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Bali

INDONESIA | Sunday, 8 March 2009 | Views [1586]

Ubud, the real Bali

Ubud, the real Bali

Bali is one of the 17,000 islands in Indonesia and is probably the most visited by tourists from North America, Europe and Australia.  We have heard that many visitors don’t even realize that they are in Indonesia!  South Bali is the over-touristed and ultra-commercial center for sun, sand, surf and shopping.  For us it is an opportunistic afterthought, a little R&R after Borneo.

Stana Puri Gopa hotel is in Sanur, a low key beach compared to the hectic tourist center at Kuta.  Our room is large with AC and hot water.  There is a nice pool, many western channels on TV and breakfast is included.  It is only two hundred meters from the beach and minutes from several nice restaurants.  The weather is hot and humid but there is usually a nice breeze.  We have been walking along the beach and birding in the mornings and hanging out at the hotel pool in the afternoon.  I feel like a real jerk with the disposable camera I bought but we should take some photos.

Sanur lives up to its nickname “Snore” which is fine with us.  The beach is dominated by a few mega hotels.  The rest of the strip consists of smaller resort villas, restaurants, souvenir stands and countless massage tables.  The beach itself is narrow and the palm tree shaded sections belong to the big hotels.  Offshore reefs block the waves and despite the heat and humidity we see no reason to swim in the sea, opting instead for the hotel pool.  The equatorial sun is brutal and even with SPF 50 sunblock we are getting some color.  We found an area of mangroves near the harbor entrance.  It smells and is filled with trash carried in by the tide but the birds seem to love it.  We humans may pollute the planet until we all perish but the birds will outlive us all. 

The food in Bali is a pleasant change from Borneo.  There are several western options including one fabulous Italian restaurant, not a fast food chain in sight and rice is an option, not a staple.  Bali has one other thing going for it – no one stares at us here.  There aren’t many Americans but there are enough Europeans and Aussies that we don’t stand out.  And I am no longer one of the oldest visitors either!

Ubud is the other part of Bali and some say it is where the real Bali begins.  Like Luang Prabang it’s a wonderful place to do very little.  It is touristy, for certain, but it still feels exotic. The small hotels sit on gangs, a maze of narrow alleys separated by banana trees and coconut palms.  The hotels are in the villa-style of Balinese homes.  Ours, the Oka Wati, has 25 foot ceilings, brightly painted carved doors and beams and a balcony where breakfast is served.  There is no aircon or hot water but the bathroom is large and the ceiling fan keeps things cool.

The main drag, Monkey Forest Road, is a one way street of restaurants, lodgings and shops with designer clothing, jewelry, batik, art and local tours.  Bali is mostly Hindu and the call of the muezzin is replaced by bells, gongs and chanting.  The only real distraction is the dogs which bark when they are not lying in the middle of the walkways.  Sometimes they form packs of a dozen and stroll the street barking and fighting.

Last night we attended the Kecak “Monkey Dance” performed to the rhythmic “cak cak cak” chant of one hundred monkey soldiers.  It’s the story of Rama’s victory over Rahwana which we first saw in the carvings at Angkor.  It was pretty good but we wonder how they make any money.  Admission was six dollars and there were more performers than spectators.     The food in Ubud is fantastic, especially the salads which have been sorely lacking in our diets.  The ingredients are fresh and the prices are reasonable.  You can choose from Balinese, Chinese, Japanese or western foods, alcohol is readily available and there is plenty of Diet Coke.  We can understand why so many people come for a day and stay for a week.  Our original plan had us spending only a week or so in Indonesia and Bali wasn’t even a consideration.  But when our flight to Kuala Lumpur left this morning we had spent more than seven weeks in Indonesia, nearly twice as long as in any other country on the trip, and half of it working with TNC, time well spent. 

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