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Monkeying Around in Bali

Monkeying Around in Bali

Old Mar 26, 08, 10:01 pm
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Location: Lake Oswego, OR
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Monkeying Around in Bali


This very long trip report describes my experiences and observations during my recent journey to Bali. After much pondering, I have whittled down the original 2000 photos and videos to a paltry couple of hundred or so. In order to facilitate page load times, only thumbnails have been embedded in the report but larger images and videos are available via links. The report is comprised of five sections, which I have been working on over the past week:

The Usual UA Monkey Business
The Traditional Balinese Monkey Hat
A Day Without Monkeys is Like a Day Without Sunshine
Flipping My Lid in the Monkey Temple
Escape From Monkey Island

At this point, one thing I can safely say about Bali is that there are lots and lots of monkeys...

The Usual UA Monkey Business

My flight from PDX to SFO was scheduled to depart at the unpleasantly early time of 6:07 AM. I could have left a little bit later but I wanted to allow a little extra time to catch my flight from SFO to NRT and then continue onward to SIN. I often quip that the initials UNITED actually stand for "U Never Intended to Ever Depart" and for me, at least, this has proven to be quite true, of late. Given that I had an Air Asia flight to Kuala Lumpur booked for the morning after I arrived in SIN, I was very concerned about misconnecting. Plus, I figured, a little extra quality lounge time in SFO couldn't hurt either.

Upon boarding the 733 and settling into seat 2D, I noticed that the flight attendant was well prepared for the lengthy 80 minute flight to SFO. The stack of crossword puzzles neatly tucked into the jumpset made it quite clear how enthusiastic she was about the upcoming flight. I could readily see that she planned to offer the best service possible. In reality, she did not even offer any beverages until a full 20 minutes after the seat belt sign was turned off. And that was the last that any one saw of her for the remainder of the flight. Actually I could see her quite well, sitting in the jumpseat happily working on her crossword puzzles. Despite calm skies, she never even came around to collect any accumulated detritus, instead, announcing over the PA that passengers should place their rubbish into the seatback pocket, where it would be collected later. If not, I guess passengers on the subsequent flight would be in for a little surprise.

We landed in SFO a little early but the shuttle that runs between the domestic and international terminals doesn't start operations until later in the morning so I exited the secure area, walked to the international terminal and then re-cleared security there. At that time of day, there are not that many passengers so it didn't take very long at all. It was a little before 8:00 AM by the time I found myself near the entrance of the RCC. The international club opens officially at 8:00 AM but it was not until 8:10 AM that they finally opened the doors and began to allow the growing queue of passengers to enter the club.

A few minutes after I entered the club, I received an Easy Update alert that my 11:37 AM flight to NRT was delayed until noon. No big deal, I thought, there was still plenty of time to make my connecting flight to SIN. The SKL lounge does not open until 9:00 AM in the winter so I hung around the RCC for a while and bumped into another FTer while there. We ran off to the SKL lounge as soon as it opened and we were soon joined by two other FTers, who were on their way to HKG. The only downside was that the vodka bottle was already empty and the attendant could not locate "the key" so we had to settle for other varieties of adult beverages to pass the time. Many drinks later, at 11:00 AM, real food began to materialize so I was feeling fairly stuffed by the time I exited the lounge at 11:30. My flight still showed a noon departure and I was feeling quite relaxed as I settled into my seat in the upper deck of the 747 and greeted the two FTers seated in front of me. Things then began to go downhill very quickly.

At around noon, the pilot announced that the "little glitch" they thought they would be able to fix over the last few hours was taking much longer than expected and the estimated take off time was now 2:00 PM. I ran off the plane so quickly, I was probably just a blur of motion. When I arrived at the counter by the gate, I immediately asked about the Hong Kong flight but was told it had already left. I explored several other options and ultimately asked to be put on the later Narita flight. This flight typically does not allow enough time for the Singapore connection but I asked to keep my seat on UA 803 anyway. I also asked UA to protect me on the 7:00 PM SQ flight (in coach). The agent agreed to do this but it took him about 25 minutes to get all of this arranged. I don't really understand why it took so long. By the time I left the counter, there must have been at least 50 people on line behind me waiting their turn.

I boarded the later Narita flight and they closed the door a few minutes later so they could pull away on time. I did not see the woman who had been on line immediately behind me (originally seated in 2J) so, for all I know, nobody else from UA 837 made it on board. In fact, I counted at least 15 empty business class seats! After take off, I moved from my assigned bulkhead seat in row 11 of the 777 and grabbed three business seats in row 12 all to myself. I told the flight attendants what had happened and they were amazed. They had plenty of seats available and it was a shame to strand so many passengers.

Once we reached cruise altitude, I learned that we had favorable tailwinds and were expected to arrive in Narita at least 45 minutes early. I was the first person at the security checkpoint and even had time to take a quick shower at the RCC. I was being paged as I was exiting the RCC and when I got to the gate, everyone else had already boarded the SIN flight. At this point, I did not know the status of UA 837 and thought it would be nice of UA to hold off the SIN flight a bit. Not only did UA not do this, they closed the jetway at least 20 minutes early and took off a few minutes later. On this flight, at least 20 C seats were empty. So I had two seats to myself and once again flew without a seat opponent. The flight attendants were all SIN based and were fabulous as usual. A couple of them even recognized me from previous trips. I guess I must be very memorable.

Upon landing in SIN, I checked the status of UA 837 and it looks like it was delayed until 2:30 PM and then was ultimately CANCELLED! This is now the second time this year that UA has canceled my SFO to NRT flight. On my last such flight in January, I had encountered nearly the same situation. UA 837 was initially delayed and I was able to get on board the HKG flight just as they were closing the door. This now makes two in row for me.

After a few hours of sleep at the Terminal 1 transit hotel in SIN, I meandered around Changi for a while and then exited through customs and immigration at 9:15 AM. When asked how long I planned to stay in Singapore, I replied, truthfully, "about 15 minutes." My plan was to pick up a boarding pass for my $61 SGD Air Asia flight to KUL, re-enter the terminal and then fly to Kuala Lumpur where I would begin a three night mattress run. From there, I would fly back to SIN on SQ and then continue onto Bali the next morning.

The Great Monkey Army of Kuala Lumpur

I had visited Kuala Lumpur a couple of times previously, using it mainly as a launch point for travels to Borneo. During one of these visits, I journeyed to the Batu Caves, where I tried to arrive as early as possible before the heat and humidity of the day had a chance to rise to its usual high level of sweltering oppression.

Monkey See, Monkey Poo

After trudging up the 275 hot and sweaty steps, one enters the cave to find...even more steps. The fact that the first few hundred steps are individually numbered seems of make the sticky climb hurt even more. At the threshold of the cave await an army of monkeys, all ready to pounce on the unwary visitor and steal whatever isn't nailed down. One poor human has the unfortunate job of walking through the cave and cleaning up monkey poop from the area, a dirty job if ever there was one.

After descending the steps and then turning to the right, I encountered a huge green statue of the Hindu Monkey God, Hanuman, who, in the Ramayana, is credited with raising an army of monkeys to help Lord Rama (an incarnation of Vishnu) rescue his wife Sita from Ravana, the ten-headed demon king. From what I understand, King Ravana was living in Sri Lanka at the time, probably in order to take advantage of the great ex-CMB business class fares.

