There I was, perched upon the delicately crafted throne, peering out the hotel room window to the sandy, sun kissed expanse beyond. I sat there for a few moments, slightly confounded, before my subconscious thoughts suddenly appeared; why on earth was there a window from the bathroom to the bedroom?
It was a really curious feature that raised many questions, but answered none. You could try watch telly, but you wouldn’t be able to hear it. You could maybe gaze across the room, through the balcony window and out to the enclosed courtyard, but I’d hazard a guess the other hotel guests were about as interested in my bowel movements as fans of Nickelback are interested in actual music. But I digress..
We had arrived in Bali for a few days of R&R, in the hopes that there was more to the island than the bogan party paradise for which it is portrayed. Between the Indonesian exchange rate and some sweet travel agent hookups, we had organised a cheap stay at the 5-star Pullman in Legian. Few things are more relaxing than sipping on a constant supply of happy hour priced cocktails by the pool, floating there and watching the sun set over the Indian Ocean. For the most part, this was the typical experience of our stay.
“Cheap cheap,” the touts would sing from their stalls like pestering seagulls, only these guys were trying to hawk every colour Bintang singlet imaginable and counterfeit Ray Bans. Pointing to the sunglasses on my head and trying not to be dressed as just about every other Australian guy there, I brushed them off only to get the old “for you, special price!” chestnut. Bugger it, I was looking for a souvenir, so a 6 pack of Bintang stubby holders was my concession. And then I did suppose I could use another pair of Vans sunglasses… or 3. My favourites were the backward-labelled ‘snaV’ sunnies.
After a tough day of walking around in the sweltering Indonesian heat and getting lost amongst the alleyways between the two Poppies Lanes, it was time for a massage and even a fish spa.
Talk about creepy. It’s like moths to a lightbulb, only instead of moths there are hundreds of tiny fish and the lightbulbs are your filthy, dirt-encrusted feet. They like to feed on the dead skin cells, and the feeling is like being tickle-attacked by a lumberjack’s bushy beard, brushing and entangling with the hairs on your own leg. Yeah, it’s pretty weird.
I do always find it astonishing in places like this where you land at the airport and are greeted with big, bold red signs brandishing skulls-and-crossbones, warning of the death penalty for drug trafficking, only then to be openly offered weed, pills and mushrooms at just about every turn once you’ve made it beyond customs. Hilariously, I was offered Viagra on more than one occassion. The whole scene reminded me of that time I met 2-Pac.
Wanting to escape the frantic pace of things back in Legian and Kuta, we hired a driver and headed out for a day around the island. For about AU$70, we had a van and driver to ourselves for 9 hours, and we were taken to all the wonderful places where the driver was undoubtedly receiving a kickback: The traditional Balinese performance that we were delivered to halfway through, the lunchtime restaurant we had no say in, and my favourite of all, the shit coffee place (more on that in a sec).
Once out of Kuta, Bali becomes a much slower paced, relaxed way of life. Rice paddies abound, fruit sellers by the side of the road, lots of crafts and small rural markets. Every few kilometres there pops up lots of little factory shops, selling commercial quantities of statues and furniture and other nick-nacks. I wouldn’t be surprised if this is where a lot of kitschy decorations that wind up in Wal Mart come from.
Somewhere about an hour or so out of Kuta, we stopped in Ubud to check out the Monkey Forest. We paid some local ladies for a handful of bananas, and then swiftly had them stolen from us by the cheeky little furry guys only moments later. You have to be careful around the nimble macaques, I’d witnessed thefts of water bottles, sunglasses and even attempted bag snatchings!
Not long after, we stopped at a plantation with various teas and spices, but the real lure was the coffee. It was pretty shit, and I say that in both a literal and metaphorical sense. The process used to make the coffee involves a cat-like creature, the lurwak, which eats, digests then excretes the coffee beans, before being cleaned, roasted and brewed. To be fair, I’d still probably drink it over instant coffee, but it wasn’t particularly special and the extra process didn’t seem to add any real depth or character to the flavour.
We rounded out the day with a meal overlooking Mt Agung, a still active volcano (although it hasn’t erupted since 1964) and a quick detour to Tanah Lot, a temple by the sea. It turned out to be a pretty full-on day, that surprisingly takes a lot of energy out of you. With that, it seemed the appropriate thing to do was retire to the pool and enjoy the never ending happy hour.
Bali’s not so bad. It’s cheap, it’s close to home and it has beaches. With that said, you could stay at home, go to beaches close to home, and not be buying shoddy souvenirs you won’t use (where did my stubby holders go?). Curiosity now satisfied, I’m off to conquer somewhere new.