Ubud, Bali. 18th December 2015.
A plane journey from Perth to Denpasar, Bali, should have been straight forward. Loyal readers will know my life doesn’t happen that way.
A taxi was cheap enough to make messing about with a train and a bus unnecessary for the journey to Perth airport. The driver was a very pleasant and chatty Pakistani immigrant – some things seem to be universal – and checking in was swift and easy. Part way into the flight the pilot announced there was a delay at Denpasar, possibly of two hours, caused by bad weather. We diverted to the airport at Port Hedland to take on extra fuel in case we had to stack over Nguruh Rai airport. We landed, took on over 8,000 litres and took off again. In the end we landed at Nguruh Rai as soon as we arrived anyway.
A taxi had been arranged for me by Phil and although I’d messaged him about the delay while at Port Hedland, it seems it didn’t get to him, so my poor driver had to wait an extra two hours, something I’d tried to avoid. He didn’t seem too worried and ferried me very efficiently inland to Ubud, where I would be staying for the best part of the next three weeks. Phil and Trish, my friends from Brisbane, were in Ubud for the Christmas and new year period. They had arranged accommodation and a scooter for me. Phil met me when I arrived, took me to where I was staying and then to a restaurant for a late pizza. I hadn’t seen him since May so we had plenty to talk about.
It’s worth giving a bit of background here. A few years ago Phil and Trish invested in a business in Ubud. Trish teaches yoga so having a part share in a yoga retreat seemed a good idea. They were both heavily involved in planning and building the retreat, which has several accommodation units and a café. The land is leased and they had some problems with awkward neighbours regarding access, but everything was completed in the end. Unfortunately they became dissatisfied with their business partners and decided to sell their share, despite all the hard work they’d invested. Undiscouraged, they’ve bought some land and will have new buildings on it. A smaller complex but with no partners to worry about. Trish will still run her own yoga retreats and they’ll rent the complex out the rest of the time. Ownership of land by foreigners isn’t allowed in Indonesia so a nominee is used. This process has to be undertaken with great care, Phil was telling me, but there’s no risk provided everything is done properly. On the other hand, owning a business doesn’t seem to be an issue and I met plenty of Aussies who owned restaurants, accommodation and spas. Bali is to Aussies what Spain is to Brits, in many ways.
One of the advantages of Bali, in this respect, is that its religion is Hindu, so there’s no problem with drinking, relaxed styles of dress and partying in general. The coastal resorts attract many young Aussies, especially as the beaches and surf are good. The rest of Indonesia is Muslim so therefore probably not quite as welcoming of the western style of holiday making, although I understand it to be pretty relaxed too. I wasn’t too worried about those aspects. I was here for a break from my travels and my daughter was coming out to visit me too. Second best to spending Christmas with family would be spending it with friends.
Ubud is well away from the fleshpots of the coast and probably all the better for it. Its focus is good food, the Hindu culture, the beauty of the island and personal improvement. It’s full of yoga retreats and spas, massage parlors (nothing dodgy though) and beauty therapists. You can go there and be primped and pampered to your heart’s content. And for not very much money either. There’s also a market in vanity surgery and I saw a few, literally, strange faces while I was there.
My accommodation was a room at the home of some people that Phil and Trish knew. I only stayed there a few days, in the end, as it wasn’t all that good. There was no hot water, five or six local cockerels liked to have a dawn shouting competition and one of their puppies seemed to think the patio outside my room was his own personal toilet. I disagreed! I wasn’t going to be able to stay there when Beth arrived anyway, as we needed two rooms. Trish knew of alternative places so once we’d managed to find one suitable for both of us, I took the opportunity to move there straight away. It was nice and close to the town centre too.
It seems the whole populace of Bali rides scooters and motorbikes. The streets were crammed with them and they buzzed around the cars and vans with style and aplomb. The town centre of Ubud was invariably jammed with traffic and two wheels was definitely the best game in town. Most of them are 125cc scooters, with a mixture of small bikes and some bigger trail bikes. I even saw some Japanese sports bikes too. Hondas are very popular and the scooter Phil had arranged for me was a Honda Spacey, with crash helmet provided by the owner. She’s the manger of the yoga retreat. I got the impression they use the Aussie/NZ system of including insurance in the registration, so I just got on it and rode. Road rules are surprisingly well adhered to, you just have to work out what they are. They drive on the left but it does take a while to get the hang of the other rules. But a short period of observation soon enlightened me and it didn’t take long to get the hang of turning left into main roads without looking, turning right into them and blending into the moving traffic, overtaking up the inside and generally becoming a Balian rider very quickly. I was very much reminded of India, including the plentiful use of the horn, and didn’t take long to feel at home.