Quite frankly, other than the army of long-tailed macaques ready to assault visitors near the tops of the steps at the Batu Caves, I found much of the other wildlife in Malaysia to be somewhat tame for my tastes. For example, these fierce and frightening creatures guarded the entrance to the Thean Hou temple, situated in Robson Heights on a hill overlooking the city:

My only other close encounter with wildlife in Malaysia was at the beginning of a boat trip on the Klias river in Sabah. Just as my small boat was pulling away from the dock, a noisy dispute arose amongst the resident macaques and one frantic participant jumped into the boat, just inches away from where I was sitting. I named him Bitey.

Return to SIN

On the day I had arranged to fly from KUL back to SIN, my flight was not scheduled to depart until 9:45 PM so I was in no hurry to get to KLIA. I checked out of the Hotel Imperial at 5:00 PM, walked over to the Dang Wangi LRT station and rode a few stops to KL Sentral. Once there, I had plenty of time to board the 6:00 PM express bus to the KLIA main terminal. This bus leaves every hour on the hour from the same area as the yellow and red buses that go to the Low Cost Carrier Terminal. At MYR 10, it was also much cheaper than the KLIA Express train and I had plenty of time to kill. Though I confess to being a little concerned about rush hour traffic at that time of day, the roads were mostly empty and we arrived at the KLIA bus station a mere 45 minutes later.

Once I had successfully navigated my way to the Singapore Airlines check-in counter, I was able to pick up boarding passes for my economy class flight to SIN and my business class flight to DPS the next morning. When I was in KLIA last November, I took a picture of the friendly SQ check-in staff so I showed the picture to the agents who were checking me in this evening. "That's my sister!," one of them exclaimed gleefully so I left the picture with her and sauntered off to customs.

After landing in SIN, I decided to spend an hour or so catching up with email before checking into the transit hotel to get some sleep. Although internet access is free throughout Changi, sessions timeout after 15 minutes and there is no place to sit.

I figured that I would be much more comfortable conducting these activities while sitting down in the comforts of the SKL lounge, so, at about 11:00 PM, I wandered over to the Terminal 2 SKL and presented my C class boarding pass for DPS. The greeter stared at it for a few seconds and then pointed out in a surprised tone that my flight was not departing until 9:35 AM the next morning! I told her that I would just be checking email and then planned to retire to the transit hotel for the night. I do seem to recall, however, reading about some FTers who checked into the SKL a couple of daysbefore their SQ flight. Perhaps next time.

Onward to Bali

The following morning, I visited each of the SKL lounges, spending a fair amount of time in both T3 and T2.

After a bit of relaxing and noshing, I "accidentally" wandered over to the first class lounge and then made it to my Bali flight a few minutes before the door closed.

The C cabin seemed full and I must admit that, as a frequent UA flyer, I found the seat comfort in this short range, two class, configuration 777-200 to be a little too firm and non-ergonomic for my tastes. In addition, I didn't much appreciate the absence of individually controlled air vents on this plane. I always like to vent at every opportunity.

Service was fine, however, and I spent much of the flight chatting with my seat opponent, a Singaporean woman who works for an American company and was heading to Bali for some sort of trade show. Her job had something to do with chickens, eggs and the American Embassy, I don't recall the details. It turns out that we were both staying at The Westin Nusa Dua so I suggested that we share a taxi to the hotel. Instead, she offered to give me a ride because she had already arranged for a private car. Once we landed, I purchased and deployed my Visa on Arrival within five minutes, using fresh and crisp $25 USD. While my companion waited to collect her belongings at baggage claim, I used a nearby ATM to acquire 3,000,000 rupiah. The thickness of my wallet would have made George Costanza proud and, as a new Bali multi-millionaire, I certainly felt quite wealthy for a while.

Continued …

Last edited by LarryU; Apr 1, 08 at 7:46 pm Reason: Added Summary
LarryU is offline  
Old Mar 26, 08, 10:56 pm
Join Date: May 2006
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Love the report so far ^

By the way, you could've asked someone at the money changer stand or bank teller to change your Rp. 50,000 bills to Rp. 100,000. I had to do that usually after I took money out from the ATM.
aSiAnRiCk is offline  
Old Mar 27, 08, 12:22 am
Join Date: Mar 2007
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Thanks for an interesting trip report. I look forward to the rest.

Originally Posted by aSiAnRiCk View Post
Love the report so far ^

By the way, you could've asked someone at the money changer stand or bank teller to change your Rp. 50,000 bills to Rp. 100,000. I had to do that usually after I took money out from the ATM.

I far prefer to have 50's because you have less trouble getting change. I avoid the atms that give out 100's like the plague.
camsean is offline  
Old Mar 27, 08, 2:04 am
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Originally Posted by camsean View Post
I far prefer to have 50's because you have less trouble getting change. I avoid the atms that give out 100's like the plague.
Well, when I go out with the family, whether for lunch, dinner or some shopping, there's really no advantage with the 50's

Of course keep some 50's with you for small purchase but you don't want people to see you in public with bulky wallet in Indo ... George Costanza or not
aSiAnRiCk is offline  
Old Mar 27, 08, 8:06 pm
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Really nice report

Will be doing the same SIN-DPS C SQ flight so it was nice to see your pictures

Is the Indonesian visa on arrival now $25? Its gone up from $10?
rankourabu is offline  
Old Mar 27, 08, 10:16 pm
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Bali Visa On Arrival

Originally Posted by rankourabu View Post
Really nice report

Will be doing the same SIN-DPS C SQ flight so it was nice to see your pictures

Is the Indonesian visa on arrival now $25? Its gone up from $10?
It depends on the length of your stay; it costs US$10 for up to seven days and US$25 for up to 30 days:

LarryU is offline  
Old Mar 27, 08, 10:31 pm
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The Traditional Balinese Monkey Hat

Strolling Along the Beach in Nusa Dua

After checking in at the Westin, I spent the afternoon wandering around the beach in Nusa Dua, mostly fending off hawkers but stopping to chat with a few of them from time to time. As I was walking past a restaurant, the proprietor invited me to sit down and we chatted for a bit. He was an Australian expat who has been living in Bali for a number of years and remarked that he was surprised that I stopped to chat because he has observed that most Americans would have kept on walking. He taught me a few words in Bahasa Indonesia and we drank a few beers while watching dogs have sex on the beach. I remarked that Bali truly is a romantic place and then continued on my way.

The Westin has no club lounge per se, just the Royal Beach Club, which is not offered to platinum guests as an upgrade but is available for an extra charge. I was not officially told about the club by the check-in staff and would not have been interested in paying any additional fees in any case. I was planning to spend most of each day sight seeing and would not be spending an awful lot of time at the hotel at all. Nevertheless, Platinum guests at the Westin are offered upgrades to suites, one hour of computer use in the business center, a free buffet breakfast and an hour of free cocktails, during which pretty much anything at all can be ordered from the very extensive lobby lounge drink menu.

Early in the afternoon on the next day, I checked out of the Westin and worked my way over to the Le Méridien Nirwana, an important move for my planned mattress Run. The SPG promotions that were the inspiration for my mattress run would come to a close at the end of February, so all of my March stays at the Westin would be on points. At the time, the Westin was still a Category 2, which, at 3000 points for a weekend night, was quite a bargain.

