Trip Start Apr 11, 2006
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Whilst on this morning walk the few locals who were zipping around on their motorbikes generally ignore the power walking foreigner – however this particular morning a crash-helmeted local female stopped her motorcycle next to me. She said something like ‘do you want to follow me home?’ I said "pardon’ and gave her my most perplexed look – she grabbed the stem of her rather long rear view mirror and through gesture made it very clear that prostitution was alive and well at 6am in the streets of Bali.
Having spent considerable time wondering through Asia I have learnt to bargain for goods. I bargained in the vicious streets of Saigon, I took a head-butt to the chest in Danang, bargained the Muslims in Bahrain, went toe to toe with the Buddhists in Laos, China and Thailand and conquered the back alleyways of Hong Kong. I had no fear attacking the bargaining streets of Bali. To be honest though, I found the quality and variety of goods in Bali on the poor side. Thailand and Vietnam were of a far better quality and variety. This made it difficult because I hated to pay money for poor quality goods. I also was seeking the fabled ‘Bintang Singlet’ and knew I would have to pay a kings ransom if I ever discovered its location. I also knew that the store owner, or salesperson was more than likely from Java – darn those Javanese!! I wanted to make them pay!!
Jesse saw a replica Manchester City shirt with Tevez on the back. He being a City supporter like myself was very interested in this item. “How much?" “450,000 rupiah” was the answer, $US50 or $A55. So the idea is they go ridiculously high and then come down. Remembering they were Javanese, darn those Javanese, I laughed and started to walk away. ‘300,000 rupiah’ the man called, ‘150,000 rupiah’, ‘okay how much you want to pay?’ And that is the question isn’t it ‘How much do you want to pay?’ This was the lesson to my young apprentices, Charlotte and Jesse, only pay what you want to pay – yes master!! ‘40,000 rupiah, is what I wanted to pay’. ‘No, more than that’ the man said. Okay, walk away time – I turned and walked away, the young Jedi’s followed and the man yelled ‘okay 50,000 rupiah’ – that is when you are only as strong as your weakest link. Di forgot the force was with her and went to the dark side, she said ’50,000, that is okay, I am not squabbling over a dollar, we will buy it’ and she went back – we were one step from 40,000 and she cracked under the pressure, the ‘fellowship’ was broken, the Javanese had won the first battle – my apprentices were damaged – Di should have been voted out at the last Tribal Council, she is the biggest loser. All I can do is shake my head and go ‘tut tut tut’.
Time would only tell the damage Di had caused; perhaps it could be fixed, perhaps not! Things did not look very good though, time and time again, Jesse and Charlotte cracked under pressure and went beyond what they ‘wanted’ to pay – the shame!!! Perhaps therapy will help?
The Master though – that would be me – was as ruthless as ever and stretched his winning streak over those darn Javanese to four consecutive battles – the less said about Di’s bargaining prowess the better, she should just stick to intimidating the ‘wee lads’.
It is funny how quickly you adapt to your surrounding. If in Sydney I took the wife and two kids for dinner at a nice hotel in the tourist part of town and ordered four meals, then a side meal we all shared, couple of beers, couple of fancy cocktails, several bottles of water, and a couple of colas for the boy, I would be ecstatic if the cost was under $A100 let alone just over $A50 all up as it was here, but here in Bali there is that sense of wanting to ask ‘is that your best price?’
I should hate myself for doing this, but I cannot help it – I keep comparing things to Thailand, it just seems that everything is better in Thailand. I will compare food; unfortunately I find the Balinese/Indonesian food bland and boring, it lacks the spice, creativity and general delight of Thai food. We ate meals in three or four Indonesian places and have found there is limited variety and taste – yes it is cheap here, but give me Thai food any day.
Our next big adventure was to go cycling in the mountains – ‘oooh la la’ it sounds so French – so ‘tour de France’-ish – I would have to win this challenge. Unfortunately for the kids and for Di, pick up was at 8am. Sadly it was not in a 5 year old Suzuki APV 9-seater, but some 12-seater that gave absolutely no indication it would consider breaking down for our entertainment. It also suggested we ‘are not alone’ on this trip. It soon became apparent it was Jess and I with a bunch of ‘chicky babes’. There was mother hen – Di (ooohhhh I just saw my whole life flash before my eyes – and it was really boring), wild duck Charlotte and gaggle of other young spring chickens – sisters Becky and Sam from Perth, three racist Australian born Vietnamese girls who also lived in Perth and Clare from Victoria. All six of these young lasses were getting ready to go back to Uni in Australia. Clare was studying Indonesian at Uni – as you do – and had been in Indonesia for 5 weeks learning the culture and fine tuning her language skills. Clare would be our spy and tell us the dirty jokes the guides would make about any of us.
