17 April 2014.
Nine days to Bali.
My travel journal starts today. A little over a week from now I will be stressing myself over my early morning flight and last-minute packing. My excitement is making me grumpy.
A field stint between two great trips is always the most difficult. Almost three weeks I’ve been here in Negros and most of the time I have only been daydreaming about Batanes or planning and re-planning and re-planning my activities in Bali. It’s tough being here when my mind is already wandering off to Bali, the 2.5-hour massage, the lulur bath…18 April 2014. Eight days to Bali.
I am 85% sure I am skipping yoga classes for the healing and purification ceremonies in Ubud. Although I am a little skeptical about how these rituals will affect me, I am still itching to participate in it and be a Balinese Hindu for half a day.
After an arduous research on Pura Tirta Empul, I decided to forgo the yoga and pilates classes and reserve the 850,000-rupiah healing and purification tour on April 29th. The tour alone costs IDR700,000 which is about P2,700, add the IDR150,000 surcharge for hotel transfer and my damage would be roughly P3,000. It’s a bloody expensive tour. And I get a little choked up realizing the expenses I will be incurring during my 6-day trip to Bali and Singapore.
I actually want to ask the owner of the inn I will be staying at in Ubud if he knows any cheaper tour to Tirta Empul. I am afraid, though, he might think of me as a pesky little Asian tourist because I have been asking him so many questions since I made a booking with them in February.
But, really, I just might email Nik, the owner, if he can book me a cheaper tour to Tirta Empul.20 April 2014. Six days to Bali.
I didn’t email Nik about the Tirta Empul purification ceremony. I think I don’t want to be a control freak anymore. I don’t want to look up the menu of the restaurant I will be dining in so I can decide which dessert I will order on Day 3 dinner. I don’t want to plan where and what time I will be shopping on my second day in Ubud. The purpose of this trip is to be spontaneous, something my shrink has been pointing out to me since I started seeing him in January.
Well, I already quit revising my itinerary. I think I changed my itinerary no less than ten times since I decided to take on Bali with so much in mind to do but so little time and budget.
What’s keeping me busy this time is…still research. I think knowing where to budget-eat doesn’t make me a control freak, right? It’s one of the basics of traveling so, no, I am not being a control freak this time.23 April 2014. Three days to Bali.
Maybe I’d be better off as a researcher. It has been brewing in my head since…since I got bored with my job and got repeatedly offered and un-offered some really great opportunities. Since I started having issues with work and myself. Traveling is the perfect excuse to do research. I’m still researching about Bali and my 4-day hometown, Ubud. It’s starting to get a little corny.
Anyway, I got a bit terrified the last couple of days because I think my gallbladder is giving me some spasmodic, tolerable, 3-on-the-pain-scale kind of pain. Pains are lesser now, thank God. And I do hope there will be no more gallbladder attacks while I’m in Bali and Singapore.
My period is another story. I’ve been anxious about it because I’m already four days overdue. I’ll be doomed if my period doesn’t come soon.26 April 2014. NAIA Terminal 3.
I am now in Terminal 3, like all the passengers here, waiting for the designated check-in counters to open. Sitting beside one of Cebu Pacific’s self-check-in booths, somewhere between check-in counters C and D, I use my check-in luggage as table and write away the minutes (or hours) to check in.
Too many questions and worries. Why did I even go on this trip alone? Why didn’t I wait for my friends to become available for this trip? What am I trying to prove? What if our plane crashed?
I am afraid there is no turning back now. Cold feet aren’t for grooms and brides anymore.
I can hear some passengers talk about what the weather would be like in Bali. Girl friends. I wish my girl friends were here. But I need to go on this trip alone. I don’t know why but it certainly feels that way. It always has.
I look around to see if I can spot any familiar face among the tens or hundreds of waiting passengers, probably more than half are asleep. None. Which is actually good because I don’t feel like saying hi to anyone at 2 am. I don’t want to see anyone I know or who knows me here. Not in my haggard state.
What I feel like doing is to try to take a nap or just close my eyes for 5 minutes or so. I look pathetic. So does everyone else here at 2 in the morning.26 April 2014. First Day in Ubud. Sri Bungalows, 1215H.
