The Bali sun smiled on my nose, her smiles were full of passion.
My nose remembers her fiery kiss and now it’s exfoliating.
I was abducted to the beautiful, chicken-shaped island of Bali by my German friend, Jenni, who spent 4 months living, breathing, eating and , of course, studying there. Having bade farewell to the cleanliness, order and modern comforts of Singapore, I found myself standing in the middle of the airfield of Ngurah Rai International Airport with other dazed tourists as A360s roared overhead. Bali may have been the perennial tourist destination for a romantic getaway, the logistical infrastructure and hygiene standards have consistently maintained itself throughout the years for a developing country (i.e. less insane than the urban chaos in South India. Refer to my Tamil Nadu travel post ). With exception to Nusa Dua and Tommy Suharto’s Dreamland, the narrow roads are clogged with blue taxis and motorcycles on which goods and pillion riders are balanced acrobatically between biker and machine.
From the car window, I see shops, shrine, shop, shrine, rice field, shrine, shops, shrine, Kerbokan prison, shops, shrine, rice fields… Bali is the only island in Indonesia with Hinduism as its mainstream religion however instead of the bells, smoke and fire we see here, Bali has modified the practices and decorum substantially. Ritual offerings were made many times a day at the shrine, the shop entrance and even at the traffic junction. I was told the bigger the shrine, the greater the family’s wealth and influence. Duh.
On the first day, Jenni brought me to Moka’s, a French cafe, for a nice European breakfast. I was already in paradise after being served a generous bowl of honey-drizzled yoghurt fruit salad, thick avocado juice (unlike the watered down version in Singapore) , a chocolatine bun and a cup of hot tea with milk (42,000 Rph=SGD 7). Fruit salad became my top breakfast choice for my remaining days in Bali.
We strolled along the shopping street lined with glass windows displaying designer summer wear, home accessories and funky jewellery before hopping into a Blue Bird taxi to see the Monument Nasional (National Monument) in Renon Square. Blue Bird is Indonesia’s major taxi company and not only do all the taxis run on metered fare, the drivers have some proficiency in English. Getting around by taxi is both convenient and cheap and probably the only transport option for a first-time visitor. We rented a non-metered taxi for a day at a dirt-cheap rate of 400,000 Rph= SGD 60 to travel to East Bali. Even when traveling to South Bali on meter, covering Tommy Suharto’s Dreamland and Padang Padang beach (Think ”Eat,Pray,Love”), the total fare was approximately 450,000 Rph.
The Monument Nasional is a musuem which houses a series of dioramas depicting the history of Bali. Ascending a spiral staircase (menstruating individuals are not allowed, don’t ask me why) takes us to the viewing platform where one can see the whole Denpasar city landscape. What surprised me was for such a magnificent architecture as this, Jenni and I were the only foreign tourists. I was amused when the local Indonesian tourists asked to have a photograph taken with us. I guess they don’t really get to see the blue-eyed and slit-eyed in these parts. We took a cab to the Bali Museum but it was closed so we strolled around Puputan Badung Park marvelling at the giant chess board and visited the temple next to the museum. We also decided to give Pasar Badung a miss thanks to the monsoon rains and the lack of parking space.
The next stop which left an impression was Pasar Burung, a one-stop market for pets and supplies. The first thing that assaulted my olfactories was the pungent stench of salt, ammonia and wet feathers. Then the sight of birds, dogs, cats, rabbits, lizards, fish, chickens all displayed in rusty wire-mesh cages and rattan enclosures. The whole bloody domestic zoo is for sale. Matt Damon could afford this one for his kids’ petting zoo.
The monsoon rains started to pour again and we headed south to Nusa Dua to purchase a ticket (US$ 65) to the Devdan musical for Jenni’s cousin. Nusa Dua was where the ASEAN summit was held, graced by US President Barack Obama and I was excited to find dustbins lining the neatly trimmed hedges of the area. It felt like I was back in Singapore where the streets are clean, toilets are brightly lit and restaurants ridiculously expensive. Back in Kerobokan, we had a nice dinner at Warung Sobat 2 which is situated just behind the prison. The main course is served on banana leaf, sate is served on a mini charcoal grill and it comes with a free dessert of either black rice with banana and coconut milk or a scrumptious slice of sweet banana cake.
