Hi readers! It’s been a while. We have been busy filling up out time with even more tavel. But before I get to that I need to finish our trip to Indonesia.
So lets jump back a month… We left off on Day 11 of our trip. An amazing fun filled day of motorcycling around Kuta…
Saturday, January 25th
It’s so relaxing here in Bali that we’ve spent a lot of time just enjoying the peace and quiet. Today, however, we finally got out of town for a bit. So glad we did! We left the hotel around 10:00 on one of the motorbikes and started off for Ubud, an inland town on the island of Bali. Naomi was riding on the back carrying the backpack with cameras, and was taking video with her iPhone of the traffic and crazy drivers here (I have to include myself in that category now, I guess… I’m learning to drive like a local). I had our Indo-phone in my pocket with Google Maps pulled up with our route on it. We managed to get outside of Kuta with no problems, but soon ran into issues when I missed a few turns due to not having the GPS out at the critical moments. The roads aren’t clearly marked, and the way Google Maps is drawn out here makes major roads look like minor ones, and vice versa. Anyway, so we ended up in Denpasar (about a third of the way to Ubud) with no idea where we were actually at, and the phone decided it didn’t want to have a data connection anymore… which means no more updated maps. So we stopped at a convenience store and took a minute to have a cold soda and try rebooting the phone.
Data connection restored, we figured out that we were quite a bit off track, and decided that the best way forward was for Naomi to act as full-time navigator while I concentrated on not hitting things (motorbikes, pedestrians, dogs, potholes, pigs, etc). We ended up on some crazy little backroads through Denpasar that seemed like they were taking us in circles, but eventually got us out of town again. The road on the map looked like a mountain road in the states with all the squiggles usually associated with switchbacks up a hill, but it was in reality just a flat road that abruptly ended every few hundred yards or so and turned into a new road going in an absolutely different direction. This is what happens when people just build houses wherever they please, and the road has to find a way in between. The traffic we shared the road with suggested that this wasn’t, in fact, a back road, but was more of a main thoroughfare. We sped by (I use the term loosely… don’t think we topped 50 kph the whole trip) houses, hovels, rice fields, old Javanese ladies riding motorbikes while texting, a pickup with an enormous pig caged up in the back, and lots and lots of potholes. At one point while we were stuck behind the pig-truck, Naomi struck up a conversation with a Balinese guy riding next to us. After finding out that we were going to Ubud, he mentioned that he ran a coffee farm near there and said we should visit sometime. Naomi made some non-committal reply, and we soon parted ways. Yes, I know it sounds a bit odd to have a conversation while riding down the road on separate motorbikes with a complete stranger, but it’s not really so odd here.
Five minutes or so later, we ran into the same guy again while stopped for traffic. He was on his way back to his farm, which he told us was right around the corner, and said again that we should stop in. So we followed him a couple minutes off the “main road” (if you can call a 10-foot wide lane a main road) and parked. He introduced us to his nephew, Widi, who proceeded to give us a tour of the coffee and spice farm they ran there, identifying each type of coffee tree, and showing us the vanilla vines, the cacao and cinnamon trees, and ginger and ginseng plants. We walked past a caged bat and towards the roasting area. All their coffee is grown, dried, shelled, roasted, and ground in the same little one-acre farm. They also produce “kopi luwak” there. Luwak is the Bahasa Indonesian word for the civet, a cat-type animal that has a fondness for coffee beans and a unique digestive system. The byproduct of this coffee-civet relationship is then collected, cleaned, roasted and ground into some of the tastiest coffee I’ve ever had. They had a civet in a cage near the roasting area, but Widi told us they’re rather agressive animals and we shouldn’t get too close.
We ended the tour at a little area with a few pondoks (grass-roofed huts with no walls) that served as a tasting area. For $5 we got a cup of kopi luwak and also 5 other different varieties of coffee (regular Bali coffee, vanilla, coconut, ginger, and ginseng) and 6 different teas (lemon, lemongrass, mangosteen, ginger. cardomom, and some red one… rosella, maybe?) It was absolutely delightful, and we sat and chatted with Widi for half an hour. He finished high school recently and started working for his uncle there. He wants to travel, but most of him money goes to his family so he doesn’t think he will ever get the chance. He speaks excellent English, loves talking to all the tourists that visit, and desperately wants a chance to see snow some day. He told us that between his Bahasa Indonesian and English, he can talk to most of the people that visit, except for the Russians, who he says are especially resistant to learning and/or speaking English for some reason. We loved getting to know him, laughing and joking, and building a relationship, even if it was brief.