The thing about traveling alone is you get to have more time to write. After lunch and vanity bath, I am now hanging out with my notebook and Zebra fine ballpoint pen inside my room at Sri Bungalows. The room is neat, perfect for honeymoon, even if this is the cheapest of the villas and rooms at Sri. My view is a choice between rice fields and the Sri Bungalows swimming pool. At 12 noon there are five women by the pool reading while sunbathing. There are teenagers swimming in the pool, too, which makes more sense to me than reading by the pool while the outside temperature is in the 30s. Ay, westerners!
Anyway, my flight from Manila arrived in Denpasar at around 7:30am, 20 minutes ahead of the ETA. I hate how I didn’t see Bali as we descended from 30,000+ ft, our landing and taxi because I was given an aisle seat. It’s always good to check-in online so seat assignment won’t depend on the mood of the check-in lady or her issues with your appearance or the way you talk.
I was craning my neck to get a good look at the old Denpasar terminal, the one with pointed maroon roofs. That’s where we shopped for souvenirs when we had an hour-long layover in 2011, after the Grasberg mine visit. I was readying my caption for my first Bali Instagram post, Denpasar says good morning! We meet again after 3 years. But just as I was framing the photo in my mind, the plane kept moving, passed the gates with maroon roofs and instead stopped at a newer, more modern terminal. I did not know Bali has a newly-renovated airport.
The new Ngurah Rai terminal was huge, of course, relative only to the older terminal. I cannot help but feel for our NAIA for being the worst airport in the world. I’m sure I looked very touristy as I walked through the jet bridge and into the arrival area, looking around, slightly smiling, happy to see Bali and happy to be in Bali. I swear, it was difficult to contain that ecstatic feeling that I was, or am, ACTUALLY HERE. In Bali. Finally. After months of planning and an emotionally disruptive first quarter at work.
I think my smile was instantly wiped off my face when I got to the immigration counters. A large chunk of airport delay was due to the loooong line of tourists at the counters. I’m lucky I’m from southeast Asia because I didn’t have to line up for visa which I assume would take no less than 10 minutes to finish. With only 6 (out of 20) counters open and hundreds of tourists coming in, it was no surprise it took me about 20 minutes to get past the immigration desk. The good thing about it, though, was I didn’t have to wait long for my checked-in luggage. By 8:30 am I was already in a cab en route to Perama Shuttle Service terminal in Kuta.
I was already grumpy by the time the shuttle reached Ubud. I didn’t mind that the bus was old and not air-conditioned or that I was sitting beside a flirty Canadian surfer trying to hit it off with the blonde girl seated in front of us. We were traveling north from Kuta and I took the window seat on the right side of the bus which meant that for an hour or so my face and my right arm were slowly being toasted by the mid-morning sun. There was no good in that trip especially if you barely had three hours of sleep on the plane and heavily menstruating. It’s yucky and hot and humid and all I wanted was a long cold shower.26 April 2014. First night in Ubud. Sri Bungalows, 2022H.
I had a decent couple-hour sleep this afternoon, more than thankful because the anticipated migraine didn’t set in. I was up at around 3pm then decided to explore Jalan Monkey Forest, one of the major roads in Ubud and where Sri Bungalows is located. Monkey Forest Road runs north-south, its intersection with the east-west Jalan Raya is marked by the Royal Palace of Ubud. The Royal Palace or Puri Saren Agung is where the last king of Ubud resided. After his reign his descendants took over, not as rulers, and eventually made the Royal Palace courtyard the venue of Barong and Kecak dance performances every night.
From Sri Bungalows, I walked south towards the Sacred Monkey Forest. Both sides of the Monkey Forest Road were laced with shops, restaurants, coffee shops, spas, B&Bs. It was a ten-minute walk, maybe even less, to the Monkey Forest from the hotel. The monkeys, macaques technically, were fantastic. I liked them. I liked seeing them do their thing—eating bananas or sweet potatoes, chasing off or pretending to chase off tourists and scampering all over their sacred forest.
