My travel for the last couple of years has been shared with my friend, Ched. We decided to go in separate directions since much of our desires in places to see are somewhat different which brings me back to Southeast Asia to visit Bali, Indonesia.
The trip to Bali is probably on the top of my list of best places to visit thus far. Even with the 23-hour travel time I would definitely make a return trip.
The one thing I would change is flying the airline that brought me here since I got off the plane with what some refer to as Bali Belly. I read warnings of this type of illness before I left but they were all about not drinking tap water in Bali and careful of some of the foods on the streets. I considered myself ready knowing that those are two things I never do anyway, but I had no idea I would lose 3 days recuperating from plane food. Valuable lesson learned!
After spending two days healing time in Kuta Beach upon arrival I hired a driver to take me to Ubud, about an hour and a half drive away. I had booked accommodations at the Raka House located in the center of Ubud. Since I still felt sick while on the drive I laid in the back seat of the car while Mr. Bush dealt with the heavy traffic getting me to my final destination. Mr. Bush was a nice little older man, a version of Mr. Miyagi, a character from a movie I remember, The Karate Kid.
Raka House is not a very well-known hotel in Ubud which has more than a thousand hotels to offer, therefore it took Mr. Bush and Google a few turns on one-way streets to locate and, in the end, having to park and walk to get there. Mr. Bush carried my bag up the path about a block to the entrance of Raka House. There was a wooden door opening into a stairway that led down into what looked like a tropical paradise with several Bali style buildings with intricate details and beautiful gold trim. The owner of the guest house met me extending his hand to help me down the steps. He was such a lovely little guy, a real character that I remembered thinking should be sitting under a Bonsai Tree. He took me to my room never asking for identification or payment the entire time I stayed with them. He always checked on me each day asking if I was feeling better even though I never told him I was sick. I slept the rest of the day of my arrival waking the next morning feeling as if I had never been sick. I do remember the smell of incense and prayers during the night leaving me to wonder if he may have taken part in my recovery. The Balinese people are very spiritual devoting most of their days to praying and rituals. Their entire life is devoted to God and family. I was feeling very lucky to be there.
The next day I felt like new again and ready to make up for time lost. I opened the door to find coffee waiting for me on a small table with chairs on the little porch outside my room. I sat to have my coffee and enjoy the tropical surroundings complete with sounds of water flowing and birds singing when one of the young guys came by to ask what I would like for breakfast. A few minutes later he returned with an omelet, toast and a large portion of fresh mixed fruit. This place just kept getting better and better. I could not believe that I was only paying $17 a day for a place that seemed like paradise to me.
After having breakfast, it was time to see the rest of Ubud that I had read so much about. I walked back down to the street where we had parked the day before, on the way asking one of the neighbors of Raka House where I would be able to get a taxi since I had seen no marked taxis on the street. I had read warnings of taking unmarked taxis but decided to take a chance on the recommendation of the neighbor. He pointed me in the direction of a guy holding a Taxi sign. I asked how much to take me out for the day to see the area and he replied 300,000 Rupiah which is about $21. This sounded like a deal not to refuse, so I accepted. I mentioned a few places I had interest in, and we were off. This began a new friendship with the man called Gusti.
I told Gusti the one place I really did not want to miss was the Monkey Sanctuary therefore this was my first stop. He warned me before going in that the monkeys could get very mean and make sure I watch out for them. As I walked down the path seeing monkeys coming from all directions, I saw many people attempting to interact with the monkeys while thinking about that warning from my driver.
Like everyone else I started to make photos and handed my camera over to one of the attendants in the park to get me in one of the shots with monkeys in the background. He directed me to sit on a rock wall for the photo. This was a big mistake! As soon as I sat down two of the monkeys came running and one went to the back of me starting to play with my hair. Intelligence kicked in and I sat as still as could be until he began to tire of me before I got up. After making my escape I continued on down the trail. The man in front of me was wearing a ball cap had one of the monkeys jump on his back and grab his cap. Rather than allowing the monkey to keep the cap he tried to get it back. That’s when another monkey jumped on his back in giving the man a severe bite. I could not help telling the man to stay still to wait for him to go knowing what had just happened to me. After about 5 minutes the monkeys jumped off and went on their way. I was feeling very lucky not have gotten bitten. Another one jumped on a lady’s backpack stole her water, took off the lid and started to drink. Even with all the bad behavior this is still an attraction not to be missed.
