A Travellerspoint blog

Indonesia

Bali - In summary

by Kt

I'm gong to get the lowlights out of the way first

Lows:
Cockfighting
When we'd walked through the small village to view the herons there were baskets with chickens inside in front of a bunch of properties. I thought that was just where they kept their chickens ahead of putting in the pot or whatever. We also saw a man walking down the road with a large cockerel in his arms. Mark commented on how the cockerel seemed perfectly happy. We realised with horror, as we left the village, that those chickens in the baskets were all cockerels and they were being kept for cock fighting. We drove past two sets of men that were partaking in this 'sport'. It was really disturbing and I hate animal cruelty for sport on any level. It is illegal, having been banned in 1981 and it is enforced sometimes, as people I've met have seen Police breaking up such events, but I guess if it's something they've always done and is common place. I suppose you're gonna have to come up with something pretty cheap and exciting to replace their buzz. Anyone, even the most poor, can easily get involved in this barbaric pass time. It is of course horrifying but I'm aware that I'm not in a position to judge. These things happen and it is a different world to that which I live in. Seeing as our government is trying to weedle stag and fox hunting back on the agenda after it was, happily, being banned for last 10 years. And we are supposedly an 'educated' society (well, educated at Eton, in the governments case). As for the Trump brothers and their sicko jaunt to Africa to kill as many 'trophies' as they could pay for (http://www.abc.net.au/news/2012-03-24/trumps-sons-in-trouble-for-zimbabwe-hunt/3910068) Well it's all proof that if we can't stop this kind of thing happening in our so called developed world, then storming in and giving a bunch of guys in a village in Bali a lecture isn't really going to help. Especially as it is linked to spiritual beliefs, such as their cattle will die if they don't partake. The Bali animal welfare groups have their work cut out with so many stray cats and dogs and noisy, ugly old cockerels probably come pretty low on anyone's support list. I've since noticed the cockerel baskets in pretty much every village we've been too. It was common place in villages probably less than 100 years ago in the UK (despite being banned in 1835) and according to the RSPCA still goes on. I believe it's still popular in countries all over the world as wide-spread as South America, India, the Philippines and like the UK, still very underground in France and Spain.

Dogs
When we were driving in from the airport I noticed that there were stray dogs everywhere and this made me a little tense. I love dogs but am a bit afraid of them if I don't know them. The strays, however, turned out to be all good natured. The locals aren't nasty to them, as in other places I've been (we had a particularly nasty incident in Corfu where the hotel owners brother beat a stray dog with a stick outside our room - sick bastard!) and they aren't that scrawny in general, probably because there is so much canang left around with rice and various food in, it sees them right. The dogs that were more of an issue where actually the dogs from the homes who were all loose and were doing what dogs do and protecting their territory. Normally this meant them standing of the steps of their compound and barking like crazy, which was usually pretty much something of nothing. We did find though that sometimes they could be a little more agressive and over zealous - particularly if there was more than one of them. We had to turn back once when we were out on one of the more remote side roads when there was a particularly agressive fella who wasn't going to let us past. On the whole they weren't a problem but it was just added hassle and because I am dog nervous, gave me a bit more stress than I would have liked.

This dog, I am guessing, is not used as security...

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Highlights:
Sooo many highlights. It's a really special island and we are sure to return.

The ice-cream moped
Like an ice-cream van it plays a little tune as it drives about. Ace!

Swastikas
They are everywhere. We had seen them tattooed on someone in Fiji, who was clearly not an aryan white power nut job and had been intrigued but hadn't gotten around to looking it up. In Bali - the symbol is everywhere and there are even places called 'Swastika hotel'. It's actually a reverse image to the Nazi one and it symbolises balance in relationships. Good relationship with each other, all humans, with 'god' and with animals and nature. The total antithesis of the Nazi symbol then. I believe it's used all over asia, as a Hindu symbol but also in Buddism. Having read up a bit about it, I'm still not clear on how Hitler came to decide on this as a symbol for the aryan race. You never see this anywhere in the west and I'm really used to it now and actually I quite like it. With it being a taboo it makes it more powerful - having it appear everywhere under a different guise is good. It's like we're taking it back! Taking away the negative
connotations and replacing them with good!!

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Indonesian TV
We had a TV for just 2 days but in that time I learnt a lot.
It is quite hilarious. They have lots of soap operas, which are quite addictive. There is a Korean soap opera that I particularly liked, dubbed in Indonesian. None of them are in English but they are soap operas so you can kind of guess what's going on - if not - make up your own.
On the indonesian soap operas, the music is this strange, camp, overdramatic, almost medieval mix of piano and strings. Highly inappropriate to the level of drama - I love it!
There was also a panel show where 3 people were shown clips of funny things and had people in the studio doing the strangest thing and they had to try not to laugh.

They also had lots of Tom and Jerry and Woody Woodpecker. Old skool cartoons that for some reason are never on UK terrestrial TV anymore these days. I do miss them so. if anyone knows anywhere you can watch them online or download them, I would so love to have a retro cartoon watching marathon.

There was one thing that came on that was in English and subtitled in Indonesian - a Jean Claude Van Damme film. I found I preferred to watch the Indonesian shows.