When I got out of the Forest, that’s when things became a bit more exciting. I took the exit at the other end of the Forest, not where I entered, and, well, got lost. Thinking that I would end up in Monkey Forest Road, I turned right as I exited because I kept turning left inside the Forest. Didn’t really care if that was east or west or north, I just kept walking because that was my gut was telling me. Gut feel. I should have remembered my gut was impaired.
There was no street sign, maybe I didn’t see it, and I was thisclose to saying yes to the first motorbike driver to offer me a ride. I started to freak out a little, actually, because I was the only tourist walking down that unknown street and it’s getting dark because of the thick rain clouds above.
As I was gathering up the courage to ask the locals for directions, I saw Laka Leke Restaurant. That’s when I knew I would never get to Jalan Monkey Forest even if I continued walking for hours. Laka Leke was far off Monkey Forest Road. I considered taking cooking classes there but dropped it because of its distance from where I’m staying.
The next most logical thing to do was to go back to the Forest. And so I did.
By the time I was out of the Monkey Forest and surely on the right street, Jalan Monkey Forest, I made my way north. I stopped at Kopi Bali House for iced cappuccino and orange cheesecake which were both divine then went on to my little journey to the end of Monkey Forest Road where Jalan Raya and the Ubud Market await me.
I did the first leg of my souvenir-shopping at Pasar Ubud—ref magnets, incense and keychains, yes, the penis keychains. It was a little awkward bargaining with the store owner for penis keychains.
Penis. Why did Bali specialize in making penis keychains, ashtrays, bottle openers and penis…what to call them, figurines? Their abundance in the local market was just…overwhelming. And it comes in all sizes, colors and prints, some are bent, some are straight. Gaaaaah!27 April 2014. Second Day in Ubud. Frangipani Bungalows, sometime during the afternoon after the cycling tour.
I met Daniel this morning during the tour. I can’t even begin telling this story.
He’s from Brazil. It was just him and me in the tour. And our guide, Gede.
He’s a solo traveler as well, already spent two weeks going around Malaysia and Indonesia. He’s the Brazilian stereotype—chiseled arms and chest, beard, the accent (the accent had me at hi)—only he’s not that tall. He’s taller than me by maybe half-a-foot which is very much okay, like I can wear 3-inch heels and we’d still look okay. Did I get the stereotype part right? I mean, Brazilian men are mostly good-looking and hunky, yes?
I was instantly crushing on him the moment he stepped inside the shuttle, even more when I saw no ring on any of his fingers. I found him suplado at first, suplado to me because he and our guide got into an excited conversation about Indonesian rock bands when our guide opened up the topic.
He did eventually talk to me when we got to the breakfast place in Pacung, some 20 km north of Ubud proper, after a 1.5-hour drive. The view in Pacung was spectacular, rice terraces, three volcanoes, the Brazilian in front of me…
27 April 2014. Dinner with Daniel…or, rather, thoughts of Daniel. Frangipani Bungalows, dinnertime.
I still hope Daniel shows up at Frangipani and ask me again if I’d like to go with him to Tampak Siring tomorrow. Pura Tirta Empul is in Tampak Siring.
He wanted to go there. Too.
I heard Cupid drew his bow when D said he wanted to see the Pura Tirta Empul while we’re having lunch after cycling. I didn’t say, “I wanted to go there, too!” right away with my big round happy eyes and the eagerness of a five-year-old going to Jollibee. Instead, I asked Gede how much would be the cost if I took a cab to Tampak Siring. I know Gede gave a quotation but I can’t even remember hearing it basically because I was so focused on what D might or would say. The Hindu gods must have been delighted with me this morning. The next thing I heard was me saying, Sure, as casually as I can to D’s “We can share the taxi, if you like.”
He wanted to have lunch at Kintamani which is still an hour’s drive north of Tampak Siring. I can’t. I wanted to go there too, actually, but I have an appointment at Bali Botanica tomorrow at 12:45 so I need to be at Frangipani by 12:30pm for the spa transfer. Tomorrow will be his last day in Ubud so going to Tirta Empul would be tomorrow or never for him.
Cupid put down his bow. No arrows loosed.
