I arrived in Bali last night and my guide, Wayan Sueta (pronounced Why-Ann) was at the airport to pick me up as promised. Peoples names are easy to remember because all Balinese have one of four names: Wayan, Made, Nyoman and Ketut, which stands for one, two, three and four. So if you are the first born (regardless of whether you are a boy or a girl) you are named Wayan, the second born, Made, and so forth. If a family has a fifth child they just start all over again. Wayan described it as a method of birth control.
Forty-five minutes later we pulled into the town of Ubud, the cultural and arts center of Bali, which is located in the mountains of central Bali (it is a small island). I am staying at the Pande Pembai Bungalows, in a newly refurbished room that still smells of paint and varnish. There was some consternation over the key to my room. Finally they handed me a TINY key, the kind used for small metal padlocks that you put on your luggage. They explained to my guide (and he translated) that the lock on the room was broken so they temporarily replaced it with this padlock. I was just getting settled when I realized there were two lamps and a mini refrigerator in the room but nothing was plugged in and I could only find one receptacle. So back I went to reception, up a dozen steep concrete steps in the pitch black, to get an extension cord. Fortunately I am prepared with a small flashlight – oh yes, add this to the travel list; always carry a flashlight.
Once I had light I began to settle in. I must look a wreck, I thought, pulling open the wooden panels that cover the wall mirror next to my bed. Something crawled down my arm. I shook it off and looked at the mirror but I wasn’t entirely sure what I was seeing because I had taken off my glasses. A second look with the glasses on and I jumped back with a start. Lying across the top of one of the wood panels was a dead lizard covered in insects. I gingerly picked it off with a piece of tissue and deposited it in the trash. A shower is what I need, I thought. I washed off the grit of the day’s travel and, feeling completely refreshed, reached out for a towel. No towels. None. Nowhere. Fortunately, intrepid traveler that I am, I carry a travel towel, one that absorbs up to ten times its weight in water. Despite the few glitches, this is a really nice place, especially since the price is only $22 per night, including breakfast. I fell into bed and drifted off to sleep to the sounds of the river running below my window and the jungle animals chirping and trilling.
I awoke early this morning and threw open the drapes to a spectacular view of the river valley and rice paddies beyond. Hordes of school children, dressed in black shorts with red and navy polo tops, were winding their way to school on the blacktop below. The sounds of their laughter mingled with jungle sounds, including a sharp barking sound. I later learned that that was the sound of monkeys. Yes, monkeys! This hotel is located on Monkey Forest Road, just about 300 feet from the entrance to Monkey Forest in Ubud, a protected park where thousands of monkeys live. Not confined by fences or barriers, they roam all over town, fighting over the food left out on the sidewalk for them by the locals. Right this moment, there is a big one sitting in the tree next to my table in the restaurant. He is about three feet tall, not counting his long tail, with a silver grey back and a white breast. His white face is ringed by dark grey fur and grizzled whiskers poke out from his chin. His deep-set black eyes are feigning indifference but I know that he is calculating the chances of stealing my fruit. “Don’t even THINK about it, buddy,” I say. As if understanding, he scampers away through the treetops to join the rest of the troupe.
The plan for today is to head further into the center of the island, in search of the “real” Bali that most of the tourists never get to see. I like this place already. My Dad has already emailed me, warning me not to buy any property – he knows me pretty well (smile). But I’m not thinking about buying property. Today my focus is on visiting the Monkey Forest in Ubud, to see if I can work up the courage to walk among the hundreds of wild monkeys that line the pathways.