And the first thing you should know is Bulu is what Javanese call White People – the literal translation is albino. It took a few days for me to understand why everyone kept saying bulu as I passed but my driver finally explained what was happening. And all though it may sound like a derogatory term it was generally used with affection. Everyone I met on both Bali and Java seemed to really like Americans or at least our tourism dollars. And while on the subject of words and phrases you hear a lot – sip sip is another.
Sip Sip has nothing to do with drinking it simply means okay in Javanese. And is used practically with every sentence. And you will notice Javanese never seem to raise their voice to denote the importance of what they are saying rather they repeat the word. If you are being warned to slow down – you will hear “slooowly slooowly”, Or if you need to get the lead out – “hurry hurry”.
The second thing you should know – do not drive yourself on Bali or Java! It is far too dangerous. These people drive like they are insane. There are absolutely no rules of the road. People ignore lanes, traffic signals, pedestrians, motor bikes and other cars but somehow manage to never collide. Plus, the sites are so beautiful you will not want to miss a single thing by concentrating on the demolition derby around you.
In fact, if you ever find yourself in Bali I recommend you contact my friend and driver Babak Made. Made only charged me $45 per day and was always on time and in a good mood. And he not only drove me around he suggested things to see and do that I had not found in my research as well as fantastic restaurant recommendations. Plus, he is a pretty good photographer and interpreter.
\The third thing you should know about Bali and Java is that you should at least try to eat all kinds of things you have never heard of or thought about. Fruits of every kind (Star Fruit, Milky Banana, Dragon Fruit, Hairy Fruit, Snake Skin Fruit, Durien-which I do not recommend), Walang (deep fried grasshopper and quite tasty), shrimp crackers, fried tempe and herb chips, tea in a bag, Rambak (skin of a cow with chili paste), Gudeg (Jack Fruit cooked for 6 hours with coconut water and spices then eaten with Rambak), Chicken Intestines Sate, Quail Eggs Sate, Chicken Organs Sate, Fried Tahu (Tofu), Kikil Sate (Cow Hoof Cubes on a stick), or Duck Betutu (Ballanese duck dish cooked for 6 hours with coconut milk, shallots, and herbs in a bamboo steamer then served with Gudeg and rice – and it is wonderful).
And, why go to Bali or Java in the first place? Because there is no place on earth like it! There are beautiful beaches, forests, waterfalls, rice terraces, secluded lagoons, majestic mountains/volcanoes, and sea cliffs. There are 1000 year old Hindu and Buddhist Temples and palaces from long forgotten kingdoms. You will find colorful and bustling street markets and food vendors willing to bargain for all the things you are sure you just can’t live without. But mostly, go to meet the people.
Indonesia is primarily a Muslim Country although there are sizable Hindu, Christian and Buddhist minority populations. Interestingly, the island of Bali is primarily Hindu with a Muslim minority. But no matter the religion everyone seems to get along and everyone seems to generally like Americans. And very strange – everyone wants their photos taken with Americanos.
I was asked to pose for photos with the locals at every stop. Mostly with young people but also a few middle-aged adults. There are now photos floating around Bali and Yogyakarta of me with hundreds of giggling teenage girls and boys. And one photo is never enough. Each photo shoot requires a standard smiling photo, followed by a crazy face photo (contorted faces and Metallica Finger Wave) and if the photo is with a girl or group of girls “cute face”. In this photo they always tilt their heads and cradle their face in the backs of their hands. Very odd but somehow quite endearing.
In the remainder of this blog I will talk about the beaches, waterfalls, rice terraces, and the hike up Mt Batur. In my final Bali blog, I will talk about my incredible experiences visiting four Hindu Temples, a water palace, street markets and two cultural shows/dances performances.
In Bali you will find a beach for any sort of activity you can imagine. Surfing, Parasailing, Snorkeling, Diving, Jet Skiing, Beachcombing for shells, tanning or just people watching – there is something for everyone. During my brief stay on Bali I only had time to visit three beaches but there are many more that need exploring.
