Friday, February 26, 2010

Bali: The Magical Mystery (Motorbike) Tour

As Sue and I walked down the path in the middle of a procession to make an offering to the manifestation of the Lake Batur God - behind an ornate lion and in front of beating drummers and bell clangers - I asked her if she happened to know anything about Balinese ceremonies concerning manifestations of Lake Gods. "For example," I specified, "if they don't have a hen or a goat to offer, would the manifestation of the Lake God be satisfied with the sacrifice of two American tourists?"

How did we find ourselves in the middle of this procession? The short answer: we were on Day One of our three day motorbike trip through the middle of Bali, up through the Mt. Batur region from Ubud (where Elizabeth Gilbert stays in Eat, Pray Love), and we just stumbled upon it.

The long answer will be explained by backtracking a bit. The reason we saw the preparations for the ceremony at the temple before the procession began was because the temple was right next to a crucial food stop. It had been five hours since breakfast, and Marjie was about to enter into her food coma state. They had ridden for three of those hours, had gotten sidetracked into a meditation ranch for an hour (where, because of lack of guests, they were practically begged to stay for half the price - free yoga and meditation included), had been stopped by Bali police, gotten a tour of a $3,000/per night hotel where the rich and famous would, upon opening day March 1, be helicoptered into this spa hotel by the shores of Lake
Batur, with a striking view of the active volcano steaming beside it. And Sue was not tired nor hungry. In fact, she had just mentioned that she "sure would like to find a road down to the lake, just to touch it and see what it feels like." This suggestion received an eye roll from Marjie and a punchy response, something like, "I would be much more interested in touching the lake if I could eat something first..."

Sue offered Marjie peanuts or a Luna Bar. Not good enough, Marjie replied. "I need something real." Sue, who really wanted to touch that lake, did a scan of the area. "There's a cart over there," she said, and pointed back down the narrow road.

They rode back to the cart and found a little piece of what Marjie considers heaven. It was a gado gado cart...sticky rice that had been steamed in a bamboo package was opened and sliced. Fried tofu and tempe, steamed greens and bamboo sprouts went on top and a peanut sauce was ground right in front of their eyes.

While Marjie calmed her stomach demons, Sue disappeared up the street. Eventually, Marjie followed her, and suddenly they found themselves inside the temple, being invited to put on sarongs and to follow the few hundred villagers to the lake after having grains of rice stuck between their eyes.

After the noisy ten-minute walk down the path, passing rows of corn and red pepper plants and with the steamy lake mixing with the late afternoon sunrays, part of the procession

went up to a platform and part of the procession went down to the lake. We followed our self-appointed guide up; looking down, we saw the villagers circling around a man in a row boat. He wore a long, white robe and his hair was tied in a tidy bun on the top of his head, fastened by a pearl scrunchy.

"Is it their holy man?" I asked Sue.

"It is the holy man," replied our somewhat disturbing, constantly interfering guide, who had just asked to have his picture taken with me, and who had placed his hand firmly on my butt for the shot.

So there the holy man stood in the center of the rowboat, with the hen offering next to him in an airy bamboo cage, when suddenly his hand went up next to his ear. Sue and I gave each other the look you give your traveling partner when you witness the ancient juxtaposed with the modern; the holy man was talking on his cell phone.

"Do you think he may be asking someone high up if perhaps they should lose the hen and replace it with a more meaningful offering?" I suggested. Which is about the time that the holy man looked up, met our eyes on the platform, and gave us a little wave with his free hand. Talk about feeling conspicuous...Sue suggested that we leave the manifestation offering ceremony to the villagers. Our annoying guide followed us up the hill, and disappointingly said that we must pay for the use of the sarong. A small price to pay, I suppose.

Sue was dead set against back-tracking, and even though she had been told a few times that we could not go up over the mountains to reach the northern beaches, she would not take "no" for an answer. She finally found someone who reluctantly told her it could be done (this person looked concerned, though), and up up up we headed -- into the most beatiful scenery we would see on our whole trip. But no beauty was to be had without treachery.

About half way up the mountain, the already narrowly-paved road began to narrow, and narrow... and narrow even more, until it was literally a strip wide enough for a motorbike tire. Soon there was no pavement at all, only huge clumps of red dirt. And then rocks. Lots and lots of rocks. We met lots of villagers coming up and over the

mountain, either on foot, or on real dirt bikes. Let's just say that we, on our 125 scooters and carrying backpacks, were a bit of a shocking sight to them. On and on, up and up, and then down, down, down we headed. Down, with no view of the ocean that we could smell, taste and feel. It was misty, and we were losing the sun. Our hands ached from gripping onto the brakes, and Sue dumped her bike once when it turned on a big rock. She laughed all the way down, but I was keeping quiet - realizing the beauty, but still hoping that we would reach the bottom during daylight. When we finally did catch a view of the Bali Sea through the mist, it was still really, really far away.

