Day 287, Sat., Feb. 17, 2001 – Slept in, then walked to the local market. Similar to last night, we attracted the attention of every taxi, moped, restaurant tout, watch seller and craftsman in the neighborhood. Lombok is definitely further behind Bali in recovering from the 1997 economic collapse and subsequent political turmoil. Tourists are hard to come by, which makes those dependent on them more desperate. We had a surprisingly excellent local Mexican lunch near the beach and we were the only people there. We waded through touts back to the hotel; the contrasts of the local lives and those of the 5-star tourists are a vivid reminder of the disparity between the haves and the have-nots. I once worked with an American woman so affected by the inequity, she invited a local she was working with to her hotel so his kids could sit in a hot bath for the first time in their lives. I didn’t think it was a bad idea at the time, but the management of the Westin Philippine Plaza Hotel were quite put out. Several times during our travels locals have commented how lucky we were to be able to travel like this. Each time we heartily agree and explain what we’re trying to accomplish – sometimes we verbalize pretty well and they get it, but other times they think we are just another example of how eccentric and weird “rich” people are. Near the hotel I offered to buy a small wooden boat from a kid on the beach. Six kids materialized, but I only had money for one boat. I made 6 straws and had them draw for the long one. They were excited by the game and the winner bust out laughing while the others weren’t too disappointed. Outside the room, Naomi saw the biggest lizard we’ve seen since Africa (not counting the Komodo in the pen) – it was so long it had to walk with a swerving s-shape. Naomi is a lot more tolerant since she found out they eat mosquitoes and other critters she hates worse than lizards. We’ve agreed to suspend Buddhist doctrine in these instances.
Day 288, Sun, Feb. 18, 2001 - Negotiated a boat trip to Gilli Air, a tiny island off the coast, which is meant to be very relaxing and have good snorkeling. Most people call them the Gilli Islands, although Gilli itself means island. Our boatman, Marwi, said business was so slow he hasn’t taken anyone out to the islands in a month. We realized this when the whole neighborhood turned out to help us push the outrigger into the surf. The team made it in a couple of minutes and we hopped in. We only passed two boats and a fisherman on the one-hour trip; outriggers slapping the waves and Naomi thanking her Dramamine the whole way. We beached the boat near the hotel and walked along the sand to Hotel Gilli Air on the North of the Island. As it neared sunset, Naomi napped to the sound of tinkling horse carts while I walked around the island. With less than 1,000 residents and no cars, it makes La Digue look like Kuta. The sand was certainly whiter than at the Sengiggi Sheraton, but not quite powder depending on how close the reef was. There was tons of coral on the beach but few intact shells; there was also a black dog’s head floating in the surf – perfectly carved in bamboo.
Before the sun was down, the standard afternoon rain
started so I was stranded at a hotel where the kids wanted to practice English.
They said America was “a great country”, but I couldn’t get them to
tell me why. It was dark by the
time the rain let up, and the island not only has no cars, but very few lights
at night as well. The guys told me
about a path down the middle of the island, but it was so dark I figured the
best bet was the path around the shore so I could use the ocean as a guide.
The clouds kept
the moon and stars hidden, so several twisted ankles, sniffing dogs and mushy
steps (probably horse manure) later, I got back home.
We had a wonderful dinner 10 meters from shore in a bamboo gazebo which
huge Winnie the Pooh and Mickey Mouse cushions instead of chairs. We kicked back and sang along to a tape of seventies hits
like “Black Magic Woman”, “Goin’ up Country”, “San Francisco” and
(I’m ashamed to admit) “Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves”.
We did a lot better at “American Pie” than we did in Hanoi.
We agreed to go on a snorkeling trip tomorrow with our waiter, Apul who
also organizes boat trips. He has
only left the island a few times in his life and plans to grow old and die here.
Not a bad idea, from what we can see.
Day 289, Mon, Feb. 19, 2001 – Had breakfast with
horse carts and girls selling necklaces; then met for snorkeling with a Dutch
couple and a Canadian horse training couple (and former world champion!).
