Is the book by Adrian Vickers that I started reading on my flight here, and planned to finish but was unable because (read previous posts). While I haven't gotten to the real point of the book, this analogy echoes what I have seen so far, with the limited time, knowledge and resource at my disposal aka I'm just a noob here.
The first thing you see driving around the streets are the massive and extraordinary statues of Ramayana characters for which they built roundabouts, are paid by not-so-enthusiastic taxpayers seeing them as the product of corruption. It is rather ill-fitting in the background of visibly poor neighborhood with street vendors pushing carts on foot. Cityside is by no means picturesque and not pleasant to walk around or move around unless you trust your motorbike riding skill, or trust a stranger and sit on the back of his bike, or be patient sitting in a traffic inside 4-wheels. Most of the streetside warung probably gets an F in LA, let alone the street vendors. The restrooms are polar-opposite of what the name stands for, constantly attacking you with odor and splat of unknown liquids, and in the case of westerners with the required yoga squat (which will help you in the long term). Last but not least; hundreds of beat-up dogs on the street will tear your heart out. They did mine. Did not see anyone beating them up but I'd have to assume they get horrendous treatment due to the belief that they're reincarnated sinners.
The picturesque parts of the island are getting sold to resorts and villas, rapidly developed/destroyed or already infested by Eat, Pray, Love readers, surfer dudes, neo-hippies and new rich. Every spot where Google Maps lists as "Tourist Attraction" there are tour busses (which are too large to be let through around here to begin with) full of East Asians and motors with white couples walking up to rows of stores selling batik clothings, woodcarvings, shadow puppets, cheap sunglasses, Bintang beers, Bali kopi and espressos, crepes, coconuts, good toilets and the list never ends. Tourism has always been the center of their economy and sometimes the influence on the culture; kecak performance that I kept seeking out was a trance ritual for (virgin) sacrifices in the times of disaster, which later reconstructed by a westerner to the story of Ramayana and shortened from 3 days to and hour. Now it comes with out-of-context firewalking part at the end to spice it up for non-nerds who get sick of topless old men going chak-chak-chak. That being said, as the government invests more on attracting foreign visitors which doubled in numbers in the last decade. Outer islands on the east side of Bali still remain comparatively untouched, but once the word is out as you know it doesn't take long for it to spread these days.
One thing I admire the most; #zerofucksgiven level = Bali.
Maybe because it's in their bones to think that "everything's gonna be alright" or their religious nature, or that their concept of life is so damn simple. Simple joy of raising a family as I witnessed in Dewi/Dek Bang and Eron, of the connection with community as I witnessed in Banjar, of "playing music worthy of Gods' love" as I witnessed in Sarga the guru. I wanted to play it right not just because I wanna sound good, but so I can hear him play his Sanshi, the counterpoint that sounds like Bach was on acid and speed at the same time. And they do work hard for these simple joys, often unassumingly and naturally. They bring their kids to Banjar so they get exposed to the traditional culture which is gradually pushed aside by internet and smartphones in the hope or the expectation of them eventually carrying the torch in maintaining the banjar, the basis of their community. The parents don't scold if the kids spend the majority of time with the technologies (facebook is blowing the fuck up yall), but do make sure they're there (as I saw the same group of kids all four nights). They work hard to create and maintain this paradise which consists of thounds of these small communities, and which we as individualists often take advantage of by sneaking a peek at this "exotic" and "ancient" culture thus helping them financially and hurting them socio-ecomonically. I believe that it gets worse where we the visitors never get to see, if we ignore to respect what they respect and value beyond the surface and the formality, to appreciate what they offer us and what we have. That's the least I can do before I plan my return.
As I danced with the devil inside occasionally poking at my bowel, I had to bid farewell to the place and the people that I had come to love. There was a time that I questioned my decision to spend as long as I did in one place without hopping all over, but now I wished I could stay longer. It's good that I'm leaving to kind of make sense of what happened here, what I saw and listened, what I was taught. And I will be back to see these faces again.
