I left UK on May 19th for 10 months of freedom and exploration with a Round the World ticket. Will I find New Zealand as perfect as it was fifteen years ago? How has Australia changed? Will I learn any Spanish in S America?

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Sanur to Ubud by car

Rules for entry to temple
Purification baths at Jungle Temple
I wasn't fast enuogh so you can only just make out the snake hiding with a frog in its mouth
Harvesting Rice
Scoops Owl
Crowned Pigeon frmo Papua
Lonely Cassowary
Monkey on back of another monkey?
Motif on decorated seats at Batubalan performance space
Gamelan player
Rangda - the evil witch
Gamelan musicians
Barong dancer

* 15,855 Ind rupiah = 1.00UK
*Nasi Campur - rice(nasi) with a bit of everything - egg, meat, satay, vegetables
*Mie gooreng = mie are noodles
Bali is part of Indonesia but it is the only island in the Indonesian archipelago that has Hindu as its main religon. The other islands, Java, Sumatra, Borneo, Lombok , Flores and Timor are all Muslim. Recently there has been a large influx of Muslims from the other islands keen to cash in on Bali's relative prospertity. Not many Hindus are happy about this - it will bring problems - they say, rather guardedly and my driver Ketut went distinctly quiet and lost his laugh when I noted how there seemed to be mosques appearing everywhere. I think the Balinese feel invaded and worry about the future. Already the capital Denapsar is now 50/50 Muslim/Hindu. I need not say anymore about bombs and financial impact which is never far from a conversation with a Balinese person.
After three nights in Sanur and constant offers of transport whenever I went out of the hotel I thought I'd take up the offer of showing me round the rice fields and various temples and combine it with changing location to Ubud. So I bade a fond farewell to Segara Agung - lovely hotel - and they gave me a gift of a fan embossed with their name. Sweet.

I had a full day in the car with Ketut ( which means child number 4) Child one is called Wayan, number two is Made, number three is Nyoman and number four - Ketut. If you're a boy you are I Ketut if you are a girl you're Ni Ketut!
Some of these Balinese idiosyncracies came back to me over the last few days - including a few words - kuching is cat and anjing is dog. Arak is the island spirit and bintang is the not so great Bali Beer ( not after being spoilt in Australia where I developed a taste for South Australian Coopers- no preservatives or additives)
Of course the first thing Ketut asked was are you married and as we were going to be in the car together all day and I did not want to have to do any fending off I invented a husband called Tommy who stayed at home in the UK due to work and who I met at work. This almost fooled Ketut but he kept asking questions so I don't think he was convinced and made some bawdy jokes about snakes and my husband after we saw one in an irrigation ditch at laughed and giggled like a child at his own hilarity. He has one son and is building up money before having another. the policy which I saw advertised 17 yrs ago is still in force here - dua anak cucup - which translates as -two children are enough - in an effort to stem the burgeoning population.It seems to be working but I can only imagine the effect on Balinese culture where everyone is either a Wayan or a Made and there are no Ketuts or Nyomans.
Ketut asked if I'd like to see a Barong performance - 9.30am every morning - just outside of Denpasar - actually I didnt notice us leaving Denpasar as it has spread now to envelope Batubalan where the performance was . I thought OK why not - so paid out 50,000r ( or 3.50 UK) to see a performance laid on daily for tourists - which was wonderful! Colourful theatrical costumes and live gamelan orchestra and although I've seen the famous kechak I've never seen Barong - which features a witch figure, Rangda, with Strewelpeter fingernails and long hair which according to Ketut is made from dried pineapple plant fibres (?!)and females playing male roles in a nice alternative to the usual role reversal (apart from Panto I suppose and come to think of it some operas). Lots of eye and hand movements as in Indian dances of Kerala.
Ketut then drove me to Bali Bird park - which was a bit naughty of me as I walked rather gingerly around it on teh very slippery green concrete paths - but did sit for half an hour to watch bird flying display - amazing seeing macaws, hornbills and scoop owls in flight at such close quarters.
But seeing some birds so closely confined was a bit disturbing - and it was tempting to see if you could open the cage doors and let them out though not all are native Balinese birds so not a good idea of course.
Felt especially sorry for a pair of cassowaries - who were seperated by a metal door - one knew the other was just on the other side and kept forlornly going up to the door as if hoping each time that it would be magically open. THe other cassowary sat looking dejected on the other side, collapsed on its huge thick scaley legs, its yellow neck and blue head pointing towards the muddy compacted ground.
I saw the rare Bali starling - (white with a blue face) hardly existent anymore due to poaching - worth a lot to collectors of birds - who are prepared even to steal from the bird park - so it doesn't have a bright future.
Best part of all was the Papua aviary - no humans in there - but plenty of birds rooting away in the lush vegetation - birds of paradise displaying their colours and crowned pigeons bowing and booming in a most extraordinary way. I instantly wanted to go to Papua - were also birds whose name I didn't get who were miaowing above me. Next big highlight was driving through rice fields after a rather miserable buffet lunch at a deserted and overpriced tourist place - it is custmoary to buy your driver lunch too - teh guidebook indicates just a simple meal will do but here , with according to Ketut no other option for miles - I had to pay about fifteen pounds for both of us - which in is extortionate compared to other places - adn teh quality was lousy. Ketut to be fair persauded the management to knock off 10,000 rupiah as the food was cold and drying out but they then tried to sneak it onto the bill - but I caught them out! 80 and 20 does not add up to 110!They just giggled of course.It isn't the money - it's the principle - no one likes being treated just like an automatic cash dispenser and you also only want to pay for quality not rubbish!
More wildlife
Last time I was in Bali - 1989- I travelled round by public transport - bemo - and wasn't able to stop when I saw a photo so this was real luxury. We drove through rice fields near Jatiluhiwa , which means beautiful place or near enough. I had to pay a 10,000rupiah entrance fee which goes to the farmers according to Ketut. At this point Ketut turned off the air con and wound down the windows , suddenly he stopped the car - Can you hear that? I could hear high pitched squeaking - something in distress - Ketut went to the irrigation ditch - Look ! Snake! And sure enough there was what he said was a mamba - but beacuse of its beautiful colouring - red head and bluish body - was surely a coral snake? With two frog legs sticking out of its mouth. Poor frog!
But after that we heard that noise several times as we drove along. The snake swam up the ditch when it saw us, trying to hide in some weeds on the side- as did a man on a bicyle hung with different coloured plastic wares when we stopped for me to take a photo - he hung back and hid behind a bush - so we carried on. It's easy to get carried away in pursuit of photos - you have to set your own moral/ethical limits and boundaries and persuing a man who quite clearly didn't want his picture taken.
We arrived in Ubud later than planned after a visit to a jungle temple and I got Ketut to drop me near hotel in Monkey Forest Road - which was a Lonely Planet ( LP) recommendation - Oki Wati. It was full of course - I should have known better than to try somewhere recommeded in the only book people buy - although this is low season - post Easter pre Summer holidays when Bali is inundated with American and Japanese tourists - but they did have a room in a building nearer Monkey FOrest Road but further away from pool - I got them to drop $5 off the price - but my initial feelings on arriving in a mayhem of cars and mopeds and westerners everywhere - was Quick Ketut! take me back to Sanur! ( also known as Snore accoring to LP) .
I didn't recognise this Ubud at all and at first I didnt like it one bit- where there used to be quiet dirt streets and little cornupcopia shops lit by paraffin lamps were now glass fronted European shopfronts with neon signs and white tiled floors and tarmaced streets busy with cars, cars cars - everywhere. A big a shock as going back to Kyrenia in N Cyprus in 2005 which has similary been transformed over the space of 20 years.