We took a lazy outrigger through blue waters under a beautiful sky.
At Gilli Meno we saw three hawksbill turtles in 10 meters.
Gilli Trangawan had good coral heads, but was pretty dead otherwise.
We rested on the beach for a while, then went back to Meno again for
lunch surrounded by vendors, then saw some giant clams about three feet wide
off Gilli Air. When we got back
home I walked to Reeftrackers to book a scuba dive for tomorrow.
At the office they have a habitat for raising baby sea turtles before
returning them to the ocean. As
this is the tropics, a rainstorm started in two minutes.
I threw on a plastic bag the staff gave me and headed across the island. On the way, I talked to some local Rasta dudes at the beach:
"Take it easy"
We walked around the north of the island to Legends for
dinner, lounging to Jimi Hendrix, BB King and Eric Clapton blues, and dancing to
Day 290, Tues, Feb. 20, 2001 – Well, we paid today for yesterday’s sunny excursion. A brutal sunburn forced me to cancel the scuba dive. We went back to sleep, then checked out of the hotel to move to Sandy’s, the guest house owned by Apul’s family. It’s a classic private bungalow with thatched roof, bamboo walls, a porch hammock, and plenty of lizards and bugs - all for just $12 a night. We had a long lunch of nasi goreng and gado-gado in a beach gazebo watching naked kids swim and play on the beach. After lunch we took a walk around the island, where we got to see how the non-hotel folks live - some in the traditional lumbung, the horseshoe-shaped rice barns of the original Sasak tribes. We filmed some kids, played with some cows, then hunted for seashells until sunset.
As we hunted, we came across a mysterious dead Komodo dragon washed up on the beach. The guys on the beach said it was probably a pet that jumped from a boat. Back at the hotel, we had to chase a huge bullfrog out of the room with a broom, then watched two lizards eating moths. We've finally reconciled ourselves to the fact that lizards are really a "fringe benefit" since they generally keep away from humans and eat so many other things that aren't so timid around people. Sometimes we feel like we’re making a National Geographic special. We had dinner in our little cabana again, talking to Apul:
We thought about staying in Lombok longer - it is less hectic than Bali and there's plenty to do - including climbing a mountain volcano that's higher than Bali's. We looked into Lonely Planet and they said it was a 3-4 day hike. We've had enough of those, so we decided to leave tomorrow after all.
Day 291, Wed, Feb. 21, 2001 - An incredible moving
day, which included 7 different modes transportation: first we got a slow and
laconic horse cart on sand trails past kids climbing from Sandy’s to the pier,
then an overcrowded shuttle boat to Bapol on Lombok, then a minivan taxi to
Sengigi to pick up our bags at the Sheraton and on to the airport, then a little
prop plane to Bali, an
airport bus, a meter taxi from the airport to Legion, then a rented Suzuki from
our old friends at Dawati. The
weather seems much hotter than in Lombok, where we had overcast days (except the
sunburn day) and rain every night. This
time we insisted on working air conditioning and a working radio.
Kepak had no cars, but his friend had his “best” car available.
As we pulled out of the nightmare of Legion heading North, we put our own
cassette in. It was like the breath
of life itself. For anyone who
music like we do, you know what it would be like to be without for so long.
Ever since we had to dump most of our home-made cassettes of favorite
tunes when we realized how heavy our luggage was (including the compilation tape
made as a going-away present by our friend Bill), we have been longing for our
music – and really loud. With the
windows rolled up bouncing through emerald rice fields we blared
through some Beatles, Stones, REM, Petty, Dylan, Mellencamp, The Boss, U2,
Dinosaur Jr., Jimmy Buffet, Janis Joplin, CSN&Y, Leonard Cohen, Hothouse
Flowers, Eagles, Led Zepplin, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and Rod Stewart (pre-1977 of
course). We were in heaven,
listening to both sides twice and singing along like teenage dorks at the top of
our lungs – especially to “Hey Jude” and “Like a Rolling Stone”.