I visited Kuta Beach, Sanur Beach, and Pandawa Beach all located in the Southeast corner of the Island. But, let’s face it, this is an island so there are hundreds of additional beaches that can be explored. All three of the beaches I visited are in cities and offer beach side hotels, restaurants, bars, toilets and art markets within meters of your rented lounge chair/beach umbrella. The beaches are covered in a fine clean sand with plenty of room to stretch out and bake in the sun or kilometers of surf to walk along.
The most interesting of the beaches to me was Pandawa. To reach Pandawa you must drive thru the hills and down a winding road descending the high bluffs above the beach. All along the descent of the bluff there are sculptures of Hindu deities carved into the rockface of the bluff every so many meters. And there are plenty of places to pull over and take photos of the beach below or the sculptures in the rock face.
The highlights of my time at this beach were: bought my official Bail traditional hat, tried my first chilled coconut water from the coconut, tasted my first snake skin fruit, star fruit, milky banana, and hairy fruit. The accompanying photos will speak to the beauty of all three beaches and the weirdness of these fruits.
Thanks to a suggestion from Mr. Made we made a detour from my scheduled itinerary to visit a little known river that flows thru a deep ravine and into and thru a huge cave. The hike down to the river from the road above was steep and long but when I arrived at the river bottom it was all well worth it. Little did I know that the hike down was the easy part. Once at the river, I had to remove my shoes and socks and wade to the waterfall barefoot over sharp painful rocks for several hundred meters.
But again, the pain was certainly worth the gain! Take a look at the photos and I think you will agree – this place is special! BTW that is Babak Made in the photo in front of the waterfall standing with me.
Once the photos were all taken we once again picked our way over the sharp rocks and waded back to our shoes then trudged up several hundred vertical feet of steep track to reach our car. Then we were off to see Jatiluwih Rice Terraces.
Rather than try to explain how vivid the greens were or how beautiful the vista as far as the eye could see – I will simply let the photos speak for themselves. But please understand it was a rainy overcast day and a photo simply can’t do justice to such natural beauty.
And finally, my hike up Mt. Batur to catch the sunrise – at least that was the plan. I woke up at 1am for a two hour drive to the base area of Mt. Batur to meet my guide. We arrived at the base area at 3:30am and began a very grueling scramble straight up the side of Mt. Batur. And after two and half hours of climbing over an uneven track using sharp and jagged volcanic rock for hand holds and foot placement we reached the summit in a very thick cloud.
And there I sat with several hundred new friends waiting in the cold damp cloud patiently for another hour for the cloud to go away and the sun to come up. LOL the cloud never drifted away and the sun barely penetrated through the thick mist. But we enjoyed and cheered the little rays of orange that did peak thru, drank freshly brewed hot tea, watched the monkeys that live at the summit, and even got a few travel tips about my visit to Lebanon from a Lebanese couple on their honeymoon.
Once I gave up on ever seeing the sun again my guide took me on a walk along the crater rim to show me some steam vents just inside and below the cater rim (did I mention this is still an active volcano that last erupted in the 1970s). After a couple of quick photos in the steam it was time to trudge back down the track for our descent. And guess what – half way down the cloud finally moved off and a perfect blue bird day.
Once off the mountain it was time for a quick breakfast and then a long soak in some natural thermal pools at a nearby outdoor spa. And the hours in the hot mineral water did wonders for my tired old muscles.
The accompanying photos are from the summit of Mt. Batur, the descent, and from the Thermal Spa.
One final note of caution – do not try the Durien Fruit! You may have heard about this fruit that smells so bad that you can not open it in doors but supposedly taste good. Bull Shit – it tastes just as nasty as it smells. Durien Fruit is the Asian’s big practical joke on white people! It is simply the nastiest thing you will ever put in your mouth.
I was telling a nice Taiwanese woman I met in Sydney via Whats App about trying durien and how terrible it was. And her simple reply back was – “White people don’t eat Durien – what is wrong with you?” Wish someone had told me that before I ate it. Photos attached.