Friday, April 24, 2009

Bali (Pt. 3 of 3)

Rafting, reggae, and relaxing occupied the bulk of my fourth and fifth (and last) days in Bali.

I mentioned that Eddie – the go-to guy for arranging activities at Jati Home Stay – hits up every guest regardless of age or apparent interest to go rafting because he earns commission. I for one was happy to oblige.

Payung Rafting is, so they say, the best and longest-running of nine companies that profit from the rapids of Bali's Ayung River. As with the cycling tour the day before, I was picked up in the morning and brought by van to the starting point, in this case a small equipment shack near a Hindu temple and, of course, the river.

After hydrating and taking our helmets, lifejackets, and paddles, we descended 375 steps down the steep canyon wall to the river. In my boat was a honeymooning Californian couple whom I greatly enjoyed talking and joking with. (I have met fewer than ten Americans so far while abroad, and these were some interesting, relatable folks.) Two Hungarian ladies plus our guide Agus rounded out the boat.

This company's 10km stretch of the Ayung begins a bit further upriver than the others'. Agus boasted that their stretch includes right off the bat a 2m drop, the largest of the day, whereas others put in downstream from it.

The two-hour trip included two stops along the river. The first was to admire artistic rock carvings in the riverbed.

The second stop was to play underneath a waterfall. The crushing force of the water on my head was intense when helmeted and almost too much to bear helmetless. Trying to stand my ground underneath the mighty waterfall as it attempted to push me away was an amusing challenge.

What I liked best were the splash wars between boats and the calm sections of the river when it was safe to flop overboard and just float belly-up in the cool water. The beauty of the green vegetation on the near-vertical canyon walls was unforgettable.

After finishing rafting, I was thankful for my fitness as the oh-so-steep hike back to the top gave some of us problems. During lunch they showed the video of our trip. It had been filmed by a man in a kayak who over and over would zoom past us to the next ideal spot from which to capture the action. I liked the sound track and actually thought the movie was quite well done – not to mention that I happened to kind of be the star (by no fault of my own, of course) – so I bought the VCD. A great souvenir, I think, in addition to the incense, percussion instruments, and books on pantheist spirituality that I bought while in Bali.

That night I again met Juanita and Ingelin for an ultra-cheap dinner. I kept the Coke bottle as a souvenir because it actually had Indonesian (same as Malay) writing on it (which for the life of me I cannot find in Malaysia) but I was forced to give it up – an empty bottle! – by security at the airport. It was immature, but that might have been as upset as I've gotten while abroad. I suppose the glass was the problem.

Then we went for reggae music and drinks at a restaurant there in Ubud. I thought the band was great, and I'm pleased to report that I was actually the one to suggest to the girls that we get up and dance. I recognized the band's keyboard player as the guy who had sold me percussion instruments earlier that day, so I went up to say hi. Before I knew it I was jamming on djembe with the band and even given some stop-time over which to solo. The girls' mild reactions seemed to convey that I'd have to try harder if I wished to impress them.

Everywhere I went in Bali the locals were setting out little leaf-made offering baskets. Though they are typically small and square, the size and shape of the offering baskets vary, as do their contents and the number set out per day. They are placed on sidewalks, in entryways, or on little shrines and are meant to return to the gods a bit of what has been given.

The following day, my last full one, we did some final exploring around Ubud, checking out the claustrophobia-inducing main bazaar.

Then we hired transport to get us back near the airport to the town of Sanur, bargaining the cost from 180,000 rupiah down to half. Our driver was hysterical. He asked for both of the girls' email addresses "so he could improve his English," and they prudently provided fakes.

In Sanur we hurried to the beach to get there before the sun completely set, having heard that this was the spot to find a nice beach. We were dumbfounded that hardly anyone was there when we arrived, and the low tide revealed hundreds of feet of unattractive sand and seaweed in front of the water's edge. It must be that all the good beach activity is done well before sunset. Instead of swimming we lay down and talked. I learned to count to ten in Norwegian.

We found dinner at a restaurant featuring live Irish music that I very much enjoyed. The European girls were familiar with far more of the songs than me, an American with admittedly a healthy dose of Irish blood. An impossibility in Kuching, this restaurant was at the time patronized by exclusively white tourists.

The next morning I finished packing, we said our goodbyes, and I caught a beat-up taxi-van to the airport. Off to Jakarta for the shortest of visits to some new friends.