Monday, December 27, 2010

Bali Shock

Overwelmed is the best word to describe what wandering around Ubud was like for Jonathan and I that first afternoon. We had the 'taksi' drop us off at a bed and breakfast type house, but they were quite expensive (like $15) so we took to the streets in search of a bargain. It was hot and humid, but I almost didn't mind, even though we had yet to dispose of our heavy bags, and it turns out we had been going the wrong way. Almost. There was just so much to look at. So much to take in. We eventually followed a nice man down an alley to another alley and another alley to a four bedroom house overlooking a small family temple and lush palms. We bartered down to less than half of what he had been asking and settled into our large room with private bath and fan. We then set off to wander aimlessly and attempt to wrap our heads around the hustle and bustle of a completely different caliber than what we had been immersed in the day before in Perth.

Before we knew it, it was time to meet up with a Bali local we had met through couchsurfing. Lena, our new Polish friend has been nomadic for 2 years now. Having grown tired of 'homogeneous' Poland, she was in search of multicultural cities and experiences. Her quest led her to Bali eventually, where she met her now boyfriend, 'Blackie,' (you guessed it, he is so called by all (family included) because of his exceptionally dark skin) and so Lena has called Ubud her home for the last 8 months. Lena has led a very interesting life and has travelled around much of Asia. She had many great stories, tips and insights. We met at Blackie's sister's cafe just off one of Ubud's main streets. We had just eaten before arriving, but were keen to try a local dessert. (Surprise, surprise) The chef suggested the coconut cake and set about making a fresh batch. Coconut cake, it turns out, is a green, crepe-like wrap stuffed with coconut and a thick, almost chocolatey brown sugar, topped with coconut and honey. I'm not sure why the crepes were green, exactly, but we did learn that the food colouring comes from compressing the leaves of a special plant. Either way, they were super delicious and left us devising a scheme with Blackie and his sister to return the next morning for a special breakfast that Blackie would order for us, and his sister would have ready at 8am, despite the fact that food was more dinner fare.

Lena let us in on her experience with the people of Bali. 'Everything is very slow here' she told us. 'They work long hours, but that doesn't mean they get a lot done.' This is not meant to be a negative observation, however. Its just how it is. Friends visit throughout the course of the day, people make time to make offerings, they take ample cigarette breaks. Work is just something that gets done while life is happening. Lena confided that in the beginning, there was a bit of a 'culture curve.' She would be at her apartment, and Blackie would call and say he would be over 'soon.' So, like a good western woman, she would wait. And wait... and wait. Seconds turned to minutes, and minutes to hours. Three long hours later, Blackie would traipse through the door, sporting a huge, Balinese smile. Lena, of course, would be fuming. 'You said you would be here SOON!' she would say. Blackie didn't understand. There is no 'soon' in the Balinese language. It really does not exist. His typical response would be 'I came though!' Probably very confused thinking, 'What does this woman want from me?! I said I would come, and now I am here!' He would be held up by any variety of things: friends stopping to chat, helping a neighbour, tying his shoes.... and this is life, in Bali time. Although, confusion is bound to happen when the Balienese follow a completely different calendar than in the west. A Balinese month, for example, has 35 days, and most Balinese themselves can't figure out what day it is. That's the priest's job. Time here moves so slow that before international time standards were adopted, the longest measure of time was a 'Barong's wink.' Since a Barong mask never winks, Bali is pretty much saying, 'Don't hold your breath.'

We are very happy to have met Lena, Blackie and his family. We feel fortunate to be a part of the couchsurfing phenomenon which consistently allows us to meet friendly, generous, local people from around the world.

Lena had also invited fellow couchsurfer, Sandra, to meet us at the cafe for a drink. Sandra is a gorgeous, charming, Parisian woman on a one month holiday in Bali. This chance meeting, little did we know it at the time, would transform Jonathan and I from a boring couple to a party of 3. We were lucky enough to be joined by Sandra for the next 5 days as we travelled north through the Balinese mountains. Sandra turned out to be the perfect travel partner for us. She was funny, smart, a good bargainer, and well traveled. Just an introduction as Sandra will be a prominent figure in stories to come.

The next morning we were up early, eager to see the 'real Bali,' which happens early in the morning, according to our guidebook. The main streets were quiet, apart from a few women kneeling serenely in a cloud of sweet smelling incense making offerings at their family temples. There are offerings everywhere, as a sidenote. Little bowls made of palm and filled with rice, flower petals, candies and mini ritz crackers pile on top of each other in front of specific statues, or certain corners. Monkey Forest Rd, which we happened to be walking along, was mostly lined with men shining up their cars so they could later yell 'Taxi? Ya! Good price' at you, and point to their immaculate, buffed vehicle. It was like Trilllium Cres on Saturday morning with Dad and Jer out there waxing up their prized possessions. 'Transport? Ya!' was to become one of the many sounds of Bali. Just because you said 'No, Thank you' to a taxi driver does not mean that the taxi driver beside him will not assume that this means you do not want to take his taxi instead. In case you changed your mind in the last millisecond. At least there's selection...

