Monday, August 1, 2011

Bali: First Impressions

I am currently sitting on the balcony outside my homestay typing as a visitor from Holland challenges Made, one of the Balinese family members living downstairs to their third game of chess for the night.

First of all, I really just need to talk about Garuda Indonesia Airlines because they were just the best. Although they’re considered the cheap airline to fly around here, I thought they were pretty amazing.. Before we even took off they were dispensing orange and pink guava juice and playing an instrumental version of Moon River. That’s about all it took to win me over. It was only a 2 hour and 30 minute flight from Singapore to Denpasar but everyone had their own video screen with videos, TV shows, games, music AND (my favorite feature) an interactive travel guide for wherever you were going—complete with restaurants, addresses and historical facts. Also, even though it was only a short flight they served us breakfast. For breakfast on Garuda Indonesia (trust me, it’s worth writing this out), you had a choice of fish with rice or chicken with pasta and either option came with bread, fresh pineapple and watermelon, coffee and a kit kat bar. I am going to need to reexamine my definition of breakfast.

The Denpasar airport also is worth mentioning. It is a somewhat exhausting place. My favorite part was probably noting the signage that seemed to have either an air of desperation (“Please Make Good Queue”) or terror (“DEATH PENALTY: Anyone Who Bring Drug to Bali”). You get to read many of these signs in the Denpasar Airpot because the wait is so long. First you stand in line to get a money slip so you can get a visa, then you wait in line to actually get the visa, then you wait in line to get your bag at baggage claim (everyone on my flight was waiting in the wrong place for 30 minutes before someone from the airline informed us that the bags didn’t match the flights they said they did), and THEN you wait in line for customs. Then you hoard off teenage boys who want to help you with your bags for outrageous fees and then you walk outside the airport to a mass of more signage, this time all signs with names.

From a naming perspective, the sea of cards with names for airport pick ups on them was really interesting. However, I would have gotten more enjoyment from reading all the names had I not been wondering how I would possibly find my ride. I was supposed to be picked up by Wayan who was recommended to me by the homestay. We had exchanged e-mails before I left the States. Somehow, I found my name and we walked to his car. Although I couldn’t quite believe we had actually found each other, Wayan seemed convinced. He told me he knew right away that it was me when I walked out of the airport. He was just hoping I’d see him.

I was very, very grateful that Wayan was driving. The Balinese roads seem like somewhat of a free for all with cars driving in between lanes and motorcycles weaving in and out of them. It was about an hour’s drive from Denpasar to Ubud and there were many times I thought we would be in an accident. On the way, Wayan and I chatted and I got to hear about his life as a driver (he’s been doing it for about a year) and his two daughters, Putu and Komi. Wayan invited me to his house one day this week to meet his family. I got to hear more about names from him (more on that later) and also see the music store (called “Drum Factory”) where his wife works selling instruments.

Wayan was very proud of the fact that Michael Franti had given a concert around Ubud last month. He decided to take me to Michael Franti’s house, although due to our communication barriers, I’m still not quite sure if Michael Franti owns the house in Bali, or it’s simply where he stayed when he was here. Regardless, it was a stunning place and because Wayan is friends with the security guard working there, I got to explore the house (now being used as a yoga retreat) and the rice fields outside of it. One of the women working was very kind and gave me a free drink in a coconut and said I could go over there to swim anytime.

Wayan and I headed back to Jangkrik Homestay in central Ubud where I’m staying. I have it booked for a week, although because I know I’ll be in Bali a total of eight weeks and don’t have any specific plans, I may try to extend that timeline. The homestay is brand new (opened in June) and I was lucky to hear about it from an online forum. It’s run by Made and Kadek who live in the compound on the ground floor with their family. The second floor has a balcony and two rooms each with their own bathrooms for guests. After getting my key and dropping off my luggage, Wayan insisted on taking me to see central Ubud on his motorcycle. It was a first for me, and I have to say that I think my cool factor was probably increased tenfold.

Wayan and I visited one of the smaller temples in Ubud to see the preparations for a cremation ceremony that’s happening here August 18th. It is the cremation of a King which means the streets will be shut down and there’s an entire building project going on for the parade that will feature his sarcophagus and many other decorations. The body will ride on a tower that’s 30 meters high.

After my motorcycle adventure, I came back to the homestay and explored a little to find a warung (cheap restaurant) where I could curl up and eat some fried rice and read my guide book. Ubud is an overwhelming, noisy and fascinating place, and it's nice to know that I'll be able to take my time with it. For now, a novel and an early bedtime may be in order.


1 comment:

  1. oh this was thrilling to read about!!! Thanks for the post.