Skin whitening
There are tons of products, like 'Fair n Lovely' for skin whitening. They also offer treatments in salons. It seemed a bit odd at first and a bit creepy, but then flipping that, aren't half (if not more) of those of the lilly white persuasion constantly using either fake tan, moisturisers with tints in, or bronzers.

The Ubud royal family
I had read an article about the young members of Ubuds royal family. The family has no real power anymore and the young ones spend a lot of time on Facebook and on buying the latest everything. So I think I could be pretty sure when, up the hills of one of the cobbled streets in Ubud, a big, black Hummer went by - standing out in a town of mopeds, trucks, a few four by fours and vans - it could only be a brash show of wealth. It did seem quite unreal for a moment.

Paul Smith shops
Another thing which seemed out of place and most odd was the Paul Smith shops. They must have been knocks off but where decked out very stylishly and selling british themed stuff. So that was odd and the fact that there was four of them - strange!

Russian Andrey - the most amazing Tattooist ever.
Seriously this guy is amazing. He's obviously a majorly talented artist first of all and he's only been doing tattoos for 3 years but already he's probably the best I've ever seen. Like crazy amazing.
Take a look: http://grimmy3d.ru

Antique sign
A sign Mark spotted when driving on the outskirt of Ubud.
'Antiques - made to order'. Nuff said!

Posted by KtandMark 19:47 Archived in Indonesia Comments (0)

It doesn't get Batur than this - fish soup and faeces

by Kt

The day we left we were very reluctant to leave Ubud but it was an interesting hour or two's drive up to our next location in the Kitamani region.
We knew we were in the right place when we suddenly reached a huge viewing platform that over looked a glistening lake with a volcano in the background. Was a bit of a good view! We headed down the hill for what seemed like an eternity, stopping briefly to receive a blessing and to have rice sprinkled in our hair, until we eventually reached the village of Toya Bunkhar which lay on the edge of Lake Batur underneath with (active!) volcano behind it.
Despite being a small settlement the accommodation prices are quite steep here as there isn't much about and although we were paying a fair bit more than we'd paid in Ubud, our accommodation was 'interesting'. I kind of knew it would be because of reviews I'd read online but it was only for a couple of nights and was cheapest alternative. The bed was massive which was a great but the room had a bit of a grubby feel and believe me, I've grown not to be fussy. The bathroom was especially interesting. The light flickered when you ran the tap and the bath was surrounded by some kind of concrete... umm... sculpture???

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The outside door of the room had a massive gap at the bottom so we had to load our bags up against it at night to stop the mozzies getting in. There was a TV - fancy eh? - but you had to switch the main light on for the TV to work so it took us half a day to realise that. But as we have found on our travels, when you turn up somewhere at first you can quite often feel a bit freaked out but usually within 24 hours you are acclimatised, get on with it and ignore any oddities/potential death hazards!!!!

Fish soup and faeces
Our first meal there, we had gone for a little wander to find the village very empty (they really get few people there at low season) but found a little cafe and I opted for the lake fish with soup which was quite frankly, utterly amazeballs. I've never really liked the idea of river fish. Probably because at home the rivers are so murky and grim. In fact, it's only been quite recently that I've been more adventurous with fish - used to be a little bit squeamish and bones and the like. Well, I'm glad I'm glad I took the gamble as it was really one of the nicest things I've had since travelling - and I've been to Melbourne for goodness sake!! The fish was just lightly fried and placed on a bowl of a very light broth with bits of garlic, onion and tomatoe floating in it.

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The food we had in the evening at our accommodation was actually really nice too despite the slightly hap hazard surroundings. Mark had a bit of an adventurous turn himself and tried the special coffee from an area we'd passed on our journey up. You may have seen the Vietnamese coffee that became popular as an unusual christmas present a few years ago which was coffee made from berries (I don't know how this is different from beans) which had been eaten and then - passed?? - for want of a better word by weasles. Well this is pretty much the same thing having been passed by the Asian Palm Civit. It's called Kopi Luwak. Mark said it tasted good. I just giggled maturely and kept telling him he'd eaten poo. It's supposed to be the most expensive coffee in the world.

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The next day we were to go out on a visit organised with the hotel across the road. This was a much posher hotel and had a lakeside cafe, which was an amazing spot to sit and watch the fishermen and the clouds moving slowly across the mountains.

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The hotel had a couple of pools hooked up the natural spa that was available from the thermals of the village. And for some strange reason they had a cute little beetle parked out front.

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Trunyan
One of the main reasons we were in the village was because there was a place I'd read about that I had really wanted to go. I'd recently read an amazing book called Making an Exit: From the Magnificent to the Macabre by Sarah Murray. This books talks about the way death is dealt with in different areas of the world, the similarities and the differences. It actually featured Bali quite heavily, as their cremation ceremonies and rituals are notoriously big and joyous occasions. The place we were going to, however, dealt with their dead differently to the rest of Bali. This remote village on the opposite edge of Lake Batur, accessible usually only by water, had a small cemetery where they left their dead out in the open. This had become a bit of a tourist attraction but fair play to the villagers, they charged a lot and so at least someone had to really want to see it to make the arrangements to get there by boat and make the various donations necessary for the villagers to grant you access. My fascination meant I was willing to pay that price and off we went in our boat across the beautiful lake which in itself was a fantastic experience.
We first stopped at the village and visited the temple. When you visit the temples, you often have to cover up with sarongs that they supply. With Marks newly shaved head I thought he looked suitably monkish in his.