When I got back in the car to continue on I ask for suggestion from Gusti as for things to see. He asks if I liked coffee and if so, had I ever had the special coffee from Bali. I replied saying that I loved coffee but no, I had never had special coffee (It still never occurred to me to ask what was so special about it.) I mentioned to him that I would like to see the Rice Terraces I had read about, and he said, good they also have the special coffee I mentioned. Our next stop was the Rice Terraces.
When we reached the Rice Terraces Gusti walked through with me. The special coffee that he had been telling me about was at the beginning of the entrance. Several ladies were walking about with trays of samples of coffees and teas. I had not realized this area is well known for coffee production. We took a seat at one of the tables and I ordered two cups of the “special coffee” for myself and Gusti. I could sense what a treat it was for him to have this coffee. The cost is fairly expensive as prices in Bali go but nothing more than Starbucks prices back home. They brought both regular coffees to compare taste and the “special coffee”.
Gusti was right, the “special coffee” was absolutely delicious especially compared to the regular Bali coffee. After we enjoyed our coffee and a few samples of tea they had to offer it was time to see the process for making the “special coffee”. One of the ladies directed us around back, first coming to a cage containing a small cat like animal resembling a weasel stating the animal was used in the process of making special coffee beans. The next in line was two ladies one roasting the coffee beans and another crushing the coffee beans into coffee grinds for brewing. The biggest surprise of all was when I saw the two wooden bowls, one filled with coffee beans and the other filled with droppings from the small animal I had seen in the cage. After a quick explanation of how they collect the cat feces and wash it separating the beans for the roasting process I realized that I just drank “cat poop coffee” made from the Civet Cat. This was one experience I won’t soon forget….
Time to continue on and enjoy the beautiful scenery of the Rice Terraces, get a few photos, and try out the giant swing that looks so inviting. This was a full day for someone who had felt so near death as I had only a day ago, therefore time to head back to Raka House for a little R & R to get ready for my next day adventure.
At 9am the next day Gusti was knocking on my door ready to take me to more places in the area he felt I would enjoy. I felt a strange spiritual connection to this guy that is hard to explain. My belief is as always, the Universe draws like-minded people together and that certainly seems to be the case here. When I ask what our first stop would be, he replied he thought I might enjoy the Hot Springs and the Volcano. He could not have chosen any place I would enjoy more. Hot Springs have always been an all-time favorite in my travels. On the way to the Hot Springs he took a route allowing me to see the country side, people working the rice fields, the severe damage left by the eruption of a volcano so many years ago and the day to day life of people in the small villages. We chatted along the way about family, religious customs and business allowing me to learn more about the Balinese people.
The Hot Springs was such a nice unexpected treat. This would have been a nice place to spend the day, but I decided I would rather leave a little early to make a few stops on the way back to places that Gusti had mentioned.
After stopping at a mountain top restaurant overlooking a valley with a beautiful view for a nice lunch, we continued on toPura Tirta Tawar a Hindu Temple and Holy Spring Waters. This is a place where locals go for healing. The grounds and buildings were beautiful and very crowded as many local people were in the spring for healing in celebrating Saraswati Goddess of wisdom and knowledge. The spring was filled to the limit while many others sat in prayer and I was told had been there overnight, non-stop praying. This type of devotion to religion and God is admirable to say the least. I will say I had no desire to enter those spring waters even though I probably could have used a little healing myself.
During my time with Gusti he took me to a number of places that contribute to the production of items you see for sale around town such as the silversmiths making of some of the most beautiful and intricate pieces of jewelry I’ve seen. We also stopped by an Art Gallery of wood carvings and watched as several artist carved final details into some of their work. Another stop included the Batik Artist and seeing how fabric is woven and hand painted and dyed before being sewn into beautiful garments with some being offered for sale on site.
Before leaving Ubud the visit would not be complete without seeing the traditional Balinese Dance. Although there are other dances, the one I saw was a religious ritual that involved Rangda, the witch, and the great beast Barong. Although interesting it was a little hard for me to follow without Gusti explaining to me that the dance was about the fight between good and evil and that good always wins over evil. The dancers were very talented each playing their parts very well. Another Balinese experience I’m happy not to have missed!
Time came to leave Ubud and the Raka House and my new friend Gusti although something tells me I haven’t heard the last from him…