Busy Bali

Trip Start Aug 04, 2010
Trip End Feb 04, 2011

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Flag of Indonesia  , Bali,
Thursday, January 27, 2011

We had a farewell lunch with Wilson at a nice Japanese Ramen place with two of his buddies and then walked to Fort Canning Park.  A nice, groomed park with a historical bunker and fort but is now used for Weddings, exercise, and as a great place for one of the favorite Asian pastimes - photography.  Jenn and I are always fascinated at the seriousness with which picture taking in public spaces is taken - elaborate poses, fancy props, the photographer talking out instructions, and the subject really working the camera.  Men taking pictures of men, women taking pictures of women, but the typical scene is a 20-something male posing his girlfriend around various flowerbeds in a park.  Great fun people-watching...  Maybe we should take lessons as you can tell some of our shots are rather "candid' or even contain a subject (i.e., Jenn) who is rather tired of having her picture taken.

Took the metro (excellent in Singapore) to the very modern, clean, and beautiful airport and checked in for our flight to Bali.  We got in just after midnight and could feel the air even more humid as we stepped out the airport doors.  Got a cab and drove almost an hour to our place in Ubud.  Our room wasn't the nicest and smelled like strong mothballs but we sucked it up for one night, but then switched to a much nicer one.  The second one had a partially outdoor bathroom that was very unique.  We slept late and then walked into downtown Ubud.  I had been there (briefly) in 1998 and might not remember much, but the amount of people, traffic, shops, etc. took me by surprise.  The tourist trap has sprung - apparently the book and movie Eat, Pray, Love had a part that took place in Ubud and it is riding the wave (or being swallowed by it).  We ate at a trendy but really nice and good restaurant called Clear - lots of veggie and "raw" foods.  I had a tempeh Reuben for cryin out loud - it was good!  We spent some time just getting a feel for the town, the market, etc.  It started raining just as we got back to our place so we watched some movies and ordered room service!

The next day was more of the same - walk around town, shopping at the large semi-aggressive market, avoid the rain by getting a Balinese massage, eat lunch at Emu Oka (famous for suckling pig), arrange our tour for the next two days, drank some Bintang, and shared a crispy duck at the Dirty Duck Restaurant for dinner.  Even though there are a ton of tourists and shops, it would seem easy to loose the "soul" of Balinese culture, but it seems strong to me.  They are Hindu while the rest of Indonesia is Muslim and their beliefs lead them to be very involved in spiritual pursuits on a daily basis.  Extended families live together in compounds with multiple houses and have their own family shrine consisting of many monuments.  Then, each small village has at least 3 large temples - one each for Brahma, Shiva, and Vishnu.  There is a separate calendar that is followed based on mood phases (I think) that prescribes certain days when certain activities should take place.  Daily, there are small offerings placed on sacred shrines, in front of houses, in front of shops, etc etc.  These are made of a small boat of banana leaf with some rice, some incense, some flowers, etc inside.  They are all over the sidewalks, the steps, the monuments, everywhere!  Also, there are always some sort of ceremony going on either at a home temple or at one of the bigger ones so you always see women dressed in holy clothes carrying some sort of offering (sometimes tall baskets filled with fruits) down the street.  From our conversations with locals and our observations, it seems that their rituals take up a large portion of their lives!

We had a great day on our back road bicycle tour!  About 10 of us on it, led by a very energetic, professional, and knowledgeable guide named "Joe."  We drove for 1.5 hours to NNE Bali for breakfast with an amazing view of an active (small steam vent) volcano and a crater lake, passing some beautiful rice terraces along the way.  Everything is so green and lush and the rice paddies are expertly formed and farmed.  After that, we were led through a small fruit garden and saw a whole bunch of fruits and spices (cinnamon trees for example).  Then, for the ultimate view, we saw civet cats that help to produce the rarest beverage in the world - coffee that has been partially digested by the civet.  We could see the difference between civet coffee beans, robusta beans, and female and male arabica beans.  They slow roast them there on a clay plate.  We got to try a bunch of coffees and a few teas and got to try the civet coffee!  Who the hell decided to try roasting coffee that had been eaten and crapped out by civets anyway?  I could tell a slight difference (maybe) between that and other coffees, but it wasn't great and I think I liked the regular arabica better anyway and Jenn liked the ginger coffee.  But it was cool to try it (US$3 for a small pot), but way to expensive to buy some to bring back.

Finally, we got on the quality mountain bikes and began the trek.  It was all downhill and I barely had to peddle!  What a great way to tour, eh?  We stopped at Joe's Uncle's family compound and got to see how a typical family lives.  Passed a huge banyan tree, some guys getting ready for a cock fight, a bunch of friendly kids who all wanted to say hello and high five us, and rode through rice fields.  Jenn got out and got in the mud, helping to transplant the seedlings to the paddy.  It was a great ride through beautiful areas and simple villages, along roads with little or no traffic.  We were treated to a great buffet lunch of smoked duck and chicken.  That was one of the best tours we've done on our entire trip - it felt intimate, local, and "real."  We were dropped off at the Ubud monkey forest and watched the monkeys climb around the ancient temple sites.  They were pretty aggressive to people with plastic bags and/or bananas so we didn't participate.  Lots of cute monkey babies and good photo ops I guess... check out the one I took in this blog somewhere.

To cap off the day, we took a taxi to Batu balun and saw the kecak dance and the fire dance.  These dances are unique because the performers are all men and there are no musical instruments, only the sound of the men's voices make music.  It is very rhythmic and powerful and I can see how it might scare the you know what out of any enemies back in the day.  In the fire dance, the dancer is put into a trance by a priest and is made to believe that fire is water and water is fire.  Then, he dances and plunges into a fire made on stage and has to be pulled out and de-tranced by the priest.  It started pouring right at the end of the show and we were glad we got to see this unique performance.

We hired a car and driver for the next day and went to a small temple, got swamped by handicraft hawkers, saw more green vistas, terraced paddies, grey concrete village compounds, veggie farms, small shops, and a few villages.  We saw the "mother temple' on the slope of the tallest mountain (volcano) on the island.  We were shown around by a nice, older man who answered all our questions and we learned much about all the architecture, history, symbolism, beliefs, and rituals of Balinese Hinduism.  The temples were grand and had grand views over the island.  We ate fish skewers for lunch and finished the day at a semi-secluded beach down a crap muddy road (which is why its still semi-secluded).  Lots of driving that day - the roads are small, the traffic often pretty bad, and you just cant get around very easy.   That night, we saw a big ceremony at the central Ubud temple/palace.  Young girls, older girls, men, older women, etc etc all doing various dances in ornate uniforms with great gamalang music to accompany it.  It was real crowded though and hard to see, even for locals.  Another long, tiring, but great day.  But we were looking forward to our rest in Seminyak.....
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