Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Highlights According to Mr. Nioman - Bali Part 2...

And a good evening to you from across the globe after another GREAT DAY in the Lion City. Muffin Puffin just got back from her dive certification refresher class, and she's just confirmed for me that she's fit as a fiddle and ready to tackle the Big Blue this weekend. She'll be off to Malaysia with Sister Sarah, and since this upcoming trip will be her first dive since Oz in 2002, she felt it prudent to have a refresher course on all the basics. Sarah - I leave her in your very capable hands - take care of my Muffin Puffin!
So tonight I believe I owe you all the remainder of Bali. And so, without further ado, let's get amongst it!
Sunday: "So....what else should we do here?"
First off, let me say it again - Saturday night's sleep was among the best EVER. True, I did get up 7 times to pee, but hey - details...All I'll say is that I woke up feeling fresh as a daisy and STARVING for the free brekkie. But 1 phone call to the desk later, Team Taylor was dining in their villa in the outdoor living area. SWEEEEEEEET! Before and after breakfast, we took a dip in the pool as well, which felt AMAZING. That being said, if the sun's not out, it can actually get (dare I say it) chilly in Bali, as it doesn't have nearly the humidity of Sing Sing. In fact, I saw goose bumps on muffin puffin on more than 1 occassion. But then again, she's a Floridian who's father once wore a sweater for a walk outside in 82 degree weather, so I can't say that I'm too surprised...
Determined to see the rice terraces on this day, we walked out to negotiate with a taxi driver to see the cost. You see, it's a big thing in SE Asia to rent drivers for the day. This is a bloody BRILLIANT concept, as a) you do NOT want to negotiate those roads yourself, b) you can do whatever you want to do, and c) they are very knowledgeable about the area and function almost as tour guides as well. Lucky for us, our new friend Nyoman was right outside of our resort looking for work, and so we struck up a conversation.
We asked him how much to go to the rice terraces, and he asked what else we wanted to see in Bali. When we replied, "Um, what else is there to see here?" (YES - we were THOSE tourists), Nyoman whips out a map and starts RATTLING off the proposed route for a 5 hour journey. He quotes us the private tour for the day for $45 USD all in, and we don't even bother negotiating. I mean seriously - how can you argue with that?
So Nyoman turns out to be a CLASSIC character and a GREAT tour guide. Within 5 minutes we're outside of the city and looking at these AMAZING rice fields - not the terraces, but still huge tracks of land devoted to farming one of the 4 types of rice they cultivate in Bali. And best of all, with temperature this perfect (high 70's, no humidity), we were "windows down, pedal to the sneaker, pump up the volume, blow out the speaker..." - it was GREAT.
Our first stop was the holy spring temple. Again, we had NO IDEA what this was, but we roll up to find this AMAZING Hindu temple in the middle of nowhere (seriously - we are DEEP in the jungle. We are among about 6 Ang Mo's there, and there's this massive pool in the middle where folks are standing under pouring fountains, praying and raising incense above the flow of the water. I wanted to jump in so bad I couldn't stand it, but the thought of hopping into a religious [pool wearing my monkey boxers with a hole in the crotch the size of Nevada just didn't feel like the best way to keep up with cultural relations. So instead we opted for lots of pictures and roaming around the temples.
There is always the CLASSIC sign in front of every Hindu Temple that says basically (yes, this is my paraphrasing):
1. You must be dressed properly. You must wear a sarong (translation - we know NONE of you dress like this, so we're going to keep some lice infested sarongs here and request donations).
2. You must not walk in front of people praying. (this is tricky, because, well, EVERYONE IS PRAYING. Next time I'll bring my pogo stick.)
3. Must NOT enter during their period (which they then ALWAYS put in parenthesis - MENSTRUAL CYCLE, WOMEN ONLY - seriously, THANKS for that - never would have pieced that one together on my own...and good to know I can still enter during my time of the month). And another do they police that one exactly? Shogun, OSC, can I get a "MOOOOOON CUP!!!!!!" shout out?
After the temple, we rolled over to a Bali coffee plantation. This was actually really cool, but in classic tourist fashion, this was the only place where I assumed there would be an admission charge and had asked Nyoman, "Does the $45 USD include admission to the coffee plantation?" He said absolutely, which wasn't a lie considering that IT WAS SOMEONE'S HOME. Locals 1 - Team Taylor 0.
It was a really neat stopover, as we saw this gal's garden, which included just about every fruit known to man. And then we saw a famed creature in the coffee world - the Luwak. If you've seen the "Bucket List," then you know about Kopi Luwak. This is the coffee made from the bean that these little Luwaks eat and then DEUCE OUT. The beans are collected from the stool, "cleaned," and then made into coffee. Which probably makes want to say, "PLEASE tell me the Bull and the Striker didn't drink feces coffee!?!?!?" Oh, YES, baby - 1 cup at $5 a pop - comin' up.
Seriously - this coffee was, well, SLUDGE. It was so thick that you were truly drinking the grounds (and the rich black texture wasn't helping the image). That being said, there's no denying it was strong - 10 seconds after my first sip I was ready to climb Mt. Kota Kinabalu at a sprinter's pace! We also got to try 4 other coffees and teas, ALL of which were better than the Kopi Luwak. But when asked, we of course smiled and said, "This is AMAZING! Best coffee I've ever had!" And in the back of our collective brain you could see JT and I looking at each other going, "I love you, pumpkin, but you HAVE to take the next sip. Drain it, please drain it!"