Disclaimer; the following post includes graphic and disturbing details which might cause some to react physically. Readers discretion advised.
The real Bali Belly, so I was told, comes in two folds; diarrhea and vomiting. I have not puked yet but I've been on the verge, so I believe it when they say this is a mild case. STILL THOUGH; my appetite has been severely reduced, and my energy extremely low. I can see how much liquid I'm losing every time I go, but rehydrating is difficult since I don't feel like putting anything down my digestive system, even water. I do it because I know I have to, but the discomfort is always there. What makes matters worse, which I've been kinda avoiding to discuss, is the state of bathrooms around here. There's a few things in our modern life that I cannot stand such as food waste and selfies, but filthy bathrooms pretty much tops the list. In that sense, Bali has been pretty rough; fortunately the pad I've been staying at has a nice one, but I pretty much avoid going at any local warung (store/restaurant) or household. Now the squatters we used to see in Japan, its that they do not use toilet paper and instead comes with a water hose. I don't even wanna know how they do the business, but I'm assuming it's the DIY washlet-type concept (why left hand is considered filthy and never to be used when passing food around). The worst part for me is the wet floor and/or seat, and they almost never wear real shoes. Sometimes barefoot. Every time I have to run, which often comes pretty abruptly, I have to see and be in this for at least a few minutes holding myself from hurling. Just writing about his subject gives me a headache.
Sanitation/cleanliness standard here differs from the west. People litter all the time, pubic urination is seen fairly often, and the first warning you read about Bali is "dont drink the water," "use bottoled water to brush your teeth even," which is puzzling when I'd assume they use the same water to cook and grow crops like the delicious papaya (in season) Ive been eating, and those are safe? You cannot eat anywhere without finding hair or bugs half the time, and even if you don't there's always a few flies flying in and park their asses on your fried fish. 100% of the time. Or ants. Or spiders. All of the above.
Let's turn back time like Cher wished she could;
The first suspect is Sukawati Night Market which I have been wanting to check out but somewhat reluctant because of this exact reason, but with Maria's suggestion we grabbed cap cay (a stir-fried veggies in a tomato-based? soup), mie goreng (a fried noodle and a local favorite) and martabak (a deep fried savory crepe of sort) all of which were delicious and cheap AF. 2 stands we grabbed these from were busy and also MariaWati-approved so I felt good afterwards, going to bed soundly with my spider friend above my pillow. Next morning I woke up fine, had my lesson with Sarga and had another decadent lunch by Mrs Sarga (which never got me sick before, but I cannot rule out the chance that this might have put me over the fried food intake limit) and hopped on my motor en route Mt Batur, an active volcano with the last eruption in 2000.
The second; a fish dish provided by my guide Eron's brother who has taken over the business from their dad, Nyoman, a longtime friend of Maria. Everything in the dish was locally harvested, freshly cooked and vividly-seasoned with ginger and other spices which I failed to ask about since I was already feeling pretty weak at this point. As much as I enjoyed it, this might have been a little harsh on my system especially after the aforementioned goreng festival which, come to think of it, has been going on since Day 1. In the last 14 days, I probably had 2 non-fried meals. I haven't done that in years. Or possibly never.
