Highlight: Ubud

Today we spent the day in Ubud, the town made famous by Elizabeth Gilbert’s book, Eat, Pray, Love. Our little village of Abiansemal is about a half hour drive from Ubud, even though it is only about 12 kilometers away. This is due in part to the disrepair of the roads, the incredible traffic in and around Ubud, and the lack of a direct route there. Initially, we thought we would rent a car so we could be independent and see Bali at our own pace. My good friend, Reta, said that it might be wiser to hire a driver, and she was absolutely right. On days when we want to go somewhere, our host can arrange a car and driver for us for less than it would cost to rent a car. We are paying $15.00 to be picked up at our “home” and taken to Ubud, and then driven home at any time we want. If we wanted to do an all-day tour to far-flung places on the island, it would only cost about $50 (including gas and parking.) Even if it weren’t cheaper this way, it would still be worth it because of the chaotic nature of driving here. Driving is on the left, there are motor scooters everywhere, often with 3 or 4 helmetless riders, and they pass on both sides of the vehicle (right and left). Although it’s not as extreme as what I imagine India and China to be like, it is still quite intimidating and nerve wracking. I prefer to leave the driving to the locals. One of my favorite cars we’ve ridden in is a VW Thing. Remember these?

Our driver, Made Bagus, ready to take us to Ubud in his VW Thing

Ubud is often referred to as the cultural and artistic heart of Bali. There are several museums, many art galleries, upscale shopping, spas, yoga retreats, dance performances, many different temples, rice terraces, gardens, and myriad restaurants. Everyone wants to get a little piece of the tourist action generated by Eat, Pray, Love (EPL as it’s called here.) During the 20 minute walk down Monkey Forest Road to, you guessed it, the Monkey Forest, we were asked about 50 times if we needed a taxi ride or a massage. We declined because we already had a taxi driver and we were scheduled for massages the next day in our own room back in Abiansemal. (By the way, $8 for a one-hour massage, and an excellent one at that.)

When we first arrived in town, we visited the gathering space just outside the temple where we saw little girls attending a dance class.

After that we visited the Puri Lukisan Museum which houses traditional and “modern traditional” art ranging from paintings and pen-and-ink drawings to wood carving. The gardens are at least as spectacular as the art. (No photos allowed inside the museum, but here are some pictures of the grounds.

Statue wrapped up in the roots of a huge banyon tree.

Lotus in the pond outside the museum

Our museum ticket came with a beverage at the little cafe, so while we sipped our iced tea, we watched (and listened to) a gamelan orchestra made up of school-aged boys. The dance classes for the girls and music practice for the boys are common Sunday activities, as Sunday is their one day out of school during the week. Monday through Friday they are in school from 7:30 until noon for the younger children, and 7:30 until 2:00 for the older children. On Saturdays they go to school only in the morning for dance or sports.

Boys practicing gamelan

The monkey forest sanctuary was great fun. Monkeys are sacred in Balinese Hinduism and they have their own temple and forest area to hang out in. When we walked up to the entrance (entry fee $2), there was no gate or enclosure of any kind. The monkeys are free to come and go as they please, but mostly they stay because they are fed by staff and by visitors. Just outside the entrance you can buy bananas to feed to the monkeys. There are hundreds of them, all throughout the sanctuary forest. Their personalities seem to range from playful (the younger ones especially) to bickering to territorial and hostile (with each other, not so much with humans.) Although most guidebooks say it is an overrated experience, I found it charming. It’s hard to resist monkeys. I loved the temple, the statues, and the monkey graveyard almost as much as watching the critters themselves.

Provocative Pigs

My favorite statue in the Monkey Forest. Love those tongues.

When the monkeys die, they are buried in the Sacred Forest and given a headstone.

Here’s a close up of one monkey’s headstone.

And another little monkey

We also took a walk through the rice fields around Ubud, which are very pretty.

Path through the rice paddies.

