If you haven’t read PART 1 of my brilliant Bali adventure yet, do so now!
If you’re up to date, then please look forward to PART 2, which entails elephant riding, monkeys sitting on my head and fishes kissing my feet.
Just a note from my previous blog: Its 9 months later and I still have three scars from my bike stack, none of which show any signs of fading. At least scars make for interesting stories, and therefore interesting people. Plus, these ones serve as a reminder of one of the most eye-opening days of my seventeen years.
Typing out my journal is making me miss Bali immensely!
May I present to you, PART 2:
7th April 2015, morning
Piling into Putu’s car after the bike ride, we were soaking wet and shivering with grandma wrinkles spreading across our fingers. Speaking of grandmas, we passed a number of old ladies walking down the road with baskets of material balanced on their heads as they shielded the rain with wide banana leaves.
First stop: the chemist. While Putu was kindly buying towels for us and medical equipment to tend to my injuries, the six of us ran across to a little stall across the road, purchasing dry clothes to change into. I chose a stereotypical, over-sized ‘I LOVE Bali’ tourist shirt for 60 000 rupiah ($6).
Second stop: ‘Copy Cats.’
A small, hidden restaurant on the side of an Ubud road with a dirt floor and tin roof. Putu ordered the same meal for all of us: a plate of fried rice wrapped in banana leaves, satay sticks, a taste-bud-satisfying salad and pumpkin squares. It was delicious! I’m glad I didn’t choose the meal myself otherwise I would have gone with a familiar Aussie burger, but I devoured this traditional Balinese dish. Or tried to anyway, considering it wouldn’t all fit into my stomach. We noticed that Mei-Li had completely cleared her plate, and she told us that her mother always scolded her for wasting food. She continued, saying that “One time, my brother wasted his milk by pouring it in the rubbish, so my Mom made him pick all of the trash out of the recycling bag and drink the milk from it.” Now that is crazy.
Third stop: the monkey temple! Or, specifically, the Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary (Padangtegal Mandala Wisata Wenara Wana).
We bought a small bunch of bananas for 20 000 rupiah with which to feed the monkeys that ran freely across the paths and through the trees. My mother tried unsuccessfully to hide hers, though a cunning monkey literally ran up her back and grabbed the banana from her, before sitting at my feet as he ripped the peel off in one fluid movement and nibbled the fruit. They had intriguing hazel eyes and such human faces, it was tempting to pick them up and wrap them in a hug. Even just patting them would have been satisfying, but the tamers warned us to avoid touch and even eye-contact as they can be extremely unpredictable.
At one point, the same tamer showed Jack how to hold his arm in the air with the banana in his hand. A monkey scampered up his leg and snatched the fruit, sitting on his head and shoulders while he peeled and ate it. I was the official photographer at this point and managed to capture Jack’s expression of mingled horror and delight.
My turn next. The tamer tried enticing a smaller monkey to feast on the corn I held in my raised hand. While he was focusing on the young animal, I spotted one of the larger monkeys silently creeping toward me. Panic filled my gut as I envisioned two monkeys sitting on either side of my shoulders, clawing at each other above my head. Luckily, reality is not as wild as my imagination, the bigger mammal darting away as the smaller monkey crawled onto my head to nibble the corn. Even though his claws dug into my shoulders and his muddy tail brushed dirt over my shirt, he put his little paw into my hand and I wanted nothing more than to take him home with me.
On the hour ride home, Putu gave us all a drink from his trusty esky and we settled back, aching and exhausted and some of us (*cough* me) with battle scars.
7th April 2015, afternoon
Day three was spent shopping, Bali style.
At first, Putu took us to some kind of indoor shop crammed with cheap crap which wasn’t very impressive, and then to factory outlets across the road. The whole time I was thinking, “Why are we visiting Western stores that we can find back home? I want to see how the Balinese shop!”
And so that’s where we traveled to next: Kuta markets. They were intense. Just glance at a singlet and they stall-owner is convinced you want to buy it. Legian markets had the same kind of stalls but were slightly cheaper and less demanding. If I had a lemon for every time someone insisted on cheap prices for good luck, first customer deals or specialty rain prices, I could have made kiloliters of lemonade.
In the end I bought three shirts, one dress and one pair of hippy pants all for under $20 AUD. It was fun haggling with them, but it’s important to keep in mind that while $4 AUD is worth barely nothing to me, it could be a day’s salary for them.
One of the highlights of the day, which certainly turned the average morning into an extraordinary morning, was when I had my feet nibbled on by fish. As soon as I plunged my feet into the water dozens of fish immediately swarmed to my skin and clung on where they could. Were they kissing my feet, or brushing up against them maybe…? Nope, they were eating the dead skin. Yep: Gross. Yuck. Oh well, it certainly felt like I was being kissed by fishies.