Indonesia has a population of about 255 million and of those just over 4 million live in Bali, one of the bigger of its 14,000 islands. Its Hindu religion arrived in the 9th century when an Indian guru visited the island and set up a healing centre near Ubud, at a place where two rivers meet. Eventually his influence persuaded more and more of the island’s population to change to Hinduism although it is blended with the older, local religions. For example, the cow does not seem to be sacred, as it is in India. I don’t know whether Balians eat beef but they certainly have no problem with providing it to tourists. Best of all, there are no cattle wandering the streets, getting in everybody’s way. Balian life is full of ceremonies and I was told this aspect is one of the reasons why the religion remains so popular. The core belief of Balian Hinduism the Tri Hita Karana. Here’s the Wiki words on the subject:
Tri Hita Karana is a traditional philosophy for life on the island of Bali, Indonesia. The literal translation is roughly the “three causes of well-being” or “three reasons for prosperity.”
The three causes referred to in the principle are:
1.Harmony among people
2.Harmony with nature or environment
3.Harmony with God
It is derived from the Balinese spiritualism and beliefs, which promotes harmony among fellow human beings through communal cooperation and promoting compassion; harmony towards God, manifested in numerous rituals and offerings to appease deities; and harmony with their environment, which strive to conserve the nature and promote the sustainability and balance of the environment. Tri Hita Karana is credited for the island’s prosperity as a whole, its relatively stable record of development, environmental practices, and the overall quality of life for its residents.
The principle of Tri Hita Karana guides many aspects of Balinese life, from daily rituals, communal gotong-royong cooperation practice, to spatial organization in Balinese architecture. It is also reflected in the natural irrigation system on the island known as Subak, which consists of cooperatively managed weirs and canals that draw from a single water source. Former President of Indonesia, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, even invoked it in his address to the International Conference on Sustainable Development during APEC 2013, which was held in Bali.
I reckon that, as religions go, that’s a pretty good one. The only criticism would be that the daily offerings it demands can soak up quite a lot of the family income.
Islam came to Indonesia much later, in the 16th century, brought by traders and merchants, and although some Balians are Muslim, it’s not very apparent. I didn’t see a single mosque while I was there.
The Subak irrigation system has earned Bali a UNESCO World Heritage status. Not just because of its physical nature but because of the way it is managed, as mentioned above. Village life is centred on it and many of the religious ceremonies relate to it.
Phil came round the first morning and took me to the Shala Bali Yoga Retreat, out among the paddy fields. It’s a very nice place indeed. Surrounded by lush vegetation, the villas are superbly set out. Open verandahs, beautiful rooms, with plenty of stone, wood and other natural materials. It’s no wonder they’re so proud of what they built and are very sad to be leaving it. One thing Phil told me had me astonished. All of the building materials, furniture and fittings were carried in from the road, along several hundred metres of narrow paths mostly by women, on their heads! I struggled to imagine it although I subsequently saw many examples of this around the town.
One great thing about Bali is how much western money will buy. The currency is Indonesian Rupiah and one pound will get about 20,000 of them. Quoted prices generally leave off the last three noughts, making things much easier. A decent two course meal costs between five and ten pounds. You can spend more than that but you have to try hard, or drink beer. My accommodation was £10 per night for an ensuite room with breakfast. In Australia I pay half as much again just for a hostel bed. I knew I was going to like it here.
Over the next few days Phil and Trish showed me round the town, taking me to various restaurants and cafés, the main market place and somewhere to get a local SIM card. We talked about the various places we should visit when Beth arrived after Christmas and I generally found my feet – quite literally in once instance when I enjoyed a nice pedicure.