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The village was clearly the poorest we had seen yet but they had an amazing resource on their doorstep - you could never go hungry with such an amazing lake, which unlike the sea was never going to be ravaged by over fishing. The village covered quite a small area - the temple taking up probably a quarter of it. The backdrop to the village was steep forest, hence it's remoteness. And from the temple you looked over at the active volcano on the other side of the lake.

We then took the boat over to the cemetery. There were 7 or 8 bodies there. They are laid out and covered by a kind of bamboo cage to keep out animals etc. There is tons of stuff everywhere, which turns out to be their belongings which are buried with them. All kinds of things - crockery, clothes, lots of flip flops, a bright orange plastic toothbrush on one. They stay like this for about a year, then their skull and leg bones are lined up in an area to the right of the graves. The other bones and all their stuff is then discarded to the side of the cemetery. This being a very small area, it is just to the side of the bodies and was fascinating in itself. When we eventually realised what it was, you could see that in a box of plates was a thigh bone, or next to that pile of clothes was a pelvis. The hip bones of course stood out with that perfect rounded joint. There was a bra there which looked like it belonged to a young person. This was their history and this was their bodies. The bodies themselves were fresher than I had expected. The latest, being only a few weeks old. We were basically looking at recently dead bodies but it didn't feel creepy or gross, it felt calm and i said a quiet little hello to each of them (quiet as in, in my head so I didn't look completely batty). The reason that this tradition had come about and the reason that we weren't actually gagging around such recently deceased is what makes this site special. The bodies do not decompose in the normal way and they do not smell at all. There has been no absolute conclusion as to why this is. There have been various theories about the water and such things, but the one most agreed upon is that is down to the huge tree that the site sits beneath. I'm not sure how. Something scientific. The villages believe that it is a spiritual thing and even if it is the tree, the fact that something natural has an impact on this is spiritual in itself. Anyway, before I go off and shake my crystals and chakras and get all new age on you, I must add that the pictures below contain the bones but not the corpses so you don't have to look away unless you're squeamish of death in general (dont' be - it's the only certainty we all have).

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The one thing that I do think they may have to consider in this modern world is the inclusion of the flip flops and modern plastic material that is put in with the bodies. This stuff, particularly the flip flops, is never going to decompose and indeed it was the most prevalent thing, besides the old money that covered the floor. Quite practically, gone are the days of using woven flip flops. They don't last as long and the Balinese love colour and looking good (seriously, they are a well dressed people - even the poorest), so plastic of course is going to be top choice.
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As I say, I didn't feel grossed out or anything, I was concerned about how intrusive it was but then people walk round graveyards all the time. The whole point of this is about death being out in the open, not hidden behind closed doors.

The visit also lead to us meeting an interesting pair - Mark got talking to a russian girl who'd just arrived from Ubud about our trip. She had not come to the area to go to Trunyan but oddly she had seen a documentary about it before and it had fascinated her - we got talking about it and she told us about a place in Tibet where their was a tribe who were shunned by the rest of society and their role in life was to do a special kind of body disposal for those important and rich members of society (for this was the most expensive way you could be dealt with after death). They basically took the bodies and scraped the meat from the bones for them to be fed to the mountain vultures. But if they had a couple of bodies at once they would first feed them the men because the womens flesh is sweeter so they would ignore the men if a woman's flesh was on offer. Nice eh? Well that certainly puts Trunyan into perspective as quite low shock value doesn't it??

Well, Yelena, was russian originally but from USA - she had lived all over but most recently had been mostly based in Chaing Mai as was her friend Poncho, from Mexico who had lived in the UK for a fair while - they are both yoga teachers. I had planned for us to go to Chaing Mai so it was great to chat with them and ask them lots of annoying questions. We were amazed when they said how expensive Bali was compared to Thailand. Mark had been a bit sceptical but I think talking to them he realised that Chaing Mai would indeed be a good place for us to base ourselves for a little while. They were both really interesting people and funny and a little crazy. We had a good laugh in that short time and we definitely hope to cross paths again sometime.

We stayed in Toya Bungkhar just 2 nights. It was lucky I had booked just those 2 nights - you couldn't last much longer as there wasn't much to do. Lots of people trekked up the volcano for sunrise. We had decided not to do it as it seemed quite expensive, especially as we had spent so much on the Trunyan visit (although much of that had come out of my personal 'treats' budget as it was my want!). I was happy to find that Yelena and Poncho also thought the charges were very high. You can't do it independently apparently - there are guards up there who will send you back or try to charge you. Anyway, we didn't do that which was probably a good thing as the day we were considering it was apparently quite cloudy anyhow. I'm sure we'll have plenty of opportunities yet to climb stuff.

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Our next stop was Tulamben - a beach resort on the north east coast of Bali. We were to be stopping there for 5 nights so Mark could dive and I could plan our next destination, Malaysia. The journey there was a bit hair raising. Not that our driver was a bad driver - just normal for Bali standards. They just tend to go for the overtake, even on corners. It was more that we were up on winding roads up in the steep mountain. At one point we had a sheer drop on either side. A rickety old wooden bridge was another highlight. To be honest, we'd already had some hair raising experiences in Queensland and so I've just learned to accept that death may come and maybe I'd like to be buried in my flip-flops. The best part of the journey was not the scenery, although it was at times a marvel, but it was in fact the music. For the first hour we had the St Elmo's Fire soundtrack. How this young guy who probably wasn't even born when the film came out came to be listening to it, I'm not sure - I wasn't even that old! Classic tunage!! Even Mark who hasn't seen the film liked it as it was all 80s. For the next hour we were blessed with some old soul classics. Made the time pass a little quicker and took our minds of any potential collisions.

