Saturday, October 29, 2011

Kuta, Bali

I'm kinda behind on the posts, but I want to write about something recent, so I'll skip New Zealand and Australia for now, and get back to those later. I also cannot connect my SD card to the pc here, so I'll hopefully load some pics sometime else.
23.-24.10.: Denpasar & Kuta

Sunday: Flight to Denpasar, through visa and customs, taxi to Kuta, the tourist village of Bali, for Rp80 000 (~$9) after a lot of haggling. Still got stiffed, we probably could have gotten a ride for less than Rp40 000.The first taxi driver to talk us up (he eventually passed us along to someone cheaper, he wanted $20) told us: "Germans don't like Kuta. Too busy. Germans want to see real Bali. Australians go to Kuta, for the discotheque."

Kuta is a mass (mess?) of touristy stalls along mostly small pathways, many only a span wide, all shared by scotters and pedestrians going in both directions. Te density of taxi drivers (including motorbike taxis) and massage 'spas' is incredible. The amount of ugly or downright stupid t-shirts obviously sold to drunks is amazing.

The weather in Bali is hot and humid, so that your clothes will stick to you. In cheaper hotels, air conditioning will generally double the price of a room, bu a fan over the bed is usually enough to make the night comfortable. We were pointed o a hotel named Rempen as cheap and got a room for Rp 100 000 (~Euro8.50), but we cannot recommend the place: to filthy.

From there, we walked along the streets of Kuta during the remainder of the day and the next. We ate at stalls a bit off the main tourist roads, the meals including fried banana with coconut and chocolate flakes covered in evaporated milk, gato-gato (rice with vegetables in a peanut sauce, often very spicy) and chicken curry (Rp 5k, 12k and 15k, respectively). The range of places to eat is varied, with street vendors starting at Rp 5k for vegetarian, rice-based meals, up to restaurants only slightly cheaper than in Germany.

Traffic is fluid, rules relaxed. People tend to drive on the left side, but at the slightest opening in traffic a gaggle of scooters -- they make up about 80% of traffic, unlike in Bolivia, where Buses and Taxis dominate -- will overtake slower trucks, and 50m of free space will induce your bus driver to overtake 5 scooters and two trucks. Pedestrians, of course, are far down the food chain, pedestrian crossings drawn on the street only to get rid of excess paint, I surmise. Still, it works, and the upside of this kind of driving is the relaxedness with which people get through traffic. Honking is used a a friendly, fair warning to others that you're there and need that space, unless you are a herd of tourists on motorbikes, who honked continuously because traffic generally does not allow more than 30kph, at best 40, and the mean Balinese would not clear the road for them. (Other, slightly off-topic pet peeve: I don't care how bad their English is, calling the waitress at the friendly, and cheap, restaurant [Warung]  Missy is downright arrogant)

On a final note, in Bali you can expect to find someone around who speaks English reasonably well, so communicating is not a problem. This must be different outside of the island, and we're grateful that we have the time to get used to Indonesia.

Bali is a Hindu island, and this is a very visible religion here. I'll write more on that in the next post, but there are some nice pictures from Kuta I want to share. Basically, in front of every house, you find these little prayer bowls made of banana leaves and filled with flowers and foodstuff: rice, soy sauce, crackers, chocolate... You smell incense every couple of steps. This is quite nice, the smells of the city are drowned out, and the open air (I can't say fresh, in Kuta) dissipates the incense fast enough so it does not become overbearing.

There's shrines everywhere. Many houses come as little complexes, with a shrine region in front, and I guess one larger families houses in the back. Note the demon on the right hand side of the shrine in the picture to the right.
The picture below, shows a housing complex. The roofs are all shrines, and somewhere in there a house is hidden. If the area's too crowded for such a complex, the house at least gets a small stele, as seen down below.

Sorry for the crappy formatting, but I'll not spend my time around here trying to get it right :)

Friday, October 14, 2011


29.06.-28.08.: USA

The end of june, we arrived in the US from Bogotá. The trip brought on our only stay at a midrange hotel yet, the Ft Laudedale Holiday Inn, courtesy of the inability of our airline to be even remotely on time.

