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?

Monday, May 01, 2006

Ubud - busy but still beautiful

This rather beautiful lady sold me at a vastly inflated price a string of wooden monkeys
Daily offerings by a river in central Ubud
Mendra - wood carver
Anjing - who guards a house down the street and doesn't like me much
Galungan the festival which is held every 210 days in Bali ( their year is 420 days) and its counterpart Kuningan, held 10 days later is just about to really kick off- it starts officially tomorrow on 2nd May.It's their biggest festival of the year and takes place all over Bali.
Everyone is busy making offerings and decorations for the penjor ( long bamboo pole ) which every house puts up outside on the street. The penjor represents the Holy dragon (NAga Basuki) as well as the HOly Mountain Gunung Agung. In my home in Ubud - Sania's House Bungalows - all the family have been doing nothing but making offerings in readiness for the big day - folding and pinning strips of coconut leaves into small containers which will be filled with flowers and fruit and topped with incence. Yesterday morning Wayan reached up to a jackfruit tree with a sycthe attached to a bamboo pole and knocked down 4 or 5 sizeable jackfruits - some of which will be eaten and some given as offerings to the gods.
Apparently tomorrow there will be a big feast - and lots of restaurants and warung ( the small traditional cafes) will be closed so not sure where I will be eating.
The shrine outside Sania's has been given posh clothing and is wearnig a black adn gold sarong and saffron tasselled miniature umbrellas are hanging from each corner; flower heads fill baskets in the market and are selling well - marigolds and blue hydrangeas and other flowers I cannot distinguish - but all bright.
So besides the usual tourist activity - small buses everywhere and constant offers of transport there are long bamboo poles being transported through the town and a general increase in traffic to the temples and shrines.
Suckling pig is one of the delicacies cooked for the feast on Wednesday- I know because I bought some wooden rings from a craftsman called Mendra who came to the bunglaows. There are about 3 vendors who seem to be allowed entry to the grounds - one guy with paintings - I didn't buy and warned him I wouldn't but he wasnt satisfied until I looked through them all, another guy who I so far have managed to avoid and Mendra who is a lovely old man from Tampaksiring and in fact he is the man I met in the little warung down the road where I had lunch one day.
He is very thin and wears an old black and red check NZ Swanndri and has watery blue eyes .He has a very endearing and patient way about him, different from the other younger vendors who are pushy and have little charm or instinct into how to sell.
I bought some rings from Mendra which I think are designed well and are made of wood called sonokling and inlaid with silver- and another almost black wood called kalukarneg which comes from East INdonesia. He makes them himself. I am inclined to believe him from all he told me about his customers and where he sources his materials etc but you never know for sure... selling is the thing. I couldn't bargain him down either but was relieved to find out that nor had the people in bungalow near to me. Here it is the norm to bargain - for everything except food in a restaurnat - the seller will usually ask double what something is worth and then you have to haggle to get to a reasonable half way point - except I really don't have the stamina for half hour hard bargaining for everything and I hate shopping anyway so I am probably a bit of a pushover. However I do always ask if I can take "portret" photo at end of the deal so I think I do OK.
After our business was finished Mendra sat and talked to me about Bali and how life has changed - he is 60 - I told him how I remembred Ubud with dirt streets and shops with a single light bulb hanging from a wire at night and hugepacks of dogs roamnig around. The dogs are still there but less of them - but shopfronts ar all glass and gloss.He told me how he remembers first going to Kuta to sell his work on the beach in the early 60s.
Mendra told me about the 1963 eruption of Agung Gunung which was a major disaster. Apart from human casualties he remembers there being very little to eat as everything was covered in volcanic ash and leaves and plants and trees just died as did small animals. Rocks from the volcano even landed in Tampaksiring which is 50 k away.
Ihave been reading a lot and only going out in the later afternoon /evening to eat dinner in order to cut right back on walking on my left foot - though the right foot has started to display same symptoms now.
Have read some great books:

Rabbit Proof Fence - a bit of a tear jerker and incredible insight into Aboriginal life from the early 1900s to about the 70's

Erewhon by Samuel Butler -1897 - old fashinoned style makes it a bit of a plow but very relevant satire re technology and social mores.

Free Love - short stories by Ali Smith - 1995 - wonderful and poignant - love her prose and human observation - made me laugh a lot

Tirra Lirra by the River - Jessica Anderson - 1976 - brilliant book brilliant author - want to read more.

Bluebeard's Egg - Margaret Atwood - 1997? - half way through and can't put it down

Germs Guns and Steel - Jared Diamond 1997 -non fiction- slow going with all the facts - but I didn't know that Neanderthals had bigger brain than homo sapiens plus other littel unknown facts- he then fails to suggest any theories as to why the Neanderthals disappeared.

Also read Ellen Macurthur autobiog no.1 - pretty amazing - certainly a problem solver!

My room is really a seperate little one bed flat - up a short run of stairs facing the swimming pool which is only just visible through trees and flowers. My room has an adjoining wet showeroom with hot water - and a flush loo. In the main bedroom there are windows on 3 sides with mosquito screens so it is nice and light and the brick walls are painted white. Through the windows I look out onto banana trees , bamboo groves, an adjoining bungalow where they recognise me and give me a cheery wave if i am sitting out on my verandah and on right side the roof of the bungalow below. The ceiling is lined with bambo mats and the rafters meet into perfectly joined semicircles at either end of the bunglaow. there is a sink and mirror to the right of the door , a double bed and a single bed where I can put a lot of things - and a simple shelf unit wide and deep enough to take books and with a small rail for clothes. I have a bedside table and lamp.
On the verandah I have a table and three chairs and the staff bring a fresh flask of tea every morning.
Sitting out on the verandah I look out onto a bungalow roof which is covered in yellow flowers which Mendra told me are called Yellow Trousers in Balinese.There are also large coconut and date palms and the jackfruit tree and flowers, pink yellow and white in pots on the verandahs of the house next to me, old stone pots covered in green moss. Sania seems keen on caged birds - there about 4.
But other birds visit the garden regularly - a pair of olive backed sunbirds visit for pollen in white flower heads twice a day, spotted pigeons fly back and forth and coo from the top of the roofs- huge butterflies flop lazily and deceptively slowly round the garden, blue and black and yellow.
Little lizards run up and down the timber column to my ceiling and I watched from my bed as one investigated my cup of tea out on the verandah.
Up above in the afternoon there will be kites flying and swiflets soaring in groups along with big insects - I watched but the big insects don't seem to be food - whilst outside in the little road boys and men play badminton and the moped traffic slows down a little.At 6am the dawn chorus is deafening. I have found out that at my last place, Oka Wati where I paid double what I pay now ( 100,000 rupiah a night which is roughly 7UK ) the birds I saw from the balcony there were - cinnamon bittern and ....lost my page will have to look for it again - but some finches and other common but interesting birds.
Sania's Home Bungalows are just off Dewi Sita on a little narrow lane called Jalan Karna which itself is just off Monkey Forest ROad. It's a great location for me as at the top of the road is the market and main drag and at the o;ther end Dewi Sita is a quiet road which leads you to the road parallel to mine where there are lots of cheap warungs to eat.

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