The Le Méridien is located quite far from the Westin, in fact, it is about 45 minutes to an hour west of Kuta. They have a free shuttle to Kuta that operates every other day so I contacted the hotel in order to obtain the shuttle schedule and drop off locations. They responded to all of my emails very quickly until I attempted to secure an actual confirmed reservation for the shuttle. They told me that there is very little room to accommodate luggage and that it would be a much better idea for them to send a car to the Westin to pick me up. They graciously offered to do this for $35 USD. Knowing full well that I could hire a car and driver in Bali for an entire day for this amount of money, I respectfully declined. I also pointed out that I would be leaving the bulk of my luggage (my rollaboard) behind at the Westin because I would be returning there the following evening.

Despite repeated attempts to secure a confirmed reservation, they eventually stopped responding to my emails. After I felt that more than enough time had elapsed, I contacted the Platinum Concierge, who was able to contact the hotel and secure a shuttle reservation on my behalf. Nevertheless, none of this prevented two subsequent emails from the Le Méridien several days before my arrival. Both emails, which were marked urgent, advised me that they would be happy to send a car for me in Nusa Dua, once for $35 USD and the second time for $40 USD.

So, from the Westin, I grabbed a Blue Bird taxi to the Plaza Bali duty free Store complex for about $5 USD. As the taxi dropped me off, I sensed that the driver was a tad disappointed that I was not asking him to wait around for a few hours and then take me somewhere else. The Le Méridien shuttle showed up about 20 minutes early, picked up two other passengers elsewhere and we were then on our way to the hotel. There was ample room in the van for about 12 other passengers and plenty of luggage.

The hotel grounds are very beautiful and I was provided with a very spacious top floor suite. As has been well documented elsewhere, the property has no club lounge nor do they comp platinum guests breakfast or evening cocktails, as is the case with many other Starwood properties in Asia. I politely asked the pleasant and friendly check-in agent about this and she paused for a second, smiled and said sweetly that many platinum guests ask about this. Be that as it may, I can see no evidence that this is going to change any time soon.

At 5:30 PM every evening, the hotel offers a guided walk to Tanah Lot. Along with the guide and myself, our group was composed of an older American couple and a Bulgarian woman who lives in India. After a brief stroll dodging golf balls, we walked past a gauntlet of restaurants overlooking the temple and then a gauntlet of souvenir stands, all of which somewhat aggressively but pleasantly were hawking their wares and hunting for customers. After a brief trundle over the wet rocks to the threshold of the temple, the other members of our small group seemed to lose interest but I spent another two hours with the friendly guide, walking further along the cliffs, passing by other temples until the light grew way to dim for us to really see where we were going.

Raining on my Parade

I awoke in the morning to the sound of torrential rain, an act of nature that wound up to be all too common during my visit. I think it rains here so frequently at times, that even some of the monuments and statues have been outfitted with umbrellas.

Checking out of the Le Méridien did not prove to be as quick or simple as it should have been. While chatting with one of the staff members in the business center, she asked me why I was checking out a day early. I told her that I wasn't checking out early; that my reservation had always been for one night and then showed her a printout clearly delineating all of my reservation details. There was not much of a reaction on her part so I logged into my SPG account and showed her the reservation information on the screen. Eventually, I seemed to finally convince her that my reservation really was for one night and she said she would call the front desk to let them know. She then asked me how I was getting back to Nusa Dua and I told her I had already arranged for a driver. She volunteered that if my driver did not show up, she would be delighted to arrange for transportation for me for $40 USD. I again told her that I could hire a driver for an entire day for that amount of money and she replied that perhaps she could try to find an "outside" service to get me to Nusa Dua for $35 USD.

Once I arrived back at the front desk to check out, the desk clerk paused for a few seconds, looked at me with a surprised expression and said that they have me down in the system for two days! In any case, I was able to check out eventually and my driver, Dewa Marco, was there waiting for me in the lobby, right on time.

The Traditional Balinese Monkey Greeting

We initially drove towards Ubud and then turned north from there. As we drove around and stopped at various sites along the way, the rain simmered down from a torrent to a trickle, eventually stopping altogether. Along the way, we stopped at many beautiful and interesting sites.

We traveled through an area surrounded by coffee and clove plantations and ultimately climbed into the hills overlooking Lake Buyan. As we rounded a curve, we had to stop the car because the road was swarming with long-tailed macaques. They looked just like the ones in Kuala Lumpur but their moustaches seemed to be much thicker, giving them a distinctly more distinguished, almost professorial, visage.

Also positioned by the side of the road was a solitary dog slowly walking amongst the monkeys. I had no choice but to get out of the car for a closer look at the odd consortium. One monkey in particular sat on the wall and presented me with what I guessed at the time might be the traditional Balinese monkey greeting:

This rude display was quite shocking to an innocent such as myself, although it seems that some primate displays are considerably more "interesting" in other parts of the world:

A woman immediately approached me, bearing a basket of fruit. She urged me to buy some of her fruit, explaining that I could use it to feed the monkeys. Having already learned about the cleverness of some of the monkeys, my first thought was that the monkeys should buy their own fruit. And then I remembered seeing a breaking news story recently on Faux news:

I initially told the woman that I was not interested in buying any fruit but she was quite relentless and would not take no for an answer. Ten minutes later, she still had not given up her sales effort and kept grabbing me by my arm. It seemed that the monkeys were quite amused at all of this so I turned to the woman and said that I would happily buy all of her fruit if she could convince one of the monkeys to ride on the dog. Fortunately or unfortunately, she may not have understood my request so the entire endeavor turned out to be quite fruitless for all involved. Personally, I think the dog made out best.

Gitgit Falls

As we continued our journey north, we soon found ourselves at the entrance to Gitgit falls, located in an area near Singaraja and Lovina. As seemed to be traditional, our walk down into the valley that encompassed the falls, brought us past a gauntlet of small shops and semi-aggressive hawkers. As was also traditional, it soon began to rain, at first lightly but getting ever heavier over the next few minutes. We started to descend a very long flight of stone steps as we worked our way down into the valley. The light rain became a heavy rain, the heavy rain became a torrent and the torrent became a deluge. Water began trickling down the non-absorbent stone steps and soon, the trickle became a veritable cascade, with water gathering into pools several inches deep at each landing. By the time we reached a small ticket booth, we sought refuge under the overhang of a small building where we endured a soggy and impatient wait for the heavens to simmer down.

As we waited, I quipped to my driver that perhaps, these steps were, in actuality, the real Gitgit falls. So much water was cascading down the incline, that the steps might actually qualify as real waterfalls in some other parts of the world. Eventually, the rain did dissipate somewhat, so we emerged from the semi-dryness of our overhang, I purchased my entrance ticket and we continued our soggy journey into the valley. Once the terrain leveled out, we walked past a small shrine on our left and then finally came within view of the falls.

It had stopped raining by the time we started our journey back to the parking area but the air had become even more humid and the long series of steep steps wore us down a bit. As I stopped to drink some water, some of the hawkers gathered around to try to sell me more water. My driver flirted with them a bit, which is not all that surprising because that's how he met his wife. Eventually we made it back to his car and continued on our journey. At the end of this very long day, my driver dropped me off at the Westin, where I checked back in and retrieved my stored rollaboard.

