Travel Blog: Week 45

Bali: Ubud Week 45: 16.09.2013 – 22.09.2013 Monday:- The alarm went off at 5am – that’s 4am Chiang Mai time. Having only got some sleep I felt tired but rested. Now to find the gate for my next flight. Airport rules……. I just don’t get them – isn’t it an x-ray machine?? Why do you have to take a laptop out of your bag and out of its case. I do try to keep calm during the whole security journey but

Bali: Ubud

Week 45: 16.09.2013 – 22.09.2013

Monday:-

The alarm went off at 5am – that’s 4am Chiang Mai time. Having only got some sleep I felt tired but rested. Now to find the gate for my next flight. Airport rules……. I just don’t get them – isn’t it an x-ray machine?? Why do you have to take a laptop out of your bag and out of its case. I do try to keep calm during the whole security journey but it still manages to raise the temperature of my blood. Breathe, breathe, breathe! It was a full flight and I was one of the last on so we soon took off. Aaaahhhh – airplane breakfast, can’t be beaten.

  

It was another couple of hours in the air but all went well and I got to watch most of the ‘After Earth’ Will Smith movie. He’s in it with his son – not sure I’m that bothered I didn’t get to see it all. Nuff said!

Well, I disembarked, taking my time as I had no real plans. First stop was to pay the $25 visa payment which was surprisingly quick and easy. Next was passport control which took longer and they were not impressed that I couldn’t tell them where I was staying. I had to fill out a new form. Usually when I have no fixed address I fill in my email address – here they insisted I fill in my hotel details. Hhmmmm. Not sure how to progress this when I don’t have a hotel booked. Eventually I was allowed to just enter the town…..Ubud. I also dodged a proposal from the passport official. They’re very friendly here!!!! My bag had already been taken off the conveyor belt so now all that was needed was to put it through the x-ray machine AGAIN and pass through immigration. Phew!

Ok, so now the fun begins. I left the airport and into a gauntlet of awaiting taxi drivers and guesthouse touts. I hadn’t grasped the currency conversion and had no idea what the going rates were. I walked through them all and out the other side to give myself time to think. It was quieter but a very persistent driver eventually got my business. I knocked him down from 300,000IDR to 220000IDR. Crazy numbers but I thought a small triumph. From the back seat of the taxi Denpasar, Bali’s capital, was a heaving city full of traffic but we soon hit slightly quieter roads lined with the most interesting shops – selling wood and stone carvings both new and by the looks of them incredibly old. Memories of Ankor Wat sprang to mind. And there were temples a plenty. Very different from the Thai temples though. The driver’s name as Gusti and bless him, he offered me some food. Something sweet and bright green wrapped in a leaf. I have no idea what it was but I ate it and it was good. So, the journey to Ubud is 90 minutes tops. 3 hours later I was eventually dropped off. Actually I got out when Gusti asked for directions to a cheap hotel. He had taken me through Ubud and out the other side, through villages to meet his friends and then the final straw to meet his family – wife and 6 children. He said ‘I eat dinner now you wait’. I was hungry and tired so after introducing myself to his family as graciously as I could muster I declined the offer of the very dubious looking food. I asked to be taken to a hotel. Needless to say it got me nowhere so I got back in the taxi and put my head down for a snooze. I was invited to stay at his house. The invite was soon retracted when I mentioned my husband. I’ve rarely used this story but having been as patient as I could be (and I’m not known for my patience) I felt it was needed. Anyway it worked and eventually we got back to Ubud and I found a hotel. The hotel manager was called Gusti (oh shit not another one) and he escorted me down a narrow high walled lane which then opened up into lush green paddy field. Who’d have guessed this would lie behind a bustling street. The room was clean, and airy and had a view to take your breath away.