They know all the good places to go and have made friends with many local people over the years, who tend to be friendly and welcoming. Even market stallholders are very laid back compared to some I’ve met elsewhere, quite happily taking ‘no’ for an answer and returning the smile. I did do some business there, feeling the need to buy a couple of ‘decorative’ shirts for the upcoming celebrations. I got them at half the asked for price, cheaply enough to be able to leave one behind when I left Bali. Phil and I went out for some rides, which helped me orientate myself, and got me into the swing of scooter riding, Bali style. I found it to be a good mixture of London and India, familiar enough to feel at home very quickly. In one instance I felt too much at home and got myself into trouble with the law. Locals seem happy to ride their scooters against the traffic in one way streets. In the town centre is a cross roads and I went across it and into a one way street the wrong way. I forgot about the local police, who station themselves right there to control traffic, something Phil had warned me about. I got pulled in, was asked for my International Driving Permit, which hadn’t got to me before I left Aus, and was informed I was going to be parting with some money. He showed me the list of official fines – in the same way the Kazakh police did – and told me his price. Starting at RP250k, I knocked him down to RP150k and bought my documents back from him. I was far more careful after that!
With the others having plenty of things to keep them busy I had time on my hands. I walked around the town, found a nice coffee house for lunchtime breaks and got to know my hosts. Sunarta House is a home stay venue. This essentially means the owner, Ayun, and his extended family live within the same complex as the guest rooms. He started out building their accommodation and then gradually added extra buildings to rent out. As well as his unmarried children, his married daughter and her family live there as do at least one set of grandparents. Breakfast was supplied – nothing too complicated but plenty – and was usually brought up by his son. It was usually his daughter, Komin, who put out the morning offerings. Her English is very good so we had some nice chats about Balinian family life and so on.
With time to spare I wanted to catch up on some writing. I had my laptop. I discovered I didn’t have its power lead anymore. I’d put it in my backpack on the plane and it must have dropped out. Phil and I visited various computer shops around the town in an effort to replace it, with no luck. How frustrating. Time to write, nothing to write on. It wasn’t long before the battery finally ran out although I managed to back up all my files beforehand. I needed to do that because Beth was bringing out my other laptop. There’s a bit of a saga here so I’ll briefly talk you through it.
Before I started my journey I bought a nice, neat Sony Vaio laptop. I managed to break the screen one day. When I went back home last April I bought a Lenovo Yoga, much better than the Sony, which was of very poor quality. Don’t ever buy one. I had the Sony repaired but left it behind. Then, I managed to break the screen on the Lenovo, as well as losing the power lead. Beth was bringing the Sony out with her and taking the Lenovo back, to be repaired. Eventually I’ll swap them over again and do my best not to break another screen. I sometimes wonder if I should be left in charge of anything more complex than pen and paper!
No laptop, no internet? Fortunately I had my phone and, with a local SIM and a large data allowance, I had no problems in that respect. Everywhere in Bali has free wi-fi access too. All the cafés and restaurants; tourist attractions; hotels and homes. Once again it struck me that third world countries beat the West in this respect, hands down. Australia especially should take note. The difference between the two countries is marked.
Lots of Aussies come to Bali. It’s close by and flights are usually cheap. I used Jetstar to get me there, the Aussie equivalent of Easyjet and Ryanair. While I was sitting at my favourite lunchtime café, Grandpa’s in Monkey Forest Road, I bumped into Michael and Mel, a very nice couple from Byron Bay, New South Wales, a place I’ve already visited but will be going to again. In typical Aussie style they invited me to visit them.
Ubud not only has many Aussie visitors but also many who own businesses too. Some own restaurants or cafés but their main focus seems to be on therapy businesses such as spas, massage, beauty parlours and yoga centres. They’re aimed at western tourists and usefully give employment to many local people.