A Westin Breakfast - Bird Stuffed with Bread

I showed up for breakfast at 6:30 or so every morning at the Westin, having never quite adjusted to the 16 hour time difference. On my very first morning, I walked towards the restaurant and confidently strode into a large air conditioned room located to the left of the hallway. It seemed a little odd but the dining area was comprised only of large round tables, which did not seem to make a great deal of sense. Nobody greeted me when I entered the room nor was I subsequently asked for my room number. Nevertheless, food was in abundance so I grabbed a spot for myself and dug right in. Soon, other guests began to arrive and many of them appeared to know one another. And if they didn't know one another initially, all of the guests sported very large red and white name tags to help them out. Tables began to fill up, all of the big round tables filled with guests happily conversing, whereas I sat quietly at my big round table all by myself. It eventually dawned on me that I had stumbled into a private corporate breakfast meeting and that I had not reached the correct restaurant after all. No matter, I had already finished my breakfast so I sauntered off to spend a few minutes checking email at the business center.

On my second breakfast foray, this same room was closed and just a few feet further down the hallway, I found the entrance to the correct restaurant, Capsicum Café. The breakfast buffet was even more extensive than my first breakfast and I happily settled into a table for two, located near the perimeter so I could enjoy a view of the ponds and landscaping as I ate my breakfast. The arrangement at Capsicum is open air and even at that very early hour, I found the humidity to be profoundly oppressive, fogging up both my glasses and my camera lens. Abundant ceiling fans seemed to do little to mitigate the humidity and I sometimes found myself longing for the refreshing air conditioned embrace of my original corporate breakfast. Nevertheless, breakfast was very good, the staff was friendly and some of the surrounding wildlife provided additional entertainment.

The lily pond adjacent to my seating area was filled with a handful of carp and thousands of small Tilapia, all gasping for air at the surface of the warm, dark, semi-anoxic water. An aquatic bird was perched nearby, gingerly balanced on the edge of a lily pad and from time to time it would swoop down to dine on one of the hapless fish. There were so many Tilapia clustered near the surface that it really seemed to be like shooting fish in a barrel.

Once my camera lens had finally adjusted to the humidity and was no longer fogged up, I figured it would be nice to take a few pictures of the bird so I began to toss in a few scraps of bread into a particularly photogenic section of the pond. My reasoning was that the fish would be attracted to the bread and the bird would pounce on the fish and I would be able to obtain a very nice photo. Everyone would be happy, except for the fish. As predicted, when I threw in the bread, the fish swarmed all over it, the bird studied the situation with great intensity, crouched with anticipation at the very tip of his lily pad and then suddenly pounced into the middle of his Tilapia buffet. After a brief flurry of wings and water, the bird ultimately emerged, holding his prize. The bread. During all of my subsequent breakfasts, I never saw this bird eat a fish ever again. Even if he was not around when I originally sat down, he would always materialize in short order, afixing his gaze squarely on my table, waiting patiently to be fed.

Brahmavihara Arama

Our first stop of the day was Brahmavihara Arama, a fully functioning Buddhist temple and monastery that even has an ashram nearby to house visitors. Though quite close to the touristy hub of Lovina, the temple grounds represent a welcome respite from the Lovina hubbub and the tone is further reinforced by urgings of silence as one enters within the complex. Entrance is free (though donations are appreciated) and even the ubiquitous sashes are dispensed for free, in stark contrast to other Bali locales were the simple strip of cloth is available only for sale or rent. Ensconced on a hill, the temple offers some pleasant views and at the very top resides the requisite Buddhist stupa.

I really enjoyed the quiet of this pleasant island of calm but as I began to descend the steps back down towards street level, my auditory respite was suddenly interrupted by music and the clanging of various percussive instruments. A Hindu procession was passing by the Buddhist temple and we had no choice but to follow the entire entourage back into town.

The Traditional Balinese Monkey Hat

After arriving at the Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary on Monkey Forest road, my guide and I spent a fair amount of time watching some fairly intense bouts of monkey wrestling:

We then climbed up some steps and walked around one of the three temples that are situated within the monkey sanctuary. I snickered a little as a monkey grabbed the bottom pants leg of a hapless tourist. Surrounded by so many monkeys, my driver and I soon found ourselves talking about Hanuman, the Hindu monkey god. We were both puzzled about the fact that Hanuman seems to be depicted as white in all Hindu literature but the giant Hanuman statue near the Batu Caves in Kuala Lumpur was clearly green. The funny thing was that almost as soon as we began to talk about Hanuman, it almost seemed as if all of the monkeys started to gather around and come in a little closer. And then, suddenly, my guide whispered to me, "Don't move." After a few seconds, he slowly reached out his hand and said, "I think you should give me your glasses and camera." What was all the hubbub, bub?

Evidently, without warning and quicker than I could sense or realize, one of the monkeys was on top of my head. A moment later, two little gray furry hands gently reached down from above and started rummaging around in my shirt pocket, taking out all of my papers. At least, I think they were hands.

I admit to being somewhat frightened about having a monkey on my head but I am not sure whether I was more afraid of him biting and scratching me or whether I was more afraid of him peeing on me. I stood there motionless for a while, not quite knowing what to do. My driver had wandered off to solicit the advice of some of the temple's humanoid denizens so I was left to fend for myself for a while. I imagine that my simian predicament was all quite amusing to the other tourists who were busy snapping pictures of me and my new monkey hat. After about five minutes that seemed like an hour, my guide returned and advised me to slowly crouch down as low as I could but the monkey still would not get off my head. In reviewing some of the photographs afterwards, I guess I can see why. Never has a monkey looked so relaxed and comfortable, just as if he was snoozing in a recliner. The next time someone calls me a La-Z-Boy, it will have taken on an entirely new meaning.

After another few minutes, he eventually scampered off to rejoin his monkey buddies but at least he was gracious enough to return my papers to me. Actually, he flung them on the ground but I was just happy he didn't eat them. Had he not climbed down on his own, I was not relishing the thought of continuing the rest of my trip with a monkey on my back, something that I think is illegal in many countries.

So, it looks like I managed to stay on top of the latest Balinese fashion craze. Or, in reality, the latest fashion stayed on top of me. The Traditional Balinese Monkey Hat keeps you warm and picks your nits at the same time. From the hat's point of view, I guess there is nothing like sitting on a guy's head, reading the paper with your feet and admiring your tail.

Overlooking the Caldera at Mount Batur

From the fashion capital of the Monkey Forest, we drove further north until we arrived high up on a ridge that afforded us with stunning views of Lake Batur, the largest lake in Bali. Nestled between both Mount Batur and Mount Agung, the lake resides within the caldera formed when Mount Batur erupted explosively 30,000 years ago.

Just seconds after I emerged from the car, I was surrounded by a large horde of hawkers who were very aggressively trying to sell their wares. There were so many of them and they were so insistent that I soon found myself fully engulfed, unable to take a step in any direction. Hands reached out and pulled me in different directions and a variety of merchandise was shoved towards me, just inches from my face. “Five dollars, five dollars,” was intoned repeatedly, like a religious mantra repeated to gain the approval of the Gods of commerce.

After a short while, I pretended that I didn’t speak English, responding with a variety of phrases in different languages, one failing to thwart them more miserably than the next. The nuances of their response did change quite quickly, however. Just as soon as would speak a few words in another language, the unit of currency announced by the hawkers immediately changed to conform to the appropriate monetary unit. I was finally able to break away from them to take some pictures only after my driver was able to distract them for a bit. And this suited him just fine, given the fact that flirting seemed to be somewhat of a hobby for him.

