My yoga instructor did not seem to appreciate my concerns.
- Alcohol in Bali is expensive. Stick with lassis or fruit juice.
- Food in Indonesia is delightful. Barramundi fish, marinated tofu and tempeh are my favorites.
- Starbucks has AC and Wifi. What more can you need?
- There has never been a market I haven’t liked. Who are we kidding? There has never been a market I haven’t missed and Jill is no innocent bystander.
- DHL has an office in UBUD. The Japanese send more home than the Americans.
- Twenty Kilos worth of luggage is really not that much weight.
- OFF bug spray should hire me as their Caucasian spokesperson.
- Bali is hot during dry season, wet season, morning, night and anytime in between.
- If I lived in Bali, I would teach people that when tourists see rats in the market it does not want to make them shop. In fact, it makes them leave the store.
- There is a difference between a $30 meal (Nomand, Nuri’s) and a $100 meal (Bridges – a must go).
And last but not least…The healer, the bullshit artist and the tarot card reader
On our last day and pretty much in our last hour of our trip to Bali, Jill and I visited a tarot card reader. She went first and as I’m not one to spill the beans, I will leave her to share her version of events.
Either there is a convention of healers who see a ton of needy, single, work alcoholic type New York females or I am truly in need of change.
Where to start? How about the beginning? I don’t take care for myself. I need to reconnect to the god within me. I don’t like being off balance and I have lost my center. Yep there is clearly a pattern here but for once I did listen to something someone said. She told me to write down my vision quest. Beside the fact that I immediately had a flashback to my high school boyfriend Mike Feightner, a Visionquest movie fanatic, I appreciated her challenge to write down or verbally record what happiness would look like to me.
She also informed me that I am confused with my higher self and that I need to create a life, that I don’t like conflict and that Bali seemed like the perfect place for me to live –exactly — with the other lost, confused, lonely expatriates. Before we departed, she told me I would live with a much younger man and then I would leave him (fantastic) that I philosophically disliked my job and that I am “hanging out with indecision” and it is making me ill.
I like the idea of reinventing myself with a younger man. My mom will appreciate the fact that the tarot card reader also said this younger man would make me softer and more sweet. She thinks I’m a cold-hearted New Yorker.
In closing, Jill and I loved Ubud. It evokes a certain emotion that one needs to experience to understand. There is old world charm, history and culture with modern conveniences but what makes Ubud special is the beautiful landscape. I completely understand why many people visit and never leave. The food awakens my taste buds and the weather cleanses my pores. Here hustle is replaced with simplicity, nature and family. It’s definitely the place to go to unwind, relax or maybe invent something new.