 

  

    

  

  

I spent the afternoon chilling on the balcony drinking Bali tea and chatting to the very pleasant guesthouse manager, Gusti. I had a snooze and then early evening I headed out into Ubud. The place is safe and has a really lovely feel to it. There is much improvement going on and the roads and pavements are all being upgraded which as you can imagine causes chaos. Normally this would be a problem, here it’s accepted and life goes on at the same calm pace. It turned dark at the flick of a switch and all the shops started closing at 8pm. I’d been forward thinking enough to get some local currency in Singapore airport – which is very unlike me – and I’m glad I did as the ATM wasn’t giving out cash. By now I was hungry and found a tourist friendly restaurant. I had a rack of ribs and mash. IT WAS SOOOOOO GOOD. I ate outside in a candle lit courtyard behind the restaurant and even though there was the faint feel of rain in the air I had a really wonderful time. I walked back to the hotel but was stopped in my tracks by a dark rather sexy looking slice of chocolate cake. What the hell. I ordered a slice and a ginger tea and sat back in this rather bohemian style coffee shop, slash restaurant, slash bar.

I even started to learn some numbers in the local language – there seem to be two here; Balinese and Indonesian. Feeling very full and equally content I retraced my steps to the hotel and settled for the night. I fell asleep to the sounds of rain (yes, it’s raining here too and it’s pretty cool), frogs and geckos. Bliss!

Tuesday:-

The morning came in a flash as I slept heavy and well. The travel from the day before had caught up on me though. Once again I had no energy – this is getting a tad annoying! I stepped out onto the balcony to watch and listen to the morning and smell the fresh clean air. Gusti had already left me a fresh flask of tea and was soon up for a chat and to ask if I wanted breakfast. It came with the room. Breakfast that is, not Gusti. I had freshly cooked mango pancakes with honey and fresh fruit. Being spoiled! I went back to sleep after that and didn’t get my arse in gear until about 2. I’m not sure why, maybe because I not 100% or maybe because I’ve got used to being in one place, but today I felt strangely apprehensive about going out. Anyway, best foot forward. I stopped at a nearby restaurant and ordered soup and salad. At least the menus here make it easier to find healthy food. I stayed at the restaurant for a few hours and updated my blog. It’s the simple things that please me – after the meal I was bought a small dish with water and what looked like a round white pill. I must have looked confused because the girl explained it was a towel to freshen up. Wow, you drop the pill in the water and it expands to become a moist hand towel. Impressed!!!

  

Then I went for a wander. I took a left out of the hotel road and headed down the hill. What fabulous views (just keep your eyes on your feet too, the holes in the pavement are huge) and stores full of very old Balinesen artefacts. I was in my element. I turned back up the hill and through the town the other side. I stopped at a few temples and shops and just whiled away the afternoon and evening. If it wasn’t for the constant ‘taxi mam?’it would be perfect.

  

   

I’d just made it back to my room when the heavens opened. Lord, it can rain here. As least it’s keeping the paddy fields wet and the natural fish pool just under my window topped up.

  

Wednesday:-

Another good night’s sleep which I hope is beginning to recharge my batteries. I woke quite early but soon fell back to sleep until 9. Gusti had already delivered the fresh tea which was waiting for me on the balcony and soon came up with his usual warm morning greeting once he saw my door open. He seems to have grasped why I sleep so much and is now offering all sorts of health solutions, including a massage to help my blood. I was served fresh fruit and scrambled egg on toast and no sooner had I eaten it I went back to bed and slept for another two hours. Whilst I totally accept this trip was to help relax my soul, I’m not entirely sure this is what I had in mind. As a usually active person I’m finding my current situation quite hard to deal with. Having said that I have little choice but to get on with it! Could be worse – I could be at work!!!!

Thank goodness I still have an appetite because that’s the only thing that motivates me to leave my room. It was a beautiful day and the sun was shining. There are so many flowers and birds here, and the paddy fields have dragonflies flitting overhead. There is the sound of laughter everywhere. If my body needs to heal then this is surely the place to be. It felt good to step out and so my sense of adventure briefly showed itself. I took a different route – not knowing where it would take me. I passed many more cafes and guesthouses and heard ‘hellos’ from every corner. More rice fields, flowers, shrines and banana trees.

    

  

  

 

The road which was almost paved soon became a dirt track and I had to step aside to let the scooters and tuk tuks pass.

 

Everywhere you look there is construction. More restaurants and guest houses being built amongst the greenery. The track soon bent round to the left, I crossed a dilapidated bridge, squeezed through a gap in the wall and found myself of the Main Street. I knew where I was but hadn’t ventured down this far yet. Beautiful shops, beauty salons with a list of massages as long as your arm, and more importantly places to eat. The road sloped up and I found myself soon out of breath – can’t wait to get back on form. I browsed the wood carving and jewellery stores until I found the perfect place to eat.

