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Friday, April 8, 2011

Indonesia Part Seven: Dancing, Illness and Monkeys in Ubud

In Part Six, Todd and I had a wonderful time diving in Tulamben, on the northeast coast of Bali.  After four nights, we moved on to the artist town of Ubud, in central Bali.

The table on our balcony at Alam Shanti.
The closer we got to Ubud, the less it rained, and while we were there, the sun was out pretty much the whole time.  It did rain some, but we're in the tropics, so that is to be expected.  In Tulamben, the rain was usually coming from the ocean, and it would apparently stop when it hit up against the volcanoes.  There it would sit, dumping water on us for hours on end.  Since the rain was never getting past the volcanoes, when we went south to the other side, it suddenly cleared up.  This was excellent news!

We arrived at our hotel, Alam Shanti, in the early evening.  We felt a little nervous and out of sorts when we got there.  Previously, we'd been under the protective wings of Matt and Ellen in Jakarta, Weka in Sorong, and Christiane in Tulamben, but now we were very much on our own.  The hotel was very Balinese, and it was quite beautiful.  I had reserved the nicest room in the hotel, which was called the "Gangga" room and included a rice field view, a HUGE balcony and a beautiful outdoor courtyard and bathroom.  We shared our building with the room below us, and our building was surrounded by a courtyard.  Both the Gangga room and the lower room (Yamuna) shared a private pool.  It was absolutely stunning.  The room seemed gigantic!
I'm reading up on Ubud on our balcony in our
hotel room at Alam Shanti (yes, that's our balcony!)

I loved this hotel.  We overlooked the rice paddies while we ate breakfast and showered, and birds were all around all time (although there were also bats at night).  There were geckos in the room, including one (we think) that would randomly make a creaking noise but never showed itself.  Mostly, the geckos stayed in the bathroom, where they'd eat mosquitoes and ants.  The bathroom was covered in ants, in fact.  We really couldn't leave any food anywhere, because ants would attack it with amazing vigor.  This happens to be the same in most tropical places that we visit, so no big deal.  I put my Jolly Ranchers that I'd brought from home (and had been lugging with me from place to place, having eaten a total of ONE in Tulamben) in the mini fridge, and promptly forgot about them until we were on the plane heading home several days later.

Since the sun was setting around the time that we were arriving, we decided to try and be simple for dinner.  I had so been looking forward to Ubud the entire trip because the food there was supposed to be out of this world good.  I was ready for great food!!!  We walked up the road a bit to a restaurant called Laka Leke.  It was owned by the same people who owned our hotel, and since it was Monday, it was featuring a traditional Balinese dance show during dinner.
Sinta and the White Monkey (other
monkeys below)

We were seated around the side of the area where the show would take place, and were directed to a buffet dinner.  We had the option of ordering from the menu, but I felt intimidated choosing and decided to just go for the buffet.  They had all of the traditional Indonesian food we'd come to expect, rice, noodles, etc.  I also had some salad, mayonnaisey potato salad, and some fruit.  They brought us welcome drinks, and I drank both mine and Todd's.  I was so thirsty!  The food was just ok, but I ate a bunch.  Then, it was time for the show.

The Kecak dance originated in Bali in the 1930s.  Most Balinese dances are accompanied by Gamelan music, but with Kecak, the music is created by the players in the dance.  There were around 150 men in the chorus, chanting the music and dancing during the show.  It's also called the Monkey Dance or Fire Dance, and during the performance a large bonfire was built in the middle of the stage.  I can only describe the music as chanting.  Todd took some videos during the performance.  They're very dark, but they're also the only way I can explain the dance and what it sounds and looks like:

There was a story to the dance, and it was a good thing that before the show we were given the story.  I totally would not have understood what was going on if I hadn't read it first.  Honestly, even though I knew the story, I was confused.
Todd and me with some of the dancers

The dance is the Indian story Ramayana.  Rama is married to his beautiful wife, Sita.  She is kidnapped by King Rahwana and taken away.  Rama sends the White Monkey, his best warrior to fight Rahwana and get Sita back.  Sita at first does not believe that the White Monkey is real, and thinks it is a trick from Rahwana.  The monkey shows her a piece of jewelry of Rama's so that she will believe him, and she does.  The White Monkey then fights Rahwana and defeats him, and Sita is returned to Rama.

