Sunday, January 17, 2016

Adventure in Bali

Padang Padang beach where Eat Pray Love was filmed

We spent just more than a week in Bali over the Christmas break, and I can tell you it really is paradise!  It's not that you can't find beautiful weather with palm trees in many other places in the world.  It's the combination of things that just seem to go right here. I found that coming to Bali makes you want to be a better person- to eat healthier, ride a bike, do yoga, meditate, be grateful, waste nothing, be kinder, and try new things. The people are so loving, generous, and kind.

Getting there is not for the faint of heart.  It took us more than 2 days because my husband found "a deal" in business class which required us to go through Toronto and Amsterdam to save a couple thousand dollars.  Emirates Airlines often runs specials in ecoonomy class for about $700, but face it, sitting in a chair for more than 20 hours is killer, so we opted for paying a bit more and using KLM business class. It was still exhausting, and then we arrived without luggage.  But all of that is forgotten once you're poolside with a fresh made juice in hand.
Every hotel in Bali makes these great drinks
We wanted a bit of an adventure but spent 3 days just relaxing poolside before we made our way to Ubud, which is kind of the center of the Balinese universe. Since the Elizabeth Gilbert book and movie, "Eat Pray Love" came out, Ubud is on many people's wish list for travel.  It makes traffic kind of a nightmare because the roads are narrow with ancient temples and homes along the street, and a dog thrown in the mix about every 50 feet.  There is no need for traffic control.  The obstacles do that for you.  All the locals ride motorbikes with as many as 4 people on each. The vans and buses are generally used by tourists, with the biggest darn buses I've ever seen coming from the island of Java.

The Balinese minivan equivalent
There are lots of hotels in all price ranges.  If you're willing to put up with cold showers and shared facilities, you can stay for about $10 per night.  We tried a new luxury resort, Dwaraka Villas, that cost about $150 a night but included breakfast, afternoon tea, massage,  cooking class, rice field walks, shuttle to Ubud, and free bike rental. There are only 10 villas, so it's boutique with incredible service. Meals are also cheap.  We rarely paid more than $15 for three of us!  So the expense lies in the air travel.  Once you're there, you can live well on little money.  We were there during the beginning of rainy season, which meant it rained every day but just for a couple hours.  It never stopped us from enjoying our excursions. If you're out walking and need a ride because of rain, look for a taxi. This guy with the sign was adorable.

Omar is 10 now and pretty capable, so we set up some great adventures using Bali Tour Planner.  If you don't know what you want to do, this is a good option.  I bought a travel book about Bali, but never needed to use it because Wayan at Bali Tour Planner listened to our interests and planned the tours with that in mind.  We probably paid a bit more for this individual service than if we had waited until we got to Bali, but it was helpful since we had not been there before and don't speak the language. We ended up doing 2 day tours in Bali and 3 at Lombok using him.  We also used a couple independent agents for shorter tours. In each case, we had a private vehicle with air conditioning which was really necessary because we weren't used to the heat and humidity, which was stifling at times.  Ubud was cooler than the southern beaches though.

Ubud is known for its art scene and monkeys.  At least those are the two things I'd heard about that before doing any real research.  We spent an hour at Ubud's sacred monkey forest, because everyone does it.  We saw monkeys at other places on the island, but this was perhaps the most concentrated population (600 macaques), which also meant crowded with tourists. They normally leave you alone unless you bring bananas.
This monkey seems to be having a nap on the handrail

Loved this bridge in the Monkey Forest
Though it gets mixed reviews about animal treatment, we really enjoyed doing the elephant ride at Bali Elephant Camp. The elephants were saddled and you could hold on to the harness so though it felt like you would fall off at any moment, you actually could not.  I've been on camels and ostriches that were equally uncomfortable, but it's an experience.  The elephants were imported from Sumatra, by the way, not native to Bali. We paid extra to feed the elephants some fruit and veggies at the end of the ride, and opted to get their souvenir photo of us in the elephant wash.
$10 gets you a souvenir photo
Omar's favorite day at Bali was rafting on the Ayung River.  It was probably a good thing we didn't know we'd have to hike down about 500 slippery steps...or maybe it was 5000...just to reach the river.  And the bad part about going down is that eventually you'll have to come up again (though we weren't carrying the raft back up the hill!).  While we were rafting though, all was forgotten.  The water was refreshing- not freezing.  There weren't any poisonous snakes or crocodiles.  The scenery was very green, filled with bamboo and tropical plants with leaves the size of your body. We stopped at a waterfall to take some photos and grab a shower.  Even though we were novice paddlers, no one fell out of the raft.  This is also the only way to see some carvings in the stones along the Ayung river.  I bought one of those waterproof cases for my IPhone to take photos, but the rafting company also sold photos of us in the boat at the rapids on a disk for less than $10. I was glad for both.With the IPhone, you have to wipe off water drops to get a good photo, but it's instant gratification.
Everyone looks to be having a good time in the professional photo

Here's the spontaneous waterfall photo from my iPhone 

 I have a friend who always watches TED Talks and she's got me hooked for finding new travel destinations.  I decided to see if there were any about Bali before we went and came across this one about the Green Village.  John Hardy does this one about the Green School. It's only half an hour from Ubud, so we spent an afternoon here taking a tour and having lunch.  This was incredibly interesting.  We toured the bamboo homes and the Green School.  There was a factory tour we could do but it was 2 hours and I knew Omar wouldn't last for that. You can rent the homes at Airbnb.com for $325 a night, which is pretty expensive for Bali, but if you really want the experience, it's there. Learn more about the tour at Green Village.
Completely made of bamboo


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