  

I ordered pumpkin soup (it gets 15/10 it was so good) and a fresh coconut to help with my unpredictable temperature. This is the life. I carried on browsing as I walked up the street. It was then that I realised that, actually, I didn’t know where I was. Typical! Anyway, I eventually found a familiar restaurant and got my bearings. I’m sure the sellers here get fed up with the tourists procrastinating about their purchases but I came to realise they are not the most patient of people. It takes me a while to convert the values and decide whether its worth it – during my ponderings and decisions that it’s not worth it I got a lot of very loud tuts. That’s a sure way to help me with my decision – I talk with my feet. I was beginning to realise what was a good deal and what wasn’t. Unlike other places where I’ve tended to go with the first seller, here I am taking my time. Whilst I’m building up to taking a trip somewhere I’m happy to procrastinate as much as I like with my purchases. I have two weeks here and for now a few hours bumbling around the shops and markets is perfect.

I headed back as I wanted to put my feet up – I may come out later to watch a dance show. Just as I was about to turn into my road that damn sexy chocolate cake jumped out again to way lay me. Well I have to keep my blood sugar levels up! Needless to say I didn’t make the dance show but they are on every night.

One of the really wonderful things about this place, that I noticed particularly as sat in the cafe, was how many of the people still dress in traditional costume. Some wear the full regalia, whilst others select a mixture of traditional and modern. Many of the men wear a polo shirt matched with a sarong. They also wear the headdress which is, for the want of a better description, is like a fancy bandanna with a flourish on the top. If I get the chance I’ll take some pics.

Walking home through the rice fields I noticed a small green light – a firefly. When I looked around I realised they were everywhere. The nature around here is truly mind blowing.

Thursday:-

I woke to blazing sunshine and not the usual morning overcast skies. Today was the night of the full moon and a very auspicious day. In this country, there are many auspicious days. Most of them are auspicious for a particular reason and therefore there are good days to perform a particular task – like to start to build a house, or get married. Today, was just an all round good day. From my balcony I watched Gusti’s boss arrive with a bag full of offerings – more today than usual.

  

 

There was incense, fruit, and small square dishes made from banana leaves filled with flowers. Each of the small temples scattered around the place were blessed with these offerings and water was also ceremoniously flicked over everything with a kindly wave of the hand. I have one of the said temples on the balcony right outside my door which I take as a good sign. Gusti and I sat awhile and talked this morning. He explained about the full moon day, the cremation which was due in a few days and was going to be quite the spectacle (I was invited to go along as long as I wore the correct attire), his immediate family and of course the wider family who were in the tourist business and could offer me various tours!! I gave Gusti some money to pass to his wife who was going to buy me something suitable to wear to the cremation. He explained she would get me a better deal than I could ever get in the markets, and actually I believed him. He also arranged for me to have a massage later that evening – and before you ask it was with a women. As usual, breakfast was delicious.

I left my room a little earlier today and was determined to make the most of the day. I started to formulate what I would do, then realised I was planning. I’m trying to go with the flow so dumped my plans and went into the first restaurant I found for a fresh coconut and light lunch. OK, so lunch was disappointing – you live and learn.

  

