My first trip to Indonesia came after a week spent in Malaysia, and yes they are different countries. I had spent 10 days hiking in national parks, sleeping on a wood floor under a mosquito net and drinking tribal moonshine while wearing a feathered hat, and even though all of that was totally awesome, I was ready for a little bit of beach (even though I hate sand) and relaxation.
My first stop on this trip was an island called Lombok. Upon arrival to the small airport, I was the last one through immigration because my ATM card wouldn’t work to take out money for my visa, unsurprising but still annoying. I walked out of the airport and was immediately bombarded by no fewer than 20 guys frothing at the mouth, yelling at me for a taxi. Nope, I’m over it. Several years living in the developing world and I’m finished putting up with this nonsense. So, I just put my hands up, football referee touchdown style and yelled “STOP, ALL OF YOU STOP! [and they actually shut up] Who can give me the cheapest taxi?” Let the auction begin. They continued yelling, but now it was a bidding war. 200, beach is so far madam, 175 I have nice car, 150 I carry your bag now ok?, 125 you very beautiful, 110 is best price, 75 ok? Sold. I got the price down to less than half of the original fare. I don’t know if it was actually a good deal, but it seemed fair to me, 6 bucks. In the end I got a really nice young guy who was clearly new to the game and spoke excellent English.
I got a (cheap) little resort right on the water and parked it on a lounge chair (not in the sand) to read my book. This was the closest to the equator I have ever been, and my first trip to the Southern Hemisphere. Lombok taught me one very important lesson: the sun near the equator is really, really, really intense. I got the worst sunburn I have ever gotten in my life after just a couple hours outside. Besides that minor mis-calculation which resulted in me having to sleep flat on my back and not move for 3 nights, I enjoyed my brief stay here. Lots of fishermen, surfers and very aggressive sarong vendors.
My next stop was one of the Gili Islands. There are 3 small islands off the northeast coast of Bali/northwest coast of Lombok. There are no motorized vehicles on any of them and they are absolutely beautiful. Since I was not on my honeymoon, two of the islands did not interest me because I have already been the weird single person on the honeymoon island eating unlimited bowls of banana chips at the bar (see: Maldives). So I headed to the island where this boat was headed:
In case you’re unfamiliar, Bintang is the local brew. I met my friend Kate on Gili Trawangan to spend a few days in party beach paradise. We stayed in a really cool hostel which gave us free beer and free bed bugs. I’m highly allergic to these vampiric little monsters so I was soon covered in oreo-sized welts. The worst sunburn combined with the most maddening itching ever is awwwwwesome. But, the postcard perfect beach and the Bintang were a good antidote from my extreme physical discomfort.
We rented fins and masks from some guy and spent a day in the water. Gili T has great snorkeling right off the beach. I didn’t care how much worse I would sunburn my skin, I was going to see a turtle god damnit. And I did. A lot of them. Unfortunately, in most easily accessible (ahem, tourist) areas of SE Asia, the reefs are all dead and snorkeling off the beach is a depressing reminder of how it’s all over. On Gili T, there is still some mostly alive stuff to see.
Since there are no cars or motos, horse drawn carriages are everywhere in the town. I soon found out that I spook the horses for some reason. Whenever I walked past one of them, despite having blinders on, they would violently swing their head towards me and chomp their teeth. I’m sure I’m probably incriminating myself right now, because “animals know the truth”. I always like a good story, but going to a developing world island “hospital” for a horse bite just didn’t seem worth it, so I quickly learned to avoid these guys.
After a couple days of sun, sand and weird backpackers with gross beards, I took the ferry to Bali en route to Ubud. The best word I can use to describe Bali is magical. BUT, you can only really get that feeling if you head away from the packed tourist hot spots along the beaches and get into the center of the island, Ubud. So that’s what I did.
Usually I am a psycho planner with my trips. Before I leave, I have everything booked and at the very least a plan of where I am going to be on which day. I’m not so psycho that I have things planned out to the hour, although just thinking about it doing that makes me very happy, but I recognize my organizational psychosis problem so I have to actively try to stop my planning before I totally go off the deep end and have plan A, B and C for every minute of the day. However, for some reason on this trip, I didn’t book my Bali accommodations and on Gili T, the internet sucked. There is nothing that makes me more anxious than the “show up and find a place” mentality so I asked Bom to just book me a place on Agoda (a hotel website) for 2 nights that had good reviews. He followed my exact instructions, which didn’t include a price… I was furious when I found out the place was $60 a night. Luckily for him, it turned out to be my favorite place that I have EVER stayed and honestly a reason to go back to Bali, which I have done, twice. The place is called By Dorry and it’s a bed and breakfast right in the middle of rice paddies outside the city. It was designed by an artist and is run by her daughter. The bottom line is that I woke up in the most serene, peaceful place and had a great breakfast before heading out for the day. I immediately knew I wanted to come back.