Our first stop – oh no a Coffee Plantation – and yes I looked impressed when we were ‘introduced’ to the Lewak, and yes I smirked appropriately when the method of extracting the coffee was mentioned, and yes I looked interested when they roasted the poo, and yes …….. I can be such a good little tourist when I want to be – but no I don’t want to pay for trying some Lewak female coffee…… okay maybe not such a good tourist all the time!!
We headed up hill again in our 12-seater, Jess and I dozed whilst the gaggle – well, gaggled!!!!! I could not believe our next stop – the Volcano – but we paid to come and see these places two days ago – talk about a rip off!!!! So we sat and ooooohed and aaaahhhed to show we were amazed by the black land where the lava had flowed, and we ooooooohed and aaaahhhhed by the beauty of the lake and we took more photos – hallelujah for the delete button on cameras now. We were given complimentary fried bananas to build up our strength for the impending race down the mountain to see once and for all who was ‘King of the Mountain’ in our family – no, Di was not the favourite.
We all looked suitably ‘dicky’ and totally ‘uncool’ wearing cheap plastic ‘one size’ fits all box headed helmets. At least though we got to wear very stylish Prada cycling gloves and these came complete with the fragrance of the previous 50 people who had worn them. When it comes to body odor and sweat all races are created equally. We were off – now there is something relaxing riding down a mountain road – mainly because you don’t have to pedal, yes the sorest part of our body was going to be the hands from squeezing our brakes – though after two hours many of the girls would disagree with this trivial fact and claim another part of the anatomy was rubbed raw – but that is another story.
The trip down the mountain did in fact take two hours – but time flew so to speak. There was a guide on a bike at the front of the pack and there was a guide on a bike at the back of the pack. We also had our 12-seater zipping along behind us running protection on the busier roads and we had a Ute with several ‘spare’ bikes on it – not an encouraging sign methinks. Actually there were four spare bikes, two of which were needed within the first kilometre as minor and major mechanical issues raised their ugly heads – brake failure can be a problem coming down a mountain. In fact I was behind one of the racist Australian born Vietnamese girls when she forget to negotiate a very slight bend in the road and sailed off into the ‘never never’ – she was unhurt so it was very funny. Di also blamed her gears or some lame excuse for not keeping up with the lead pack and changed her bike. The fact that she was now one of the leaders after the change is irrelevant.
When the road ended and a trip through a rice paddock was needed, I was so proud to see first Jesse and then a laughing Charlotte fall off their bikes and end up head first in the mud! On reflection though it was the racist Aussie born Vietnamese girls who caused most of the problems – mainly because they rode like they were in Vietnam, with a total disregard to any rule or etiquette and a total lack of the understanding of ‘space’. Whether you were going at high speed or slowly, these three girls were ‘right up your backside’. The idea of backing off to a safe distance was totally lost on them – see it is not nurture but nature as to why so many people cannot ride/drive. It was funny listening to these three girls talk about why they hated Asians, mainly because all Asians thought they were Chinese – the Chinese thought they were from the Philippines, and Vietnamese treated them like ‘crap’ – hence they felt Asians treated them badly so they hated all Asians.
Both Charlotte and Jesse picked up minor knee scrapes, muddy clothes and bruised egos from their rice paddock falls, nothing that wouldn’t be character building. I must admit it was a sheer joy riding the bikes through the small villages, there were always waves and smiles from the Balinese locals and not a ‘Kamikaze’ Javanese wood carving seller in sight – darn those Javanese. It was the local school kids who made the bike ride such a treat. These school kids would come running out of the playground and stand in a line to high five each rider as they whizzed past. It was also apparent that these kids did not know the peril that the words ‘Vietnamese’ – ‘bike’ – ‘riding’ could bring upon them – yes, there were a few wobbly moments when a rider who was having trouble steering their bike with two hands attempted a difficult 35 kid high five – little did these innocents realise that Armageddon was so close. Most of these ‘high fiving school kids’ would yell, ‘Good Morning’ ‘Hello’ and other such greeting in English, we foreigners began yelling Selamat Pagi (good morning) back to them, this was until young Clare pointed out it was past 10am and we were now into Selamat Sien (Good day) territory – oops!!!
