Its amazing how much cultures can change with a short plane ride. Jodie and I have had a bit of a culture shock since leaving Australia and arriving in Bali. It has been very interesting, entertaining and refreshing.
Really the only thing that hasn't changed is the heat, in fact it seems to be a little hotter here, and maybe even a bit more humid.
90+90=sweaty. 90 degrees plus 90 percent humidity makes for a very sweaty Eli, and even Jodie who is not much of a sweater herself is starting to glisten a bit. That is really the only part of Bali that we don't care for. The people are wonderful, the scenery is terrific and the food is delicious.
Shortly after getting off the plane, I became a millionaire with a swipe of my ATM card. Thats right, I took out a cool 1.5 million Rupiah, or the equivalent of $150 USD. We are still adjusting to the mental strain of lopping 4 zeros off of all the prices to convert them to a familiar value. Things are markedly cheaper here, which is a relief to our budget and my inherent thriftiness. After spending a month and a half in New Zealand and Australia where we were blowing our budget everyday on nothing luxurious by any stretch of the imagination. However, here in Bali we are managing to stay right on or below our budget everyday and we have definitely upped our standard of living. While in Cairns, we were staying in a hostel ($30 for both of us sharing a room with 2-4 others, cooking at least two meals a day, and when we did go out to eat it was usually fast food because that was the cheapest option. We might have a $3 beer from the store which was a treat, or share a $6 beer from a bar if we wanted some entertainment. Today in Bali, we spent $10 for our own room with a bathroom, private porch and breakfast included. We spent $6 on lunch in a restaurant with fresh food, and fresh fruit juice.
Dinner was another $6 I had fresh snapper, Jodie had a seafood combination of calamari, fish and shrimp. We also managed to fit in a couple of full body massages for $4 a piece. We are happy.
We started off our time in Kuta, which is a very interesting place. It is the heart of tourism in Bali, and its bustling with restaurants, tons of motorbikes, and a million stores that seem to be selling the exact same stuff. It stretches out along a beach in front of nice resorts and many restaurants. Kuta reminded me very much of the beach towns in Mexico that cater to American spring breakers, like Rocky Point or Ensanada. The only difference is instead of rowdy Americans, there are rowdy Australians. It has a raucous night life with lots of bars and even a strip of high end shopping stores. Its a nice enough place but it didn't feel very Balinese to us. Every ten steps there was another shop with a eager to make you deal merchant trying to sell you sunglasses or t-shirts. Luckily for them I just so happened to need some sunglasses. So after walking away from about half a dozen merchants selling the EXACT same sunglasses, I finally found one at the end of the day that I worked down from 250,000 Rupiah ($25) to about 3,000 ($3). Jodie said it couldn't be done, but I found $3 sunglasses.
The beach was nice but very hot, and the bath warm water didn't provide much refreshment. It was by far the warmest ocean water we have ever felt. We did feel very safe while in Kuta, except for the rat that somehow managed to run across both of my feet while walking down a sidewalk at night. I almost pulled a hammy as I jumped in the air and screamed like a little girl. Also while in Kuta, we did manage to meet up with a friend of a friend of Jodie's sister Tanya, who lives here. Her name is Wendy and she is a British expat who moved here 17 years ago. She was very helpful on what we should see and do while in Bali. Following her advice we left Kuta after a couple days to explore some more of the island.
Ubud was our next stop, and we really liked it there. It is a smaller town, about an hour inland from Kuta. We took a shuttle bus which was nice to get a view other than the city. We passed a lot There were a few less tourists there, and it had a very different feel. It was a lot quieter and the town seemed to have more character. Our first stop was at the Monkey Forest near the center of the town. We walked around watching monkeys lounging, playing and waiting for banana hand outs from passers by. They were very entertaining but we didn't let them climb on us because of the warning signs at the entrance of the park that said they could get aggressive, and if they did climb on you to drop your stuff and slowly walk away. We walked around for the rest of the day checking out the various shops which were selling lots of paintings, wood carvings and other artsy stuff. After pricing out various massage places, we picked one for $6 an hour and it was fantastic. They specialized in reflexology which I guess means poking and prodding you in the feet, but it felt great. The one part I didn't care for as much was when the guy literally started punching the bottoms of my feet, but overall it was very nice. We awoke at our bungalow the next morning and were soon greeted by one of the employees who served us the typical bungalow breakfast of banana pancakes, fresh pineapple, watermelon and papaya, and some really strong sludgy coffee. Since most Balinese are Hindus, every morning little offering baskets are prepared and left all over on sidewalks, store entrances, and stair cases. They usually consist of a small weaved dish made out of palm leaves, and filled with flowers, incense and usually some sort of food, mainly rice. It's nice to walk around in the morning watching the people setting these out and sprinkling water on them by dipping a flower petal then shaking it above the baskets with a strong smell of incense in the air. That night we watched a traditional Balinese dance. The chanting and dancing was made more entertaining by the stray dogs that wandered around amongst the dancers with a confused look on their faces. We have noticed many dogs that look remarkably like our dog Marley which confirms our suspicions that he is 100% mutt.
Padang Bai was our next stop, about one hour east of Ubud on the coast. We really like it here. The town is a sleepy fishing village that serves as a port where ships leave for the next Island to the east, Lombok. The town has a narrow beach where all of the traditional fishing boats are sitting, it is very scenic. There isn't very many tourists here, which is nice because we can walk in any direction from where we are staying and within 2 minutes, you feel like you are the only non Balinese around. Things seem to be even cheaper here compared to Ubud and Kuta. We have had some excellent seafood here, like barracuda and mahi mahi which cost us around $3 per plate. Our favorite part of Padang Bai is a small beach in a cove called Blue Lagoon. There is a reef not to far out which has some great snorkeling and lots of tropical fish. Like most of the beaches here in Bali, there are always locals wandering the beach selling stuff and offering massages. We took a lady up on her offer and it was very relaxing. We planned on renting a motorbike (scooter) today but after talking with the lady at our bungalow, she said I needed an international license or the police might stop us and we would have to pay fines. That was strikeout #1 for the day. Then we decided we needed some more cash for the rest of the day, and we found out that the only ATM in town was not working so we had to drive an hour and a half round trip to the nearest one. I'm not sure if the guys across the street broke the ATM, but it is definitely good business for them, because we needed a ride and they just so happened to offer us one. I bargained them down from $15 to $6 to take us to the next town. That was strikeout #2. When we returned to Padang Bai we decided to find this other beach that was supposed to be nearby but we got as many different directions as people we asked. So after wandering around for 45 minutes we gave up, bought our daily 60 cent mango and headed to the Blue Lagoon. Not a bad compromise. Strikeout #3. However when we got to Blue Lagoon and went out in the water, I managed to cut the bottom of my foot in two spots when I stepped on some coral. What's more fun than cutting your foot on coral? Seeing how much sand you can cram into those cuts walking across the beach. Good thing I brought a nurse along, Jodie patched me up well and thanks to super glue I'm as good as new. Even with the setbacks, our day still turned out fantastic. We befriended a local bartender who talked with us while the power was out for three hours. He gave us a lot of insight on the local culture and was very friendly. Overall we have enjoyed the relaxed atmosphere of Padang Bai, but we are eager to see some more of Bali so we are setting out for Padang Padang on the south point of the Island.