In Singapore, my copy of Lonely Planet’s Pocket Guide to Singapore was invaluable. The maps were excellent and most (but not all – a notable exception was half of the red circle line subway map was missing) of the information was good and up-to-date. I made much use of it. That said, Singapore is a very clean, efficient place. Some parts of it look like what you would see in a model city projected to be complete in 2035 or so but there it is right in front of you, purring along. And the gardens! There are veritable jungles within five minutes walk from certain MRT stops. It was a great place to ease into Asia.
And now I am on my third day in Bali. These computers are dreadfully slow, hence my lack of a post in a few days. But all is well here. I am staying in Ubud, a place that the guidebooks call the cultural capitol of the island. Indeed, I have been witness to a cremation ceremony in town (along with perhaps a hundred other uninvited tourists), seen beautiful carvings and paintings being crafted right before my eyes, and been to a traditional dance. The dance is a tourist show, but it was fascinating nonetheless. I have seen people going about their daily lives, laughing with friends and doing laundry in an irrigation canal outside of their homes. At a far-flung temple I visited yesterday I saw women bathing in the nude in the sacred waters. Offerings of flowers and candy and other small objects are put outside the home at least once daily, as far as I can tell. Offerings on the ground are to appease demons to keep them at bay. Offerings in a ledge or a small shrine are to welcome good spirits. The air itself seems to be perfumed with incense and flowers, especially in the evening. Bali is a lush and beautiful place.
As such, it is overrun with tourists. July and August are the peak months, but already in June there are plenty of other foreigners. Unlike in Singapore, visitors here are given notice. Unfortunately, this notice is of the worst kind. I am constantly hassled by people trying to sell me things (all outrageously priced by local standards – I learned from a fellow traveler, Ruthi, that you should ask for one-third of what they initially say and go from there) and asking if I want “transport? Transport? Where you go? What you country?” It is exhausting, really. The politer ones I dismiss with a smile, the more dogged ones I completely ignore. Usually they get the picture. I have only been followed once so far.
Ubud may have once been the cultural center, but now that culture has been overshadowed by commercialized spirituality. Need to buy “accessories for the soul?” You can get it in Ubud. Don’t worry, they take all major credit cards. There is also a lack of public transportation, which is frustrating. The alternative is to hire a private car, which can get expensive, or take a tourist shuttle, which takes much longer to arrive.
Today I had a first-hand experience with a variety of transportation options on the island. It started with a pre-arranged tourist shuttle that picked me up where I am staying at 7 am. It was bound for a place on the east coast called Candi Dasa. I picked it at the tourist office for no reason other than “Candi” (pronounced chan-di) looks like “candy” and it appeared to be on the water. So this morning off I went and, after one shuttle transfer, I was there. I was dropped off on a street near the water that was lined with restaurants, hotels, and men with motorcycles offering me transport. There was no beach to speak of, just a seawall with rocks at the base. I walked. After a spell, a bemo, or minibus with the backseats replaced by two parallel benches, offered to drive me to the beach for 50,000 rupiahs ($5). I got him down to 20,000 rupiahs ($2) and know that I still over-payed. In any case, he picked up a few more people along the way before stopping and pointing to a sign saying that there was a beach 1 km away. It pointed down a local road (I would say narrow but all Balinese roads are narrow, oftentimes frighteningly so) and off I went. From the openings in the trees around the rice paddies ahead, it seemed that I was perpetually nearing the beach. Then the road would turn and cut back on itself. After a mile or so, I determined that there likely was no beach at the end of the road. Either that, or I had taken a wrong turn, which was unlikely. Precisely then, an old man pulled up on a beater of a scooter and desperately offered me transport. He came at the right time, so I haggled for a fairer price and climbed on, going back over the rocky and pot-holed road I had just walked. The fifteen minute ride was a breath-holder, that’s for sure. People here dart in and out of traffic whether they are on a motorbike or in a car. Everyone honks at each other as a way of saying “I’m coming through so get out of the way!” Stop lights are rare and often unheeded. No way would I drive here. And yet I have not seen any fatalities. It seems to flow, somehow.
