Day 283, Mon, Feb. 12, 2001 – This morning we had “The great disappearing underwear fiasco” when the hotel misplaced one of Naomi’s. The owner was very nice about it, but didn’t offer to give us a discount on the room. I called the dive shops again to see if the weather had broken. It was still too rough to dive, so we drove out to Tenganen, one of the oldest villages on Bali, still in the traditional construction and atmosphere. It turned out to be a disappointment as it was very commercial, with the marketing of their famous cloth made from bull’s blood and calendars carved from palm bark. The most interesting things were the fighting cocks painted bright pink and yellow – they looked more like showgirls than prizefighters. On the way back through Candidassa (for the third time), we had a beautiful lunch with black rice pudding, and then stopped at one of the old water palaces, used for the ruler’s enjoyment. We went back to the hotel to get our bags and say goodbye to the guys around town, then took a long drive through incredible scenery in Sideman. The rice terraces were stunning. We stopped to talk to some kids, but unfortunately, their only English was “hello, money”.
By sundown we had made it to the outskirts of Ubud and happened upon a temple ceremony in progress. It was very lucky, so we stayed to watch. Everyone was dressed in their finest – men in long white jackets, white headscarves, sarongs and sashes, and women in their tightest blouses and form-fitting sarongs. They could hardly walk, but they somehow managed to balance enormous towers of fruit and offerings on their heads. Even the kids were dressed up, mimicking their elders. It seemed like everyone had a job to do – carry offerings, hold umbrellas, bang gongs, wear a huge dragon costume, or sit in a circle. After they marched up the stairs and into the temple itself, the crowds relaxed and milled about like a social occasion in the courtyard. A group of kids was intrigued by my camera and laughed out loud when they saw themselves.
It was a great experience – now we want to look for more ceremonies. In Ubud, we found decent rooms at Ubud Terrace Hotel, at the end of many stairs and near a gurgling gully. The sound of water was beautiful, but the water also means tropical-size mosquitoes. Naomi claims to have seen one the size of a dragonfly, but I can only vouch for moth size. The gurgling got louder, then we realized it was starting to pour. Of course this means swim time, so we took a torrential dip in the pool before going to a pleasant local dinner. The rain also gave us an opportunity to use our plastic ponchos from Saigon again.
Day 283, Tues, Feb. 13, 2001 – Wake to sweeping and footsteps upstairs - move after breakfast to a room with even more flowers tucked all over the place. There are hundreds of funky exotic flowers – some growing wild and other stuck behind the ears of stone statues. The new room is much cleaner and tile-coated.
Ubud is nicknamed the city of culture because of its museums, dance performances, galleries, restaurants and temples, but it should also be called the city of green. Not just because of the rice and palm trees, but because there’s moss everywhere – trees, rocks, statues, and sidewalks. Since we were staying on Monkey Forest Road, we figured we should check it out. The little buggers are cute when they want to be – just lounging around scratching, playing with each other, picking bugs from their hair, and peeling bananas – but they’re vicious just under the surface. We had to squeeze past a large male on a narrow stone bridge and I accidentally rubbed against him. He reacted as if I’d stuck him with a sharp stick – squealing and running at me with bared teeth. Then I reacted like he was getting ready to poke me with a big stick. It was all over in seconds, as he retreated to the haven of the trees (much faster than I could have). The place was crowded with other tourists handing out bananas. When the monkeys get excited, the screeching can be quite loud – one baby started to cry, but another rambunctious little tyke was trying to grab a tail. It looked like a FOX television special waiting to happen – “When Monkeys Attack!”. We did enjoy feeding them though, and seeing how the tiny babies cling to their mothers – all wrinkly and wide-eyed. We learned something too: we didn’t know there were gay monkeys until we caught them in the act. Inside the reserve, there are stone temples and statues overgrown with moss, vines, and banyan trees – right out of Indian Jones – complete with 10 statues of komodo dragons peering into the ravine. Some of the statues are incredibly gruesome – witches with long spiked tongues and huge sagging breasts, demons who eat children, and beasts with nasty teeth holding human heads. We’re starting to think the Balinese are so mellow because they get all their anxiety out while carving statues or else they’re deathly afraid of meeting these characters in Hell).
After running out of bananas, we left for the famous cave temple of Goa Gajah, where you enter through a huge centuries-old demon’s mouth to see a musty, smelly lingam and yoni. We took a long walk through the forest with a local guide to another temple, then to Yeh Pula, a 25-meter carved wall from the 14th century where a nice old woman became furious because we only tipped her a dollar to look at the temple, even though she would still be ahead of the national per capita GNP if that was the only tip she got all day. It was boiling hot walking up and down the stairs, so we stopped for nasi goreng at a small café. They had a Time Magazine from 1988, which was like a literal time machine. It had stories about the first intifada uprising in Jerusalem, Jesse Jackson, and Al Gore. It was really weird. After cooling down, we went to the bird park, where they have an impressive collection of colorful tropical birds. We may not be ornithologists, be we know a pretty bird when we see one. They allowed us to hold some, which was pretty fun until their claws started to dig into my head. One little guy liked me so much it flew to whatever side of the cage I was on (and I wasn’t even feeding it). Naomi usually has an aversion to fluttering things (Hitchcock was not her favorite director), but the cages helped. They even had a couple gnarly looking Komodo dragons - slightly bigger than the lizards in our room - about 6 feet, including a foot of tongue he kept flicking about to smell the terrain of his cage. We were happy to see some since we weren’t going to make it out to Komodo Island itself. Naomi thought she would freak out, but she wound up leaning over the fence trying to get his attention like a little kid (it’s funny what a difference a fence makes).