I was waiting for Daniel to say we can go back to Ubud earlier on the way back to our hostels. I waited and waited until we dropped him off The Happy Mango Tree. That last look and the pause after saying see you around with that seductive accent…I should have, oh well, nevermind.
I SHOULD HAVE CALLED OUT TO HIM, “DANIEL, WHAT ABOUT TAMPAK SIRING TOMORROW?”
After a wolfing down a slice of Key Lime Pie and drinking an outrageously bitter iced cappuccino from Casa Luna, I realized, bitterly, that waiting for the follow-up from Daniel was pushing my luck.
I do hope the Hindu gods will be delighted with me again tomorrow.28 April 2014. Third day in Ubud. Frangipani Bungalows, breaking the fast.
I feel more tired today than yesterday and the day before yesterday. Sleeping and waking every two or three hours can make you feel more exhausted than not sleeping at all.
I was forbidden to shower last night after I told my dad about my exploits in Ubud—cycling around town and exploring Jalan Hanoman on foot in the afternoon. To the old folks, it does not matter if you’re covered in mud but a shower or bath is not allowed after a strenuous activity. I didn’t bring any face towel so I used wet wipes to partially scrub off the day’s grime which was not even close to enough. Even one thousand sheets of wet wipes will never be enough. But because I’m a good girl, I did what I was told. No baths last night. Good girl but pretty smelly and sticky with sweat.
I know, I’m being disgusting.
Another reason why slumber last night was not deep enough despite the day’s physical challenge was D. I hate myself for not making the follow-up move when he didn’t. It’s so unfair. I expected families in the cycling tour. Families with 9-year-olds, 14-year-olds, toddlers. Couples. Old divorcees. Retirees. NOT a thirty-something Brazilian beefcake! I mean, come on, I came here with very little hope of meeting or seeing someone like Daniel then I got stuck WITH Daniel for eight frustrating, sometimes-awkward-is-this-for-real hours.
I was literally devouring my vegetable omelet as I wrote that last paragraph.
I can’t let D ruin my trip.
I have to write about the cycling tour.28 April 2014. Third day in Ubud. Frangipani Bungalows, brunch while waiting for shuttle to Bali Botanica Day Spa.
As if raising my hopes up and dropping it to a depressing level are not enough, the gods let me see D as he rode away from the Mango Tree on his way, I assume, to Tirta Empul. Oh, and I caught up with him and passed him when he got stuck (he’s on a motorbike) in rush hour traffic on Jalan Bisma.
The Happy Mango Tree, where he’s staying, and Frangipani Bungalows, where I’m staying, are on the same street, Jalan Bisma, about 100 meters apart. My hostel is farther down south. Jalan Bisma is also a north-south road, west of and parallel to Jalan Monkey Forest, but unlike the latter, Jalan Bisma is more laid-back and accommodations here are cheaper.
Anyway, I went out for my morning walk shortly after breakfast. I was on my way to the market when I saw a familiar figure going out of the Mango Tree. The closer I got to the Mango Tree, the surer I was that the figure I saw was Daniel’s.
I wanted to say hi. But I couldn’t. I didn’t want to come off as aggressive or feeling close friends with him. I didn’t want him to see me. I think it’d be more tragic if I said hi then we’d talk a bit about his trip to Tampak Siring but he wouldn’t ask me to go with him or what my plans were for the day.
Which reminds me, he asked me yesterday if I saw the movie. He didn’t say which movie but I quickly assumed he’s referring to Eat, Pray, Love so I said yes. Are there other movies about Bali? Or Ubud? He went on saying he will be spending a few days in the Gili Islands before going back to Brazil. The Gilis, specifically the Gili Meno island, was where Liz went to after her two trips to Bali. I…what is he? Divorced? Getting over someone or something?
I know very little about him. I don’t know what he does for a living or his last name but I know he doesn’t like football, that he’d rather be somewhere else during the World Cup, if only flights were cheaper. AND he’s got a German poem tattooed on his left upper arm. It’s making me crazy!
I never saw him pass me after I turned right on Jalan Raya.
The Hindu gods are…I don’t know, full of antics.
I think I need lessons on self-abandon.28 April 2014. Third Night in Ubud. Frangipani Bungalows, trying to sleep early.