And so Team Taylor officially crossed off Kopi Luwak (including a viewing of the Luwaks, who were asleep until Nyoman started hissing at them and hitting their cages - PETA would have LOVED it). But THAT, dear friends, was just the beginning of the day's culinary adventures.
As we're driving to the next stop, we pass a fruit stand. In there air is the unmistakable smell of the most famous fruit in SE Asia - THE DURIAN. Now for those of you who don't know, Durian is basically a fruit that smells like an open sewer. It's so potent that it's illegal in public buildings and public transit. I have been planning on trying this ever since my arrival, and this day I decided it was time.
We pulled over to the fruit stand, Nyoman negotiated with the local, and $4 USD later I was holding a spiky Durian. Seriously, you could slice your finger off with the shell of that thing. But then we cracked it open, and inside, there they were...Durian seeds. I had FOUR of these puppies - let me describe the experience.
1. Pick up the Durian seed. It's akin to holding rotten flesh or carcass, except that you feel this might ACTIVELY try to kill you.
2. Smell the seed. The only thing I could compare it to would be putting your head in a toilet bowl after a night at Wild Wings Cafe.
3. Bite the seed. The texture is that of something putrid. I have no other words.
4. Swallow. IF YOU CAN. I was able to. Muffin Puffin, however, almost gagged TWICE. Needless to say the locals were LOVING this, and our driver couldn't STOP laughing. And best of all for him? He got over half the Durian free!
Seriously - I'm glad that's done. It will NEVER be done again...Sophia - the smell of Durian is like perfume? You're out of your mind!
After that, it was the drive to Mt. Batur, the volcano in the center of the Eastern side of the island. This was really cool as well, as the weather was perfect and offered an exquisite view of the blue and green hues of the lake as well as the caldera. Nyoman said that normally it was socked in by this time of day and that we were very lucky, and I'd have to agree.
After that, it was off to the rice terraces, which DID NOT disappoint. True, it wasn't growing season, but just the sheer size of the terraces (I counted 12 levels) was really, really impressive. And then, 5 hours and a host of sights and memories WAY better than expected later, we parted ways with our good buddy Nyoman and strolled into town looking for dinner.
We checked out a few places, but the prices were always ASTRONOMICAL compared to the Boom Boom Room. We were about to make a repeat appearance there when suddenly, down a dark alley by the river, I saw a flickering light (sounds like the opening to "Hotel California", doesn't it?). Then I saw a menu, and then I noticed tables and lamps. These prices were AWESOME ($2 for mains), and 3 minutes later we were seated and beers ordered. The beers came about a minute later, but THEY WERE PIPING HOT. When we told them the beer was warm, they responded, "Yes, sorry - none cold." CLEARLY they weren't beer drinkers and didn't get it, and so we had to explain that beer drinkers like COLD beer. Luckily they had some small bottles cold, but they were SHOCKED at the speed we moved through them (I mean 12 ounces, dude. If I struggled with that I would have expected Owain to get on a plane and BEAT me). All the same, the food was excellent (even if they forgot our order once), and the meal was DIRT CHEAP (6 beers, 3 mains, 1 starter, tax, tip - $30 USD). You gotta love Bali.
After that it was back to the palace, where Team Taylor did something that they have ONLY DONE in Indonesia this year - watched a movie. We rented "Up in The Air," which I thought was good (even though it had virtually nothing in common with the book), and then we capped the evening off with "The Hangover." Dude - that is one SERIOUSLY funny movie. It was then off to sleep, where again I slept like the dead.
Monday - FINALLY: The hot rocks...
So Monday was pretty much a perfect morning. We slept in, had breakfast in our villa, and then went to the resort spa for a 90 minute massage. Jenny went for the traditional, whilst I FINALLY crossed off another of life's to-do's - the Hot Stone Massage, Baby!!! This place was GREAT - relaxing music, the breeze coming off the rice field into this hand carved wooden room, and some GUUUUUUUUUUUUUD tension breakers in the form of an 80 pound lady whose fingers could snap STEEL. When she asked, "How is pressure, sir?" I didn't DARE suggest she go any harder. Consequently, I'm still vertical. And the stones, Ahhhhhhh - so guuuuuuuuuuuuuuuud. Mom, you were right - that is pretty spectacular, and I left there pretty darn relaxed (even if a bit marked up from the stones and the heat). We even made time for a cup of Jamu at the end on the balcony of the spa.
It was then into the fray of Bali traffic, where it took us 90 minutes to reach the airport. However, after buying a final bottle of water and some chewing gum (which we had to finish on the plane, of course), we were left with 400 Rupiah (the equivalent of 1 US nickel) to spend, which we deposited in the charity slot (yes, yes, I know - we are SUCH givers).
The flight was smooth and got off on time (FINALLY!), and were touchdown to Wine Connection in 50 minutes - A NEW RECORD! Money, Dan - the Shiraz Malbec is gone, but the Montepulciano is just as guuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuud.
All in all, it was a SPECTACULAR trip, and EXACTLY what the doctor ordered. I landed in Sing Sing refreshed and really, really happy about the holiday. And now I'm already looking forward to the next one (shocker, I know...)!
Okay, that's all the news that's fit to print. Chat tomorrow!
Sam and Jenny

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