Sunday 21 October 2012

Bali Bits

Last week at this time we were returning from Bali. What an exotic trip that was! After or relaxing time in. Lovina , on the black sands coast, we returned to Ubud for 2 nights, happy to soak up the ambiance of that funky town.  Our rooms were small but central, with gorgeously carved wooden doors and windows. We ate delicious meals and shopped for a few treasures to bring home

, bartering diligently for a few items. It was most interesting to gain some inkling about the consortium that existed, as well as the nearly instantaneous grapevine that carried information ahead of us as we wandered through the three floors of stalls. At first there seemed no organization at all, but random soon dawned on me as order, depending on what I chose to look at. A ripple of comments filtered ahead of me as I walked on and sellers began offering what I had inquired about at the last stalls. Organic! Another adventure in Ubud was our trek through the gorgeous green rice paddies that lay hidden from view in town. At the end of one charming street, cobbled with blocks inscribed by a thousand different visitors, we found a path into the fields. Enchanted by the emerald views, we followed the pathIt wound lazily through farmland and villas, past livestock and organic vegetables. We stopped to visit at one tiny cafe, where we met an amazing Balinese man. He had traveled for ten years as a cook on cruise ships, visiting over 80 countries and learning many languages. Proud of his gardens, he gave me a tour of all the herbs that he grew, then gave us samples of all to touch , crush, taste and smell. We lingered for much longer than planned, enjoying his fascinating tales as he practiced using English. Fresh fruit juices, organic lip balms, exotic Kopi Luwak coffees and a myriad of wonderful sensations made leaving less interesting. Charming, idyllic spot! Did time stand still or had we stepped back? Our last night in Bali was spent in a private villa with our own pool. Quite the indulgence! It was a sultry 31C, cooling to 28C at night. All living areas were outdoor, except the air conditioned bedroom, with it,s glamorous white canopied bed. I particularly enjoyed my private alfresco soaker tub, filled with rose petals and fragrant frangipani. We ordered room service for a late lunch after arrival and spent the rest of our day and evening in the pool or relaxing in our private poolside luxury, coping well. High walls wrapped us in dreamy comfort, but it was a very brief taste of how a privileged few live. We all sensed the fake insulation from the cacaphony of spice, color, texture and exotic wonders of the taste we'd had of Bali beyond. It was so hard to leave.

Saturday 13 October 2012

Enjoying the Altitude

It really wasn't a lot cooler or less humid in the small mountain village of Munduk, in central Bali, but the stunning views of cool green terraces made it seem fresher. We often looked down on to clouds below us, our perch was so high. That made for steep walks when the weather was fine. We learned quickly that mornings were cooler and clearer than steamy, wet afternoons. Our first day was such a slow start that we only made it down the road about 250 meters from our hotel before we ducked to another rooftop restaurant. A shower turned into a downpour that lasted 2 hours. There we were, caught on a sheltered rooftop perch, with spectacular views of the weather passing through the valleys below. Tasty bowls of soup and steamy rice dishes arrived at our table, but windy gusts kept us table-hopping, seeking shelter from wet spray. Finally, clear blinds were lowered for protection and we were able to eat our delicious meal in dry comfort. Considering the high quality of the fresh, tasty meals we were served, prices almost always amazed us, as three could eat like kings for under $5 each, easily. Since we were the only customers that afternoon, the service was very good! We found this to be true in most locations, unless we chose an upscale eatery.
By the time the rain stopped, we were quite content to make the short climb back up the road and read books. At least I was. Kees felt compelled to rent a motorbike and join the throngs of bikers weaving up hairpin turns through the valleys.
He took Gina with him for a few hours to ride down the valley, to Lovina. They found a fine little beach hotel there for the next leg of our adventure, right on a black sand beach, between 2 fishing villages. We eventually moved there by taxi, after our fourth night in charming Munduk, but I am getting ahead of myself.
Upon their return that day from Lovina, the two of them were wrapped in thin blue plastic, as another warm downpour had forced them to pop into a shop for $1.00 rain ponchos. Kees was so invigorated by the fun he'd had driving, despite the wet, that he convinced me to hop on the scooter for another adventure, while Gina went to change into dry things.
I had been curious about an extremely large tree that could be seen across the valley, several kilometers away. It towered above all others in the clove forest easily, so I knew it wasn't a clove tree. Off we shot, buzzing through the village and up toward the hills beyond. We had to stop for a liter or two of petrol, sold in recycled milk jugs at roadside shops. We were directed to the huge tree by the simple sweep of an old man's arm, up a road past breathtaking views of the villages below.

