Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Bali Birthday

There are times in one's life when there is a tendency to be reflective. To look at your life, and where you are, and wonder if you took the right turns along the way. I had one of those moments – sitting alone, on my 28th birthday, looking at my dusty backpack, knowing that I was still single, owned no assets, and had a checking account that would be stretched to put a down payment on a new car – much less anything else.

Then they made the boarding announcement for my flight to Bali. The path of life looks a lot better when it goes through Bali.

And so I set off for my Bali Birthday adventure. There was a long weekend here for the end of Ramadan (Selamat Idul Fitri 1428 h!), four days in Bali for me. I arrived late on Thursday night in the village of Ubud in the center of the island. The extent of the birthday festivities that night was thoroughly checking the room for spiders, and then going to sleep.

The next day I did all the things that women like to do on their birthdays, shopping and the spa. Ubud is know for its chic galleries and many jewelry designers. I spent the morning collecting Christmas gifts (and just a couple little things for me). Eventually, my enthusiasm for consumerism started to wane, so I decided to do something cultural. I went to the Sacred Monkey Sanctuary in the south of town. I should have know it was going to be a complete shit show from the sign at the entrance. The first thing I hear is the high pitched squeal of a spoiled American three year old, "No Monkey! My Banana!" I left the little blond curly thing to the mercy of the God of Rabid Things and continued into the park. The little vermin were everywhere (monkeys – not three year olds), crawling and climbing. I walked through the tress, admired the carved stonework and the Hindu temples, and just generally kept to myself. After a while, my spirit was sufficiently calm and I decided I was ready for round 2 at the shops. As I headed for the gate, I suddenly felt a sharp tug on my shopping bag full of Christmas gifts, and heard the high pitched squeal of a spoiled American 28 year old, "No Monkey! My Shopping!" I found myself in a tug-of-war with a sizable grey monkey. Neither of us was giving up any time soon, and I might still be there if the bag had not ripped. I gathered my gifts from the ground and strode off as dignifiedly as I could while that little grey bastard bounced up and down on a nearby tree branch, shrieking and waving the scraps of black plastic at me. Damn Monkeys.

Sufficiently unmellowed by the experience, I sought refuge in a spa. The rose petal pedicure helped. And things were going well with the facial until the special 15 minute "relaxation time" came. I was supposed to lay back and listen to the waterfall as my mud masque dried. I lasted about 5 before I peeled off my eye patches and dug out my paperback.

You will be happy to know however that I was able to recover enough to spend the rest of the day shopping. That night I was supposed to go to a traditional Balinese dance performance. I lingered over my chardonnay at dinner. I really didn't want to go. I got the tickets because I thought it was important to see some traditional aspects of the local culture. But dance bores the living crap out of me. And I felt vaguely wrong about spending the last night of Ramadan in the world's most populous Muslim country at a Hindu dance performance (Bali is the exception in Indonesia, they are 95 percent Hindu.)

I got there 15 minutes late and had to stand in the back. The first half was nice. Dancers in extravagant costumes re-enacted scenes from the Ramayana (which I did actually read in Mrs. Fleming's 9th grade Global Studies class, but can't remember at all) around a fire chandelier. They were surrounded by a large group of what seemed to refugees from Old Timers Day at suma wrestling arena, who clapped and chanted and generally served the function of a Greek chorus.

For the second half, the chandelier was removed. A man carried out a basket that could have comfortable contained a European economy car, filled with dry coconut husks. He dumped them in a pile in the middle of the stage. Then a boy danced out with a bottle of clear fluid that unmistakably smelled like lighter fluid. He doused the pile. An Indonesian woman in the front row gathers her two children and moves to the back. A man with a torch walks out and woosh, we have a bonfire. As the fire crackles, a man in a straw rooster costume dances out with bare feet.

Now, to quote that cultural icon famous across the world, Eminem, things are about to get heavy.

The barefoot guy in the straw costume runs into the fire, kicking sparks and flame everywhere. He dances out and two fire sweeper guy sweep the coals into a pile again. Straw Rooster runs into it again, kicking sparks and flame. The smoke by now is thick and people in the first row are covering their faces and fleeing for the back. Clearing space for me to get a good seat. Another pile, another pass by Straw Rooster. This time the burning coconuts land in the first row of seats of the left side, scattering Japanese tourists and sending 10 megapixal digital cameras flying. The English guy in front of me calmly tapped out his smoldering tee-shirt sleeve. This goes on for another 10 minutes or so until the embers are burned almost completely to ash. Then the house lights come on, the bucket brigade arrives to extinguish the stage and Straw Rooster sits down, his legs black to the knees, and collects tips from a blackened and slightly traumatized audience. I left with a new respect for dancers.

The next morning I got up early for a walk about the rice paddies. The Lonely Planet had mapped out a nice route, on which I promptly got completely lost and spent two hours wandering around, trying to ask directions from very confused farmers. Got some good pictures though.

That afternoon I headed for Amed, a fishing and scuba diving village on the east coast. For a whopping $9 a night, I got a big room at a hotel on the beach, with a balcony overlooking the ocean. Black sand beach and excellent snorkeling a couple meters off the beach. Which was nice and all, but let's be honest, I was there to dive.

A twenty minute drive away was the wreck of the USS Liberty. A supply ship sunk by Japanese torpedoes in WWII, it has since broken apart and has some beautiful coral growing on it. The first drive I did was a night dive. There is something excitingly clandestine about walking across the beach in full scuba gear under a moonless sky. You feel ready to invade a country. The dive itself was one of the best I've done. Night time is feeding time, so it is neat in a sort of Nature Channel way to see them eating each other. And there are huge parrot fish that are out at night. They are up to five feet long and three feet tall. They look like tropical fish on steroids. Plus they have these huge buck teeth for gnawing on the coral. So they look like hillbilly tropical fish on steroids.

But the best part was the flashlight fish. They have glowing strips about their foreheads. When you put out your dive lamps, they will swim around you. Suspended in water and in the pitch black, you are surrounded by hundreds of shimmering blue lights. It's like being in space. Incredible feeling.

The next day I made two more dives, one on the wreck in the daylight and one on a nearby coral wall. Both were really nice, and generally I would say that there isn't anything comparable to swimming around something man-made under the water, but they paled in comparison to the night before.

That evening I set out for Titra Gangaa, a cute little village in the rice terrace country. In the morning I took a tour of the local rice terraces, sunlight hitting the green with the volcano in the back and the ocean in front. Beautiful. Peaceful. Relaxing. Or as relaxing as I ever find anything.

I am going to stick in a couple extra pictures here at the end because my mother doesn't think I post enough pictures.


Carol said...

Hi Kristen,
Sounds like you had a nice relaxing birthday in Bali. The dances are a bit wild, but the diving sounds great. Thank you for a few extra pictures - much appreciated! Love, Mom

Miss Crabtree said...

Hi Kristen. It's Mrs. Ekis. Mrs. Kanavy just sent me your blog and I was enthralled-meanwhile, some of my students were present and saw some of your pictures. Their comments: awesome, significant, out-of-this-world, spectacular, breathtaking, eye-popping. They enjoyed parts of your story that I shared with them. Happy birthday to you! It just amazes me that my former students are traveling the world, preparing for the Olympics in China, teaching, delivering babies, and so much more. I'm proud of your accomplishments. You have made all of us here at St. Patrick School proud! I've joined you on your journey; keep the blog going!

Kristin said...

Sounds like you had a great birthday. I agree with your mom, it is much nicer having more pictures to look at. The dance performance sounded quite interesting.