I only had one full day there so obviously rather than relaxing, I packed it full of activities. My first stop was to a water temple called Tirta Empul where people go for ritual purification. Bali is different from the rest of Indonesia in that it is primarily Hindu (not Muslim), but it’s a very unique kind of Hinduism that really only exists here. The architecture, statues, flower arrangements and jungle flora make the whole place seem like something out of a movie.
The driver for By Dorry is SUPER friendly and we got up early to drive to the town of Tampaksiring. We stopped along the way so I could see the rice terraces and some of the countryside. When we arrived at the temple, I had to tie a yellow sash around my waist before I could enter. And pay the white person fee…
In addition to all sorts of moss covered Balinese statues, the temple has an underground spring that feeds a series of spouts where people go to wash away sins and get blessings. The complex isn’t huge, so it was easy to walk around in an hour or so. Since I had a full day ahead of me and since I always feel a little uncomfortable and sometimes disrespectful doing ritualistic things for a religion that I am not a part of, which is basically all religion, I sat back and observed what was going on around me. People get into the pool and stop at each station to pray. Sometimes they leave an offering above a particular station depending on what they are praying for.
Going early in the morning was key because after an hour, the place was PACKED with tour groups. As I was about to leave, an Indonesian woman approached me and asked “photo?” I thought she wanted me to take a photo of her and her group. Wow. Was I wrong. What I agreed to set of an uncontrollable spiral of photos and I learned that I never, ever, ever want to be famous. After I took a photo with her, her friend wanted one, then another woman from the group, then some dude, then the crowd started to form… Pretty soon there were 50+ Indonesian people taking photos of the white girl. I hadn’t experienced this in Lombok or Gili so I didn’t know what to expect, but after this moment, on all my future Indonesia trips, it happened. It was like the paparazzi, but much nicer. When I tried to leave, they followed me, taking photos while I turned around and smiled and waved. Eventually I shook them and was able to get outta there.
After the temple, I got dropped off in town to have lunch and wander around. There is some really awesome shopping here, which I took fullllll advantage of. I also ate at a delicious place called Clear Cafe, which has subsequently burned down and changed locations. The town is filled with new-agey, yoga themed, organic, raw everything which was a nice change from my Bangkok brand name, consumerist mall life.
My afternoon activity was the Monkey Temple. This place is wacky and if I have ever felt like I was in an Indiana Jones movie, minus the tourists, this would be it. I felt like I was supposed to find some kind of secret magical monkey amulet. The Monkey Temple is just that, a temple over run with monkeys and probably magic.
Even though they are wild, these monkeys have also become very accustomed to tourists so they will not run away if you approach them. Rather, they will be like where the F is my food, and then climb all over you and steal all your stuff and try to eat it. Turns out that monkeys are kind of a-holes. Monkey also get into the garbage and eat non-food items such as tape and paper towel rolls. They are not open to negotiation on this. They are going to eat it no matter what you do. I watched this mohawked monkey try to eat scotch tape for like 15 minutes; he was not interested in sharing.
There was also a cremation temple as part of the complex. Balinese Hindus have elaborate cremation ceremonies. Typically, they bury you for a certain number of days, depending on your status and then exhume your corpse and cremate it. This part of the temple had some pretty wild statues.
Further into the temple, there were some more statues that were just so cool. Everything is covered in moss and vines and it is unlike any place I have ever been. There was a small river going through the temple, and this photo is the bridge over the river.
After more wandering, I found some other cool stuff. I don’t have anything to write about it so I am just going to post the photos because I think they speak for themselves.
After I had enough of these annoying monkeys, I walked back into town for dinner and then went to a (100% for tourists) Balinese dance show at the former Prince’s palace. I usually hate this kinda stuff, but it was totally worth it. The dancers were really made up, to the point where I had some trouble trying to figure out who were the men and who were the women. There was also a full gamelan orchestra. I only know what this is because I went to the Field Museum in Chicago and they had an orchestra on display from when they brought the “savages from Java” to play at the World’s Fair. Basically, it’s an orchestra of xylophones with drums and bells. When they perform, they open their eyes really big and use them as part of the dance. They move every part of their body with great precision. This was the perfect way to end my trip.
My first trip to Indonesia just gave me a taste of some of the awesome things this country has to offer. Stay tuned for Round 2…