Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Bali ~ Indonesia ~ the start ~ 23rd to 28th March

A popular destination with all tourists alike, Bali is known as the Island of Gods. To give you an idea of our impressions on Bali so far we would say it is a bustling island always on the move. From temple ceremonies to rice terraces, women with frangipani flowers in their hair, pulse-pounding surf at Uluwatu, Padang Padang or The Incredibles, enchanting Kecak dance performances at Uluwatu temple at sunset, stumbling on tiny offerings that appear from nowhere filled with rice or fruit, bright frangipanis and the smell of beautifully scented incence to the shrines in every rice field, next to sacred old trees, in every corner of all local businesses, overlooking intersections and dangerous curves in the roads.

We are not denying it, Bali is commercialised and we reckon in 10-20 years time Bali is going to be even more westernised that it is today. We are trying very hard to ignore the commercialisation and concentrate more on the true Bali. We spoke to a lady who visited Bali 20 years ago and this was her first time back. She said some parts she could hardly recognise due to the rapid changes that have taken place. With Macdonald's, KFC, Burger King, designer stores and the like popping up. It was a bit disappointing to see scores and scores of westerners eating here rather than trying out some of the traditional Balinese food. Most Balinese menus are not in English but for 10,000 rupiah = US$1 you can get a local sim card and use the Google translate app. Some Balinese can speak and understand English but most don't and you will need patience when conversing with those that have trouble understanding – you will eventually manage to communicate with them. Most tourists end up staying in fancy resorts or in Poppies 1 or Poppies 2 in popular Kuta away from the true flare that Bali has to offer. Its almost like they can't be too far away from their home comforts.

We read a lot of blogs, lonely planet and spoke to a few people on Bali. The best way to get around Bali is either on scooters, as there are thousands everywhere, or your own driver. We have heard and read about some horror stories on the scooters so we opted for a driver. Bali is small in size so you could drive around the entire coast in one day, it is possible. For US$50 you can get a driver for 10 hours to drive you where you want to go in Bali. Our driver is Ketut, a very popular name in Bali and one you will hear frequently. We found out that there are certain names you give to your first born, second born, third born etc.. Ketut is the forth born, however there are 3 other names that can be given to a forth born, Ketut is the most popular.

Kuta - 21st to 23rd March

We stayed in Kuta at Hawaii Bali for the first two nights. Location was not great as it was on a busy highway but after arriving in Bali after 10.30pm and hearing how bad the traffic can get we wanted somewhere close by. The Hotel is currently undergoing renovation and some extensions which is probably why we got a good price, however this never once distrupted our stay here. Probably not somewhere I would want to stay long term, one night is enough. We could not fault the staff who were friendly. The hotel was decorated well and clean. The swimming pool was a lovely 25 degrees, perfect in the evenings but not during the day when you want to cool off. We experienced our first taste of an Asian breakfast, which consisted of a choice of egg fried rice, brown rice, omelette, stir fried veggies and noodles and a Balinese style chicken soup with a boiled egg in it. We must say it was not our type of breakfast, we much prefer a platter of fruit or cold milk and weetabix but it was interesting to try it at least.

After seeing some of the driving and hearing the stories about scooters we opted for the safer option of a driver with a car, this may sound like you're losing some of the options to go see and do what you want but its great and the drivers are happy to talk to you and discuss different places to visit. Who knows we may end up getting a scooter where the roads are not quite busy as the ones around Kuta.
While waiting for our driver to pick us up we decided to walk around the area. Crossing the two way highway was rather scary to be honest. There are more scooters and motorbikes than there are cars and you constantly had to watch for scooters and motorbikes weaving in and out of each other and the few suddenly appearing from side allies or mounting pavements to join the main highway. All of them going at various speeds. Must have taken us at least 15 mins to cross the 4 lanes in total!

Wondering around we knew we weren't near the tourist area of Kuta, more like the local markets of Kuta. We only saw 4 other tourists wondering around. We came across a local store that had Absolute Vodka bottles lined up with petrol for the scooters in them. Later we understood through our driver that the petrol stations are not located close together so the locals sell the petrol for scooters in reused vodka bottles. We both laughed as its something we thought you only see in Africa. Most of the locals have their businesses on their scooters, either a small fast food box varying to selling live gold fish, other types of fish and even small lobsters in bags of water. Its amazing the lobsters haven't figured out to cut their way out. On our wonder is where we noticed the small shrines at every business and at every corner with small offerings made out of woven leaves with fruit, rice and bright flowers. Some left in the middle of the pavement as though magically appearing from nowhere. We learnt that these offerings are done 3 times a day usually before meals.

 Pet fish and lobster for sale on the back of a scooter.
 Scooter petrol station - no its not vodka!
 Salak fruit - skin is like the texture of a snake skin. Fruit needs to be boiled, then cooled. It tastes just like a poached pear. Texture of the flesh is different from a pear. Quite tastey.
Read about more interesting fruits here:
One of the many many shrines on the corners of the street or at every business. This is a slightly larger one.
 More local business on the backs of scooters.

After sweating our asses off in the humid heat from a 2 hour wonder and now looking like we had just got out a swimming pool, we returned to the hotel to cool off in the air conditioned room before Ketut picks us up.Once cooled off and Ketut has picked us up he takes us to a seafood restaurant for lunch. (Ketut seems to be a common name here in Southern Bali, it also means child number 4)

The Entrance to Kampoeng Seafood Restaurant
 We pick our seafood fresh as they are still alive but the cost is quite a bit more for items of the live menu!

 You order from the kitchen master who will help you order everything off the menu for a price!

 The jumbo prawns were fantastic
 Grilled White snapper with a spicy sauce!

We paid 400,000 rupiah in total including drinks. We thought that was cheap but in all honesty it was pretty expensive considering you can easily have lunch for less than 100,000 rupiah. We were serenaded by some locals who were really good. They asked where we were from and when we said South Africa the one says to us '' Ah wakaka wakaka'' from the football world cup. Ketut drove us around the south of Bali stopping off at Padang Padang for a quick swim before taking us to Uluwatu for the Kecak dance at sunset.

Padang Padang beach.

 More Padang Padang
 Pandang Padang again.

Kecak Dance at Pura Luhur Ulu Watu

The temple (Pura in Balinese) is set atop sheer cliffs that drop straight into the surf below. The temple is for the spirit of the sea. We arrived just before sunset to see the Kecak dance that is performed here daily. We were given brightly coloured sarongs or sashes to wear.

The Kecak dance is regarded as one of the best known dances of Bali. The dance is not accompanied by musical instruments, instead a chorus of men sit in a circle and imitate the ''cak-cak'' sound effects to the dance while dancers perform an adaptation of an ancient ritual ceremony called Sanghyang that was held to purify a village during and epidemic. The Kecak tells the tale of the quest of hero Rama who came to earth to defeat the evil demon Ravana who had captured his wife Sita. With the help of Anoman, the white monkey and his army they search for his wife. Anoman destroys some of Ravana's palace but he is captured, his hands tied and the people of Alengka try to burn Anoman with a ring of fire but his magic power protects him. He manages to destroy the entire palace and Sita is saved.

Throughout the Kecak dance, the circle of men, all bare chested and wearing checked cloth around their waists, provide a non stop accompaniment, rising to a crescendo as they play the monkey army and the fight out between Anoman and Ravana.

The dance was quite something leaving us mesmorised. The chorus of the chanting men was brilliantly done. We can highly recommend the Kecak dance at Uluwatu.

 Kecak Dance.
  Kecak Dance.
 Kecak Dance at sunset.

 The white monkey is captured.

Uluwatu temple at sunset.

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