Pura Gunung Kawi Sebatu

This complex of holy springs, ponds and bathing pools resides in a pleasant valley near the village of Sebatu. It boasts a rectangular bathing pool with separate men's and women's sections and not only was it in active use during my visit but some of the residents appeared to be doing their laundry as well. It was only after I had started to walk away from the bathing pool that I first spotted a sign advising one not to take pictures of the bathers.

The name of the area is thought to be derived from the legend of King Mayadenawa, a magical tyrant who didn't allow his people to believe in god because, after all, why would anyone need a god if they already had a king such as himself? He was quite feared and reviled and it came as a profound relief when he slipped on a stone, which is the meaning assigned to the word “Sebatu” today.

In the center of the complex is a square pool and in the center of the pool is an open shrine in which resides a stone throne. As children kicked small balls to each other at a nearby building, I stayed for a while to admire the dozen or so species of cichlids happily swimming through the pool or grazing on algae growing along its sides. Ever mindful of what happened to King Mayadenawa, I was sure to walk along the pool very carefully.

The Battle of Pura Tirta Empul Tampaksiring

Continuing to trace the footsteps of the demon King Mayadenawa, we soon arrived at Tirta Empul, one of the most sacred places in Bali. It was there that King Mayadanawa was engaged in battle with the god Indra and poisoned a nearby river, rendering most of Indra’s retainers ill. In response, Indra pierced the earth to create a spring of holy water and revived his troupes with this elixir of immortality. The holy spring has since been known as Tirta Empul. As I thought back to my recent visit to Pura Gunung Kawi Sebatu, I realized that the statue residing in the middle of the serene cichlid-filled pool was none other than an effigy of the great god Indra.

As was the case for many of the sites, my driver was not able to accompany me during my visit to the temple. He was forbidden to do so because his wife had recently given birth to a child and both parents were considered “unclean” and were barred from entering the holiest of places. Even harsher taboos apply to menstruating women, who are forbidden from entering the kitchen, wearing normal attire, eating from normal dishes, participating in sexual relations and participating in any ritual work or making offerings.

So, left to fend for myself, I found the infestation of scammers and con-artists to be higher at Tirta Empul than at many other locales, perhaps in direct proportion to its significance to Bali lore and culture. As I paid my admission fee and was happily strolling along the grounds of the complex, numerous gentlemen approached me either to offer their services or to advise me that certain sections of the complex were not accessible unless I paid them additional fees. One of the scammers actually snatched my entrance ticket from my hand and proceeded to continue the charade that he actually was an authorized representative of the temple. He was so insistent and resolute, that I was almost longing for my monkey pals, an enemy I figured I knew well. I was unable to successfully break away from this fellow and was beginning to get a bit aggravated and annoyed. So, I decided to beat a temporary retreat and politely told him that I left something in the car. I retrieved my entrance ticket from his grasp and proceed to walk out of the complex.

Once back at the car, I planned to ask my driver for some advice on the best way to deal with these hucksters and I also thought that it would be a good idea to retrieve an umbrella. I could feel the air pressure changing and knew that it was just a matter of time until the heavens let loose once again. But my driver was nowhere to be seen, so I gathered up my courage and walked back into the fray.

When I returned to the ticket booth, I told them what had happened, specifically asking them whether this fellow and his cronies actually worked for Tirta Empul or not. I did this within full earshot of the gang and once I walked away from the ticket booth, I was left alone, at least for a while. As I trundled towards the outer courtyard, I stopped at another ticket booth to rent the requisite sash and then wandered past an array of pools and buildings. As soon as I entered the inner courtyard, hawkers swiftly descended upon me, like so many vultures circling around a dead carcass in the desert. Every imaginable knickknack was for sale and all of them proffered umbrellas for rent as well. Given that I was the only tourist at that time, they followed me around wherever I went; I almost felt like royalty with my own entourage. No, not really.

As I continued to explore the complex, I could feel rain begin to fall, at first lightly but within minutes it became torrential. I quickly sought refuge under the overhang of a small building, where I hoped to wait out the storm. Of course, the hawkers were readily available to rent me an umbrella and by this point, there were dozens of them. However, by now, I would not give them the satisfaction. I waited under the overhang for a while, admiring the sheer volume of water cascading down from above and also noticed that the stone courtyard was quickly beginning to fill up with water, almost morphing into a small lake. I briefly wondered how much the hawkers would charge to carry me out of the place.

Then, suddenly, out of the foggy distance, I could glimpse a solitary man walking towards me through the rain, bearing two umbrellas. It was my driver, coming to rescue me. He had been unable to enter the temple grounds because he was still "unclean" due to the recent birth of his child but had sought special dispensation from the temple staff and had been allowed to enter the grounds anyway. As we waded our way out of the inner courtyard, we were steered along a circuitous pathway lined on either side by vendor stalls. I thanked my driver for his help but pointed out that next time, he should try bringing a boat. And as an apt denouement to the entire adventure, once we got back to the car, we noticed that a small gaggle of hawkers had followed us and were accusing us of making off with their umbrellas. In any case, once safely within the car, I was happy that I had long ago learned to heed the advice promulgated by the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and had remembered to bring a towel.

Continued …
LarryU is offline  
Old Mar 28, 08, 12:12 am
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What an amazing report. I'm thoroughly enjoying all your pictures and movie clips.

And given your first picture, I take it you end up at the Conrad.
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Old Mar 28, 08, 2:16 am
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Wow, Larry, a really outstanding report! ^

I'm even learning some vBulletin tricks I didn't know from reading your report.

I've just returned from DPS, writing a trip report as we speak, wondering what dates you were there?
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Old Mar 28, 08, 8:26 am
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Loving the report so far!!

Especially with the humors added with the report ^
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Old Mar 28, 08, 5:28 pm
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Originally Posted by gleff View Post
Wow, Larry, a really outstanding report! ^

I'm even learning some vBulletin tricks I didn't know from reading your report.

I've just returned from DPS, writing a trip report as we speak, wondering what dates you were there?
I arrived at DPS on Tuesday, February 26 and flew back to SIN at night on Tuesday, March 4.
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Old Mar 28, 08, 10:52 pm
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Wow another level has been reached in quality of a trip report. Hard to beat this one! Videos and photos imbedded!
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Old Mar 29, 08, 6:47 am
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I'm really enjoying this. Great report.
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Old Mar 29, 08, 9:45 am
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A Day Without Monkeys is Like a Day Without Sunshine

Saya Tidak Mau

During all of my wanderings around Bali, I found the local populace to be uniformly pleasant, friendly and always smiling. However, after a while, the constant barrage of hawkers who would invariably swarm all over me began to wear me down a bit. The small army of scammers lurking in the temples awaiting the entry of unwary visitors has been very well documented so it was not as if I entered the fray totally unprepared.

Perhaps this issue would have been less of a problem for me had my driver been able to accompany me into the temples but he was forbidden to do so until he was no longer considered “unclean.” The bottom line is that I was invariably left to my own resources to thwart the scammers. And I often found myself spending more time defending myself from hassles and cons than I did engaging in my main objective, which was just to wander around a bit, enjoy the scenery, contemplate my surroundings in silence and take a couple of thousand pictures.

