Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Biking Around Bali

Back in November, Sarah and I took one week off of work. The destination: Bali. That place in Indonesia that everyone's heard of.

This is the view from our room the first night.
We arrived in Bali on a Saturday afternoon, and went right to Ubud. Ubud is the cultural center of Bali, with tons of touristy beautiful places to visit. We saw music, dancing, enjoyed good food, took a cooking course, and spent lots of time walking around on something very novel to us Surabaya-ers: sidewalks. After a couple days, we rented motor bikes and started venturing out of Ubud to see the beautiful rice paddy terraces.

As we ate breakfast on our patio, we saw a monkey right in front of us having a banana breakfast.
The Palace in Ubud.

Bali is a Hindu island, as opposed to Java (and most of Indonesia), which is Muslim. It feels like you're in a different country.

One thing that is very apparent is the offerings people leave everywhere. You will see banana leaves, shaped into a tray and filled with flowers, food, trinkets, and incense everywhere. It smells wonderful.

One thing I have been very excited about since before we came to Indonesia is the gamelan music. You almost constantly hear the drone of gongs and metal pots, or bamboo flutes.

This is where the gamelan orchestra performs at the Palace.

Sarah narrowly escaped being this monster's dinner.

The beautiful Water Palace. We didn't get a chance to see a performance here, unfortunately.
One of the most amazing things we saw was the kecak fire and trance dance. It's not accompanied by any instruments, but instead a choir of many men who sing, chant, and sway around on the floor. The dance tells the story of Ramayana. I won't attempt to tell you the story because I'm sure I'll get it all wrong. I did record the entire performance on my mp3 recorder and I will try to post it as soon as possible. It's amazing. You need to hear this.

 The kecak fire dance is followed immediately by the trance. In this dance, they build a fire out of coconut husks on the floor, and [a man dressed as] a horse is lulled into a trance by the gamelan voices and walks over the fire, kicking burning coconut husks all around the stage. Two other men sweep it all back into a big fire and the horse repeats it all.

This man has no shoes or any type of protection. Here is picture of him and his toasted feet afterward.
In our cooking class, we learned to make some of our food staples here: nasi goreng (fried rice), mie goreng (fried noodles), and gado-gado (a fresh salad with peanut sauce. Plus, we learned how to make a delicious dessert: dadar guling, which is a green pancake (it's green because of the pandan leaf, not from food coloring) filled with toasted coconut.

Sarah flipping her pancake!

The finished meal. Yum!
We left Ubud reluctantly, but eager to see more. We drove up into the mountains to a little town called Munduk. The drive itself was wonderful. The landscape is, in a word, picturesque. Palm trees, mountains, rice paddies, Hindu temples, and of course, monkeys. We stopped a cafe with beautiful views for a cup of coffee.

And we naturally stopped to hang out with the monkeys on the side of the road.

It looks like he's attacking me with a banana, but just retreating quickly from the human after getting said banana.
Just hanging out, watching the traffic.
I'm pretty sure that's not a Siamese monkey.
 We stayed a couple nights in Munduk, at two different places, both with great views.
The view from our first room.

Sunset over Sarah's bike.
Praying Mantis

This is the view from our second room. It's hard to see in this picture, but you can see the ocean off in the distance.
 In Munduk, we visited a couple waterfalls.

Sarah got a little thirsty.
 At the second waterfall, there was a beautiful little cafe beside it. It was so quiet and we had this waterfall all to ourselves. We also tried our first cup of Luwak Coffee. This is the most expensive coffee in the world, and let me tell you why. There is a small cat-like, raccoon-like animal called a civet that lives only in Indonesia. It is an animal of very refined taste. It eats only the finest berries in the jungle...including the perfect coffee berries. It won't settle for any of those "nescafe" coffee beans, no, no - just the premium stuff. In the civet's stomach, the coffee beans are neutralized (or something - I'm not entirely sure) by the stomach acids, taking away the often bitter taste of coffee. Well, as with all animals, after food passes through the digestive system it ends up left behind. Some Clever Trevor along the way, decided it would be a good idea to turn these poop coffee beans into, well, coffee. And thus was born the world's most expensive cup of coffee. In the US, you'll be lucky if you can find a cup - a cup, not a bag - for twenty bucks. We tried a cup for about four dollars, and it was pretty good, actually. Now, I can proudly say I've imbibed of something that was in something else's stomach first. It's good shit!

Sarah relaxing with the views.
Enjoying the view. You can see the ocean in the distance.

Sarah caught it! She caught the sun!
 After a couple days in Munduk, we pushed on, heading north toward the sea. We left the chilly air of the mountains and drove down, down to the hot, humid tropical sun we know so well. The next stop was Lovina, a beach town along the north coast. Lovina was our least favorite place we visited in Bali - busy and touristy, with lots of street hawkers - but we found a really nice bungalow with an even nicer pool. So we spent a couple days relaxing by the pool and enjoying the ocean sunset.

One other nice thing about being in a Hindu area is.....PORK! Mmmmmmmmm sate babi (pork satay).

Enjoying one last sunset.

And what vacation would be complete without some Diet Choke???

 It was very sad to leave Bali, but by the end of the week, we actually started missing home. Well, mostly we missed our little (OK, not so little anymore) kittens.

And now it's almost vacation time again. Christmas is just a few days away. And while it seems nothing like holidays back home, what with the unbearable heat, the mosquitoes, the lack of Christmas carols everywhere, and the mosque calls to prayer, it feels great to be heading to the beach in a few days. We are traveling with some friends - the same ones from the Gilis trip, plus a couple more - to a tiny island called Pulau Derawan. It's off the beaten path and likely to be very quiet. They don't even have electricity after dark. It is known for its world-famous diving. It's home to a rare species of green sea turtles, and apparently you will see several every time you head out snorkeling. There should be many new stories and photos to share after this trip.

I leave with this excerpt from a Mad Lib I did with my students today, based on The Night Before Christmas:
When, what to my wondering nose should appear,
But a short tree, and 4000 sexy reindeer.
Happy Holidays, everyone!

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