I literally signed up for torture when I booked the cycling tour.
The guide arrived at Sri Bungalows at 7:15am, 15 minutes earlier than pick-up time.¹ I decided to skip breakfast when, at 7:20, I was still waiting for my banana pancake to be served. While on our way to pick-up the other tourist, the Brazilian beefcake, I started munching on my baon, a pack of white cheddar Bread Pan crackers which I brought from the Philippines. I was afraid I might pass out while cycling around town so I force-fed myself with it.
When the other tourist got in, our guide, Gede, announced we’ll be having our “breakfast with a nice view” first before biking. Good. I forgot breakfast was included in the package then put back the crackers to my bag discreetly.
It’s all pancake on the breakfast menu. I ended up choosing pineapple pancake and paired it with pineapple juice. Coffee was also served. It was the first time I had kopi Bali without heavy cream or milk and it tasted like my favorite Kalinga coffee from the Philippine Cordilleras. I didn’t finish it off, though. A rumbling tummy demanding for a toilet break during biking hours was not among my plans.
We started biking at around 9am along narrow dirt and concrete roads and rice fields, crossing irrigation canals and bridges. The first several meters of the bumpy concrete road we were on, I realized I was in some kind of trouble with my bike. No matter how quickly I pedal, I couldn’t seem to keep up with the group. I was hardly moving. Were the chains loose? Tires flat? Or I was just too ignorant with mountain bikes?
Gears! There must be something I needed to do with the gears in front of me. It had to be one of those gears! My nephew mentioned it before during one of our bike-outs. I started tinkering with one of the gears, the one on the right, but nothing seemed to change. I was still hardly getting anywhere. I was desperately turning the stupid knob in different directions but before I could figure it out myself, I saw the two guys ahead of me stop and wait for me to reach them.
Gede explained that my bike was on high gear and it would not get me far, only tired. He showed me how to shift into lower gear which he said was ideal for flat biking routes. Then I remembered, low gear for flat terrain, high gear going uphill. Darn, I should have gone to more bike-outs with my nephew.
The first steep climb we encountered, I walked and pushed my bike up the hill. When I caught up with the boys, Gede reminded me again of the purpose of shifting gears. This time my hormones went on a rage. I wanted to yell at our guide to stop telling me what to do with the freaking gears. I already know how to use it but my legs just couldn’t pedal up the hill. But I pacified the inner Hulk and instead, in the most grudging way, smiled and said okay’s and alright’s to our guide who was basically just doing his job and not intending to humiliate me. But seriously this whole gear-shifting ordeal wouldn’t be such a big deal if not for the Brazilian I was in the tour with.
It took a while, in kilometers, maybe between one and five, before I got used to shifting my bike’s gears. But even if I did get the hang of cycling, I still couldn’t catch up with the boys.
The best part of the whole torture, errr, tour was biking through rice fields on flat terrain. It felt so like being in my hometown. With better roads. The next best part was going inside Bali’s largest monkey forest, where, unlike those in Monkey Forest Road, the monkeys were not tourist-friendly. They’d bare their teeth when they notice you staring at them for more than three seconds. There was also this awesome and massive banyan tree inside the forest. The banyan tree among the Balinese Hindu is considered sacred, sort of the opposite for Filipinos because this kind of tree, known in Tagalog as balete, is where Pinoys believe evil spirits reside.
Out of the forest and back to the village roads again. Did I say biking around Ubud was like biking through my hometown? I am madly in love with Ubud. I like how families have their own temple at the center of their compound. I love the brick houses and temples, and the smell of incense in the streets, the colorful offerings you’d likely step on while you’re walking. I couldn’t be more pleased with my decision to stay in Ubud rather than any other part of Bali for my first solo travel.
About halfway through the route and after we stopped over the village holy spring, each village has one, Gede warned us of the second leg of the tour which would be mostly steep uphill biking. I uttered a silent prayer for my survival. Cycling downhill wasn’t much of a problem, of course, but cycling uphill just did it for biking as a sport for me. It. Was. Awful. On our third steep climb I already feared for my legs and my ass. I couldn’t feel them anymore.
