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Published: November 19th 2007
can't beat a raw pigs hoof when you're feeling peckish
Bali. An island packed with temples, forests, lush rice terraces and beautiful beaches. A gorgeous place - provided you stay away from Kuta! It is the embodiment of everything I hate about mass-tourism. A tacky, commercialised holiday destination lacking any grace, style or charm. After visiting many places with rich culture and history, arriving in Kuta was like being hit around the head with baseball bat. But admittedly, Kuta does serve a purpose. If you are looking for a cheap holiday fix without any frills, just beaches, bars and cheap shopping, then this is the place.
THINGS I HATE ABOUT KUTA
1. Shops selling stickers like "I dig fat chicks" and "up the bum, no babies". Who on earth is buying these? And where are they sticking them? (I know where I'd like to stick them)
2. The three pinnacles of civilisation which sit proudly on one of the main streets: McDonalds, KFC and Pizza Hut
3. You can buy small novelty surfboards to place on your mantlepiece. Some of them have Che Guevara's head printed on them. What the hell does Che Guevara have to do with surfing?
4. The way everything is made to sound special just
the multi-layered rice terraces
by putting the word "Bali" at the front. You see adverts for Bali Massage, Bali Jetski, Bali Spa etc
5. People trying to sell you sunglasses when they can clearly see you are already wearing a pair. One guy even offered me two pairs for a bargain price. Why would anyone buy two pairs of sunglasses?
6. Tacky T-shirts such as Mr Bean wearing a turban with "Osama Bean Laden" written underneath
7. Not being able to walk anywhere without being pestered for a taxi. I was hassled over twenty times in the space of ten minutes. If I wanted a bloody taxi I would bloody ask for one!
There was also an enormous neon-clad slingshot on a main streets. It was a real eyesore. A slingshot is a two-seater capsule connected to two towers by bungy cords. It's like a reverse bungy where you get catapulted upwards. The bungy cords were old and fraying, with large bits hanging off. Below this funfair monstrosity was a sign boldly proclaiming "Kiss Your Ass Goodbye". Judging by the state of the bungy cords, that was fair advice.
At this point in my worldwide trip I was feeling drained of constantly
the biggest fruit in the world?
This is a jackfruit. It is commonly cooked in a balinese curry sauce. I'd hate for one of these to fall on my head!
meeting new people each day, planning bus journeys and seeking accommodation. So I signed up to an Intrepid Travel tour of Bali so I could just sit back and relax. Someone else would do the organising and the planning, and I would go with the flow and see the sights of Bali. This also meant I would actually spend some time with a few people, rather than saying goodbye after a day or two. Our group was a mixture of nationalities and ages, and everyone got along great. Being on a tour group is a bit like being a contestant on Big Brother. Take a random group of people of different ages and from different walks of life, and throw them together for a few weeks. You practically live together, travel together and eat together. If you are lucky, everyone gets along. In reality, luck doesn't come into it. The odds lean in your favour because the type of people who generally travel are open-minded, friendly and patient. Travel delays, hot weather and basic conditions don't cause people to flap, fluster or stress out. So it's all good.
So, we left the tacky touristy holiday scene behind and went
moats are not a common feature
in search of the real Bali. Despite being part of Indonesia, Bali has a distinct culture separate to the rest of Indonesia. Most Indonesians on other islands are Muslims, whereas on Bali they are Hindu. The Hindus love their temples, and Bali has thousands of them. You cannot go more than a few miles without encountering one, even in the most remote places. We found temples by remote waterfalls, in caves, on the tops of volcanoes and in the middle of lakes. Many houses also have temples incorporated into their houses, including an ornate temple-like doorway to the property. Very posh, I must say.
Different temples are devoted to different gods and goddesses, such as Dewi Sri, the Goddess of Rice, which is the staple food in Bali. I imagine if the English embraced Hinduism, we might well have a "Goddess of Bangers and Mash", or maybe a "God of Roast Dinners" (housewife praying: "please let my chicken be tender and my yorkshire puddings be crispy")
Offerings are also made to the gods several times a day. These consist of small trays made from banana leaves, filled with beautiful flower petals (usually frangipani or bougeanvillea), a bit of
food and a burning joss-stick. These offerings are laid out in temples, on shelves in the home, on car dashboards and on the pavement. Once placed, the gods are thought to absorb the essence of the offering. At first I was walking along the pavement, weaving in and out of the offerings , trying not to tread on them. But apparently it is OK to walk on them and crumple them, which is good news because they are everywhere! Some people place them in the road, and cars drive over them, either squashing them or scattering the petals all over the road.
