Tuesday the 7th of April
Today we were in for a change of pace. Mum and I replaced our beach towels and bikinis for a cultural experience outside the city of Denpasar. We drove for an hour and forty minutes through traffic that is not for the faint hearted. Scooters whizzed dangerously between cars and busses often ventured to the opposite side of the road in attempt to overtake slower vehicles. The honking of horns filled our ears intermittently as we swerved in and out of the chaos that filled the streets. The main roads were bordered by tall wholesale retailers, the glass walled headquarters of Toyota looking out of place amidst the peeling paint and faded signage of the buildings nearby it. Of course, we passed a McDonalds outlet, but the globalised corporations were quickly replaced with quaint hand craftsmanship stores when we turned off the main road. The streets became narrow, the urban projector screens advertising commercial goods lessened, and the electricity cables sagged as the shuttle bus navigated the back streets. There were successive open lots that looked abandoned in mid-renovation. You would think tradesmen and builders would prosper here due to the urgent need for restoration but this does not seem to be the case. It makes me question why the socioeconomic situation of bali is the way it is – what do people study or what career do they pursue?
This area is undeniably rich in culture. Rich earthy hues colour the walls of linear infrastructure bordered often with tones of gold or pastels. Statues of goblins glare over the street at every pillar and rare embellished gates can be certain to contain some place of worth or worship. Impressive pieces of architecture separate shabby huts at intervals where the paint is peeling and the framework falling apart. Moments of luxury in culture can be seen alongside frangipani trees – but this is far from the artificial nature of our accommodation. Although laden with greenery, this environment is not lush and is not well kept. That is the nature of the resort: it is a picturesque landscape constructed for the self-indulgent pleasure of tourists that frequent here to relax. Kitschy signs advertise fruit shops on every second corner; there is little space and no lighting within. The people that walk the streets are dark skinned and finely built, many with mangy dogs on heel. We ventured into land of agriculture where cows inhabited paddocks and chicken were seen confined to bamboo enclosures. The last length of the journey passed through expansive rice fields, divided by streams of running water from the previous days downpour.
The untainted culture provided a new perspective I had not previously experienced. Maybe my impression of Bali is different because the sun is behind the clouds. Maybe my impression of Bali is different because I am sheltered from the heat and humidity in this air-conditioned shuttle bus. The events of today have not yet began but we have already discovered so much of this country. It is a refreshing awakening from the resort life with which we have pampered ourselves for the past two days.
The park smelt of burning incense. We were introduced to Sen Sen, a majestic beauty of twenty-two years of age who eats up to 200kg of food and drinks 70 litres of water daily. She was friendly and full of character, giving evidence to the expression that elephants are the gentlest of creatures. We walked the course with Ketut as our guide – he gave us an impressive AAMI safe driver advertisement impression. “Is this your first time riding an elephant?” he asked. “Mine too!” Keeping a tight grip on seat handrail balanced on the back of Sen Sen, we admired the untouched nature that was home to artfully coloured birds and various plants including cocoa beans. Our guide did not seem to feel the sway of each step as we hobbled along the path for he was skilfully riding bareback. We were each handed a young coconut to mark the middle of our tour – mum and I shared the watery milk of one coconut so that Ketut could enjoy its subtle flavour also. Once its juices had been drained, our elephant got her treat of the remaining coconut fruit which she ate in one mouthful! We paused frequently along the track as Sen Sen reached for the surrounding greenery with her long trunk – she didn’t seem to ever stop eating! At the end of the ride, we were permitted to take photos with the well behaved Sumatran elephants. Sen Sen wrapped her trunk around my waist. Just as you would expect, her skin was dry and textured but I was surprised by all the long hairs that covered her body. We all need an elephant sized hug sometimes. This memorable experience would not have been so memorable was it not for charming personalities of Sen Sen and Ketut.
At the park I inquired into the treatment of the elephants. The park keeps thirteen elephants in total which are permitted to feed off the natural plantation around them and are spoiled with tonnes of fruit each day. They have plenty of space to roam and a large area reserved for sleeping. Above all, they are treated with respect and love the attention! They are playful but clever creatures – Sen Sen showed off her talent of playing the harmonica with a performance better than I could muster!
The park is also home to a cocoa factory. Ripe cocoa beans are harvested and roasted on site and then finely ground so their inner oils are released to lubricate the resulting mixture into 100% cocoa of liquid consistency. The factory resembles a modern kitchen with large glass windows to feed the curiosity of cafe-goers. They offer chocolate testers of cocoa content 29%, 44%, 64% and 80%. It was cool to compare the end result to the freshly roasted beans that have a nutty crunch and smell so rich it made our mouthes water. Mum and I both tried a guava lime praline from the shop and bought some Pod Bali Chocolate to indulge in at home. As well as its own chocolate, Bali manufactures a unique coffee that is rooted in tradition and can’t be found anywhere else. Luwak coffee is made of bestially fermented beans – this means that the best quality beans are eaten by animals and the fermented product (namely poop) is collected for roasting to create coffee.
Mum and I arrived back at the resort just in time for lunch. I spent my afternoon overlooking the beach with a China Long (made of lychee liqueur, grapefruit juice and mango juice) in hand. Craving an off menu item, I ordered a custom cocktail made of midori, blue carucaou and soda water garnished with a lime wedge and an extra shot of vodka for good measure – I call it the Teal due to its gorgeous colour. Finally a mojito to quench my thirst and leave me feeling very tipsy. A women complimented me on my skin and we got into conversation. I made friends with the bartender. I was tempted to order a melon liqueur, vodka and lime juice slushy called the Komodo but thought it best to sober up before meeting with old friends from Belgium who had arrived that afternoon. I would have very much enjoyed another cocktail with mum to then turn up to dinner intoxicated with what I wishfully imagine would be the bemusement of my parents. I had sobered up substantially for dinner and sat through boring dinner conversation wishing I had ordered that Komodo to make things a little more interesting for myself. At least now I know for tomorrow!