Why did I even sign up for this? I asked myself again. Why did I even think I can manage biking uphill when I don’t even bike? I ride a bike, yes, but only when I need to buy something from the local sari-sari store, not regularly.
I glanced left and right for answers, like helplessly seeking them from my guardian angel. The ideal answer would have been: This is the best way to see Bali, its unspoilt, quiet, simple, beautiful way of life. But most of the time, I just needed to look ahead and look at the Brazilian in blue shirt. It didn’t make me pedal faster but the thought that he could be my Ubud fling was as entertaining as watching a Julia Roberts rom-com. It made me forget my legs were cramping and my shoulders felt like they were about to fall off.
¹ I saw my confirmation email again from the tour operator and it said that pick-up time from my hotel was actually 7:00am. Oh well, Filipino time.29 April 2014. Breakfast before leaving for Kuta…I hate to leave Ubud. The cycling story continues…
We took the next break at a coffee and tea farm. It was also one of the farms where they make the (in)famous kopi luwak or civet coffee or coffee from beans excreted by a civet.
As we walked through the mini-forest going to our table for tea and coffee sampling, I was saddened by the caged civets that lined the pathway as if they were on display in a zoo. Well, they were on display. They were fed coffee beans everyday so they would poop it out and make sure their owners stay in business. I wonder if the owners set poop quotas for these creatures to meet.
Several months ago I came across an article on Twitter claiming that the world’s most expensive coffee was actually a hoax. It said that the most of the kopi luwak marketed worldwide weren’t really of wild origin but from farms where civets endure horrible conditions living in cramped cages. I lost all interest in the “exotic” kopi luwak after reading that article. And seeing unfortunate civets in their cages here in Ubud made me hate the owners of that farm and all the other organic farms that produce kopi luwak.
On a lighter note, we got to taste nine varieties of tea and six different types of coffee while at the
civet jail organic farm. I remember very few of the teas and coffees served. Those that I was brave enough to ingest were red rice tea, lemongrass, rose, tamarind, saffron, mangosteen. Mangosteen tea was superb. Its opposite? Red rice tea. I thought I was going to get sick after drinking half a cup of that foul liquid. As expected, they didn’t offer a free sample of kopi luwak. One will have to pay an undisclosed amount to try the horrendously expensive coffee.
We spent a good 30-45 minutes in the organic farm tasting tea and coffee and trading World Cup stories and angsts with our governments (Philippine, Brazilian and Indonesian). Before leaving the farm the Brazilian bought a 50-gram pack of kopi luwak for USD17 for his officemates. He asked me if the price was reasonable and I was so close to launching a tirade against the exploitation of civets but his accent just made me say yes it was reasonable and it would be more expensive if he bought it from the airport or Ubud town proper. I hate Latin American accent!
When it was time to go back to biking, Gede assured me there would only be one steep uphill climb before we hit the rice paddies and trek our way to lunch. I must have looked dog-tired even after the coffee/tea break hence the assurance of an easier terrain.
We started trekking after a few hundred meters of biking. The last stretch of biking was indeed an easier one. From the side of the road where we got off our bikes (ha, finally!) we walked through this maze of a rice field on pilapils, very easy for me since I had my fill of running and playing in the fields of Plaridel and Pulilan (Bulacan) when I was younger. I am pretty sure I beat the Brazilian on this one. Although he walked faster, he fell and slipped from the pilapils no less than three times during the 10-minute walk.
We crossed bamboo bridges, streams on foot, walked along riverbanks, hiked and walked some more. It was pretty much like doing fieldworks and it was such a relief for me after all the uphill pedaling earlier.
It took us 2.5 hours to complete the bike-trek tour, two hours shorter than the usual because, according to our guide, we didn’t take too much pictures. Daniel did, I didn’t. I only took photos when our breaks were long enough for me to get my phone from my bag in the car. I made a very stupid decision when I left my running pouch in Negros. Well, that and wearing my white running shorts without pockets. Cargo shorts would have been more appropriate. Dark-colored cargo shorts would have been perfect and ideal. I mean, who in her right mind would wear white shorts to a cycling tour while menstruating?
