Tuesday, December 10, 2013

My New Favorite Restaurant in Ubud

Maybe 'restaurant' is a strong word. 'Roadside eatery' is still generous, but it's a more accurate description. This place doesn't even have a name, but serves up some of the best pork satay I've ever had, alongside strange-in-a-delicious-way slices of boiled rice. Simple, flavorful, cheap, and delicious. It's not vegetarian-friendly (which excludes about 90% of Ubud tourists/Expats) and doesn't have much variety on the menu, but I'm not picky.

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I've never seen another foreigner eating here, and they wouldn't win any gold stars for hygiene, but its so fresh that they literally take it off the grill and serve it, which kills the germs, right? I've eaten here at least four times this week and (knock on wood) haven't gotten any Bali Belly to speak of. There's usually a steady stream of locals from what I've seen, which is always a good sign.

After my first visit I started asking for 'no pedas,' which means 'no hot sauce' or, 'for the love of Annapoorna, spare me the eternal pain of your fire-sauce from hell'. If you're one of those freaks people that dares a restaurant to make your dish as spicy as humanly possible... fly here, eat it, and try not to weep. I dare you.

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The only negative about this gem of a find is that it doesn't seem to have regular operating hours. They're usually there in the mid-afternoon through early evening, but I can never be sure. Some days they're not open at all. When I round the corner from my guesthouse every afternoon, if I see the telltale smoke coming from the tiny charcoal grill, a little part of me feels like I struck the streetmeat lottery.

For 10,000 rupiah (~ $0.85) you get rice, 6 fresh sticks of satay, and (if you have a death wish) homemade hot sauce. They'll wrap it for you in paper to take away, or serve it up on a plate for you to eat there. This place is so exclusive, there are only three seats (and two of them are plastic kiddy-stools).

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If you're feeling adventurous, you can find it on Jalan Sugriwa near the Namaste store, maybe 20 meters east of the intersection with Jalan Hanoman, on the south side of the street. If they're closed, you'll just see a blue tarp covering a lump on the ground - better luck next time. But if you catch them while they're doing their thing - don't miss out!

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Mt. Batur: Sunrise Trek in Bali

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One of the highlights of the trip thus far was a day that began with a 2:00am wake up call. What on Earth could be worth dragging yourself out of bed at such an ungodly hour, you ask? I'll let the photographs answer that question:

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That, my friends, is the hard-earned view - watching the sunrise from atop Mt. Batur, an active volcano on the northeastern side of Bali.

We booked this trek with a company called Pineh Trekking (you'll see their signs all around the tourist hubs of Bali). For 400,000 IDR each, or about $35 USD, our trek was all inclusive.

We were picked up at our hotel in Saner at 2:00am. On the way to the mountain, we made a stop at an organic coffee farm for a light breakfast of banana pancakes and a sampler flight of the coffees and teas grown at the farm.



When we reached the mountain, our driver handed us over to our guide, who told us that he has done this trek 6 days a week for the last 8 years. After experiencing it myself, I don't blame him! Our guide provided us with flashlights as well. These were definitely necessary, since 90% of the hike up was in total darkness save for what moonlight filtered through the scattered clouds.

I'd say that the first half of the trek was fairly tame - wide path, a little gravelly but not steep by any means. Eventually, though, the terrain became more challenging. It turned into rather steep, narrower path with large rocks to surmount, and required a moderate amount of physical fitness, balance, and agility. The whole trek up took a little over an hour, so it wasn't too strenuous, but there were plenty of parts that really do require you to be somewhat fit.

During the ascent, we were treated to the most spectacular view of the stars, and this alone would have made the trek worth it! You really do have to focus on the path while you're hiking, but make sure you take a couple of breaks along the way to enjoy the stars. Also, make sure you use caution and your flashlight if you need to venture off the path for a bathroom break - our Aussie friend came literally one step away from walking off a cliff towards certain death before lighting his footsteps. Don't do that.

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The first rays of light spilled over the horizon when we were about 10 minutes from the top.

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We reached our viewpoint with perfect timing to watch the sky slowly come to life in vibrant pinks, purples, reds, and oranges, revealing a beautiful lake in the valley below.

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At this point, our guide left us to enjoy the view, and came back 20 minutes later with banana sandwiches and hard-cooked eggs that he cooked in the volcanic steam rising from the earth. We enjoyed our breakfast as the sun slipped fully into view.

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Once the sun came up, the monkeys came out to beg (and steal) their own breakfast. Trekkers offered bites of banana sandwiches to the hungry monkeys, who were obviously used to being well-fed on the daily.

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You can try handing them bites at a time, but more likely than not, a cheeky one will come right up and steal your entire stash in one grab. There were lots of babies with their mamas and adorable monkey business going on.

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After watching them for a while, we trekked back down to the base.

 

Going down was a little trickier than going up - gravity plus gravel provided quite a slippery descent. Despite having to catch ourselves with our hands a few times, we all made it back down uninjured.

On the drive back, we stopped at the coffee plantation again for more sampling and delicious banana fritters. We also tried the Indonesian delicacy called 'luwak coffee,' the processing of which is partially completed inside the digestive system of a cat/rodent-like creature. It didn't taste like anything special other than a crappy cup of coffee, so I feel like its high price tag is for the novelty rather than the flavor. After reading about the modern production methods and the not-so-humane conditions of the animals, I'll skip it from now on.

After our morning snack break, we were dropped back off at our hotel around 10:00am feeling like we'd had a wildly productive day so far!

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I highly recommend this sunrise trek as a must-do when in Bali! Below are a few tips if you're considering the trek:

- Shop around before booking. There are many tour companies advertising this trek, and there are differences in what their offer includes. We paid 400,000 rupiah for our experience and felt it was worth it for what we received. Make sure you know exactly what is included.

- Don't try to go it alone. For safety reasons, no one is allowed to hike up in the dark without a proper licensed local guide, and the maximum ratio is four trekkers to one guide.

- Ask if flashlights or headlamps are included when booking. You do not want to climb in the dark - it would be too dangerous - so if they're not provided, bring your own.

- Bring long sleeves. It gets chilly at the top!

- Bring some toilet paper and hand sanitizer. There are toilets at the base, but trust me, you'll be glad you came prepared when you see their condition.

To see a full album of our photos from the trek, as well as more updates and pictures from the trip, like us on Facebook!