Having had some less than enjoyable experiences on the island of Flores, we booked a flight for the next day to Bali. Initially, we had decided to skip Bali, because it is full of tourists and always will be – especially since the ‘Eat, Pray, Love’ book/movie. We were very pleasantly surprised and found Ubud to be less crowded than expected (though it is the low season).
After a quick flight and a one hour shuttle from the airport, we arrived in Ubud, an artsy town in the center of the island. We spent the next week exploring the middle of the island, never even glimpsing the beach (except from the air). We had our first hot shower in weeks. It is incredible how a little bit of comfort can change the way you experience a place. Having stayed in some very seedy places, we are used to having very basic accommodations. Ubud is packed with affordable homestays that include hot breakfast, wifi and hot water. Ours also had a balcony with great view of the surrounding volcanoes, where we spent many afternoons waiting out the daily thunderstorms.
Bali is predominately Hindu, so the culture is completely different from all the other islands in Indonesia we have visited. The houses in Ubud all have ornate entrances to beautiful hidden gardens. On the front steps, before every meal, offerings are made with little woven boxes of flowers, incense and a variety of other small goodies. Ubud has numerous art galleries and restaurants. The traditional art is unique to the island and we went to an art museum which showed different styles.
One day we went on a walk through the rice terraces, got lost, as we inevitably do and ended up in a construction site. The scenery is incredible, lush green rice stalks scattered with palm trees.
Having developed some ear issues while diving, I was able to find an English speaking doctor who gave me some drops to try. Unfortunately, all they caused an excruciating headache, which confirmed the scratch I had on my ear drum. So no diving for awhile. Hence, our inland adventure.
We hired a taxi for the day and went to see some temples around Ubud. We also stopped at the Tegalalang rice terraces and a chocolate factory in the largest bamboo structure (in the world?). We also stopped in a village known for its paintings, but we were far from able to afford the fabulous pieces they had to offer.
On one of our last days, we came across a large white bull in the street. After asking numerous people, we deduced that a priest had died and the cremation ceremony was happening that afternoon. Just our luck. We went off to lunch and returned with our sarongs and sashes to parade from the town to the Monkey Forest, where the cremation was to take place.
The parade was an amazing spectacle, men carrying the giant white bull were running in circles and there was music and drumming. People were lined up along the road, just like a Mardi Gras parade. And it was a happy affair. There was another group of guys carrying the body, which we didn’t realize was the body. It just looked like a really ornate throne.
Upon reaching the Monkey Forest, we followed the crowd and watched as offerings were made and the body was put inside the giant bull. And then they fired up the gas and burned the whole bull. (We asked about taking pictures and were told it was fine.)
At one point, a neighboring tree got a little singed and was doused by the nearby firemen. Riki got a little wet from that.
We watched for awhile, until the body dropped into the fire pit and the bull’s head fell off. Then we headed into the Monkey Forest to find some monkeys, which wasn’t hard. They were everywhere and tourists were taunting them with bananas left and right. Having heard that these guys were aggressive, we wanted nothing to do with feeding them and merely watched from afar. Except then Riki got ambushed by three monkeys, one of which managed to pull out an empty tissue wrapper from his pocket and another stole his water bottle from his backpack. I was cackling away and taking photos of his misery.
Sad to leave, but having run out of time on our visa, we headed back to the airport for our flight back over the equator to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.