The third; a simple good ol exhaustion. One misconception I had about Bali was that its hot and humid at all times, as in Hawaii. WRONG. Though dry season, the nights have been periodically chilly and maybe because I went up to the 1000+m altitude with my motor, I was ready for some hot shower when I arrived at Batur. The modest accommodation I requested and Eron provided for me would've been fine if I was feeling strong, but the hot shower was WAY TOO HOT (no regular water in the pipe). and the local hot spring, a main tourist attraction was not hot enough (I haven't gone to a hot enoug spring for my japanese ass anywhere outside of the homeland though) so by the time I was in bed for a required sleep, I felt undone. Then it started to hit me - the devil. The monster. The bug. The alarm was set at 3:30am to give ourselves enough time for 6:30 sunrise at the summit, I didn't completely pass out till about 1:30am cause I was too busy splashing water out of my butt. So much so that not only I ran out of TP but also my Hana-celeb (the softest and the best facial tissue ever created, of course by japanese) and the wet nap. Nevertheless I felt somewhat rested when Eron came knocking on my door, and hit the darkened road with his 8-year-old son who's already a 2-year-vetreran equipped with his own flashlight. Within 30min or so, the beast started to growl underneath. I tried to power through for another 15 or so until I felt lightheaded and out of breath. I admit that I'm not an avid hiker, but this must be the demon inside me sucking all my energy and liquid out. So I tapped out; I asked Eron for a bag of tissues and ran into the bushes in between other tourist packs passed us by. As I gazed into the tropical vegetation converged with the darkness of pre-dawn, listening to cicadas and crickets with my digestive system screaming and wailing, I questioned my ability to continue. Eron told me its merely 1/4 of the way. Is it better to turn back now than too late? What would he have to do if I fell unconscious and deep into the crater? Maybe I feel better after this purge?
When I got back on the road, Eron hands me a pill. I'm praying to Gods, Buddha and the Sun that it kicks in soon enough, but WRONG; within 15min or so there's another emergency but I barely kept it together until we got to a rest area with and a bathroom. THIS TOILET THOUGH; possibly the worst one I have ever seen. Having to use this AND PAY FOR THIS was one of the most dehumanizing moments of my adult life. I know, #firstworldproblem but you didn't see it. It was pitch black, soaking wet but no running water, and smelled like where all the Neo-nazis, the trust fund kids and their parents should be buried alive (especially after handing mere 75 cents to the family of five that also sells water and snacks in a bamboo hut at 4am, holding a newborn). As atrocious as it was, after this your options is limited to bushes again. Better turn back now? Fuck I'm not sure. Fuck I'd rather go back. But FUCKIT IMA DO THIS. It'd be a helluva way to go if die on an active volcano in Bali. Let's just write a note on my phone not to let anyone involved - cause all this time, Eron had been nothing but chill. Calm. Composed. He didn't sway me either way; go back or go forth. I had already liked this guy after the conversation we had last night about how he's seen and guided hundreds of tourists including Indonesians hiking up the mountain he's known since age 8, peaking into the world outside of the cardela and beyond. He speaks the best English by far of all Balinese I have met, which would probably enable him to get a job elsewhere if he chooses, but he chose here; a simple life with his family and friends by the beautiful volcano, a polar opposite of what I pursued my entire life (and forward). The most Balinese I have met has been pretty level-headed, and he is a fine specimen. Okay, maybe I'm more calm now too. Let's see how far I can push myself.
This is when Chucky joined our crew; a Kintamani dog owned by Eron's cousin and a fellow guide. He probably was around with his master on the hike, found us three and somehow decided to come with us. He'd stray for a few minutes digging shit up or hanging with other groups (but never letting strangers pet him) but he would come back to check in with us, or maybe to witness this pale-looking East Asian dude on his last breath. Regardless of his intention, his continuing presence gave me some level of comfort and what do you know? The higher we went up, the better and more energeized I got. The sky turned lighter, you could see Danau Batur the lake greeting us and the mood turned lighter too. My legs were starting to feel the burn but not so much my belly. I could actually crack a few jokes without catching my breath. Maybe he helped me grow a pair (Kintama in Japanese means balls) ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ A few hours and some sore muscles later, my pain was rewarded.
I wanna live. I wanna live on a mountain. Especially after the aforementioned excruciating hours, I dont wanna go back down. Also, going down is also gonna be a bitch. In one of the few huts they set up I enjoy a small breakfast that Eron prepared for me and a cup of hot tea. For this moment, I'd do it again. Preferably sans Bali belly. Actually never with Bali belly. There was a group of guides singing Balinese songs (a lot of which is political from what I was told) and a few country tunes, but the moment a white guy grabbed a guitar it turned into a sing-along to Wonderwall. #facepalm and he didn't even know the changes but ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ Going down certainly was a B, half way through my thighs and calves started to curse at me, but not my belly. I count my blessings and made it down to the village, went back to the lukewarm spa with Eron and his boy, and hopped back on my motor heading to Sukawati.
