Motorbiking Bali

I have skipped a lot, what, all of Kalimantan, Borneo, a trip to Bali, the Gili Islands, four days and three nights on a boat to Flores, stopping off to see Komodo dragons, two days overland to Mount Kelimutu, a flight from Ende, Flores, Indonesia back to Bali, three days in Bali and a couple in Ubud.  Some of these should be documented. Don’t hold your breath.
Without further ado…

Sunday, November 2

Roger and I set off on our motorbikes to meet Maja at an easy to find location in Ubud, Bali.  We just a couple of minutes early and she showed up precisely on time.  We stopped at a random nearby restaurant and a couple of us had a particularly uninspiring small serving of spaghetti that was slightly dyed by a minuscule portion of marinara sauce.
Maja is a 30 year old Slovenian, a civil engineer who, for lack of opportunity in her field in Slovenia became a ski instructor in the winter and a mountain guide in the summer.  Compact, energetic, cheerful and most of all colorful, in life and apparel;  every single thing she wore was at least five colors.  She had been staying at a hostel in Ubud and not particularly enjoying her vacation to the extent she had hoped.  We rode our motorbikes back to the house and sat around the swimming pool, listened to the frogs and amused ourselves with small talk.   Roger and she were still chatting when I went to bed.

Monday, November 3

In the morning I went out in search of a place to do my laundry and had breakfast at a warung, a typical local style restaurant.  The owner had a classic 1976 Vespa out front and we chatted for a bit.  He offered to take me on a tour to Kluklung, which was formerly the capital of Bali,  for whatever I wanted to pay him.  He told me that it was a nearby city and that it was sacred and never visited by tourists.  That sounded wonderful.  I texted Maja and she agreed and wanted to go. We agreed to meet at the house at 10 or so.  She brought her bags, she was done with the hostel and her very short term travel companion.  Apparently he was an ok guy, but utterly devoid of spontaneity.

Our first stop was to investigate the reason hundreds of motorbikes were parked on a large field next to a stadium.  It was soon pointed out to me that UbudToKlunkungthere we were the only white people and Maja the only woman in sight.  Perfect, some local event.  Peering over the heads, ten deep and past at least 50 rows of bleachers was the center of activity, a cockfight.  More interesting to us was a woman (yes there was another) who was breaking eggs and separating the yolks by dripping the white through her old, gnarly fingers.  Several yolks were then placed into a glass with some mysterious brown fluid.  I ordered a glass.  Maja took a sip of the fluid but eschewed the yolk.  I consumed the balance while she stood high on the support base of a pole supporting the roof and watched the crowd watching the cock fight.

We set off in the general direction and soon crossed a bridge and saw some hills.  Little miss mountain lady wanted to climb one of the hills.  I took a turn, stopped by a damn and saw a trail leading up a hill and suggested it.  Maja looked at me and without rolling her eyes, said, “follow me” and hopped on her motorbike and sped off.  Down the road a short ways she took a left and headed down a side road with apparent confidence and onto one of many single lane motorbike trails that meandered beside houses or through the jungle.  This one narrowed and finally became a very narrow dirt trail which after a while was nearly obstructed by several dozen motorbikes.  We stopped to find ourselves in a small village, men were preparing a feast, chopping vegetables while sitting cross legged, on raised platforms.  A couple of piglets were slaughtered, and in the process of being dressed.  Maja inquired about the path to the hill and fortunately there was an English speaking man told her that the trailhead was but a dozen meters away.  She told me she would “jump up and down” and asked if I could wait.

I had no doubt that I would be an encumbrance, though I can generally hold my own, I haven’t been trekking in quite a while and she is a professional.  The village was not accustomed to tourists and graciously accepted me, interacting with me as a curiosity, not a wallet with legs.

Chickens were secured to split bamboo spits, piglets were stuffed with peppers and vegetables, a solitary duck was plucked and a fire poured out smoke that filled the village. Across the trail a large wall cordoned off a courtyard to a house or two of concrete with elaborate hand carved doors and hand made furniture of the sort wealthy people all over the world import to appoint their houses.  The wall extended up an incline beside a widened and concrete path.

Maja returned, sweaty, dirty, covered in seeds and delighted.  This was her first venture in jungle trekking. We said our goodbyes, and headed down the path, found ourselves on a new asphalt road and wound our way north, curving our way through the hills and stopping for pictures.  Roger texted that he had a visitor from Hungary and had stopped working for the day.

