Happy Galungan and Kuningan everyone! Yes, I've managed to stumble upon yet another massive holiday in this part of the world -- Balinese Thanksgiving. Bali operates on a bizarre 210 day Balinese Hindu calendar cycle unlike any place else, and we are now in one of the busiest holiday clusters of the year (I suppose it's better to be here now than during Nyepi when everyone keeps super quiet so as not to antagonize the spirits). Anyway as a result many business are shut. On the other hand though Bali is officially "Hindu" it's very different from the usual Hinduism, and Deepavali, which is a huge Indian holiday, coming up in the next few days, is NOT celebrated here. For more on Galungan, please see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Galungan. I must admit I initially thought it must have something to do with eating a lot of galanga, but, nope!
I flew to Bali on the afore-mentioned Mandala Airlines, without anything crazy or exciting happening other than realizing the extra batik baggage I had bought could not be closed properly as the zipper had "sprung a leak" -- so I took it on board as carry on luggage and made sure not to accidentally hold it upside down.
On arriving into Denpasar airport, I was reminded of just how commercialized Bali has become -- even when I compare it to being there 5 years ago. It was almost culture shock to pay the equivalent of $US 20 for the taxi ride about an hour away to Ubud, complete with grumpy driver. We passed all sorts of overdeveloped areas on the way to Ubud.
On arriving at the Villa Kubu Merta, I met my delightful host, Elsha (from Couchsurfing) and realized that I was in another little fantasy world as far as the accommodation I was being put up in. She was kind enough to have three different couchsurfers from 3 different countries staying in three different lovely rooms, and I was fortunate enough to get the honeymoon suite! Now if I could only figure out how to properly use the jacuzzi without causing any damage -- I must remember to ask her.
After falling into a deep delicious sleep, the next morning I saw the beautiful rice paddies from the window
and then met my 'neighbors' -- in the 4 villas Elsha and her husband Phil are hosting me, a woman named Claudia from Holland (and her friend Maria from Germany), Dorothy from Singapore, and also a Catholic priest from a nearby village who is doing some sort of retreat. He has nuns come over at 6:30 am to sing. This was actually much more melodious than the traditional rooster crowing and Muslim call to prayer which has been waking me up throughout my travels -- and also at a later time! I actually thought it was a bit of a bonus, so was shocked to overhear the insane next door neighbor who is from somewhere in Europe screaming her bloody head off at 6:45 ranting on for at least 10 minutes about "fucking American with your fucking Christian noise". I chuckled to myself, thinking this poor woman still hasn't figured out she can't control her external environment, especially not in a place like this. Anyway, other than the neighbor, I am staying in paradise.
We also had the opportunity to meet Charlie, a 19-year-old fashion plate who also doubles as a houseboy for the Villa Kubu Merta. He was happy to model his Galungan festive wear:
Dorothy (the Singaporean CSer) and I ended up going on a rambling, aimless but lovely walk all day, including watching people in the neighborhood construct and put up these huge hanging decorations that arc over the street woven from bamboo and palm leaves called "penjor",
a great lunch of 12 beautifully displayed Indonesian tapas dishes on banana leaves at the Nomad Cafe,
then browsing past various shops (the prices have literally doubled on everything since my last trip to Bali),
popping in to Nur Salon where she had the full mandi lulur flower-bath-and-massage combo and I had just the neck and shoulders done.
Then I found another place for my long-awaited pedicure -- still a deal at US $4. After this we decided why not go to a Legong dance performance at one of the temples complete with terrific Gamelan music (please see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Balinese_dance). After that -- a nice dinner.
We had already arranged with a sweet and terrific tour guide/driver named Agung to take the four of us in his fabulous Toyota Avanza on a tour the following day (the first official day of Kuningan). He agreed as long as he could pray first in the morning. He arrived with pieces of sticky rice stuck to his forehead and a genuine desire to help immerse us in the culture by driving us all over to see the different well-known temples with people going to give offerings and pray. We started out by driving through the countryside toward the temples, where just watching locals going about their holiday business in their finest was interesting by itself!
One of the highlights included Gunung Kawi, an 11th century temple in Tampaksiring, near the lush lush LUSH rice fields. The people are all bringing offerings, often balanced on their heads.
Another special place is the Tirtta Empul temple in Tampaksiring where people go to bathe under different fountains of water in a pool, making it almost like a family outing, and also to marvel at the holy water source:
There was also a very lovely koi pond full of enormous overfed koi!
Here are some truly fabulous rice terrace views!
Finally we arrived at Besakih, the "mother temple" of Bali, on the slopes of Mt. Agung (not named after our driver!),very impressive with something like 50 steps going up and great views of south Bali. For me the most interesting part was seeing the people so beautifully dressed up in their kebayas and sarongs (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kebaya) and trying to get some nice photos. For more info about Besakih: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Besakih. We somehow managed to avoid the aggressive touts who all wanted to give us an illicit tour :(
The only trap we fell into was the somewhat unavoidable trap of a tourist buffet restaurant in Penelokan with an incredible view but mediocre food and lots and lots of flies (to add to my Indonesian insect vocabulary: "lalat").
On the way home, we passed by the night market in Gianyar and we decided to get out and take a look. This was great fun because it was all Balinese and just the four of us foreigners. *Definitely* not a tourist market. I introduced some of the others to "es campur" (similar to my having cross-addicted my friends also travelling Malaysia to ABC), we tried some bakso with glass noodles, some yummy pancakey things with chocolate in them, and then I bought some jasmine essence perfume.
After another totally exhausted sleep, today has been a bit of a lazy day. Got to hear Elsha's life story which was fascinating -- I refer you to her blog, http://www.whatwouldelshado.com/elsha.htm, which tells only part of it, of course. And I also got to meet her husband Phil and hear about their transition to Bali from Hawaii where he taught psychiatry at University of Hawaii.
Then Maria and I went on a little walk to the Ubud Botanic Garden. Interestingly once the owner/proprietor found out I could speak some Bahasa, she complained bitterly to me about the fact that she was a Muslim from Java and felt discriminated against by the local Balinese and would I like to buy the Botanic Garden? I was thinking at most I would stop at a few plants ;) But I told her I had "pekerjaan biasa" -- a regular job -- and therefore wasn't able to buy the garden off her. It was lovely and large and full of different things though, some labelled and some not, including succulents, bromeliads, a formal Muslim garden, a medicinal herb garden, bamboo, orchids, the whole kit and kaboodle. And mosquitoes and biting flies. For the first time EVER in my life, I was walking with someone else who the biting creatures preferred to me!!!! Maria got covered with bites in just an hour's period of time, and I was relatively unscathed. I will be forever grateful ;-)
Now we are catching up on email and hopefully lunch sometime soon. Further plans involve a rice paddy walk, possible shopping, more massage and manicure stuff, seeing more of Ubud, using the delicious looking pool next to my villa, getting to know my hosts better, and teaching their staff first aid.
Once again, not in any hurry to get back. Hope you all are well :)