We reached sea level at about 7 pm. We had left Ubud at 9. Exhausted and dirty, we figured we would ride along the coast until we spotted a hotel. It would have cold water, only, we figured. And a really uncomfortable bed.

But within minutes of heading west, we both spotted the sign at the same time. It had the words "spa" and "resort" in the title, so we gave each other a hopeful nod and turned down the path. What we found was another slice of heaven. An "executive" room with an ocean-front view, lounges, dining on our own personal deck, and massages by the pool as the sun set. All for $60. We took it, and dove into the pool - dirt most likely rising to the top of the water (but it was dark, so no one could see...)And we enjoyed telling the staff that we had come up and over that mountain, on the road that wasn't even on the map.

"No one will believe that all of these pictures came from one day," said Sue. Nope, it was hard for us to believe, too.

Back to before the lake ceremony, before we reached Lake Batur and decided to "turn down and just see what's down there" (Sue), I want to return to the police pull-over. Before leaving, my friends Steven and Sharon had warned me that if we planned to ride motorbikes, we should take a half day to get international licenses. "If you do get stopped, it could be really bad," Sharon told me. Well, of course, we did not take this advice. And we got stopped about an hour into our trip. By the King of the Road, too.

Officer Budiawan was charming from the get-go (we weren't so sure about his sergeant and other buddy watching from the sidelines), but he let us know that we were in serious doo doo. He went from "I will have to confiscate your bikes for 30 days" to "you will have to pay a big fine" to "well, maybe you can just pay me a little something" to "I don't want your money, go and have a safe trip." I have to give all of the credit to Lieutenant Stangl of the Seattle Fire Department for this. I sat there and listened to her work him, how she complimented him from his boots to his profession, how she gave him the glory that Kings of Roads like him demand. And he loved her muscles. He wanted to know, did she arm-wrestle? Beat people in weight lifting competitions? (I had to answer for her: yes to both.)

"That was incredible," I said to her, later.

"I've worked in the fire department for over 20 years; I know how to massage an ego," she stated.

Yes, she does.

She even got him to take a picture with her, after four refusals. "If we get stopped again, we will just say that Officer Budiawan is our friend."

The next two days brought many more adventures, beauty, and a three hour deluge and lightning storm riding back down through Mt. Batukau, but fortunately, we did not have a need to show the picture of our Officer Friend to any more members of law enforcement.

So, within 10 days, we visited only two of Indonesia's 17,508 islands: Bali and Java. Stay tuned for a few more Indonesia stories - I will probably backtrack to Java for the next one...then bounce back to Bali again. I am embarrassed to admit these things:

1) I thought Bali was a country, rather than an island, up until I bought my ticket to Jakarta
2) The only reason I went to Indonesia was because Katherine found a $70 round trip ticket from HCMC to Jakarta. She and her Montreal friend, Alyssa, and Sue and I, all began and ended our adventure together.

But Indonesia: what a fascinating place...


Amy T. said...

What a ride, Marj! It's no blind mule, but quite a ride nonetheless!

Devon said...

Wow, that's a great post Marjie. Congratulations on making friends with Indonesian law enforcement officers!

Brian Bowker said...

Awesome, awesome, awesome.

Sue is still my hero.

Where's the hand-on-butt picture? Surely you just forgot to post it...

T said...

Oh, my food soul mate... I have uttered the very same words on a hiking trip when offered a Cliff bar, which I do not consider REAL FOOD! In my case, I held out for a Trader Joe's Eggplant Punjab cooked on a pocket rocket - one of the best inventions ever.

Michelle said...

WOW! What a great adventure. I feel so honored to know you Marjie, you are an inspiration for the adventuresome part of me. You are brave and fun and amazing! I love your story!

SeattlePam said...

I think this is my favorite post in a long time...I'm aching to go to Indonesia on a $70 RT ticket! I'll be there in a flash! You are an amazing adventuress!!

Mungokey said...

Once again, a brilliant post that takes us along on a thrill ride! You rock!

Angie said...

Reading about your run-in with the law brings back memories of when we did in Mexico. We didn't have Sue, but we did have a taco stand owner to help us! Good for Sue and her ego-massaging skills. What a great adventure, Marj!

The Norris Clan said...

Wow... Indonesia sounds amazing! I want to go to your "spa" for $60 too!!