Monday, February 14, 2011

George and Stan

We have been to so many different places in the last 2 weeks that I don't really know where to start - Padang Bai and Pura Besakih in Bali, Gili T island, Senggigi and Kuta in Lombok, and now Mataram. Where to begin? Please forgive my cop-out just this once, but perhaps I will just describe my favorite snippet from each place.

Padang Bai: A tiny village on the east coast of Bali. We rented a scooter to visit the night market in a nearby village to buy Ross some shorts. There was nowhere to try anything on, so when we picked out a pair, the lady did this trick where she held them around Ross's neck to determine whether or not they'd fit. She proclaimed that they fit his neck like a glove (or did a gesture to that effect, since she didn't speak English), and we figured, that's probably legit, right? And now we have a pair of slightly-too-small shorts. Hah. Damn sneaky old ladies.

Pura Besakih: The most important temple in Bali. We decided to rent a scooter again to go see this temple, except this time we decided to take "smaller roads" to get there. What the map didn't mention is that the "smaller" road eventually became just a muddy, gravelly, pothole-ridden footpath up a very steep hill; not actually a road at all. We stubbornly persisted for about half an hour because we figured that several people told us this was the right way to go, so it must get better. It was only when we hit a giant pothole and toppled off the scooter that we decided to stop being dumb, and spent another half hour backtracking to the main road. Because of this, we got to the temple extremely late, and we were heading back right around the time that the afternoon monsoon was starting. Trying to scooter during a monsoon is the most terrifying fucking thing ever. Kids, don't try this at home. You are not as hardcore as the kids in Indonesia.

(A brief aside: I just want to reiterate that people here are really, really, ridiculously hardcore. As just one example, in Ubud I witnessed 3 old ladies doing construction work in flip flops, in 90 degree heat. They would each spend about 10 minutes putting bricks into baskets until the baskets were full. Then the three of them would help each other lift the baskets on to each other's heads. Then they'd all walk off with the baskets of bricks on their heads, come back with empty baskets, and repeat. And one of the women doing this only had one arm!!!!)

(In flip-flops!!!!!)

Gili Trawangan Island: A tiny island next to Bali that is well-known for snorkeling, diving, and partying. I know I am in a very small minority here since most people can't stop raving about it, but I have nothing positive to say about this island. I found it to be a gawdy tourist trap with terrible food, abundant mosquitoes, and frequent power outages. We were woken up at 5am and then again at 8am by the people praying in the mosque over a loudspeaker. I absolutely do not get what everyone sees in this place. As we were leaving, we met a group of people who had just spent over a week there and loved it, so clearly Ross and I just missed the point or something.

Senggigi: A small beach town on the island of Lombok. I really enjoyed lying by the pool for 4 days reading a random book by Maeve Binchy that I found in the book exchange in our hotel. Yay for hotels having a book exchange for tourists who still haven't gotten their shit together enough to replace the broken Kindle! (But who totally will soon!) And more importantly, hooray for pools.

Kuta, Lombok: Another, even smaller beach town in Lombok. We decided to go try some crab after Lonely Planet raved about this one particular restaurant that serves amazing crab. The waiter came out holding 2 live crabs in tongs and asked us to pick which one we wanted. I don't know about you, but wow, that is the fastest possible way to make me NOT want to eat crab. My brain instantly named both crabs (George and Stan) and I instantly began to regret my impulse to come eat crab. And then the crab itself was so very hard to eat, so messy, so SPIKEY, and for so little reward, that I feel like I was the butt of a Lonely Planet prank or something. Why would you go out of your way to recommend that people eat crab? That's just not something I would do to anyone. Perhaps the author of that entry was a life-long crab person. I don't understand crab people. Meaning people who like crab, not some sort of freakish human-crab hybrid species. That would actually be pretty cool.

Which brings me to where we are now. I am writing from Mataram, the capital of the island of Lombok. It's the first big(ish) city we've been in since getting to Indonesia, and it feels fucking wonderful. I can't remember the last time I was so happy to see a mall! (The last shopping we did was at the night market of trickery.) I even managed to find flip-flops that aren't made of rubber. Success!

Mataram is also the first place we've seen here that isn't on the tourist trail. It's known primarily as a transportation hub because it has an airport. Indeed, we're only here because we decided to fly out from here to the next island rather than making a 27-hour journey involving 3 buses and 2 ferries over rough seas. (I have a whole new appreciation for rough seas after our last experience here on a boat - I was literally planning out who would get my computer and whatnot if we didn't make it out alive. I decided my cat would probably enjoy inheriting the computer the most. She always liked to sleep on the keyboard while I was typing.)

I've found myself enjoying Mataram quite a bit. It's genuine. It's not a veneer put up just to please tourists. For the first time since coming to Indonesia, we were served lunch that we weren't quite sure how to eat. It was one of those "Is that a soup, or is that a bowl of water in which to rinse my fingers?" sort of situations. (Answer: neither, it was a broth that you pour into your food to dilute the spiciness.) And because it's a bit less traveled, most people here look at us as just a couple of strange gringos, not as walking ATMs. I don't even know how to convey how refreshing that is.

It's also starting to feel quite a bit more foreign now. For one thing, Lombok is the first place I've been to that's predominantly Muslim, which I'm finding very interesting. We're starting to see women in headscarves and men in taqiyahs (and even the mannequins at the mall were wearing headscarves). We've also noticed that the body language is all different here. Instead of shaking their head to say "no," people here twist their hand from side to side. Maybe that's what we should've been doing to get rid of the hawkers all this time!?

We're flying to an island called Flores today. It's supposed to be quite stunning. And after that... giant deadly lizards, here we come!

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