We caught one of Indonesia’s awesome daily sunsets and headed back to town, grabbed some dinner and headed home. Maja produced a bottle of Hungarian schnapps much to the delight of the Hungarian, who’s name I will never remember.  To my amusement, Maja produced a bedroll and a sleeping bag and declared that she was sleeping outside on the wooden covered deck by the pool.

Tuesday, November 4

UbudToVolcanoNot long after I woke up an ever smiling face emerged from her cacoon, ready for more adventure but we had to wait for the Hungarian who wished to accompany us but proceeded at her pace.   Our first requirement was to assist her in renting a motorbike and the fundamentals of riding same.  We headed off to Sacred Monkey Forest, a beautiful park filled with aggressive macaques.  Maja and I had already seen the park but the Hungarian wanted to see the park.   Within a couple of hundred yards she complaining about the heat, well we had delayed this trip by three hours on her account and now it was the hottest time of the day.  Next came there were t0o many stairs, not enough water, she needed food.   Ayaah!  We tended to her needs and set off again, ostensibly to to an Elephant Cave but not really caring.  Maja set off, initially retracing our path from the previous day and then down another trail that led out into rice paddies where a man was cutting down the clumps of rice and a large gathering of women were flailing the rice and sifting it.   Uninvited we crossed over to the group and invited ourselves to participate to their amusement.   A few minutes of amusement, a few pictures and we were on our way.

We continued north, finally found a roadside restaurant that had a filthy tablecloth with hundres of flies per square meter, decided we were not hungry enough to eat there and found another one, quite clean and ordered.  A few minutes later the Hungarian complained that the woman was just beginning to cook. I don’t know what she expected.  All the while an Indonesian guy just stared at the girls, more out of curiosity than lecherousness, but the Hungarian was bothered by this too.  We finished and headed out. We were but a short way from the volcano and lake and decided to head our way up there.  Of course we stopped frequently to allow our guest to catch up.  I had mentioned that I like to stop off at random people’s houses and ask them to prepare a meal or coffee for me.  Maja decided she would give it a go and chose a house. She did amazingly well, with just the word kopi.  At first the woman pointed to a restaurant that sold coffee but Maja persevered and presently we were served three mugs of “Lumbok coffee”, or as we would call it in the states, “hobo coffee”, finely ground beans stirred into hot water and served with massive amounts of raw sugar unless otherwise directed.

It was getting dark and we all wanted to be out of the valley near the lake with its rutty roads and splashes of water and puddles that could not be seen in the dark and ascended the winding trails to the small town at the top.  We stopped to buy some supplies, agreed on our course and proceeded on our way.  In less than two hundred yards I stopped to photograph a dramatic sunset and discovered that Maja was not with us. Pony (the Hungarian’s assumed name) and I returned to the store and waited but Maja didn’t show.  We were told that she headed down a course we had not agreed upon and set out to look for her going as far as the next road going south and then returned to take our original route which was significantly shorter.  I needed some gas and Pony was cold and bought a jacket for the equivalent of five dollars and we headed back.  A while later I received a text message from Roger indicating that Maja had returned.  I had no doubt she would find her way.

Wednesday, November 5

Although Pony had expressed a desire to explore with us, we had to lose her, she was high maintenance and none too cheery about it.  We left the house and rode to Ubud center and agreed upon a meeting point.  As Pony couldn’t find her way to the point which was just two blocks away, just down the road she went off with Maja to have Maja give her advice on what kind of phone to buy. I went off to collect my laundry.  A short while later I texted Pony and told her that I was going off to Uluwatu to meet with some friends.  A while after that I received a message from Maja that she had “escaped.”

By now it was well past noon and we headed directly to TODO to find some lodging.  We had agreed to stay up in the town rather than try to find accommodations down by the lake as there would be access to food, at least.  I pulled into the first hotel and inquired about a room with two beds.  Maja had a short discussion with the guy who indicated that one bed was all we needed and headed over to the restaurant and found a significantly degraded accommodation, the room was smaller and musty, the bed far inferior and the bathroom was shared and across the balcony.  The view was different, but no better.  I didn’t care. If she was happy I could take this room.  It turned out that she liked the fact that the room was on the balcony and she could sleep outside, in the cool air on a 1/4” thick bedroll on the concrete.