I decided today would be a spending spree day when I stopped at one of the street stalls and bought a small picture. I’ve still got a lot to learn about bargaining here, as they have nerves of steal, but I managed to knock the woman down from 450,000IDR to 100,000. They set their starting values high. I crossed the road and made my second purchase of a carved wooden mask – thankfully made of very light hibiscus wood. It was a long, narrow shop and the woman, although fairly elderly, was quick on her feet. Her barter technique was to just block me from leaving. She was very insistent and although I knocked her down a fair amount I think she still did well out of the deal. I took a new street – mostly because it was in the shade. It twisted upwards and was less popular than the main street so quite a bit quieter – lots of small guesthouses, street food vendors (I haven’t ventured into the street food world this time – the larger restaurants have such fantastic fare and at really good prices) and tour offices. I managed to pick up a free street map. I found a tiny shop which was obviously part of someone’s house. Grandmother was in charge but spoke little English so I think it was the granddaughter (with great granddaughter in arms) who spoke with me. Another purchase but I really didn’t think I got the best deal this time – I kind of didn’t care as the shop was tucked away, everything was covered in dust which usually means its been there a while, and the family looked genuinely happy and relieved at making a sale. In the grand scheme of things the money probably meant a lot more to them than me and I was pleased with what I’d bought. Next, I headed back to Monkey Forest Street and ducked into what looked like a small gallery but it actually turned out to go back for miles. Unlike many of the galleries here, the paintings were very original and not the kind of template style pictures that lined the streets. After a great deal of haggling I bought a small canvass out of the frame which was rolled and wrapped for easy transport. My final purchase was a small carved wooden Om. A good days shopping. I stopped for a light snack and wandered back via the back route to my guesthouse. I had a massage arranged for 7. She had come highly recommended by Gusti so I was looking forward to it.

A lady in full ceremonial costume knocked on my door. She had fitted in the massage appointment between two ceremonies. She changed quickly into something more suitable and my massage began. I have to say it was another disappointment. It was good but she was totally unprepared for bringing the massage to me and the oil smelled like vegetable oil. It was all done and dusted within an hour and I was charged double what I would pay if I’d had gone to one of the nice looking spas on the street. One of the things which I have not found easy on this trip is working out who to trust. This experience like many others just reiterates that pretty much everyone is on the make. I totally understand this, particularly when the tourists appear to have so much more than he locals. For me, I’m a backpacker tourist not a holiday tourist which means my funding is a bit different. Yes, I know I could stand up for myself but honestly I’d rather just suck it up, learn and move on.

Covered in oil and relaxed I stayed in – watched Thor, which yes, Leo, had its highlights – and went to sleep.

Friday:-

By 10:30 I was out the door. I’d familiarised myself with the map so I could get a feel for how big Ubud was. I’d done pretty well so far but there was more to see if I wanted to walk further each day. I had some energy so went in search of a place called Yoga Barn. I’d met so many people in Thailand who had mentioned it that I wanted to see it for myself. I walked the familiar Monkey Forest street as far as I’d already been and then onwards. It was hot today and where possible I stayed on the shady part of the street. In the full heat of the day I sort sanctuary in a tiny back street spa. The young girl on the street trying to drum up business looked rather despondent so I had a manicure. The service was pretty basic but what do you expect for £3. I left with tidy, clean and shiny nails, and hopefully I’d improved someone’s day. There must be another ceremony today as the streets were full of locals dressed up rushing somewhere. The scooters had one, two or even three men with armfuls of brightly coloured parasols. Wherever it was it was big.

  

  

  

  

I stopped at the lotus flower temple – just awesome!

  

  

 

  

More shops – the problem being with discovering new stalls is that you see the purchases you’ve already made at lower prices, but if you’re lucky sometimes higher too.

  

  

At a large bend in the road I discovered why this is called Monkey Forest Street. I found the monkey forest. Starting to feel hungry but knowing my destination was just around the corner I pushed on. I found it but to be honest I’m not sure why everyone raved about it. I wasn’t even greeted at reception. I took some fliers to consider – treatments and classes – and headed back. Not only had I discovered the forest but also a large supermarket. Might come in handy sometime!

  

    

I cut through the monkey forest on the way back, buying my ticket and heeding the notice about hanging onto belongings. The forest was beautiful and there were lots of monkeys but I couldn’t help but be a bit sad about how many guides there were tempting the monkeys out with food (and catapults!!!) to pose for cheesy tourist photos. I saw a Chinese tourist bitten by one – a monkey, not a guide. They were confident little critters and I gave them a wide birth. I was really hungry by now and so I had a big big lunch followed by a scoop of choccie ice-cream. I was still hungry!!! Maybe at last my body was fighting the fever and pushing it out. Well fed and snoozy I went back to my room and slept. I’m not sure if it was is because I was tired, hot, both or just because I’ve been here almost a week but today the constant requests for Taxi?, massage?, come in and have a look?, do you want a good price? really got to me. It’s constant and every 10 seconds or so. I totally understand how hard it is for them to make a living out here, especially in the low season, but today it was just over intrusive when everything else is so beautifully easy.