One day Phil and I called round to see one of his friends, Brian. He’d come to Bali, been attracted by some of the self improvement programmes and had moved out there. He now has a Balinese partner. He decided to set up a Halotherapy centre. As far as I could work out it involves breathing in salty air which is reckoned to help clear out the lungs, improve asthmatic conditions etc. It’s an ancient treatment although I’d never heard of it before. But attached to this is an Indonesian story. The salt he wants to use comes from the Himalya. It’s extremely pure and isn’t available from anywhere else. He arranged importation but when it arrived at the port it wasn’t allowed into the country. It seems that the import codes had been revised while the ship was at sea and because the salt is so pure it’s been recoded as food. Indonesia produces its own food grade salt so won’t allow any to be imported. This might, at first, seem like a tale of corruption, with somebody waiting for a large enough backhander, but it isn’t. The head honcho down at the port is new to the job and wants to make a name for himself, so instead of applying logic he’s sticking strictly to the rules. Brian is doing his best to organise ‘friends in the right places’ to intervene on his behalf. He’s quietly confident that it will get sorted out in then end. If it doesn’t then the salt gets dumped back into the sea!
The restaurants offer a wide variety of foods. Indonesian, Thai, Malay, Chinese, Italian and ‘traditional’ burgers. Sometimes all in the same restaurant. At one place I had a very nice meal of Tom Yam Goong, a Thai seafood broth; Ikam Bakar Bumbu Bali, grilled fish with Balinese mild spicy sauce; apple pie and ice cream. Truly international. The most common Bali dishes were Nasi Goreng and Mae Goreng; mixed meats with either rice or noodles and served with an egg on the top. Cheap and delicious.
During one such meal Phil and I got chatting to Charly, who was on her own at the next table. A physiotherapist originally from Eastbourne but now living in Melbourne. We had an interesting chat and Phil asked her what she thought of chiropractics and osteopathy as treatments. She said they’re not allowed in hospitals and that says it all as far as she’s concerned. She added that if anyone comes to a hospital with head pains they’re always asked if they’ve seen a chiropractor in the last two days. All that pulling and crunching of vertebrae may sound good but probably isn’t. We enjoyed a bit of a knocking session about alternative treatments in general, including the lifestyle attitude that can surround yoga. There are some venues that insist on veganism, hours of meditation and so on. But Trish, although a yoga teacher, most definitely isn’t like that. Before we parted Phil gave Charly his phone number and invited her to join us for our Christmas meal, even though we didn’t yet know where we would be having it.
Christmas in a non-Christian country was something I’d been looking forward to. It was great not to be among all the overpowering ‘celebrations’ that go on at home, particularly the endless adverts and the pressure to enjoy yourself whether you want to or not. Phil and I spent an afternoon searching for a place to eat our Christmas day meal. We checked out several restaurants that offered a traditional Christmas dinner but they tended to be expensive and were quickly filling up anyway. We settled on one of the nicer Indonesian places and enjoyed a great meal, with not a slice of turkey in sight. Charley joined us, as did Brian, his partner Madi and her daughter Phoebe. A very good evening, spent with good people. Just how it should be.
With Christmas out of the way the next big event would be the arrival of my daughter, Beth. She was due late on the 29th and would be staying for nine days. I was really looking forward to it. Anyone who travels for long periods will know that missing your family is the main downside of being away from home. I’d been talking to all the others about what was best to visit in the area and now had a nice itinerary worked out for us. I’d deliberately not been to any of the places myself.
I took a taxi down to the airport, near the main city of Denpasar impressed by Balinese drivers, who are very patient and tolerant of the scooters buzzing around them. In fact nobody shows any aggression on the road, which makes a pleasant change from many other places. Eventually Beth came out of arrivals and we had a nice reunion, catching up with news during the drive back.
Next morning I left Beth to sleep in but eventually we walked down to the town for some lunch at Grandpa’s café then walked on down to the Monkey Forest. As the name suggests, this is a forest full of monkeys, Balinese long tailed macaques to be precise. They are not the type that jump all over you and steal your sunglasses, but they will happily take food from you. We could get small bananas to give them and under the guidance of one of the keepers, offer them sweetcorn from your hand, providing the perfect photo opportunity. We had a really good funky monkey time, watching and playing with the cute little cousins. They just look so human in their expressions and how they cuddle and play with each other. A great afternoon.
The previous couple of evenings I’d noticed how busy it was down by the crossroads. There’s a large community centre there and hundreds of people were gathering there, with cars everywhere and scooters parked in rows two or three deep. I asked Wayun, my host at Sunarta house, what it was all about and he said there was a four day fund raising event taking place. They make money by selling food which will pay for the rebuilding of a local temple. It’s an annual event, staffed by volunteers, and supports a different cause each year. Wayun said we should go there, so once we’d rested up from our monkey walking, we did.
