Whew! When last we met...well, let's just say that we have a lot to catch up on. I'm closing out the end of time in Bali, and is it ever gorgeous here. Not quite the idyllic paradise of everyone's dreams, however...somehow I think it would have to be a bit cleaner to fit that bill. I guess whenever I thought about Bali, I always pictured a tropical island paradise, which it definitely is, but there's still the poverty here that you see all over Indonesia. People throw their trash everywhere, including all over the beautiful countryside, burn huge piles of rubbish and there are still any number of stray dogs everywhere. The Balinese people and the gorgeous countryside more than make up for it, however.
My first week was spent in the Legian area, which is right next to Kuta, also know as Party Town. There are so many foreigners in this area! The driver who drove me home from scuba diving certification (I'm officially certified!) dropped off another diver first right in the heart of the Kuta Beach area, and it was crazy how many westerners/aussies were walking around! So much for the Balinese immersion experience, at least in this neck of the woods. Maybe that was a good thing to start off with though, because when the driver dropped me off at my hotel, I thought I was at the wrong one. I have a tiny excuse, but it's fairly thin: the staff had started decorating for a festival for the following day and literally transformed the place! The front desk guy was laughing a little at me, since he recognized me from checking in the previous evening and even remembered my name.
My first week's highlights consisted of scuba diving and elephant trekking. Scuba literally opens up a whole new world (and yes, I admit that once I thought about it that way, I had the Disney song stuck in my head the rest of the dive). I absolutely love diving, though that's not to say I wasn't scared to death the first time I went under in a pool and then again in the ocean. Absolutely crazy feeling to be able to breathe underwater.
The view under there is magnificent. A fellow diver (I love saying that) mentioned that it felt like you were on the Discovery Channel, and I couldn't agree more. I found Nemo, I saw a huge school of fish that formed a cyclone spiral around me, I even had my hand cleaned by a cleaning shrimp who decided to hop on and relieve me a a small scab on the back of my hand. Talk about strange sensations. I cannot recommend it enough to anyone who has any interest in trying. Do it, and then go to Bali and dive at the shipwreck at Tulamben.
As I mentioned, the other highlight had to be the elephant trekking. My friend Austin and I went to the Elephant Safari Park near Ubud for a half day trip to, essentially, ride elephants. It turned about to be such a fun experience, since we spent half of our time feeding the elephants banana palm. And were they ever greedy! These elephants (rescued from the island of Sumatra) would take as much banana palm as they wanted in their trunks, but half the time throw the pieces on the ground because they were just as picky as they were greedy. One even went so far as to try and steal pieces from another elephant's mouth. They also liked to tease you by just bopping you on the head or shoulder with their trunk, or blowing air at you to get a reaction. Mine was to fall completely in love with them.
I think the best part about the park was the way the animals were treated. Each elephants (27 total, I believe), had their own handler who rode them and cared for them every day. They all had plenty to eat--something Austin and I helped with--and had days off, lunch breaks, the whole enchilada. The park is also consistently helping to work on Sumatran elephant conservation, making the rather stiff entrance fee at least a bit more reasonable.
I had an incredibly full and busy first week, meeting new people, diving, trekking, exploring Ubud (the shopping capital) and eating as much Indonesian food as I could get my hands on. Thank goodness the following week allowed me quite a bit more rest in Bali's loveliest location imaginable. More on that as soon as I can.