Upon getting out of bed this morning, I discovered I had stepped in some very strange, quite nasty substance. As I half asleep made my way to the sink to wash it off, my friend Sarah called out, “Looks like you stepped in gecko poop already.” It finally dawned on me today that we were actually in Bali.
Leaving the US, we were wavering on whether to bring our surfboards, or buy some here, as Cathay Pacific just changed their surfboard charge to $600. Yes, you read it right – $600 US! However, we have learned time and time again that it all depends on who actually checks you in and, lucky for us, the woman at the Alaska Airlines desk in Portland only charged us $100 for the board bag. Relief! All things come with a hitch and as we enjoyed our meal and movie filled transpacific flight, our boards remained in baggage purgatory, and didn’t arrive in Bali until a day later, when they were actually delivered to the tiny losmen (losmen are cheap, basic little hotel rooms in indonesia) where we were staying in Kuta.
We spent a day in crazy Kuta, getting our bearings, shopping, and doing mundane, painful chores like extending our tourist visas. Tourist visas are issued for 30 days, but we had heard reports of extensions of up to 60 days. We are quickly learning that Indonesia prefers a very orderly and often beauracratic way of doing business. After spending a few hours getting to the correct immigration office, we find that we need to spend a full week in Indonesia before even applying for the extension, then ANOTHER seven working days to process the extension, while they hold your passport for that period of time. That means a total of 16 days before we can go anywhere, and of course we have big plans.
Feeling a bit frustrated, we bag this whole scene, and head up into the hills to visit friends Sarah and Chad from Bend, who live in Bamboo Village (remember the Ewok village from Return of the Jedi?) and work at Green School. Sarah is an absolute godsend, and understands the needs of weary jetlagged travelers. Not only did she put us up for a few nights in her incredible bamboo house, she helped us find someone to expedite our visa extension (beauracracy works great especially when you are willing to pay a little more money), gave us a car AND driver, and helped us navigate Ubud for a day. Have we mentioned the traffic? It is so amazing, and the only way to describe it is like watching a flowing river of 80% motorbikes and 20% cars. The river never stops, but continues flowing with the current, around obstacles, a continuous, fairly peaceful movement of Balinese on the go. It can be literally hypnotizing, if you can stand the sounds of motorbikes whizzing by.
Hinduism permeates every aspect of Balinese life as we are constantly stepping over daily offerings of woven grass, flowers and rice, to ward the spirits away. Villages are constructed around temples, and every dawn and dusk the call to prayer is heard throughout the jungle, rice paddies and cities. Balinese are intensely friendly, gentle and happy people and will often break out in a giggle while talking. They even ceremoniously file down their canine teeth to become more spiritually and physically beautiful as teeth are the symbol of lust, greed, anger, insobriety, confusion and jealousy.
We spent a day Ubud, wandering about the trails, visiting the temples, and shopping in the market. It is a quaint and beautiful town….and saturated with tourists and groovy enlightenment seeking expats – a bit like our hometown – so a day is plenty for us! We are anxious (and nervous) to get to the beach and get in the water, but we still have to deal with some logistics such as waiting for our “expedited” visa extensions and purchasing plane tickets to Sumatra. But the jungle of Bali isn’t such a terrible place to pass time so we are relaxing and enjoying life in the tropics, albeit a sweaty life!