Monkey Business in Bali

After taking a quick swim, we wandered up the street in search of breakfast. After several failed attempts, we gave up on breakfast and settled, instead, for authentic Indonesian food at a local's restaurant. The place was dark and empty, aside from a few workers who were sitting casually near the food, swatting flies and keeping watch. We looked around and saw no menu, only a buffet-type area with five hot pans of soup-like meat and a huge window display of a dozen other items.

 

“Food?” Several of the workers said this word as they each tried to hand us a plate. I was unsure as to weather I should take the plate and fill it myself or if I should point to what I want and have them fill it. Being the adventurous one, it seemed as though I usually dove in obliviously while Matthew and Maggie watched and figured out a system to go by. The problem was, I couldn't figure out where to dive in. Fortunately, a small motherly woman appeared and took the plate out of one of the young staffer's hands. She gave me a stern but welcoming look, as if to make sure I was serious about wanting food. I nodded my head and watched with approval as she began putting things on my plate as she named them with words I didn't understand. She pointed to something and then looked at me. I shrugged and nodded my head. We did this a few times before I realized my plate was overflowing. I laughed when I saw how much food I had ordered and thanked her with the Balinese, “Tremagassi” before finding a table. Behind me, Matthew and Maggie were filling their own plates with much more care. They asked what things were and took time to decide what looked tasty.

 

When they joined me at the table we all three dug in. My first bite was big and bold and surprisingly crunchy. It wasn't a potato chip crunch, but a bone crunch. I swallowed hard before looking at the concoction I had just ate. There staring back at me on my plate, were a dozen tiny minnows, fried and crispy and full of bones. I laughed and showed Maggie and Matthew before deciding to skip that portion of my plate. The rest of my entree was full of spicy rice, something that tasted like sweet and sour chicken, fried egg and sauteed veggies. I got very full and still had food left on my plate. The whole thing was about two Australian dollars. The three of us left feeling very pleased.

 Minnows at twelve o'clock! 

Minnows at twelve o'clock! 

 

Our next stop would be a town just north of Seminyak. It wasn't far in distance, but the crowded streets and a wrong turn cost us over two hours of driving time. While in the car, we fortunately had a polite English-speaking driver. Formerly, he was an engineer for Toshiba electronics. As an engineer he made 14 million rupiah per month. He explained that the average minimum wage was only 2 million rupiah (roughly $200 AUD or $175 USD), so he had been one of the lucky ones. The Toshiba plant closed shortly after his move to Bali and soon he would travel to Australia to scope out engineering work near Melbourne. 

 

After an hour of barely moving, our car came to a complete stop. We were in a full-out traffic jam. Just as we began to get frustrated, the driver pointed out that the traffic was due to a local ceremony. It was a traditional Balinese funeral, though it looked more like a parade. All up and down the street we watched as hundreds of individuals walked together in traditional Balinese dress. We watched in awe as we saw a huge cow exhibit being carried by a dozen young men stop and spin slowly before entering into the gates of a park. The driver explained that the spinning was to release the spirit, so it wouldn't stay on earth haunting people. He explained that the Balinese believe that death releases you from sickness and disease. The deceased are in a better place so there is no need for tears.

 A traditional Balinese funeral.

A traditional Balinese funeral.

 

Eventually we made our way to Ubud, where we tipped the driver generously and wished him luck on his Australian adventure.

Our first stop in Ubud was the Monkey Forrest, which is exactly what it sounds like. A forrest full of monkeys. The three of us walked on a dozen different trails and temples, watching in fascination as monkeys picked bugs out of their siblings hair, ate bananas from tourists, and stared unenthusiastically at all of the people. Though many people thought they were cute, I found them to resemble homeless people. The monkeys sat on their bums all day, waiting for someone to give them a banana. When they received food, they peeled it with their hands while holding it with their feet. They'd sit and watch us walk by while they chewed obnoxiously and occasionally scratched their armpit.

 

 A Monkey Bum.

A Monkey Bum.

After we had our fill on monkey watching, we walked up the road and found the first juice joint we could find. When we sat down and ordered, I was delighted to discover the name of the place was, “Monkey Coffee.” I decided it fit the theme of the day.

 

We ended our time in Ubud by visiting the traditional Balinese market. This market was full of clothes, jewelry, shoes and sarongs. Tent after tent after tent was full of beautiful fabrics and kindly begging people. Here we did some real bargaining. I was glad my parents had taught me the art of it while vacationing in Mexico as young teenager. I found lots of styles and patterns I liked, but I refused to pay more than half price for any of them. 

 Ubud Marketplace 

Ubud Marketplace 

 

As we drove out of the city I couldn't help but think that Ubud was the Bali I was waiting for. It was less western and more Balinese. It was still very touristy but with authentic shops. It is the artistic and spiritual center of the island, making it somewhere I'd like to explore. There were many temples and waterfalls, and the most beautiful green rice fields I had ever seen. This was what I had been after. 

 

 Monkey Business Cafe, Seminyak

Monkey Business Cafe, Seminyak

 

That night we walked a few minutes up the road from our hotel and found a very cool place for dinner. Monkey Business. (I was the only one who saw the cheekiness.) The place was a chain-link fence decorated with hip cafe style. The only wall was a brick one that belonged to another building on the other side. Still, I loved the atmosphere and the handmade wood furniture. The food was pleasantly surprising and just what we needed after a long day of monkey business.