Posted by KtandMark 22:45 Archived in Indonesia Tagged trunyan_toya bungkhar_bali Comments (0)

A crackling time in Ubud - caves, temples, paddys & pork

by Kt

We ended up staying in Ubud and in the same accommodation for 2 and a half weeks.
It was so nice to just be somewhere for a while and Ubud is such a great and easy place to be, it's difficult to ever leave I think. We ate in lots of interesting places, braved the market, wandered down some out of the way streets. Wandered back the other way down some out of the way streets when an unfriendly dog clearly wasn't going to let us past. There's always something going on in Ubud and I swear everytime we walked down the street we saw a new store or business that we were sure wasn't there the day before.

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Blackpool and pork
In our second week a couple turned up at our accommodation who we ended up having a right old royal craic with. You know when you just meet people and you just find you're on the same wave length? Well that was Steve and Michelle. Hailing from Blackpool, this pair take a month off every year and take interesting, definitely not run-of-the-mill holidays. Fabulous for us as we got lots of great tips on places we are yet to venture to. Steve is an action man. He's an ice-climber. He goes climbing in winter!?! Yes, I know - barking isn't it? Michelle is newer to the more adventurous type of holidaying, much like Mark and myself, having previously enjoyed more upmarket holiday experiences but over recent years she has become well and truly bitten by the bug - although she did take a hair brush up with her when she climbed a mountain once, but that's another story! Michelle's mum and dad run an old skool b&b in Blackpool. The same guests come back time and time again - and the same set of guests go there every christmas and swap presents with people who were at one time strangers. How cool is that? I love it that these places still exist - long may they thrive. Mark lived in Blackpool for a while, back in his yoof, so the guys swapped stories of the various salubrious establishments and how they had changed over the years. It's definitely time for us to go back for a visit - sounds like lots been going on in recent years - and now with our new found friends - the perfect excuse!! A Blackpool knees up is definitely in order when we get back. We ended up a few evenings in a row, at the restaurant down the road having a right old gas and giggle. Believe it or not, this was with Mark and I still not drinking. Get us! Unheard of! We went crazy on water and ginger tea. Anyhow, it was so great to meet these guys and to have a few days of chatting and belly laughs - something you miss when you're so far from you friends. It was a shame that they couldn't stay longer but they were off to the Gili Islands off Bali for some further adventure. But to top off our bonding, we did all share a pretty special pork experience. Intrigued? Well read on….

For those of you with clean minds, yes you guessed it right, I'm talking about the meat. Pork is big in Bali and is used for special occasions generally as they like to roast a whole pig. There is a place in Ubud that is pretty famous for it's pork. Steve and Michelle had been there but were up for it again as it was so good, so next day we met up for our pig-fest. The place has some high tables, but mainly low ones where you sit on the floor, which is where we were. They are open from 11- 3 everyday and in that time they basically just roast a couple of oinks. Now I don't really like pork but Mark does so I thought I'd maybe see what else was on the menu. Umm - nope - just pig. So I went for the pig special, which consisted of pork meat, pork meat fried in flour, pork blood sausage, pork skin and stuffing and a bit of rice for good measure. It was actually fantastic. The pork was so tender - really yummy. The fried stuff I didn't like so much but the blood sausage I also surprisingly did. It was kind of like a spicy black pudding. I had to draw a line at the skin though - i tried it but is so not my cup of tea - but Mark was more than happy for any of my left over and the guys worked through a couple of plates of what can only be described as roasted pork skin. You could also get some pork scratching like crackers too - so why not? I seriously thought Mark may go into cardiac arrest then and there.
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We really must give a special mention to our favourite eatery in Ubud.
It is called 'Yummy Yummy' and they do the best Nasi Goreng and Satay and in fact everything they do is …. well… yummy, yummy!!!! We've spent a lot more in town on food but it's never been quite as good. It's a brightly painted place and the uber friendly owner likes his rock music and donned an interesting range of cool t-shirts. Once again, there's not much more to say than.. yummy, yummy!