After lunch at one of the famous Hard Rock Cafes (which served me alcohol, by the way! Apparently the legal drinking age in Bali is 17), I jumped in the hotel pool to wash off the oil left on my body from a massage I’d had earlier, which was only 55000 rupiah for a whole hour. For my first ever massage, I wasn’t too squeamish or ticklish like I imagined I would be, but the massager did have to knead around the colossal bruise swelling on my thigh. Overall, I had another eventful day and my eyes were opened even further to Bali’s exquisite personality.
8th April 2015, afternoon
I’m exhausted and can barely force my hand to write, but there’s so much to cram into this travel journal- I blame Bali for being too spectacular.
This morning after breakfast my Dad organised a bluebird taksi to whisk us away to Potato Head, which was supposedly a ‘must-do’ in Bali. I can understand why. Security checked the car before we passed through the gate to enter a beach club made entirely from retro washboards. The restaurant faces the beach and circles day-beds and a pool which included a bar you could swim up to and order drinks from. The whole place exuded a relaxing, dazzling vibe, and to complete the exclusive Hollywood feel to Potato head, the bartender gave me a leis to hang around my neck.
Flashing back to last night, we caught up with an Australian family we’d met at the hotel over breakfast. The couple have three kids who my brother and I enjoyed hanging out with. We ate dinner with them at Capil Beach, the rocking restaurant we stopped at the first night. We were greeted with warmth, which all the Balinese people radiate, and shown to a group of bean bags. Our waiter, Katut, kissed my hand twice and throughout the night, whenever he walked passed or set our drinks down, either blew me a kiss or mouthed ‘I love you.’ At one point he even brought his friend over and pointed me out, and he too started blowing me kisses. The Balinese are hilariously funny, and cheeky!
Taking advantage of the drinking age, I ordered a cocktail with my meal (the receipt is glued in the back of my journal). Every single meal I’ve eaten in Bali has been extraordinarily yum- and to think I was worried about being a picky eater. Matt, the father in the family we were with, told me to ‘Travel the world in your mouth, kid,’ after I ordered a plate with a variety of spicy foods.
A peddler came around with these toys that you fling into the air by pulling back on a rubber band attached to a stick. They illuminate and twirl down into the sand like a spin top. We bought a couple of packets and they kept us entertained for the majority of the night. We ran along the dark sand watching them soar across the starry sky for a while, though eventually ended up using them like a bow and arrow, sending them hurtling toward each other. They stung like crazy when the rubber bands hit my bare skin, and by the time we walked down to the ocean’s edge we had red marks surfacing across our arms and legs. The waves lapped at our bare feet in a gentle rhythm as we shot our ‘arrows’ into the water. I retrieved mine and glued it into my journal.
Before we left, I was looking for one of my new friend’s shoes in the sand when a waiter, Alec, approached me. He asked what I had lost, but before I could reply he answered for me and said, ‘You lost my heart,’ before bending over and tracing a heart in the sand.
Maybe one day, I can come back to Bali and return it.
As for now, I’m off to the beach.
8th April 2015, night
Lying on a sunbed on the beach as the locals played a soccer tournament on the sand, I watched as the sun, a glowing pink ball, slipped off of the horizon. The phrase ‘the sun will rise,’ resonates deeply within me as it’s a simple reminder that no matter what distasteful situation you find yourself in, it will end and a new day will always surface. Seeing the sun set reminded me that it’s always rising somewhere else in the world, and so there is always reason to be hopeful.
Whilst I was on the beach, a lady named Lisa braided my hair in four tight corn rows, which gave me a very tribal vibe. When I said terima kasih she replied sama-sama, which means you’re welcome. So far, I’ve added baik (good), selamat tinggal (goodbye), tolong (please) and nama saya (my name is) to my collection of Indonesian vocabulary. Before Lisa left I told her that I’d brought two bags of clothes over that didn’t fit me anymore, or that I barely wore, to give to somebody and asked if she would like to be that somebody. She seemed like she could use them, and responded very positively.
We gave four other bags to Putu, who told us they were very helpful to his family. His wife fitted some of the garments (she must be very little), and he gave the remainder to his extended family living in a village. He told us they were very poor, working as farmers in the countryside earning no more than $5 AUD per week.
One little boy, who could hardly talk he was so young, came up to me trying to sell a fistful of tattered anklets. He stood by me for a while, leaning on the sun-bed. Eventually, I gave him 5000 rupiah and he ran off. My Dad came to the conclusion that we’d already spent $1000 AUD in just three days, even though we were planning to spend only $1500 in the whole twelve days. Oops.