I solicited the advice of my driver and he responded by teaching me a few important phrases in Bahasa Indonesia and this turned out to make quite a bit of difference in all of my future forays. I quickly learned to say, Saya Tidak Mau whenever I was approached by annoying hawkers, touts, scammers and con artists. My new mantra literally meant, "I don't want it" and it was quite effective at diffusing these unwelcome intrusions at least 90% of the time. For greater efficiency, I also wrote down the phrase on a pad of paper, which I dutifully inserted in my shirt pocket so it was always on full and proud display on all occasions. And even for those times in which it was not always fully effective at dissuading everyone, it was invariably good for a laugh amongst the local populace.

As I continued my journey, I soon learned to refine my responses just a little bit more. I thought back to my earlier conversation with the Australian expat during my first afternoon in Nusa Dua and recalled his detailed description and analysis of the types of questions asked by the local populace in an effort to size up how much a particular tourist is good for. Whenever I was asked where I was from, I responded by saying, Saya dari Bangli, having previously learned that Bangli was the site of Bali's only mental hospital, from which I had recently escaped.

Tegenungan Waterfall

Not very far from Ubud, we came upon a cliff overlooking the Tegenungan Waterfall. The area had been in the process of evolving into a tourist destination and in short order, a luxury resort had sprouted up overlooking the falls, accompanied by something that every world class resort needs, a bungee jump. This all came to an abrupt end after the bombing in Kuta and now both the resort and the bungee jump have been abandoned.

Our next stop was Pura Penataran Sasih, known locally as the moon temple, situated in the village of Pejeng, fairly close to the town of Gianyar. Its main sanctum houses an ancient bronze kettledrum, the largest such instrument in the world cast as a single piece. According to local legend, this artifact was actually the wheel of a chariot that was used to transport the moon across the heavens and then fell to earth, its fall broken by a tree in Pejeng. Its light shown as brightly as the moon, to the great consternation of a local thief, who tried to extinguish the light by urinating on it. The wheel exploded and dropped to the ground and killed the thief, taking on its current form as a kettledrum, broken at its base as a result of the fall. From what I understand, the Balinese are always very careful whenever they approach the "Moon of Pejeng" and I would imagine that they probably tend to pee quite far from it too.

Lord of the Flies

As a heathen visitor, I was not as much impressed with the moon temple as I was with some of the incredibly intricate fruit carvings and statues that stood guard throughout the grounds of the moon temple complex. The skill and handiwork were quite amazing and, judging from the smell, some of the fruit was beginning to get a little ripe. As a consequence, I would imagine that the flies were quite amazed with the fruit carvings as well.

Kertha Gosa

About 40 kilometers northeast of Denpasar, lies the city of Semarapura, in the regency of Klungkung. Semarapura is also the site of the infamous puputan, a mass suicide committed by the Balinese in 1908 when the Dutch invaded the town. Right in the center of the city resides Kertha Gosa, the "Hall of Justice," an expansive park containing a courtyard and a "floating" temple, surrounded by lotus blossoms designed to evoke the feeling of an "island of splendor" set within an ocean. At one time, the structure was used as a waiting room for those who had come to see the king.

The ceiling of this temple is well known for its paintings depicting the story of Bhima Swarga, which literally translates into "Bhima goes to the abode of the gods.” In the story, which is a component of the epic Sanskrit poem, the Mahabharata, Bhima has been asked by his first mother to journey to hell to rescue the souls of his father and second mother so off he goes with his siblings and some servants. When he gets there, he frees his parents from a cauldron of boiling water and off to heaven they go. This really ticks off the resident demons to no end so he has to fight all of them. It turns out the Gods are none too thrilled with him either so he fights them too but is killed. However, the high God brings him back to life. The 2007 blockbuster film, Bhima Swarga - The Journey Of The Soul From Hell To Heaven is available for download and purchase.

Tirta Gangga

As we meandered towards the east coast of Bali, we passed many beautiful vistas, including rice paddies, some smaller temples and an interesting array of fanciful offerings. My favorite offering to date was what I fondly dubbed "Mr Jackfruit Head," and I briefly wondered to myself whether Playskool might be inspired to incorporate it into their product line.

When we arrived at the beautiful Tirta Gangga water garden nestled in the middle of rice fields near the slopes of the volcano, Mount Agung, things were looking up. Although the sun was fully obscured behind clouds, it wasn't raining and there was nary a monkey to be seen. I was beginning to feel dejected that the monkeys didn’t love me anymore. The hawkers and scammers seemed to like me just as much as ever and they were deployed in full force. However, I felt that I was quite well prepared for them by now.

The water garden complex was built distant ages ago, all the way back in 1948 by the King of Karangasem, Anak Agung Anglurah Ketut as place to bathe and relax. It was completely destroyed when the volcano erupted in 1963 and the area was abandoned for quite some time but many sections have since been restored. The water derived from the springs that feed into the water garden are considered by the Balinese to be holy and, indeed, Tirta means “blessed water” and the word gannga is derived from the Ganges river in India. The water generated by the springs is pure enough to constitute the main source of drinking water for the nearby town of Amlapura.

From Tirta Gangga, we drove northeast, arriving on the east coast of Bali near the fishing village of Amed. The copious rice terraces that were so quintessentially emblematic of the interior of Bali, soon gave way to other types of crops, including corn and cattle. I was surprised to learn that there is even a small wine producing region on the northern coast of Bali near Singaraja.

From Amed, a single narrow road wends its way along the coast south towards another fishing village, Candidasa. The road hugs the coast, closely following all of the circuitous contours of the bays, coves and hills. In many areas, broad overlooks afforded us sweeping vistas of cliffs dropping precipitously to the churning ocean below, whereas in other places, calm coves embraced smooth and serene black sand beaches. Some areas were devoid of all signs of humanity, whereas others places were tightly crammed with fishing boats, obscuring all but a few grains of sand.

My driver asked me whether I was interested in visiting one of the many salt producing huts that dot the coastal area near Kusamba, a small fishing village near Amlapura. He explained that the seawater is percolated through salty black sand and then set out in large coconut-log troughs, where it evaporates into a briny slush. It is further processed into coarse white crystals that are used for salting fish. I respectfully declined, figuring that observing salt production would be the equivalent of watching paint dry and that is something I could see any time I wanted. Besides, I have never been terribly fascinated with salt; fresh ground pepper is more my thing, which is not at all surprising given my penchant for deploying a pepper mill on all my UA flights.

Our drive took us past many small villages, some sparsely populated, others rife with throngs of people going about their business. In one village, the street was packed with a hundred or so men, mostly clustered near one particular building. I could see other men pouring into the area as we slowly struggled to squeeze our car through the throng. When I asked my driver if he knew what was going on, he replied, “Cock fight.” Though officially illegal in Indonesia, it is actually quite common in the villages, a source of entertainment and a considerable amount of gambling. As with many customs in Bali, even cockfighting has its religious origins. It is believed that the blood spilt during the battle will appease the evil spirits known as Bhuta and Kala, thereby ensuring a high crop yield for the village. And afterwards, the losers wind up as dinner as they are thrown into the cooking pot.

Elsewhere, women walked along the road carrying impossibly large burdens on their head, huge herds of uniformed children happily fled from school, and lots of “free range” chickens and dogs wandered everywhere, the latter often choosing to nap right in the middle of the road. This seemed very curious to me because it was not as if there was a paucity of vehicular activity. I spotted more than a few other cars during our journey and motorcycles were always in abundance.