The food which is placed on the offerings is usually a bit of cooked rice or, curiously, a small round ritz cracker. Some people don't have time to construct these offerings so there are stalls selling them, and you can buy a bag of them to last a day or two, and just place them down whenever convenient. Forgive me for sounding ignorant, but I would think the point of an offering is that you've made it yourself? Whatever next, offerings that you can buy from vending machines? Virtual offerings which you can buy on the internet?
rice, rice and more rice
the spectacular rice fields
One night we visited a night market near Ubud. This was the real deal, a proper local hangout and not another tourist in sight. There were several stalls selling traditional herbal remedies. Many Balinese people either cannot afford proper pharmaceutical medicines, or just trust in the "old ways" of healing. One of the waiters in our hotel was talking about a viagra-type remedy he used which contained cucumber juice. He said "my willy is a bit podgy, but after this it goes really fast!" Many local people cannot afford to buy large packets of detergents and toiletries, so there were stalls selling single sachets of washing powder, shampoo etc. These people live day-to-day and week-to-week on a very low income.
There were plenty of food stalls at this market too, and many things I didn't even recognise. I chose to eat at a stall with a whole roast pig laid out on the counter, it's thick skin looking shiny and laden with calories. And it seemed no part of this beast had been wasted, because there were coils of curled up "sausages", obviously made from the pigs intestines. Who knows what lay inside? (I remember a funny quote
the unknown sausages
know knows what lay inside....
from The Simpsons about a pig. Homer says "do you really expect me to believe that bacon, pork and ham all come from one miraculous animal?") Anyway, I pointed at the pig and sat down on the rough wooden bench in front of the stall. I was presented with rice, pork, crackling, and three different pieces of the unknown sausages. I closed my eyes and thought "here goes" and threw one into my mouth. I was preparing myself to chew really quickly and force it down with a swig of beer. But it was rich, meaty, spicy and delicious! Each sausage was different, and I soon wolfed them down. I was curious about what was inside, but didn't want to ask. I had heard about a Balinese speciality called "siobak", which consists of minced pigs head, stomach, tongue and skin cooked in spices. Uuugh! I actually did a Balinese cooking course several days earlier, but thankfully that wasn't on the list! I did learn to cook ten other dishes though. The ingredients were suprisingly complex. The essence of Balinese cooking is to balance the flavours of sweet, sour, salty, bitter and spicy, so that all can be tasted without any
"get off my back!"
overpowering the others. Unfortunately, Balinese food is hard to find in restaurants on Bali! Most restaurants serve the general Indonesian cuisine which is found on all the islands.
Near Ubud we visited a sacred monkey forest about three hours away by bike. Within this forest was a temple with a population of several hundred monkeys running around, getting up to no good and generally monkeying around. I got a right shock when one of them jumped on my back and then scrambled up onto my head! I was thinking "Don't you dare pee on my head". Nothing worse than having sacred monkey urine on your head. I think the reason these monkeys are sacred is because of a Balinese monkey god called Hanuman, who helped one of the other gods out of a spot of bother with some divine monkey business.
I'm afraid I don't have any exciting tales to tell you from Bali. There were no dangers, no swashbuckling, and no death-defying experiences. But one of the highlights was climbing Bali's highest volcano, Mount Batur. It was a short but tough climb, and we made it to the top for a great sunrise at 5:30am. When we
sometimes monkeys burn the candle at boths ends
got back to the bottom, one of our group, Imogen, remarked that she would love a cup of tea. She has a device at home called the "tea-maid", which she sets each night and wakes up to a cup of freshly brewed tea. This is a genious idea! Every house should have one. I came up with a variation on the theme which is equally useful and as far as I know does not exist - the "Bacon-Maid". Imagine waking up in the morning to the smell of bacon and a freshly cooked bacon sandwich. I have already filed a patent on this and drawn up some designs, so expect to see the "Ellison Bacon-maid" in the shops in late 2008.
On the north coast of Bali we stayed in the town of Lovina for a few days. A local lady cooked a meal for us in her home, and it was a feast of the gods! We arrived to find a long table laden with more dishes than you could shake a stick at. Not that I would ever try shaking a stick at food. Not only is it pointless, but you will look ridiculous and might offend
collecting a crop for Uncle Ben
your host. Arranged on the table were spicy tuna skewers, beansprouts in peanut sauce, chicken satay, fishcakes and much more..... I ate so much I had to waddle out of there like a penguin. On the way home we went to a lovely little bar which could only seat about ten people. It's name? Small Bar! This really tickled me. I sat down and ordered from the cocktail menu which proudly proclaimed "Welcome to Small Bar". Opposite small bar was a hotel advertising that it's restaurant served "specific food". I'm sure this was just a translation problem, but generally I like my food to be specific (is "generally" liking your food to be "specific" a contradiction?). So what would a menu with UNSPECIFIC food look like then?
1. Some kind of meat in a vague gravy
2. Fried bits and pieces flavoured with this and that
3. Specially selected pieces of food braised in a sauce of stuff
Overall, the Bali experience was superb. Next stop.... Lombok!
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