Monday, March 21, 2011

Spring break in Bali

Spring break started off pretty rough. I woke up feeling very sick on Thursday and on Friday, the deadly tsunami hit Japan and sounded off tsunami warnings across southeast Asia. While we were safe and sound in Singapore, our weeklong plans to Bali were up in the air. Luckily our flight didn't leave until Sunday night and by that point, I was starting the feel better and we were ensured our trip to Bali was still on.

Bali is an island in the Indonesian archipelago. Bali is the only island in Indonesia - the world's largest Islamic country - that is dominated by Hinduism. Everyday life revolves around religion. Tourists flock to Bali because of the fascinating culture. We avoided the main touristy destinations like Kuta Beach because we were told they were trashy and commercialized. We booked a hostel in Canggu (pronounced Chan-goo) in an area called Echo Beach. While somewhat secluded from touristy sites and temples, it was the perfect place to relax and unwind after busy days of tours and traveling. Canggu is a "hidden gem" of Bali because it lacks tourists and hawkers but is well-known for its black sand beaches and surfing.

Bali is located between Java and Lombok

Echoland, our hotel in Echo Beach

Echoland at night :) It was perfect!

Black sand ECHO BEACH

Unfortunately it rained on Monday, our first day in Bali. We slept in late and had a delicious breakfast at our hostel. The hostel owner, Jenny, recommended we check out a local store called Krisna to do some shopping. It was fantastic! Krisna is the store where locals go to buy traditional Balinese souvenirs in bulk and then sell them on the streets for double the price. We were the only tourists there and got some serious retail therapy in. I bought two shirts, a dress for my cousin, coffee, jewelry and lots of gifts for family for under $20 US dollars! We had a delicious breakfast in Echo Beach and went to bed early because we had booked an all-day tour of Bali on Tuesday.

Our tour guide was named Wayan and he was absolutely fantastic. Feel free to check out his website here. He spoke perfect English and his tour was the highlight of the week for me. He took us all over the middle part of island. We didn't realize how massive Bali actually is! Even on our twelve hour tour, we had only covered the middle part of the island. Between the mass amount of traffic and actual size of the island, we didn't get to see all Bali has to offer. Oh well, just an excuse to go back :)

We first toured local villages in central Bali. Celuk is the silver and goldsmith village. The jewelry making skills are passed from generation to generation. The locals dedicate their entire life to their craft. It was amazing to see the intricate details and designs obtained from simple hand tools. We also visited a woodcarving village and a Batik village.
Batik village

Silver and goldsmith village

Wood carving village
Next we went to Jalan Wanara Wana - the sacred monkey forest in Ubud. Balinese regard monkeys as sacred descendants of the monkey general Hanoman. There were three temples within the monkey forest honoring the monkeys. Leah and I were pretty scarred from our monkey experience in Phi Phi, so we were less than thrilled to be surrounded by hundreds of monkeys in Bali. We took our pictures and booked it out of there.

Closest I would get to a monkey

Sure, they look cute in pictures... but in real life, they are evil.
We then went to Tegalalang to see famous rice terraces. It was AMAZING! The pictures speak for themselves.

Leah and me in Tegalalang
We continued our way to Gunung Batur and Danau Batur. Gunung Batur is an active volcano that is 5600 feet tall. At the foot of the volcano lies the largest lake in Bali, Danau Batur. We were lucky enough to get lunch at a floating restaurant in the middle of the lake. I had VERY fresh tilapia which was absolutely delicious.

Gunung Batur

Danau Batur

Lunch at the floating restaurant

The freshest lunch I've ever eaten
After lunch, we visit Gunung Kawi. This is one of the most famous temples in Bali because it was built in the 16th century. Gunung Kawi is a complex of rock-hewn shrines overlooking the sacred Pakerisan River. The temple was rediscovered in 1930 and is still used today for special Hindu ceremonies. We had to wear wraps around our waists and take our shoes off before we entered. Next to the main two monuments there was a cluster of rooms hewed out from solid rocks. It was very cool to explore!

Classic jumping picture in front of the rice terraces at Gunung Kawi
Even after seeing all this, our day was far from over. We went to sample the famous Balinese "cat poop coffee" at a local Lewak farm. "Cat poop coffee" is a Balinese delicacy. The farm was overlooking beautiful rice terraces and we got to sample many different types of drinks. My favorite was the hot chocolate!

Sampling our free drinks -- coffee, hot chocolate and tea
In true Kara fashion, I wasn't about to leave Bali without seeing the only Balinese celebrity. Wayan promised me he would take me to meet Ketut Liyer - the medicine man from the Julia Robert's movie "Eat Pray Love." I was absolutely ecstatic! Unfortunately I didn't get to get my fortune told by him because the woman on line in front of me took too long and we had plans to see a fire show. I still got some great creeper pictures and saved myself $20. Yes - now that Ketut is famous, he overcharges and tells everyone to same fortune. But I still love him!

My toothless, ancient lover
The fire show was our final destination during the 12-hour-tour. By that point, we were absolutely exhausted. The fire show was cool but Leah and I nearly fell asleep. A men's choir chanted the same monotonous rhythm the entire show and I felt like I was being hypnotized. The coolest part was when this crazy man dressed up started dancing IN a pit of fire. We were speechless. On our way home, we stopped at a local grocery store and bought bread and peanut butter. We realized we would save money if we just ate peanut butter sandwiches every day for lunch. I probably had about 10 sandwiches all week but at least I saved money!

The next day we were exhausted. We took a cab to Seminyak, a beach town about 30 minutes away. We spent the day lounging at a restaurant that had a pool called Cocoon. We rented lounge chairs at Double Six beach in Seminyak and spent the afternoon reading, napping, eating peanut butter sandwiches and ignoring hawkers. It was lovely!

Lounging at Cocoon in Seminyak

Double Six beach

 That night we grabbed dinner in Echo Beach. We stumbled upon a salsa dance party at a local hotel and decided to stop by. We ended up staying for about an hour and had so much fun! The next day, Leah went horse back riding early in the morning along the beach. I decided to skip out since I am no horse-lover and spent the morning wandering around Echo Beach. I ate a delicious breakfast, read and chatted with other tourists who were spending the day surfing. It is now my goal in life to learn to surf.

The PERFECT start to a day

I <3 surfer boys

Learning to salsa
In the evening, the hostel manager Hendy drove us to Pura Tanah Lot, a very famous Hindu temple in Bali. Tanah Lot (rhymes with Camelot) is special because it is built on a cliff edge in the middle of the ocean. You can only access the temple during low tide. We were lucky enough to JUST make it. We walked through the ocean and found ourselves in the middle of a Hindu blessing ceremony. We both drank from the holy spring and then got blessed by some Hindu monks. It was very cool.

They put rice on our foreheads and flowers behind our ears when we got blessed
Final dinner in Echo Beach
The time passed all too quickly. We left Bali on Friday and were so sad to leave. There is so much to see and experience in Bali. I definitely want to return to travel further in the island. It was a spring break I won't ever forget! But for now, it's back to reality and back to the books.

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