Lunch was waiting for us at the end of the tunnel, errr, trek. When we got to the lunch area otherwise known as the garden of the owner of Banyan Tree Bike Tours, we were given cold towels and cold bottled water for refreshment. Aaahhh the feel of the cold towel as I wiped my face with it… I half-hoped the Brazilian would try to seduce me by taking off his shirt and drenching himself with bottled water. Alas, he did not. And I got distracted by the parade of steaming dishes coming out of the owner’s kitchen.
We had a buffet lunch, a little too much for three persons. But the food was a totally different story. Whether it was really good or I was just famished from biking 20+ kilometers, it didn’t matter to me. I took in as much food as I could. We had fish curry, ayam kecap and chicken satay and none of those were too spicy or salty or bland. Everything was just right except for the vegetable salad which my religion forbids me to eat so I never got to taste it.
With that feast and the Brazilian beside me, I think that was the best lunch I had in Bali.
29 April 2014. First Day in Kuta.
I got a little shocked, no, disappointed, with what I did. Just like other East Asian tourists I found myself taking refuge in Starbucks. IN. FREAKING. STARBUCKS. I just broke a personal promise of not going inside any Starbucks branch while in Indonesia.
30 April 2014. On board AirAsia Flight QZ8496.
I expected the beach to look a lot like Boracay or better because Bali’s Kuta beach is more popular than the Philippine beach. It was really stupid of me to expect such and to compare the two beaches.
Kuta is, I believe, made famous by waves. But I have always had this picture of Bali with a long stretch of beach with fine sand where you can bar-hop until 6 am and get breakfast afterwards. I was a little shell-shocked to find beach umbrellas, monobloc chairs, few small tables and refreshments in Coke and Pepsi coolers, very much like our famous sidewalk bangketas.
On the eve of my departure from Ubud, I already decided to put off the temple visits because it would cost me some IDR 500,000 to go to Uluwatu or Tanah Lot. Instead, I would hang out by the beach, watch the surfers surf and the sun set and/or write while drinking Bintang.02 May 2014. Sta. Ines, Plaridel, Bulacan. Suffering from a really bad hangover called Bali.
I was afraid that if I hung out by the beach and someone asked me, “How much for the night?” I might answer, “How much can you pay?”
Okay, that was a bad joke.
It would just be too awkward and scary if I’d be mistaken for a hooker. Judging from the 3pm Kuta Beach scene, my potential customers would probably be those
beached whales old, overweight Caucasians basking under the harsh afternoon sun.
I walked along the beach some more and realizing that I would not be able to sit and start writing that early, I decided to ditch the beach. That and the endless offers to learn surfing from extremely tanned Indonesian instructors. Really, I was close to yelling at one guy who wouldn’t stop convincing me to try surfing lessons. I’m not into surfing, I told him with an irritated tone and awkward smile. So he left me alone.
But I wasn’t lying. I am not really into surfing.
I got out of the walled beach with a grumbling tummy. Again. The nearest, decent (?) place to eat was Starbucks within the Hard Rock Café complex. My mind was revolting. Starbucks? Seriously? But it was my stomach’s call this time. I went inside Starbucks, found mostly Asians (Japanese/Taiwanese/Koreans), ordered green tea and sausage croissant and took a cushioned seat by the glass wall. What. A. Treat.
Halfway through my croissant and after only a couple of sips from my steaming paper cup of green tea, my lower abdomen felt a little crampy. A few more seconds and my bowels were contracting like crazy. It could only mean one thing—restroom! Much to my bowels’ dismay, the restroom was occupied when I discreetly rushed to it. Now anxiety was making matters worse. I went back to where I was sitting. I had to act quickly. The person inside the restroom seemed to be taking a very luxurious pee time.
I did what I had to do. I took my tea and left for my hostel.
Somewhere between Starbucks and from where I hailed a cab, a distance of about 10-15 meters, my tummy seemed to have pacified itself. Miraculously.
As soon as I got in the cab, I immediately asked the driver how much was the fare to Tanaya Bed & Breakfast in Jalan Legian. I was taken aback when the driver replied, “Do you know metered taxi?” I, uh, yes, I know. “So why do you ask how much?” Antipatiko, I thought. I looked around the cab’s interior. There was indeed a meter on the dashboard, also the driver’s company-issued ID and several logos of Blue Bird Taxi.
