Sunday, April 13, 2008

Bali Unplugged

KP comes to visit in Australia and decides that she wants to take a "side" trip to Bali. It's a bit like saying, "Since I'm visiting the US, I may as well see France." But oh-well, I'm game for it and she's the one doing the many travel hours on planes, so it's off to Bali we go.

It is lovely in Bali - opposite of dry Melbourne. Very very green. Ireland Green. Green like St. Patrick's Day green. Green like a jungle. It is hot, muggy and I am sweating with reckless abandon.
Our hotel looks like something out of a Travel and Leisure magazine and I am grateful that KP picked it out. I tend to make trips harder than they are...see too to too many places...stay in cheap hotels to cut costs. This is luxury and it's good to be along on someone else's style vacation. I always need a rest when I come home from my trips - this one I'll actually get to lay by the pool and sip drinks with umbrellas and such.

Our resort has this gorgeous open air restaurant where we enjoy breakfast every morning. The monkeys swing from the trees nearby and the sounds of the water in the canyon below us echo up as we enjoy fresh fruit, pancakes, yogurt, and tea and coffee. We are in Shangri-La.

According to KP, it's Shangri-La only if the monkeys go away. They have a mutual dislike going on. I think it's because she is blond and her head looks like a big banana to them. This causes no end to their frustration. We ended up at something called the Monkey Jungle and people were sitting with the monkeys. However, Kathy walked in and a whole tribe of vicious, teeth barring monkeys took off after her. She screamed and threw bananas at the beasts as she ran in terror through the park. All we brown haired people in the park thought it was hilarious.

Since that time, the monkeys have her number. They are on our porch at night...they run around our roof in the morning...and they chase her through the fields at our hotel. She lives in constant fear of these limber tree dwellers.

The town that we stayed in is called Ubud. It is in the mountains of Bali and absolutely beautiful. I did take a day trip to some of the beaches in the south and they were not nice. I hear the area to the north and east of us is quite gorgeous but the southern area is like a big Australian party zone and if this is the only place I ever went in Bali, I think I would hate it. There are people there tying to lure you into their shops, poverty is everywhere and you get the general feeling that things are a bit unsafe. As soon as I arrived, I wanted to leave.

Ubud is the artists area of Bali and famous for its textiles, jewelry, woodcarving and dance theaters. The people are smiley and happy and very willing to help. Yes, they still want the best price for things and everyone says that they can get you a deal, etc. etc. But generally we have found happiness in Ubud and love the people and the surroundings. We are enjoying good food, exploring the temples and palaces, purchasing beautiful sarongs and actually wearing them, and walking the rice fields and countryside.

One evening we went to one of the dances in the palace and watched the performers prance around with odd postures and flexing arms and legs. They learn these dances when they are kids and it is an honorable thing to be good and a well respected performer. Most remarkable is what they do with their eyes. I swear they are in a trance - eyes flickering at rapid pace. The dance was exotic and interesting. There was one part of the dance where there were about six women on stage...they were all dressed alike and had the same makeup and hair. There movements were coordinated and it was eerie. We called it the Balinese Robert Palmer girls.

Wanting to reach out a bit from Ubud, Kathy and I hired a driver for the day and went on a countryside tour. The natural surroundings are stunningly beautiful but it's most amazing to see how the people live. The houses are actually compounds. They have a wall and then several huts and temples within the grounds. It looks like they all live in the Minneapolis sculpture garden. There is a cooking hut, a sleeping hut, a prayer hut, etc. We saw some of those magical terraced rice fields and followed one of the many temple celebrations through the streets for a couple miles. We felt like we were in the parade. We stopped in a couple of towns and wandered about with some local guides and our driver just waited for us. Actually, he did some shopping of his own because we somehow ended up with a caged rooster in the back of our van. The thing flapped around like mad. Feathers were flying, and at one point, the rooster began to crow. Eventually KP clucked it to rest. Fearful monkey girl is actually a chicken whisperer.

It is hot hot hot here and muggy beyond belief. We intended to go on a hike at one point today, but bailed out when it was too warm and we were without any sort of food or water. It was about hour 6 into our day trip. We were overheated, sick of being in the car and ready to get back to the hotel pool. KP got the giggles and kept repeating "nacho mama" to the point where I told her to shut up. Then she started repeating the annoyingAustralian "YEEEEAHHH" and I told her to go back tosaying "nacho mama." Our van driver got into the nacho mamapart as well and suddenly we were a car of crazed people repeating "nacho mama" over and over for no known reason. Road trip madness.

Just in the nick of time, we stopped at an outdoor market where we bought some fruit I had never seen in my life. One type was bitter but had the texture of an apple. I didn't like it. The other one was fleshy and when we cracked it open it looked like a white clementine. It was slimy but tart and I liked it. I was famished and consumed about three of them before I had the fear that I may be severely allergic and not know it. One hour later there was no swollen throat.

Very strange to eat new and exotic fruit - I wonder how many others there are in the world that I haven't yet tried.
However, the lack of foods, places to use a toilet, and crazy country roads did make me want to heave. Nacho mama.

The next day we stayed in town, took a cooking class and ate our spicy creations. Our class was a fun group of people from places all around the world. However, there were two exceptionally annoying women from California in the group that everyone grew tired of as the day progressed. Why did they have to be from America?

We were taught to make ceremonial Balinese food and created about 6 different flavorful dishes with each tasting better than the next. It was a whole day of cooking and the afternoon heat was suppressed as the rain poured down around our thatched roof cooking space. Don't ask me to make any Balinese food at home. Even though I have the recipes, I don't think I could ever find the ingredients. Candle nut anyone? Fresh Palm sugar?

