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April 1st 2012
Published: April 1st 2012
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Mother-in-laws are like expectations, sometimes you've got to meet them. However, you would suppose there are worse spots than Bali for the inevitable rendezvous, wouldn't you? So did I but, but as per usual, little did I know. Getting to Bali was an ordeal by itself, i.e. another 14 hours on a plane, first an 11 hour flight from wrecked Christchurch to Kuala Lumpur, then a few long hours spent at, by courtesy of the Almighty, an alcohol-free lounge, before boarding another 3 hour flight to Bali. After New Zealand, which was blissfully free from tourist hoardes, Bali serves us an intense and immediate cultural shock jolting our minds and bodies far out of any notion of peace and harmony. Kuta beach is a condensed, dirty, noisy, sordid strip of God's forsaken land, crammed with Western tourists on their mandatory two week escape from their nondescript lives. The place has as much soul as, say, Grand Canaria, Phuket or any IKEA megastore, that is to say nada.

Being jetlagged and having a cultural shock are not necessarily the best conditions to guarantee that the first meeting with a mom-in-law would be filled with merriment. Fortunately, there was no need to feel any trepidation, my mum-in-law turns out to be a charming woman with whom I immediately connect on some non-verbal level, since we do not have a mutual language to communicate with each other. After a few more happy meetings, I begin to consider that in fact, a lack of mutual language might be a key for a successfull mother-in-law relationships.

Ignoring what the tides are bringing to the shore and suspicious brownish debris on the water, we nevertheless decide to stick to the Kuta beach for some time. It does have one thing that human pollution cannot diminish - the famous surfing waves. We join one of the reputed surf schools to get to know how to ride a surf. It turns out to be a hard work, after two classes we can hardly lift our arms and our legs are ornated with various bruises and scratches. What's more, we constantly forget to smile while standing on the board, maybe because we manage only a few seconds before crushing back into the foams. After three days of insistent tries, we are still far from the effortless feline grace with which our Indonesian instructors stand up and stick to their boards. On the last lesson we clearly see that turning the board is still way above our skills, and that the water, especially the ocean water can be extremely powerful force. But, a new hobby nonetheless, to practice wherever possible along the Asian coasts is now in our pockets.

Although we do have a gregarious streak, it only takes a couple of days in Bali and we begin to long for some old fashioned solitude. There are simply too many busy hornets in the hornets' nest. Hence, once we finish the surf course, it's time for a tactical retreat to Ubub in central Bali. Ubud is the sanctuary of serenity in Bali, where we hope to reintroduce tranquility in our lives.

As it happens our move to Ubud coincides with the eve of the new year in the Balinese calendar. Balinese is one of the many cultures in which the spring equinox marks a new year. We are to meet the new year of 1934 in Ubud. Already before, we have noticed huge monsters made of bamboo and paper being painted in vivid colors in the community yards. Those are spirits that would animate the new year eve parade, Ogho-Oghos. When the sun is down and the tourches are lit, the show begins. Each monster is carried by a group of youngsters, female monsters by girls and males ones by boys. There is a story involving each one of them which is taking place when procession arrives at the main square. We do not understand a single word, but it looks impressive how they make an act using sometimes a 5m high creature. The monsters are all scary, as they should be, and it is said that they will be burned afterwards, and along with them all the desires and expectations of the people thus making us free and happy. But religion doesn't come cheap, from the next sunrise for 24 hours we are not allowed to have any amusement, not to leave our house or to lit a fire. The only activity allowed is a mental one, taking a deep look inside our souls. It is a day of silence for Bali, known as Nyepi. All the shops are closed, there is no transport on the streets, even the planes are grounded. Bali shuts down for a day, completely. This is the calmness we have been looking for. After 24 hours, we are let out, we do explore all what Ubud has on the menu : relaxing massages, yoga classes in beautiful open air surroundings, walks through bright green rice fields and a rich artistic scene. People of Ubud are very creative, the modern Balinese painting style was born in Ubud and is still well presented with quite a few museums and numerous artists who would welcome you to visit their homes and even to watch them working. Evenings in Ubud are ringing with Balinese traditional bands, gamelans and skillfully staged dances. We also have one of the best meals here, Ubud famous pit roasted suckling pig, served with local spices and bits of other delicious pork specialities such as some deep fried offal. We had to come back twice to satisfy our appetite. It is difficult to leave Ubud when the time comes. A week has passed without us noticing.

After hectic Bali, we are heading to a necklace of tiny tropical island getaways on the north east of Lombok, the Gili Islands, diving and white beaches are there for us.

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