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August 18th 2017
Published: August 27th 2017
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I got up early to replicate yesterday's solo walk on beach, and again enjoyed the seclusion of having the beach all to myself, although unfortunately, the tide was well and truly in and I was unable to go anywhere near as far as I had the day before. Not wanting to travel with wet clothes, I headed back to the hotel, where we packed and jumped in the minibus for the last journey we would take as a group.

It was a long journey to Ubud, but was made bearable by the amazing scenery we passed on the way. Because of the mountainous landscape, Balinese farmers found it difficult to find space to grow crops, and thus used the ingenious method of growing rice on terraces, cut perfectly and uniformly into the hillsides. Due to these terraces being so incredibly beautiful, Bali is famous for them, and they draw visitors from all over the world. We were not disappointed by what we saw. The rice plants were a thick, lush green, covering huge steps that cascaded down, forming giant amphitheatres all over the landscape. The sky behind was a deep grey, which emphasised the verdancy of the terraces in front.

After a couple of hours, we came to our lunch stop, a cute family-run restaurant right in the heart of a rice-terrace. We enjoyed traditional food while gazing out over the steep steps before continuing on our way to Ubud. It had begun to rain now - the first bad weather of the trip, and we counted ourselves lucky that we had had such outstanding luck up to that point. However, since we were in the minibus all day, it really didn't matter, and our spirits could not be dampened.

We got to the outskirts of Ubud in the later afternoon, where we visited Taman Ayun temple, a Hindu complex with impressive buildings all built on different bodies of water. It was an interesting diversion from our long journey, and we enjoyed strolling the tranquil grounds and learning more about some of the cultural practices, although some (such as using cockfighting to determine which bird's blood to sacrifice) were a little too much for our western sensibilities! Fortunately, our next stop was one which was incredibly heart-warming. We arrived at a large, attractive building where we were introduced to the Public Relations manager of the Bumi Sehat clinic. This is a not-for-profit organisation that is supported by the Intrepid Foundation - every dollar that is donated by visitors or online-supporters is matched by Intrepid. We've seen some of the other projects supported and they do great work. This one provides healthcare for people in the community, with a clinic and dispensary of western medicine which is paid for entirely on donations made by the patient. If they don't have money, they don't pay. The main role of the organisation, however, is to provide pre and post-natal care for women and also provide a birthing centre. Mothers-to-be have access to regular check-ups, acupuncture and support, as well as aftercare. While we were there, we met a baby that had been born that morning, and her proud parents and three older brothers, all of whom had been born at the centre.

Suitably ooh-and-aaah-ed out, we made the short journey to our hotel - the final stop of the tour. Stacey and I headed out to the art market, which was a little uninspiring, but did manage to come away with two pairs of yoga pants and a Bintang vest - tourists to the last! After haggling and weaving through the dimly lit labyrinth, we met the rest of the group for one final night out.

Our guide had recommended that we watch the Balinese version of the Ramayana show we had seen in Java. This, he assured us, was the same story, with some changes, and performed in the traditional Balinese way. Rather than an orchestra and soloists, this performance involved a 100-strong male choir and it was WONDERFUL! A definite highlight of the trip. It was housed under a huge outdoor bandstand where the choir all sat in groups on the floor, part of the action, much as the Greek chorus would been in an ancient theatre. They used their voices and clapping in hugely complicated rhythms, to create incredible music to accompany the dance. I have to say, the dancing took a backseat, we were all entranced by the blend of sounds being produced by the men who were sat in front of us. When a circle was drawn around Sita, the men became the circle. When an arrow turned into a dragon, they too became its twisting, writhing form.

I say that the dancing took a backseat, and it did, until the very last scene, where a man in a "trance" set fire to a huge sack of coconut husks, creating a huge pile of glowing embers which he left on stage. Suddenly, he arrived back, this time riding a sort of hobbyhorse, and he kicked the embers, scattering them far and wide to all corners of the audience. Because of the way coconut husks burn, the sparks were like those of a firework and they danced across the floor as he kicked them, spinning and twisting and leaving trails of light behind. Men swept them back into a pile, before he launched his blackened feet into them again, the shooting stars once again skittering across the floor. It was absolutely enchanting to watch and a brilliant way to end our two weeks together. By the end of dinner, we were exhausted from a long day's travelling, and two weeks of wonderful adventures. We said our sad goodbyes to what had been a wonderful group. As Forest Gump said, "You never know what you're gonna get," and we had struck gold with this group. Tomorrow, Stacey and I would be all alone, heading to paradise.


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