15.03.2010 - 17.03.2010
Ahh Bali. The very word conjures up exotic images of swaying palms, friendly people, frangipani, and the hypnotic sounds of gongs and gamelons. Yes, some of this is true, but after many years of tourism it feels more like a cross between the surfing culture of Southern California and the new age characteristics of Sidona, with a touch of the third world.
We decided to skip the crowded beaches of Kuta and Seminyak, full of drunk Aussies, or so we were told, and head directly for Ubud, at the foot of the mountains. We were extremely lucky to land at Raka House, a small family run guest house in an alley not far from the main drag. Complete with a small swimming pool, koi pond and views of the terra cotta roofs of the town, it was exactly what we needed.
Interior of Raka Compound
View from the Terrace
It was run by, you guessed it, Raka, a man around our age who spoke a little English. He used to be a cab driver, until he got a micro-loan to open his guest house in the family compoun. He was in the habit of referring to himself in the third person. "Raka think you like some tea?" "Raka tell you how to walk town." It was all part of his charm.
Unbeknownst to us, we happened to arrive the afternoon before Nyepi, Balinese New Year. This is a very holy day in Bali, and no one is allowed to roam the streets, travel, etc. However Nyepi is preceded by a big parade, especially in Ubud, of wicked spirits.
Ogoh Ogoh, as the spirits are called, must be cleansed from the earth before the New Year begins. What happens is that elaborate paper mache figures, 20-40 feet tall, are paraded about to the accompaniment of gongs and drums, and then burned at sunset. Many are somewhat androgynous, often with huge breasts and penis' They are made anew each year in a time consuming process by the men of the village.
How serendipitous to arrive just as this parade was about to take place.
After several hours the figures are brought to a field in the center of town where beer and food is consumed, speeches are made, and the images burned.
The next day, Nyepi proper, we were more or less cloistered within the walls of the compound. It seems that Raka was personally held responsible for our behavior, and would have been fined had we gone out on the streets. We spent our time reading, swimming, and chatting with the other guests, including a young American couple who had been teaching for two years in Korea, as well as another two American guys, both single, in their 50's. They had each been coming to Ubud for the winter for several years. In the summer Tom was a boat and tour guide on the inside passage of Alaska, based in Juneau, and wrote children's books. Chris was a contractor. They were very much interested in women, but not marriage, though Chris was in long distance and relatively long term relationship. During Nyepi, they had arranged a feast which was catered by a local French restaurant, in a nearby guest house. This was just down the alley from us which was why it wasn't a problem for them to "sneak" out. Chances are the Nyepi "police" wouldn't notice. The rest of us had to make due with considerably simpler fare supplied gratis by Raka. All in all, it was a relaxing day after the rigors of travel and parade watching the day before.