Knock, knock, knocking on heaven's door...

Trip Start Jun 25, 2006
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105
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Trip End Aug 01, 2007


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Flag of Indonesia  ,
Tuesday, May 8, 2007

He Said:

Bali is sort of an anomaly. Indonesia currently is the world's largest Muslim nation (there are more Muslims here than the entire Middle East) but the small island of Bali is the last remaining pocket of what was once a vast Buddhist and Hindu kingdom covering much of the Indonesian archipelago. This religious isolation helped Bali develop a number of unique ways of expressing their faith and local culture. In looking around a few small temples and shrines as well as seeing some daily rituals, I was hard pressed to find many similarities to the practice of Hinduism in India. One of the more visible indicators of devotion are small daily offerings (known as sesajen) consisting of a stick of incense and small amounts of rice, salt, flowers and a few other items placed in tiny bamboo leaf trays. These are deposited each morning around the property of each building from the smallest souvenir stand to the largest hotel.

One rite that we stumbled upon by chance was a cremation procession. About fifty colorfully dressed women with trays of food offerings on their heads led the group down the street followed by male musicians wearing traditional Balinese sarongs and turbans and playing drums and cymbals. Trailing them were a group of at least three-dozen traditionally attired men carrying a 20'-tall colorfully painted and elaborately decorated wooden tower that encased the deceased. The group was on their way to the cremation ground where after the appropriate rituals, the entire structure would be set afire. It was quite a contrast to see that ancient ritual proceeding down an avenue lined with pubs, internet cafes, and guest houses.

Before you get the impression that Bali is really exotic and off the beaten path, leave it to say that the local culture has survived remarkably intact despite the huge amount of tourist development, infusion of places like McDonalds and Dunkin Donuts, and years of invasion by hoards of package tourists from Australia and SE Asia. We did not want for any modern conveniences while here. Something that was impossible not to notice was that many of the restaurants, hotels, and other tourist-geared businesses seemed either empty or sparsely patronized. This can all be credited to the huge drop in business in the wake of the terrorist bombings that took place in 2002 and 2005 that killed over 200 locals and tourists. On an island whose economy is heavily based around tourism this dealt a devastating blow. Though there are enough tourists around to keep most places open, it is clear that a lot of people and businesses are continuing to feel the fallout of these acts. Any time we walked down the street, every few yards a taxi driver whistled to us, hooted out "transport boss?", walked alongside and asked "where are you going?", or otherwise badgered us to hire them. Actually it got really annoying and was more relentless than anywhere we've been so far, including the unremitting salesmanship of merchants in India!

We spent most of our time in Bali at the relaxed beach resort town of Sanur. Not much to report from there, just a lot of reading, tanning, and staring at the sea on our part. Some of the funnier moments revolved around the local cover bands that many restaurants hired periodically to entertain diners. Now I'll be the first to admit that I can't speak more than a dozen or so Indonesian words so I definitely shouldn't be making fun of a few Balinese lead singers slaughtering the pronunciation of English lyrics, but the scenes were just too comically surreal to let go! Imagine if you will sitting on a moonlit beach over 7000 miles from home, hearing the chorus of the Bob Dylan classic (and later remade into a Guns n' Roses power ballad) "Knockin' on Heavens' Door" crooned as something approximating "ma, ma, mauling law evahhh...low" and accompanied by raucously distorted electric guitar and chiming electric keyboard. When the front man (complete with the requisite mullet haircut) concluded the tune with a final wail, we gave him a rousing ovation!

Our last few days here we went upcountry a bit into the highland town of Ubud. Did some wandering around the beautiful terraced rice paddies, enjoyed the local cuisine and watched a bunch of newly released movies on pirated DVDs (which are a great deal at only $1.50 each!)

In a way, Bali has reinforced to us how much amazing stuff we have seen in other places we've visited. This island offers some fantastic sites and culture as well as a lot of natural beauty in its landscape and beaches but all in all I think we were a bit underwhelmed. Not that Bali has anything wrong with it... if this were the first stop of our trip we would have been positively enchanted! I guess we've just been to so many stunning places lately that we are getting tougher to impress. Hmmm...are we jaded? Anyway, this afternoon we are heading out to take a flight to the Philippines via Malaysia. I'm sure we'll have quite a few interesting experiences to report from Manila within a few days!


She Said:

I was really looking forward to getting to Bali to get back to the beach after 3 weeks in semi-cold conditions. I had really built up Bali in my mind to be paradise on earth...white sand, clear water and the ultimate honeymoon destination...at least this is the mental image I get when someone says Bali. As it turns out, it isn't really like that at all, and seems to be more like Australia's Caribbean (but with a unique Hindu cultural undertones). Hundreds of flights per day drop of package tourists from all over Asia, and the entire island is absolutely packed with hotels, souvenir shops, travel agents selling "authentic Bali tours" so you can see the "real Bali" away from all the mass tourism.

Due to the severe downturn in tourism since the second bombing in 2005, business owners are quite desperate to get your patronage, slashing room rates more than 50%, offering cheap set menus, and even following you down the street to ask you 10 times if you need transport (despite the fact that several other people just asked you within ear shot of the guy chasing you now). There were a few times when Todd and I would be in the middle of arguing (about real important stuff like where to eat lunch...not the noodle place again) and literally 10 different people would interrupt our childish bickering within the space of 2 minutes to ask if we needed a taxi...to which we both let the 10th guy have it. What can I say...he was in the wrong place at the wrong time?

After about 8 days laying on the beach and 5 completed books later, we (by we I mean us) actually got a bit bored. Is it possible that we (by we, naturally I mean me) are starting to feel like our trip is getting a bit long? So we (me again) decided to pack up and move an hour north to the artsy upcountry town of Ubud for a change of pace and scenery. One of the blockbuster sights in Ubud is the Monkey Forest, which is a pretty forest with stone pathways meandering throughout, a few Hindu temples, and full of cute wild monkeys with an insatiable appetite for bananas. We bought our tickets, and then got sucked in by the ladies selling bunches of bananas to feed the monkeys. Oh, how fun, I remember thinking to myself, we can watch the monkeys peel the bananas with their little fingers! We each bought a bunch and headed into the park. Within 10 seconds, the monkeys started running towards us lunging at the bananas. So, I did what any really cool girl would do...I picked up the monkey and hand fed it bananas. No, not really...an extremely loud and high pitched shrill scream came out of my mouth while I tossed the entire bunch of bananas as far as I could throw it... cool, huh! And the little bugger took all of them and ran off. These monkeys are used to being fed bananas by tourists, and if you have some or smell like them, they will stop at nothing to get them! Just check out the picture of the monkey trying to pull down Todd's shorts! After all the monkey business, the rest of our time in Ubud was pretty sedate really.

Tomorrow we head off to Manila via Kuala Lumpur, which isn't on the way at all, but it was the cheapest ticket. When I think of Manila, I just picture lots and lots of shoes. Looking forward to seeing if that vision is really, or just an Imelda Marcos fantasy...
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Comments

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