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Monday, September 1, 2008

Indonesia 2, Bali

Welcome to Bali
by Jon Votraw

Following the first part of the report on our trip to Indonesia, the time line is now this:
18 April- Departed JFK enroute to Jakarta Indonesia
20 April- Arrived in Jakarta Indonesia
21 April-Toured Safari Park and Tangkuban Parahu
22 April- Prepared for departure to Denpassar, Bali
23 April- Departed for and arrived in Denpassar, Bali

We had decided to stay along Kuta Beach in Denpassar. Kuta is very famous for it’s beach and tourism, and was also the area in which the terrorists had bombed the café. We stayed at Istana Rama about 2 blocks up from downtown Kuta. It’s about 4 blocks south east of the bombing location and slightly smaller in fame. This helps you in the sense that should anyone feel like doing something, it’s less likely to be targeted. When you are travelling abroad, especially in the world’s largest population for Muslum’s, it never hurts to think about security and safety.

Our Tour guide, Agung, picked us up from Denpassar airport and dropped us off at our hotel. This is one of the advantages of arranging a guide in Indonesia ahead of time. Most of your needs are going to be catered to. As with many Indonesian’s, Agung only goes by that name. Agung is also a Hindu by religion as most of Bali is. Agung was very fluent in English and understanding him was by far not difficult. Should anyone wish to tour Bali, I have his contact information and would highly recommend him for a guide. His company will cater to smaller groups, couples or whatever your needs are.

After Agung laid out the plan for the next two days, we started to enjoy the scenery in Kuta. Kuta is well, a high tourism area. Compared to Jakarta, it’s different in the sense that I saw more white people then in Jakarta. Australians, Germans, and some Dutch were the languages I picked up on in Kuta. The local population mix in very well with the white tourists. You can easily find a taxi along Kuta as well should you not like to walk around in the heat. The strips of hotels and stores are located literally across the street from the beach. It’s a view you would not forget.

About the only disappointment I could think of for Bali was the hotel food was not quite the same selection as Intercontinental in Jakarta. However, their breakfast foods I will say, left you nothing to desire when done. The heat in the mornings is still oppressive. Sitting in the open restaurant you are sweating even at 8 am. It is rather calm and peaceful in the surroundings however. Bali and Kuta are soon to spring to life for the day. Agung would be there around 9 AM to begin the tour on the first day.

Upon Agung’s arrival, we were shown around Denpassar for a little bit. Bali is broken down into “Provinces” though this isn’t the exact word used for it. It’s more like regions. Our first destination was to a traditional Balinese Dance which is actually more like a play. I have to say this much, the performance though I could not understand what was being said all the time, was very well performed. Balinese dancers are trained in the arts from a very young age, around 3 I believe. It would be similar to the actors on Broadway or an Opera. The costumes are all handmade as are the music instruments. They did have some fans in the theater, so it wasn’t nearly as hot as it could have been. I have about 40 minutes of the play on camcorder, but it was a camcorder borrowed from a relative in Indonesia, so I haven’t been able to find an acceptable format to display this. I assure all that I will post this as soon as possible for it was an event I will not forget.

After the play, we headed off to a location that makes Batik. Batik is a traditional garment made in Indonesia. Traditional Batik is hand made. The materials have the same feel as silk, but the patterns and designs are striking and bold. The prices for higher quality Batik at this location is around 300,000-400,000 Rupiah. The currency exchange rate after our arrival in Bali had dropped from 9100 Rupiah to 1 USD, to 8800 Rupiah to 1 USD. Using that conversion rate, a high quality Batix shirt is around 35.00 to 45.00 USD. I bought about 5 of these, two for myself, one for my dad and brother, and an alternate patterned one in case they didn’t like the pattern.

Shirts are not the only items made from Batik. Batik also has money/change carriers, purses, handbags, slippers, pants, and pillow covers. I think all tolled that day at the store, we had spent about 2.5 million Rupiah. If you do consider that you cannot get this same material here in the US, I felt it was money well spent, and shopping for well over an hour.

The final destination on day 1 was, according to Agung, the biggest, most famous, main temple in Bali for the Hindu’s. It is called Tampak Siring. I am providing a link to the temple’s in Bali, I do however have to say, I am not trying to dispute the information provided here, but only relay what I was told from our tour guide, Agung. As you can see from this link, Agung is also the name of the biggest mountain in Bali. The Grand Istana Rama listed on this link is the hotel we stayed at, as well as you can see some information about the temples located in Bali using this link. It's very useful.

The story surrounding Tampak Siring as told by Agung is this. Many centuries long ago, a certain King in Bali became very powerful and very strong. He came to believe of himself that he was actually a God. This very much displeased the actual Gods, and the King became so bold as to challenge the Gods. He amassed a huge Army, and the God’s decended into the earth to do battle with him. The main God, I apologize I do forget his name, but he is the God of the Earth I believe, led the way against the king. The God’s Armies were winning and the King began a retreat. With the God’s army in pursuit, the King took refuge in this location. The King created a mirage of water for the tired Army of the God, and they soon fell asleep after drinking the water.