The school kids also were all in school uniform, very colourful, nearly ‘boy scout-ish’ coloured school uniforms – lots of brown and yellow trims, all a pretty sight. When you think of it the situation was asking for trouble – ten out of control foreigners with no common sense, on bikes, no, on dodgy bikes, screaming downhill on a very narrow road, through a small village with thirty odd six year old high fivers who have no perception of what a ‘pileup’ could possibly be!!!! The mind boggles at this recipe for disaster – but it was fun and it happened in each village we went through – recess goes for a long time in Indonesia.
With competition there is always THAT moment when the cream rises to the top and the king is crowned – our trip downhill was only 85% downhill and there were two significant up-hill sections whereby those who could ride and those who could not were sorted out. As we approached the up hill section, I was situated safely (from the racist Aussie born Vietnamese girls) at the back of the pack. It was carnage as these riders attempted the steep uphill cycling with the bikes down hill gear – ‘are we supposed to change gears now???’ This only created a greater problem for me – I now had to brilliantly cycle around them as they succumbed to the hard pedaling – I was simply awesome as I majestically wove around these obstacles and continued my mighty climb – all the girls fell victim, but the boy continued on to the top with me catching fast. The guides waved us on as around the next corner was the next part of the up hill climb and they were going back for our fallen comrades.
The next hill was going to be tough – but we were ‘tuffer’ – or were we – Jesse mucked his gear change up, he fell to the side and stopped – stopped with the crest of the hill beckoning – all he could do was watch in horror as I glided gracefully past – NNNNOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! He screamed – but too late I was the victor. Of course I was a gracious winner as he pushed the bike up the last few metres and only rubbed it in a little bit, well maybe a bit more than just a little bit – but that’s my job ‘I am his dad’!
After this it was back to long downhill stretches with me safely tucked in at the rear of the pack. Towards the end of the ride we were instructed to ride single file as the traffic was building up as we entered the main town – single file needed to be translated to three would be tailgaters with a passion for overtaking in busy spots – ‘THE MAN SAID SINGLE FILE!!!”
It was nearly comical when we reached the end of our bike ride. We had seen several dogs wander across the streets during our decent, there were a few near misses with these dogs, but dogs did not seem to be a big problem. When we reached the end of our ride, literally a dozen or more dogs came down the street and simply stood around us barking loudly, this caused every dog in the area to start barking and the barking built to a crescendo of noise which blotted out an attempt at communication between us.
We were now going on a one hour trek through the rice fields, the guide waved us to follow and we turned and headed straight into the howling mutts – ‘bloody hell’!!
The trek turned out to be harder than we first thought – the girls seemed to appreciate walking rather than sitting on a hard bike seat and several of them were giving their best ‘John Wayne old cowboy swagger after a day on the range’ walk. It was amazing how many of them had now become bow legged.
The trek started off easy enough, once we had worked our way past the still barking dogs, but as we went on it became muddier with several steep bits that required climbing down slopes – or as some did sliding down on their rears – this only caused the parts of their bodies which were experiencing pain and discomfort before to migrate the pain and discomfort further North (upwards) – resulting in walking styles that I perhaps should not address here.
The trek was very uneven and several people fell over, scraping knees and hands. Jesse made us proud by falling over twice and his mother turned ugly and started giving him what for, to walk properly and look where he is going. So what does he do right in the middle of the barrage – he falls over and cuts his knee. ‘I was listening to you, how can I watch where I’m going if I am listening to you??’ The boy has a point!
Luckily we made it to the end of the trek without Jesse losing his leg. The end of the trek was a restaurant where our support crew was patiently waiting. Jesse received expert medical treatment from a guide who looked more at home using a sledgehammer and dynamite than cotton balls and Band-Aids. We were then treated to a lovely Indonesian meal – which lacked spice and variety – but was lovely none-the-same. Lots of water to drink and rehydrate the sweat ravaged bodies. It was a lovely end to an enjoyable adventure.
It was then back in the 12-seater, Jesse and I crashed on the back seats and we left the girls to gaggle away. We arrived back at the hotel with tightening muscles and unusual walks. It was then time for showers, cocktails, sunset, dinner, beer and bed – all in that order. We had to build our strength because the next day was Charlottes last day as an 18 year old.