Monday, June 7, 2010

Bali Day Two: Snorkeling and Arak

After a drive in the rain the night before, I was a little worried that we might wake up to rain, but when I bounced out of bed in the morning, it was a beautiful day.  The sun was shining bright, and the sky was perfectly blue.  I couldn't wait to get out to the beach, so I put my swimsuit on right away.  I snapped some pictures of our bungalow and the view in the daylight.  The black sand beach out front was breathtaking, and it was strange to look up at the volcano, knowing that that was where all the sand came from.

Bryan couldn't sleep through my bouncing around for too long, and he got up so we could get some breakfast, which was included with our stay.  We ate in one of these awesome little gazebo-like things next to the beach.  Bryan was crazy about the Balinese coffee, which I thought was a little strange, as it had a lot of grounds in it.  I loved my banana pancake though.  Pancakes in Bali were really thin, and were more like crepes than the pancakes that I'm used to.  I ate mine plain, and Bryan liked his with honey.  Yum!

After breakfast, we tried out our new snorkeling gear.  I've snorkeled before, in Puerto Rico and Mexico, but Bryan had never done it, so we spent a little while in shallow water, trying to get him comfortable breathing through a tube with a mask suctioned to his face.  Snorkeling came pretty easily to me- I'm pretty comfortable in the water, and snorkeling just feels like swimming with stuff on my face.  That's why I was surprised when Bryan struggled a little.  We had a good time though, laughing as he flailed around in the water, trying to get the rocks out of his fins and the water out of his snorkel.  Eventually he pulled it together pretty well, and we cruised around the reef.  It was pretty awesome.  We saw a maroon clownfish, lots of little damselfish, plenty of bannerfish, lots of blackpatch trigger, and loads more.  Unfortunately, neither Bryan or I know much about fish, so while we saw lots of beautiful, vividly colored fish, we can't identify very many of them, especially without pictures.  On that first cruise around the reef, we also saw a long, skinny, white eel!  I was pretty excited by that.  I've snorkeled a fair amount, and only ever saw one other eel.  It was pretty neat to watch it swim, then wrap its tail around something, popping its mouth open and closed.  As we swam along, I remembered that I always feel a little freaked out when I snorkel- like a jellyfish is going to appear directly in front of me at any moment and sting me right in the face.  I made this graph on GraphJam, and I think it pretty accurately portrays what I think about when snorkeling.

Anyway, after snorkeling and hanging out on the beach for awhile, we decided to dry off and go for a walk down the street.  The area we were in was a little way outside of Amed, so there wasn't much around- a couple dive centers, several tiny, open-air restaurants, a few houses, and some places to stay that were set up similarly to ours- bungalows near the beach.  We strolled past chickens running around in the street, cows grazing in the grass, pigs rolling in the mud, roadside altars, and kids running up and down, trying to sell us salt in little homemade baskets.  Apparently salt is a huge thing around there, because everyone wanted us to buy some.  The altars were especially interesting to us- although Indonesia is a predominantly Muslim nation, Bali is mostly Hindu.

After walking around for a bit, we had worked up a serious appetite, and stopped at a little place called Warung Mama.  We saw some local wine, called arak, on the menu, and thought it would be fun to give it a try.  We ordered that and some vegetable curry for me and satay for Bryan.  Our waiter brought out the arak, and I was surprised by its appearance- it was served in a wine glass, but looked nothing like wine.  It was totally clear (you can see it off to my right in the photo below).  I gave it a tentative sniff, and thought that my nose hairs might have just disintegrated.  It was so strong, it smelled like paint thinner!!  I suddenly had a flash of our trip to Vietnam, and the candy-making workshop that we'd stopped at.  They'd given us local "wine" to try there too, and I had coughed and wheezed after a sip of that noxious concoction.  Apparently "wine" has a pretty fluid definition here in southeast Asia, because both the wine that we had in Vietnam and the arak we tried in Indonesia tasted more like straight vodka than anything else.  We drank some of it to be polite, and I ate all of my food, because that was delicious.

We hung around at the restaurant for awhile, watching a gecko drama play out on the wall across from us.  There were five or six geckos on the wall, periodically battling with one another.  Occasionally one of them would run really fast and nip another one in the side and Bryan and I would both exclaim.  I think the locals thought we were idiots.

While we ate, a little girl kept peeking around a corner to look at us.  She came in and out of a doorway holding a baby and smiling shyly at us.  She kept eyeing the camera, so I suggested that we ask to take her photo.  She happily agreed and posed with the baby.  We ran into her on the beach the next day (trying to sell us salt, of course), and we showed her the photo. She was interested for a minute, but launched right back into her attempts to get us to buy salt ("You can can can buy...").  Eventually we walked away from her without buying any salt, and when we said, "See you later!" she retorted, "NO see you later!!"  Even though we angered her, she was still pretty cute.

In the afternoon, we did some more snorkeling and saw some more exciting things.  Huge purple sea stars stuck to the coral almost as though someone had forcefully thrown them and they had just stayed like that.  I spotted an orange boxfish, which is a type of puffer fish.  Bryan pointed out an intricately patterned jellyfish, but we were darting off in another direction too quickly to admire it.  We saw a lot of the same fish that we'd seen during the morning, but it was exciting to see them again.  In addition to the fish, we saw some colorful coral, including some highly convoluted brain coral.  It was surreal to stick our heads above water and see the volcano looming in the background.

Most of the local kids ranging up and down the beach were peddling the little baskets of salt, but a couple of them had these unique boat kites.  They looked beautiful when the were flown- just like a boat sailing on the sea.

After our second round of snorkeling, Bryan was itching to use the camera for awhile, so he snapped some bird and insect shots while I lounged around in the pool.  I liked Bryan's shot of this big, black bee with the bulging eyes.

Snorkeling always works up an appetite, so we were more than ready to eat when dinnertime rolled around.  We tried a place called Three Brothers, on the same stretch of beach as Kembali Beach Bungalows.  We sipped Cokes out of old-fashioned reusable glass bottles while waiting for our food.  We waited and waited...and waited.  Food service can be a little slow at these little restaurants.  They seem to do a pretty low volume of business, so they don't have much prepped.  When you order vegetable curry, for example, you can hear someone in the kitchen washing and chopping the vegetables.  So about an hour later, our food showed up.  Despite my having repeated "No fish" over and over, my food had a really strong fish taste, so I ended up eating Bryan's plain white rice with an egg from my dish.  It wasn't very filling so I ordered a "Congkang fruit fritter," for dessert.  Breaded and fried pineapples and bananas were topped with vanilla ice cream, and it was delicious. As I was eating dessert, I suddenly noticed that several people were looking right at me.  Uh oh.  Was I scarfing down my dessert like a ravenous animal?  Did I have ice cream on my nose again?  Bryan smiled and pointed behind my chair.  I heard some scuttling and lifted up my feet just in time- a huge crab ran right under my chair, under the table, and out onto the beach.  Woah!

After dinner, we walked back along the beach, oohing and ahhing over the starry sky.  Amed was so quiet at night.  I couldn't help reminiscing about family vacations to visit aunts and uncles in Pentress, West Virginia.  I used to complain that there was nothing to do there, that the whole place shut down when the sun set.  Now Bryan and I were loving the peace and quiet of a place even more remote.  We spent a pleasant evening reading, playing rummy, and watching gecko wars on our porch.

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