Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Indo blog 4: Ubud, Bali: 27th-30th June

Sat 27th - Off to Bali

Another early start had us rocking up to Rizqy's Mum's place to return her car that we borrowed for the great food tour. We met Rizqy's Gran who speaks not a word of English and is very, very sweet. Spent a chunk of time just laughing at me. I wasn't doing anything particularly amusing, she just thought I was funny lookin'. She also encouraged me to try some fresh Durian fruit - famous in Indo/Thailand as perhaps the smelliest, oddest tasting thing to fall out a tree that ain't a drunk grizzly. Its an... interrestiiing flavour. Apparently you can get pretty mabuk (drunk) if you eat a lot of it. I had three mouthfuls and I was burping the taste of Durian for about 2 hours.

So, following a taxi to the airport – where we killed time eating Soto Danang and Rawom, a couple of Indonesian meat/noodle soups – a short Lion Air flight to Denpasar and an hour-and-a -half's drive in a rickety taxi with no air con, we arrive in Ubud, Bali and Mr Raka's family-run hotel.

Mr Raka's was a typically Balinese house (aside from the swimming pool, of which Mr Raka was inordinately proud); you enter through a door in a wall on street level and walk down into a shaded courtyard dotted with elevated open pagodas, richly decorated with golden carvings and stone statues. There is a main house and several bungalows, all with their own porches and seating areas, and the pathways connecting them all are decorated with mosaic lotuses and water features. Since Bali is a predominantly Hindu community, all statues are modestly covered with sarongs, and have offerings at their feet: little folded square trays of banana leaf, containing flower petals, grass, biscuits and a burning incense stick. The result is that the whole of Bali smells of incense. Its lovely.

We eat at a pretty cool cafe bar over the road from Mr Raka's, sitting cross legged on a wooden platform and eating Beef Rendang (like Ghoulash) and drinking Bintang, then back to Raka's to settle in and freshen up before heading out to explore. Carls and Riz were excited about a band they'd seen before who were playing at a local Jazz Cafe. Turned out to be a bit of a disappointment however, as the band were not the musicians the guys had seen before - they were just using the same name. They weren't bad, doing covers of old rock, blues and jazz standards, but Riz was really disappointed as the previous front man had sounded like Louis Armstrong and they didn't do any of our requests for Billie Holiday, Howlin Wolf or BB King. The cafe was more pretentious than the guys remembered too, saying that the Bintang was off (not having Bintang on draught or bottled is unheard of in Indo - its practically a food group), and so forcing us to buy the far more expensive Carlsberg and cocktails. Not. Impressed. Hmph.

We made up for our disappointment by having some proper street food at a very basic open-air warung at the side of the road. We sat on plastic milk crates and ate spicy fish satay cooked on an open bbq, and Bakso; a spicy meatball soup. Altho this particular incarnation had no meatballs and a few crunchy peanuts floating in it, but Riz promises me that proper Bakso is awesome.

We stop at the market and get bintangs and snacks and head back to Mr Raka's where we sit on Carls and Rizqy's porch drinking and talking until the neighbours in the bungalow opposite finally crack and tell us to shut it. Whoops. Ho hum.

Sun 28th - Shopping in Ubud

Right. Enough of this eating bollocks. Let's bloody shop. We do a couple of circuits of Ubud market, which is a cornucopia of brightly coloured and patterned textiles, decorated boxes and ceramics, wood carvings, tin sculptures, toys, paintings, clothes, accessories and spices. I am introduced for the first time to the joys of bartering in an Indonesian market. Its total pantomime and lots and lots of fun. Particularly if you have a couple of locals coaching you. The technique is pretty much the same wherever you go, and the stall holders all speak english when it comes to numbers and haggling, funnily enough.

