Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Bali Bali Bali

After a night and a morning in Ubud, I made my way south to Denpasar on the 10th of July. I would say “Kuta”, but every time I said this word to locals, they looked at me like I had two heads - so much for Google truth versus local truth.

My goal in this particular adventure was to meet up with my friend Olta, who was traveling with her friend Chris (both women are English teachers working in China; Olta is originally from Albania and Chris is originally from Crimea). I’d briefly met Olta in Kuala Lumpur, though we hadn’t spoken much to one another as another traveling companion had dominated the conversation. Over the intervening months, however, we’d become close over Instagram and WhatsApp, texting almost daily. When it came up that we were going to be in the same region, I took the opportunity to book a hostel a block away from the pair’s hotel.

The next week was generally delightful, swinging between day trips to explore the island(s) and rest days spent on the beach. As everything was generally cheaper at my hostel (laundry, food, tours, &c.), we ended up using that as a base of operations.

Our first day trip was up to the Gates of Heaven. We hired a driver to get us up that way and then three of us got to explore the temple as Olta spent three hours in line waiting to get The Picture. It was a pretty funny experience as, in most of the photos you see it looks like there’s a reflecting pool or something at the gates - it’s really a setup where you tip a guy with a mirror to take the photo.

After the Gates of Heaven, we started our return, which included grabbing a fancy lunch, walking around a little water park, taking some photos with tame animals, and a little swimming on a beach at sunset (though, the beach faced east, so we didn’t see the sun, well, set). Overall a nice day out!

Our second day trip (after a rest day) was centered around going to the Bali Swings. We hired the same driver who started us off with some Luwak Coffee that was, frankly, pretty bad (again, I’d had some on Java, so I knew what it supposed to taste like). The other tasting options were generally good though - this place set out fourteen cups of coffee/tea to sample. After the tasting, we saw possibly the most absurd thing I’ve ever witnessed in my life.

According to the written description, we were watching a traditional play about the fight between good and evil. What happened on stage was incomprehensible, including what I’m sure was an Abbott & Costello routine in Bahasa Indonesian and a fight scene between little people where one got a (fake) nose chopped off. The costumes and the music was impressive, but it made me want to do a “fringe” show in Klingon following, say, a Monty Python sketch or something.

Minds blown, we went to one set of Bali Swings where many photos and videos were taken. The swings are famous because they’re high up and swing out over a pretty valley. That said, they’re still swings. Another expensive lunch followed that adventure and we made our way to the Water Temple where we used the longshot to defeat Morpha - wait, wait, wait. No, we took more photos and Chris partook of a partially submerged purification ritual involving fourteen or so fountains.

We finished the day trip by going to the Monkey Forest and walking around while monkeys mostly ignored us. I say “mostly” because Chris was “blessed” by being the recipient of a monkey turd deposited on her shoulder. We cleaned ourselves up and headed home.

Either this evening or the next we met Jannes, a guy from Germany who was on his first solo adventure ever. Chris had reached a point of tired and giggly, which led to one of my favorite moments on the trip - absolute, uncontrollable laughter among friends. It reminded me of evenings with friends in middle and high school when you think you’re going to die laughing. The subject at hand in this particular instance was owls - there had been a small one when we took photos at the water park and I’d been asking Jannes about German words - but we all know the actual subject doesn’t matter when you’re in that zone. I’m so glad I caught some of it on video.

After another rest day, we again connected with our driver and went to Nusa Penida to, well, see what was there. After a frightful boat ride (the engines cut out halfway) we got to the island and started our tour. We took some neat photos from various spots and outlooks, but the real adventure was Kelingking (?) Beach. Oh, and lunch was free (well, included in the package) this time.

We (Chris, Olta, Jannes, our Driver, and I) were dropped off at the top of an outcrop where a small tourist town had been set up. A temple, restaurants, and that sort of thing at the top. Three hundred or so meters below there was a very pretty beach. It was our goal to go swim down there.

Compared to previous hikes (through waterfalls, in choking dust, and with watering eyes from sulfur), it was a cakewalk - the first half was practically all normal, albeit steep, steps. The second half was trickier, but generally well reinforced - a strong grip on a post made up for some tricky footing. There were even a couple sections where one could use a rope (I like ropes as they allow you to put your feet where they need to be as opposed to twisting around in a strange manner to have both a handhold and a foothold).

Chris, our Driver, and I made it to the bottom, Olta didn’t feel confident about the trek and returned to the top, and Jannes figured it’d be good to keep her company. At the bottom was an absolutely gorgeous beach with giant waves - the result of water coming in between two cliffs and bouncing around. Photos, rest, and that good stuff was the order of the day at the bottom - Chris swam a fair bit and I swam a little (I wasn’t feeling all that confident).

Just as we were about to ascend, a man came down and dislocated his shoulder on the last step or two. This turned into a bit of a circus as no one on the beach seemed to know what to do - at his insistence we tried stuff we saw in movies in the off chance it would end his suffering. I was able to find a physical therapist in training and after much more confusion, she and a nurse were able to pop the guy’s shoulder back in place. Given the need to use both arms on some sections of the ascent, he would have been royally screwed these women hadn't been around!

After the beach, we returned to the boat to head back to Bali (with the added complication of having to walk over sharp coral barefoot getting out to the boat due to low tide). Some rest was certainly in order.

We had another relaxing beach day in town and said adios to Olta on the evening of the 17th (her flight was the next morning). Chris, Jannes, and I went our separate ways on the 18th - Chris took another day trip and I went in search of a library. I may have failed upward in this pursuit - I found a private residence where a library once stood and ended up making a couple of local friends and eating some tasty homemade fish soup.

Chris was the next to depart, in the afternoon of the 19th. In the afternoon of the 20th, Jannes took the bus up to Ubud. In the evening of the same, I bid Bali farewell and got on a 1am flight that would eventually get me to Tbilisi, Georgia (with a layover in Dubai).

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