Twists and Turns – Bali, Lombok and KL

Having lie-ins are apparently a give-in on holiday. Well today I had my first one for more than 3 weeks. I didn’t need it or deserve it but with Bali to come I thought I might appreciate it. I was flying to Bali to meet friends, get myself organised and ready for Flores, Sabah and Sulawesi, the three areas I had identified as places I should make it to. All for the same reason; they weren’t anything like Kuta, South Bali, an area overrun and over-developed. Looking at a South Bali map, I started to pick out the bars and clubs I ‘graced’ the first time in Bali in 2006. They sound bad when you read up on them. They are worse when you get there. Unless you are fully loaded up, you reel in remorse.

Well I sit in Kuta, in the same losmen (guesthouse) as 2006. I found it directly. My memory has always served me well. Its also just down the road from the spot I famously had a street fight with a motorcycle-bound street hooker 2 years ago. (I am ready for round 2. Press-ups, sit ups and a run every morning. Bring it on whore!) While the flight was fairly unadventurous, I was in luck again. The airline Merpati have a lucky draw on each flight, purely on seat number. The lucky winner gets 500,000 of a Merpati flight. And yours truly won it. Thats my flight to Sulawesi sorted.

Kuta is, as before except its maybe slightly more developed. It’s still full of red-tanned couples, morosely slumped in restaurants, staring to no one including each other and tipsy, first time ‘backpackers.’ I put them in italics simply because if you had any nous you wouldn’t be here. I was there to meet friends. I arrived at the airport, down the road at 9pm. The taxi driver told me there was a large funeral ceremony for the King tomorrow in Ubud. I’ll meet up with Kristen, a flight attendant friend of Sarina and LP (and now me) from Cairns and hopefully cruising up there on mopeds.

I genuinely feel sorry for the couples here. They are well-dressed with polo shirts and handbags. It’s billed as honeymoon destination but it seems a lot more the Algarve or a Greek island to me. I’ll never forget Darryl’s, (the Kiwi guy who made the Jennifer Love Hewitt in hot pants’ comment here last time) disgust at the brochures he had considered for a post-wedding holiday with his girlfriend.

Bali can be divided into two distinct times for me; The Misadventures of Dan and Kristen and the Expensive, Wild Days of Ubud. Kristen and I wandered round the island, getting seriously lost, crashing bikes, drinking juices, eating magnificent breakfasts, Kris getting tattoos, watching great sunsets and generally have an excellent time. The crashes haven’t cost us much and have added to the fun. They both could have been serious if we were doing greater speeds but we’ve got away with it and thrown our arms to the heavens and chanted Inshala. The traffic and tossers of Kuta bothered me. After Timor, there are too many people involved in tourism on every side, the North Asians with their 6 week tattoos, the endless offers of ‘transport,’ the Bintang Aussies and the rest of the bullshit. I spent time here to be with friends and we escaped as I could.

A few days later I took a bus up north to Ubud, the cultural and artistic capital of Bali and a world away from South Bali. As in most countries, the second city is the charmer, more rooted than its erstwhile rival. The ride to Ubud was through the red dawn, mist over verdant paddy fields, along a vegetation-lined routes, weaving through villages amok with temples. Temples are like 7-11s in Bali. They inhabit every street corner but help bring meaning, order and peace to the towns. One family lives in a temple and often rent rooms out as they did to me. Every morning outside each room (and shop, restaurant etc) is placed a small offering of food to the gods. I can’t think of any other place where non-invasive beliefs are so prevalent.

At first, I wondered if I merely loved Ubud for it not being South Bali. You feel such peace and relief there. I took long walks through paddy fields, grazed the art shops (bought 4 paintings and a mask) and breathed deeply and contently. I was fortunate again. A few days after the King’s funeral, in the monkey forest, a huge cremation ceremony was on. Every five years, the Balinese dig up their relatives, pray for them, place the bodies in extravagently decorative wooden horses and then hold a mass cremation. Over 30 horses were burnt at this ceremony. We all had to wear a sarong (and an optional head scarf) and observed the wild processions in wonderment. Such detailed effort, all to be burned in a matter of minutes. The Balinese were dressed in their best and make a very fair-looking ethnicity. They were also keen to chat, explain the ceremonies and have their picture taken.

