Bali! I went to Bali! It was hot and humid and sweaty and dirty and so amazing!
Cheryl and I landed in the Denapasar airport around 8 pm and made it outside in about an hour fifteen (Indonesian customs, unsurprisingly, is way slower than Singapore customs). Cheryl's been to Bali four or five times now, and she always hires the same driver - there's no real public transit, so it's most efficient and fairly affordable to just hire a driver while you're there if you're going to multiple places around the island. Gede, who seems like a super nice guy, picked us up at the airport and drove us to our villa (another thing about Bali - villas/hotels are nearly as affordable as hostels) in Ubud, where we would stay two nights.
Ubud is about an hour north of Denpasar and is inland. The streets are very narrow and being in a vehicle is a bit scary, actually! Motorbikes are even more common than cars, so the traffic is pretty complicated and dense. We were pretty tired and had already eaten dinner on the plane, so we were relieved to check into the villa, scope out our room (bamboo walls, tile floor, nice large bathroom although the shower had no curtain!), and pretty much pass out.
The next day we got up early, because we were being picked up for an all-day eco-cycling tour. The van to pick us up arrived at 7:45. Cheryl and I climbed in and then rode along as the other seven people on the tour were also picked up. After about an hour, the van climbed a treacherous mountain road to a beautiful restaurant for breakfast, with an incredible view of Mt. Batur - an active volcano - and environs. Breakfast - and this turned out to be common in Bali - was flat pancakes that came in banana or chocolate, fresh fruit (which I skipped), and fried rice. And jasmine tea, which I thoroughly enjoyed. We got to eat outside in the sun, overlooking the volcanic valley!
The next stop - still in the van - was a small plantation, primarily growing coffee, although they also cultivate cacao, spices, and teas. We got a short educational tour, followed by an extensive coffee and tea tasting, which was so freaking cool. Cheryl loves the lemongrass tea and the ginger tea, and I love the super smooth-yet-robust regular coffee and the perfectly balanced ginseng coffee and coconut coffee. I also tried luwak coffee, which has been eaten and shat out by a mammal called a palm civet (related to a mongoose). It was discovered by indigenous farmers during Dutch occupation; they weren't allowed to drink the coffee they grew and picked, but noticed that after the civets ate coffee beans they pooped them out undigested. Now it's suuuuuuuper expensive. I also found it to be almost undrinkable, personally: It was very strong and a bit sour and really not my cup of (ha) tea. It was fun to try, though - even though the other people on the tour heckled me a bit for drinking poop!
After the plantation tour, we got on the bikes at last! The bike tour is virtually all downhill, so it didn't exactly give us the exercise we had hoped for, but it meant it was just very fun the whole time! We stopped on the way down to see a few cultural sites: A Balinese home compound, an elementary school, a park. I loved learning details about how people live in another place than I do, although at the same time I was a little uncomfortable taking pictures of someone's home, even though they clearly had an arrangement with the tour company. I want to learn, but I don't want to be creepy or exploitative. So I just made sure I wasn't taking pictures of people who were just living their normal lives - only pictures of the places we were being explicitly taught about.
The tour and ride overall revealed some incredible views of forest, foliage, and cultivated rice paddies. It's not my very favorite scenery - I like size, which is why Alaska remains the most amazing place I've ever been and why I am a sucker for the ocean and why I really want to go see the Sahara - but it is really, deeply beautiful.
At the end of the tour we had a nice lunch and then got dropped off back at the villa around 3. Cheryl and I took about an hour to rest and cool off before heading onto the streets of Ubud to do a little shopping. We perused the hundreds of shops on the main streets for a couple hours, grabbing a scoop of ice cream midway, ate delicious noodles for dinner, and then went home to bed!
And now this post is pretty long, so I'll save day 2 (Ubud and Seminyak) and day 3 (the beach in Seminyak!) for future posts! Also, there is suddenly a cat on my stomach blocking my view of the computer screen. Good thing I'm not doing anything too interesting today - I need a bit of time to relax and catch up on some chores - so I won't get too far behind, here!
2 days ago