The massive Banyan tree had been blessed and protected by a small Hindu temple near its sprawling base, with fabric bunting wrapped around its monumental girth. Cave-like chambers under the exposed root system made for mysterious hiding places, where the air seemed to hum with energizing life. As I stood in timeless reverence at the heart of the tree, I felt calm and safe, knowing that I was protected by many tons of living, growing wood around me, reaching both far above and below. The tree is over 750 years old and surely has many stories to tell, if only we only knew how to listen.
I had to climb it. Handing over my sunnies, phone/camera and bag to Kees, I began the ascent. It was easy at first, well worn by thousands of climbers before me. But as I climbed higher, several meters above the blessed bunting, I found myself weaving my body through smaller places, forced by solid growth to the branches and root systems on the exterior of the tree. Finally, I had exhausted all safe options and had to listen to the message offered; time to enjoy the view. I respectfully swung and twisted my way to a perch about 35 meters up the tree , then turned and balanced, looking out over an emerald valley below. I'm not sure if it was the beauty of the view or the empowering energy given off by the tree that made me feel so euphoric. It was a moment like no other, to be placed with my most precious memories and treasured for a lifetime.

Sunday 7 October 2012

Bali: Awakening

Sleeping in late is a good thing and I had full intentions of doing that, but when a spectacular mountain view presents itself, moments before sunrise, what would you do? I felt compelled to rise and watch from our balcony. Despite some cloud cover over the peaks, there was much to see. It wasn't a gorgeous sunrise full of wondrous colors, but rather a gentle illumination of life below me. Like ants stirred to dazzling activity once their hill has been disturbed, light revealed the valley's energetic rush of workers. Veins of motorbikes and trucks flowed towards emerald rice paddies, terraced into the valleys below. Hundreds of workers, farmers and schoolchildren were on the move, following their regular routes through plantations of clove trees that perfumed valleys with cool spicy scent. Everywhere I looked there was action, as treetops swayed with clove pickers, high on their bamboo stilt ladders.

Saturday 6 October 2012

Day Five: Travel to Munduk

We were very pleased to successfully negotiate for the driver who had picked us up at the airport on arrival.  Having Dewa with us meant that we could pay him well and enjoy his happy laughter, pretty good English skills and great driving.  I felt a bit bad about dismissing the first driver we were offerred, but all of us knew that Dewa was our first choice. Enough said!

We set out early on our departure from Ubud, not clear on where to go, but trusting our driver to guide us to a few of the highlights along our way to Munduk.  He did this very well, and so much more!  Dewa made sure that we saw all that we had inquired about, even though much of it was in the opposite direction to where we needed to end up. As photos will show, we enjoyed Elephant Cave and Temples, jungle temples, a coffee plantation where we tasted the famed Kopi Luwat, Mount Batur, the volcanoe and twin lakes, and even a couple of spontaneous stops for shopping opps. By day's end we had zigged and zagged through the island, eaten well seen it all and still made it to our hotel in the mountainous jungle, along narrow roads that rimmed volcanic craters and down a 5 km hill of about a million hairpin turns. He was so good that we never felt a bit unsafe or got car sick.  I was happy with that! Upon arrival in Munduk, we discovered our hotel room to be considerably nicer than we had expected.  With canopied beds and two rooms, a great ensuite and good linens, we were satisfied.   But there was more!  We had the most amazing view over a whole valley of terraced rice paddies and forests of clove trees.  We are above most trees and at night you can hardly tell where the sparkling lights on the mountains stop and the stars begin. The rooftop restaurant has spectacular views all around, great food and prices right out of the sixties...fresh watermelon juice for $1 and all meals under $4.
Have I mentioned how much we are enjoying Bali?

