Saturday-Wednesday, November 10-14, 2007
– Ubud, Bali, Indonesia
We departed Kuta in a prearranged “transport” for the one hour trip to Ubud. There are many ways to get around here and this, we thought, was an affordable and convenient way to make the trip. We paid 80,000 Rupiah (about $8 US) for the two of us. We were picked up at our hotel, so far so good, in a minivan. If you own one of those here no matter what your main job is, you are also a part time driver. We went on and picked up a few others at hotels nearby in Kuta and the adjacent town of Legian. Then we proceeded to pick up more people in other, not so nearby, towns. We squeezed in only one more person that there were seats for (not bad) and headed to Ubud…. aaah, all is good and well now after an hour or more of circuventing this part of Bali…. but no, a flat tire. No big deal, the driver has a spare (no tread at all) and hops out to replace the tire. This gave us a little time to get to know our car-mates, Steve from Canada — sort of (now lives in Seattle, lived in several Canadian cities and abroad growing up), June — an Australian woman on her way to East Timor after she gets her teeth fixed (yes, they do that here too .. this is a common practice in Arizona, Americans go to Mexico for dental work), two other Australian women (names are now forgotten) and a british guy and a Japanese? woman. We arrive 2 1/2 hours later, happy to bee in Ubud. Our first view of the place was when we made a tight corner to turn up Monkey Forest Road (we figured this our because there were monkeys all over the road). We were all dropped near the market and headed out to find lodging. We stopped in for a drink at a cafe with June to relax for a minute and then Ted went down the street to look for a place to stay. We found a beautiful hotel tucked away on a side street just off Monkey Forest Road called Sania’s Hotel Bungalows. We got our room with a 4 poster wooden carved bed for 100,000 (about $10 US). The grounds were beautiful with terraces and building levels all over the place. They also had a small pool. This is a family compound converted to a hotel. That is common here. Each Balinese family has a compound of the same size. Each is layed out in the same way. The front NW corner is the building for the children. Immediately east of that is the building for the parents. In the NE corner is the family temple. At the far eastern edge is the oldest son’s room and in the middle is a place for a surviving grandparent. The southern edge is where the kitchen is located. Over time the oldest son inherits the compond and moves into the main parents house. The temple is in the NE because it points to the Balinese sacred mountain of Agung. If you live northwest of Mt. Agung, your temple is in the SE corner of your compound but it is still referred to as the north. We were told not to believe any Balinese directions that use NESW because of this. We settled in, took a swim, and explored the town. That evening we went to a Balinese Dance performance of the Kecak and Fire dances. It was really interesting with traditional Balinese costumes and dances that ended with fire walking over burning coconut husks.
On Sunday, we awoke to rain, rain and more rain. We got moving around slowly hoping it would let up and then decided to pack our rain gear and head down to the Monkey Forest, about a 15 minute walk from our hotel. It is a monkey sanctuary with several Balinese temples inside it. The monkeys are everywhere and as you can guess are not skitish of humans. Sheree had one jump into her lap (while standing) and try to get into her bag, obviously looking for food. She ended up smacking it on the nose to get rid of it. The forest, temples and the mist from the rain were amazing and created an unusual setting for our visit. Later in the afternoon, it cleared off and we had a swim and relaxed.
On Monday, we went to a cremation. Yes, a real person cremation. We had heard about the cremation celebrations before we came to Bali and discovered when at the tourist office that a tour company specializes in cremations. We called them up and headed out at about 10:30. In Bali, the cremation ceremony is a happy community event. The Balinese believe that not until your body has completely returned to dust, does your spirit leave and go on to a better place in another life. Cremation is the way to speed this process, so it is a happy event. Some poorer people can’t afford to do a proper cremation right away so they have to bury their family members until they have the money to do it correctly. Sometimes this takes several years. But they exume (sp. I’ve never had to spell that word before) the body and do it when they can. We arrived to see people gathered in the street and a grand tower (about 25 feet high) with glitter and color and the picture of the man who died on the back. There was also a bull (about 15 feet tall). The tower is where the man is placed in his sarcofigas (sp. ditto) to be marched down the street to the crematorium. Then he is placed inside the bull to be burned. It got started just after noon. It is required that it can’t start until after the suns starts to set. The family and friends first brought out offerings and then about 4 men carried out the body and hoisted it up about 15 feet to the location in the tower where he rode to the crematorium. A crew of men hoisted the tower onto their shoulders as did another crew with the bull and the procession started down the street holding up thousands of motorbikes. At the corner, the tower and the bull were spun around 3 times in order to confuse the spirit so it doesn’t know how to find its way home and won’t continue to disturb the family. Then down a small street to the cremation place. The Bull was placed in an area used for cremation and the man was hoisted down and place in a cavity inside the bull. He is blessed and washed and cover with a clean cloth and offerings are placed on top. Then the cremator pulls out his blow torch and propane tank and sets everything ablaze. Apparently, it takes about 3-4 hours to cremate the person, then the ashes are collected, blessed again by the priest and taken to the ocean in a taxi and spinkled there. It was a fascinated ceremony and a truly unique experience.
Tuesday went took a Balinese cooking class. On Sunday evening we went to a Balinese buffet prepared at a local guest house. The food was wonderful and we spendt Tuesday morning learning how to make some of the same dishes. Most interesting is the preparation of spices. All fresh and pounded and ground there before use. We even ate what we made. That was also great. Later that day was another special event. One of the most important temples in Ubud was having its anniversary celebration. It was to start with processions from other nearby villages to the temple site. Starting time we were told was between 4-6 Balinese time… this means between 6-8. We waited around for the processions to arrive, all with our sarongs and sashes on. This is required to enter into the temple. Six of us from our hotel went together. The two of us, Stever and June from the ride up, and a portuguese couple Johanna and Caesar. All the local people were in white and/or traditional dress and there was music played on traditional instruments as the processions joined together and proceeded to the temple. Everyone filed inside the temple compound that was elaborately decorated and was adorned with offerings. There were several musical groups playing gamalan music, even an all woman group. We stayed for a couple of hours and enjoyed the atmosphere. The temple celbration continues for several days.
On Wednesday, we hired a car and a driver with June and took a trip to the other side of the island and to see some of the sites in the countryside. The full day cost 300,000 ($30) for the driver and car from 8-7. It was a full day, but very interesting. We visited Gunung Kawi and 11th century temple that is carved into the canyon walls of a river. The carvings in the wall are said to be of the Balinese royal family. We then traveled through the countryside and saw beautiful terraces rice paddies in the Tegallalang area and people working in them and lots of small villages. We then headed over the mountain pass to the north side of Bali. We stopped for lunch at Lake Bratang, one of several lakes in former volcano craters. On the north side of the island we visited a Buddhist Monastery and swam in a hot springs with what seemed like millions of Balinese kids. They were all excited to meet westerners and talk to us, so we had lots of friends there. The pool was a little sketchy and we are happy we have so far come away with no new diseases as a result. Upon our return to Ubud, we packed up to get ready to depart to Yogyakarta in the morning.
posted Friday November 2007