When I said I was moving to Indonesia, the few people who actually had heard of it/knew something about it said, “oh, Bali?! Eat, Pray, Love?!” Alas, no, I do not live in Bali, but yes, it is as wonderful as they say. Bali is what most people around the world think of when they think of Indonesia, and yet it couldn’t be more different from the rest of this massive country I live in. It is like this oasis of delicious food, drinks, art, music, and shopping. Completely tourist driven, yet in the off-season of February (when we were there), it was still pretty calm and at times felt even a bit deserted. We could wear whatever we wanted without feeling like we were being offensive. This might seem trivial, but in SUCH a hot country, it really is amazing to be able to walk around in shorts and a tank-top without worrying.
I did not experience the wild, beachy, party part of Bali. My friend Holly and I only went to Ubud, because she had been to Kuta and the beachy parts, and I frankly didn’t really have much of an interest in those parts. (We had a few beaches waiting for us on the Gilis after Bali anyway).
Another reason people know of Bali is because of “Eat, Pray, Love”, which has spurred even more tourism around the area. Well we did at least one of those verbs incredibly well—EAT.
Now, I don’t want to complain about Indonesian food too much, because I do love Indonesia, buuuuuut I’m going to anyway. If I have to look at one more plate of rice and some animal part one more time…. No, but really, Holly and my trip revolved around what we dubbed “feeding time”. So many OPTIONS. And, as it is a majority Hindu island, there was pork!
To rewind a bit, we landed in Bali from Makassar, where Holly had phoned a guesthouse in a guidebook to see if we could book a room. The guy on the other end, soon to be our famous ‘GUSTY!’ was somewhat incomprehensible. However, she figured out that he promised to pick us up at the airport and drive us the 2ish hours to Ubud. When we arrived, we were greeted by a jumping-bean of a guy, frantically waving his arms in greeting with a sign that read “Hooly”. We took it as a good sign that he and his assistant were so happy to see us.
The drive to our guesthouse confirmed our suspicions. Gusty was nuts. And completely adorable. He talked a mile a minute, and had so many stories to tell us.
(The guesthouse is right beside the monkey forest). One of Gusty’s nuggets: “Sometimes monkeys bring me good luck and sometimes bring me bad luck”.
‘what do you mean?’ we asked.
“Good luck is when the guests say, ‘GUSTY! Can I stay here 3 more nights?! The monkeys are so cool!!! Bad luck, the guests say, ‘GUSTY I can’t take the monkeys anymore! Where is my bathing suit?!’ “
He informed us how some guests will complain to him about their stay. When we inquired as to their reasoning, he told us. “Sometimes we forget to warn them about the monkeys. The monkeys will steal your bikinis and bras.” Then, out of the blue, he shouts out, “GUUUUSTY!!! WHERE IS MY BUG SPRAY?!” and completely deadpan, answers himself, “in the forest.”
If this whole Gusty story is complete nonsense to you, too bad, I must write it mostly for Holly and I to always remember this man who made our trip so much more hilarious.
Our guesthouse was so fun. We loved our first room and its balcony overlooking the courtyard and pool, but the heat was pretty unbearable. Air conditioning really is necessary sometimes. So we moved to another room, with a balcony, but not as wonderful a balcony. HOWEVER, we were not constantly sweating. A fair trade-off. Our guesthouse was right up against the monkey forest, and so our view from the window the next morning included monkeys running across the roof of the next building and walking along telephone wires. The mas’s (young guys) who worked at our guesthouse walked around in the mornings (when the monkeys are more active) with slingshots on ‘monkey patrol’. They didn’t have anything IN the slingshots though, so it is ok.
We got right to business with our feeding times. We found a Cuban restaurant with amazing burritos and mojitos and settled in to the difficult 5 days ahead of us.
Ubud has so many tours and activities available to its tourists. There are cycling tours, jewelry-making classes, cooking classes, yoga studios, hikes, etc. We had planned to do them ALL, but of course laziness got the best of us; however, our first day we really did accomplish a lot.
We paid to join a downhill cycling tour of the local countryside. “Downhill” is key here. There was very little exercise involved—there were moments of sheer terror when I wondered whether or not I could still really ride a bicycle, however. It was a cool way to see the countryside of Bali and the villages and temples that are dotted around the island, but it was also a long day. The cycling part of the day didn’t even start until around 1 or 2. That morning we got picked up from our guesthouse by the cycling tour guide, and we drove to a coffee plantation with the five other tourists. (Canadian, Chinese, Dutch). We walked through the coffee plantation and saw the plants growing, the civets caged up, the coffee being ground, and then we sampled a number of different coffees. We tried Kopi Luwak (Civet coffe) which is made from the poo of civets. Cat-poo-ccino as our hilarious tourguide punned. It really just tasted like coffee to me. We cycled through rice paddies and tried helping some women harvest it. They were really sweet.
A lot of Indonesians we met were super impressed (or were they?) by my Bahasa Indonesia which is funny because it really isn’t very good—or nearly as good as it should be. But if you throw around a few topics and sentences they think you’re brilliant. It does wonders for my ego. That being said, I have caught them saying “woooow you speak Indonesian so well!” after you simply say “terima kasih” (thank you) which every tourist probably knows. So actually it is probably just that Indonesian people want to make you feel good because they are just nice people. I’ll take it.
After our first day, we got the best surprise EVER when we found that our friend, Autumn, was going to join us! It was amazing. We found the most amazing restaurant EVER called Taco Casa and it fulfilled all of our wildest Mexican food dreams. Mexican food is probably my favorite food, and it is impossible to find in Palembang or most places really. So we were basically like three little kids unleashed in a candy shop. We got really over-excited and were that annoying group of girls, but that’s okay. It’s fun to be ‘those people’ sometimes.
Having Autumn helped motivate Holly and I to get off our bums and do something—and she had been to Ubud before, so she helped us gather the courage to go into the Monkey Forest. We had heard about people getting flip flops stolen, having monkeys fall onto their heads, having monkeys grab at jewelry, and even getting a bit of a smooch from one and promptly becoming quite ill. SO, we were a little nervous to go in. We didn’t buy any bananas at the entrance, because the little buggers are smart enough to latch onto your bag if you’ve got bananas in there. However, it didn’t take too long before I decided I REALLY needed a monkey on my head. I paid a Bapak to help us get some monkey-love, and the result was a range of hilarious photos.
We also did a silver jewelry-making workshop thing. My pendant ended up looking like something I would have made in elementary school for my mom, and she would have loved it, because I made it. And that is why I love it. Because I made it. I love Hand-related things obviously so once I get a chain I shall wear it with pride, even if it’s a bit of a Fat Hand.
Our days of café-lounging, shopping, and hanging out with monkeys unfortunately had to end. However, Holly and I (and our friend Tabitha) will be back with a vengeance in June to run a half-marathon and are hoping to see GUSTY and the monkeys again.