It goes something like this:
  • See something you like but pretend not to be interested in it, choosing instead to idly inspect other wares round about it.
  • Finally pick up the item you like and look at it as though bored. Prepare to be pounced on by the stall holder...
  • ...Be pounced on by the stall holder; who will exclaim what a fine choice you've made and how you obviously have excellent taste, and look how fine the craftsmanship is etc etc. All in Balinese obviously but you get the gist.
  • Feign indifference and inquire 'Berapa?' (how much?)
  • Stall holder quotes, say, 100,000Rp (about £7)
  • Look appalled, screw up your face at this extortionate amount and offer 40,000Rp instead
  • The Stall holder will look mortally offended that you would so undervalue this fine piece of Balinese craftsmanship, before dropping their price immediately to 70,000Rp.
  • Look unimpressed and put the item down, saying you will go to 50,000Rp for it but absolutely no more. Start looking away at other stalls, maybe say something to your mate about something nicer you'd seen elsewhere...
  • The stall holder will either accept your offer or choose to be a hard ass and refuse to budge on their price. If so...
  • Shrug your shoulders again as though you weren't that bothered about it in the first place and start to walk away. Stall holder will usually shout you back, accepting your offer.
  • Sometimes however, rarely, they won't. And pride dictates that you have to keep walking. This has only happened to Carls once in Indo.
But I was surprised at how easily I got over my British reserve about talking money and became a complete skinflint haggler from hell. With Carls as my excellent coach and straight man, we walked off with pretty good deals on almost everything. No Bule prices for me! (The above technique doesn't just apply to markets - you can haggle in shops and boutiques too. Once back in the UK, I had to mentally check myself from haggling for stuff in WH Smith. Its addictive.)

I bought myself a Wayang Kulit, a shadow puppet, from a guy with four inch fingernails (bartered down from 250,000 to 125,000 - had to do the walking away bit on that one), and a couple of pashminas. Still looking for some nice wood carvings for the family. Plenty time though.

Lunch at a padang warung near Raka's; Bintang, rice, sweetcorn fritters, soya bread, tofu and fish. Bought some extra munchies off a passing vendor; weird frogspawny jelly pieces in condensed milk, spicy pork bits and odd nuts. Pretty good.

In the afternoon we visit Ubud's famous Monkey Forest. Over 200 Macaque monkeys rule the roost here; a dense forest surrounding a sacred Hindu temple where all monkeys are protected. Its all great photo-op stuff, as the little blighters have become so used to humans that they have no qualms about coming right up to you and demanding a goddamn banana. To the extent that if you don't give them a banana, they'll bloody well take your sunglasses. Erm... cute. I got my photo taken with a particularly forward little Macaque who was all sweetness and light until I ran out of noms, whereupon he attempted to sink his fangs into my forearm. Cheers, little dude; you're f***ing welcome. Another wee guy proper mugged Carls and robbed her of a whole bottle of water, opening it easily and drinking the spilled contents. Hmm... anyone for monkey satay?

We wandered back to Raka's for a dunk in the pool and a hot shower, then back out for dinner. Went to a Japanese warung, had chicken teriyaki don (rice, seaweed, chicken teriyaki). It was delicious but not quite enough for our Riz, who had to stop at a snack stall for more noms on the way home. We got ourselves Mansion House Gin, Tonic and Bintangs (Mansion House is a bog standard Indo alcohol brand - imported spirits are pricey, so MH is the only alternative. Their whisky is bloody awful but the gin goes down a treat) and sat out on the porch again and talked about Britain and what a bloody attitude problem we've got.

Mon 29th - Hire car to Kuta

Carls and Riz get up early and head out to find a place to hire us a car. They kit us out with a big four by four thingy, and then we all drive back towards Denpasar and Kuta; Ozzie tourist central.

Kuta was the location of the 2002 Bali bombing, in which more than 200 people died. There's a beautiful monument to the dead in the town centre near the site of the blast. The immediate area around the bomb site has never been rebuilt on, out of respect, but the town itself is still bustling, touristy and full of surfers. Because its very touristy vendors are a bit more pushy here, sometimes trying to physically drag you into their stalls, and do not take a simple 'no makasi' as an answer. This gets a little wearing, but we still manage to get in a decent amount of shopping. I buy no less than 26 bangles from a variety of stalls and shops, including some gorgeous Batik printed ones at the only place from which Carls, on a previous visit, has ever had to walk away empty-handed. She was determined it wasn't going to happen twice, and we successfully managed to haggle the guy down to a good price. Hoorah. Also got myself a Bintang branded towel which I am very excited about. After several hours of shopping, we is hot and hungry. Need eats.