Here are a couple of highlights:
-Brooklin Chinatown, which puts the touristy made up Chinatown on Manhattan to shame ( which still beats, and slowly takes over, Little Italy, a couple of roads full of expensive Italian restaurants), where stores and their wares are often labelled only in chinese.
- a spontaneous looking music circle, with lots of drums, some flutes in northern Central Park, near Harlem. 30 or 40 people where there, some dancing, including the one white woman in a colourful dress.
- the people I passing me on a coffee run in Pittsburgh around 6am, all of whom greeted me, as if P were a small village.
- our two week stay in Uniontown, where Doro's guest brother Smo got married, and we slid down the Ohio Pile until our butts were too sore. Thanks, Rockwells!
- a relaxed week at Sandy Lake, always a favorite, and spending some time with Levi and Zach, although I only got to see Lucy once. Thanks, Andrewses!
- a game night in Columbus. If we can ever get the Mainzians together for games again, I'll have some new ones. Also, we were introduced to the Bookman series. Thanks, Nellies!
- St. Louis at night, during our three night trip by Greyhound to the Yellowstone. Our longest brake was in Salt Lake City, 6h, which is also the first place the ticket attendants could actually tell us that it is possible to get there by bus.
- the last night of that trip, where we were driven to Rexburg, ID, bus station, then back to Idaho Falls, then back to Rexburg at the American Inn, where the bus was supposed to come in the morning, and we were allowed to crash in the lobby, with coffee and hot chocolate. Arrival at 2am instead of half past 11.
- hiking the national parks: the impressive Yellowstone, with its immense geysers, colorful hot pools, lake, elks and its unholy alliance of deer flies and mosquitos (all of which we saw, in the latter case in the form of constant clouds around us, everywhere, always; taking a piss was not fun in that forest); and with its undeservedly much more famous, and elusive, grizzlies, wolves, bison and moose, who kept away from us. The majestic Grand Canyon, with its manylayered red rock formations, birds soaring along the cliffs and over our heads, the capricorn along the vertical incline, its immense heat - 50° C, at the bottom, in the only hypothetically existing shade, at noon, with rocks black as mafic rocks can be; we got down and back again in one day, not one of our easiest hikes) and blissfully bug free. The beautiful Yosemite, full of views - if you're ready to climb the steep and long paths - brown bears, marmots, mountain creeks, redwood trees and glacier lakes in the Californian August.

May Lake, Yosemite Park. Here Doro had a chipmunk
stretch before her eyes.

- the park rangers, ranging (haha! ) from Yellowstones friendly helpers - "Don't worry, no one will care if your 7 days entry pass expires. Just stay a couple of days longer" - to Grand Canyons rule freaks ( "It matters to the RULES" - he had me get out of the empty bus to put on my shirt, which I had given to the freezing Doro, and gave that answer when I asked why it matters where I put it on).
- those friendly people who let us hitch a ride with them: the couple from Long Island who took us into the Yellowstone; Saf, the Indian working in Silicone Valley, who took us out again during his first roadtrip through the USA - staying away from the Canadian border, because the police there can demand his immigration papers; Lynn, oil rig manager, on his way home from North Dakota to Ogden, Utaw, who took us there after the telephone assistant from the bus company told us the bus had left West Yellowstone 2h early, since most people book their seats and no one had done so - we did not because our discover passs don't demand it; Turell and his family, Navajos, who were the only ones to stop for us after 4h on the quite well travelled highway to the Grand Canyon, and afterwards invited us to dinner in one of the posh restaurants at canyons edge; and finally Janet, who took us back to Flagstaff from Tusayan, and noted the demise of hitchhiking culture in the US.
- the ritzy Strip of Las Vegas with its flashy shows, and the imitation in Reno, falling far short, but way more friendly because of that, where a motel attendant told us to look for a room at the Sands, which costs as much as the motel during the week. We enjoyed getting up at one am to go down and loose a couple of dollars, though Doro managed to win 4 the first night. Also, longdinks for $1.50.
- the fortress-like mansions along the strait but steep streets of San Franciso; also the only Japantown I've seen yet, and the only town so far we weren't able to find a place to sleep (for less than $100) upon arrival - although Sydney came close a couple of days ago. Right around the corner of the Greyhound station is the favoite sleeping place for bums.

Indeed a hill in San Francisco. Please note the angle
of the car parked there.

- in LA, we stayed at a place alternatively described as hostel-hotel (the online ad by Howard, the owner) or as halfway house (the neighbors). 4 tiny rooms crammed with 2 bunkbeds each, two baths and a kitchen. Six to seven permanent tenants, who have to put up with tourists every high season, for the price of only $360 a month... the owner, whom we never saw, is big on cash, so as not having to pay the booking fee incurred by placing his house on hostelworld, and seems to befriend anyone on facebook for free advertisement. The people living there are some of the most interesting we have met, including an Austrian, whose business was screwed over by his wife while he was in hospital after a tank ran over his car, who is in LA so he can keep more of his invalid pension than the €900 a month allowed by his bankruptcy, a Georgian (USA) cook and self-styled redneck trying to get into comedy shows, and a hispanic admirer of bad old Adolph H ("at least", his argument went, "he stood by his pinciples and his people to the end". I tried pointing out a couple of holes both in that logic and the statement, to no avail. I think he wants someone to stand up and gather the hispanics into as close knit a community as he imagines the jews and arabs to be.). We also met a frenchman there who had, for the last 4 years, had cycled through the Sahara desert (into Ethiopia) and to Southeast Asia, and having just arrived in LA from there, set off to buy a bike and ride it to New York, in 80 days. He'll fly from NY to Lisbõa, to cycle to Paris, in order to complete his trip around the world.