Tomorrow, Putu is taking us to ride the elephants. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been infatuated with the giant mammal and on top of my bucket list is to ride one. All my dreams will be granted tomorrow, I’m not going to be able to sleep a wink!
9th April 2015
We are off to the Elephant Safari Park!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
10th April 2015
All my elephantine dreams have come true.
I was very happy to discover that Mei-Li and Helen were accompanying Putu when he came to pick us up. We had a long ride ahead of us, particularly because the Balinese Kongress was currently occurring (from the 8th to the 12th), so supporters/protestors/officials were clogging the already-crowded streets. Putu pushed through the chaos and we arrived at our destination as excitement bubbled through my veins and tingled in my fingers. Someone adorned in a monster-God costume greeted us by leading us up a ramp to an open ground surrounded by glass windows overlooking a rain forest. Large figures hung from the ceiling, and Putu pointed out a devilish one to inform us that his name was Rhonda- an evil God. A Chinese dragon and six tribal dancers carrying pointy shafts performed a routine before Putu pulled us off to meet a baby orangutan (or, in Indonesian, a pongo pygmaeus) named Chloe, who wrapped her arms around our necks. Before she moved on to the next people, she scampered over to the bubbler, sipped the water and then dried her fur with a wad of paper towel. Supposedly, she is as smart as a five year old, and I don’t doubt it.
By this point, I could faintly hear the elephants in the distance, and as the sounds of their heavy feet grew louder I was excited to see them marching around the corner. A Balinese rider sat at their heads and a cushioned seat was positioned behind them with a red and yellow blanket spread over their backs. Before we mounted them we were given broad-rimmed safari hats made from plastic grass.
Our elephant was named Camatri, which means baby girl in English, and she was the youngest elephant in the tribe at 20 years old. The moment she began walking I understood why metal bars protruded from the cushion: it was so bumpy! I rocked back and forth as Camatri shifted her enormous weight between feet, slowly moving along the track. I didn’t realise how tough their skin is, or how long and thick the hairs dotted across their backs are. Even through the thick layering of cushion I could feel her spine digging into my skin, and quickly learnt that you had to move and adjust yourself slightly to match the elephant’s movements. Crossing a deep valley was one of the highlights of the thirty minute ride, as we dipped down on a steep angle and moved through the water. At one point, our rider stopped Camatri and hopped down, offering me to ride right on her neck. I awkwardly stood and clambered over the bars, and by the time I was sitting down again I admit I felt a bit unsafe. For a girl who could stack it on a bike, I was bound to fall off an elephant. It was a long way to the ground and Camatri was unsettled, moving her head around and at roaring like a lion- I didn’t know elephants could make sounds like that. These thoughts only lingered in my mind briefly though, as I was having too much fun to pay them much attention: Camatri’s ears were flapping against my knees like wings and I was actually riding an elephant, the largest land mammal in the world.
The moment we touched solid ground again, Putu whisked us away to an elephant educational show, where the hosts spoke in English before repeating every line in Balinese. Just when I thought the show was coming to a close, they began asking for volunteers. After years of desperately jumping up and down in my seat at the seal and dolphin shows at Seaworld, I was finally chosen! I and two other guys lined up in front of the crowd as the host instructed the Sumatran elephant on stage, Bella, to lay a circle of flowers around each of our heads. I was the first to receive the present, and as Bella rested the end of her trunk on my right shoulder after laying the fake flowers, I truly felt like I was being crowned an elephant princess.
After the show I was invited to hang around and personally greet the five elephants involved in the show, and the experience was just as fulfilling as the elephant ride itself. I was allowed to play with them however I pleased, and when I wasn’t hugging their trunks they were lifting them and showering me in dirt.
On the ride home from the zoo, my brother pointed out what he presumed was the Nazi symbol proudly resting in the middle of an iron gate. Upon hearing his discovery, Putu set the facts straight by informing us that Hitler used to be Hindu, and the symbol on the gate is a ‘swastika,’ an ancient symbol used by many cultures to convey positivity. The dictator stole the well-meaning symbol and simply turned it on an angle to create the familiar Nazi sign, which represents the deaths of millions of Jews. Not only is Bali teaching me all sorts of cultural facts about itself, I’m even learning about the origins of Germany’s most infamous hieroglyph.
Another thing I’ve learned is that, while travelling, it’s very easy to make friends. Unfortunately, the con of making friends through travel is that your paths venture in different directions and a time to say goodbye must always arrive. We waved farewell to Helen and Mei-Li from outside our hotel, as Putu drove them to the airport, where we’ll be heading in just over a week.