Blue Bird Taxi is Indonesia’s largest taxi operator. When we spent a couple of days in Jakarta for our Grasberg mine visit in 2011 we practically had these blue cabs service us as we explored the Indonesian capital.
Oh, I didn’t notice it, was all I could say to the driver. It was actually a relief that I was onboard a metered taxi. Most taxis in Bali either have fixed rates or their drivers will rip you off big time, on a par with Pinoy taxi drivers.
The driver was quick to tell the history of Blue Bird Taxi and how it became Indonesia’s leading taxi operator. I only pretended to listen because I was paying more attention to my crampy tummy which only had tolerable spasmodic pains at that time. The traffic along Kuta Beach road kept me from getting to the hostel in 5 minutes. But it was one of those rare times that a heavy traffic did me good. While stuck in traffic, my chatterbox of a driver went on and on about the Blue Bird Taxi group and just to politely stop the storytelling I asked him how much would it cost me if we go to Tanah Lot Temple instead of Tanaya B&B. He paused (thank God!) and quoted the fare to be somewhere around 100,000 rupiahs.
And the travel time, I asked. About an hour.
If we go there now, would I still catch the sunset? He looked at his watch. Yes.
Okay, let’s go.
It was almost 4 in the afternoon.
Tabanan is another town in west-central Bali, about 20 kilometers northwest of Denpasar. One of its famous attractions is Pura Tanah Lot, a Balinese Hindu temple atop a large offshore limestone outcrop. It is one of the seven sea temples around the coast of Bali built during the 16th century to worship Balinese sea gods. As Bali emerged as a top tourist destination, so were the island’s sea temples. And I was about to find out why.
My mind was already sight-seeing in Tanah Lot when the driver asked me for a favor. My eyes widened in surprise and fear. Oh dear, he was going to ask for additional fare and I was about to get ripped off!
It was like peeing after hours of holding it off when he asked me instead to not report him because he forgot to turn on the cab’s meter. Whew! Of course, that was not a big deal. Pinoy cab drivers can be worse, are worse. So in exchange for that favor, because an unsatisfactory report from a passenger could cost Blue Bird drivers their jobs, he would shut off the taxi’s meter while waiting for me in Tanah Lot.
Rush hour traffic and the influx of tour buses, minivans and scooters choked the two-lane highway that led to the sea temple. The driver must have felt my suddenly surly mood and tried to cheer me up by telling stories and asking about farming and fuel prices in the Philippines. I wasn’t really in the right state for such banter but to show appreciation of his effort I made sure I didn’t let out some bitchy comments as we talked.
We reached Tanah Lot about ten minutes before 6pm and the sun was still up. I got off the cab, rushed past souvenir stalls, cafeterias, a python-viewing stand and many Korean (or Japanese or Chinese) tourists as I literally chased the sun in Tanah Lot.
I entered the grounds’ Balinese gate and was welcomed to the famed temple by several statues of unnamed deities. I didn’t know where to go so I followed a string of tourists, some half-running, where they were going. I slowed down upon seeing the tip of Tanah Lot’s tiered roof. Soon enough I saw the temple mounted on a lithified coral reef. The people I was following continued walking and went down the stairs that led to the temple. The people behind me passed me as I stood at the top of the stairs, unable to take another step, transfixed by the beauty I was seeing. Fierce waves repeatedly attacked the rocky base of the centuries-old temple while tourists undeterred by the splashes of sea water kept taking photos of the temple, sunset and their companions. My thoughts trod lightly on joining the crowd at the temple’s base as the tide was way out at that time. I decided against it and instead walked towards the park where more people were headed.
I found a spot on one of the view decks where I have a spectacular view of Tanah Lot. It became pretty obvious why more people were going this way rather than going down the temple. The setting sun’s warm colors were splendidly reflected by the temple creating a stunning image of the Balinese worship site. I took my iPhone out, undaunted by the DSLRs around me and took snapshots of one of the most dramatic sunsets I have ever seen.