Monday, April 30, 2007

Rest and Relaxation in Bali, or "When You're Not Getting Mugged By a Monkey, Get Drowned By a Dolphin!"

So, I’m buying a skirt and a beach cover up at this little store in Kuta, Bali when one of the female clerks pats me on the butt and says in Indonesian, “you have a nice butt – it’s big!”

Argh! So, I explain, no, it’s not a nice butt, I want a small butt. Both the clerks helping me disagree saying that big butts are better here in Indonesia; men like big butts.

I tell them that in America, small butts are better. They laugh and tell me how crazy we Americans are. I tell them I have a Beyonce butt. They look confused.

“Do you know Beyonce?” I ask. Both shake their heads.

“J Lo?” I ask again. They both nod in affirmation.

“I have a J Lo butt,” I say. They laugh and agree.

But enough about me. Bali was fabulous, big butts and all. We spent our second R&R on that amazing island, and we have come to the conclusion that with all these kids and our living conditions at the moment, we are resort junkies.

We stayed at the Hard Rock Hotel in Kuta, and loved every single minute of its sterile, coddling, over the top luxurious environment. From the moment we stepped into the main lobby at 8pm on Saturday hearing a live rock band playing in the bar, to the buffet breakfasts complete with pork(!) bacon, to the ridiculously large pool equipped with two kids’ slides, kiddie pool, fountains galore and sand pool, and just across the street from the best surf beach I have EVER seen, we were in heaven.

Rob’s mantra of the week was ‘these kids have no idea how lucky they are’ as we spent entire days at the pool, taking turns on the sand island playing volleyball, napping with the baby and eating all sorts of American comfort food in the private cabana, and swimming every inch of that enormous pool. Even though we have our own pool back in So Cal, and all the kids have basically grown up in water, this was the first time witnessing the green hair syndrome because we spent soooo much time frolicking in chlorine.

When not at the pool, we schlepped across the street to the beach with four kids, three surfboards, diaper bag, drinks, snacks, and straw mats to sit on. Rob went into the ocean to monitor near drowning incidents and help maneuver boys and boards. I hung out on the beach with the baby and about a million people hawking their wares.

I’ve learned the best way to disarm all the hawkers is to speak bahasa Indonesian back at them. The hawkers are so surprised they forget they are trying to sell you a surf board/body board/ice cream/soda/water/ice/hair plaiting/massage/manicure/pedicure/fake tattoo/fresh cut fruit and ask you if you are Australian, where you live and exclaim that you have a large family, ‘just like the Balinese!’

One afternoon as I was hanging with the ‘B’ (for baby) as we call her, I had one old man hawker and a young tattooed surfboard hawker sitting with me. We were conversing in my pigeon Indonesian. The young hip dude with the earring, long hair and tats on every exposed limb commented that I had four boys. The old man corrected him saying B was a girl. I laughed and pointed out that the kid was covered in pink, thus she was a girl. To that the old man asked why her ears weren’t pierced. I explained in America many people wait until the girl is older before piercing. (Unlike Sabrina’s Godmother who I had to have sign a contract that she would not go running out with my daughter the minute she had her 3 month shots to get her ears pierced.) He said that he could solve that RIGHT NOW and started to get up. I grabbed his arm and said gently, no not today, not tomorrow, not the day after tomorrow,.. Yikes. All I need is an impromptu ear piercing on the beach in Kuta. Very hygienic, I’m sure.

The rest of the vacation was an animal adventure. We took off part way through the week to go to Lovina, on the north of the island. On the way we stopped at the Sacred Monkey Forest, aka, Get Mugged By a Monkey Forest. Because, as I’m sure you are aware, there is nothing more meditative than walking down a concrete path in the jungle dodging pesky wild monkeys.

As the boys begged to buy bananas from the vendor to feed to the monkeys, I watched a couple do that very thing.. They bought a bunch of bananas, walked a few feet to the start of the path and offered one banana to a large male monkey. The monkey subsequently swiped the one banana and then attacked the man, pulling on the rest of the bananas. The man finally realized he was not going to win that fight, and let go, the monkey loping off with a stolen bunch of bananas. I decided then not to buy any bananas and then put the fear of God into the boys that they should not run, scream, make any sudden movements, try and pet monkeys or have any other sort of fun time while in the forest.

I was glad I left everything in the car as next I witnessed a man carrying a water bottle get attacked by another monkey. He raised the bottle above his head, but the monkey just climbed him to get to the bottle. I had to yell at one of the sarong clad ‘monkey keepers’ to help get the obviously rabid monkey off the poor tourist. The monkey keeper just laughed.

Next, I turn around to find Kyle holding a banana leaf at another big male monkey who grabs it and they start playing tug-of-war. We yell at Kyle to drop the banana leaf. Kyle is instantly embarrassed we caught him disobeying and puts his hands in his pockets. The monkey tries to put his paws in Kyle’s pocket, too. Yell at Kyle to remove hands from pocket as monkey thinks he is hiding food there. Kyle removed his hand, disengaging the monkey and it saunters on to the next unsuspecting tourist.

Just as we started to walk down the path a bit more, Jared asked if he could let a monkey climb on him. I see woman out of the corner of my eye do this to have her picture taken. As she is getting up, the monkey bites her on the back. Tell him no and quickly get away from monkeys, deciding to take refuge in a temple.