The menu was of simple Indonesian dishes, and, I have to say honestly, only average in quality. But it was cheap and perhaps the most enjoyable aspect was the hospitality. We were met at the entrance by another Wayun, who not only led us to our table but sat with us as we decided what to eat. He then stayed, chatting with us in good English. It seemed his role was to make sure we had all we needed and generally help us to enjoy our meal, although it felt strange at first. At one point he had to go away and he detailed someone else to sit with us. Wayun told us all about the fund raising event and what it was supporting. I took the opportunity to ask him more about Bali, its history and religion, and learned a lot in the process. I had learned from Phil that Balinese have a naming system for their children depending on their order of birth, so I asked Wayun about that too. He told us they use four names: Wayun, Kadek, Komang and Ketut. There are variations on them, depending on caste and location in the island, but these were the ones I’d heard most often. They’re gender neutral but a boy would have ‘I’ before his name and a girl ‘Ni’, so Ni Wayun or I Wayun. A fifth child would be called Wayun Balik or ‘Wayun Again’. I think that’s great. Personal names are often added but family names are not used. It amused me, the thought that if you stood in a room with one hundred people in it and called out ‘Wayun!’, twenty five of them would turn round to answer you.
Afterwards we walked along the main street to a bar called Oops, which seemed to be the nearest thing to a ‘local’ that Trish and Phil had. They weren’t there but we did meet a woman called Mary. She’s Dutch but has lived in France for thirty years. She actually prefers to be called Lisa. Why? She said it was because her name was always mispronounced, in different ways, depending on the country she was in, and she was fed up with it. So a nice, sociable evening ensued, with Beth starting to relax into holiday mode after her long plane journey. I bumped into Mary/Lisa a couple more times before we left and have an invite to call in on her the unlikely event I should ever make it to Acheron, in SW France.
New year’s eve daytime was spent at the Blanco Renaissance Museum, dedicated to Antonio Blanco. He was a Spanish artist who eventually settled in Bali and married a local woman. He specialised in painting women and loved the beautiful Balinese. The museum was begun during his lifetime but he died not long before it was opened, in 1999. We rode the scooter down there, the first time Beth had been on a scooter or bike. She found it a bit unsettling at first but soon got used to it and said she’d like to learn to ride. Atta girl!
The grounds of the museum are full of birds, some perched on branches, with a keeper to look after them, others in cages. We were able to pose with the large Macaw and parrots. Inside was a display of his paintings, mostly either erotic or slightly weird. He obviously liked the female form but seemed to enjoy painting it in an offbeat way. He also made some of the frames around the painting and they were sometimes part of the artwork too. Some others included pieces of typed prose or poems, relating to the subject of the painting, often humorous. He definitely had a unique view of the world and the museum and gardens are certainly beautiful and well worth visiting.
Later on we met at the Pandak Buag restaurant, a place up on a hill, for a very nice meal. We’d gone there so we could see all the fireworks people were letting off. Then we headed back down the twisty, windy path to the town centre where we gathered at Oops for a party. And I can safely say we had a very good time, probably the best NYE I can remember. No details, you don’t really want to know, do you. But here’s a couple of photos.
We got up late on new year’s day, of course, then went off for a nice, relaxing full body massage. It was a first for me and I found it very relaxing.
Phil and Trish always took great pains to look after their young staff at the yoga retreat and as a goodbye gift had treated the girls to some beauty therapy. For the boys, it was to be a white water rafting trip. Beth and I were very happy to join in with this especially as neither of us had done it before. Despite it being the monsoon season, there hadn’t been any rain over the last week so the river probably wasn’t as full, nor the rapids as fierce, as they might have been. Even so, we had a great morning out. The motto for the event was ‘no wet, no fun’ so we were in and out of the warm water several times, including standing under a waterfall while it thundered down onto us. We had a break halfway along, at a riverside rest stop, and this meant that several other rafts gathered around as well. So the second half of the ride was as much about having splash fights as it was about riding the river. I reckon our raft always won. Regardless, we had a terrific time with loads of laughs, and a decent lunch to round it off. A great day out.
