After our detour to the island of Nusa Lembongan our next destination is a place called Ubud in central Bali. Ubud is considered the cultural heart of the island; there are hundreds of opportunities in Ubud to learn, see and experience the Balinese culture and we couldn't wait to get there. Anticipating that we would really enjoy our time in Ubud we thought that we would probably spend at least a week here and we had a long list of things to do during our visit.
After a beautiful bus ride through the countryside we arrived in Ubud and set about looking for some accommodation; we ended up at a lovely little homestay with a view of the family temple and 3 resident cockerels that wake us up at the crack of dawn every day. Our first day was mostly spent getting our bearings, however we had huge success in the food department; we managed to find one of the best Indonesian cafes imaginable and we have been back to eat there every night since we arrived
! I won't bore you by telling you what we have had to eat there every night but our favorite meal there has been: homemade spring rolls with sweet and sour sauce, chunky vegetable soup, a huge mountain of Thai vegetables with tofu, sate sauce and rice, a wedge of coconut cake, ginger tea, turmeric juice and a glass of rice-wine.... all for £3.50! Bargain!
Considering how much food we ate the night before we figured that we should probably do some exercise today to make up for it, so we headed out to one of Ubud's main attractions called the Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary. The forest is home to about 300 sacred monkeys and also has a couple of temples and walkways which we were looking forward to seeing. Our guidebooks were really eager though to remind us that these monkeys are wild animals and that we shouldn't feed, touch or approach them; this is what our guidebooks say about the monkeys" Do NOT enter the forest with food- these monkeys have been known to bite. You will only have 48 hours to get to Jakarta for a rabies injection" and "These temperamental creatures have been known to bite if provoked, so it's best to keep your distance, and never try to pet or hand-feed them". With all this in mind (and feeling slightly anxious at the prospect of getting bitten by a rabid monkey) we cleaned out every last crumb of food from our pockets and bags and vowed to keep our distance at all times. However, we had forgotten one important thing..
. we are in Asia now and things rarely turn out to be that straight forward around here. Once we had paid for our tickets we went over to the forest entrance and were quite surprised to see women selling bananas to all the tourists to feed the monkeys, all this despite the fact that there are huge signs everywhere telling you not to feed the animals. So we bi passed the banana stalls and headed in, only to nearly get knocked off our feet by a guy who was running as though his life depended on it out of the exit as he was getting chased by 4 screaming monkeys. As he was running one of the larger monkeys actually jumped on his back and he started jumping about like a mad man trying to get it off him. Panting for breath and swearing like a trooper we asked him if he had any food in his pockets and he told us that he had been feeding the monkeys some bananas and when he ran out the monkeys started chasing after him. It is fair to say that we weren't feeling too positive by that point and we were really reluctant to go any further. However we carried on and told ourselves that as long as we didn't bother the monkeys they wouldn't bother us. We stayed in the forest for approximately 3 minutes more before we legged it out of the exit ourselves. In that small amount of time we saw 2 other people get attacked by the monkeys; one monkey just launched itself at some poor guy and one woman was sitting on a bench and a monkey came up behind here and sank its teeth into her bum! During this whole time all I could think was 'rabies, rabies, rabies, rabies, rabies'
. We very quickly decided that it didn't matter whether or not we provoked them, the monkeys were just biting people at random and we didn't fancy a trip over to Jakarta for the rabies treatment... so we swiftly left.
For the rest of the afternoon we went for a walk to the outer parts of town and tried to visit one of the Hindu temples out there, however we some realised that it couldn't be reached on foot because there are no footpaths and we headed back to Ubud for some food instead.
After having a bit of a disappointing day we ended up having one of the most incredible and memorable nights of our lives! Once we had finished our dinner we decided to walk back to our room the long way through town, which took us along the main road in Ubud and alongside a Balinese Royal Palace. As we were walking down the road we could hear lots of music up ahead and see a crowd of people standing in the street, which we presumed to be some kind of street performer or dance troupe. But as we got closer we started to see more and more people and we realised that the whole east section of the main road and intersection had been closed by the police. We had no idea what was going on but everyone seemed to be wearing full Hindu ceremonial dress so we figured it was something pretty important. Next thing we knew there was a troupe of 20 men dressed in tradition warrior clothes performing a dance on a small area which had been cornered off as a stage. There were hundreds of people standing about and the police told us all to sit down on the road so that everyone could see what was happening, so Tom and I ended up sitting cross legged in the middle of Ubud's busiest and dirtiest main road with about 300 Balinese men and women in full dress, not having a clue what was going on. Luckily there was a Canadian couple nearby and they explained that we were witnessing a very important Hindu Six Month Ceremony
. I can't really explain what happened over the next few hours because I still have no idea what I was seeing. There was a huge Balinese orchestra, dances, costumes, offerings, incense, masks, music, lights, chanting... and we were lucky enough to be right there in the middle of it all. The ceremony built in intensity and the crowd of people must have grown to over 400, all packed into this tiny little street. We were so shocked to be witnessing it all and were especially when we got to see a Barong dance, which is one of the most sacred in Bali and rarely gets seen by tourists during a real ceremony. At different parts of the ceremony people would surge forward towards the stage to get a better view of what was happening and Tom and I ended up getting separated; I found myself right at the front of the crowd with all the Hindu men surging forward over and over again towards the stage. With all the heat, humidity, smells, shouts, music and the crush of being at the front of the crowd I thought I was going to pass out and I had to push my way out to get some fresh air at the back. Tom and I were still separated when the ceremony came to its climax as the performers finally broke through the boundaries of the stage and the whole thing spilled out into the street. All I saw was one of the performers (who was dressed as an evil spirit) getting chased down the street by 20 men baring daggers and screaming at him. Obviously I had no idea that this was going to happen and when they ran past me I let out a little scream and covered my eyes because I really did think they were going to attack him, but the guy next to me put his hand on my shoulder and told me: "it's okay, they are just in a trance that's all"
. Coming from a little town in North Wales, I don't think I have ever seen anyone in a trance before and I can't say that I felt any better knowing that these men where in trances. Afterwards the men were carried back to the stage, offerings were made and Tom and I finally managed to find each other again. Feeling very dazed and confused we headed back to our room and tried to piece together all that we had seen. As I said before I didn't understand one iota of what happened that night and I doubt I ever will, all I know is that I felt honoured to be a witness to it all and I will remember the experience of it until my dying day. I have no idea whether those men really were in trances or whether it was all part of the performance, but either way it had a huge impact on me and I didn't sleep a wink that night. When we came to Ubud we hoped that we would see a more cultural side of Bali but tonight was quite simply mind-blowing. When we packed our bags and left our little cottage in North Wales, we never could have imagined that we would be a part of something as breath-taking as a Hindu ceremony. As Tom said to me later that night: "This is why we travel".