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Paradise does have its dark side and I’m afraid I discovered much of it in the last few days. Seems like everyone here is out to get the tourist’s money one way or another. Don’t get me wrong. Not everyone is bad and I have run into many very nice people whose heart is in the right place.

I drove from Kuta to Ubud on Tuesday. I guess I wrote about my driving adventure in an earlier post and I’ll just say that the driving is getting much easier. I don’t think I’ll complain as much about Seattle traffic after driving here. Anyway, yesterday I go back to my hotel in Ubud and the guy at the front desk asks me if I could pay him that evening since I was planning on leaving early. I go get my credit card and he tells me he doesn’t take them. I tell him that the man working the previous evening told me they did accept credit cards. I ended up having to pay in cash, but it pissed me off so much that I packed up and moved to another hotel. I told him that what he did wasn’t right because I probably wouldn’t have stayed there if I had to use cash. Being on a budget I thought I’d splurge just a little and get a $20 room instead of the usual $7 room but only if I could put in on the plastic.

She Just Wants Your Money

So after I moved to my $7 a night hotel, I decided I needed a drink to cool off a bit. Since I used up all my cash rupiah, I went to the moneychanger and changed a $50 bill, had dinner at a really nice café (Cafe Wayan whose chef is trained in California and Europe) and headed to the bar down Monkey Tree Road (yes there are monkeys there!). They had a great Indonesian band playing that was doing really great cover renditions of Santana and other rock tunes. I was sitting at the bar getting nice and sauced and this cute Indonesian woman comes up and starts flirting with me. After a while she’s got her hands all over me. I was wearing a sarong (very comfortable in the heat) and a shirt with a pocket with about $38 in rupiah inside. She’s got her hands all over me and then says she needs to use the bathroom. She leaves and I went to pay for my last beer and, what do you know, no money. I got pickpocketed. Of course, she left the bar via the back door by the bathroom and I never saw her again. Another lesson learned. Don’t be so trusting. I’m afraid I let down my guard too many times.

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The other rip off is a constant thing here: the gas stations. The attendants all try to swindle people, but not just tourists, locals too. If you don’t pay attention, they’ll fill up your pump and reset the counter before you can see it and then charge you double. I noticed this the first time only after I pulled away from the pump. The second time, I caught the guy trying the same trick and he actually gave me my money back. The third time, I handed the guy 20,000 rupiah and one guy tried to distract me while the other filled up a few motorbike tanks BEFORE starting on my tank. There was already 8,000 rupiah on the pump before giving me any gas. Of course, they denied it and what could I really do. They simply pretend they don’t understand what I’m saying and I can’t figure out the Indonesian words fast enough to make a big fuss so I let it ride. It actually amounts to only $1 that I’m losing, but it’s the principle behind it.

Now don’t think that everyone here is crooked. I’ve met some really nice people; like the guy who helped me when my jeep conked out in middle of a busy street in Ubud. The starter didn’t seem to work so he pushed me almost 500 meters to a hill so I could start the car with the clutch. He didn’t ask for anything in return and was just simply being kind. I also met a very nice 17-year-old girl who runs her own juice stand to raise money for school. We talked for a couple hours about many things; she made me a drink and wanted to give it to me for free. But I paid her for the drink and gave her a big tip.

Then there’s the young man who showed me the terraced rice fields just west of Ubud. He took me down a long winding path to a narrow suspension bridge–using only a narrow bamboo pole to walk on and wires for handholds–and showed me a very beautiful view that few tourist ever see. We also ran across some women bathing in an irrigation ditch. There didn’t seem to be any embarrassment about nudity and out of respect, I chose not to stare or take pictures. It was, to say the least, a little unusual for me.

There are plenty of kind and honest people here, but there are also a lot of people who simply prey on the tourists. I seem to have found both on my travels.

Traditionally Dressed

I went to many temples in the last couple of days. To enter any Hindu temple here in Bali requires one to be dressed appropriately. A sarong for both men and women are the required minimum. If you wish to participate in a ceremony or enter the inner sanctuary, you much must wear a headband (called udung), a second piece of cloth over the sarong and a sash tied around your waist. I have the entire outfit and pictures to prove it. It’s a hoot. Especially after I participated in a prayer ceremony. You must pray to Brahma, Wisnu and Siwa individually using flowers from an offering plate. Place the flowers in your fingers as you clasp your hands in front of your head, sort of like a Thai greeting (wai). Do this several times. The flowers then go into the headband and then a priest sprinkles you with holy water–some of which you drink—and gives you holy rice that you put on your forehead and temples. Then you make an offering (donation) and place the donation in the offering plate with the flowers. It was quite an experience. Of course, like anything else, you must pay the guide and pay dearly.

Also saw many traditional Balinese villages. Every house has a temple for their ancestors. Size and fanciness depends on the family’s wealth. Of course, everyone must keep up with the Jones. They get very elaborate. There is also a village temple for offering to the gods. The women dress in bright yellow robes and lace tops carrying big bowls of fruit on their heads for offerings. Sometimes a huge procession will go down the street and stop traffic for several minutes. This happens maybe once a month right after the new moon.

Another unusual custom is how they deal with their dead. I almost made the mistake of walking through a graveyard, but someone stopped me and made me aware of my mistake before I got too far. The Balinese will bury the dead with just the body in their clothes. No coffin. But the really weird part is that after they accumulate quite a few bodies, such as after 5 years, they unearth the bodies and do a mass cremation. In some Balinese villages, they don’t even bother to bury the body. The just leave it under a banyan tree, exposed. The young man who showed me around the rice terraces told me about this interesting custom.

Well, got to go and find something to eat here in Lovina (on N.E. coast of Bali) before everything closes and my Internet time eats up the money I have left.

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