My arrival home was followed by shower, the cancellation of my afternoon lesson and an 18hr sleep. When I woke up the next morning, I still felt groggy and immediately heard the gnarl. Pelvis has left the building.
Yup, that's an infinity pool. I also had my first beer in 12 days. Also had my first hot shower in 12 days. Very luxurious.
After a fairly decadent meal at the bungalow, I rent a sepeda motor and go explore; Tengannan Pegringsingan is home to indigenous Balinese called Bali Aga, and known to have maintained its appearance and customs from the old days. After submitting donation you're allowed to their village which is strictly exclusive to the natives, and one of the strangest space I've set my foot into; all the villagers are minding their own doing their things while tourists take pictures of them. The only way I can describe how I feel would be that it's like walking into Safari Park, only with people; the villagers are setting up shops in their residences, selling their crafts such as ikat weaving and carved wood, not many of which I see people buying. They might not give a fuck, but this underlined sadness is killing me, which is further enhanced when I get to the end of what seems to be the main plaza and see a pile of garbage with a few chickens picking out whatever they think is edible. Balinese in general are pretty horrible with littering, and its not rare to see garbage piles on the side of any road, but this one looks more like a deep ditch they dug to throw in whatever they decided they don't need, probably some from the tourists added in as well. I could turn around and exit, but I do see that the path keeps going into the woods and the Google maps show that its a loop. Might as well earn some step count on my Health app.
You know where you are? You're in the jungle baby, hope you're not gonna die.
Imagine the last act of Apocalypse Now where Captain Willard finds Colonel Kurtz, but with natives wearing T-shirts and no dead bodies hanging from the trees. The path has been unpaved for the last 20 minutes now. And I know that I'm still in the village because I still see the bamboo fences, and through its openings some signs of civilization like chickens running around, cows hanging and huts that look inhabitable. Occasionally a few sepeda motors pass me by, staring at first then cautiously smiling. There's a few water fountains and what I assume to be shared shower room (with people bathing and staring back at me). I should probably turn around; I wasn't in the mood for this kind of adventure especially after spending a night in a resort. Then I remember the time in Kuala Lumper, what we thought was gonna be a short hike up to the waterfall turned into a full-on jungle expedition with our shoes drenched and wherever our skins were exposed visited by leeches from all directions, meanwhile our poor driver was scared shitless for having to wait for our tourist asses for 2 hours longer than expected, thinking we might've gotten lost. Well, at least I still have LTE and as long as I don't upset the locals by invading their homes...
Then I hear it; gamelan from the distance. I have heard that Tengannan was known for the rare Galeman Selunding but was not expecting since there was no ceremony or occasion that'll involve music. But maybe they're practicing for an upcoming one, I HAVE to check where it is coming from.
Then someone from up top yells "Hello?" I meet a lanky local as he comes down the hill and asks what I'm up to. I tell him I'm studying Gender in Sukawati (thought that might give me some credential) and wanted to see where the music was coming from.
"Are you guys practicing Gamelan?"
"Oh no, just the speakers."
Turns our they are playing recordings from a pair of bigass speakers they set up in their hut, while the whole family is chillin. A lanky guy offers me their house brew saying "the best in Karangasem," but I had just heard that people die from drinking house-brewed Arak so I decline and leave. Well it was exciting for a moment. Also, this is where they actually live; away from the front and the facade by the entrance, deep into the rain forest with no pavement or signs. I hear kids playing, people cutting trees and random conversations, sounding from somewhere in the woods that I cannot see, or from the valleys or streams that look dried up. And on the dirt road I've been walking are opened plastic packages of instant ramen and roti bread, empty pet bottles etc. Okay, I need to take a shit. Enough adventure for today.
