Monday, December 30, 2013

Thirty Second Finale Recap

And then I went back to Korea, then went to Japan to visit some friends, then back to Korea, then flew home to the US on December 22. Doh! Why does my blog always fizzle out at the end of a trip?

Friday, December 13, 2013

Ubud: My New All-Time Favorite Place

The door to my hotel. Note the lack of key card
Last night I fell asleep to the sound of bullfrogs and this morning I woke up to the sound of roosters crowing. Does it get more relaxing than that? 

The tentative plans I had for yesterday were all soundly quashed by the unrelenting rain (I guess it IS monsoon season, after all) aided by the fact that I had been unable to sleep for some reason (as in, just one sketchy hour all night). So while some rain wouldn’t normally stop me my extreme exhaustion didn’t help much in the motivation department to keep on pressing on. Also, as I had had a minor AC issue in my room, which I insisted was no big deal at all, the hotel insisted on upgrading me to one of the suites so, just when I thought this place couldn’t get any better, I was now in an even more amazing room! So I decided to just give in to the tiredness and have a bit of a “chill day”, to just soak in the place I was, the calming and relaxing vibe of the place…. and to, of course, get an extra-long massage!
The view of the rice paddies off of my veranda

I did, however, pry myself away in the evening long enough to attend a traditional Kecak dance (the fire dance). While the Legong dance last night was beautiful and artistic, this one was a completely different style. It did have some of the same dance elements, but the main feature is an enormous group of traditionally dressed men who sit in a circle and sing/chant throughout the whole show. From minute one, I was mesmerized by it.

Yeah, I could wake up to this view every day
Today was my last day here, sadly, and only a partial one at that as I had to leave the hotel by 4pm so I knew I had better get to it. After my last amazing breakfast in the open-air restaurant by the stream, I hopped on a bike and took off to check out the surrounding area. Rice paddies upon rice paddies. And small little village streets lined with local little vendors and restaurants and temples and traditional homes. Beyond charming.

You know you're in Asia when the mirrors only
come up this high.
I came back in time to shower and check out, then headed out once more to…. The Monkey Forest! Yep, if there’s a monkey-themed amusement around, you can pretty much bet I’m going to find it! More temples, more monkeys (a couple even jumped on me!), more enchantment. I don’t know what it is about those little guys that completely fascinates me. Just watching how they care for each other, groom each other, interact, move around and, well, pretty much everything, just never gets old for me to watch.

What does get old, however, is the sweating and the mosquito bites. The bath I took before checking out was rendered completely useless within about 5 minutes of walking around when I was COVERED yet again in sweat. And to say the mosquito bites have increased exponentially would be the grossest understatement of the year. Everywhere I go now, people are constantly staring right at them (I think maybe everyone is afraid I have the measles or something). I know I should cover them up but it’s just so freaking hot that the idea of putting on something with sleeves makes me ill. The sweet ladies at the hotel saw me scratching furiously one morning over breakfast and returned promptly to give me some ointment to put on them but, while it takes some of the itch away, it doesn’t seem to do much else. An Australian lady saw me at the monkey forest today and came up to me and insisted on giving me some pills that she swears will work. She warned me, however, that they’ll knock me out hard so I’d better be careful when I take them. So it looks like on tonight’s flight I won’t need a Xanax after all. And hopefully they’ll actually help somewhat with the bites as well as, gotta say, the looking like a freak thing is getting pretty old.

Tonight I take an overnight flight back to Seoul and I am genuinely sorry to leave here. I don’t often go back to the same place twice as I’m all about going new places and seeing different things whenever possible. But this is a place that I WILL be back to someday and for a much longer period of time the next time around. Fo shizz.



Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Correcting My Mistake

My sweet, very traditional Balinese hotel room in Ubud
So yesterday I made a decision and the moment I made it, I felt instantly better and more relaxed. I knew that if I stayed where I was, I would spend my brief time in Bali being absolutely miserable here. Fortunately, my well-traveled cousin has been here himself and wisely counseled me to check out a place called Ubud, widely considered the "cultural capital" of Bali. At first I thought maybe I could just do a day trip from where I was but once I started reading about it, I understood that it was a place worth committing to and spending some time in. They were oh-so-right.

I hightailed it out of my hotel down south (at a great expense of checking out early, but I didn’t even care. At some point, money becomes irrelevant) and hired a car to take me the 90 minutes inland to Ubud. Almost as soon as we pulled out of the chaos that was the tourist trap I’d been in, I felt myself begin to relax. By the time we got near Ubud, I was back to my old, normal self and could just TELL that I was going to love it here. It was green and lush and jungle-esque and calm and peaceful and…. real. Instead of being catered to tourists, this place was true Indonesia, people living their lives and going about their business and living in charming, traditional Indonesian houses. Aaaaaaah.
Ubud Palace
And it only got better from there: the second I pulled up to my hotel, I was in love. Completely, totally in love. It was small and built into a grove of trees and everything is open-air (although, to be fair, almost everything in Indonesia is) and there is a stream that runs right through the middle of it. The workers could not have been more genuinely nice and welcoming and, as if that wasn’t enough, the room was incredible. Huge and traditional Balinese style with a veranda that overlooked rice paddies being worked by local farmers. There’s a bamboo cathedral ceiling that is, I swear, at least 40 feet high (I know I may exaggerate sometimes, but this time I really, really, literally mean it!) and a gorgeous stone bathtub that could fit four people and where I can lay the whole way out flat and neither my head nor my feet hit the ends. Oh my.