More culture during the afternoon. A visit to the Puri Lukisan Museum for some Balinese art in the form of paintings and wood carvings. Opened in 1936, its aim is to preserve, develop and document modern-traditional Balinese art. That phrase means 20th century art but rendered in a traditional style. It was certainly a fascinating display and there’s a lot of it. The themes were of Balian life, depicted in its various aspects, as well as more traditional themes, often coming from ancient Hindu stories about gods and devils as animals and monsters. Very enjoyable.
That evening we bought tickets for the Kecak Fire and Trance dance. ‘Kecak’ means that the music is provided only by voice from about one hundred men. Mixed in with them is the voice of the storyteller who weaves his tale, while the various characters are represented by costumed dancers out in the performance area. The climax to the show is the Sanghyang. Here, a dancer using a hobby horse is lulled into a trance by the chanting and the finale is when he walks across burning coconut husks, impervious to the heat. It was a fantastic show, with great costumes, and although it’s not traditional and was only put together for tourists, it was still a great insight into some of the ancient culture of the island.
One of the strongest suggestions from Phil and Trish was to hire a driver/guide and go on a tour to some of the sites. They recommended Kadek, who speaks excellent English. He’s generally known as Brown and when I asked him why he just pointed to his skin. I told him not to be daft as that applied to everyone on Bali. He laughed and said it was because he likes James Brown and similar music. He’s a knowledgeable guy and we had some great chats about Indonesian politics. The country became independent after WW2 and uses the Presidential system. Although most of the population is Muslim the religion is not directly involved in government unless members of religious parties are voted in. This is so despite it having the largest Muslim population of any country in the world. It has proper representative democracy, with the judiciary being separate from the executive. There were some constitutional changes made from 1998 to 2002, following some riots, and these have enhanced the democratic process. The recently elected president has found favour with most of the ordinary people because he is attempting to stamp out the corruption that has blighted the country for many years. He is not so popular with the oligarchs though. As far as I’m concerned the sooner he tackles the police, the better! He’s also very enthusiastic about the fisheries minister. He said she’s a tough, experienced business woman who’s happy to take on any fishing fleets that invade Indonesian waters. Their boats are seized and destroyed. Catches have increased as a direct result. It’s good to find someone happy with their government.
Kadek took us to see Pamaksan Barong Denjalan, another dancing display and very different to last night’s event. Although the story was also based on a Hindu legend, this time there were musical instruments, plenty of dancing and some truly wonderful costumes. It amazed me how expressive a solid wooden mask can be based on the posture of the dancer behind it and when the only movable part is the mouth. The orchestra had flutes, pipes, drums, bongos and xylophones. We were given a crib sheet so could follow the story and understand who the characters were. Much more impressive than the previous night’s display and very enjoyable indeed.
Our next visit was to Gunung Kawi, an 11th C shrine and temple which had lain undiscovered for hundreds of years after being buried by volcanic activity. It had been discovered by Dutch archaeologists at the end of the 19th C and excavated. It sits either side of the Pakerisan River and was dedicated to King Anak Wungsu and his queens. It comprises of ten shrines that are carved into the vertical rock face. About seven metres high, there are inscriptions on some of them in one of the old Balinese languages. The archaeologists discovered them by studying ancient texts although Kadek reckons the local people would have been aware of their presence anyway.It was a very steep walk down to the riverside and we had to wear sarongs to be allowed to enter the temple. This is the norm for most of these religious sites. The carvings were fascinating although the ancient temple buildings were pretty mundane. I suppose volcanic ash would tend to take the shine off anything, to be fair. Back up the top you have to walk down ‘Hawkers’ Alley’ on the way out. Dozens of stalls all selling the same thing. What’s the point in that?
The next temple was Tirta Empul, Balinese for Holy Spring. This is a venue for ritual purification. The water is supplied by a spring which also happens to be the source for the Pakerisan River. There are two pools with thirty showers between them. People change into clean clothes and then queue up in the water, in rows reminiscent of a busy airline check-in, waiting their turn. Men and women mix together as there’s no reason not to, and we saw family groups too. There was a parade of some kind taking place, with the people dressed in costume and carrying models of some buildings – probably temples.