I wandered back into town and changed some US dollars I still had knocking around. After a little more walking I stopped for a pizza dinner. Today for some reason I’d felt quite alone, not lonely, but alone nonetheless. I was missing my friends from Chiang Mai. As I sat in the crowded restaurant I couldn’t help but give myself a little inner nudge and smile. The restaurant was full of couples mostly and none of them were talking to each other – looking blankly into space, using the wifi, or fiddling with their camera – not talking or even looking at each other. I think we are all ultimately on our own! On the way back I stopped at Ubud’s equivalent to Seven Eleven and bought a few provisions; eye drops (my eyes were really dry here), tissues (there is no such thing as toilet paper in my guesthouse and I can’t get used to using the little shower thingy they use here), a tube of pringles and a toblerone. I told you I had an appetite!! Back to my room to finish watching a movie and sleep.

Saturday:-

So, today was the big day – the day of the cremation. I got up early and downed my breakfast so I could set off around 9. Gusti helped me tie my sarong in the traditional Balinese way. It’s different for a man and for a women. I was off, donned in my blue and orange sarong, orange silk sash and long sleeved top.

 

I walked the back way to the forest and was greeted by many smiles. I thought it was because I’d made such an effort to wear the right clothes but I soon realised this was probably not the case. I was beckoned over by a kindly lady who asked if she could tie my sarong properly. Damn that Gusti!! With more smiles and lots of patience the lady carefully wrapped my sarong making sure the folds and edges were in the right place. Now I really did look the part. I arrived at the main road and there were people, locals and tourists, everywhere. The scooter park was jam packed and as I sat on a wall to take in the scene more and more families arrived.

  

  

I followed them in and found myself in the ceremonial centre. This is where everyone was gathering and this is where all the brightly coloured parasols I’d seen yesterday had gone. The colours of the outfits were so spectacular. Hang on! Why are there no tourists here? Oops, somehow I’d found myself in the family area so I quickly stepped through and joined the rest of the foreigners just outside the enclosure. I met a girl who was reading a leaflet about the day and she kindly gave me a read. This really was a special day.

  

 

As I understand it, in Bali they believe your spirit is set free during cremation. However, the cremation ceremony is a celebration full of pomp and circumstance and that costs. Many villagers do not have the funds to pay for such a send off. In this case they are buried until such time that the family can afford a cremation. If the money is never forthcoming the community pay but the ceremony is for all those in this situation. Every 5 years one of these communal cremations take place. Today there were 80 or so people to be cremated. The preparations had started in May but it was the last four days when the final formalities had taken place. I shifted position to a place next to the platforms which would eventually be set alight. I found myself next to a man who had been here as a volunteer teacher for many years. He had been personally invited to attend as he knew one of the deceased. He explained that she had died over 4 years ago and had been buried here in the forest, the place that we now stood next to, waiting to be cremated. She had been exhumed a few days ago and prepared for the ceremony. For me this was quite difficult to grasp. It must be hard for the family to have to attend a funeral and then years later have all those memories literally dug up again. For this man, a friend of the lady, he found it particularly tough. We talked openly for a while whilst large sculptures of the Singha lions, bulls and fish came out carried by many male bearers.

  

  

  

  

 

  

  

These sculptures housed the remains of the deceased. There were over 50 platforms and each one was the resting place for one of these sculptures. It soon became clear that there was more than one body per sculpture. The man’s friend was 1 of 5 held in the lion sculpture. We were eventually pushed back into the now public area as the fires would soon be lit and the heat would be fierce. Within the public area I found a semi shady spot to watch as one by one offerings were made to each of the sculptures.

 

 

Many many family members and offerings were given for each. With 50 plus sculptures this took a long time. Hours! And I hadn’t bought any water with me. Throughout traditional music was played. Lots of cymbals and drums and noise. It really was quite the send off. I would loved to have stayed until the end but dehydration started to set in and I couldn’t see an end to the offering phase. It was a bit like watching the athletes arrive at the Olympics opening ceremony – endless – just a lot hotter.

  

  

 

  

I ducked out and stopped at a cafe for a long overdue drink and some lunch. It was well over an hour before the throngs from the ceremony started to file out. Just as well I left when I did.

