Tuesday, January 27, 2015

[BALI] Monkey, Monkey, Tanah Lot

For a while there, I really, really felt very bad for our airport. To say that Ngurah Rai amazed me would be an understatement. Did I mention that I find the special counters for ASEAN nationals very amusing? It makes me feel special somehow. The airport was also replete with Caucasians on a holiday, and since this is Bali, every white person you encounter is Aussie until proven otherwise. With my carry on in tow, I headed towards the exit, right after getting a green brochure for Fabulous Bali Tours.

You might find it weird that I am not excited to go to the beach at all, despite the rather tempting vibe the Aussies and their surfboards set the moment you arrive at the airport. I have heard good things about Bali, but the beach is definitely not one of them. I am talking about this as someone who comes from a country with equally pristine beaches. I know Indonesia has a lot of beaches that could compare in terms of aesthetics, but I don’t think Bali is one of them.

This is not to say that Bali sucks. On the contrary, it is amazing, but do remember that this place has a lot more to offer than sea and sand. That is what I came here for. Being a Hindu province in a predominantly Muslim country, you will immediately notice the totally different vibe here, more liberal in a way if I may add. But there will always be a downside, and for Bali, I think that is their public transportation. Most of the time you will be riding taxis, and not all of them are friendly.

Wait, of course they are friendly. I guess what I mean is that they will not even care to hide their obvious attempts to scam you. Make sure you negotiate the price before hopping in. I had one quoting me 50,000 rupiah for a ride that was less than five minutes. I wanted to drown that moron at the beach, but figured that he was not worth the jail time. So I threw the 50,000 rupiah to his face like a dissatisfied customer would to his whore. These taxi drivers are such opportunistic bastards.

It is mainly because of this that I decided to just entrust my tours to the hands of a competent tour guide. In Bali, there are many of them, but I decided to contact the guy on the green brochure. USD60 for a half day tour is quite steep, but if that would save me from the clutches of taxi drivers who make me think of murderous thoughts, then so be it. I forgot the name of the driver but he was a rather chatty one who proved to be a good Bahasa Indonesia language buddy. And the polyglot nerd in me rejoiced.

I guess that is one of the things I really appreciate when I landed here. English just took the backseat, and I have been speaking Indonesian with little apprehension. It is not that easy to avoid, you see. Every time I go to this side of Southeast Asia, everyone just assumes that I am one of them and would begin to speak the vernacular with me. Being able to converse with them in their own language offers a truly unique experience that is really fulfilling, despite the fact that I still have a long way to go for proficiency.

The itinerary for the day is not that jam-packed. First, we will be visiting temple grounds in an area once under the control of the royal kingdom of the Mengwi. It took us quite a while to reach the site itself, and I would have to admit that I was not that impressed with what I saw. Perhaps, when one says “temple” I always tend to equate it with the ones you see in Bangkok or Beijing, and you know just how colorful they can be. In Bali, temples are really humble in terms of aesthetics. Simple brown would do.

There should be a more profound explanation for the arrangement of the temples themselves. Occupying a rectangular area at the middle of the park, the high-rising temples are characterized by their monotonous brown hue, while the pyramidal roofs are stacked one right after another. These towering structures are flanked by what seems to be mini nipa huts wit thatched roofs. That afternoon, there was a monk and two ladies inside the temple complex, but tourists were not allowed in.

After the temple came the monkeys, and this would have to be the highlight of the tour for me. I still have not finished the Korean drama What Happened in Bali, but in the first episodes that showcased Bali the image that really got stuck in my head was that of Chaebol Heir almost getting attacked by the monkey he provoked. And hell yeah, are there not so many of them here. When we arrived at Alas Kedaton, I was just overwhelmed by their cuteness.

These Simian friends of ours are just like human beings! Besides, did they not fall just one step short in the chain of evolution to join us as the superior mammals in control of this Earth? What I found really cute were the ones who had babies in tow. And of course you also have those who are trying to get rid of their friends' fleas. They are so like mini human beings trying to survive a lazy afternoon! I asked the tour guide why there are so many in the area, and she simply replied that it is their natural habitat.

You can buy peanuts to feed the monkeys for just 1000 rupiah, if I remember it correctly. One of the big guys immediately tried to grab it from my hand, and when it failed it started to climb me like it would a tree. The next thing I knew, it was already standing on my shoulders, supporting its balance by grasping my cap with one hand, shielding his eyes from the sunlight with another while surveying his immediate surroundings. Luckily, I was able to immortalize that moment on film! Did I mention I was really having fun?

The indirect holdup starts when the guide brings you to the area where they keep the bats, and then “suggest” that you take a photo for 60,000 rupiah or so. This would be followed by a trip to her store, where she will then sell you overpriced stuff. I guess what I really have to learn is how to say no, but how can you do that to such a sweet and soft-spoken middle-aged woman who relies on tourists for livelihood? I ended up spending anyway, but fine, it was for a good cause.

Tanah Lot served as the culmination of the day’s activities. They say that Uluwatu is more surreal in terms of beauty, but I think seeing Tanah Lot was enough for me. The sunset you witness there is just spectacular despite the tourist infestation. Suffice it to say that it really teaches you how to appreciate the simple things in life, such as that lovely sunset. As the receptionist at the hostel warned me, the view was indeed romantic. You might be better off visiting the place with your significant other.

As for the surroundings, it is infested with tourists, enough said. Taking a selfie would be pretty difficult in the crowded areas, but that popular view with the cliff and the sunrise as your background is rather easy unless you are competing with tourists who could either levitate or fly. The cliff to your right can be visited alright, but the other cliff to the left is off-limits, and is only accessible to the religious men who use it as a place of worship. Or at least that is what my tour guide claims to know.

Dinner is optional, but if you decide to include it in your package you would usually be served with typical Indonesian food. The price is USD15, and I do not really recommend it unless you really want a very comfortable all-inclusive and hands-off approach to your itinerary. Come to think of it, your USD15 would go quite far if you just spend it somewhere else. But if money is not really an issue for you, then go ahead and spend away!

[BALI] Monkey, Monkey, Tanah Lot

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