Indonesia - From Bira to Bunaken to Bali
Sep 14, 2003
|Kuta Beach. The district in Denpasar where the Bali bomb killed over 200 people last October. The tourists have come back, seduced by the hot and humid climate, beautiful scenery, unique culture, and no doubt the cheap airfare and packages offered by many a foreign tour group. Almost hidden amongst the expensive shops, cheap street vendors, bars and restaurants is a small wall - Bali's Ground Zero - where wreaths, cards, photos and memorials play tribute to those killed in the bombing. People slow down as they walk by, heads slightly bowed, respectfully, sadly, often stopping to sit nearby or to read the memorials and feel the loss.
We left Tana Toraja, hopped on an 8-seater airplane to Makassar, and hired a car/driver to take us to Bira and the boat. As we suspected, the boat departure has been further delayed - possibly another 3 weeks, maybe longer. As much as I really wanted to do this sail trip, these continued delays are not going to work! The tradewinds are still in our favor right now, but the rain and monsoon season starts mid-October and quite honestly I don't want to risk being in the middle of the Indian Ocean when that hits. So JP and I packed up, asked for our money back, wished the owners good luck, and said farewell to the boat.
So I'm now experiencing a different trip than originally planned - Indonesia by land instead of by sea - but I'm having a blast nonetheless. Maybe this is just my lesson in flexibility and adaptability.
Our final stop in Sulawesi before moving on to a different island was to Manado, a city on the northeast tip, and Bunaken Island, an hour's boat ride from Manado. Palm trees, white sandy beaches, beautiful sunsets, gentle breezes blowing, quaint little villages, no vehicles ... a little slice of heaven right here in Indonesia. Supposedly one of the scuba diving meccas of the world, the nearby reef and huge drop-off are home to a myriad of colorful fish and beautiful coral as well as sea turtles, coral shark, sea snakes, barracuda and an assortment of other underwater wildlife. Wait a minute ... did someone mention SHARK!! I'll admit that once I heard that sharks were in the neighborhood, I was somewhat hesitant to snorkel too close to the drop off.
Five relaxing days on Bunaken was just what the doctor ordered before we moved on to Bali.
Aaahhh ... beautiful Bali. Beautiful loud-Australian-tourist-and-shop-and-restaurant-filled Bali ... well, at least in Kuta Beach area. After being one of few tourists for the past month in the quiet Sulawesi countryside, I was shocked at the number of tourists and general development and busy-ness of Bali.
The island is tropical, lush, clean and inexpensive, and I can certainly see why many tourists come here. Even now, which is outside of the main tourist season, some Kuta Beach hotels are back to 95% occupancy, up from perhaps 8% a year ago and 25% this spring. The bomb has not kept people away from Bali for long.
Most Balinese are Hindu, a religion that I know little about but find very intriguing. There are more gods to worship and ceremonies to attend than I'll ever be able to understand. The smell of incense continually wafts through the air, burning everywhere from offering shrines and temples to shops, restaurants and homes. This is the first time I've walked through a fish market and smelled the delightful scent of incense!
I was particularly amused with the small offerings, which are prepared a number of times each day and placed on the ground outside the front door (to ward off bad spirits) and inside the door (to please the good spirits). Items offered in these small bamboo leaf pouches include flowers, potpourri and incense but sometimes also rice, mint candies, little Ritz crackers, and I even saw what looked like half a hot dog bun in one! I suspect the street dogs and cats are in such good shape thanks to the offerings.
JP had some business to attend to, so I spent a few days alone in Kuta Beach before heading to Ubud which is known as the "cultural tourism" area of Bali. There are museums and galleries displaying Balinese art, you can visit the many homes of artists and wood carvers who live in Ubud, or you can take language or Balinese dance lessons. I enjoyed playing tourist for a few days ... attended a Balinese dance performance, took some Balinese cooking lessons, snooped through some art shops and toured through the nearby monkey forest. I also had my first solo bartering experience at the market ... I probably still paid too much, but I walked away satisfied.
JP met me in Ubud and the first item on the agenda was to lose some of our excess luggage. Both of us had packed expecting to be on a boat for 3 months so we had larger items and different clothing than what's needed when you're backpacking. So we bought large backpacks, squeezed in what was absolutely necessary, and shipped the rest home.
From Ubud we went to Lovina for a few days, on the northern coast of Bali. Kind of a mini Kuta Beach, just not as overrun by tourist development. But unfortunately the beach and street vendors are quite relentless and very irritating ... want to buy sarong? tee shirt? sunglasses? necklace? wood carving? fruit? massage? ... it just went on and on. If I had an offer for "transport" once, I had it a hundred times! In Indonesia only very poor people walk; to walk means you can't even afford a bicycle. Since all tourists are rich (or so the locals think) the locals just can't understand why we would choose to walk!
Anyway, we enjoyed Lovina nonetheless ... we experienced the local market (a must-do every place we go), visited a Buddhist temple (men and women must wear a sarong, sleeved shirt and waist scarf to enter), and we also visited some Hot Springs near the temple.
And tomorrow we're on the move again to Java.