We packed quite a few sights into our time in Bali, including: a volcano, rice patties, a coffee plantation, a couple of wood carving studios, a water temple, several beaches, snorkeling, a traditional village, a couple of temples, traditional dancing shows, waterfalls, and a cooking school.
We did all that and still had many days of lying around the house, enjoying the pool, cold drinks, fresh nasi gorang, watching DVDs ($1 each), and catching up on school work, writing, and trip planning.
Suzanne scored a great place for us to hang out on the “quiet” East coast of Bali for a couple of weeks. The place had about 2,000 square feet and we luxuriated in spreading out in the most living space since we left home. It is amazing that we managed to spread stuff from one end of the house to the other and yet fit it all back into our packs when we left two weeks later.
In between school lessons the kids were in-and-out of the pool in the back yard to cool off and burn off extra energy. We made (somewhat painful) progress on our road-school curriculum. Patrick mastered statistical variance and standard deviation. He passed his mid-term by solving a couple of problems then explaining the formulas and concepts to Suzanne. Alex has diligently made progress on her Khan Academy goal for long division of decimals. She also made significant progress on her report on explorers of the new world. After a Skype conversation with Danville friends we think we are on track with school work.
The house is built in the traditional Balinisian style; the rectangular yard is surrounded by a tall concrete wall, a locked gate opens to the street, there are two Hindu house alters, and a ceremonial front door that isn’t used. Beautiful tropical flowers that grow in the yard are used as daily offerings on the alters and to wear behind one’s ear. The interior ceiling of the house is made of woven bamboo that allows for good ventilation, but also allows plenty of dust and critters into the living space. The cleaning crew showed up every day to sweep, dust, and wet mop to keep things reasonably clean.
We made the space in the house our own when Suzanne and the kids insisted I catch a couple of mice that were hanging out in the shower and relocate them to the back yard. Suzanne also found the occasional two-inch big black bug running around that I had to chase down and squash. Squashing bugs is one of my primary responsibilities in the family. After a couple of days we came to an “understanding” with the wildlife in our house.
Every evening a gecko sounded off in the attic with a loud “GEEEKEKEKEKKO”! According to Hans (our ex-pat Dutch host) every house in Bali has a foot-long “house gecko” that hunts insects and other small critters. He also told us that the geckos should be left alone because they can take off your finger if you mess with them. I never saw our gecko and would not have messed with it anyway. However, we knew it was in our attic because its call woke us up a few times every night.
Even after reaching détente with the wildlife in the house, we still had issues with dogs on the street outside our yard/compound. The dogs around Bali are not afraid to growl, snap, and bark at walking people and motor bikes. The alpha dog that lived in the compound next to us gathered a pack of like-minded canines every night and set off making noise and frightening innocent American families walking home from dinner. The dogs never bit us, but they did a good job of terrorizing the kids. We started hiring taxis to drive us directly to our gate after dark even though Hans assured us that there was no danger as along as we ignored them and kept walking.
Another neighbor on the street raised hens for eggs and cocks for fighting. The cocks are kept in bamboo cages in the yard and start crowing about 3:30 every morning – just as the barking dogs turned in for the night. Hans informed us that cock-fighting is now illegal in Bali, but fights still take place and the local police get a few thousand rupiah to look the other way.
We really enjoyed the Balanisians we met during our stay and found them to be friendly and helpful. Hans, confirmed that the Balanisian people are extremely easy-going, but to not be lulled by the friendly attitude into paying too much for things.
Hans helped us with advice on how to bargain, because bargaining is expected for almost everything – even traffic tickets. Since it is very obviouse that we are not locals, we paid at least 50-100% more than the local prices. However, even with the higher prices most things were considerably lower than in the West. For example, a standard dish at most restaurants is Nasi Gorang Special, which goes for around $2 at an OK restaurant in a tourist area. Nasi Gorang Special consists of fried rice with chicken/pork, a fried egg, two chicken satay skewers, peanut sauce, and fresh vegetable garnish. So, a normal meal at a restaurant for our family cost about $15 USD. A local can get the same meal at a different restaurant for much less than half our price. But $15 for a family of four (and that includes beers and soda), is a pretty good value for us.
We were in Bali for Thanksgiving this year and we found a Scottish pub near our house that served a traditional American feast with roasted turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, candied carrots, brussels sprouts, etc. As we walked to the pub on Thanksgiving a crowd of people came running out of a nearby store, a couple of girls were crying, and people had concerned looks on their faces. At first I thought there might be a fire – or maybe a bomb threat. Then Suzanne overheard someone saying that there was an earthquake. Being from California, a little earthquake that didn’t even knock over a building couldn’t phase us. So we continued on to the pub and ordered our feast. Unfortunately we had to wait another hour for the food to arrive because the pub owner needed to wait for the evacuated stores to open again so he could buy the carrots for our meal. Most of the small restaurants purchase food in small quantities because the refrigeration (if there is any) is reserved for cold drinks; it is common for the owners of little restaurants to restock food a few times over the day. The meal was a big success and we went around the table and discussed our thankfulness. Alex was thankful for family and our good meal. Patrick was thankful that we brought a laptop on the trip (sigh). Suzanne and I were both thankful that we are all healthy and safe, and that we have so many supportive friends and family.
The high-light of our stay in Bali was the cooking class we attended in Ubud. We were the only students that day and the class began with a tour of the local market. Our instructor, Katut, walked us around and explained the different local/fresh ingredients we would be using during the class.
Katut taught our class at his family compound where they have an open air teaching kitchen and a serving area that looks out over a dense jungle river valley. The food was wonderful and we really enjoyed learning some of the basics of Balinese cuisine. I’m looking forward to see if we can reproduce some of these tasty dishes when we return to the states.
The traditional village we visited has a few very interesting traditions. For example, every year the men of the village ceremonially fight each other with some extremely sharp thorns, creating a bloody mess of their backs. The bleeding demonstrates their committment to the gods. Occasionally they substitute bananas for the thorns, I assume that is because the thorns hurt. The village also has special tax status with the government, all the taxes paid by residents of the village are retained by the village rather than funding the central government. They also have special dispensation to have cock fights for ceremonial purposes. People are not allowed to marry outside the village population, if someone marries an outsider they need to move out of the village. Many of the villagers make handicraft products such as woven tapestries, art work drawn on palm leaf, woven baskets, and wood carvings. We bought a tapestry and palm leaf art from the home of the guide who showed us around his village
Many of our activities in Bali are best communicated via pictures, so I have uploaded more pictures than usual to this post. I hope you enjoy the slide show.