Bali is famous for massage and our hotel is no exception as there is a spa retreat located on the campus. Our room comes with two complimentary massages and so we booked in for each of our treatments around the same time. That way we could head into town for the evening and have dinner and see one of the dancing shows.

However, as we waited for our individual massages, it became clear to us that they were putting us in the same room. Apparently, it was a 'couples' massage. For the next two days, every time KP would ask me what my favorite part of Bali was, I would gaze at her lovingly and reply "the couple's massage". We had a total of 4 treatments at our hotel and even though we asked for separate rooms, they always put us together. By the end of the week, we were to have enjoyed couples massage, couples reflexology, couples pedicure, and couples facials.

It turns out massage was to be a big part of this holiday. It's such a luxury and in Bali, it is wonderful and VERY inexpensive. One day, after exploring the markets and having a filling curry lunch for about 3 dollars, we saw some relaxed people coming out of a nearby courtyard. There was a spa located just behind the gates and the people were happy to tell us about how great it was. They were all Europeans and began to tell us about the 90 minute treatments that we could have for 14 US dollars. We checked it out, there were appointment times available, and we signed up. The list included all sorts of treatment and I signed up for something with a soak massage and some sort of yogurt treatment

Now, as I write this, part of me can't believe I'm going to put in up on the blog. No doubt, when you are finished reading it you will think exactly what I thought - that KP and I just paid someone 14 dollars to molest us. We preferred to think of it as "Attack of the massage therapists."

For the first time, I was lead into a "private" room. That's where the "private" part ended. At our nice hotel, the massage therapists do a very American style massage where they keep all areas covered unless they are being treated. Such was not the case with the very authentic Balinese massage.

The private room was surrounded by brick and thatched walls, it contained a tub filled with local flowers, a tile floor, a fountain (which, by the way is torture to the bladder of a pregnant woman) a small shower, and a single bed in a raised area of the room. The bed was very wide and had just a plastic mat with a sheet over it. There was also a coat rack in the room. My massage therapist was a 4 foot 8 Balinese woman who pointed to the coat rack and told me to undress. She just stood there in front of me. About 2 feet in front of me. I gave her a look and then thought, "Oh well,” and proceeded to get naked. She had me get up on the bed which now felt like it was mounted in the sky. There was no sheet to cover me. As I began to wonder how this tiny woman would massage me as I lay somewhere close to the thatched rooftop, my answer became quite clear. Suddenly this woman was on top of me and straddling me as she rubbed my back and arms. Now, I must admit that the massage was pretty great, but my own insecurities took over and I was tense for the majority of the rub down. I began to think that the people leaving the place had deceived us but I quickly came to the realization that they were European and probably don't have my American Anti-Naked sentiments.

Just as I began to relax, the woman told me to flip over on my back. I wanted to die. I kept my eyes firmly shut and started my mantra of "find your happy place...find your happy place..." The woman began to rub almost all of me. As I lay there feeling more naked and more exposed than I ever have in my life, I wondered if this was some sort of glorious joke. Was I the only one having this sort of treatment? Was KP going through the same thing in her room? Was there a camera in the room and later I would come across this on youtube? If it were to be on youtube, how many stars would this get?

My thoughts were interrupted by the sudden food application. The "yogurt" treatment that I had signed on for, involved a series of edible things. I was given a coconut and papaya scrub, then salt was applied, and finally coconut milk and yogurt were applied to my body. I was tingling and itchy and I began to wonder if baby living inside me was aware that we were now becoming a dessert. At long last, I was helped to the shower where my massage therapist ladled water over me and threw more yogurt at me. At this point she paid close attention to my belly and rubbed yogurt all over it and talked to the baby in Balinese. What did she say?

When all the foods were finally rinsed off me, I stepped into the flower filled tub. Now, it looks nice to have a bath filled with flowers, but what they don't tell you is that the petals float and the stems have a tendency to go toward the bottom of the tub. 'Enough said bout that.

After 90 long minutes, I was dressed and exiting my private room. I paid for our massages and waited for KP. When she came out of the room, she didn't look at me. In fact, the next 30 minutes were spent in subdued silence. Finally, she uttered the phrase, "So...were you wondering if it that massage was going to have a happy ending?"


Gustav said...

Sounds like you had a good time.

Have a nice day.

otrey3 said...

YEEEAAHHHH, where to start?

First, you need to read "Eat, Pray, Love" and report back. Sounds like you've experienced the book!

Second, Nacho Mama may replace Panguitch, even for those of us not on this particular roadtrip.

Third, the cooking class sounds phenomenal.

Fourth, the massage sounds, um, personal. Goodness! Not a MN massage, that's fer shur.

It all seems amazing and exotic and fabulous. Good for KP to hall you off to Bali! I'll dream about it here in the MN tundra. There will be spring, there will be spring, there will be spring...


amybonnema said...

Okay, I'm in tears because I"m laughing so hard! It's always SO great to hear your stories. And, I'm so glad you had a nice vacation... Nacho Mama indeed.

CalypsoArt said...

Oh, tooooo funny! What a cultural exchange--so to speak. I love the humour in your writing, love the tone. I'm envious of the cooking classes, and wondering what the massage for a male might entail. Makes the Seinfeld episode seem so boring.

Anna said...

I cannot stop laughing and there is indeed a lot to comment on. First of all, in Bali at least, blondes apparently do not have more fun...Being chased by exotic and wild monkeys does not sound like fun, especially when they become night stalkers! Will KP be teaching a class on chicken whispering? That could come in handy on my trips to Alabama.
The intense and impromptu massage story was my favorite. I have to say, Beth, that I for one am very proud of you for undressing in front of the 4'8 woman and staying until the end of the massage! Just think, a few more of those type of experiences and you will be getting yelled at by Enrique for walking around the Laurel Avenue compound naked : )