Good thing the windows were rolled up as we were getting some pretty wild
looks from locals. It was the most
fun we’d had in ages. Unfortunately,
one of the songs was “Homesick” by Soul Asylum.
We drove north into the center of the island, stopping at Wat Ayun, with its 11-layer thatched towers and surrounding moat and fountains. We then embarked on a two-hour search up and down mountains and some precarious terrain in search of Jatiluwah. We were really getting the most out of the jeep, but at one point it stalled going up a steep hill and we had to coast back down in neutral. We thought we would end up swimming in the rice paddies like those kids a few days ago. When we finally got there, it was well worth the search – the views over the green countryside, palm and bamboo forests and sculpted rice terraces was spectacular. It's really difficult to explain what it's like looking out over the terraces - it's less like agriculture and more like a work of art miles wide.
Unfortunately there were clouds over the lakes when we drove by on the way to the North coast town of Lovina. We got a room at Hotel Pulestis, a funky row of bungalows with garish red paint like a Chinese temple outside and earthy bamboo and wicker inside. The bathrooms were even funkier, open to the sky with a wall of stone sprouting the showerheads and spickets, floors of beach stones, and a tree trunk for a stool. It is a little odd (but not entirely unpleasant) to take a shower with the sun beating down on you. It reminded us of the bucket showers in Africa. We walked around a bit – Lovina is a sort of hippie outpost – a more laid-back, subdued (and bearable) version of Kuta. It has black, rough volcanic sand, and is also famous for dolphins and bull races, but unfortunately we missed the later. There was music coming out of most doors, including a horrendous cover band we steered away from, settling on the quieter, cheaper place playing jazz.
Day 292, Thur, Feb. 22, 2001 – At breakfast I was reading the Jakarta Post and asked the hotel clerk about Wahid’s problems and the future of Indonesia. He said there will always be problems. I said, “What if there is fighting in Java?” He said, “Bali does not like fighting – we like business.” The weather finally cleared, so I gave some of that commerce to Spice Divers and headed out to the wreck of the US Liberty in Tulamben. This dive is uunusual as there are probably very few WWII-era wrecks in just 5 meters of water 200 yards off shore. It was torpedoed in 1942 by the Japanese and towed to Bali to salvage. It was a really incredible dive – life everywhere, including eels, rays, lionfish and a huge school of jackfish circling in one mass 10 meters across. We swam right through the center of them, literally wrapped in a blanket of foot-long silver fish swimming within inches of us like we were a part of the ocean itself – the exact reason why I love diving in the first place. The wreck sits on its side, broken in pieces, so it’s hard to tell what part you are looking at especially at over 100 meters long. Coral was growing on every inch of the wreck, creating shapes and sizes you don’t see on a typical coral dive – circles, squares, long poles, and caverns. We did two dives – one around the exterior and one inside some of the interior. I love wreck dives because there are so many nooks and crannies – you never know what you will see when you turn the corner. Unfortunately, at Tulamben it is often another diver as it is the most popular dive site in Bali. We were some of the first divers there, but on shore between our two dives it was overrun with divers and locals. Dozens of men and kids try to eek out a living selling the same t-shirts and necklaces. Women hire out as porters, carrying tanks and gear back to the vans. I tried to explain how I wished there were more proper jobs in Bali, but I couldn’t get the idea across to them using English. After diving, we went for a temple drive to some of the most exotic on the island. The sculptures here are more elaborate – with demons more fierce and humans more animated. There was also a whimsical side, depicting biplanes and bicycles – with flower petals for wheels. At one temple, a little kid learned to explain the carvings in 20 different languages. It was pretty impressive, but he could have been speaking gibberish for all we know.
Day 293, Fri, Feb. 23, 2001 – We slept in under the cool fan of the bungalow, then walked around town interviewing some people. It's funny - sometimes we get the same reaction we got nearly a year ago in Russia: "why the hell would somebody travel all the way over here to ask me what I think is important?". Why, indeed.