OR NOT. Instead of going straight back to the oasis with hot water and Indonesian MTV, I decide to get my rental fees keep exploring. There's gotta be a beach that's not blocked out by any resort where locals hang, let's turn this corner and see what I end up with. And I end up with this.
I see an middle-aged man sunbathing, and a group of white people looking up at their friend on a parachute, and a few roosters. I'll take it - kick my sandals off, take a walk along the waves hitting the black sand under the blazing sun. Much like in Hawaii, the rain doesn't last long and the sky keeps switching its color between blue and grey. It has been surprisingly chilly occasionally but at this moment, I'm getting baked. Soon there is no one in sight - can't remember the last time I got to be completely alone in an open space, which I cannot have enough of. I have known that I have the loner tendencies. I enjoy the silent solitude, the reason I prefer traveling alone. Balinese folks think doing things by yourself is weird or eccentric. They think I'm crazy that I take my bike to wander around the island all by myself ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ If I didn't have the language barrier it might have been harder to find the alone time, just out of their sweet hospitality.
Then I hear engines roar behind; looks to be 6 or 7 local teens staring at my sepeda motor. Then one of them finds me - everytime I am spotted by locals the questions are the same; where you're from/where you're going. I tell him I'm from Sukawati lol which sounds less touristy than Chandidasa or so I thought, and that I'm going to LEAVE. He goes "there's a beautiful white sand beach, 5 minutes from here - you should go." Sure - I know you want me out of YOUR beach ;) Totes okay. Lemme be on the move. Then he goes, with underlying hostility and menace,
"It's gonna cost you 100k."
Ah, THAT'S what you want. Okay then, I'll just head back. "To Sukawati?" Yes, an hour and half away. "Are you sure?" Yes, I'm pretty tired sitting on your beautiful black sand beach. It's time for mandi (shower) "Okay, well, let us escort you" which he does not say, but he and his gang ride along my ass till the main road, out of "their" territory. I must say, that was the least intimidating extortion I've ever seen, or the most hostile tour guide. I had a dude that would not let me leave before I pay 100k for a ray-ban knock off at Sukawati market (which a convenience store one block down sells for 25k) while two other squeezing in their products like mardi gras beads and model trains, but this was just weird.
Well, I also know that on the other side of mountains is another beach called Amed, where a lot of snorkelers and scuba divers have moved from Candidasa after the development in the nearby area destroyed coral reefs there; a tragedy which seems to happen almost everywhere there are corals. The bali that Maria remembers from 1987 is no more; the back road that used to host magnificent views of nothing but rice patties are now featuring villas and yoga retreat centres, or the construction sites for either. As much as I love Sukawati, the air quality has not been the best due to all the exhaust gas and people burning shit on the roadside (what they're burning I don't wanna know) but largely from construction dust. But I digress. Only an hour away, let's just stretch and see what I see.
The bottom line; the beach turns out to be another tourist haven but along the way I see some of the most gorgeous landscape of this trip. Much like the Golden Circle drive in Iceland, the best part I failed to capture with my iPhone 7+ ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ but the majority of my 2-hour ride (there and back) was mostly on single-lane roads among the hillside villages surrounded by woods, rice parties and streams, running away from the massive cloud swiftly spreading its fingers over the mointains. I really was running away from the cloud because under it I was freezing my fingers with no gloves or jacket. Didn't check the altitude but my fingertips were getting numb. When do I ever over-prepare myself? Why does the weather always betray me? Who woulda thought you'd be longing for leather jacket in Bali? Well at least I'll have my hot shower when I get back to the luxurious bungalow.
I dropped my clothes to jump into shower - the water never got hotter than semi-lukewarm.
Soundchaser and a two-time Independent Music Awards finalist. Show me the receipts of your donation to @dwcweb @ltsc.cdc or @la_littletokyo Small Biz Relief Fund and I'll gift any or all of my recordings.