On our walk we met a man named Made and bought a green coconut from him for $1 (more than enough for the two of us). While he opened it for us, we sat in the shade of his little wooden shelter and talked about Bali. He asked where we were from and where we were staying. When he learned that we were retired, he asked how much retirement money we got. When we told him, he assured us that we could move to Bali and live like kings if we wanted to. He said that a nice 3 bedroom house with all the modern conveniences rents for about $500 a month, or, if we wanted to live more modestly in a smaller place (but still nice), we could rent a house for $1,000 a year. Sitting in the shade, sipping fresh coconut juice and looking across the rice paddies, I was sorely tempted.

Highlight: Getting to know the neighborhood

October 13th

Today we began to get to know our host family better, and we took a walk through the town and the rice paddies near our house.

We are staying in a guest cottage at the home of Wayan Sueta and his family. His wife, Ayu, and his two boys, Agus and Anta, have welcomed us into the family. They keep telling us that they feel so honored that we have chosen to stay with them for a whole month and that this is to be our home. “There are no rules in Bali” so we should just feel at home and do as we like.

As it turns out, there are lots of rules in Bali, like we aren’t allowed to help with cleanup after meals. There is no restaurant in town, so Ayu cooks all our meals.

Ayu, chef extraordinaire.

She doesn’t want us to help out because they are charging us for meals – $4 per person. Coffee, tea, and bottled water are complimentary.  We had told them in advance that we are vegetarian, but we wanted to make sure we had the same definition of vegetarian (eggs and dairy ok, no fish). She asked us when we wanted to eat our meals and we said, “Oh, whenever your family is eating.” She said, “We have different times of hungry. It is not our culture to eat meals together. We cook all our food in the morning and then eat whenever we want during the day.” So, as it turns out, our meals are at different times of hungry, too.

We also said that we hoped it wouldn’t be too inconvenient for her to fix vegetarian meals for us when her family isn’t vegetarian. Then she laughed and said, “Oh no! Vegetarian is much more easy.” I believe she is the first person to ever say that to us. The food has been spectacular, by the way. They make their own coconut oil from the coconuts that grow all over the property and this is what she uses for cooking. It is so aromatic. In Bali, tofu, tempeh, and seitan are much more common and inexpensive than meat. They get fruit from their own property, along with many of the fabulous Balinese spices.

Breakfast is usually fruit and coffee or tea, sometimes with Balinese pancakes made from tapioca flour. Lunch and dinner usually consists of a noodle or rice dish, a vegetable dish, and a protein dish like tofu or tempeh, with fruit for dessert. I feel like we have landed in vegetarian heaven. My favorite dishes so far are sweet tempeh with chili, tofu crackers, and the stir fried noodles. I asked Ayu if I could hire her to teach me some of these dishes and she shyly and grateful accepted my proposition. I’m looking forward to my first class.

This is how the food comes to the table, under these colorful covers to keep the flies off. (It’s mango season so there are more flies than usual now, but not too bad.)

And under the covers we find… fried rice, cucumbers from the garden, and fried, salted “nuts” which are actually the little beans inside long beans. Yummy!

Both Wayan and Ayu have talked with us about religion and culture in Bali. I will let George go into more detail about Balinese Hinduism, but I will mention that every family compound has its own temple, and every community has temples to various gods that are used for specific rituals. Offerings are made several times throughout the day at the family temple. We are looking forward to our first community temple visit on Friday.

One of many offerings that appear each day. This one was just outside our bungalow.

 

On our walk through the town, we learned that not only are we the only guests at Wayan’s home, we are the only Westerners in the entire village. Everyone is very friendly and curious about us. The people who speak English stop and ask us where we are from and where we are staying. Those who only speak Balinese say hello and smile when we pass.

We are also a two minute walk from beautiful, terraced rice fields. Here are a few images from our first walk through the paddies. I’m sure there will be many more.

Wayan, our host and guide, chilling out in the rice fields and checking his voicemail.

This rice is almost ready to harvest, so an offering has been made to Dewi Sri, the goddess of the rice fields (and also of the market where the rice is sold.)

A shrine in the rice field. These are at the corner of every farmer’s plot, marking boundaries and protecting the field.

Looking good. His clothes are getting too big for him.

Beautiful terracing of the fields.

Sunset on the border between the rice field and the village.