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Tuesday 27 December 2011

Bali Private Tour

After our trip to Tannah Lot I got hit with the dreaded “Bali Belly”, much the same as “Montezuma’s Revenge” in Mexico. I was knocked down in our hotel room for two full days and nights, unable to keep anything down. Lesson learned, don’t drink the tap water! During those two days, plus one to recover, we missed two of our included tours on the island. But we were not going to let that get to us, so we hired a private driver to take us on a combination tour of the ones we missed. It took all day and was worth the effort and money.

We left the hotel destination Mas, where we were shown the traditional art of Balinese woodcarving. A few artists are showing their skills working on pieces in various stages of completion, a bit staged, I thought, but it brings the point across. The tools seem primitive but the final products in the showroom are stunning in detail. We came upon a nice piece that would be a good souvenir in our home, and the price was reasonable, but when we arrived at the sales desk we were told that the price tag was wrong and that it should be triple of the price shown, we decided not to buy the carving and returned it to the shelf where we found it, much to the dismay of the store owner. He followed us all the way back to the car trying to get us to buy the piece, but our minds were made up, something was fishy and we had been told to be aware of issues like that.

Traditional Balinese Painting

Then we went on to Ubud, famous for its painters. Traditional Balinese paintings are for sale as well as modern and impressionistic art. A large international community of artists lives here and the choices are huge. The set up was much the same as Mas; Balinese artists showing art in various stages of completion and you really get a feel for the technique used to create these pieces of intense detail. In the showroom we looked for a while at the pieces on display but although they were all beautiful, none of them would look right in our home d├ęcor. We thanked the storekeeper and with a friendly nod we returned to our car. Supposedly when you show no interest in buying something their sales effort is minimized.

On we went to Celuk, the town for silver and gold smiths. The stop over was pretty much limited to a large store with a huge display of silver and gold items from jewelry to spoons. We studied the silver spoon selection for quite a while and chose a couple of them depicting Balinese figurines. While the lady took them away for a final polish up we paid another for the purchase. Our, now wrapped and bagged, purchase was in Shelagh’s purse and when we were back in the car on our way to Mount Agung and the temple of Besakih she wanted to admire her new purchase. Sadly the spoons were not the ones we had chosen! The ones that we were given to us were rejects with the figurines mounted facing backwards. We were quite disappointed and decided to let it go, they did not warrant going back to the store for, but we vowed to be more on our toes where trust was concerned. It is frustrating to constantly be on alert for swindlers.

The Mother Temple of Besakih at Mount Agung

The footpath along the Temple Grounds

Typical Balinese roofs. They vent the warm air upwards

There is plenty to see for the Tourists


Slightly more modern looking roofs

Mount Agung was shrouded in clouds and not visible at the time of our visit, but the Mother Temple of Besakih was amazing. The walk leading to the temple is lined with vendor stalls on the left side and empty on the right side. We chose to walk up to the temple on the right side so not to be accosted by the hawkers trying to sell you everything under the sun, from coasters to sex toys. The only people we dealt with were youngsters with mopeds trying to take us up the mountain for a few dollars, but we convinced them that we needed the exercise. The temple is actually a grouping of many temples, and with them all having festivals every 210 days there is usually something going on there all year round. It was quiet when we were there, and that gave us the chance to take a good look around. The sacred grounds are inaccessible to foreigners but there is plenty to admire from the other side of the short wall, just walking along the paths of this place is awesome, and on the slope of an active volcano, which claimed the lives of 1700 in 1963. On our way down the mountain an old Balinese man looked at me and said: “When walking, you must sometimes look behind you to see what you are missing”, I stopped and turned around just to see the top of Mount Agung become visible for a few seconds through the cloud cover and managed to steal a picture just before it was gone again. I smiled at the man and said: “You are wise”, and he returned my smile. When we returned to the car our driver was taking a nap in the back seat, but he was up and ready to go on right away and we were off to our next stop of the day, the floating Palace at Klungkung.

The Floating Palace at Klungkung

Inside the courthouse with its frescoed ceiling

Fresco detail

The floating palace of Klungkung is what remains of the most important kingdom on Bali; there were nine in total. Most of it was destroyed in a conflict with Dutch colonials in 1908. What remain now are the law courts of the time. In the court there is a detailed fresco on the ceiling depicting the chaste system, ultimately leading to nirvana. It also shows the punishments that one will receive for certain crimes. When we walked up to the court, an elderly man gave us a thorough explanation of the fresco and how the court operated before the intervention of the colonialists. It was a very interesting tour and only cost 20000.00 Rupiah, about $2.00.
Since we were on this tour privately, I think we got a very good lecture about the palace at Klungkung. Usually it would be a tour bus full of people trying to hear the old man speak. We were lucky. Back to the car and on to our last stop on the tour, the Monkey Forest.

Mother and child

They are quite gentle

Hanging on for more

Huge bats

At the monkey forest children take adults along the paths to meet the monkeys. Legend has it that only children can understand, and communicate with monkeys. At the start you can buy a baggy with cut up fruit to feed the beasties. Some of the larger male monkeys can get quite possessive of their tourist and will hang on to your pants or skirt to make sure that he will eat the entire baggy of fruit. Females, some with babies clinging to their bellies are also begging to be fed. Things like sunglasses and baseball caps should be closely guarded, so that a monkey will not steal it. The children can usually get the monkey to return the stolen item, for a fee. During the tour with our young guide I noticed enormous bats in the treetops. They can reach a wingspan of about 1.5 meters.
When you reach the end of the tour your guide will take you to a vendor stall where his or her parents sell souvenirs to help pay for the child’s education.

It was a wonderful day with many interesting stops along the way and also beautiful views or the rice paddies along the volcanic slopes. Back at the hotel we paid our driver and gave him a generous tip. The next day we were well known to all the drivers at the hotel.

Terraced rice paddies

The Balinese countryside