"Most important is thinking about what I like"
"It doesn't matter. Working is important for food and my family"
"Eating and traveling. I like to see different things"
"My family. Eating and working"
"Having a good community and family"
On the beach I passed a guy selling huge seashells. I said no thanks and carried on taking photos of the dolphin statue, honoring the beach’s number one attraction (no wonder everyone kept asking if we wanted a dolphin trip). The seashell man wouldn’t give up.
“You buy now”
Yes, the Balinese love business. It reminded me of the doves sold in the wats so you can free
them to fly away - except they fly back so their owners can sell the right to
release them again.
In spite of the lack of signs in Singaraja, we eventually found the road back to Denpassar. The winding, twisting road through beautiful scenery and lakes had us dreaming of convertibles and motorcycles. Today’s aural enhancement came from the second tape that survived the luggage purge – a collection of 70's funk. We turned, shifted and bounced to the classics of James Brown, Sly and the Family Stone, Billy Preston, Earth, Wind and Fire, the Gap Band, Kool and the Gang, War, Blood, Sweat and Tears, Rare Earth, Stevie Wonder and Parliament. Good thing we were in a good mood when we arrived in South Bali to encounter the madness. The town has at least twice the number of residents and tourists it can reasonably accommodate, making any trip through town a hassle. One-lane roads accommodate two directions and parking is haphazard at best. A road closure caused us to take a hilarious detour through what looked like a bombed-out runway east of Legian. We were very happy the car was a rental as we crunched through a zigzag series of holes with a snaking line of trucks, cars and taxis – each picking their own way through the mess. It was actually pretty fun. We eventually made it to the rental office, and then back to our hotel, which welcomed us with a wonderful drink, chocolate, flower and fruit basket. We went for a walk along Legian Beach to the famous Kuta for our last Balinese sunset. The surfers were out in force, but a majority seemed to be deeply tanned Japanese tourists with hair dyed yellow and orange. We were approached by the usual massage and drug sellers while watching a lazy beach football match. Naomi talked to a Frenchman who had been coming here for years. He said he’s getting sick of it because there are too many working girls. The sunset was beautiful, the long rolling surf reflecting the red back into the sky – it was obvious why this beach is duly famous for surfing and sunsets. Even the local guys hitting on tourists and the bums sleeping on the beach were cast in a warm, attractive glow.
"Be happy and enjoy"
Afterwards we shopped for gifts and walked down the main drag past hundreds of shops and bars. All the famous products of Bali were represented, at about three times the cost they were in the countryside – batik cloth, wood chimes, paintings, "Kris" daggers, masks, silk, wind chimes, etc. Two bars within a block of each other featured singers trying to do “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” – one imitating Eric Clapton and the other Axl Rose. It was very surreal, but thankfully, no one attempted Bob Dylan’s voice. We interviewed some girls at “Voodoo Girl” surf shop (which featured old favorites like O’Neill, Spyderbilt, Rip Curl, etc.) and some guys selling cute little papier-mâché animals.
"I don't know"
"Working - my job"
"Like my brother say - we need to make money for our family"
"Most important is being human. Making things easy for people, make a better life and make a dream come true."
The guys recommended a small place for traditional Balinese
Babi Gulag. We wanted to try this
traditional roast pig since it was our last night in Bali.
Being surrounded by surf merchandise and American
brands, we assumed this dish would be similar to the Hawaiian type of roast pig
you get a traditional luau. Big
mistake. We were served a bowl of
some mashed up bits and pieces in brown soup. We tried to ask what parts of the pig they were, but
couldn’t get through to the proprietors.
We assumed they were entrails, so after a quick taste we moved on to the
bowl of rice, which had more pieces of recognizable meat and deep-fried skin.
They didn’t quite taste like the “cracklins” we had as kids – my
dad would have loved it, but it wasn’t our cup of tea.
We had to stop at the market for bread and chips to offset the
experience, but we still felt like one of those nasty temple statues.
If you would like to follow our adventure to Australia, please click here: Photojournal February 24 - March 7, 2001
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