We tried to drive to Tabanan since we had heard that there was a big temple ceremony, but there’s a serious lack of signage on the roads. The town would be listed on one sign, but a whole different set of towns would be listed on the next sign with no mention of Tabanan. We asked several people who gave conflicting directions. Add this to the horrendous driving habits of the populace, and you have a pretty good recipe for frustration. There’s always a continuous stream of trucks, cars, motos, buses and bemos (pickups with benches in the back used as taxis) stopped in the road, most without signaling and some without drivers so you don’t know if they’re coming, going, or broken down. When we finally made it to the temple, there was no ceremony because the tourist magazine had the wrong date. By the time we got back to the hotel, we were really ready for a swim and a cold Bali Hai beer.
Day 284, Wed, Feb. 14, 2001 – We were all ready to relax and do nothing for Valentine’s day, but the guy at the tourist office told us about a local wedding, so we put on our sarongs and went over there. We parked near the tourist office where a parking attendant ran up to make sure we paid the fee. He said 1,000 at first, but when we asked for a ticket, which said 500, he said "OK". At the wedding, the groom’s brother explained the tradition and ceremony for us. Today was a reception at the groom’s house, followed by a visit to the bride’s house, before a priest does the deed at the family chapel back at the groom’s house. There were plenty of beautiful decorations and offerings on display, including an intricate floral design of the happy couple, and an enormous pyramid of fruit. We each received a little goodie box of fruit, cake and flowers. It was very nice and we were lucky that they allowed strangers in for a brief chat, but we felt a little invasive so we left after wishing the bride and groom good luck. We then visited the Neka Museum, which houses the greatest collection of Balinese painting. Since we were expecting more variations of gods and demons in yellow and red like we saw at Klungkung, we were blown away at the variety and depth of the collections. The mythological scenes were augmented by landscapes, portraits and incredibly detailed scenes of exotic tropical village life. Some canvases had hundreds of characters like a tableau slice of life – some modern pieces even included tourists surfing, motoing, parasailing, playing badminton, and snapping photos while the locals were shown dancing, fishing, singing, gambling, working, courting, eating, drinking, and hanging out. Some paintings have incredibly rich jungle scenes where the foliage, animals and people blend into one pattern. It was like every Western style with a Balinese twist - an amazing combination of Rousseau, Matisse, Gaughin, Cezanne and Breughal, with a splash of Van Gogh thrown in. Like Gaughin in Tahiti, the Westerners who visited and painted here (as well as locals) seemed to have a serious preoccupation with half-naked young women. We would have loved to buy some art, but there were dozens of galleries, studios and shops and we just didn’t have the energy to tackle such a daunting task. We did stop at another museum, which was nice, but not nearly as impressive as the Neka.
After sundown, we saw two more of the famous classical dances – the Barong, with the big shaggy lion/dog defeating a haggardly old witch and the Legong, featuring a young severely painted-up girl in more classical, sporadic movements. It was like a combination of 1980’s robot dancer in drag and Rosie Perez head bobbing. They say there’s a way to tell how the jerky movements are done correctly, but it eluded us.
For the holiday we went to one of the nicer restaurants in
town, Casa Luna, and had so much to eat we had to forgo their famous “death by
chocolate” (believe it or not). On
the way home, we walked down the wet road with a couple of rats and stopped a
bar where the local band was making up new words to “Blister in the Sun” by
the Violent Femmes. There seems to
be decent nightlife in Ubud since there are so many tourists here, but we
didn’t have the energy. There’s
a place called “Malibu” next to the hotel, complete with surfer dudes and the Eagles
on the jukebox playing “One of these Nights”.
They couldn’t get more anti-Bali unless they served Taco Bell.
Of course we were homesick.
Day 285, Thur, Feb. 15, 2001 – A day that robustly demonstrated the yin and yang balance of good and bad in life. It started out innocuous enough, with a long drive up to the rim of Mt. Batur, the second-most-important mountain and temple on Bali. It offered clear views and a quiet temple, with the now-familiar intricate baroque stone carvings and white, yellow, red, and black flags. At the holy Tirta Empul hot springs, we were just 100 rupiah short on fees (less than a penny), so the guy wouldn’t let us in. It’s the story of our lives – a day late and a dollar short for spiritual enlightenment.