We drove up to the top of one of the mountains and from the café there we could look across the water filled valley to Mount Batur. There’s several peaks there, in a rough ring and they form the remains of an ancient volcano. The lake fills the caldera. Mount Batur is the highest and is a sacred place to Balians. As far as they’re concerned, if you go towards the mountain you’re heading north, regardless of where you started from. I reckon that could be a little bit confusing under certain circumstances. It was a shame it was too cloudy to see the mountain properly.
On the way back down we called in at another temple, this one much more homely and clearly well used by the local people. It was smaller and less formal than the others, The main focus here was public bathing, with partly dressed people, separated by gender this time, washing themselves with soap and shampoo. All of the temples had shrines and meeting areas and some very decorative buildings with a Chinese look to them.
Our final stop for the day was at some paddy fields which are renowned for their originality and for being on the side of a very steep hillside. Phil and I had ridden up to see them once already but they looked better this time because of the late afternoon sunlight. Looking out over them brought home how lush and green the landscape is here. No surprise considering the amount of rain that falls. Kadek asked us if we wanted to walk round them, we declined. The hill was very steep!
Kadek dropped us back at base where I paid him the ridiculously small sum of £30 for his services. I told you Bali was cheap. He’s a great guy and I told him I’d use him again to take us down to the coast when we left Ubud.
A lie in after our exertions was well deserved but after lunch we rode up to Taro Elephant Safari. It was over £40 each to get in, hugely expensive for anything in Bali, but was worth it in the end. It was the elephant rides that pushed the price up and we enjoyed them very much. The mahout sits on the head and we were on a seat strapped to its back. He seemed to guide it by tugging gently on its ears while we lumbered our way around the grounds. All the staff spoke excellent English and he was happy to answer our questions. The ride finished with the elephant wading into a large pond, just right for photo opportunities. Afterwards was an elephant show, inside a circus type ring. Walking the plank, kicking a football, playing basketball, doing sums. All tricks that are common enough but keep kids of all ages enchanted and amused.
The park was established take care of endangered Sumatran elephants and includes a very swank hotel, used as a wedding venue etc. The elephants are trained by the ‘repeat and reward’ method so don’t suffer at all, although it is a bit disconcerting to see them chained up when not being used for walks. We were told it’s for safety and because there simply isn’t the room for them to wander around, not to mention the risk of fighting among the bulls. It made sense, and they get plenty of exercise when they’re walking people around. They’re very definitely well fed too. They have a breeding programme and we were delighted to be able to interact with the three year old baby. It’s been trained to lay its trunk over your shoulder while the keeper takes photos of you and will take food from your hand too. As cute as it gets. It was fascinating to be able to watch them eat and it’s only when you get this close that you can see just how versatile their trunk is. Their skin is surprisingly soft, especially the trunk.
In the entrance are is a display of information panels and I was curious to read how the Cyclops legend probably related to elephants. It’s reckoned that ancient people, finding an elephant skull, assumed it belonged to a one eyed monster. Where the trunk joins the skull is a hollow area which looks like a huge eye socket.Bearing in mind the eyes are actually on the side of the head, it’s easy to see how that could have happened. It was a fascinating afternoon and we both loved it.
On the way back we passed through a couple of villages, one where wood carving is the main industry and another for stone carving. I had wondered whether the carvings that were on sale everywhere were factory made but most definitely aren’t in the case of wood. With the stone, it’s a little different. They are made from cement and limestone, cast in a mould but then finished off by hand. That didn’t surprise me but if you wanted one for your garden it would still look good.
That evening we met up with everyone at a restaurant owned by Alison, an Aussie business woman. Brian and Madi were there, as was Steve, a guy who’s renting a house near the yoga retreat. He’s a semi retired cameraman who used to work for the ABC, Australia’s public broadcaster. He’s a very interesting guy and Phil is fascinated by what he does because he’s keen on video photography too. We had a great conversation about the nature of public broadcasting, something Beth had done a module on at University, as well as films and so on. A great social evening, with a tinge of sadness, and our last one together. Phil and Trish had finished winding up their involvement with the yoga retreat and were heading off to one of the nice coastal resorts to celebrate their thirtieth wedding anniversary. Beth and I were heading down to Seminyak, on the coast, just to get a flavour of the more touristy part of Bali before we left the country.