Time to put my feet up so I headed back to my room. Now, there aren’t many beggars on the streets but there are some and they are mostly single women with children. So far I have managed to just walk past although they always pull on the heart strings. It’s such a balance between trying to help without encouraging begging from tourists as a viable option. Anyway, today I cracked. The woman and child looked so desperate. I did pass them but came across a women selling fruit. I bought a hand of bananas and double backed to give them to the woman. I hope they help in the best possible way. I made it back to my room – along the way I received many compliments about my sarong from the locals which made me feel like the effort had been worthwhile (many tourists at the ceremony had not followed the guidance and were just in shorts) – and had a shower to cool down and then a snooze. This evening I was going to go to one of the dance shows. Well, that was the plan. Actually, the shows, and there are many, had all started and although I could sneak in the back all the seating had gone. I’ve stood long enough today. Maybe tomorrow.

Whilst deciding what to do the final procession from the day’s ceremony passed me. it was very long and stopped the traffic. Finally, the band at the end of the line passed by and life continued. I understand that they were all going to the river which is where the ashes would finally settle. It must have been a very long day for some families. They were there when I got to the forest at around 10am and now it was gone 8pm. I went to the restaurant I like the most (so far anyway) and spent some time updating my blog and enjoying a traditional potato and spinach curry and a beer.

 

  

There was live music next door and the sound drifted into the restaurant, mixing with the warm air already full of the sounds of frogs and insects. As they say life is not measured by the number of breaths you take but by the number of moments that take your breath away! A very leisurely stroll back to my room passing the men upgrading the stone road, who found it very funny to each say hello (so about 8 times) to me and then through the rice fields. What will tomorrow bring?

Sunday:-

Having had the 4 room guesthouse to myself for many days I now had to share with other tourists – tut! The French couple next door were awake and having early morning discussions on the balcony and therefore I was awake early too. I didn’t really get up for another hour or so, so don’t feel too sorry for me. Gusti made me breakfast – he has 3 breakfast dishes; pancake, scrambled egg sandwich and fried egg sandwich. All are served with a bowl of fruit – banana, pineapple and papaya (aka the vomit fruit). I didn’t feel like doing anything so I put on some music and did laundry. Eventually I went for a walk. Left down the main road and right out into the outskirts of town.

  

  

  

Apart from a few whacky art galleries there wasn’t much to see, but the road was a steep incline and it gave me some exercise. After an hour or so I turned back and this time noticed a sign for a raw/vegan restaurant 400m down a side road. My inner explorer kicked in and I was off. The road was steep, narrow, high walled, covered in graffiti and in the direct sun so I had quite a sweat on when I found the restaurant.

  

  

  

It was popular and understandably so, the food was delicious. Needless to say my meal was over in a flash. I chilled for a while and then headed back.

  

I passed rows of upturned baskets. I’d seen these in Laos and knew they were for keeping chickens from wandering off. Each of these baskets housed a rooster and as I walked away from taking a photo of them all they all simultaneously squawked out a cockle-doodle-doooo. Classic moment!

 

I bought a cleansing juice drink to take away on the way back. I was very glad to see that they were using recycled plastic bottles instead of new plastic cups. I went for a traditional Jawu combination which mixed together lime, honey, ginger, turmeric (which I’d been advised to take the fire out of the Dengue) and coconut water. It packed quite a punch and I had to take it slowly. It wasn’t until I got back to my room and glanced at myself in the mirror that I realised it had turned my lips and mouth a very in fetching orangey yellow. I brushed my teeth and now have a uniquely fluorescent yellow toothbrush.

At 4 I went out with Gusti. Riding pillion he took me out to the rice fields and the most amazing views. It’s a totally walkable route and one I can find again tomorrow. I’d like to walk it and have more time to appreciate the surroundings. Perched on the back of the motorbike was quite the adventure. The roads were really rough in places and steep. I didn’t want to hold onto Gusti so clung to the bike to ensure I stayed seated and didn’t fall off the back when the accelerator kicked in to get us up the hills. They drive pretty slowly here but the twists and turns are unexpected and keep you on your toes. Anyway we sped along the narrowest of high walled lanes. This was not a road but a walkway but with a few shrill beeps of the horn the pedestrians flatten themselves against the walls, breathed in, and made room for us to pass!! After a short while the walls disappeared and we were travelling along rutted mud tracks in open countryside. Truly beautiful!