Along the road there were several fruit stands with every color and shape of tropical fruit. We stopped at a place with perfectly balanced pyramids to try one of everything – except of course for the infamous durian, which has a smell like rotten flesh (they don’t even allow it on planes or in hotels). My favorites were pineapple, papaya, mango, breadfruit, jackfruit and custard apple, which we’d never had before. It looks awful, with pulpy flesh surrounding seeds inside, but it tastes like creamy chocolate. We somehow made it to Gunung Kawi (although there were signs on only one side of the road) - the oldest monuments in Bali – a row of rock-cut temples and fountains. They were distant cousins to the rock temples of Petra, but not nearly as impressive. On the way down there were dozens of shops lining the many stone steps and a dozen kids playing in the river. We stepped through a fence and walked along the dikes and rice paddies for a close-up look at the ingenious cultivation techniques. A thousand years ago the Balinese came up with the terracing and irrigation methods that now make their fields among the most productive in the world. An old man who was working the field waved us over to follow him. We slogged along the muddy dyke praying we wouldn’t slip into the paddy or drop something - like a camera. The man kept pointing ahead until we came upon a huge waterfall. He pointed and yelled “Bali!” – the only word we could understand. We smiled and thanked him, but he walked back with us to the monuments instead of getting back to his work. He was obviously wanting to get paid, so we handed him a dollar or so with a hearty smile and “Terima Kashi!” (thank you). But he looked at the money and twisted up his face like we just handed him a fresh dog crap or something.
When we got back to Ubud, I went to the Ubud clinic because
I had started to feel an old familiar twinge of infection in my ear.
I used to get them often from diving, so I knew what it felt like.
A very nice doctor irrigated my ears, extracting things that no human
would imagine could be inside an ear that is washed at least twice a day. I now have eardrops and antibiotics that prevent the drinking
of any more fine Bali Hai beer. After
resting, Naomi wanted to take advantage of the shopper’s paradise that is Ubud
(you can’t swing a dead cat without hitting some kind of “art gallery”), so
I went to another museum with incredible flowers in the grounds and walked
around with an
attendant who was studying English. We
exchanged emails, then I went outside and watched the green rice wave and flow
in the wind like the film The Thin Red Line. At the temples in Pejang I heard
about an anniversary ceremony tonight at another temple nearby.
I drove through very some un-touristy neighborhoods where the villagers were
on their way to temple in their dress whites and yellows with offerings piled
the women’s heads. The way they
have to scoot in their tight sarongs looks like an old debutante training film. I was definitely the only foreigner in the crowd, so I was
the center of attention, especially with the camera. Kids played with balloons and balls, girls giggled in the
corner, and men smoked and drank. Just
outside the temple, men were involved in various card games and little kids had
their own introduction to gambling by betting on the roll of a dice.
They were very animated, yelling as the adult uncovered each roll of the
dice. I asked one guy if it was odd
to gamble at temple, but he pointed out that we were outside the walls and
invited me to a cockfight tomorrow. Despite
being against the law, the deadly sport is still very much a part of Balinese
culture and social life (it also provides meals since the owner of the winning
cock gets to take home the losing cock for dinner).
Inside the temple, the devout knelt in the courtyard and prayed as
immense offerings were carried in and placed at the altar.
Some prayers evolved into short, low chants as a priest splashed
holy water from a coconut shell on worshipers.
Although I headed to the back of the courtyard, most eyes were on me
followed by whispers and turned heads. This
was often followed by smiles and I nodded “Salamat Malam”. According to Lonely Planet, that’s the appropriate greeting
after dark, as opposed to the other salamats used for before 11, 11-3, and 3-7.
One guy answered in English and he explained the 3-day anniversary
ceremony for the temple before we chatted about Wahid’s troubles.
Like others, he said that events in Java seldom cross over to Bali since
the Islands are very different. After
the chanting, the crowd started to disperse and the beautiful procession of
women with pyramids of fruit on their heads was straight out of Hollywood, but unfortunately it was too dark to capture on film. By
the time I was ready to leave, I discovered that I had misplaced the keys to the
jeep. I looked all through my
pockets, sarong, and backpack; and on the ground around the door.
It was too dark to retrace my footsteps in the grass, so I thought I was
in trouble – I was working though in my mind how to get a duplicate key from
Legion, change our plane flight for tomorrow, explain to Naomi what a dumb-ass I
was, etc. etc. when I found a guy with a flashlight.
He seemed very kind and offered to help me look.
We looked for 15 minutes and didn’t see a thing, and then at the last
minute, with the last twist of the light, I saw the reflection of the keys –
right under the door! I couldn’t
believe it. I was joyfully stunned,
even hugging the old guy, but then I really got a shock: the old guy asked for
money! I was so surprised I laughed
“Yes, I help you, you give present”
I was so pissed off on the way home, I couldn’t see
straight. Naomi couldn’t believe
it either, but she was glad we would be leaving tomorrow too as the commercial
nature of this place is getting to us. I
had Bali Hai regardless of the antibiotics and tried to get some sleep.
If you would like to follow our adventure in Lombok, please click here: Photojournal February 17 - 23, 2001
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