The odd thing about some of the dogs was that they would often not budge as our car approached, reluctantly crawling away at the very last minute and sometimes they would not move at all. I discussed this with my driver as we slowly meandered around a narrow bend in the road wending its way through a very small village. At that moment, a motorcycle careened around the bend and struck a large white dog that had been snoozing in the middle of the road. I was amazed that the motorcycle rider, though wobbling a bit, never fully lost his balance and, after only the briefest of hesitations, continued on his way. The dog, quite sadly, was not as lucky. Nearby villagers walked over to look at the carnage and other dogs trotted over to sniff at the convulsing victim. It was quite a horrific site, rendered even more so because the poor thing did not die right away.

For Whom The Road Tolls

We drove a bit further along the road and soon found ourselves back at sea level. A very small river trickled into the ocean but there was clear evidence that the volume of water had been much more forceful quite recently. Much of the road had been washed away, so it was somewhat of a tight fit for our car to make its away through. Not that the passage was particularly dangerous given that the “precipice” could not have more than six inches or so above the adjacent terrain. Nevertheless, a couple of enterprising young boys, neither more than 12 years old, appointed themselves toll takers and dutifully collected a fee from my driver in order to guarantee safe passage.

We continued on our way and shortly came upon a section of the road situated near a considerably larger river. Indeed, that portion of the road was entirely submerged, I would estimate at a depth of one foot or so. We plodded on through the muddy effluent anyway and soon left it all behind us we gained a bit of altitude and then parked in a convenient overlook that afforded us with splendid views of the Lombok Strait.

As we pulled away from the parking area, I asked my driver whether we would be taking this road all the way south. He explained that such a trip would take much too long because of the poor condition of the road. Given the road conditions that we had already experienced thus far, I would imagine that he made a very wise decision. So we retraced our steps back, including another blockade by the youthful toll takers, who dutifully tried (and failed) to extract another fee from us. After a while, the road improved and we worked our way towards our next destination, Goa Lawah, stopping only briefly to observe a man go for a swim in a slimy pond near the beach.

Holy Bat Cave

Located on the eastern coast of Bali, the bat cave at Goa Lawah provides shelter for thousands of fruit bats, who are, in turn fed upon by the legendary giant snake, Naga Basuki. According to local legend, several hundred years ago, there was a dispute regarding the legitimacy of I Gusti Ketut Agung as a true descendant of the King of Mengwi. The King of Klungkung told I Gusti Ketut Agung that if he survived a foray into the bat cave, he would be recognized as a true member of the King of Mengwi's family. He survived the challenge and ultimately emerged, for some reason completely deaf, at Besakih, 19 miles way.

Plenty of bat guano exuded from the cave, which might explain why Batman failed to make an appearance. Nevertheless, quite a few worshippers had assembled to pray and make offerings.

From the Bat Cave, we started the very long ride back to Nusa Dua. Soon enough, the skies began to darken ominously and as we came within the vicinity of Kuta, it began to rain torrentially, as is clearly the custom here. Once we found ourselves on the Ngurah Rai Bypass, our side of the road had become a veritable river but that was dry compared to conditions on the other side of the road. In fact, the water was so deep in some sections of the road, that much of the northbound traffic just decided to abandon their lanes and annex portions of the southbound side.

After several days of observing the often chaotic Balinese road system, my observation has been that even under the best of conditions, road lanes are merely an often-ignored suggestion, much akin to traffic lights for a New York City cab driver. In reality, a two lane road often winds up supporting three or more lanes as cars and motorcycles constantly jockey for position in order to seize whatever limited space they can for themselves. Needless to say, adding the extra nuance of opposing traffic made for a very interesting ride back to the hotel.

Continued …
LarryU is offline  
Old Mar 31, 08, 12:55 am
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Flipping My Lid in the Monkey Temple

The Muddy Cliffs of Pura Luhur Uluwatu

As we embarked upon my last day tour of Bali, we found the roads in Kuta to be still somewhat damp from rain on the previous day.

We decided to explore Uluwatu temple, situated at the southernmost tip of Bali, perched high on a cliff overlooking the Indian Ocean. The views are magnificent, with two separate pathways teetering on the edge of the cliff, one heading north and the other heading south. In the midst of it all was a spectacular monkey temple. All I have to do is hear the words, “Monkey Temple” and I’m there. OK, its not really a monkey temple, its just that the resident macaques seem to be in charge of the place.

We started off walking on the northerly route but it was raining lightly and trundling along the soggy trail soon became quite treacherous, especially after the stone pathway morphed into mud. Soon, all of the stone guardrails disappeared entirely so that one small misstep could have easily sent me over the edge. I tried hopping amongst the small islands of rock or grass that occasionally protruded from the muddy pathway but these cleaner areas were few and far between.

I crept along as best as I could, using an umbrella as a walking stick and crouching down as low as I could in order to keep a low center of gravity. My tenuous gate was not helped at all by the fact that I could not see very well -- I had deliberately stowed my glasses in the car to protect them from the bands of marauding monkeys. By the time we reached the far terminus of the trail, the rain had stopped and the sun was beginning to tease us a bit as it briefly peeked at us from behind the clouds. The walk back towards the temple was not any easier because my shoes were fully caked in mud by this point and all of my steps proved to be quite slippery.

Once we reached the threshold of the temple, my driver and I had to part company because he was still considered "unclean" and would not be able to venture any closer. So, off I jaunted up some stone steps deep into the grounds of the monkey temple, armed only with my camera, my hat and a rented sash for protection.

Everyone knows that monkeys and elephants are mortal enemies, as is clearly shown in this excerpt from a recent documentary:

So it was no surprise that the entrance into the inner sanctum was guarded by two large stone elephants:

As I cautiously peered past the elephant guardians and deep within the courtyard, I witnessed an amazing sight. There, amidst the dozens and dozens of scampering monkeys was a solitary brown dog.

Why was he there? Surely, I thought, there must be a profound, cosmic reason for this. I recalled hearing that monkeys and dogs have been known to become quite close at times. Perhaps a little too close.

At the very least, I figured that if I hung around there long enough, one of the monkeys would most certainly hop up on the back of the dog and ride him around for a bit. I know that if I were a monkey, that's what I would do. So, I slowly mounted the stone steps and peeked through the rusty gate in order to get a closer look. And what I encountered within the courtyard made me flip my lid. I was standing in front of the gate for no more than five seconds, when I felt a dull thump on the top of my head and I let out a mild yelp of surprise. It took me a few more seconds to realize that a monkey had swooped down from above and made off with my hat.

Perhaps the monkey was annoyed that my hat prevented him from settling down on my head and taking a nap. But no, as I watched, he scampered to the top of a stone wall and proceeded to eat my hat. I was glad that I had left my Flyertalk hat in the car because I think those hats are very high in fiber and would surely have made the monkey sick. I figured that if a monkey got sick from eating my hat, it would most certainly lead to some bad karma.

A human attendant at the temple approached me to see whether I needed any help retrieving my hat but I told him not to bother. I hung around for about 10 minutes longer, enough time to watch several other interesting monkey/tourist interactions. Just as I was turning to leave the area, I glanced back towards the courtyard and noticed that the monkey had abandoned what was left of my hat at the very top of a stone wall. It could very easily have fallen on the other side of the stone wall, directly into monkey/dog courtyard so I was happy that I might be able to retrieve it.

