Wow, a lot has happened since my last post. I decided to stay on Gili T after Edwin left and get my Rescue Diver certification. People say that it’s the only worthwhile PADI certification out there, and I tend to agree with them (after a very bad AOW instructor).
Although the diving in Gili T isn’t really that great (certainly not worth the hype, especially compared to Tulamben), there is a glut of five star PADI and SSI schools on the island. This makes for an instructor war which increases the quality of the instruction. I had an excellent instructor, Daris from Blue Marlin dive, along with two dive masters in training for my three day rescue class. I learned quite a bit through contrived but necessary examples. The first exercise was to gather my gear, from the bottom of the pool, across the pool, in one breath! Never knew I could hold my breath for so long.
The party atmosphere combined with $200 being stolen out of my hotel room made me leave the island once my class was done. I set my sights in Ubud, the cultural capital of Bali. Imagine a city comprised of thirty something new-agers riding around on motorbikes and you have a pretty good feel of the city. Yoga and meditation classes and retreats are offered for a spectacularly high price that must make the locals’ eyes roll all the way to the back of your head. Coincidently, also a yoga technique that’s taught in the workshops.
Ubud is where all of the stone and wood carvings on the island originate, among silver and gold jewelry. You can buy pretty much anything here, from a custom ordered bison wood carving to a crystal necklace. Luckily for me, there’s also a nice bike shop! GPS coordinates (8.51908S 115.26875E). They mostly sell new polygon bikes which seem pretty solid. A few used (second push bike) bikes are available and I picked one up for $80 in pretty good condition, with a promise from the owner to buy back at 60% of the price! I opted for a helmet ($12, wow!) and a better saddle. They set me up with a nice back rack with jury rigged handlebars attached with spare tube and zip ties so I could haul my backpack. I’m now on the first night on my tour in Batu Riti after a grueling 7371593463 meter climb which took about 5 hours.
Back to Ubud: I met Marco, an Italian traveler with a guitar, on the bus from Padang Bai to Ubud. We decided to cut costs and get a room together and ended up at a homestay close to the center for about $8 each. Even the homestays in Ubud are adjunct temples! Beautiful decoration in the wood and stone work, with a grandmotherly figure to boot. Weena waited up for us until 3am the first night, and cooked a delicious banana pancake and fruit salad in the morning.
Marco and I were up to explore the town after our absurdly inexpensive massages and started walking the streets with a bintang in hand. After live music at a hookah lounge, we end up at the only late night destination in Ubud, CP. We played some pool and met two Indonesian women, Mira and Ari, and in a light stupor agreed to meet up the next day. While enjoying the morning pancakes and waiting out the rain playing guitar, Mira bicycles over. She toured Bali and Lombok on bicycle, so we immediately hit it off. Miraculously, the rain stopped and Marco rented a bike. We were ready to roll!
Mira took us around the Ubud area at a breakneck pace, feather earrings flying as wildly as her limbs as she listens to her headphones while we try to keep up. We saw gorgeous temples, rice terraces, and freaky scarecrows before eating food from the Padang region (West Sumatra, where Mira is from). To reiterate, there’s only awesome and super awesome food on this island, and this was in the latter category.
On the way back, Mira took us to a secret part of the river which carved out huge water channels that you could sit in. Felt better than the massage! We were burning time until we would meet back up with Ari at an “ecstatic dance” at the yoga barn. This turned out to be totally insane, and my first ecstatic dance experience. It is simply a huge dance floor with a DJ playing weird music and everybody dancing like a maniac for two hours. I started laughing at first but got into it!
After the dance, we got food with Ari and Nina joining the group. More Padang food … excellent. We made plans to travel by bicycle to Sanur, then take the ferry to Nusa Panida, a large island in the South East of Bali, and relax on the beach. Fast forward and at 5pm we’re in on an untouristy island riding motorbikes to Crystal Bay. We got a tip from a local that the bay next to Crystal Bay was even better. With essentially no proper planning, the five of us end up on a deserted picture perfect beach with a three person tent, one sleeping bag, ten liters of water and a bag of peanuts. We made the best of it and snorkeled, buried Nina in sand (yes we remembered her before we left!), and jumped through hoops before sleeping on the beach.
We got a good nights sleep and the next afternoon Mira, Marco and I went to a Hindu spiritual purification ceremony, about two hours by bike from Ubud. Mira had been there before and obviously speaks bahasa so we navigated our way to the temple. The process was strange for me (also not certain why I need purification) and started with a ten minute meditation with the healer (maybe oracle would be a better term, apparently she gives advice and can see the future) followed by a cleansing with liters of water poured on your head, always with her chanting in beautiful tones. Marco and I were among the few white people there, with maybe 30 people being purified in about an hour. Many locals (especially the women) let out intense sounds when water was poured in them – from orgasmic to crying to dry heaving. I can’t say that I had a strong experience, but it certainly gives people an outlet for whatever they may need to tell to the world. It’s times like these where I take comfort my belief of the Scientific Method.
We had a going away dinner that night for Nina, who is returning to the US next week. Marco turned to the stove and cooked a delicious pasta dish and I provided the red wine. We said our goodbyes and Marco and I left the next day to Thailand, and I started my bike tour!
Rice fields near Ubud