Long story short, my beach day was a bust and required a number of transfers between modes of transportation to arrive back in Ubud. It could have been a waste-of-time ordeal, but since I got myself into it I took the opportunity to observe local life and get started on reading Jules Verne’s Around the World in Eighty Days.
Perhaps I may find some parallels with this book because I, too, am on a journey around the world. Due to modern transportation I am more able to enjoy the sites than Phileas Fogg was even while covering a comparable amount of territory in a comparable amount of time. In the very least, it is a fun notion to entertain.
And now, I have an update regarding my travel plans. I was tempted to have a separate blog post beginning with “I have a confession,” though doing so would imply that I have done something wrong in a case where I have not. But the update is that I have been and will be traveling alone this summer. The original intention was to stay in Bali and rent a house for the summer with my partner, Jim. Two days before we were to fly to Singapore, he found that he would be detained from leaving until at least three days after the scheduled flight, maybe later. Since I had no reason to stay in Tampa, I decided to fly over on the scheduled day and meet him here in Asia. However, due to unfortunate circumstances, he will not be able to join me at all this summer.
At first I was terrified. He did much of the planning for this trip and I felt wildly unprepared to be on my own for such an extended period of time. I made pro-con lists for whether I should return to the U.S. or continue to travel. I thought a lot. Made lists. Talked to other travelers. And the verdict was a resounding “carry on, mate!” So here I am, alone in Bali and plotting my next move. The adventure of it is enormously exciting (so much so that sometimes I have trouble sleeping) and it seems ludicrous that just a week ago I was thinking of aborting this travel!
In bars, hostels, and on the street I am meeting many other travelers. They give great advice and the majority travel alone, which is heartening. There will be good days and there will be bad days, but isn’t that just how life is? Yesterday I met Ruthi, a Canadian-Israeli, who is traveling in Indonesia and has spent years on the road besides. We met at a cremation and then decided to rent a car together to check out some temples and then attended the dance together. We may do a trip to the south on Sunday. It is nice to have company, especially with someone like her. Plus, as she says in her blog, “Bali is no place for the solo budget traveler.” Things aren’t so bad if you share, and she is a ruthless bargainer. This doesn’t have to be a lonely planet if you open yourself up to it.
And who knows what other fascinating people I will meet on this trip? Or where I will go, for that matter. At the moment I do not have a flight out of Bali, though I am not inclined to hang around here. There is a 99% chance that my next destination will be Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia as that is a major hub for flights out of Denpasar, Bali. After that I am thinking of flying into Vietnam (already working on the visa) and checking out Laos and Cambodia since I did not do that during my year abroad.
I am almost ashamed to admit that I was balking at visiting my most wonderful and loving host family in Thailand while I am here. I can’t really explain the reasoning behind it, only that I feel guilty for my bad communication and am afraid to sully the memory of a most amazing year. But I have been shown the light by none other than two passionate AFS volunteers I met who were here to attend their host daughter’s wedding in Jakarta. They had some amazing AFS stories and put my head on straight. So it is official, Ms Kelly is going home! Now I just have to let them know.
So, just to recap, I am in Bali and plan on staying in Malaysia for a spell en route to Vietnam, Laos, Thailand and Cambodia. This I expect will take a few weeks. Then I hope to go to Myanmar, which I heard is a fascinating place to see (but with complicated visa regulations) where I hope to spend at least a week (but no more than 28 days). This will bring me into mid-July. And then… India? I have a visa already and a couple contacts, so I figure it is a natural step. No comment on when or where or what I will do there, but if I do go I want to stay at least a month.
And that’s enough planning for now, yeah? At the very least I have a few more days in Bali and then it is on to… somewhere else!