Monday, October 27, 2008

October 17, 2008 - Wangayagede, Bali, Indonesia

This morning, Ketut, our car rental guy, dropped off the latest in a series of run down Toyota Kijang Grands that we've rented from him. Each one is more cosmetically damaged than the last, the shocks are worn out, and the seats don't have any padding left. But the most important system always works: the air conditioning. And at $15 a day, we're not complaining about the other stuff. Actually, we've become convinced that the run down appearance of these vehicles has worked to our advantage. Not a single cop has stopped us to charge us the white man's fine - the bribe that many tourists in Bali end up paying to policemen to avoid having to go to court to deal with trumped up charges. We figure that no cop would take the time to look twice at the wrecks that we've been driving when there are so many Australians running around in Jeeps and Germans cruising around in convertible VW Things.
We left the dinghy tied down on the deck of the boat and got a lift in to the dock from one of the locals. We fueled up the Kijang Grand and swung over to Sanur to pick up Dad before heading off to Tanah Lot, a temple on the southwest coast that is easily the most touristed and photographed temple in Bali.
The main time of day to visit Tanah Lot is sunset, so we figured we'd beat the rush and drop in before noon. Most of the shop keepers were still setting up, so they didn't hassle us too much, but the postcard ladies were out in full force. For 30,000 Rupiah ($3), they will sell you 30 postcards. Actually, if you refuse long enough, for 10,000 Rupiah they will sell you 30 postcards. Three cents a card seems like a pretty good deal, until you try to find a shop to buy stamps or a post office to mail the cards. After trying their best to cadge a dollar out of each of us, then giving us the mother of all guilt trips via expressions that suggested that we were personally responsible for the malnourishment of their children, they went off to try their luck with the Japanese tourists.

From Tanah Lot we headed north into a region that is known among the Balinese for producing some of the best rice in the island. Now, admittedly, before coming to Bali I'd never given much thought to rice. I'm not that fussy about whether my rice is Uncle Ben's or Basmati, as long as it provides a sauce delivery device, I'm happy. But the rice paddies from the Tabanan region of Bali are prized for producing long, plump grains of rice. So of course, we had to try some. We stopped for lunch at a spot overlooking the paddies. The folks working there didn't speak much English, and before he knew what had transpired, Sten ended up ordering lunch for all of us. We were still waiting to see the menus when the waiters brought a giant basket of rice, bowls of chicken soup, shredded chicken salad mixed with ginger and lemon grass and the piece de resistance, a plate of deep friend eels. Like ducks, eels thrive in the rice paddies, so it shouldn't have surprised us to be presented with a plate of them, but because they didn't taste like much of anything other than the coconut oil in which they had been fried, it took a few minutes for us to identify them as eels.

A Catholic church masquerading as a Balinese Temple
As we continued to drive north, we climbed higher in elevation and the air became cooler and more like something one could breathe. By the time we reached Prana Dewi, our hotel for the next two nights, it was actually pleasant outside the air conditioned bubble of our Kijang Grand. The Prana Dewi is a small collection of bungalows, situated among rice paddies and gardens. Prayer flags flutter on curved bamboo poles, mimicking the shape of bamboo arching above the canopy of the rainforest bordering the property. Much of our dinner came from the hotel's organic gardens, and we enjoyed eating outside without having to swat away flies or mosquitoes. The gardens are populated by frogs and geckos who eat the mosquitoes. We were surprised to find that this seemingly peaceful spot was one of the noisiest we've been visited in Bali. All night long the geckos and frogs kept up a chorus that could have drowned out the honking scooters and pounding discos of Kuta. A few hours before dawn they were joined by a rooster who decided to get a jump on his duties for the day.


talot said...

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