Day Four in Ubud: Monkeys and Massages

No trip to Bali can be complete without ample massages, one of the cheapest pleasures available.  At about one tenth of the price in Canada, spa services are plentiful and very good, or so we had heard.  It was time to treat ourselves to the experience.
Our day began with another fresh fruit tray and banana crepes, delivered to our rooms. Any primate would love that.
Next, we strolled down the road to revisit the Monkey Forest, Gina's favourite place in Ubud. We followed new paths this time, ending up at a gate that led out to a rice paddy, near a wood carver's house.  Of course, we had to check that out. It was all very beautiful, as if time had forgotten that corner of Ubud.  We fell into a bit of a reverie, mesmerized by his enchanting wares, nearly forgetting that we had appointments to keep.  A purposeful stroll through the Monkey forest is nearly impossible, with monkey antics of all sorts that distracted us, but we made it out in good time and found our next destination, the Three Monkeys Cafe.  My pals, Linda and Allan, had recommended this place as one of their favourites, discovered on their visit here a few years ago.  We just had to check it out!
Following the theme of the day, Gina and I had fruit drinks and vegetarian dishes for our lunches.  Kees enjoyed his customary Nasi Goring, a dish that always makes him happy. Add Bintang, and he's just downright cheerful!
Next, a driver arrived, right on schedule, to take us to the Putri Spa.   It had  received many great reviews on Tripadvisor, so I felt confident that we were in for a treat.  Our indulgence of "the works" was about to begin.
Oh, what a wonderful day it was!  We all enjoyed warm foot baths, pedicures and manicures. Then came a full body massage for an hour, followed by an exfoliating sugar scrub and oil rub, gentle shower and flower bath.  Ahhhh...would I like ginger tea and coconut biscuits while I soaked?  Yes.please! A warm shower rinsed away any petals that clung to my very relaxed body, before I was led away to another room for a full facial.  I am not sure what happened then, as I dozed off somewhere between the cucumber scrub and the orange scented facial peel....awoke to Gina's gentle snores on the bed beside me. Next came a cream bath hair treatment and neck massage, leading into shoulders and scalp massage.....leading to total bliss. Nirvana. I think we all floated out of there five hours later and $42 dollars apiece lighter. Enlightenment has dawned.  We must book more Bali massage sessions, soon!
 Such a day would not be complete without sushi. There it was, at a small restaurant not 300 meters from the spa. We had some.  It was very good.
So was the refreshing walk home,  past some of the grand older hotels along the Campuahan River, with stunning views of jungled valleys and picturesque trails along rice paddies.  Such trails were tempting in the fading light, but out of our range that day. Some things are just not meant to be.....but may happen another time. I would love to return to Ubud another day, with a better idea of where to go and what to do, but this time we managed. Quite well, indeed!
It was more out of fondness for the ambiance than hunger that led us back to the Warung Labalaba for a chilled watermelon juice and a vegetarian snack that evening.  We enjoyed just relaxing and visiting, catching up on a bit of email and planning our next day's events. We had a very nice chat with the owner of the small  restaurant, whose father had made two of the stunning acrylic paintings that I had been admiring all week.  They are of  beautiful  parrots in the jungle, so common and yet so unique.  I am glad I asked her about them. I wish I could look at them every day, but they are not for sale, nor do I want to own them. They belong in her restaurant, as her favourites.  I am glad that I enjoyed them, too.
 So much has happened in a few short days that one needs time to reflect and appreciate it all. Time...time to rest.

