Looking Sweet Upon the Seat

by Nancy Bestor

DSC00676When we travel to foreign countries, our family likes to do things on our own. We’ve never been super keen on taking group or private tours, choosing instead to find our own way and figure things out for ourselves. Bob, however, convinced Emily, Sarah and I on our trip to Bali that we could benefit from a guided bicycle tour. It would be fun, he suggested, and we might just learn something along the way. He was right, on both counts.

We booked a day-long bike tour with Sobek Adventures out of Ubud. The tour included breakfast, lunch, bike rentals, and transportation, and cost $79 each for Bob and I, and $52 each for Emily and Sarah. It was very well worth it. Sobek’s van picked us up at our Airbnb villa (read more about this fantastic abode located just outside Ubud here) at 8:30 on the morning of our tour. Our driver and our guide chatted with us along the way to our first stop, a coffee plantation specializing in coffee made from beans eaten by a Paradoxurus, (aka an Asian Palm Civet or Luwak) and then cleaned and roasted after the critter poops the beans out. Yes indeed, you read that correctly. We all were treated to a cup of what is commonly known as Luwak coffee. We drank it and it was good. I kid you not. We were also treated to a tasting of a dozen or so other flavored coffees including coconut, vanilla and ginseng and they were all distinctive and delicious.

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After this not even slightly crappy stop (I couldn’t help myself) we headed to Mount Batur where we picked up our bicycles. Now my husband is a cyclist, and enjoys a high quality, well-tuned bicycle. These were not those. They did however have seats, brakes, and air in their tires, and since our ride was mostly downhill, that was really all we needed. The four of us rode with our guide Made, through villages, rice fields, and on some very rocky and bumpy dirt roads. Some of the routes we took went directly through rice fields, and locals with bundles of grasses and sticks on their backs eased out of our way and watched us roll by. Without a doubt, this was the best way to really see the 13 miles of back roads and trails that we covered that day.

We took a break from our downhill coasting to look in the gates of a local temple, mostly deserted and stunningly beautiful. Another stop was at a family compound, where seven locals were currently living, including two grandparents, two parents and three children. The family members were all at home, and sat out on the steps while we learned how Balinese live their everyday lives. This was the only part of the tour where I was uncomfortable. Frankly, it felt intrusive to be in their home, and it was never clear to me if we should have tipped the family, or brought some kind of offering to them.

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Our final stop of the day was at a restaurant where we had a set menu. It was one of the better meals we ate in Bali, and included a delicious chicken soup with rice, chicken and vegetables. Our tour ended at 2:30 in the afternoon, right back where we started, at our great villa outside Ubud. I would highly recommend this tour to anyone, even a non-active person, as there is almost no work required.

We ended our day with massages in central Ubud. And how fitting it was after spending two hours on a somewhat uncomfortable bike seat on bumpy roads to get a massage on my aching gluteus maximus.

Take a Walk on the Wild Side

by Nancy Bestor

deerI’m always surprised when I see tourists getting up close and personal with “wild” animals. In Costa Rica, I remember a woman feeding an iguana bits of her bread. Bits that is, until another iguana launched itself from a tree branch into her lap and took the whole sandwich. The deer in Nara, Japan are also a hit with the tourist crowd. Thousands of these animals, sacred to the residents of Nara, roam the streets, eating as much as tourists are willing to feed them with special food purchased from carts and vending machines. It was cute at first, but when I saw aggressive deer nipping at tourists hands, and trying to eat their purses and bags, the cute factor was replaced by the fear factor. And don’t get me started on the deer poop. Let’s just say, like the thousands of deer, the poop was also prolific.

monkeyOn our recent trip to Bali, we ventured through the Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary of Ubud. More than 500 Balinese long tailed Macaques (monkeys) live in the Sanctuary, and as stunning as the temples inside the Forest are, most tourists seemed preoccupied with taking photos of the monkeys and feeding them bananas. The Forest boasts Indiana Jones like temples and statues, surrounded by rope-like tree branches. I expected to see Harrison Ford (in his ahem, younger days) hurtling down at any moment. But these fantastic surroundings were lost to many tourists in the shuffle of trying to get up close and personal with the Macaques.

sarah_editNow it’s one thing to hand a banana to a monkey, or even an elephant, as we did once in Thailand. But, in my humble human opinion, it’s quite another thing to badger a monkey into shaking hands with you until it hisses and bears its teeth at you (witnessed in Ubud), or encourage monkeys to jump onto your traveling companion’s head so you can have a perfect photo opportunity (true story). Wild monkeys are just that – wild. It’s true that some may be desensitized and therefore gentler from spending so much time around humans. But I’m here to tell you, when they hiss and try to scratch you with lightning speed I’m reminded that they are referred to as wild for a reason. With the exception of my children, I’ll stick to appreciating wild animals from afar.

She’s Touching My Butt

by Sarah Bestor

DSC00811One of the first things my parents told me when they announced we would be going to Bali in the summer was that there would be massages involved. The average price of an hour-long Balinese massage is around $10, so my parents decided they could spring for massages for the whole family. Until our trip, I had never had a massage, and there was an abundance of nervous thoughts running through my mind. Would I be uncomfortable? Would it hurt? Would I have to talk to the masseuse?

It sure did take a while for the massage to actually happen. Every place we went, I would ask, “is this where we’re getting massages?” And the response would be no. But, on one of our last days in the city of Ubud, we finally booked our rub downs. Professional Balinese massage and spa parlors are all over Ubud. You can’t walk down a main street without having someone standing in front of their business asking you if you want a massage. We chose the Verona Spa, based on a recommendation from the villa where we stayed.

My sister Emily and I were in one private room, and our parents in another. Private, however, is a little bit of a misnomer, as one wall only went up halfway, thus taking advantage of the beautiful rice field view.

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At first I thought, oh this is so beautiful, but then I remembered how young boys were always playing in the rice fields by our hotel and turned to Emily. She obviously had a similar thought, but before we could talk about it, the masseuses walked in. The two women asked us dress down and get under the blankets, and as they exited the room we did as we were told. When they walked back in, they said nothing and just began.

I’m not kidding when I say that the first place her hands went were to the upper part of my butt. It was instant tension as I was thinking was “oh my goodness, this stranger is touching my butt.” But then, just as quickly, I realized “YES, she is touching my butt, and it feels quite nice.” Throughout the massage, whenever she moved to a new part of my body, I had feelings like this. When she started massaging my calves I realized that they were the sorest part of my body (thanks for making me walk so much, parents). And I swear that the woman had at least five hands, because somehow her hands were on every part of my back at the same time.

Overall, I would say that I had a quite fantastic first massage experience. It was certainly eye opening and now, all that I would like is to go back and get another butt massage.

Sarah Bestor is a senior at Ashland High School. She is the co-editor of the Rogue News Online, plays guitar and sings in a band.