We drove out to Jimbarra, about ten minutes along the coast, for dinner. Its worth getting out of Kuta to the quieter beaches, especially as Jimbarra has lots of seafood grills with tables out on the sand, so that you can watch the sunset while the unfortunate fish of your choice is flambeed. Carls and Riz got a red snapper between them, while I got a mix up platter of fish, squid and shellfish. We ate, we drank Bintang, we watched beach vendors sell grilled corn on the cob, with side orders of glowsticks and laser pens. Bonkers.

The drive back to Ubud is far from direct (we get a leetle lost in the dark), but successful in the end; rocking up to Raka's at about 10pm, and drinking more MH gin and Bintangs until late. Zzzzzz.

Tues 30th June - Last day in Ubud

After a relatively long lie (9am is a long lie in Indo), Carls, Riz and I get a bit more shopping done. I'm determined to get decent presents for the family and, with a bit of focus, I succeed in buying a cool carving of a gecko on a tree stump for my older bro and his lady, a very fine stained wood carving of a praying lady for the parents, and a very chic minimalist set of wooden salt and pepper shakers for my younger bro and his wife. Ah, job done. To celebrate, Carls and I book ourselves in for a traditional Balinese massage at the Nur Salon. Then we head to the Dirty Duck diner. Its a beautiful restaurant. We sit crosslegged on our own covered raised platform with ponds and trees either side, and eat Bebek Bengil (crispy duck), rice, sambal and green beans with more Bintang, and a pear and mint smoothie for me. YUM. We eat the traditional Indo way, with our fingers. Right hand only! The left one isn't clean apparently. And I was sure I just washed it...

After lunch we went back to the Nur Salon for our massage. The salon was in a traditional Balinese courtyard house, with several buildings, pagodas, open air bird cages, trees, flowers and water features. You are taken to your own private room, open air but high-walled for privacy. Once I got over the initial shock of being completely naked in front of a total stranger, the massage was absolutely blissful. I had warned the lass that my foot was very sakit (sore) and she understood and avoided that bit, but thoroughly massaged everywhere else!

Balinese massage involves scented oils and a lot of deep, pressure point stuff, acupressure along your spine and limbs, even massaging your hands, feet, fingers and toes. The masseuse often gets up on the table to stand over you to work your back and thighs.

The massage is followed by a full body seaweed scrub, a good douse with warm and then cold water and then a soak in a warm bath full of flower petals. Felt totally chilled by the end of it, and my skin felt AMAZING. Aaaaah.

Floated back to Raka's to sunbathe, shower and change, and then we headed out for a very very cheap but really tasty warung meal (seafood nasi goreng for me, two other mains for carls and Riz, 6 large spring rolls in satay sauce, a large Bintang and a water, all for about £4), and then we boosted to catch a traditional Balinese Barong dance around the corner.

The Barong dance is the sort of thing you'll see if you do a google image search for 'Balinese culture'. Its a pretty touristy thing to do, but its still a cool spectacle. The singing, the music and the moves are strange, discordant and jerky, but the characters are pretty familiar. There are the girls playing male roles, the comedy duo, the villain, the hero, the big, bad monster, the dame. Its basically panto, just with more gold, sequins and facepaint. Rizqy got some awesome close up portraits with his SLR. You can see a selection of his shots here as I don't think my description really does it justice.

We finished off our last night in Bali with a quick drinkie at the Gaia cafe round the corner from Raka's. Tried a sip of Carly's Arak Attack (Arak is the local moonshine - its lethal stuff), but stuck with my Bintang. Only the one tonight, as we're up early tomorrow to leave for Lombok.

1 comment:

Raindrop Technique said...

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