Monday, June 14, 2010

Bali Bali

Our driver in Bali, Merde Dana, has given us complete transparency into the inner-workings  of the driver commission structure.  He has come clean so to speak.  You see, when you hire a driver in most developing countries, you not only pay the driver directly, but the driver is paid commissions indirectly through a number of opportunities.  The driver will bring you to shops, restaurants, and shows that offer a kickback. We figured this out a long time ago, and I told Merde as much when he dropped us off at a $35 a plate seafood restaurant last night.  After letting out a whooping Merde cackle (this guy lets out these high pitched laughs all the time), he realized that we knew his system.  Merde went one further though, he told us specific breakdowns.  For example, if he brings us to a Balinese show, and that show is 80,000 IDR, then he makes 20,000 IDR per person (9000 IDR = 1 USD).  He even offered to give his commissions back to us.

This sort of arrangement exists almost everywhere that you can affordably hire a driver.  We have noticed it everywhere from Bangkok to Cairo, excluding Europe.  You can tell if you are part of the arrangement very easily.  If your driver suggests a place to eat, shop, or perhaps even see something local being made, then you are going to be wasting time at inauthentic places.  We try and avoid it.

Merde picked us up early and our first stop was a temple in Batuan.  Very luckily for us, Unesco was filming a documentary on Batuan, and we were treated to a traditional Balinese dance called the Gambuh.  I visited with a guy named Wayan during the dance, and he told me that the dance is unique to the village of Batuan.  He said it was a very old dance and that we were quite lucky to see it for free.  He asked where I was from and I said, "Texas."  I asked where he was from, and he told me that we were sitting on the front steps to his house.  In Bali, it is very easy to remember the names of men because there are only 4 names.  Basically, every family names their first born Wayan, second born Merde, and the fourth born is Ketut.  I cannot remember the third born.  If someone has 5 sons, then they start over at number 5 with Wayan.

After Batuan, we took the snaky road up to Ubud, stopping by Goa Gajah.  The girls really had the shopping bug, between the two of them, they purchased 4 dresses, 2 bracelets, 1 belt and 1 purse.  The whole lot cost about $20.  The shopping around Goa Gajah is decent, and while the girls shopped, Ryan and I visited a store run by a hysterically jovial Balinese dance Choreographer named Merde.  We made up a "Bali Bali T shirt, Bali Bali T Shirt" song, and Ryan donned a cowboy hat and showed the owner a few new moves.  We had a laugh, perhaps creating a new jingle for the store in the process.

After Goa Gajah, we chanted Ibu Oka, Ibu Oka, Ibu Oka with our driver as we made our way to the legendary Babi Gulung restaurant of Ibu Oka in the heart of Ubud.  Babi Gulung means suckling pig, and numerous famous types have denoted Ibu oka as the best pork in the world, including Anthony Bourdain.  A plate of pork, sausage, rice, crispy chip skin of pig, and spicy vegetables will set you back about $2.50.  The pig was unbelievable, very spicy and very tasty.  The restaurant was standing room only, and while we sat there, they almost went through an entire beast.  Everyone must take their shoes off at the door and sit on the floor, and the whole dining experience felt extremely communal.  Walking the streets of Ubud, Ryan discovered a new haggling method.  After first hearing a price, he makes a very high pitched noise, and follows it up with some ponderous beard scratching.  It seems to work much better than the previous strategy of shouting "hamburgers" at the merchant.

After some great Italian gelato, we made our way up to the mountainous region of Bali to visit the impossibly beautiful Lake Bratan.  Lake Bratan is home to the temple of Ulu Danu, which rests comfortably a few meters into the lake.  Although Kristin and I visited last year, a place as impressive as this never gets old.  Kristin bought a bag of BBQ chicken cheetos  en-route that tasted like Funyuns but were irrevocably damaged by the "chicken" moniker.  We ate them nonetheless.  Once at Lake Bratan, we took a stroll around the lake.  We met a Javanese teacher named Indah with her throng of very kind students.  She asked us a bunch of questions about America and the english language, encouraging her students to practice English on us.  They really fawned over Meagan, who stood about a foot and a half over the petite javanese ladies.  The teacher called me the chubbier brother, and I thanked her for the flattering compliment.

After Lake Bratan, we made the long commute home.  It took us about 2 hours to arrive back at our hotel.  We ate some crispy thin crust pizza for dinner.  It was a perfect way to end the day.

A courtyard at Batuan 

 Batuan Statues

 An inquisitive statue

 We saw a dance taking place through this walkway, and decided to check it out.


 The Dancers

 We sat around for about 15 minutes and watched

 This dance was called the Gambuh

 The band section

 Love the instruments here

 Saw these guys hauling stuff around

 A very sad looking beat up perro

 In Bali, these offerings are everywhere literally.  People put them out in the morning.

 Hey pup

 Shopping for dresses


 The cowboy dance 

 Hanging out with the shop keeper 

 The large tree at Goa Gajah 

 Some stones from forgotten temples


 Cave Entrance.  If you recognize this picture, it is because we came here last year.

 Another angle

 Goa Gajah Spring and Sacred Tree

 An offering


 Mature Rice

 Goons hiding in ricefield 

 A Balinese brook

 Hey Lana whats up girl 

 This glorious little area was adjacent to Goa Gajah 



 Mossy Boulders

 A few small waterfalls

 Bridge and stream

 A rice field

 How can farming be so damn beautiful 

 Some Shops
 Ibu Oka Pig

 The communal dining room at Ibu Oka 

 Pork, rice, spicy vegetables, skin, and sausage 

 Oh heavens yes

 The kitchen 

 The same pig, almost gone 

A crossing in Ubud

 Random temple 

 Even the statues are dressed 

 An Ubud Market.  Ubud is renowned for artists and craftsmen

 Green Bean Drink


 Some rice 

 Alot of villages have these cool ornamentation lining the road

 The road to Lake Bratan 

 A local Market 


 The holy tree at lake Bratan 

 This tree grows out of the lake 

 Ulu Danu Bratan 

 Practicing for engagement photos


 Ryan and Meagan having a laugh 

 Great Picture 

 The lake temple 

 It had just stormed and the air smelled fresh 

 Kristin riding a fish 


 We saw a mouse run by dragging a fish twice his size 

 A farmer 

 I finally tracked this rascal down, eating, kind of gross

 Statue on the shore of Lake Bratan 

 Ryan and Meagan visiting with a student from Java 

 A frog 

Our enormous dinner menus


  1. Kobe Bryant is no the best player on the planet - although he is an impressive scorer - save that label for a team player like LeBron.

  2. Ahhh,Bali. I spent six months there years ago. So nice to run into this web sight -- beautiful photos.

  3. Thanks for a very informative post. Can't wait to get back there again soon.