I met some cool, foreign people in Ubud too. Mike the Canadian, Carlos, the dredded Spaniard and Marsha, a Dutch girl of half Indo-English extraction. We had a big Saturday night and I helped her through her food poisoning after a big first night. Ubud is full of simple restaurants with impeccable service and quirky food options. I’ve got enamoured with eating nasi campur, various ayams and drinking delicious jerup panas (hot orange juice). Apart from the nightly barking of territorial dogs, it’s a beautiful place to hang out for as long as you can.

On my last day, Marsha and I went to the Blanco museum, the home of a Filipino artist of Spanish descent who made Ubud his home in the 1950s. Clearly influenced by Dali and his own erotic perversions, Blanco’s enormous and flamboyant mansion, adorned by rooftop, life-sized angels has a beautiful view of the surrounding paddy fields from its roof-top. When you arrive, the girls get flowers for behind their ears, cocktails are served and large toekans and parrots greet you. Well worth the $5.

It was time and we, Marsha and I, moved to the next island Lombok, to chill out near some quiet beaches. Sengiggi is a small beach resort on the way to the Gili Islands, the direct destination of most tourists. We got the last, good room in the guesthouse for $6 a night. Again, I was lucky. The place was run by Lombok legends; cockney-spouting Blacky, a gorilla in cool T-shirts and Eddie, the best guitarist I have seen in years. Eddie entertained the crowds every night in a bar across the way while Blacky roamed around, talking to all-comers and getting everything done with a smile. But on his terms.

We spent the days, chilling out on the beach or riding to the interior to see the stirring Gurung Rinjani, the volcano that dominates the centre of Lombok. The surf is strong on Lombok even very close to the shore. It makes lolling about in the water a challenge and good exercise. Again there was a festival in town highlighted by traditional stick fighting involving men armed with war hammers (that remind you of Fiji) and shields. On the Friday, Blacky took us to the only nightclub in town. The bouncers moved out his way, deferentially greeting him with smiles and handshakes and they waved us in. The place was packed and rubbish. We ended up in karaoke with an aging lothario, a Dutch guy called Fred, his Lombok wife, an Indonesian MTV VJ and a paralytic French guy who was convinced he could pull any woman with a look of his swirling eyes.

It’s high season right now. That prices are high, adds unexpected expense to the inconvenience of travelling Indonesia. I wanted to get to Flores to see the Komodo dragons, a childhood fascination. But I know more now and could only think of orangutans. Orangutans > Big Geckos as Carlos said. The cost and difficulty to get there and back were too prohibitive to see the big geckos. Indonesian airline websites don’t help either. They are almost informative. The airports are hot, humid and unprepared especially when you compare it to KL.

So we got a flight to Kuala Lumpur and stayed where I first landed on this trip in January, at The Haven hostel. The owner recognised me. This detour served the dual process of getting me a new Indonesian visa and buying some wedding clothes and Marsha could get a flight home. I got a killer suit for the weddings, a load of sucka t-shirts, some shoes, glasses and hats. Ahh yeah, shopping can be cool, once or twice a year.

One change I have noticed is the appearance of the burqa. Groups of women, covered head to toe in flowing black (while their husbands chill out in shorts and t-shirts) does little to promote the modern image Malaysia hopes. On closer inspection, their husbands didn’t seem Malaysian but more Middle Eastern or Egyptian. I don’t know. KL is no town to have fun in. It’s fairly standardised karaoke or expensive hooker bars. It’s an organised, professional and modern SE Asian business city, attempted to rival Singapore. organised, It may be near hassle-free (apart from the never-learn. Chinese foot masseurs) and safe. But while its very determined to reach the skies, it’s pavements fall apart. I like it but couldn’t live there.

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