Sunday, September 07, 2008

September 7, 2008 - East Bali Road Trip

We've just returned to the marina after a three day road trip around central and east Bali. On Friday morning, our rental car was delivered to the marina. For $17 a day, we had a small SUV with balding tires, called a Kijang Grand, at our disposal. We had been a little hesitant about renting a car. There don't seem to be any road rules here. There are at least as many scooters on the road as cars. The scooters, usually carrying several people and baskets full of stuff, weave in and out of traffic, and 2 lanes regularly become 4 as cars squeeze around slow moving scooters. We were terrified of hitting a scooter, as we'd be sure to wipe out a family of four. But once we got out of town, traffic thinned out and the driving became easier. We headed east and up into the hills.We stopped for lunch at a warung (small restaurant) in the terraced rice paddies near Sideman. After a delicious lunch, we continued our drive through stunning scenery. We all have so much respect for the Balinese after seeing how much hard work goes into the creation of rice terraces and the cultivation of rice.

Late afternoon, we found ourselves on the crater rim of a volcano. Sten and I are more than a little fascinated with volcanos, so when we read that by staying in the village next to the lake in the valley below us we would be sleeping inside a double caldera, we were hooked. Unfortunately, the hotel options in the village were limited. We opted for the most modern seeming of the bunch, but it turned out to be a huge, empty monstrosity that seemed to have been imported to Bali directly from the (former) communist bloc.

Nothing at the hotel worked. They advertised a hot tub fed by waters from the local hot spring. After a long day of driving, a soak in a spa would have been just the ticket. But the pump wasn't working. And, the spa and the pool were covered by a layer of scum. Okay, no spa, no pool, how about some TV? After some trial and error, I finally found a plug that worked and turned it on. I could hear Oprah, but couldn't see her face. Clearly this was not the night to break our four month hiatus from television.

I had really been looking forward to a hot shower. It had been five months since either Sten or I had a shower with an unlimited supply of hot water. Sten had one shortly after we arrived at the hotel. He came out steaming and beaming. Suzy and I waited until the morning, which turned out to be a mistake. Suzy emerged from the bathroom with dirty look at Sten and a "you call that hot?" We probably would have taken the lack of hot water in better humor if we hadn't been kept awake most of the night by packs of howling wild dogs, roosters competing with the dogs to see who could make the most noise, trucks air breaking as they came down the steep hill into the valley, and the prisoners in the basement rattling the bars on their doors (or so it sounded to Sten - I decided that there was actually an elevator somewhere in the building leading down into a mine shaft - every 15 minutes or so the whole hotel would vibrate).

The lack of hot water was the last straw. I threw on some clothing and went down to the desk to complain. After two visits to our room by one of the clerks, we were promised that we would have hot water in 35 minutes. After 5 months, what's another half hour? The cherry on top off this terrible experience was the complimentary breakfast. Afterwards, I understood why our voucher for a free breakfast bore the disclaimer "We regret that no reimbursement can be made for any portion of meal not consumed." We couldn't get out of there fast enough.

We tried to drive directly from one volcano lake to another further west, only to learn why all the roads in Bali seem to run north and south - because there are deep river gorges dividing the country up into a series of peaks and valleys like the folds of an accordian. Trying to work our way west without resorting to going way out of our way to take one of the roads across the north or south coasts of the island, we found ourselves way off the beaten track in the central mountains. As we drove past rural farms, people were looking at us like they had never seen tourists drive by their front door before. After the road deteriorated into a goat track, we understood why they didn't get so many tourists in their neck of the woods.

Despite the language barrier, everyone was super friendly and willing to give us directions - even when I was reading five word questions to them in Bahasa Indonesian from the back of the Lonely Planet and looking at them completely blankly when they rattled off paragraph long responses in the same language. Luckily, we occasionally came across people with excellent English in some very unlikely places. We eventually found our way to the outskirts of Ubud, the cultural heart of Bali.

We headed to the Sayan Terrace for lunch. This gorgeous, gorgeous place is the setting of the book "A House in Bali." The guidebook promised that 'one look at the view and we'd understand why the book's author built his house here in the 1930's.' The book wasn't wrong. We had lunch by the pool and decided to stay the night. We were all so beat after the prior night's sleepus interuptus and the morning's offroad adventure, that we took one look at the view and decided to stay right there for the rest of the day. After relaxing by the pool for a while, and having long, hot showers, we had afternoon tea on Suzy's terrace, which had the best view in the whole place. We were so relaxed that tea turned into dinner. The next morning, we decided that her view was so much better than the restaurant's that we gathered on her terrace again for breakfast.

We spent the morning strolling around Ubud, poking into shops and finally buying ourselves a proper road map (instead of trying to piece together the various area maps in our guidebooks). After another delicious lunch we headed to the botanical gardens to soak up some more greenery before heading back down to the marina.

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