We spent a total of 11 days on Bali exploring 3 towns (Sanur, Ubud, and Lovina) and a private island called Menjangan Island off the Northwest coast. We begin our journey with our stomachs. We arrived in Denpasar, Bali’s capital city, in a downpour that was like a hot shower. The air was thick with heat and moisture. The abundant fruit was a welcome relief from the heat. Above is a salak, colloquially called the snake fruit, one of the most exotic fruits we tried. However interesting its scaly exterior, the interior was disappointingly bland and lacked the tantalizing juiciness that one craves on a hot day.
One of the first things that we observed and admired about Bali was the abundance of art, particularly the intricate woodcarvings like the doorframe above. The image of the demon is present in masks, doors, and downspouts all over Bali. This long-fanged “demon” actually represents one of the most important figures in Balinese mythology, the spirit king Barong. Barong represents the forces of good against the evil witch queen Rangda and their eternal struggle is the feature of many traditional Balinese dances. The many faces of Barong appeared in store windows, carved into walls, looming over door frames to protect everyone who enters, and in colorful masks hanging from walls, usually surrounded by a shaggy mop of long black hair. The rich and colorful culture of Bali engulfed us as immediately as the heat.After almost a year away from the ocean, we were drawn to the water like people lost in the desert. Sanur beach provided us with magnificent views of table-flat cyan water, pale sand, and even paler tourists, whose accents and incredibly tiny bathing suits identified them as all manner of Europeans. We floated in the warm water and basked in the sun in luxury, our comfort made all the more delicious by our surreptitious use of a nearby hotel’s beach chairs.
Our walk on Sanur’s boardwalk was frequently interrupted by vendors aggressively hawking their wares, stray dogs that trotted by us with panting smiling expressions, and once by this inspirational quote spray painted on a wall. At that moment, standing beneath the sub-equatorial sun beside the sussuring of the gentle tide, we found it particularly poignant.
There is nothing better than enjoying a light dinner beach-side. Thankfully for us, we quickly learned that Indonesian menus contain a variety of vegan dishes, including Gado Gado and curry. This meal cost roughly $7, a costly splurge after we had enjoyed meals closer to our hostel that were only about 80 cents total.
Kelly bought these sandals from a woman on the street. The lasted for 3 hours before breaking. This pool was in the courtyard of our hostel, The Big Pineapple. The first few nights were spent in a shared room but for our last night we were upgraded to a private room for no extra charge because there wasn’t room for us in the shared room for another night.
We were walking to find a store that sold decent sunblock (Banana Boat is the only readily available brand we trust that doesn’t have aluminum or harsh chemicals), and stumbled across this beautiful giant gecko. It was dark outside so the flash washes out its bright blue coloring, so this picture does not do it justice. Not only was it a gorgeous thing to see perched on a wall beside a busy street, but it was also as long as a forearm, making it at least 10 times bigger than the other geckos we had seen crowded together beneath lights in the evenings to catch bugs. These shallow little boxes made from banana leaves contain small pieces of food and flower petals, with an incense stick swirling smoke from each one. These offerings are found lining the streets in front of houses and businesses and in shrines beside front doors. The offerings are to the gods that more than 90% of Balinese people worship. Balinese Hinduism is a minority faction of Hinduism that tends to worship local or ancestral spirits rather than the more mainstream figures, making Bali an all the more special and unique place. Occasionally, we would see stray cats snacking on the tidbits of food or lapping water from the tiny cups that sometimes accompany the offerings.
Kelly devouring mangos and mangosteens at our “regular” breakfast place, a small store that we went to every morning. They even started giving us a discount for buying from them so often. Bicycles with steering wheels.
Though sadly not as glamorous as the horse whisperer, the cow whisperer is gaining popularity.A cliché picture, but this is really what our time in Sanur was like. This is from one of those vegan-friendly buffets that cost about 40-50 cents a plate.
That night we got back to our hostel where we met a fellow southern Californian who is also teaching English in China. Interestingly, the only other Americans we met on this trip were other English teachers living in China enjoying their May holiday. Our new friend said that he and a friend hired a car to go sight seeing the next day and if we went, the price would go down for everyone. So for about $12.50 each we got a private 10 hour tour. Of course, we went to temples. From there, we drove on to the famous Ubud Monkey Forest.Right when we bought our tickets, a monkey stole Kelly’s ticket, then hopped onto a monkey statue and ate the monkey ticket. While he ate, he stared Kelly down with a very satisfied look.
Monkeys are known to jump on people’s backs and/or grab someone’s bag and run away with it. Kelly was very anxious about any interaction with the monkeys so Mi snapped this photo before mentioning the monkeys behind her.
All temples require that visitors wear sarongs. They are so kind as to provide them for you if you come unprepared. An stream of people lined up to take part in a Hindu ritual in the baths of the Tirta Empul Temple.
After a beautiful and jam-packed morning, we took an hour off to have lunch overlooking the active Batur Volcano and Bali’s largest crater lake, Danau Batur.After lunch we went to a coffee tasting lounge in the middle of the jungle.Coffee, coco, and cinnamon trees grew all around.