Balinese music is wonderful. Bongos and chimes and instruments I have never seen before meld together in unique, tantalizing sounds. Where there is live Balinese music, there is something live and Balinese to witness, or so we hoped at least as we followed the notes off a main street and through an alley. We came upon a gaggle of children, all in costume, carrying instruments and parading down the street. Two children worked together to support a large dragon like costume, like the kind you would picture in Chinese parades, that danced wildly in tune with the melody. It was quite a sight. As it was meant to be. The troup leader out front carried a shoebox with 'Donation' scrawled across the front. He spotted me right off, in typical tourist form, camera posed, mouth in permanent smile. He followed his intuition and made a b-line to my wallet, looking up at me with his warm, soft, innocent eyes. Bugger. I pulled the only coin I had out of my change purse and plunked it in. It said 10 on it. He smiled genuinely, said 'Thank you', and bowed before scampering back off to join his friends. I smiled back, quite proud of myself for encouraging such a creative, local performance. 'You just gave him one one-hundredth of a penny' Jon told me. Oh.

Money here is confusing, for me at least. 10,000 Rp is about $1.1 CAD. There are just too many zeros for my pea brain to equate in a timely fashion... that's my excuse anyways.

On our early morning walk we wandered to the end of our aptly named Monkey Forest St, to the 'Monkey forest.' There were adorable grey monkeys everywhere! Big ones, small ones, some as big as your head. They were scampering about, around our feet, playing, scratching, playing, itching. There were even a few tiny baby monkeys splitting their time between skitishly running about, and crawling all over their mothers. I was having a heyday with my camera, as you can maybe imagine. Trying to capture the perfect monkey moment for all of you devoted armchair travellers back home. I was crouched down, attempting to get the lens at optimal monkey level when I heard Jonathan say 'Umm.. I think...' and thats as far as he got before the big papa monkey in the tree right behind me decided to take the opportunity to jump down from the branch where he had been perched... and onto my back. It wasn't that traumatizing actually, after the initial shock of having been used as a stepping stone. It didn't hurt, he didn't scratch me, he jumped off immediately. It could have been relatively uneventful, as far as mokeys jumping on unexpecting humans go. Except his feet were super grungy. Now, if it had been anyone else, the 'grunge' would have been mud caked all over his feet, or grass, or rice lying about from Balinese offerings or chocolate sauce. But, no. We are all aware what it is that monkey's particularly like to throw. And, might you know, monkey's don't wash up and sanitize after such shenanigans. This particular monkey, the only monkey in the whole forest who decided it would jump on someone? His feet were slathered with poo. Monkey poo. There was monkey poo all over my back. I know this because my darling husband pointed it out with glee, grabbing the camera from my hands to document this most precious of kodak moments. I also knew because it, and now, I, smelt like poo. My back, my dress, my bag, and over the course of my stomp home, my hands. There is monkey poo on my hands. 'Taxi!? Yeah?' greeted the taxi hawkers approximately every 20 seconds as I was rushing towards our room, in particular the cold shower in our room. I glared. 'You want me and my poo back in your freshly cleaned taxi!?' I wanted to yell at them. AHHHH!! 'This is crap!' I exclaimed. 'Literally' replied the peanut gallery.

After day #1's shower #2 we headed to the family run cafe we had been at the night before with Lena and Blackie. Blackie's sister greeted us like old friends. 'I make special dish for you! Not on the menu. My specialty!' she told us. Blackie had put our order in the night before for the tastiest, spiciest Balinese food she could cook up. It sounded like just the remedy I needed to rebound from the whole monkey 'incident.' Everything was made super fresh and from scratch. The food arrived at the table artfully arranged and smelling heavenly. The chef came out. 'You eat with your hands, like the Balinese' she suggested, placing a bowl of finger rinsing warm lemon water beside me, smiling and obviously very happy with the idea. I smiled back tightly. 'Ok...' I said unwillingly surrendering my utensils and looking down at my hands with suspicion. The same hands that were covered in monkey poo no less than a half hour earlier. Not that I hadn't washed them 10 times and sanitized them with the emergency hand sanitizer. But still... They needed time to heal. She stayed behind me just long enough to make sure I was really 'experiencing Bali.' 'Yumm' I said.


Laura said...

Have I said this before? BEST... BLOG... EVER!!!!!!!!!!!!!! It is just so great to hear all about what you guys are doing and seeing. Kristen, you NEED to write a book!!

Anonymous said...

Hi J and K.,
It is lovely to sit comfortablely in an armchair and travel the world with you. The unique way you have the gift of describing it, makes me feel I have actually been there, minus the monkey Poo ! I look forward to reading each chapter of what I call your " Travels I can never forget."
Love and best wishes to you both.

Sarah said...

I agree with the sentiments of Laura and Pappy. Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful! Of course you would be pounced on with the poopy monkey. A great story indeed!Looking forward to hearing so much more. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year... I bet you'll have a great blog after that celebration (that is if the Balinese calendar allows for such a party :))

Anonymous said...

Happy New Year John & Kristen. Glad to hear your thoughts of Indonesia are the same as your #1 cob. Heard you have met up with "Annie"
Miss you both.
A. Maryann

karly said...

yupp have to agree best blog ever!!! you guys and your adventures!! love you both ... merry christmas and happy new year!! cant wait for more!!