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Green, Old, Steep and a Dud
No, I'm not talking about Mark!! I'm talking about the places we saw when we did eventually venture out of town. First up, we went to what's known as the 'Organic Cafe' (but I think it's got a proper Warung name too). Anyway, the point of going to this cafe is not so much for the cafe itself, but for where it is. To get to it, you go disappear up a lane from Ubud's top main road and walk for 15 or so minutes up a track through the paddy fields. So you have the green and ordered rice fields growing on either side of you and it is really quite stunning.
On the way up (and back down) the path you meet a few people. The odd person going to or back from the cafe, some on mopeds carrying stuff up to where they are doing some building and some tending to the paddy fields. The women, as you see all over Bali (and much of the world) carry stuff on their heads. It is mind blowing the weight of stuff they can carry - large buckets of sand and breeze blocks for instance! There are also ducks tinkering about in the fields - they eat the pests so are a useful part of the process. There was a woman who Mark though was raving mad, shouting things, until I told him (as I'd read about this previously) that she was actually shouting at the ducks as they surprisingly comply with such orders. I would comply with anything this woman shouted - she certainly meant business!! Along the way there is the odd small building where they were selling things such as masks and kites. Stuff you obviously don't need but they know that the tourists traipsing up here may be tempted. Although it was only a 15 minute walk, it was very exposed and very hot. It also took a lot longer as we were taking photos and videos, so it is a great relief to reach the cafe and some shade. The cafe is raised up a floor, so you have amazing views over the paddy fields. There was lots of wholesome food, most of which is grown in their own gardens and it was decced out with lots of big, loungey cushions. You could probably easily lose an afternoon there.

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We also went out to see a couple of things in the Ubud surrounds. The Elephant Cave (Goa Gajah) is a temple complex which was uncovered in the 1930s. It was ridiculously old - from the 11th century. It included a cave that had been dug out of the rock, god knows how, in which people went to meditate. There were chunks dug out on the side a foot or two from the ground, in which people would meditate which only a candle to keep them company, for days on end. The area was built next to the river and had lots of sources of water, which is why it was built there. Years after finding the Hindu temple, they discovered that on the same site, just a little further along there was also a Budhist temple - from a few hundred years before the 'new' hindu one. It's mind blowing how old this stuff is. When we were in Australia and New Zealand it was always interesting to see what was described as a 'historic site' as generally our house was older than such things. Wer'e used to things being old in Britain, but these temples trumped all that - times 100!!! It's a whole other realm of old!

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We also, briefly, went to see the Ceking Rice Terraces. These are basically just paddy fields built on a hill, so the land has been terraced so the water can sit, as the rice needs. There's not much to say about them. They are worth a visit as they're pretty amazing when viewed from the high ridge opposite.

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Our next stop was a bit of a non-event, but interesting none the less. Well that's what I tell Mark when he implies that it was a boring waste of time. He's probably right but a life of no regrets and all that - I won't allow myself to regret sitting in a field watching not much happen for a couple of hours!!
The village of Petula, since the 60s, has been home to a kind of heron called the Kokokan bird. Every night at about 6pm, these birds come back from where ever they have been to roost. There is apparently 15-20,000 birds in this one small village. The villagers believe that the birds presence brings them luck as before they arrived the village was very poor. Oddly, they do not move onto any other village - they stay only here and also don't roost in any of the residents gardens. Whatever the reason for them being here, it has become a bit of a tourist attraction. You get a sprinkling of people turn up for it in the evening and I think pretty much every person there was a bit under enthralled. The idea of these thousands of birds coming in sounds amazing until you get there and realise that they don't literally descend at the same time and land in the same place. It is spread out in time and area. They trickle in and certainly, at the peak time of 6pm they are definitely more impressive in number and coming in from all angles. So, it was a bit interesting but not much. Reading about it is probably more interesting than being there. Another boring place I have dragged Mark to and I'm sure it won't be the last. The village itself is very simple and traditional. My interest was piqued to see a big Westlife poster in one of the small stores which was out of place to say the least.

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Driving around I actually realised how big Ubud was. It is a bunch of villages all joined together but it really does go on for miles in various directions, yet at the same time you can be out into quite paddy fields in no time. The huge carvings you find all over the outskirts are truly amazing. I wonder if the fact that so much is created - art and craft, in Bali and in particular in Ubud, is why it's such a laid back, aggro free place. Lots of people are creating beautiful things and all around you are colourful and bright art and objects. I personally got extremely excited at the huge disco ball selection we saw - disco ball buddhas too - oh I'm so having one of those one day!!!

Posted by KtandMark 00:21 Archived in Indonesia Comments (0)

Can you Bali-eve it, we are in Ubud?

by Kt

Bali is actually not far from Perth, only about 4 hours so it wasn't a big journey but we did have to wake ourselves up to the fact that we were leaving super easy Australia and entering Asia - the first time for both of uw. Firstly, we must fess up to a little concern over the transit of our luggage from Oz to Bali. There have been some notorious cases of stuff being stashed in unsuspecting peoples cases and the best advice on offer was to lock your cases. The problem for us is our backpacks kind of suck in the security department.We had them lurking around the house for a while before we left home, but until we actually came to pack and leave, we didn't realise there was actually nowhere proper to lock them. There is no hole in the zip to use - we have to padlock through the string that pulls off the zip. This is really rather pants and barely counts as security as, obviously, you can not only cut the string in about 2 seconds but also they have been known to slip off the zip itself anyhow. But the padlocking, along with a few cable ties back in the beginning, was our security and it wasn't really a big deal or concern. But for our trip to Bali we had to be a bit more sure that no tampering was possible so we were really scratching our heads how to get around the problem. The solution, from Perth to Bali at least, was cling film! They have machines in the airport which I think in the past were used for broken cases but are great for the purpose of sealing your luggage. It really is just wrapping strong cling film round and round your case/backpack until everything but a handle is covered. It's cute - they looked like little cocoons afterwards. So that was our solution and as our flight neared Bali and we heard the words over the tannoy 'Death Penalty' and then as we entered the airport and saw posters again with 'Death Penalty' in big old lettering, we were happy that even though we looked a little freaky with our shiny packages, we could breathe easy knowing our luggage tampered with. Admittedly they tend not to kill the western people found with drugs but prison sentences are lengthy and without much care for whether you are guilty or not, so better safe than sorry. Mark would be rubbish in prison!

