A Travellerspoint blog


In and Around Ubud

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Ubud is a very new age, shop til you drop town, with an assortment of foreign restaurants, health food stores, yoga centers and spas. There are many small boutiques, art galleries, fabric stores, and even chain outlets such as Ralph Lauren. We saw more Americans here than in any other part of our travels, and there seem to be a significant number of folks who spend the winter. For me it would be too touristy and too hot, but at the same time, there is a vibrant cultural life , with dance and music performances almost every night, several good museums, and opportunities to take arts and craft courses.

The main streets are jammed with motorbikes and people, though nearby Monkey Forest is calm and serene, especially in the morning. This is true unless you happen to be carrying a bunch of bananas, in which case the monkeys consider you fair game.


There is a stream running through the park, and many stone sculptures.



On one day, while Nanette took a batik class, I went on a bicycle tour. After we were dropped off by the van, it was blissfully all downhill. I was the only customer as Dewa had recently started his own company. We began with breakfast at a restaurant over looking two very green volcanoes. The lower one had a major eruption in 1975 killing thousands, and I could just about make out the lava track.


The higher of the two, Gunung Agung, was mostly in the clouds.


It was partially overcast for most of the ride, helping to shield us from the hot, tropical sun. The narrow road was bumpy, though mostly paved with little traffic, and led through rice fields and villages. Each village had three temples, Dewa explained, one for Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva.



We had a couple of intentional detours through narrow dirt tracks in the jungle, as an added thrill, and wound up back in Ubud for a Balinese lunch at the family compound, prepared by Dewa's wife. Just now I am sitting on my terrace back at Raka's place, overlooking the gardens and koi pond, surrounded by banana palms and other broad leafed vegetation. I gaze out at sea of rust colored terra cotta roofs as a cool, moisture laden breeze blows, and the first shower since the beginning of our trip in Burma, falls gently from the sky.

That evening we attended a dance performance. The first part was a retelling of the Ramayana.



The second and very spectacular Trance Dance was next, with one dancer scampering and jumping amidst burning coconut shells for what seemed like 20 minutes.




Posted by jonshapiro 12:23 Archived in Indonesia Tagged postcards Comments (0)

Bali, Indonesia

Happy Nyepi

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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.


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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.

Posted by jonshapiro 15:24 Archived in Indonesia Tagged events Comments (5)

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