We soon headed on, leaving the web address for Naomi’s blog and my email with him in case he wants to talk more. Back on the road to Ubud, we found that we were almost there. Entering the town we immediately saw that it was a huge tourist destination. Westerners everywhere, and lots of tour busses that were way too big for the little roads. The bike served us well here: no need to be stuck in traffic when there’s a perfectly good shoulder or sidewalk to get around it. Following the road as it led through town, we got a quick overview, and then headed back to a place we’d seen near the beginning: the “Monkey Forest.”
This place hadn’t even been on our list of things to see in Ubud. We didn’t even know it was there. But it was definitely worth the stop. We parked the bike on the sidewalk (c’mon, there were 10 other bikes parked there… it was more a parking lot than a sidewalk anyway), paid our admission fee, and bought a bundle of bananas from the lady selling them outside. Those lasted for all of 30 seconds. I stopped at the first monkey I saw, squatted down, broke off one the of the bananas and offered it to him. Not shy at all, he grabbed it and started peeling it open. For a second. Then he noticed that he had one banana while I had 10 still in my hand. I hadn’t anticipated how quick those little buggers could be. Next thing I knew, he had 11 bananas and I had nothing but a shocked look on my face. He smirked at me (seriously, he smirked), dropped the bunch of bananas, and went back to eating the first one. No problem, I thought, I’ll just get my 10 back while he’s preoccupied. Not so. Turns out that smirking isn’t the only emotion he’s capable of. He can also snarl. And bark. And look like the meanest little bundle of fur I’ve ever seen. With lots of teeth. You win, little monkey. You win.
Poorer in the currency of the jungle, but richer in knowledge of the agility of monkeys, we strolled further into the green-canopied temple grounds that the monkeys call home. I absolutely can’t describe in words how beautiful it is here. Luckily for you, I brought along this crazy-good photographer that I’m also proud to call my wife. Even then, we still couldn’t capture the smells, all the sounds, or even fully show the indescribable beauty that God has created in some of the remotest parts of the world. We paused for a bit in an open, cobble-stoned area surrounding a small pool. There were dozens of monkeys around of all ages, lounging, frolicking, scolding, eating, and generally being just the cutest things. One of the caretakers with a pocketful of crackers was helping tourists get poses with monkeys on their shoulder or lap for a small tip. Most people seemed to be frightened of them, perhaps warned off by (what I only learned when we got back home) the prevalance of human-transmittable diseases these monkeys are prone to carry and their sharp little teeth. We lingered for a bit taking lots and lots of pictures, and then followed the path deeper into the rain forest. The sanctuary is built on the grounds of a Hindu temple, and it’s quite old. Lots of statues, little stone bridges over deep streams, and cobbled pathways. Very pretty. Once we were clear of the tourists (I know, I know… we were tourists too, but we chose not to view ourselves that way) we stopped by a little group of the banana-thieves and I tried to coax one to get closer. Next thing I knew, there were three of them climbing around on my shouders and head. One of them was even kind enough to check my hair for, well, not sure what he expected to find, but he seemed disappointed. We ended up surrounded by a group of tourists oohing and ahhing. So if you look up the Ubud Monkey Forest on Trip Advisor or somewhere and see a picture of a skinny white guy with monkeys crawling all over him, that might be me.
Anyway, I didn’t want Naomi to miss out on the fun, so I thought I’d coax one up onto her shoulder. Turns out he didn’t need a lot of coaxing: she not only had more hair to play with than I did, but she also had a backpack. And backpacks mean only one thing: BANANAS! That might just be me projecting myself into the psyche of a monkey, but at any rate he was fascinated with the bag. Given enough time, I’m sure he would’ve figured out the zippers, but at first he was content with just the outside pockets, where we’d been foolish enough to leave our bottle of sunscreen. I had just been thinking that I really needed to put some on to keep from getting burnt (I’ve been a good boy and not gotten burnt yet on this trip). Guess he was worried about his dermatological health as well, and next thing we knew he had swung down from the bag with the bottle in hand. I remember how this scenario played out from the banana experience before, so I didn’t even bother chasing him, hoping that he’d get bored with it once he realized it wasn’t mushy and yellow on the inside. Sigh. How I underestimated these little 20-fingered devils. Within a minute he had figured out the flip-top cap and was merrily squirting our sunscreen out on the head of the statue he’d perched on. Fun game, I suppose, or perhaps just revenge for our stinginess with food. Either way, he got bored soon, and I hoped for a bit left in the bottle. Should’ve known better. It passed from monkey to monkey until the top was completely removed and the contents emptied.
