Bali! I made it!
Midnight arrival was smooth as butter, my bulging brown backpack was already waiting by the time I arrived at baggage claim. The line for a Visa moved quickly, the trek through Customs didn’t take longer than 10 minutes. By 12:45 I was scanning the crowd to see if there really was a driver waiting – and sure enough there he was holding up a sign with my name!
We’d arranged to stay in Legian on the West Coast of Bali because my brother and sister-in-law were already there having arrived a few days before. They always make a stop in this area where the wholesalers offer fantastic deals on fabrics, clothing and other items. Donald and Mary are here on both business and pleasure. Since they are buying for their Arcata import shop, Global Village, they can write off their winter vacation.
There’s something to be said for arriving past midnight after one has traveled for 24 hours and crossed the international dateline. I gratefully crawled right into bed and dozed fitfully through the night.
Morning found us checking out the exquisitely landscaped grounds of Hotel Kumala. Tropical flowers bursting with color surrounded the many statues of intricately carved stone that I was soon to discover are everywhere in Bali. We headed for the breakfast buffet where Mary and Donald found us, then headed out with them for a walk on the beach.
Ooof. Hot and humid. My first view of the Indian Ocean. Unfortunately here it did not look as clean and inviting as I’d hoped. Don pointed out the spot where the partying night clubbers like to go bungee jumping at 4 in the morning. Now the beach was much more mellow, peopled with walking tourists like ourselves and urgent vendors trying to sell us daily beach chair rentals, necklaces, bracelets, hats, sunglasses, coconuts…
I’d expected the town of Legian to be a bit busy as it’s right up the road from Kuta the most bustling tourist beach on the island. But I hadn’t pictured the narrow winding streets crammed with motorbikes whizzing down the left hand side of the road, nearly non-existent sidewalks which require pedestrians to squeeze against buildings to allow two cars to pass, and swarms of mobile vendors hawking everything from sunglasses to sarongs to transport.
A refreshing swim in one of the two pools beckoned, and that’s where we should have spent the rest of the day recovering from our long journey. However, Ciel and I headed out into the exhaust-ridden streets to check out all those sarongs and goodies. Hours later, after getting lost and waylaid at a beachfront Happy Hour, we stumbled back into our room.
Day Two we headed to Ubud after a morning run on the beach (crushingly humid even at 7:30 a.m.!), some lounge time with wireless by the pool and more shopping. Ubud is known to be the cultural center of Bali, the place where the expats like to settle. We looked forward to the nightly dance and music performances, the legendary temple ceremonies and the plethora of classes in cooking, yoga, dance and more. I was also excited to see my friend Celine who’d come over here to with a group from Dell Arte school to study the Balinese art of shadow puppetry as well as Balinese dance and theatre arts.
We knew we’d arrived when we glimpsed grey monkeys staring at us from the side of road as we passed through the Monkey Forest. That forest gives it name to Ubud’s main drag, and as our driver wound around the curves we watched motorbikes, taxis and pedestrians jostle for space on the narrow road. This town looks a little busier than I’d expected too. Maybe we’ll be rethinking the idea of renting bicycles to get around. I couldn’t help wondering just where on that crowded crumbling road a bicycle could fit.
Brave Celine had of course rented a motorbike however – as had most of her classmates. So she is breezing around Ubud and its surrounding countryside with ease. I caught a short ride on the back up to her beautiful hotel, Melati Cottages, and the cool breeze blowing my hair back almost got me rethinking my fear of navigating a scooter through the traffic swarms (while remembering to stay on the left side of the road.)
But not quite, we’ve opted to stay on foot.
Gusti’s, where Mary and Donald had reserved a room for us also featured lovely foliage, beautiful statuary, shrines and altars everywhere we turned, and a small and inviting swimming pool. Like many budget hotels in Bali, it is a family compound where the entire extended family lives, prays, hangs out – and watches TV.
Like all the Balinese I’ve met so far, Gusti (I think it was him – or maybe his son) greeted us with a giant smile and warm welcome. The stories are true – these are a friendly people. Most seem so happy, even when disappointed at a tourist’s refusal to buy their wares. I guess happiness comes naturally when your life is infused with spirit and art.
Almost very Balinese child studies the traditional dance of the island, and art – whether it be wood or stone carving, painting, weaving or batik – is just woven into daily life. Children and grandmas fashion dozens offerings to the gods and goddesses each day, placing them outside their homes, on their many altars and shrines, throughout the temples, surrounding their goods for sale, and just about everywhere. Most of these are banana leaves somehow shaped into little square bowls that hold beautiful dried flower petals. Often a burning stick of incense is placed inside too.
Every home contains a family temple. Every community at least one large temple where involved ceremonies take place several times a month. Since “temple wear” is required to enter a temple, and the people spend so much of their time in ceremony, many of them walk around all the time wearing the artfully tied sarongs, a sash, and a temple shirt. Women wear a long sleeved shirt of lace or embroidered cotton and men where short sleeves with the sash and sarong.
I’ve already bought my temple shirt and three sarongs to date. And I haven’t even been here a week. Looks like I’ll be bringing an extra bag (or two) home with me!
I’ll soon post more photos and more highlights from our days in Ubud – excursion to White Sands Beach, Dance performances, cooking class and my own personal visit to Wayan the Healer.
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