So, with our visas sorted and our little plastic cocoon packages, we proceeded our drive from the airport to Ubud our first port of call in Bali. Co-incidence would have it that we were arriving on the Balinese new year.
This made for a VERY interesting ride to Ubud from the airport, as we drove for a couple of hours through the preparations for that nights celebrations. There were absolutely huge effigies made out of paper and glue (I think) which loomed over us as we drove along, snapping through the car window. They were painted bright colours and were generally delightfully menacing. I have never seen anything like it. We had certainly picked a great time to turn up. This was made all the more fun by our driver's fabulous taste in soul music. We have an amazing soundtrack to this crazy, amazing drive. There were celebrations starting all the way and people were out on the streets. We came across a little procession at some point where kids had smaller hand held effigies that they were bashing on the ground and against the wall and everyone was making a right old din with bells and drums.

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It got a little tricky towards the end of the journey as we kept finding streets shut, ready for the celebrations, but we made it to our lodgings at around 7pm by which time it was dark (one thing I hate about being near the equator). We didn't venture far that night because, as I said it was dark and we didn't really know where we were or where to could go. Because everything was shut down for the celebrations and in preparation for the next day - very little was open. Although we knew that Bali would be considerably cheaper than home and australia, we were shocked when we discovered it was less than couple of quid for a beer or a wine and the same for tasty meal. We breathed a sigh of relief, realising that if things were this cheap, then we could indeed last a little longer with what was left of our budget. Happy days!

Shhhhh........ It's all gone quiet
The day after new year is known as Nyepi - the day of silence. Basically the whole island has to stay in, stay quiet and keep the lights off or dimmed at night. This is to pretend to an evil spirit that there is no one on the island, so he will pass by and not attack. People don't work and are not supposed to partake of any form of entertainment, TV etc.
I'd accidentally found out about this about a week before we left and was a bit worried we wouldn't have a chance to get any food the day we landed, to last us for the day (tourists aren't allowed out of their hotels either - I believe the streets are patrolled, but we wouldn't go out anyhow out of respect). But at our accommodation, they assured me that they'd provide all 3 meals that day and for free.
Rather than a hotel or hostel, we are staying in a kind of homestay. Basically a large amount of the homes in Bali, well at least in Ubud, are 'family compounds'. These are based around kind of courtyard areas and have lots of small buildings/rooms off where various members of the family, over different generations, live. We are staying in a fairly big one with buildings all over the place. i think they rent out 5 or 6 rooms, but it's never very busy. There is a pool here but that is actually incredibly unusual in the family compounds, so we got lucky. It is a lovely pool with a statue in the middle and is always a gorgeous temperature. The room has a big, four poster bed with muslin covering it to keep out the mozzies, a bathroom and a veranda to sit out on. It's a little rough and ready in places, but has everything you need, as well as bags of character.
When we decided to stay an extra week we moved to a different room which had the added bonus of a sofa out the front on the veranda, which is lovely to slouch around on.

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The furniture in the whole place is gorgeous - the dad of the family also runs a shop selling this furniture. It's made out of old boats and is big, chunky and gorgeous. He is Mr Chicken, so the sign says out the front..... We do not know why..... There are no chickens here.
That, in fact, is actually unusual -everyone else seems to have them. They are everywhere. The chickens here have really long legs. The cockerels start at about 4am and go on all day, but you soon blank it out.

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We are away from the road and not bang in the centre of town, so it's generally pretty quiet. We do, however, have a lot of noise of the 'natural' variety. Various things make a racket at night - I don't even know what half of it is. I think it's frogs that make the most noise. They are often the culprit. Incredible for such small creatures, the racket they can make. And there's bats about the place, so I'm presuming it's them you can hear banging around in the middle of the night up in your roof (there is a wicker ceiling so there is space for plenty up there). On the first couple of nights it was really quite disturbing, but like everything you get used to it.

One of the loveliest things is there is some frangipani bushes in the garden so when you sit out on the veranda at night, the breeze brings over to you waves of the most divine smell ever. It is utter bliss.
So, seeing as we'd been travelling like crazy for months, the day of silence, being intrapt in our accommodation, a warm, lovely place, with a pool, didn't seem bad at all!! We just settled down, chilled out and read.

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After Nyepi, it was actually a day and a half before we even saw anything much of Ubud. It was definitely a pleasant surprise when we eventually did. The sights and sounds of Ubud cannot be explained. It seems hectic at first but it's not really and you get used to it's foibles pretty quickly. The majority of traffic is mopeds. They are everywhere. With 5 members of a family on them sometimes. Very often holding onto baby, large packages and of course there's the ones which have built in road side stores. They are super wide carts on the back of the moped and I have no idea how any of them manage to drive without falling off, but they do!!

