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Leah Down Under

bali: where the land is lush, the beer is cheap and a one-hour massage costs five dollars

AUSTRALIA | Wednesday, 30 September 2009 | Views [1141]

The island paradise of Bali exceeded my already-high expectations, and considering it rained on us most of the time, that really says something about this small isle in the archipelago that makes up Indonesia. There was a lot of relaxing-on-the-beach time, laying under an umbrella on a wooden lounge chair, both rented from a local man for about four bucks. Unfortunately, the umbrella protected me from the rain more than it protected me from the sun. Apparently, it never rains in Bali in September. Then Seb and I showed up. I apologize to the rest of the vacationers for sharing our bad weather luck.

Inexpensive is the key word in Bali: food, beer, jewelry, handmade suits, hotel rooms and spa services. It's all quite cheap, which is why most of the other Australians we met there were on holiday for at least two weeks. And which is why we basically spent three days eating, drinking and shopping our way around Legian, the town where we stayed. The incredibly friendly Balinese people line the streets outside of their shops and day spas and do everything they can to get you to part with your money, but they do so with big smiles on their faces. I can't tell you how many times I heard, "Darling, you want a manicure?"

We did manage to fit in some culture with an afternoon trip to Ulu Watu, a cliff-side Hindu temple located on the western tip of the small peninsula that juts off the south side of the island. The temple is gorgeous, but overrun with tourists. The local monkeys make an interesting side show, though. If they're not snatching the sunglasses off your head, they're fighting with each other.

The highlight of our trip was our 40km cycling tour through quiet village back roads. We were driven north into the mountains to Kintamani, in the northeastern part of the island. On the way, we stopped at a coffee farm for a tasting and a look at a local luwak, a little critter that eats a red coffee cherry, digests it and then gets rid of it. The still-intact coffee bean is picked up by farmers and roasted, and it results in the most expensive coffee in the world. True story.

At this point we hadn't actually started biking yet. The weather, however, had begun to come down. We were whisked up to the crater rim to enjoy fried bananas and a view of Lake Batur and its volcano neighbor Mt. Batur. The fried bananas were great. The view was not. Unfortunately, the fog and mist had completely obliterated the view, but our guides did a nice job of pointing out to us where exactly the volcano and lake should be. Oh well. We donned trash bags and finally hopped on our mountain bikes. It was wet and cold, but still managed to be one of the most beautiful bike rides I've experienced. The ride was a slow descent from village to village, with rice paddies, peanut-plant fields and other stunning tropical flora in between. The beautiful Balinese children who were playing outside their family compounds practiced their English on us in every village we rode through by waving furiously and yelling, "Hello hello hello!" and "Welcome welcome!" It was pretty amazing.

Photos in the "bali" gallery.

Tags: bali, beaches, indonesia


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