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Published: October 10th 2011
After crashing in the small backpacker town of Padangbai for one night we made our way to Ubud, the cultural heart of Bali. People absolutely rave about Ubud, and with good reason. It is very well located – within close reach of most of Bali’s big tourist attractions - rice terraces, temples, volcanoes and other holy sites. It is also safe, clean, and comfortable and offers a lot of creature comforts – restaurants serving Western fare and tropical resort style cottages for $15-$30 a night. It is an easy place to stay for awhile. The only problem is that it is completely and totally filled with tourists.They are not the annoying kind like in Kuta – they are families and couples on holiday from all around the world – but still, they are tourists just the same. I know there are worse things to complain about but it just feels weird being in Bali but not interacting with any Balinese people except for when they take your order or try to sell you something. But I digress, as its hard to complain about a city that has it all. We spent 5 comfortable nights in Ubud at an adorable bungalow right
in the center of the activity on Monkey Forest Road. And we did A LOT in those five days.
We spent the first day meandering around the Monkey Forest Road area taking in all the stores, restaurants, cafes and art galleries. Art is ubiquitous in Bali, but even more so in Ubud. Street after street is lined with stores selling wood carvings, brass statues of Buddhist and Hindu gods, stylish beach clothing, modern lighting, mosaic glassware, wooden jewelry, iridescent silk tablecloths and much, much more. In fact, a large amount of the modern Asian art you see in the United States was probably made in this vicinity. At the end of Monkey Forest Road we bumped into a large monkey sanctuary (go figure) that is home to thousands of greedy, gray haired macaques. As many of you know, I’m a bit obsessed with monkeys so I was super excited to see them up close and personal in their natural environment. I bought a bunch of bananas from a woman in the entryway hoping I could coax a few of them in my general direction. Dear God was I in for a surprise. The assault began immediately. Before I knew
what was happening a large gray haired beast with beady eyes was clawing its way up the front of my skirt. Simultaneously I felt something heavy leap onto my back. In one clean swipe the beast on my back grabbed a banana and scooted away. Inches away a pack of five or six more were in close pursuit. I chucked the remaining bananas as far away from me as possible and fled in retreat. It was mildly terrifying. Having no more bananas we were able to move about the sanctuary pretty freely after that. But make no mistake, this was the monkeys turf and several times we had to scramble to get out of their way. The sanctuary itself was absolutely beautiful – it is a dense, lush patch of jungle with paths leading every which way. Through the middle of it runs a mossy ravine with a cool bubbling spring. At the top sits an ancient Hindu temple covered in carvings depicting the gray haired beasts, proof that they had been around for quite awhile. We rented sarongs so that we could tour the temple grounds and explored the area for the better part of the day.
night we went to a Kecak fire and trance dance performance a few minutes off of Monkey Forest Road in a temple courtyard. Kecak is a style of Balinese music that is created through the voices of hundreds of Balinese men who sit in concentric circles making short clicking sounds. Each section of the circle has a designated sound that they create. The interweaving and layering of these sounds results in a beautiful form of music. I have heard it referred to before in the United States as the ‘Balinese monkey chant.’ I first learned about this style of chanting in 2002 at Burning Man. In fact, my friend Tanya and I participated in a day long workshop where we learned how to chant like this and also practiced the swaying and monkey like movements that usually accompany the rhythms. Over top of the chanting a storyteller recalled parts of the Hindu epic, the Ramayana as several dancers acted out the story. All of this was done by the light of firelight, so the performers and chanters were all cast in a beautiful red-orange hue. We didn’t really understand what was happening of course because the story was in another
language but it was a magical experience nonetheless.
After another day of lounging by the pool and exploring galleries we decided to rent a motorbike to explore the nearby countryside. It was a bit challenging getting out of the city. There were so many obstacles we felt like we were in a video game. Watch out for the old woman with the huge basket of fruit on her head! Eek! Don’t hit that dog! Oh my God – that truck came close! Gradually the traffic was replaced by green rice terraces and palm trees. And before long we were in the countryside – the impossibly green countryside. We zoomed past terraced mountainsides, colorful fruit stands, school children playing outsides and temples all infused with the smell of incense and fire. We stopped for lunch in Tagallankang at a restaurant with stunning terrace views and then again at a fruit stand where we sampled a half dozen bright Balinese fruits (tamarillos, passion fruit, dragon fruit). Then we made our way to Tirta Empul, a temple and site of holy hot springs and finally on to Gunung Kawi, a towering cliff face that has tiny caves or niches carved out of
it presumably created by people hundreds of years ago as sleeping quarters. To reach the monument you had to walk down a long series of steep steps lined with women and men selling hand made crafts.
We also decided to go on a bicycle tour since traveling by motorbike doesn’t exactly allow you to slow down and appreciate things in detail. It also doesn’t allow for good picture taking. We chose Eco Bali cycling tour for its good reviews and were not disappointed. A shuttle bus picked us up in the morning from our hotel and drove us to the base of Gunung Batur, where we had a buffet breakfast overlooking the volcano and crater lake with a small group of other tourists. After breakfast we stopped at a coffee plantation where they made luwak coffee. Luwak coffee is made from coffee beans that a local animal – the civet cat - eats and then excretes. The beans are harvested, cleaned and then roasted. It is supposedly one of the most exotic and smooth coffees in the entire world and has a price tag to match. We got to sample 7 different types of locally made coffee, including the
famous luwak coffee. It was strong and flavorful but not my favorite of the lot. Next we each picked out a bike and started off down the volcano on quiet back roads. We rode past village after village where adorable children rushed out to greet us calling out “hello” and rewarding us with huge grins. Many of them stuck their hands out so we could give them high fives. One little girl touched each and every one of us on the shoulder saying “you’re beautiful, you’re beautiful, you’re all beautiful”. We stopped at a traditional compound where we got to meet the family that lived there and learn about many of their religious and cultural traditions. We also stopped at a large banyan tree and watched some kids playing soccer as well as a field of rice to learn about the process of growing and harvesting rice. Everywhere we went we were greeted with huge smiles. After a long day of whizzing downhill we ended at a restaurant owned by the cycling company where there was a huge feast of smoked chicken, duck, rice and other spicy assortments waiting for us. It was one of the best meals we have
eaten yet on this trip.
On our final night in Ubud we attended a Legong trance and paradise dance at the Ubud palace. The performance included several different sets of women performing scenes from the Hindu Mahabrata epic. Once again, we were pretty clueless about the story line but the women’s precise delicate movements were beautiful. The following morning, we packed up and headed north into the mountains.
For more pics check out: http://www.flickr.com/photos/thejarvisproject/
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