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The thing you first notice, coming to Bali, is the beeping. Everyone is beeping - it seems very stressful. But actually, the beeping here is not 'get out of the way' beeping, it is, in fact, just to say to everyone else 'here i am'!! That's a big difference in my book. Everyone is driving defensively (in a positive way). You panic less about crossing the road (or walking in it, which you have to do much of the time due to dodgy or lack of pavements) when you realise that they will do their darned best to avoid you. So, you just keep your eye out and trust that between you and them, we'll all stay upright!

We walked the streets in amazement that first day. I don't think we even took any photos because there was SO much to see that it kind of blew our minds. There are temples you stumble upon and to be honest, most peoples homes/compounds looks as beautiful as temples. There are sights and sounds and colour everywhere, as well as lovely smells from food, flowers and incense.
We made our way down one of the main roads and although we hadn't planned on going to it, stumbled on the Monkey Forest.
The Monkey Forest does what it says on the tin. It is a small forest surrounding a temple, in the south of central Ubud, which has... you guessed it... monkeys! As ever they are mischievous little beggars so keeping tight reign on sunglasses, cameras and the like is quite necessary. You are told not to take in any food in your bags - they will smell it and THEY WILL HAVE IT. They do sell banana chunks in there, for tourists to feed them, so the are well fed and not desperate for food at least. They literally clamber aboard the person who has a banana in their hand. If they try to hold it the banana back and not give it to them, the monkeys will get quite vicious. You have been warned before you enter, so it's your own stupid fault if you do anything silly. But of course there were plenty of people doing that. A silly girl posing for a picture holding out her hand to the monkey as if she was giving him something. She didn't have anything, so he was (probably quite rightly) p'd off and lashed out. Well what do you expect? It continues to amaze me the dumb way some people act in tourist places after being given some simple, 'there for a reason' guidelines. Some of the monkeys had got hold of some sweets. This looked all very cute and everyone including Mark was taking photos. I pointed out that the sugar rush was going to hit in a moment and it wasn't going to be pretty and I backed off. I was proved right and a bit of a fracas erupted amongst the monkeys as the one who'd supped the sugar went a little berserk. Don't give things with sharp teeth sugary treats shouldn't have to be a rule, should it?
I'm not overkeen on monkeys - they have a right attitude don't you think? They are like teenagers the way they look at you, all challenging, like 'what you gonna do about it?'. After we'd been there a little while, when I opened my bag to get the camera out, one climbed right up my being and tried to get into my bag It's backside was all too near my face for my liking. Despite Marks panicky voice beside me ('walk away, walk away, they say you should walk away' - umm, it's 'on' me - how do I walk away from it????), I remained calm held onto my bag, glared at it and told it to get off. That worked just fine. Round one to me!

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If anyone has read the book Eat, Pray, Love, or seen the movie, you will know that the last part of the book is set in Ubud and the effect on Ubud can definitely be seen. There is the odd Eat, Pray, Love ornament on sale in the tourist shops and apparently prices for a lot of things in the touristy areas have been affected but most noticeable is there is a LOT of single 30 something to 50 something women here alone. Floating about here, often with the Ubud uniform of yoga pants and vest top with ethnic accessories. It's not a bad thing obviously, it says something really nice about Ubud that women can safely travel here alone. I'm sure some of them are coming seeking something that they possibly won't likely won't find - healing, enlightenment, a hot brazilian lover (read the book), but I can't think of anywhere where you're more likely to at least come close to it!!!!
And yes - I have read (well I should say 'heard' as I have the audio book) Eat, Pray, Love quite a few times. I love the book, although I will never watch the film - I dread to think what they have done with it as it's not a simple, film like story and in fact through much of the book Elizabeth Gilbert isn't really a particularly likeable person but it's a fascinating 'journey'. And I can't deny that unless I'd read about Ubud in that book, the town or even Bali may not have been on my list of places to visit on our year off. So I have much to thank the book for. It is every bit as amazing as the book describes, I also know to take it some things with a pinch of salt. The Ubud expat 'lifestyle' as a whole, is quite fascinating. Some are getting a little ancy at their lovely idyll becoming more popular and commercialised due to the Eat, Pray, Love knock on effect, but then they started moving here in the 60s and continued ever since, so they too have brought about change and commercialisation to some extent. The yoga centres and spas were not all there without western influence. It's just life I guess. But it does make Ubud a unique place - every westerner who lives here or is staying long term is kinda similar, hippy-esque/new age/spiritual/alternative, whatever you'd like to call it. I bet loads of people from Brighton come here :) It's very earth mother! Yoga, Meditation, chakras, healing - all things new agey really (I do hate that expresson but no-one's really come up with another one to fit the mould). Having this kind of vibe, mentality and accessibility is one of the things about Brighton I love too, so suits me fine here. I've had a go at plenty of things in my time - reiki, cranio sacral therapy, hypnosis (10 years no smoking - thank you!), bowen therapy to name but a few. I definitely have hippy dippy, 'alternative' leanings which easily get lost at home amidst everyday stresses. Which of course it shouldn't, as it exactly the kind of stuff that you should be doing to balance you out andn make you feel better able to handle the everyday stresses, but looking after yourself tends to come last on the To Do lists doesn't it? Being here has kind of reminded me that taking time out should include looking after your mind and your body rather than just charging through the world.
All these things adds to the interestingness and complexity of Ubuds balance. The locals are quite straight forward about things. They are uber spiritual and make offerings at least 3 times a day, participate in the many, many ceremonies to keep on the good side of the gods and they use massage and herbs and the like to keep them well and on the good side of their bodies. Simple as that. That was what drew Elizabeth Gilbert here in the first place - looking for balance. It's a buzz word for everyone trying to find something. And I can see how this is a place to find it - whether it's balancing your mind of watching someone balancing 2 huge sacks on their moped.