Later I went to take a shower, but our keys did not work in the bathroom.  The employees had taken the key and returned to Denpasar, an hour and a half away, at least.  We could have moved back across the street but Maja wanted to sleep on the concrete so we waited for the key to be returned.  When the room was finally unlocked, it had no running water.  WTF?   I was told to use a shower across the street and was guided through a maze of halls to an occupied room and showered while the guests were elsewhere.  What kind of way is that to run a “hotel”?  The dinner menu was extensive, but the offerings meager, they had but one dish, take it or leave it.  I ate what was available.

Thursday, November 6

While Maja went off to find the trail head to climb the volcano I rode around and explored randomly and in so doing found a place by the lake with a swimming pool and what they claimed was20141106_090931 a natural hot springs hot tub.  I also came across the offices of the tour guides which, logically were located near the trail head.  We met back at the hotel and grabbed a room at the new location.

20141106_102406The nominal price for the long trek to the top of the TODO Volcano is 650,000 rupiah, call it 54 USD.  With no effort I got it down to 300,000 at the TODO official guide station.  Hiring a guide is not mandatory, although the locals will tell you it is.  After protracted negotiations, Maja got the price down to 200,000 rupiah but still elected to not go as paying to go trekking was against her nature.  Interestingly enough, she said she wouldn’t take anybody trekking in Slovenia for less than 100 Euros.

The food was substandard as was the service and we did little more than avail ourselves of the hot tub or pool.

Friday, November 7

2014-11-07We explored the country side by motorbike.  While Maja was able to climb the hills, my motorbike was not up to the task and I had to dismount and walk it up the steep inclines.  The paved roads gave way to dirt roads, dusty and hot with expansive views of parched vegetation as we were nearing the end of the long dry season.  The verdant scenery of Bali is seasonal, but no doubt spectacular in the rainy season as fresh rice is almost a luminescent green.

Very near the hotel was a little Warung called, “Volcano 1” as it was one of three owned by the same woman.  The food was excellent, fresh and organic.  When I ordered fish the woman went out back and took a live one from a large holding tank that she kept in the back.  The vegetables were all grown on the property.  Maja had the banana pancakes and fresh fruit.  She couldn’t finish her 25,000 rupiah dinner, just over $2.  The woman who ran the place was extremely pleasant.  Oops, that must have been Thursday night as we ate another breakfast and dinner there.  Oh well, who is going to know?

Saturday, November 82014-11-08 Volcano to Lake

We decided to head out to Danau Buyan area, where there is a beautiful large botanical garden, some awesome temples and a great deal of nature and trekking to be had.   I insisted that we take the easy route back down to Ubud so I could swap out my little Honday Scoopy for something up to the task of the “mountainous” regions.  The ride back to Ubud was uneventful other than being stopped by the the police and being asked for our International Drivers license. It is just a shake down.  I pretended not to understand much and called a guy I know in Bali and handed the phone to the cop and then spoke with my friend. After five minutes of exchange I reached into my bag and pulled out 100,000 rupiah, about $8, Maja followed my lead, everyone was happy and we were on our way.  The official policy is confiscation of the bikes, a court appearance and a fine of up to one million rupiah.

Next we headed north again and slightly to the west, the traffic was abysmal.  At one point we were passed by twenty motorbikes with side saddles, some had flashers and sirens although they were not police, they just expected that they could ride on the the wrong side of the road and everyone would get out of their way.  We encountered them again this time coming at us.  Cars and trucks would tailgate us, riding a meter from our rear wheels although we had nowhere to go.  It was nerve racking, to say the least.

We finally, very near our destination stopped at a market, wandering around, I with little purpose other than not being on the road, Maja in search of a cheap jacket; she found one and happily donned it and became a Slovenian bumble bee.  After another twenty minutes of exploration we happened across a…. hmmm… (what do I call it?)  a place that offered lodging.   The owners were a young Swiss man and his beautiful Indonesian bride.  Her father and their daughter also resided there.  There were six rooms, but at least two were reserved for the family.  The view was phenomenal and the setting was tranquil.  The room was basic, to be kind, but it would do. I can sleep damn near anywhere and there was a slab of concrete for Maja.  Three men appeared from somewhere nearby and they practiced their traditional music while the five year old daughter practiced her dance, although not in costume.  Dinner of the night was pre-set as to the menu and the time, one was asked to pay what he thought it was worth.  The room was 150,000 rupiah, cheap but not a great deal.

  • The underpowered Scoopy I swapped out.