It was growing dark - so I went out to try and find somewhere to eat without going very far ; it started to pour with rain - I went just across the top of the football pitch opposite , on the other side of Monkey FOrest Road and passed the first place - very posh looking then teh next place and then a young boy handed me a photocopied menu and I saw the handwritten white menu board and knew immediately this was hopeful! This was Arie's Warung- (warung is cafe in Indonesian) and the simple interior with check cloth tables and paraffin lamps reassured me that this was at least an Indonesian place run and owned place not a western investment restuarant - there were a lot of westerners eating there though - so there was some atmosphere - I had Nasi Campur for 15,000 rupiah - ( in Sanur it cost me 35,000 rupiah)and a bottle of Bintang for 11,000. Arie knows how to pull in the punters and keep them coming back - he handed me a succession of laminated reviews from Michelin Guide and other international eating guides all rating him very highly in the "simple" category. Then there were also 4 volumes of reviews by previous customers , most of whom raved about the Smoked Duck - Betulu - which is a classic Indonesian dish - so of course I had to book a smoked duck for the following night . Arie is a little man who if not a restuarnater would have probably liked to have been a stand up comedian - he liked to make little jokes in En glish and then fake a little laugh putting his hand up to his mouthas if he had said something naughty and then shading his shoulders with laughter - an affectation that was rather overused and so wore very thin by night two but I am sure many people find him charming and he freely writes out useful little phrases in INdonesian for dealing with the constant offers or requests to buy and helpful pointers as to what to see in Ubud. But I think it is his wife who does the cooking - which is worth every rupiah and the main reason after all why the place is so recommended - my Nasi campur was the first food apart from street stall food that actually tasted real - real food.

When I was last in Ubud I ate every night at the night market - the Pasar Malam - I asked Arie where it was as I thought it was on the main street near the main market but I hadn't seen it - he told me it was closed by the government because the tourists complained about the way plates were just dipped in water in between customers - I didn't buy this - far more likely I thought was the explanation that I got from someone else ,not in the restaurant trade I might add, that the restaurant owners complained to the government that they weren't getting enough business as all the tourists were going to the night market to eat beacuse it was cheaper ( and probably better) plus the fact that the government reaps 10 % tax on all restaurant meals and the restaurants also add 5% service tax. So poor old traditional night market was closed. What a loss! I remember it as a highlight of Ubud - but I think in other less touristy towns the night market lives on.
After my meal I repaired to bed - I can't help using that language -it still feels a bit like a colony here - although the Dutch finally relented and let Bali get its independance after the second world war. I haven't met or heard many Brits here - most tourists are French, Australian or Dutch and the Balinese aren't familiar with the term UK.
Sound of cicadas in the grass and frogs and mopeds beeping though pretty much everyone has gone to bed by 10pm. Thankfully clubs and loud bars which are the preserve of Kuta have not made it to Ubud which is the town of artists, music, dance and food.


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