Friday, 13 December 2013

Ubud- The Spirit of Bali

Because we went on the boat trip from Gili trawangen to Labuanbajo, we missed some of Bali that we wanted to see, specifically Ubud. We had heard a fair bit about Ubud from friends that had been and had wanted to go since we started planning the trip, so flew back to Bali from West Timor. Our carbon footprint is not looking too great at the moment...maybe we will swim to our next destination to make up for it. We arrived in the evening, and had booked to stay in a budget homestay, however when we arrived, all the rooms were fully booked, there was a misunderstanding or miscommunication somewhere, nonetheless they put us up in another place (initially only for the night, although we decided to stay due to the lovely owner), which was probably better but the same price (less than ten quid a night with a good breakfast).

We didn't need air con here, as we were nearing the rainy season and started to get a bit cooler, Ubud is also a few hundred meters above sea level which makes a big difference. Like most Balinese family compounds and homestays, the family temples lie proudly in the middle where we saw the family pray and make offerings every morning, for a considerable amount of time. Balinese women can spend up to a third of their day praying, making offerings and carrying out rituals. Pretty time consuming, but keeps the gods appeased apparently.
Our homestay was called Sari Nadi and was within the traditional Balinese style! The walls in our room were made of bamboo and this is the first time we have had a proper balcony, a pretty view of the town roofs, palm trees and a volcano in the distance!
We had a look round the town, which is fully catered for tourist's shopping needs with clothes, nick nacks, spas, restaurants of all cuisine, yoga classes, art shops, galleries and much more. Ubud would appeal to the hippy inside you, and also the fashionista. There were some really cool shops with clothes made by local designers. If we weren't away for so long and happy to spend a little bit more money on things, there were definitely shoes, bags, t shirts and jewellery we would have bought. However we need to save the pennies! We went to a great bakery cafe called Kue, which made delicious bread. Indonesia is not known for its bread, it's often sweet, and soft and just not what bread should be. We were after some crusty, seedy, whole meal goodness. And maybe a good dessert or two, and the cafe definitely met our cravings, highly recommended.
We went for a walk out to the north of town and into the luscious paddy fields.
The photo above is of the water system that runs along the paddy fields to keep them fully hydrated. Farmers worked in the fields the same way the have been for hundreds of years while vast new hotel and villa developments were being built around them. It's a shame these new builds are not in keeping with the traditional Balinese buildings, instead they are modern flats a few stories high, where Balinese buildings are usually only bungalows or two stories high. They were a bit of an eye sore amongst the lush paddy fields but ubud is growing more popular every year so I guess they'd say they need to meet the demand! We came across a lovely remote homestay, Matahari Lumbung (the room rate seemed very reasonable and would love to stay there if we return), owned by a super friendly German man who we chatted to over lunch and where we were served the best nasi & mie goreng so far. His bungalows and grounds were beautiful, full of art he has collected across South East Asia.
As we left the heavens opened, after all it was supposed to be rainy season. Fortunately we had our very stylish anoraks with us. We made our way back to ubud a different way through the outskirts of ubud where it's less busy and got to see how prevalent and vibrant the Hindu Balinese culture is. Lamp posts decorated in red and gold and these things that looked like decorated bird houses every few metres where they leave their offerings to their gods. Everywhere you look there a small temples around.

Ducks! sadly will probably be in pancakes later.
Below that thick greenery is a river somewhere.

Following a peaceful day we were after something a bit wetter and what better than the white water rafting advertised all over Ubud, we opted to raft the Telagawaja river about an hours drive away. Bouncing up and down, knocking into boulders, being thrown around left right and centre, helmets well and truly needed. Great fun. However we had to share our raft with an old French couple, who were quite franky rubbish, paddling backwards when they shouldn't. We wondered why we kept veering left, when we realsed the French man had his oar stuck in the water the whole time not doing anything! However it was still thrilling and I would love to do some more.

The next day we went to the Sacred Monkey Forest! Which is in the centre of ubud off the conveniently named Monkey Forest Road. There were long tailed macaque monkeys everywhere! and they are, surprise surprise, very cheeky!
They live in four separate groups and we saw two monkeys have fight over border problems: one monkey had ventured in to another groups territory.
Olly sat down and one jumped right on his head, looking through his hair for something tasty maybe? The temple worker said not to let him stay on his head for too long or he monkey will get too comfortable and release his 'holy water' or urine to us non temple folk. If you want a monkey to sit on your head you are meant to lure them in with bananas, but we didn't need to.
However when a monkey sat on my head, it was okay for a few moments, we laughed took photos, but then it nicked my shades and scampered up the tree! We had been warned about this, but I stupidly didn't take notice and had my sunglasses on my head. We have evidence of the mugging in action.
I tried to do a peaceful exchange, a banana for my sunglasses, but he was having none of it, and even took the banana. I got my sunglasses back eventually, when he realised he had no use for them, it was not food after all, so he dropped them down from the bottom of a tree, after he had completely scratched and bent them, so in the bin they went! it was annoying, but extremely funny!

Whilst we were in ubud we decided to go for a massage, since on every corner there is a group of women advertising their spas. We went for a traditional Balinese massage, which was good, VERY hard, prodding muscles and pulling fingers... I think we ached more coming out of the spa. We also had pedicures, Ollys first! no polish on his toes though, although I think a nice hue of pink would have made his feet look a bit prettier.

Bali is also known for its traditional dance and music so we decided to go to a show one evening, we were told it was the best and its title 'The Spirit Of Bali' sounded just like what we were looking for. We went to a run down dirty old theatre and sat on uncomfortable plastic chairs and had possibly the worst toilets I have been to Indonesia so far, and we have been to some bad ones, so wasn't really sure of what to expect. But then we heard the gamelan start to play. The gamelan orchestra is made up of a plethora of instruments including the characteristic glockenspiel type thing hit with a pick axe that makes a sound veering from eerie to straight up piercingly aggressive. It was very impressive and sounded like chiming or a guitar, but sometimes haunting, it's hard to describe. Basically though they hit everything and the tempos change and moods change along with the dance creating a sound and dance that demands your attention.
The costumes were brilliant, but the facial expressions even better. Every movement and hand signal came a different emotion shown on the face through the eyes and mouth, happy, sad, angry, confused, you could see it all in their faces very clearly. Starkly different to any other dance we have ever seen before.
Ubud was good, but a lot busier than we were expecting. One of the downfalls were the pavement, quite literally. They were being dug up whilst we were there and everywhere we walked was an accident waiting to happen, dug up rocks and bricks scattered everywhere, grills and metal rods sticking out, holes and wood boards covering holes that did not feel stable when you walked over it. Olly and I both tripped over whilst we were there and both cut our feet and toes. It was just a nuisance and tinged our view of the city centre a bit as it was like an obstacle course every time you left your room. Another thing were the amount of men sitting on every step or corner asking you for a taxi, literally every minute. We understand that they are just looking for work but when you have been asked if you want a taxi the 50th time when you're only walking down the road, it gets bloody annoying, in so,e ways it was worse than the tourist traps we'd been warned about. Never once did we need a taxi. However, I loved the bright culture and religion that is still very important and ingrained into the daily lives of Balinese people. 

Apparently most Balinese ancestors are kings or artists, as rich Hindus of Java fled to Bali when Muslims invaded Java and in Ubud this cultural heritage still shines through.

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