my summer vacation


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do you ever just wanna get away from it all?…  to take a break from the hard pressures of living and unwind?  perhaps you like to chase the beach honeys and work on your beer gut.  perhaps you like to curl up with a good book and pretend like you don’t exist.  whatever your fancy, a good vacation can be just the thing to rejuvenate your soul.  i was in need of such a vacation just last month.  that’s right… a vacation from traveling.  and what better way to embark on such a thing than to fly from hectic Kolkata, India to beautiful Bali, Indonesia?

actually, my decision to goto Bali was a little more premeditated than that.  as it turns out, my dear friend and ex-coworker Dj was already planning on a Bali getaway of her own.  so between the perfect timing of that, my desire to cross Indonesia off the travel docket and the ever worsening Indian monsoon, it was a no-brainer.  so to Bali i went!20130720_161938 (copy)

Bali is the perfect mixture of tourist traps and clandestine masterpieces.  from the soulless upscale resorts clogged to the brim with tourists along the shores of Kuta to the pristine rice fields and rural farming villages that rest among the high mountain lakes.  there is something here for everyone… unless of course you are a cheapskate backpacker, than your options are to either leave Bali or temporarily set your habits aside and give in to the pampering.

if there is one thing you should know about Bali it’s that it’s littered with tens of thousands of temples.  all very ornate and carved out of stone, many of which are monkey infested.  take a large concentration of these temples, pepper them with trendy handicraft shops and mediocre restaurants and you have Ubud (stop #1 of our circumnavigation)  in the center of town is a delightful monkey forest where you can turn your body into a jungle gym if you have bananas.

 

one of the more impressive sites we saw was Klungkung Palace east of Ubud.  it has a floating pavilion with a painted ceiling from the mid-nineteenth century which depicts different punishments in the afterlife.

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collage of the painted afterlife

in the western outskirts of Ubud near a town called Tamen we found immaculate rice fields that stretched as far as the eye can see.  there we spent countless hours frolicking about, pestering the local farmers and pretending we were in the land of make believe.

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one intriguing yet hard to stomach pastime we stumbled across was cock fighting.  trap two enraged roosters in a ring and you can watch them slowly peck each other to death, but also strap sharp 2-inch blades to the backs of their feet and now you have a sport!  a couple hundred Balinese men huddle in a concrete pit and holler out their bets while two men rouse their cocks in the center of the ring.  the hollering comes to a crescendo and the men release their cocks who then charge at each other, jump, kick and slice each other to death.  the winner gets to keep the dead one and 10% of the all winnings goto the corrupt government so they will keep looking the other way.

 

our next stop was a yogi surfing village called Cenggu to “hang some ten and barney the barrel” (AKA: try my hand at surfing for the first time ever).  to my surprise the getting up came easy for me, especially when my beginner board is the size of a boat and there is a very nice, very strong Balinese man choosing my waves and pushing my board behind me.

IMG_2426 (copy)a pizza house near where we stayed (one of our favorite hangouts) was having their one-year anniversary during one of the nights we were there and everyone who was anyone was attending.  they had a live karaoke band and served complimentary wine.  they also held a drinking contest that involved four contestants in a race to pound a single 12 ounce beer.  the first to finish and place the upside-down empty bottle on his head would win a free round-trip ticket to the Gili Islands.  when the open invitation came for the four contestants to come up i was already standing on the stage before i even had a chance to think about it.  two decades of alcoholism was finally about to pay off and i was quite thirsty in addition to that.  we were each given a brief introduction and then handed our beers.  after a short countdown i tipped the bottle into my mouth and drank its cold bubbly contents as fast as gravity would allow, all the while feeling the familiar burn in my throat.  when all was consumed i placed the overturned bottle atop my head and let the residual froth leak down onto my face.  i looked over at my rivals to see them still burping down their first sips.  i left that stage with a mixed sense of accomplishment and shame but more importantly i also left that stage with a free round-trip ticket to the Gili’s!

20130812_104650 (copy)speaking of alcoholism, if there is one more thing you should know about Bali it’s that it’s extremely difficult to get a decent beverage there.  foreign spirits are taxed so heavily that even the rich and desperate would think twice before throwing money at the problem.  that is if you are lucky enough to find a shop that sells the spirits.  due to the high Muslim population, in many areas you will only find plentiful amounts of an extremely light beer called “Bintang”.  the only domestic spirits made there is a semi-illegal moonshine called “Arak” made from the sap of palm trees.  sometimes you can find Arak in a labeled bottle but in most cases you’ll find it in giant jugs behind shop counters if you ask the right questions.  it’s also a well known fact that many un-trustworthy Arak operations will cut their product with methanol.  however, even without the methanol any Arak you find will be sure to knock you on your ass and make you wish you never bothered in the first place.

from Cenggu we ventured north to the mountains to explore two crater lakes.  Lake Batur rests in a valley with the giant volcanically active Mount Agung towering over it.  from there we traversed the tops of several ridges near the volcano via some dangerous off-roading, discovered a sinking village and got blessed in a temple completely by accident.

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Lake Bratan to the west is a smaller holy lake with the beautiful temple “Pura Bratan” built into the water off the shore.  this lake was surrounded by an odd mixture of Muslim villages, strawberry farms and giant empty resorts in various stages of neglect.

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and to our surprise the place we stayed had it’s very own karaoke room!


we ended our journey in Pemuteran at the northwest end of the island where we found the best beaches and the most inviting accommodations.  there we attained a whole new level of relaxation (like tourists in hibernation) for our remaining days.

on the final day after saying a sad goodbye to Dj, i properly packed my trusty travel bag, slung it on my back and felt its full weight for the first time in a month.  then i made my way east to Lombok Island.

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a final pose with Dj dearest on our last day in Bali

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  1. #1 by Sara Bracken on August 16, 2013 - 9:59 pm

    When people tell me to close my eyes and go to my ‘safe peaceful place’ I visit the rice fields of Bali on a breezy evening with the sound of gamelan tinkling in the background. Most likely with a Bintang in hand. This is my bliss. So happy to see the rice fields in Tamen still intact. Thanks for the trip down memory lane.

  2. #2 by roarkb on August 16, 2013 - 10:31 pm

    a Bintang cheers to you Sara! those rice fields truly are a magical thing. i don’t think i have ever felt so carefree in my all my life.

  3. #3 by Nik the Caveman on August 29, 2013 - 5:04 am

    I would have beat you at the drinking contest :-)

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