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Reveling Further on the Indonesian Island

February 13th, 2013 1 comment

Last week we finally ventured to one of Ubud’s yoga venues, the Yoga Barn.  On this occasion it wasn’t for yoga, but rather for dinner and a movie.

The Yoga Barn is this somewhat sprawling complex set amid lush tropical scenery, with a restaurant, several yoga studios, and housing for people staying on campus for a week (or weeks) long nutritional cleanses and other such immersive courses.  Once a month the they put on a community movie night.  About $2 gets you in for the show with sitting space on any number of cushioney yoga props plus popcorn served up into little bowls fashioned from the round inner husks of coconuts.

For about $6 more you can come early for dinner, an all-you-can-eat spread of delicious Balinese fare which included salad, seasoned red rice, corn salsa, tempeh, hummus on pita, vegetable pasta and fresh fruit.  It was the stuff of hippy-dippy high cuisine featuring all of the key cliches: locally grown, organic, seasonal, fresh, non-GMO.  But then it had one feature not common among such proudly sustainable fair: it wasn’t strictly vegetarian.  Nope, here there were heaping piles of freshly grilled tuna fillets, seared & seasoned to perfection and in abundant supply.

The net result was a meal that fulfilled on the tall promise of what it is to eat in the (now increasingly touted) environmentally sound manner: feeling nourished, healthy, full yet light, and ultimately satisfied.

The movie of the night was called Genetic Roulette, a look at genetically modified foods which made a fitting topic against the backdrop of the meal we just ate.  Thought it suffered journalistic sloppiness in a few instances, it nonetheless raised valid points about health consequences, environmental impact, economic strong-arming, and the potency of lobbying to subvert public interest and rigorous science1.  For better or worse it gave us a glimpse of how the US is viewed on the world stage, in this case our tendency for ruthless attempts to improve upon Mother Nature, patent the shit out the result, and cram it down the throats of other world markets through a clever combination of marketing and political maneuvers.

Over dinner we made the acquaintance of Martin and Philippa, a pair of doctors from Sydney there on holiday with their two teenage daughters.  When we told them of our travel plans (do our year abroad, then go back to Denver to eventually get started on making little people, since my in-laws there are simply Grade-A grandparents just waiting to happen), their older daughter chimed in to report Martin and Philippa’s similar eagerness to get a’grandparentin’, citing her mum’s assessment of her boyfriend being something to the tune of “well he’s got good genes, so if you want to go ahead and get pregnant that would be alright2.”

It bears repeating that Tracy and I gravitate towards older people we meet while traveling, for we generally can learn so many things and get so much perspective just by hanging around them.  Throw in wicked smart and a most aptly demonstrated sense of humor, and you bet we exchanged numbers at the end of the night.

On Being a Sufficient Traveler

During these months of extended travel, we routinely have to deal with the disparity in travel motives between ourselves and others, who are usually in a given locale for just a few weeks on holiday.  It goes like this, as it did at the Yoga Barn with our new friends: “How long have you been here?” “About a month now.”  “Wow, you must have done and seen everything by now!  What have you all done?”  “Ummm…”

There’s this most reasonably held expectation concerning our rate of adventurousness that is predicated upon the idea that we’re all here to see and do as much as possible before we must rejoin the ranks of the real world.  But Tracy and I are not so much being vacationers for a year (gosh, it turns out that sounds exhausting!)so much  as we are living a lifestyle that is easily mistaken for vacationing, mainly because we’re not physically in our country of residence (and are physically located a lot in tropical ones).  So we take it slow and see in a month what a typical tourist is likely to see in one or two weeks.  I reckon Tracy and I have a standing rate of doing interesting and adventurous things of about twice e a week, and even that can be as simple as a night out at the jazz club.

So sometimes, when faced with this innocent supposition of our travel agenda, we have to check ourselves to see if we are in any way somehow squandering this gift of travelicious living.  For us it takes something to own the fact that we’ve been living in Bali a month and have barely scratched the tourism surface of things.

Fortunately, people are generally keen to chip in insights about what they’ve done and loved, so there’s never a shortage of conversation to be had or leads of cool stuff to be exchanged.  In this case Martin turned us on to a most excellent walk through what I suppose you might call a neighborhood of rice paddies just north of the city center, leading us to a delightful reward of a restaurant called Sari Organic.  Tracy documented the beauty, and if happiness is the real goal, I daresay I am a sufficient traveler to have an experience or two like that every week for a year.

Transportation Culture

I continue to be impressed by the ubiquitous culture of motorbiking here in Bali.  Last time I took any real notice (early college, I suppose), riding scooters in the US didn’t get a lot of respect.  Lines like “where do you put the batteries?” and jokes with the punchline “both are fun to ride but you wouldn’t want your friends to see” have my conception of motorbikes quite clear (from an uninformed distance) that it’s not cool, nobody does it, and for good reasons.

