TRAVELING INDONESIA: A Month Spent in Bali and Gili Trawangan
Stephane is a 20 year old, talkative French sports fanatic who is studying English in Perth. He has the calm nature of a poet. Andre (who I had met before) turns out to be a shy, 27 year old musician who has made friends with people from all around the world.
Stephan arrived at the hotel I was staying and moved into the room next to mine. We got to chatting in very patient (undoubtedly for him – frustrating) English. I mentioned that I was meeting Andre at the beach later for sunset and invited him to join us. So off we set for the beach and negotiated three cheap beers along the way. There was Andre waiting. The sun set, and what dawned next was the best night I have had in Bali by far… But more about that later.
I had mentioned to Andre that I was interested in staying in Ubud for a bit – perhaps in a budget backpackers. He immediately began suggesting places to go and things to do in and around Ubud and suggested that we make a full day of it. He had a friend who could give us a good deal on a rented car (for a full day) and had another friend (Frans) who was willing to drive us.
Ubud Day Tour
So a Frenchman, a South African and two Balinese set off at 10am for a full-day tour of Ubud. Our first stop was the backpackers that I had booked online the day before – a one-star joint with basic amenities called “Nick’s Homestay”. No aircon, TV, or fridge but a nice, big comfy bed, peace and quiet and free WiFi. A pool would be nice but I can certainly do without the TV and aircon. I’m currently sitting outside in a sarong listening to the callings of monkeys and birds, the sounds of trickling water, and the friendly banter of children playing a game of cards. Cost: R200 per night including breakfast. Not bad at all and a great contrast to the hustle and bustle of Kuta. I think I will enjoy it here… but I digress!
Monkey Jungle, Ubud
So our first stop was the Monkey Jungle; R20 entrance (free for our local friends) and R20 for a bunch of bananas. As soon as I walked through the gate an observant monkey had climbed right up my person and was reaching for a banana from my shoulders. I obligingly gave one up and quickly hid the rest in my straw hat.
The Monkey Jungle was fantastic and I think the photos are evident enough. The staff clearly cares for our fellow primates and the Jungle itself has such an ancient feel to it. In fact I’m sure there is a monkey god in Hinduism? Must look that up.
Ubud Rice Fields
Second stop was a visit to the rice paddies – a peaceful and scenic area of land inhabited by friendly locals who clearly belonged to the lower echelon of society. But they seemed blissfully happy. Sun-beaten faces offered wide, toothless smiles and haggling was at an absolute minimum – nothing in comparison to Kuta! I shared an only-in-Asia dorian (indigenous fruit) with Stephane which tasted like a sweet combination of mango and pawpaw. I have however heard that they are not allowed on buses in some places due to their smell!
Third stop was a visit to an active VOLCANO! (I forget the name). There were two near each other actually which shared a large lake between them. A slight sulfuric scent was in the air and the earth was still scorched black from its last eruption 200 years ago. Staring down an active volcano into the jaws of death is on my bucket list, but unfortunately this was not possible. It did however rain for a few minutes during lunch, which saw the volcano spew out some yellowish smoke. Afterwards a rainbow formed. What luck!
Lunch was an all-you-can-eat buffet in a wooden and bamboo-built restaurant called Locavore with a balcony view of the smoking volcano. The food was varied and simply incredible. Stephane (a giant among the locals) ate two mounds of food as well as two portions of dessert. I have never known anyone with such an incredible appetite! His first anthill of food was slightly smaller than the volcano. Frans and Andre got to eat for free on account of bringing in some business – an extremely fair deal and great incentive if you ask me. So there’s a little clue for anyone who might still ask themselves, “I wonder what’s in it for them?”
Coffee and Spice and All Things Nice!
Fourth stop was a spice and coffee plantation called Teba Sari – another peaceful, jungle oasis with a friendly, dedicated staff. Andre gave us a guided tour explaining all the different uses of the indigenous plants. Apart from an amazing variety of coffee and tea, the plantation grows ginger, ginseng, vanilla, cinnamon, pepper, cocoa, lemon grass, sugar and a variety of oil-producing vegetation (not to mention several others which I forget).
But their pride and joy is Luwak coffee – the most expensive form of caffeine in the world. The best coffee beans are eaten by the Luwak (a type of mongoose) along with a healthy portion of fruits and spicy vegetables. The beans that are later shat out are eagerly harvested and ground up to make a powerful elixir sold at R60 a cup. I decided that a taste was compulsory and ordered a single cup. A little too strong for my tastes but 12 free tastings of their other brands were offered in shot glasses. At the top of my tasting list are lemon grass, pandanus and lemon teas and vanilla and coconut coffees. Mmmm…
Unfortunately the shop that sold the end product was a little pricy – at around R110 per 200 grams or so of coffee, but this didn’t stop Stephane from walking out with an entire bag of expensive coffees, lotions and oils to be given as gifts on his return home. So after meeting the owner of the plantation (who gave me a copy of his music album) we drove off. The sun had set.
At the end of our day-long journey I was dropped off at the front door of my backpackers. My new friends helped me bring in my things and cheered at how great the place looked. Stephane also pointed out a sexy pair of legs peeking out from the room next door. I really like his character. After exchanging contact details and embracing each other goodbye, they left me to settle in and ponder what to do next with my indeterminate time spent further in Ubud. They are busy taking Stephane back to the airport as he is sadly flying back to Perth at midnight. I really hope to see him again and will definitely be seeing Andre and Frans again soon. They kept saying that they are just a call away :) They are making my Indonesia adventure incalculably better, and I am so incredibly grateful for having met them…
Total cost of journey: R290. (R150 each for rented car & petrol, R120 for the buffet and R20 for the Monkey Jungle. This is not including bought fruit, coffee and a couple of gifts, but it’s a bloody bargain nonetheless!
Tomorrow I plan to spend a full day relaxing, catching up with my writing, sorting through photographs, washing some clothes and seeing if I can meet some of the other travellers staying here. I’m sure a few walks are in order too. I plan to live cheap for the next few days. We also drove passed a variety of interesting looking art on the way here which I’m sure will keep me intrigued for hours.