Picking up the discarded bottle and depositing it in the rubbish bin, we continued on. Next up was a trip over a intricate and ancient stone bridge and up a very narrow path alongside the stream. We passed a “good-luck pool” (perhaps not the best of luck for the poor fish trying to live there when people keep flipping coins at them), more monkeys and tourists, and reached the end of the path.
It was getting late, and we wanted to do some shopping for batiks in town, so we headed back out. We passed a cluster of people standing around this one little fellow who had snatched someone’s plastic juice bottle. He was trying his best to figure out a screw-top lid to get at the orange liquid inside. Ingenious little things. After deciding that it wouldn’t break from smashing it repeatedly onto the stones, and that turning it upside down wouldn’t work either, he finally got the idea to use his teeth to hold the lid while he turned it with his hands. Presto! He then proceeded to draw wild amusement from the crowd by attempting to chug it down, ending up with more on himself than in his mouth. (Video Link)
I could’ve stayed there for another couple hours, but it was starting to look like rain, we were tired and hungry, and there was still more to do. We said our goodbyes to our furry friends and got back on the bike. Briefly. Turns out that either: A) we had picked up a nail in our back tire somewhere, B) it was just an old inner tube that had finally given up, or C) we had ticked off one of the monkeys that was sitting on our seat when we got back and he had decided to play a little prank. End result was that we got about 20 feet up the road when the bike started wobbling like crazy.
Just great. Here we are an hour and a half from our hotel, in a town we’ve never been to, and a flat tire we have no way to fix. The shop owner near where we stopped didn’t speak much English, but finally figured out what we were asking and told us there was a motorcycle mechanic about a kilometer “that way.” This was accompanied by what he probably thought was a very precise wave of his hand, but what covered about half the town of Ubud to our minds. We started trudging up the road, tired, hungry, and now a little bit discouraged. Well, I was, at any rate. My lovely traveling companion did her best to cheer me up, and it worked after a while. We got back toward the main road and found an ojek (motorcycle taxi) driver who was a bit more fluent. He offered to drive me up the road to the mechanic, and to see what he could do. That was my first experience on an ojek. I haven’t ridden as a passenger on a motorcycle in a long time, and definitely not on Indonesian roads on the back of a little 125cc scooter. It was, to say the least, quite the experience. We arrived intact, however, and found the mechanic. He wasn’t too busy, and said he would drive over and see what he could do. I felt a bit silly when he asked what sort of bike it was so he could bring the right tools. I hadn’t really bothered to look when we rented it, so I looked at some of the ones parked in his garage and tried to guess which one looked the most similar.
Back on the ojek and another kilometer ride to where our poor scooter was sadly sitting on the side of the road. The mechanic showed up a minute later, looked at the bike, at me, back at the bike, and shook his head. I’d guessed the wrong model. While we were waiting for him to make another round-trip to his shop, I asked the ojek driver if he could pick up Naomi from where we’d left her and bring her back. While waiting, I had the distinct pleasure of being the object of attention for all the toko owners on the street, all of them shaking their head and tsk-tsking at my misfortune of having a flat tire. Ojek came back with my cute photographer companion, and we parted ways with the driver, thanking him profusely for his help. The mechanic was back soon, had the muffler, brake, and wheel off rather quickly, and in a few minutes we had a brand new inner tube and a somewhat inflated tire. Seems his hand-pump wasn’t fully operational, but we had enough air to follow him back to the shop and an air compressor that set us straight. Total cost for the repair: $6 plus a tip for the mechanic.
The rest of the day was fun, but not quite so eventful. Naomi did find the items we originally went to Ubud to purchase (some “happy pants” and a silk robe… if you want to know what “happy pants” are, she has pictures on her Facebook page). We had a nice dinner of soto ayam, mie goreng, lumpia, and a few other things, but had to cut it short since the rain clouds were rolling in and it was starting to get late.
The trip back to Kuta was quicker. I let Naomi navigate the whole time, so no getting lost on random back roads. I also let loose my inner Indonesian-driver, and made full use of the sidewalk, shoulder, oncoming lane, and everywhere in between. We got back to the hotel just before dark, and had a quick dip in the pool to ease my sunburn. I’ve got a pretty good “farmer’s tan” now. Thanks for that, monkeys.
Indonesia Trip Days