Thursday, July 31, 2008

Elephants... Temples ... and Italian Pasta in Bali

When you are in a new place, it seems daunting how to go around. You have researched the places you wanted to go, but how to get there? Will you burn holes in your pockets with taxi fares? You might be brave to try the public transportation, but you don't want to waste precious time, figuring out the routes, that will bring you to the location you want.

In Bali, the most convenient and cheapest way to go around the island is to hire a car or van. The vehicle usually comes with a driver, who can also be your tour guide. You can even get a Japanese, Italian, German - speaking driver for a nominal fee. Do not attempt to go around the island in a taxi, it will cost you an arm & leg.  The island is huge! Some places take 2hours to reach!

Most of these vehicles & driver can be arranged through a local travel agency. My colleague's family owns a travel agency and gave us good rates for a Toyota Innova and a driver (450,000 Rp) for 2 days. It's better to arrange beforehand with the travel agency your daily jaunts. Ideally,  arrange this before you come to Bali. Take their suggestions, because they know best for you to maximize your time.

Some activities, like safaris, dolphin watching, have arrangements to pick you up and return you back to your hotel.

We were picked-up by the driver of the Elephant Safari Park at exactly 9am on our second day in Bali. It took us 2 hours cruise along rice paddies and little towns, on the way to  Elephant Safari Park, in Taro, Bali. 

Our driver maintains continuous chatter throughout the trip, but we dozed off, too.  Our driver knows two things about the Philippines ~  fighting cocks and Manny Pacquiao. Apparently, Balinese men also love cockfighting.

The elephant safari park is a 5-hectare property, with 27 elephants from Sumatra Island.  A Sumatran elephant is 3x smaller than the African elephants.  I can just imagine, how huge African elephants are. The park is operated by Australians but the handlers & elephants all come from Sumatra.

When we got in, we were treated to a short elephant show. The elephants are so serene. You cannot rush them!  Even the trainer talk very calmly and lovingly. Some of their skills are ~ Walking on elevated beams, sitting together like huge dogs on the log, walking together holding each other's tails, , shooting basketball, hitting a soccer to the goal, add numerals, and finally Paint! 

Elephants have handwritings distinct from one another.  The elephant art actually looks like a nice abstract painting that anyone can appreciate on their walls.  Elephant's  paintings  are sold for for 75 USD.  Proceeds goes to the foundation that studies, protect and propagate sumatran elephants.

 The elephants here are so friendly to people. You can feed them sugarcane sticks and they will get it from your outstretched hands. So cute! One elephant place a garland on my head! The handlers really want their guests to appreciate, and not fear elephants. The handlers were the ones who took my arms and made me hug the elephant trunk!  Don't be scared, lady!

After that, we rode the saddle at the back of the elephant. I was a bit scared, because the elephant we got was so tall! I think, he's the tallest among the group. His name was Rama. Takes his time walking and sniffing the bushes. We toured the vicinity, for about 45mins. There's a pathway for them, you don't need to be alarmed that you're going off somewhere in the jungle.

During the ride, you can ask the guide, everything about the elephants and they will competently answer you. Our guide has been handling elephants for more than 15years at the Elephant Research Center in Sumatra. When the elephant park opened in Bali, he was offered to relocate with his family. Business was good, but after the infamous Bali bombings, tourists has trickled down, and affected their livelihood.

After the ride, you can have your buffet lunch at the cafe. The lunch goes with the 66 USD /pax ticket to the Safari. Good food! There's a small shop selling souvenir items. Quite pricey though. Not our typical souvenirs though, they have well-crafted trinkets made from Ivory tusks, silver, hardwood. Very nice but not within our budget!

After the Elephant Safari tour, our next itinerary was the Besakih Temple. It's about 2 hours away. Besakih is said to be the mother of all temples and it lies at the on the slopes of the mighty Mt. Agung, the tallest mountain in Bali.

On the way to Besakih Temple, we passed by Kintamani, a small town overlooking Mt. Batur. The place is similar to our Taal Volcano in the Philippines. But Mt. Batur is 5x bigger than our Taal Volcano. It's a volcano within a lake, and there is another huge mountain range that surrounds the whole thing. Really Beautiful.