I was tempted to just stay in and soak it all in but my time here is limited (less than 3 full days) so I wanted to get out and see some things. I headed into town and walked around, checking out the palace (not palace like you’re thinking, but a really small, traditional Balinese palace where descendants of the royal family still live) and making my way over to the big market (lest I forget Christmas is coming, even if I am currently in a tank top and still sweating my buns off). Made it back to the hotel for tea time, enjoyed a fabulous bath to clean/cool off, and then headed back out to see a traditional Legong dance. This was another recommendation from my cuz and I’m so glad I went. While I'm sure much of the symbolism was lost on me, it was such a beautiful thing to watch while sitting in an open-air temple and listening to the sound of the rain outside. I love being in places with such a long history and so much culture (it’s times like these when you realize we have nothing even remotely comparable in the US).
Not only the best coffee I've had in Indonesia, not only the
best coffee I've had on my whole trip, but possibly
the best coffee I've EVER had.

So, I love, love, LOOOVE Ubud. Now my only complaint in life is that I don’t have a LOT more time to spend here.

Legong dance musicians

Legong dance... sadly, the pics didn't come out well

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Uh Oh

Uluwatu Temple
Uh, I’ve made a big, big mistake. I had heard that Bali was touristy and I came prepared for that (or so I thought) but I had no idea it would be THIS touristy, full of nothing but white people and Western brand stores/restaurants and hotel after hotel after hotel. My first clue came the moment I exited customs yesterday when the very first things I saw at the airport were, no lie, Burger King, Starbucks and Coldstone Creamery. I should have just turned around right then. But I had a hotel reservation so I forged ahead. Plus, I figured, this is just the airport and I’m sure the whole place can’t be this bad, right? Turns out it can.
At one point he even tried on my glasses!
I had mistakenly thought that Bali was a beach haven so I specifically chose a hotel right ON the beach. Not having been here before, I did some quick research about the best beaches in Bali and one kept coming up over and over. I booked it, sure that ALL those people couldn’t be wrong. Turns out they could. Turns out that that beach is the one SATIATED with tourists, in the most touristy of all the touristy places, full of nothing but westerners. Okay, I still think after arriving, I’m sure the beach will make up for it all. I put on my suit and headed out to dive right in. It didn’t make up for anything. In fact, it only made things worse. There was a narrow strip of beach filled with lounge chairs all occupied by white people. And instead of the quiet beaches in Lombok, where the only sound you hear is the crashing of waves, here you can’t hear the waves for all of the jetskis and motorboats and parasailers. And, as a final insult, there was repair work happening on the deck by the pool so even more beach was sacrificed AND there was loud construction hammering and drilling happening not ten feet from my beach chair. I could have cried.

Very rarely, if ever, have I so instantly despised a place and been immediately, intensely desperate to get out. ASAP. I went back to my hotel room to check out what was to do in this area, still trying to be optimistic about the things that may be around to experience. I mean, there has to be SOME reason this place is so world-renowned, right? I found one thing that interested me. One.

So today I went to the Uluwatu Temple (aka the Monkey Temple). I learned that while Lombok is predominately Muslim, Bali is largely Hindu and there are LOTS of temples here. Uluwatu Temple sits on the very top/edge of a sheer cliff overlooking the sea. Pretty stunning. And it just so happens that the forest around it is infested with monkeys. Anyone who knows me, knows I’m oddly obsessed with monkeys so I was all over it.

I would conservatively estimate that 10 different people told me not to wear sunglasses when I was walking around. The monkeys will steal them, they said. But do I listen? Of course not. I wasn’t there 3 minutes before I stopped at a fence and set down my water bottle so I could get something out of my bag… and suddenly out of the blue, in a literal flash, my sunglasses were swiped right off of my face and the water bottle was no longer mine. It was all so fast, it took me a moment to realize what had even happened. And then I saw the little guy just sitting there, holding my glasses and, amazingly, unscrewing the cap of my water bottle and drinking it. My instinct was to reach out and try to take them back but he bared his teeth at me as if to say “These are mine now, white lady.” Cheeky little bugger!

It was SO hot and SO humid and the sun was SO intense that I bought another bottle of water. But this time I thought I’d be really smart and hide it in my pocket, pulling my shirt over it so it was totally out of sight. Yeah, I guess monkeys are pretty attuned to the sound of water sloshing around a bottle and I wasn’t 50 feet down the path when a really big one came up to me, lifted up my shirt and tried to pull the bottle out of my pocket. We played tug of war for a while but, ultimately, he won (I have a feeling they always win).

I stayed long enough to watch the sunset over the temple, which was lovely. Not as lovely are the insane number of mosquito bites that I have gotten in the past two days. Nearly a week in Lombok, not one single bite. Two days here and my arms and shoulders are covered in them. Oh yes, one more thing to love about Bali!