Sunday, November 9

There was much to see in the area, our first stop was to be Manduk Waterfall, which I had seen my first time in Bali, it is an impressive waterfall and the hike is spectacular, steps forever, at least a thousand, through a lush jungle along breezy ridges.  Not far from our hotel on a patch of gravel Maja skidded to a stop, unfortunately not upright, and received some minor abrasions to her right upper thigh, buttocks, knee and ankle.  She was done for the day but insisted that she would return alone and that I should go on.  The roads became ever worse and I eventually, following the guidance of my phone went off to a dirt trail into the jungle, which was amazingly enough, indicated on google maps.  I left my motorbike and began walking but there were far too many trails.  Had I not had a motorbike I may have ventured down and figured I could come out somewhere and eventually find a taxi, but I feared that I would never find my bike.  Although some of the scenery was familiar and I was sure I could wind my way back to my original entry point of several months ago as I would just have to follow the trail along the ridge, selecting each of many bifurcations to find my motorbike left me a bit uneasy.  I returned, motored around aimlessly and finally killed a couple of hours in a roadside stall, seeking shelter from the rain and buying coffee after coffee a woman who became more confused with every request.  This coffee buying was done sole.  As the sun set the valley filled with clouds and the whole lake disappeared TODO. It was chilly, cool and drizzly.  We looked at the weather report and decided we should leave in the morning as rain was predicted for the next five days.

  • Morning has broken

Monday, November 10

We decided to go to Uluwatu, on the far south of Bali and spent a night in Kuta.  I took a nice hotel room and met up with a Indonesian woman I had met earlier while Maja found a couple of guys to host her.  While I luxuriated, she slept with a can of pepper spray in her hand, ever at the ready, wary but without any probable reason for concern.

Tuesday, November 11

We met up an my hotel and headed to Uluwatu.  Although it wasn’t much of a ride, we had departed late and there was little time to do much.

Wednesday, November 12

20141112_110900Maja went to the beach with a book and I drove around visiting every beach in the area.  They were all the same, a hundred steps down from the road and rough water.  The only reason to enter was to surf many of the beaches are considered completely unswimmable.  When the water is calm there is always surfing at Uluwata.

Thursday, November 13

I returned to Legian alone then went back to Ubud to swap out bike, pulled over by police for the second time in a few weeks,  this time my bribe was 200,000 rupiah.  The ATM was out so cop accepted 170,000.  I then went to town and got some cash at another ATM and grabbed a ride back to Kuta.

Friday, November 14

To my great dismay I discovered that I had left my ATM card when I withdrew my money.  The ATMs in Indonesia only let you take out 1,200,000 at a time, about $100 dollars, add the three dollar ATM fee and as of the date of this writing (December 13) I discovered that my bank is now charging me five dollars per ATM withdrawal, that’s 8% to get my money.   I contacted Roger and he told me he could get me $400, so I rented another motorbike and spent three hours on what should have been a forty minute ride. The traffice was unbelievable.  Usually motorbikes can bypass the cars stuck in traffic but every intersection seemed to have twenty cars going all four directions and a hundred motorbikes and nobody was moving.  At least no one was honking the horn.  Roger kept sending me text messages, but as I was driving, I didn’t know. I showed up hours late and met him as his girlfriend at a restaurant well after he was to meet a real estate person.   On the way back I got stopped yet again, while motorbikes with four kids, the oldest being twelve drove by with impunity but without helmets I was a mark.  This time the cop wanted 500,000, the official fine is 1,000,000.  I had but 350,000 left in my wallet, he took it all. I got stopped one more time and told the cop I had no more money, the last cop took it all, he just shrugged his shoulders, stopped traffic for me and I went on my way.

Screw it, it was easier to hire a taxi to go to the airport than get extorted again.  I turned in my motorbike and grabbed a taxi.  The reasonable metered fare is 30,000 rupiah, I paid 100,000, the driver offered to wait for me and take me back for only 150,000 more.  I dismissed him.  After buying my flight to the other end of this country for twice the round trip cab fare I found that the airport had instituted a policy of fixed fares set at a counter and I found that my fare back was 70,000 rupiah.


Done, flying off to Kuala Lumpur.  I missed a lot here, but it is already too long. Somehow I forgot the story of her “Felix the Cat” day pack that miraculously held every imaginable thing one could need under any circumstance, or her wide variety of multi-colored clothes each garment at least four different bright colors, from her hat, shirt, pants, socks to her shoes.  Oh well.

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