Our last trip out was a mountain bike ride, up in the mountains. We were collected from our base and taken up into the hills to a buffet style restaurant for breakfast. I had a second one, well, why not? Then we were taken much higher up where we were kitted out with knee and elbow pads and a helmet. We were left to select our bikes and I have to say most of them were in pretty poor condition. Bald tyres, gears that didn’t work and so on. But we managed to find a couple that would do the job, as did the others in our party.
We had good fun riding down the mountain. We stopped at a couple of local temples and our guide explained about some of the ceremonies. We learned that the decorative columns either side of the entrance, which are found on most Balian buildings, represent a welcome and a farewell to visitors from the female and male members of the household, one column for each gender. We also called in at a house where he explained the layout of the buildings around the courtyard – sleeping, worshipping, cooking etc. We rode through some paddy fields too, a bit tricky as the pathways were narrow and sometimes broken up. Beth discovered this the hard way, but had a soft landing. Back at base we enjoyed a very nice buffet lunch to finish off the ride. It had been good fun, with no real effort involved.
We were dropped back at our Sunarta House and I took the scooter back to Phil and paid him the ridiculously cheap hire fee, to be passed to the owner. I thanked him profusely for all his help and organising on our behalf. I’ll see him and Trish again when I get back to Brisbane later in the year.
Next morning Kadek came to collect us so it was another round of goodbyes with Wayun and his family before heading out of town. We were very sorry to be leaving Ubud. It’s a great place to visit.
On the way to Seminyak I spotted a Lewak coffee centre. This coffee is rather special, and therefore expensive, and I had no plans to buy any. However I did want to find out about it. They took us on a short tour, explaining the process. In a cage were some lewaks, under s shelter was one woman roasting some beans and another grinding them. Clearly, this is just a show for tourists as the amount needed could only come from a far larger operation. But what is Lewak coffee all about? The freshly picked beans are fed to the lewaks, a kind of foxy looking creature. They only want the outer covering of the bean but will swallow the whole thing. The bean ferments in the animal’s stomach as it passes through, which gives it a different flavour to any other. The beans are harvested from the lewak’s waste, washed then processed in the same way as all other coffee beans. Part of the tour was to be given a rack with small glasses of various teas and coffees, all produced and for sale by the company. Included was the lewak coffee. My verdict? I’m sorry to say I’m a coffee heathen and it just tasted like any other over strong, too bitter black coffee. But I did buy a small bag of vanilla flavoured coffee, as a gift for Paul, back in Australind.
Kadek delivered us to our hotel in Seminyak. It was much hotter down by the coast and the room was air conditioned. So guess what we did? Loafed around in our room until it was time to go out to eat. We did go down to the beach and caught the end of the sunset. It’s very nice and it’s easy to see why Aussies like to holiday there.
We got up late next day, enjoyed the hotel breakfast then, because I’d booked the room through to 6pm, spent the day around the pool at the hotel. We walked down to the beach again, this time going into some of the souvenir shops that lined the street. We had our last meal in Bali at an Italian restaurant, just to ring the changes.
Our taxi arrived at 9pm, as planned. I asked the driver how much? ‘150 thousand’ he said, very hopefully. ‘Oh, the hotel said it would be 100 thousand’ I replied, ‘but don’t you have a meter?’ He switched it on as he pulled away and in the light traffic I was confident I wouldn’t lose out. At the airport the meter read 63k and he needed the 20k parking fee too. So I gave him the 100k I’d planned on all along and he drove away a happy man.
Beth’s flight was at midnight and I’d booked mine for 2am, the closest I could get to her departure time. Once she’d checked in we said our goodbyes. It had been so very nice to spend time with her, show her around and do all those terrific things together. A great bit of family time in the middle of my travels. But she had to get back to the UK, with exams looming, and I had to get back to Perth to resume my journey. Meanwhile, once they’d finished their short second honeymoon, Phil and Trish would be concentrating on the building of their new yoga retreat in Ubud. We’d all had a great time together but it always ends.
And so life goes on.