But ah, step into a motorbiking culture and actually partake of it in a country wherein it is the norm, and a whole other experience reveals itself.  Finding a parking spot is a cinch wherever you go, because what you need to park is so small.  It’s more comfortable than it looks, even for long rides.  With a backpack and a buddy you can do a serious haul from the grocery store.  When the temperature is right it’s super enjoyable to zoom about, even in the rain.  You feel like you’re part of the scenery through which you are passing, experiencing and living it rather than passively watching through the seals confines of a car3.  Overall it is a zesty means of transportation.

Oh, and it’s cheap.  You can buy a nice new bike like the one we have for something like $2000US, and as I mentioned earlier the rental for a month of about $50 is most affordable.  I can’t tell you what the maintenance and upkeep is like, nor how inexpensive the insurance is (assuming that’s even really necessary), but I can tell you that you can fill up for under $54, and that tank can easily last you a week (or about one round trip to the blue lagoon, about 90 minutes each way).

Realizing all of this, it breaks my heart a little that using a scooter or motorbike as transportation is so largely un-adopted and/or not respected in the US.  Setting aside the cultural disdain, I do understand that it would take a concerted effort to bring it into vogue as a viable means of transportation: they’re not practical to the extent that you need to use freeways to get where you’re going, and there is much to be said for strength in numbers and normalcy.  For when they are ubiquitous (and thus car drivers are trained to be aware of them) getting around by motorbike at 30mph or less is very safe.  Contrast this to them being a rare sight which leaves drivers surprised and wondering “what the heck is that thing doing in my lane?”, and I concede I probably won’t be using one in the US to get around anytime soon.

But oh how I would like to, and I reckon many others would be similarly surprised to come to the same fondness.  For now, I’ll just have to enjoy it while I can.  Like last night, when we went out for tacos5 and rode back through cool breezes amid the rice terraces, set under the huge silvery clouds lit up by a nearly full moon.

A Beach is a Beach

Because we never learn our lesson about beaches not being our thing despite white sands and turquoise waters being the gold standard for iconic paradise, relaxation and fun, we made a trip to the aforementioned blue lagoon.  Lured by the promise of snorkeling in a beautifully enclosed cove right on the ocean, we set out one morning on our motorbike for the journey to the east coast of the island.

The ride was great.  The island of Bali is surprisingly easy to navigate even with it’s signage all in a foreign tongue, and the lush scenery with one deep river gorge crossing after another, beautiful rock formations, and large stone carvings of elephants, Buddhas, and Hindu gods at every turn collectively made the maxim “it’s not the destination so much as the journey” very real.

As could be expected, the beach of the blue lagoon was beautiful and even had lovely snorkeling.  But when the usual sensation of being sweaty, sandy and hot invariably kicked in I was again left overall not sure what all the fuss is about.  A nice older woman was selling sarongs, so we looked for one that Tracy might like.  We found pinkish-red cotton one that was cute.  She started at 100,000 Rupiah (about $10) but after enough hesitation on our part the woman went down to 50,000.  I ultimately paid 10,000 more voluntarily because that seemed like such a good deal, which I suppose qualifies me as a truly terrible negotiator.  It just seemed so cheap after my silk one which went for nearly five times that amount.  Either silk is truly that much more valuable, or I got taken a bit on the tourist drag.  I’m sure it’s a combination of the two.

We originally planned to stay the night in Padang Bai because 3 hours on a motorbike sounded initially like a lot for one day.  But after looking at the ocean-side lodging options and considering what we’d have to pay to have anything nearly as nice as our house back at home (and considering how comfortable the ride in was), we decided to head back before sunset.

To simulate the joys of a night away, we decided to turn our living room pool into a mini swim-up bar, by virtue of a judiciously placed pair of glasses and a bottle of Bintang.  Years of being a hotel pool boy back in high school plus a childhood of having a pool in the backyard (with a father who proudly maintained it with a certain military rigor) collectively have me crystal clear on what a no-no it is to have glass of any sort near a pool, but, uh, I assure you we were very careful.  The transgression against pool maintenance standards was without calamity, and as we swam and lounged under the stars I again giggled at how ridiculously good life can be.

Still wondering where we’ll finding an exception to Bali coming up all aces.  Amazingly (though not really, considering the 24ish hour flight path to get here from the US), we still have no takers on our invite to come visit.  But that will soon change.

Notes:

  1. Look up Monsanto’s battle to not be required to label GMO foods as GMO for a tidy instance of all these things.
  2. Fun fact: when I first heard this my imagination went to the quality of said boyfriend’s jeans, not making the connection that Phillipa the gynecologist would probably have a much higher regard for solid genetics over solid fashion sense.
  3. Nod to Robert M. Persig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, wherein he describes this phenomenon very well.
  4. Even without the Indonesian government’s subsidy on gasoline, which made our spend at the pump closer to $1.50.  Our tank needs 3.5 liters to fill, or just under one gallon.
  5. Even delicious Balinese cuisine could use a break now and then for the sake of variety.
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