Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Bali Bali Bali!

I love the people, the food, the culture, and the prices in Bali... not to mention it is beautiful on top of all of that. It is easy for me to understand why this is a popular stop on the backpackers trail. Indonesia is 90% Muslim, aside from the island of Bali, where the majority of the population is Hindu. As I arrived to immigrations I walked past a large sign that read "Drug Trafficking is Punishable by Death". The laws here are a bit different then in the states. If you are caught with a joint on you, you risk 5 to 20 years imprisonment. I think I'll stick to the booze here....hee hee...just kidding ( I don't do drugs).
Laura, this girl I met in New Zealand, met me at the airport. We are planning on traveling a bit together in SE Asia. On the airplane I also met Paulo, an Italian from Milan. He wanted to rent a car and drive around the island for a few days...he was wondering if we wanted to split the cost. At first I thought he was crazy because the people drive like maniacs here, but then I remembered how crazy they drove in Italy, so I figured Paulo would do just fine.
Before we rented the car, we decided to check out the infamous town, Kuta. This is the party/touristy area and I don't plan on ever going back to this town again. The streets were filled with 18 year old kids looking to party until the sun came up. Hagglers were at every corner and the accommodation and food was overpriced. However, Paolo met the Indonesian girl of his dreams and post-poned renting the car for one more day. He was in love at first site and she said she would meet up with him later that night. Laura and I told him to be careful....even though he felt like he had a connection with this girl, she may be after more then a fulfilling relationship. The next morning Paolo said that she was a bit crazy and seemed very promiscuous.....I don't think he wanted to admit to himself that she may be a prostitute. She just said that she was very sexual and he didn't know if he wanted to get involved. I guess Paolo re-thought his options though, because that evening he politely asked when Laura and I would be eating dinner. He was wondering if he could use the room for a few hours with the girl. I wasn't sure how to respond to him...in my head I was like "Are you freaking serious dude? You want to bring a prostitute back to our room for a few hours?", but for some reason I passively replied " We can be out of here in 10 minutes...wear a condom and don't touch our beds." Uuuuhhhhh Laura and I couldn't believe what was happening. We decided to go get a few drinks to try and forget the situation that was taking place in our bedroom. Later that night we returned to the room...and found frustrated Paolo. Turns out they did not have sex after all. In fact, he met up with her and her friend who looked to be about 12 years old (but told him she was 19). Then after a few minutes, his girl said she had to run an errand and would return later, but that he should hang out with his friend. When they were alone, the younger girl then proceeded to ask him if he wanted to have sex. He felt really uncomfortable and left. Laura and I were laughing hysterically....first we were happy that there was not a prostitute in our room...and second, Paolo's true love was actually a pimp.
The next day we rented our car and headed out to explore the other areas of the island. The streets were filled with motorbikes and cars and even though there were lanes, no one seemed to pay attention to them. However, Paolo maneuvered through the streets like a knife through warm butter.When people got in his way, he would curse at them in Italian, throw his hands in the air, and then throw the car into gear and speed around them. Meanwhile, I was having miniature heart attacks and getting cramps in my leg from pushing my imaginary foot break. I could already tell that the next 3 days were going to be interesting.

As soon as we left the tourist area, the prices dropped and the tourists fizzled. We only came across a handful of foreigners within the next few days. Bali used to be over-run with tourists, but because of a stream of bad luck, there are not as many as before. Indonesia is where the Tsunami took place and there have been 2 terrorists bombings in Bali itself. When we were in Kuta, we visited ground zero , which had been a nightclub. Over 200 people from around the world died that night, including 7 travelers from USA. When we were driving around Bali, many of the villagers said that the bad luck, combined with the economic recession had left them with very little business. It is all very sad, but it made for a unique experience....it was the first time in my travels where we were alone at many of the temples and sites.
I had been so used to traveling alone that it took a little getting used to with 2 more companions. Paolo and Laura both had very strong personalities and they did not get along very well. There was some tension for the 3 days in the car...I tried my best to dismiss the drama, but personality differences is a con to traveling with other people. The pro, however, is split costs for accommodation. We stayed in some very decent places for around $4-5/night. This was a huge difference to the $30/night dorm rooms I was staying at in Australia....3 people meant 3 different opinions and slight tensions, but it also meant saving money.
We stopped in small villages for lunch and ate from street vendors for .80 cents. Half the time we didn't even know what we were eating, but everything tasted great. We visited Hindu temples where you had to wear sarongs. As I mentioned above, there were hardly any other tourists at these temples....we would walk in silence and listen to the wind and trees and fountains. The temples were very peaceful and serene.

May 24th was Laura's birthday. We were in a very small village for the night and there wasn't any nightlife. I felt bad because I knew that she wanted to go do something to celebrate. Her and Paolo got in an argument about parking and she said she wasn't going to go out at all and wanted to be left alone. I finally was annoyed by the situation and told her that it was her birthday and to suck it up....yes, she could be mad at Paolo, but she was not staying home. We went to a small shop where this lady was cooking up food. We told her we needed 3 plates of whatever she was cooking up. I tried to order some beer to give Laura a toast, but they did not have any alcohol. So we ordered some tea instead. An older Balinese man, named Chakra, sat next to us and knew some English. He asked us where we were from and how long we had been in Bali. The man was very entertaining and we spent the evening getting to know him. We told him it was Laura's birthday and we were trying to find a drink to toast to her. He said that after dinner he would take us to his friends place because they sold liquor. When we got the bill, Paolo jokingly accused the Chakra of raising the prices because we were tourists. Chakra did not understand it as a joke and was really offended. Him and Paolo went back and forth and the conversation was very convoluted because of the language barrier for both of them. Neither of them were 100% fluent in English and the meanings were not being portrayed correctly. It was an awkward moment and took a few minutes to smooth over. After the small dispute, Chakra told us to follow him into the village to his friend's place. I was now a little weary because I wasn't sure if he was still upset or not, but we followed him anyways. He took us to a shop that was closed and the owners let us into a side door. The shop was owned by a family and there home was in the back. It was late, but they had huge smiles and welcomed us inside. The owner pulled out a gasoline canister and poured a clear liquid into some glasses. The liquor was fermented from rice. Chakra drank it straight, but we mixed it with some soda. We toasted Laura's birthday and sat in the closed shop and talked with the family. I was a really neat experience to hang out with the locals. They asked what Paolo did for a living....Paolo explained that he had just finished Law school and was traveling for a bit. Chakra said "ahhhhh law school...soon you become a senator...and then you will be president like Obama."

The road trip was a blast....we cruised around the island and visited places that I never would have seen by bus. The Balinese people are gracious and warm. Even though there was some tension among the other 2 travelers, I really enjoyed the experience. I never once thought about what we were doing tomorrow...or what country I was going to next. It was the first time...in a long time...that I was completely in the moment.

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