The only thing that mars the whole experience are the pesky vendors that literally swamps over you, as soon as you get out of your vehicle. Extreme patience is needed here. After a few pictures, we went away because of sheer irritation.

Mt. Batur / Kintamani still has so much potential to be developed like our Taal, where the prices of real estate are now skyrocketing. In this area of Bali, I couldn't find any luxury villas. Maybe because it's far from the city.

Back to our journey to Besakih, our driver stopped to buy flowers & incense from "prayer women." She sprinkled some water on our windshield then placed several stacks of flowers on little baskets in the dashboard. She dotted our foreheads with rice while uttering prayers.

According to the driver, it's a prayer of safe journey Besakih. Nice touch. We paid 20,000 Rp but instead of giving us change of 10,000 Rp, she gave us a bag of lemons. (Her other wares, aside from prayers & flowers). But when we tasted them, it was so sour, that we blamed ourselves for being so gullible again.

 When we arrived at Besakih, they don't allow skirt or shorts in the temple, so we had to buy Sarongs. You also need to 'donate" to enter. The local organization that takes care of the temple are tough squeezing money from tourists. They will tell you, they only want money for donation, you give whatever it is you feel right. When you say, 50,000Rp. They will tell you, madam, the minimum amount that foreign tourists give us 20 Dollars." "But we're not americans or europeans. We're just from the philippines." Okay, for the two of you, you can give 10Dollars!" Talk about donation 'huh!

But my husband, who doesn't want to argue and believes in every cause ~   it's for the maintenance of the temple. He gave 200,000 Rp them for both of us. I would have wanted to bargain because our driver told us that we should give maximum give 50,000 each. But you know how it is, when your husband had made up his mind.

Besakih Temple is a sight to behold. The tall black pagodas are imposing, and gates that lead from one temple to the other, give you a peak of the next beauty.

Our guide looks tough, like one of those collecting money from us, but when he talked, he's actually a simple kind guy devoted to his religion. He tries his very best to share all things he knew about the temple in English.

The guides are not given salary by the temple, they are dependent on the tips that tourists give them, thus, they try their best to please the tourists.  They will tell you where's the best spot to take the photos, too.

I will not attempt to tell you facts & figures about the temple, because I'm not an expert on it. But let me tell you that this is a place that you cannot miss when you visit Bali! You are transported into another era.

After Besakih,we passed through Korta Gosa.  At first glance, it looks like another temple.  However,  It's actually the old Court of Justice during the Dutch colonization period. The most  remarkable features are the beautiful paintings on the ceilings. The paintings are of,  Mahabharata, the classic Hindu epic.

It's amazing those paintings are still preserved despite the location of Korta Goza, which is a busy street with much vehicular traffic.  I wish they would put glass cover on the beautiful paintings, before pollution takes its toll.

My Indonesian officemates gave me a list of where to eat and chill-out in Seminyak, the next happening-est place in Bali. We tried catching the sunset in Seminyak but we didn't make it. We went to Ku DE TA, an upscale resto and bar.  Unfortunately, they've closed off for a  private party.  We moved to  La Siola but we were turned away because we had no reservations. It was a saturday night. 

That was unfortunate, because both Kudeta & LaSiola are one of the best sunset places, fronting the beach, but the ambience are more classy than Jimbaran (the beachfront restos we went to yesterday).  Think Sofitel Philippine Plaza boardwalk. 

We're really famished so we proceeded to the next on the list. Rumours offers reasonably priced and tasteful Italian dishes. The wines are not that expensive. I had the pasta with mahi-mahi fish! Fresh and  uummy. Hubby had the Ocean Fresh spaghetti, while I ordered chicken steak for our driver.  It really pays to get recommendation from friends where to eat, we noticed that Rumours are filled with people and the other restaurants beside it are not.

I was really itching to go around Seminyak. They have very nice quaint shops. Most brands I don't recognize but they look so classy and luxurious. 

However, if you've started the day with elephant rides, climb the mountainous the slopes of Mt. Agung thru the Mother-temple...How do you expect me to have energy left, except to finish my glass of wine?

Our 3rd day in Bali.. next!!


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