We do visit a very cool temple before attempting to escape the enchanted monkey forest, getting caught in a fight between different gangs of monkeys. See life flash before my eyes as they fight in the middle of our family and wonder where in Bali you can get rabies shots. Make it out safely in order to eat lunch in full view of island’s active volcano. Boys very impressed that it blew up as recently as 1996.

Get to our final destination, a nice hotel in Lovina on the north of the island. Zach labels this hotel most accurately as he exclaims it a ‘zootel.’ The only way to describe this hotel is what would happen if a little boy had a lot of money and made his dream vacation spot come true; a wild little hotel in a tropical jungle with cages of animals hidden around every corner. Going to the pool meant walking past a pasture of some sort of small dear and wallabies. Turn to go over little foot bridge, but watch out! Glass enclosure with 6 foot python to your left! Choice of seating arrangements at the pool included either sitting with the baby shark in a tank, or near a fairly good sized crocodile in a pit. Lonely when you are in the bathroom? Fear not, as each bathroom seemed to be equipped with its own - I kid you not - turtle in simulated natural environment. Nothing like lathering up under a hot shower with a turtle staring you down as he/she floats among the plastic plants in its own little pool.

The boys, of course, thought there was absolutely nothing better than this jungle environment and they spent countless hours visiting their new animal friends. Of course, this requires naming their friends, so we had ‘Rang Rang the Orangutan, Black Ninja, the crazy little black monkey, Chisel Wisel the ‘moosa’ as they are called here in Indonesia (I think it’s an Ocelot), Walter the Wallaby, and the deer family of Three-legged Joe (lost a foot somehow), Junior and Horns. An animal handler corrected them letting them know Three-legged Joe was a girl, so they change her name to Three-legged Jill.

Perhaps I wasn’t as excited as the boys to share my accommodations with so many wily jungle creatures, but I can play Dr. Doolittle for a couple of nights because this hotel also boasts a saltwater pool with its very own dolphins. I was afraid of the condition of these animals before arriving at the hotel, but they were very well taken care of, and the staff very knowledgeable.

The same night we arrived, the boys suited up and jumped into the dolphin pool along with the trainer. Not two minutes later Kyle is crying bloody murder and Jared is screaming for help. Seems these are boy dolphins and like human boys, are quite frisky. So, we take the boys out of the pool and go visit the two girl dolphins. Of course, by this time, Kyle is absolutely terrified of Flipper and all his cousins and I am afraid now he’ll grow up to fish for tuna with a net, or be arrested for not cutting his soda six-pack rings and tossing them into the ocean.

This time it takes Rob getting into the pool with each boy individually and coaxing the female dolphins. By the time we are done, the boys have each had a much tamer time with the creatures and no one has nightmares after going to bed.

Next night we try it again; I want to swim with a dolphin! So, I get into the girl dolphin pool and take each kid with me to pet the dolphins. Excellent experience! But as gentle and intelligent as these creatures are, they are still creatures and they are BIG and STRONG and they have sharp little teeth.

I have to hang on to the side of the pool with Kyle and Zach as they are attempting to climb on my head to get away from the dolphins they want so desperately to touch. Jared gives me the opportunity to drag him out to the middle of the pool with the dolphins. Not so much because he isn’t afraid, but he has on a life jacket that is too big and subsequently can’t move his arms to fend me off. We go and pet one of the dolphins and it falls asleep! Just like petting a cat! Then we turn around and start petting the other dolphin.

Well, just like a cat, that first dolphin decided to reciprocate by swimming over and rubbing against me. Unlike a cat, a dolphin is BIG and the whole experience is a little unsettling, especially since I didn’t see it coming. None the less, we survive our experience and swim to the side to talk about how cool it was we got to swim with dolphins.

As we are doing this, I’m dangling my feet into the pool and one of the dolphins swims over slowly, mouth agape, flashing two rows of little razor sharp dolphin teeth. I pull out my feet quickly making the trainer laugh again. He tells me the dolphin won’t bite. But I’ve seen this very same behavior in my big stupid dog Max, and while he doesn’t mean any harm either, he has sharp teeth, and they can be a bit uncomfortable.

We are sad to leave Bali on Saturday, but a promise of lunch at the Jakarta airport McDonald’s gets kids on and off planes. We actually experience one landing that is comfortable. Most Garuda airlines experiences we’ve had, the plane descends so quickly it slams into the ground and you experience negative g-forces as the pilot attempts to brake, making it feel like the tail of the plane is going to flip over the front in a big somersault.

We enquired as to why we get to stay on the plane in Medan on the way back to Banda from Jakarta, because going the other way, coming from Banda, we have to disembark. The flight attendant explains that all planes coming out of Banda have to be swept clean, and you know what that means.

The boys are happy to be home and see that big, stupid dog Max. The nanny is happy to have the B back, and the first thing she does is size her up, pinch an arm between her fingers and announce that she is ‘kecil’ – small. I am always accused of starving the baby and returning her in some sort of wasted state.

I know I am truly back home as I open my last bag of sealed flour to make bread and out pop a bunch of weevils. I complain to my nanny that I need more flour. She looks at the bag, shrugs her shoulders and offers me the strainer. Ah, it’s good to be back home!

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