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Published: February 8th 2014
In an effort to break us out of our beach torpor, Matt booked us a three night getaway in Ubud, a city in the foothills outside of Denpasar known as an arty, spiritual place. But every time I thought I was starting to "get it" something would happen to make me double guess what I thought about this place. Maybe it's the incongruity of the local people and the ex-pats that live side by side but in vastly different economic realities. On the face of things the Balinese don't seem uncomfortable with foreigners coming in and spending a lot of money and in fact, there is very little crime against foreigners here and an open friendliness that belies the idea of any envy. But it's odd to see expensive hotels and spas, often foreign-owned, selling the idea of Balinese spirituality.
It's also the galleries of traditional and contemporary paintings, the gorgeous woven textiles, batiks and painted silks, puppets and wood carvings, and little antique shops jumbled in next to Prada and Ralph Lauren and rows of stores featuring cheap knockoff souvenirs. Ubud knows how to sell to all kinds of tourists.
The locals seem very much like the people
we've met and gotten to know in Amed: open and gentle. Even the street vendors and hawkers are extremely polite and smiley. Indonesians are mostly Hindu and believe the Gods created everything in nature and that nature provides everything human beings need to be happy, so they are extremely grateful and express that by building many ornate temples and offering thanks in many ways. Statues of deities are decorated in fresh flowers every morning. Offerings litter the sidewalks outside of homes, temples and shops. The standard offerings are made in baskets woven from coconut palm leaves and filled with rice, fresh flowers, sweets or crackers, and incense. They lay them down, say a prayer, and sprinkle water over them. Balinese make these offerings up to three times a day to deities, animals and even plants. You see them on the dashboards of cars, on counters in shops, just everywhere.
I think a lot of foreigners are very much attracted to this gentle and beautiful expression of their religion. We certainly were; Matt told me he watched a young woman make an offering and a quick prayer and the way she waved her hand to disperse the incense smoke was
a dance in itself. The women and the men are soft spoken and very beautiful, especially because they are so quick to smile.
A lot of the ex-pats seem of the new age variety. There is a lot of talk about yoga and detoxifying teas. All of this is good of course but it does also seem somewhat contrived, or that may be my own skewed perspective.
We stayed in a beautiful spa and resort which truly was like paradise. Our bungalow was the kind of thing you dream about on cold, winter afternoons. The meals were beautiful. Our massages were scented and the treatment room was a shack overlooking the jungle with a stone bathtub.
Amed is so quiet and there is really nothing to do in the evening besides read so we were both excited about an evening out to listen to Gamelan music and see traditional dancers. The performance area was lined on either side with intricately carved and gilded seats or pews. We didn't realize that we were looking at instruments until the orchestra entered, sat down, and started to play. There were three flutists in front and two drummers at the rear
of the stage. One woman was stationed behind a Gamelan gong. When the music started I jumped - the instruments are so loud - but it didn't take long to be seduced. It is so organic and you can hear the rain and the lushness of the jungle in the music. Balinese people revere water and use it in their religious ceremonies. They immerse themselves in it as a way to purify themselves and offer it to please deities and appease demons. This music celebrated water and the richness it brings. After the first song the orchestra was joined by dancers.
To be honest, going in I didn't think I'd like the dancing. The images I'd seen of exaggerated facial expressions and eye movements and twisted fingers and bodies struck me as puppet-like. Well the dancers were like puppets and the drama they evoked drew me in completely. The stories were simple but so clearly conveyed it was impossible to misunderstand them. The performers contorted themselves in ways that did not look possible and used all of their bodies: fingertips and toes, and eyes and head. I absolutely loved it.
On our last day in Ubud
we visited the Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary which is home to several families of long-tail macaques. There are three temples and 2 graveyards in the Sanctuary and around 600 monkeys. It was mating season and we saw several males walking around with bleeding cuts and bites from battling the other males. The monkeys are fed by keepers and are habituated to people, to the point that visitors are warned to hold on to purses and sunglasses and not enter the sanctuary with any kind of food. Apparently the monkeys can smell it and they will find it and take it, even if it's closed up in a bag. At the Holy Bathing Temple several monkeys were cheering each other on to dive into the pools. They took turns climbing a tree and jumping from the top, making a big splash and then swimming around. Matt and I were thoroughly charmed by them.
Ubud was a great way to end our trip to Bali. We really loved the diving here but south of the equator is still in the middle of monsoon season and we decided to move north until it's all over. After all, we didn't leave Vancouver in
search of rain!
Next stop Borneo and a river safari. Then we move to Nha Trang in Vietnam where we've rented an apartment.
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