The King used this time to continue distancing himself from the God’s army. When the God reached his army and found them asleep, he used his trident and stuck the Earth with it, and from the Earth flowed natural water which the God blessed. The Army woke up after drinking this water, recharged and angry. They continued the pursuit of the King and defeated him after finding him.

It is the spring located in this temple that the story is related to. Because of the story, the people believe this water to be holy and have magical properties. They believe the water from this temple can cure afflictions and disease, and they openly bathe in this water. Also at this location is a presidential palace at the top of the hill, which I was able to capture some shots of. This as was explained to me, is the main temple of the Hindu faith in Bali. This concluded the first day of tours.

On the second and final day of the tours, we first proceeded to a location which works in raw silver, and examined the processes in which the hand crafters take raw silver and convert it into jewelry. At this location I got Lotje a Jade necklace and earrings. One other thing that is important to know about Bali, is that when buying from most vendors and stores, it’s EXPECTED that you bargain with them. You never want to pay the price listed on an item. It’s just a price listed to begin the bargaining process. Agung advised me before touring this location, that the typical mark up was around 40-50%.

Bargaining in Bali is not difficult to do, but we as Americans are not very used to doing this. Sure we might find an item that is defective or damaged at a store and ask the manager for a discount, but Bali bargaining is as I said, expected and it’s almost an insult to the shop owners if you don’t at least try. The tag on the necklace and earrings came to about 1.5 million Rupiah, and using Agung’s mark up as a basis for my bargain, I was able to work the seller down to 100.00 USD. Again, this was the very first time I Bali bargained, and I didn’t want to aim too low and appear cheap. I could well have probably gotten them to go down to 80.00 USD, but the fact I was able to get it lowered pleased me enough.

After finishing at the Silver location, we then went up to a Temple location that was dominated by monkeys. We had a local guide for this location take us around the compound, and the guides at this location also have shops and we were able to pick up a few more Batik clothing there. They also have HUGE vampire bats there as well and I have a shot of those in the movie clip.

After the monkey location we then went on to Tanah Lot. THIS location is probably the most beautiful and stunning location for pictures in all the islands I saw. As you’ll see in the movie link, most of the Bali pictures are from Tanah Lot. This temple sits right on the ocean, facing south south east. If you consider this temple was built originally back in the 12th and 13th centuries, it just adds even more to how spectacular it really is. I think you all will enjoy these shots very much and I did a couple panoramic shots to recreate the scene as best I could.

Finally, one last temple, Ulun Danu aka Bedugul which is in Ubud province. This temple is located up in the mountains, and we came across a site of rice paddies that I HAD to take a panoramic of. Ulun Danu with it’s setting on a lake with a mountain backdrop is quite a sight as well. This is a very camera friendly location as well as Tanah Lot, meaning the shots you can capture here are rather breathtaking is many aspects. This should show you as well how most of the structures inside a temple compound appear.

With our tours of the Bali temples done, as we only had 2 days to allocate for tours, Agung brought us back to Istana Rama, and indicated he would bring us to the Airport in the morning. Lotje and I headed out to the beach to capture some final sunset along the beach shots, develop and print what we had taken so far on camera, and saw a little of downtown Kuta. We had coffee at the Starbucks at Kuta Square and visited the Hard Rock Café as well. Ironically, another funny story occurred while Lotje was doing more Bali bargaining.

To start with, there are horse drawn carriages in Kuta that will likely appeal to some. Lotje as always was looking over the clothes and I was just waiting for her to get done making her bargain pitch. After she finished, of course she must show me what she got and how happy she was, so while I’m looking over the things she just bought, she’s talking to the advertiser of the store who is sitting out on the street where I was waiting. As she’s talking to that lady, the sales people at the store next door, a cosmetic store of all stores, asked me “Sir, can I help you with anything? Would you like to come see my store?” The voice was coming from the tallest one, and as I just glanced over, I noticed had blonde hair. Rather unusual for an Indonesian to have Blonde hair was my first thought. As I am saying oh, “Tidak, tapi termia kasih” (sorry but no thank you) the “lady” came out to check the bags on some people just leaving the store, and I got a good look at “her” face. Sure enough, it was a man all right, but skinny as a rail with long Blonde hair. I didn’t know what to think, but I kept poking Lotje, “Hey, Banci (gay, feminine man, transvestite) over there!!” So she’s just laughing and keeps talking to this lady on the street and I’m like hey come let’s get out of here before it decides to come talk too.

As Agung picked us up in the morning we had decided to give him and the driver 50 USD for the special attention they gave us. This isn’t a high amount to us and even could seem cheap to some, but in Indonesia, that much money is A LOT. As Agung and his driver were taking us to the airport, we passed over the bombing location in Kuta. To see how much got wiped out and how it was detonated about half an hour before closing, it’s not hard to see it was clearly aimed at hitting as many Americans or Bule as possible. I can’t believe there are Muslum groups protesting the captured people for this deed, receiving the death penalty. One final thought in closing, as this concludes report 2 of 3 on Indonesia, and the Bali page, is that in Indonesia, drug trafficking, as in Malaysia as well, carries very stiff penalties, including death. Rest assured, the medications I have to take, I made sure it was known they were just that, prescriptions. This now brings us to 26 April, departing Bali, en route to Manado, Sulawesi.

Please see this video slide show for a pictoral documentary of the trip:

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