This is a travel blog for desktop travelers and other ramblers who want to know the world just a little bit better.

Right now I am living in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala where I'll be settled for a while. Thanks for reading!

Monday, July 19, 2010

Bali Road Trip Part III

Day 5 - Thursday, June 15

In Bali, where there are countless Hindu temples and shrines, it is easy to forget that Indonesia is mainly a Muslim country. As we drove west yesterday I saw for the first time many school girls wearing headscarves and some local warungs (eatery) with Halal signs. However, the 5 AM wake up call to prayer from the mosque near our hotel this morning is the ultimate reminder. The roosters here live without purpose. After a leisurely breakfast we hit the road again. Our Suzuki is now making a worrisome whistling noise. We hope that it will survive the rest of the trip.

Outside of town are several Hindu temples. Our first visit is just a zigzag staircase leading up to statue and a cool cavern that leads through the mountain to the main temple. We are not allowed through the cavern. The temple guardian seems pleased to have visitors, escorts us to the top and has Mika take a photo we do not really want. From the guest/donation book their last visitor was on the 11th.

Leading to the main temple there are several monkeys on the sidewalk. They do not seem to bothered by us or expecting any food. One scared baby scrambles into the safety of his mother’s bosom. The information sign at the entrance tells us that the temple and surrounding hills are “overrun” with monkeys, but they are well fed by the attendants which is good because I do not really like the tourist-monkey culture in Bali. We walk up the steps to the temple area. This temple is still in use, though it feels abandoned. Walls are crumbling a bit. Apart from us and a few monkeys it is empty. The temple smells like a zoo. We wonder if we are in the monkey scene from Disney’s Jungle Book. But these simians apparently are not familiar with the tune. The temple does have lovely views overlooking the ocean.

In Bali, some places have entrance fees and others (usually smaller) accept donations. They ask guests to write their name, country and donation amount in a book. Then they freely change the donation amount so it looks like people are giving more money in the hopes that future guests will follow suit. For example: add a zero to make Rp 10,000 look like Rp 100,000. In this book some one has done a laughable job of changing a 2 to a 5. Maybe it was a monkey.

We head inland into the central mountainous region. As we go up, the air is getting noticeably cooler and fresher. In a village just outside of our destination, there are plastic tarps outside home after home holding something small and brown. There is also a very familiar, pleasant smell - cloves. The whole village smells like cloves. I buy a drink at a local kiosk from an old woman who seems quite delighted to see an American-Japanese married couple. She goes on and on not seeming to mind that we do not understand what she is saying. We arrive in Munduk in the late afternoon. Our first step, as always, is the dreaded task of finding lodging. For a tiny one-street village there are enough foreign tourists milling about. Some also looking for a room. The first few places we ask are full or over our budget. We split up. Mika heads uphill, I go down. The cheapest we find is an over-priced, windowless cubicle with a cold shower. We do, however, get a comfortable, new bed with a cheesy, counterfeit Louis Vuitton bed cover. We leave the hotel to take a short hike past rural homes, clove orchards and forest. After some up and down trekking we reach an unmarked pathway and are not sure if we go right or left. There is also a mangy dog barking and heading our way. I pick up a rock.** He scrams, but soon returns with two of his canine buddies.

Usually I would stick around a little and wait for a local to yell at the dog and save the day However, about a week ago we met this woman from Montrose, CO and current Bali resident who told us that rabies has recently been introduced here. Two Balinese have died. If you get bit by a dog you have to go to Bangkok or Singapore for treatment because there is none here. So understandably, Mika wants to have nothing to do with unfriendly dogs (also mosquitoes after travelers’ tales of malaria and dengue fever). We head back without seeing the waterfall. We watch the sunset from the roof of our car and go to bed early.

Follow the bamboo ladder to the light blue spot in the tree. That is a guy collecting cloves.