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There's a fair few cafes selling super food juices and various health food, raw foods and macrobiotics etc. It's generally got a pretty hippy, wholesome vibe to it. I like it personally, it makes me feel at home - got all that stuff going on in Brighton. Plus the same stuff you'd pay a bomb for in a brighton health food shop or veggie cafe is super cheap here. We've even had a couple of wheatgrass shots (newsflash for the uninitiated - tastes like grass, sweetish grass!) which are pretty pricey at home so could never justify having them there.
All this healthiness has come in very handy as we have decided to give up booze for a while. We had our last drink on the Balinese new year, our first night in Bali. Guttingly, this was the point we realise that alcohol is really, really cheap here but we're trying not to think about that. Ubud is actually a really good place to not drink though. It's definitely not a party place, it has no bars, just restaurants/cafes you can drink in. Plus it has nice, cheap alternatives. I don't really drink soft drinks. I gave up 'pop' about 12 years ago, before I even gave up smoking. I was a diet coke freak - including drinking it first thing in the morning, last thing at night and when waking up in the night. One day I had an epiphany about what was exactly is in these drinks and so just stopped. Since then the only fizzy I have partaken of is tonic water from time to time - well you have to have a gin and tonic don't you? And perhaps the odd Pims. Funnily enough, during this trip, for the first time in years I've had some fizzy pop drinks on their own - some fanta and some sprite. It's always when I've been out somewhere super hot doing lots of walking and have craved it to kind of pep me up. Can't usually drink a whole one though - too sickly.
Anyway, juices are very common here and there are also, as I mentioned, the places that do healthy juice cocktails. We sometimes pop into one of those to make us feel like we're having a treat (yep sad aren't we!). Not sure how long we'll give up for, but for the rest of Bali at least. Will help recuperate after those months of hectic travel. And we can finally eat well too. I haven't had chips since we've been here - happy days!!! It's not like I had them a lot in Oz, but you'd often end up somewhere where there really was nothing to eat cheaply but something with chips!!

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So the food is mainly Balinese and Indonesian and often a mixture of both. Lots of chicken, pork, a small bit of seafood, but not much as we are not by the sea (this is a good thing of course) and a fair amount of vegetarian options. My dad lived in the Netherlands for a few years and they have lots of Indonesians living there so that was the main Asian take-away. So I was used to Indonesian food from back then (mm 20 years ago?) but haven't had anything decent since. The main indonesian dishes are Nasi Goreng, a kind of fried rice with particular spices. Satay - mainly chicken. But it's not like the satay you get in the UK which tends to taste of peanut butter which I never eat (even though I like peanut butter). This is as it should be. I don't know how to describe what that is, but it's good!! Nasi Campur is a mixture of dishes of things like tofu, chicken, there's some kind of thick compressed nut bake thing which is big here and which is lovely, a kind of bean salad and of course half boiled eggs in a particular sauce. I hate boiled eggs but Mark, who I've never known to eat them actually, finds these delicious. Balinese differs to Indonesian mainly by the spices being slightly different, but unique to Bali is their use of Pork (the rest of Indonesia is Mulsim, as opposed to mainly Hindu Bali). There's various kinds of curries available, all delicious. Another speciality I finally got to try is black rice pudding which is cooked in coconut milk. This is an unusual taste at first, but is absolutely delicious

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Apart from exploring Ubud itself (which, believe me, never gets boring), we are yet to go anywhere further afield. After months of moving around pretty frequently, we're enjoying staying in the one place for a while. Well, a couple of weeks feels like a while to us.
So we've settled into little routines and we've been able to spend some serious time doing work for our business (www.manawamusic.com). It feels rather apt as it's the relaxation and motivational music that we (mainly Mark, him obviously being the musical genius) spent a year writing and recording before we left. Where better to think about things to inspire and improve peoples lives?
It's pretty easy to get about, as we are fairly close to town - prob takes about 15 mins to get bang in the centre. We also have some great places nearby if we are doing loads (or doing nothing) and don't have time to go in. Prices are cheap everywhere but on the less central streets like ours, they are at their cheapest, and best quite often!

Ubud is easy to walk around but it gets dark at about 7pm and it's not so easy at night. Not because it's unsafe, just that you can't always see where you're going on the further out streets. There's quite a lot of dodgy pavings and massive holes that you can easily descend into. It's fine in the middle but we are on an off road and if we go one way to town, it's a bit ropey in the dark. It's okay the other way, you just have to try not to step on any dogs or fall down any of the holes. We've not particularly gone sight seeing as such, we've more just wandered around in various directions, up various roads. It really is amazing everywhere you look. As half the homes look as good as temples and there is colour and gorgeous smells everywhere. Then there's things to entertain you such as the aforementioned 5 to a bike families and the food sellers or gorgeous little kids or people dresses up in golden and colourful threads off to the temple. And ceremonies can just pop up around you at a moments notice.

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Posted by KtandMark 02:04 Archived in Indonesia Tagged bali Comments (0)

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