This is one of the coffee “cats” that eat coffee and poop it out to make the “most expensive coffee in the world.” This animal is a Luwak, which is more closely related to a weasel than a cat. Luwaks sort through coffee beans and only eat the best ones.We were given a tour about how to process raw coffee, coco, and cinnamon. We got to participate long enough for a few photos, then we started our sampler platters.Left to right: Bali coffee, ginger tea, lemon tea, ginseng coffee and hot chocolate. The ginseng coffee was by far our favorite; spicy, sweet and creamy, it hit the spot. The hot chocolate was unsweetened, so we stirred it with a cinnamon stick to sweeten it up. We had some of the alcohol too but it wasn’t the highlight of the sampler. We decided to try some poop coffee. We found it funny that it is advertised as the most expensive coffee and not the best coffee in the world. It was the most expensive cup of coffee we have ever bought at $5 a cup, though some people pay up to $100 a cup. It went to Kelly’s head so she was feeling especially posh in this snapshot. While this wasn’t the best cup of coffee we have ever had, it wasn’t the shittiest either.
During low tide, we watched fishermen begin their day by walking out on a submerged sandbar to their fishing nets. It was very calm and serene. Later that morning we packed our bags and made our way to Ubud, an artsy, new-age town in Bali’s mountains. We chose the Goutama home stay from seemingly endless options. It was $10 a night for a private room with a bathroom. A really nice breakfast was also included. Over the short course of our stay, the resident dog, Pico, took a liking to us. He spent hours on our porch while we read, followed us for a while down the street, and happily wagged his tail hello when we came back.
The first day we arrived, we wandered around for 3 or 4 hours getting aquatinted with the town and trying to find our way back to the hostel, whose name we forgot. Once we got back we took a photo of the hotel sign to show a taxi driver if we ever got lost again. It was an awesome exploration.
When we finally made it back we were ready for dinner so we had fresh fruit juice and vegan food at our home stay. We cannot stress enough how easy it was to be vegan in Bali. The next day we rented a motor bike from our home stay for $4. We spent $1.50 on gas and went exploring for about 5 hours. We drove around little towns where the attention we received proved that few tourists had ventured out that far from the tourist hot-spots.
We ate at one of the 57 vegan restaurants in Bali listed on happycow.net. This one is the Down to Earth Cafe. We enjoyed fresh smoothies through bamboo straws, shared a burrito, cheese cake and a brownie with coconut ice cream. It cost about $20; by far our most expensive meal in Bali. It was so worth it.
It is so humid in Bali so we stopped in the shade to dab up the sweat with a hanky. Right around the bend were cages of roosters awaiting their fate as cock fighters. Cock fights are part of the Balinese Hindu religion and they represent a battle between good and evil. They also serve as ritual sacrifices.
We stumbled upon this restaurant and spent hours sipping juice, reading, and ordering dishes to share. Later, at the home stay, we had a visitor on our porch. This little guy stole a cookie from the Hindu offering alter by our door.
The cookie was clearly too big for the gecko to eat so it was banging the cookie on the wall to break it. The next morning we caught a bus to Lovina, Bali. Lovina is on the Northwest side of the island and not as packed with tourists as the southeast. We chose to go there for the black sand beaches and quiet ambience. We got off the bus and after some bargaining found a hotel for $15 a night.We went to the lobby and got sucked into a sales pitch about snorkeling off the coast of a private island with an excellent coral reef. We decided it was worth the money, but still bargained. They threw in a free night at the hotel, and dropped the price down to $50 dollars each. We felt ill from spending so much money so we took a walk and watched the sunset over the ocean.
The Island is part of a national nature preserve inhabited by wild deer that roam the island while boats of tourists anchor nearby and get geared up to snorkel. Kelly loves taking photos like this. She has an almost identical one from the Galapagos Islands.
We could have rented an underwater camera for an extra $50 for 200 photos. We opted against it because we wanted to enjoy the moment without worrying about photos. There are some experiences you just can’t capture on film. This will be an excellent memory that is only for us to share. We saw hundreds of species of fish, including clown fish that our guide coaxed out of its protective anemone. Some fish were as big as our torso with huge flat teeth and others as tiny as a sliver of a fingernail. Occasionally we felt prickles from the tiny jelly fish brushing against us, but it wasn’t enough discomfort to discourage us.
We were so absorbed with the day that we forgot our third application of sunscreen, so our shoulders and backs got thoroughly burned. That night and the next few days we carried wet handkerchiefs to sooth the burn.
The next day we took a bus to the port town Gilimanuk to take a ferry one island west to Java. This local bus driver thought he could scam us into paying him an exorbitant amount even after we agreed on the locals’ price 3 times during the trip (once in writing). When we got to the port, the bus driver insisted that we pay him a different amount than we agreed. He followed us to a tent where officials worked and we explained the situation. They believed us and let us get on the ferry after paying the bus driver what we originally agreed upon. Next stop, Java! Check out the next entry of our blog. We are sorry for the long spans of time between entries, we have been busy with work and more travel. The good news is, once we finish our spring holiday series, we can blog about our May holiday, weekend trips, end of school year, and the new country we are moving to.
P.S. In all tour books tourists are advised about travelers diarrhea. The statistics about the frequency of infection vary, but the highest percentage we heard said that up to 80% of travelers fall victim to it. It’s caused by a bacteria that thrives in the persons’ intestines until they kill it with antibiotics. Fortunately for Kelly, she is part of the minority when it comes to this statistic. Safe Travels!