Day 6

Our next stop is to go see a temple in Bedugul that I saw on a postcard and wanted to visit. We leave Munduk early before other tourists with drivers and tour buses (the worst!) get going, A few Km out of town we see a sign for a waterfall. For just US $.33 we get a clean trail through a coffee plantation, a loaner walking stick and, most importantly, no (maybe rabid) barking dogs. We keep going further up. The hills are getting steeper with many sharp S-turns. I get stuck once halfway up a hill and roll backwards to a landing with the help of a laughing gardener. Luckily there is not much traffic. I go up the hill slowly in 1st gear. Oh well, it’s not my car!

We have lunch at a little place with lake views. I eat Nasi Goreng (fried rice with egg) again. We always try to eat at local places, not restaurants created just for tourists. The problem has been that at most small establishments there is just one vegetarian dish served - Nasi Goreng. Two days ago I ate it for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The road winds around, and we arrive in Bedugul.
Our plan is to arrive early, find a hotel with plenty of time to see the sites. It ends up that there really are not too many places to stay here. We check one. It is scary. Norman Bates would not sleep here. Not satisfied with a couple other options we decide to just go to the temple. Pura Ulun Danu Batur is a lovely place on the edge of a lake. The tallest pagoda is on an island about 20’ from the shore. There are many worshippers. Some areas are off-limits to tourists, but we can peek inside to see what they are doing.

Without a hotel or desire to go hiking, we decide to leave the area. Though we are not quite sure where we will stay. Our plan for tomorrow is to see Bali’s largest temple. We head in that general direction, back downhill. The drive is windy and torturous. Now the brakes are squeaking also. And a problem we find is that besides tourist centers, there are really not many places to stay in Bali. We pass through Singaraja, Bali’s second largest city, and find one skanky place. We pass another town that the guide book lists as having one hotel, but this one is also not up to even our low standards.

We do know though that we are getting near to a tourist place because men on motorbikes start asking us if we need a hotel. It is now late afternoon, and the last thing I want to do is try to find a hotel in the dark. We arrive at the base of the volcano, and there are many places. A guy on a motorbike offers us a great deal and we follow him to the hotel. Our original plan was to just pass by here and quietly enjoy the panoramic views of the volcanoes. I never thought about hiking up the volcano, Gunung Batur.

There are two main activities here. Independent travelers and small groups come, get a guide and go up the volcano to watch the sunrise. Tour buses stop on the main road for views and lunch. The guidebook mentions that this place is notorious for annoying guides selling treks. The motorbikes following us from hotel to hotel is a good indication. Our hotel offers us US $60 - in our opinion, an obscene amount for a few hours of work when you consider that millions of people in Indonesia are barely surviving on $1 a day.

We settle in the room, and another guide comes to our patio. We give him the opportunity to make his presentation. The trip sounds really fun, a great activity that was not on our agenda. We tell him US $30 pp is too much. He then makes his biggest mistake, asking us what we want to pay. Mika tells him US $10 pp. I tell Mika that US $15 is my max (Spanish and Japanese are our secret languages when bargaining with locals in any country). He quickly wilts down to Rp 400,000 for both of us. We stand firm at Rp 300,000. We go to dinner refusing his middle offer of Rp 350,000.

At dinner, Mika goes to the back to the room to get something and meets the guide. He whispers to her that he will accept our price of Rp 150,000 (US $ 15.55) per person, but we are not allowed to tell anyone else what we paid. So if anyone reading this is in or going to be in Bali...WE PAID Rp 150,000 TO HIKE GUNUNG BATUR AT SUNRISE!!!!! We go to bed wondering if we paid too much.

**The International Rambler Travel Tip
If you are in a developing country and find yourself face to face with a raggedy, unfriendly dog you should pick up the nearest rock. If they do not immediately back down throw it in their direction, and they should go away. This trick transcends international borders. It has worked for me in Argentina, Morocco, Indonesia, Palestine and Guatemala.
A homeless dog waiting for Mika to throw him a bone.

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