My personal favourite is the grilled squid with avocado salad and mashed potatoes. The grilled pieces of squid was succulent and juicy and it goes very well with the creamy mashed potatoes which is not in the menu. After a satisfying meal, we headed to the airport to receive Jenni’s cousin, Dani. It was hilarious to see the looks of anticipation on the arriving visitors change to shock when they see the hordes of people greeting them behind a metal barrier ( think Chennai airport at Arrivals/Departure) and the gradual slackening to an expression of dazed exasperation. Jenni brought us to a beach club for some drinks. Along the way we saw sexily clad transvestites grabbing the arms of motorists and gyrating to the music from the clubs that lined the road.
The dance club at the beach had really bad music and crawling with inebriated Australians who don’t exactly seem to know how to work their bodies to the music. That concluded my Denpasar experience for the day.
Day two (24th Dec 11, Christmas Eve), we hired a driver for 400,000 Rph for the entire day to drive us to across the emerald terraced rice fields of Tabanan to Tanah Lot temple, one of the 6 most important temples in Bali (hence visitors are advised to cover up and leave their bikinis behind). Tanah Lot is one of the few places I would like to return for its breathtaking beauty, an epitome of paradise on earth where the azure skies and the turquoise sea are separated by the brilliant shades of blue and quartz-white sea foam. It’s a pleasure to see and hear the powerful curling waves crash against the rocks and dissolve into foam and spray. The unadulterated photos speak for themselves. Taken with my humble iPhone 4 and my crummy Casio 5-Megapixel digital camera.
The rolling waves seemed intent to swallow my hapless flip flop into the blue bowels of the sea. Dani stepped into the waters to rescue my flip flop in a Cinderella-esque act of chivalry. The amazing views do not stop at the temple. As we crossed to the other side of the shore, an exquisite sight greeted us. And again, these photos have not undergone any photo-editing.
I was so awed by the sights and the sensation of the sea breeze on my face I totally forgot about the harsh burning sun. My arms, nose and scalp were thoroughly roasted to an angry lobster red. It was so well grilled by the scorching sun that raindrops felt like bullets on my arms and head. After getting soaked in UV rays and sea water, we headed back to the villa in Umalas to dress up for the Devdan musical at Nusa Dua. We ended the night with a nice Christmas dinner at the same restaurant behind the prison.
Waking up to a Christmas morning, we found a drunk German kid asleep by the pool (wished he was sleeping inside the pool for the bloody racket he made every night).
We headed eastwards to the chicken-butt of Bali towards Gunung Agung, barreling through rustic rice fields, circling the twisting roads around the mountain which had me reach out for a barfbag. The beautiful landscape offered a brief respite before we roller-coastered towards the foot of Besakih Temple.
The Mother Temple of Besakih is the holiest and largest temples in Bali. After hiking up a slope flanked by shops peddling sarongs and souvenirs for 10 mins, we finally reached the temple where we see the tour guides a.k.a. Temple Guardians (or so these guys claim) swarm towards foreigners. Pilgrims and worshippers filed along the flanks of the main shrine with colorful offerings balanced on their heads.Peep,Peep,Peep… There were little sacrificial baskets containing a duckling and a chick cheeping away, probably aware of their fates. The monsoon clouds hung ominously overhead and when we reached a souvenir shop beyond the first shrine, it began to pour. This is when hawkers gathered around us offering to rent their umbrellas for a sum (should have brought a raincoat or an umbrella).
We continued the trek upwards to the shrine at the peak of the hill after the rains were reduced to a drizzle. We met a tourist who was making his way down towards the shop and he told us there’s a lot to see at the top. He was right and to make it even more awesome, the only tourists were the three of us. The first thing we saw at the base of the shrine was a pile of offerings and a carcass of a white chicken with it’s rear facing the shrine. The view which the sacrifice was facing was magnificent, especially when the sun offered a brief respite from dull grey Kodak moments.