Ubud: Day Two

This was our  day for exploring the market, sights  and shops around Ubud. Nothing can prepare you for that.
Despite our relatively early start, we found ourselves moist with perspiration soon after leaving the Jangkrik Homestay. We wandered down Hanoman Road, poking into a few shops, but only made it about half a kilometer before stopping for a lusciously cool watermelon juice, freshly blended with ice. Our will to spend was weak and enthusiasm for bartering was low, but at first we enjoyed the maze of market stalls on three levels, losing ourselves in what seemed to be endlessly repeating rows of sarongs, wooden penises, intricate carvings, silver jewelry, baskets and plastic footwear. More rows of spices, vegetables, mystery foods and colorful clothing, wooden puzzles, masks and dried fish all merged into the confusion of sellers who called out for our attention, pleading, "You come look, I give you good price!  Morning price!  You be first.  Where you from?" Such bombardment of the senses takes a certain kind of stamina, which we were low on. Meanwhile,  Gina happily hunted for small gifts to take home for friends. We soon  had to escape to the auto-misting coolness of a nearby restaurant, oddly named "OOPS".  We must have seemed somewhat frazzled, as gorgeous young waitresses, with gracious manners and beautiful, shy smiles made sure we were served refreshments promptly.  They moved us to cooler seats and were even kind enough to retrieve bags and purses from the table we left....we must have been zombies! In no rush to leave, we sampled light fare and more liquids before venturing again into the midday heat.  By this time my hands and feet felt like tight puffy sausages, with heat rash setting in.  Gina had the start of blisters on both feet, but Kees was happily sloshing along after quaffing a few Bintang, his new beer of choice. If he had any aches or discomforts, we never knew.
A few sights to see down the main street included the Lotus Gardens and an interesting temple, open to the public during the day and used for traditional Balinese dance performances at night.
We headed south to the Ubud Palace, which is now used as museum for traditional Balinese art.  It was a good choice, as entry included a cold drink and the cool buildings had smooth marble floors, perfect for wandering in bare feet.
The art was relatively inaccessible to me, as the intricacies of Hindu tales remain a mystery.  Gina caught on better than I did, gaining a solid appreciation for Barong, a kind of king of Balinese good spirits, who appears in many paintings. I enjoyed the fine wood carvings and beautiful gardens the most, as well as the demonstration of woodcuts and intricate writing on dried palm leaves. And the cold drink.
Heading out into the blazing late afternoon heat and traffic was not a pleasant trip.  We considered taking a taxi back to our rooms, but spotted a chance to make a break for the very appealing tanks of cool water in a shop across the road.  I had read somewhere about foot massages given by schools of tiny fish, which actually nibble gently on tired toes to remove only the dead skin cells on your feet.  Guess what-it's wonderful!! All three of us plunked down on comfy padded benches that surrounded a tank of wee anchovies, submerged our hooves, and PRESTO! Ten minutes of cool bubbles and our sore feet were happy again.  It took some courage to get over the tickles of a thousand little mouths, but the testimonial of the previous happy clients made our decision easy. Plus, it felt like a cool bath of bubbling Sprite. Plus it was only about $4.50! Check another one off the bucket list.

Our trek home was a bit cooler and much more energized. We felt pretty good about getting a bit of exercise, after all the delicious food we had been enjoying. In some of the shops, it was even pleasant chatting with the sellers who didn't seem as aggressive about pushing their wares.
After showers, fresh clothes and a chat with our new friend, David (who also had a room at the same homestay) we all headed off to find the Wayan Cafe, one that had been made famous by the movie, "Eat, Pray, Love."  Our plan was to meet fellow exchange teachers there for dinner.  It was also David's birthday, so we were happy to treat him to a meal.  We found Louanne, Keith and their son Konner settled into a low table surrounded by cushions.  Although it looked comfy, sitting on the floor to eat is not, really.  We managed, but with average food and stiff legs, we were relieved to dine quickly and head out. Streets were not well lit and notoriously uneven, so we made our way back to Hanoman Street with care. There was more celebrating going on at the temple, the last night of a three day Full Moon Celebration.  We listened to Balinese music and watched the crazy comedy for a while, not understanding much, but enjoying the colourful costumes and interesting dances, festive crowds and traditional clothing.
It had been quite a full day.  We tumbled into bed, dreaming of bright colours, cooler places and quiet nights. I  was very pleased to have a fan over our bed and fresh sheets to rest on.