I inched my way very slowly towards the stone wall and, just as I was getting close enough to reach my hat, the monkey began to eye me very suspiciously. I slowly and carefully reached on top of the wall and gently picked up my hat, now well adorned with tooth marks and monkey spittle. Just as I grabbed the hat, the monkey leered in my direction intensely, giving me a dirty look. At least, that's how I interpreted it, anyway. I then gingerly exited the courtyard area and made my way down a long flight of stairs where I would be able to rejoin my driver, waiting for me below.

Once I finally reached the bottom of the stairs, I heard some commotion behind me and turned around to see what all the fuss was about. Midway up the stairs, a small group of tourists were gesturing frantically towards a group of monkeys, one of which had evidently made off with all of their glasses. A local Balinese man wandered by and was able to retrieve their glasses by offering the monkey some food as trade, of course, further reinforcing the behavior. And from what I could see, one monkey in particular looked to be quite well fed with glasses, of late.

The Great Monkey Battle at Uluwatu

My driver and I decided that we wanted to see what was on the other side of the Uluwatu cliffs so we sauntered off to the left side of the temple and walked up a hill in order to gain access to the southernmost trail. The pathway along the edge of the cliffs seemed nearly as muddy as it had been earlier in the day but it was adorned with considerably more vegetation. And, whereas our northernmost walk had been nearly monkey-free, this section of Uluwatu was teaming with the critters, scampering nervously alongside of us on both sides of the trail. We walked along slowly and quietly, at times just inches away from the monkeys, who completely surrounded us.

But, surprisingly, the monkeys seemed much more subdued then they had been elsewhere in our trek; they didn't seem interested in us at all. It looked like several families were hanging out together, each mother monkey cradling her respective infant. Some of the youngsters looked very cute indeed, especially one in particular who was sporting what must be the very latest trend in teen monkey coiffure, a very pronounced mohawk.

Just as we found ourselves deep within the densest section of the monkey horde, intense screaming and fighting suddenly erupted. Monkeys on both sides of us were lunging at each other, yelling frantically, mouths agape, huge fangs exposed. And there we were stuck in the middle of all of this, too afraid to move. But amidst all of the commotion, they left us alone, ignoring us entirely. Soon, the battle settled down to a screaming match and I was able to take a few pictures as we slowly backed away.

Having had my fill of monkeys for the day, I decided it was time to take my leave of Uluwatu and seek out some other adventures. The screaming match was still in full progress as we started on our way back to the car. Then, suddenly, one large monkey ran away from the group and was heading directly towards us. He stopped just inches away from us, glanced back to his brethren a couple of times and then affixed us squarely in his gaze, almost quizzically, as if to say, "these guys are crazy!" He paused there for a few seconds and then scampered higher up on a stone wall as we continued our walk back to the car. Clearly, that monkey was more afraid of his raucous clan than he was of us. I remember thinking that Hanuman must have been on our side that morning. ^

Giving the Finger at Garuda Wisnu Kencana

What if someone built a world class monument and no one came? We decided to find out for ourselves by heading to Garuda Wisnu Kencana, an expansive cultural park built amidst huge limestone cliffs on the Bukit Peninsula overlooking Jimbaran Bay. The limestone cliffs almost seemed to resemble a quarry and perhaps that's what they were in a previous life. Ticket prices were already hefty by local standards and they recently figured that the best way to lure more visitors would be to increase the fee by 50%. As we parked the car, it looked like there were, perhaps, two other visitors to this site. Nearby was a sad looking shopping center that appeared to have shut its doors quite some time ago.

As we walked up a short flight of steps, it began to rain lightly for a change, so we sought refuge in a small open air building in which a guide proceeded to provide us with some additional information about the monument. As we ascended the steps, we could hear the guide explain how the monument will be “much bigger than the Statue of Liberty.”

With the blessings of Suharto, the plan was to build a giant statue of Vishnu riding on Garuda. The builders had to carve out and level the entire area in order to accommodate the gigantic monument that was originally planned for the site. As things stood now, they had completed work on Vishnu's torso, Garuda's head and a pair of giant hands before they finally ran out of rupiah. Pointing to a detailed diagram, the guide described plans for construction of the statue, eagerly pointing out that it would be “much bigger than the Statue of Liberty.”

The master plan initially called for the construction of the already defunct shopping center, a not yet defunct amphitheater, a hotel, numerous restaurants and a water park, "for those not interested in culture". They had also created an art gallery but it was currently devoid of any art. Adding that it would be “much bigger than the statue of liberty,” the guide said that only 20% of the project has been completed thus far and work on it stopped entirely in 2004. It was already way over budget because everyone tried to stick in their two rupiahs with all sorts of demands and ideas and, of course, nobody would wind up getting what they wanted, a familiar theme throughout the world.

According to the official GWK web site, they are currently trying to drum up business by emphasizing weddings and romantic dinners. As I hoisted up my umbrella to get a closer look at Vishnu's head, I thanked the guide for his information and slowly walked away. "It will be much bigger than the statue of liberty," he reminded me as I walked over to examine the giant head.

Once we arrived back in the parking area, I watched as a pair of costumed women began to perform traditional Balinese dancing. Suddenly, a small bus pulled up and disgorged an army of camera wielding tourists, who immediately surrounded the dancers so that they could pose for pictures with them. I was torn between sadness that the performance was ruined and happiness that the park was finally getting a little more business.

Ogoh Ogoh

Several weeks before Nyepi Day, the Hindu new year, all villages throughout Bali begin to build giant demons, called Ogoh-Ogoh. On Nyepi Eve, the huge demons are paraded through the streets and are then burned at night, a giant island-wide exorcism, banishing the evil spirits from their lives.

Ogoh-Ogoh day sounds like a blast but Nyepi Day does not sound like a lot of a fun at all, at least from a tourist's point of view. The entire island shuts down, including the airport, the restaurants and most services. It looked like I would miss all of the fun because I would be flying back to Singapore a couple of days before Ogoh-Ogoh Day so I asked my driver whether there was anywhere nearby where I could see an Ogoh-Ogoh under construction.

We wound up in Banjar Celuk, where a large Ogoh-Ogoh was in the final stages of construction. A smaller Ogoh-Ogoh was taking shape around the corner from the main demon, I guess this one for the kiddies.

Once I had my fill of Ogoh-Ogoh's, my driver dropped me off at the Conrad, where I would be spending my final night in Bali on an award stay. My flight was not leaving until fairly late the next evening so I requested a late checkout at 4:00 PM, which was granted with just a little bit of reluctance. I figured that if it was still a little too early, I would hang out in the club lounge for another hour or so before getting a taxi to the airport.

The property is so expansive that it was quite easy to get lost. Perhaps occupancy was down (although you would never know that from the rates) because they never seemed especially crowded and I did not encounter the teaming hordes of screaming children that have previously been reported to have diminished the stay of other guests. The normal club lounge was undergoing renovation so I was told its temporary quarters would be in the restaurant, Spice. This temporary lounge was great -- huge, cool, comfortable and well served by friendly and attentive staff. Several computers were available in a separate room located towards the back of the lounge. In the evening, a variety of hot and cold snacks were available, accompanied by a diverse array of alcoholic drinks listed on the very extensive beverage menu. In the morning, several buffet tables were laden with food but one could also order from a menu of hot dishes that were cooked to order.

Continued …
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