  

As with many a kind gestures here, there is a motive. We stopped at a small hut which was where Gusti’s friend the artist showed his work. I had mentioned I liked the pictures in Bali and so Gusti of course wanted to help me find a good picture!!! There are a lot of oil paintings here but also some very detailed traditional ink drawings. Gusti’s friend explained that he would first draw the picture in pencil, then using some sharpened bamboo would define the lines with ink, then finally colour would be added. He was working on one drawing which was still just black and white, which I liked, so I bought that one. I also bought another coloured picture of the goddess of education and creativity.

 

Being escorted by Gusti seemed to stimulate lots of attention from his friends. Everywhere we stopped locals would come and join us and want to talk with me. I was getting to know the real Bali. My education didn’t stop there as I was taken to a tiny shack to have fresh coconut – really fresh, just from the tree. Gusti also had one while he chatted to his friends, and then casually said to me ‘it’s just 20,000IDR’. This is just over £1 but I knew full well that the coconuts here were only 10,000. I was basically paying for Gusti’s too. I appreciated him taking the time to drive me around so I was happy to pay. What I found cheeky was the ease with which he assumed that as a tourists I should pay. I didn’t let the moment pass without making a small comment so he knew I understood what was going on. It’s also a bit like Thailand here in that you can’t understand what the locals are saying but you know they’re talking about you by the way their eyes flit to you every now and again. You just have to suck it up and hope they’re saying nice things.

  

 

Next stop was Gusti’s uncle’s place. I’m wary of meeting male relatives just in case I’m being fixed up for marriage. No, I’m not being big headed I’m talking from experience. When I met Gusti’s uncle, and Aunt, it was obvious this was not the case. I couldn’t guess at their ages but they both looked frail. Their home was basic and Gusti’s Aunt was cooking food over an open fire in the corner of one of the rooms. There were dogs, chickens, ducks and a buffalo wandering around the place – totally rural and very simple. They didn’t speak any English but eye contact, a gentle nod and a smile go a long way. We just had time for a couple of sunset photos before heading back. This is a wonderful area but already I could see large sections of the rice fields and surrounding forest being cut away to build really big hotels. I wonder how long this lush environment will stay lush?

 

By the time we got back I had just enough time to shower and head back out into town. Tonight I was determined to see the dancing and got to the ticket booth early. I think this is one of the best deals in town. For just over £4 you get over an hour of live entertainment. There are many locations where you can watch the dancing and many different performance styles. I went to the lotus pond which had a beautiful temple backdrop. There were maybe 50 seats max and I got the front row – squeezed (not much personal space per chair) between two other tourists, who fortunately were very chatty and so the 30 minutes before the performance started flew by.

The dancing and costumes were spectacular. I could not quite follow the storyline but nonetheless it was a show worth seeing. Mid way through the girl on my right gave a little muffled shriek – the biggest beetle I have ever seen had landed in her lap and was clinging to her trousers. Each of us in the row covertly attempted to help her remove it, the winning move came from a sharp swipe from a Balinese guidebook. I did notice that many of the ‘band’ and the performers were quite long in the tooth. Maybe this traditional way of earning a living is not so popular with the younger generation.

  

 

  

 

  

I did have a little chuckle though as a small local child kept popping its head up at the back of the stage (Mum – just like baby moonbeam!) to have a watch. Don’t think it was supposed to be there.

At the end of the show I chatted to Isabel (the girl with the beetle). She was interested to hear of my travels as she was in the first week of her own year of discovery. She was looking to find better accommodation so I showed her where I was staying. We walked back into town together where we parted ways, wishing each other all the best. It was late now and I was hungry so I made a quick restaurant stop for some soup. I recapped on the evening. I know I had spoken slowly as both Isabel and the other guy were from Europe and English wasn’t their first language, but it felt like I had gabbed away all night. Then I realised. This is the most I have spoken all week. Apart from my morning conversations with Gusti, ordering food and declining taxis. This had been an almost silent week.

Back to my room and bed.

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