I had many questions about this story, and none of them were really answered by the dance, but that's fine.  In the next video, you can see the White Monkey and Sita.

After the show, we walked back to the hotel.  During the walk, my stomach started to hurt.  As the night went on, it hurt more and more.  By the very early morning, I was in total agony and spent WAY more time than necessary in the bathroom.  And, that's when I realized - I had broken nearly every rule of travel eating at dinner.  I had gotten so used to being coddled by the boat and then the resorts, that I had totally forgotten the lessons that I was following so diligently in Jakarta.  Let's see - I drank an unknown beverage containing ice (two of them, in fact).  I ate raw vegetables, some with skins, including lettuce greens.  I ate a mayonnaise salad that had been sitting out in the Balinese heat.  I did everything wrong.
The King

The morning was awful.  I just remained miserable in bed.  Todd had been having some gastrointestinal issues himself (although his was more acid reflux-related), so he wasn't doing that great himself.  Then, at 8am, breakfast was delivered to our room (the hotel delivered breakfast to us each morning).  I couldn't eat.  And, I always can eat.  I broke down and just sat and cried.  At that moment, I did not want to be in a foreign country.  I returned to bed.  Our bed in Alam Shanti was a four poster bed with a canopy, and the canopy had Balinese paintings on the underside, so when we were in bed, we were staring at what was basically some kind of horrific war scene.  It was very surreal, and during my time that morning, I stared at it and tried to figure out what in the world was going on in the pictures.  I never really figured it out, although I strongly feel that someone was getting attacked by an army of halved strawberries, and I am annoyed that I never took a photo of it.

Finally, around 10am, we decided to leave the room.  I had taken some medicine and I was drinking some stuff that Passport Health had sold us for the trip that was like Pedialyte (and that I had thought was a waste of money at the time).  I laid down in the little covered gazebo that was next to the pool.  I slept some, drank my Pedialyte, read my book, and to be honest, it wasn't a bad place to be sick.
Todd on the balcony

At about 12:30, Todd was getting hungry and I was feeling... stable, so we thought we'd head into town.  The hotel was actually outside of Ubud on Monkey Forest Road, and we had to walk through the Sacred Monkey Forest to get into town.  Yes, I said the Sacred Monkey Forest.  The Sacred Monkey Forest of Ubud is what it sounds - a forest with temples, a cemetery, and 350 or so long-tailed macacque monkeys.  Monkeys are revered in Balinese culture, and they are thought to keep evil spirits away from temples and sacred areas.  We were not visiting the monkey forest that day, but were heading on a path that goes around the monkey forest (so that we didn't have to pay the monkey forest's entrance fee).  I was hoping to spot a monkey from the motorbike road around the forest.

Before we even got to the monkey forest entrance, monkeys were wandering along the fence next to the road.  At the entrance, there were about 15 monkeys milling about, looking for food.  There are Balinese women selling bananas ("banana for monkey?") at the entrance, and the monkeys want them.  Bad.  I took a little video of the monkeys, so you can see exactly how many there were and how they were just there.  They were just hanging out, living their lives with us passing through.  Here is the video.  We watched the monkeys along the path, and we were careful to stay away from them because we'd been told that they bite, and that they would steal things from us.  After a short walk, we were in town.
A monkey eating a potato

Ubud is a bustling little town.  Motorbikes. Motorbikes everywhere.  There were tons of shops and cafes along Monkey Forest Road, and tons of people walking around.  Outside of the shops, there were almost always people outside trying to give us a ride.  They'd say "Taxi?  Do you need a taxi?" as we walked past, or ask us where we were going.  In fact, "Where are you going?" is the single biggest question that we were asked while in Ubud.  This is followed by "Where are you from?" The questions almost bordered on too personal at times, but we got used to it.  More questions would come later, "How long are you in Bali?"  "When did you come to Bali?"  and more and more.

Ubud also smells like rice.  The air was just sweet with the scent of rice, all the time.  Granted, I think I was super-sensitive to smells because I was sick, but since then if I am making rice and I smell it, I smell Bali.  The Balinese leave little religious offerings around everywhere.  Every house, shop and anything important had a little shrine and/or an offering in front of it.  These offerings all contain rice, so there is constantly rice all around.  We even had a little shrine at our pool, and each day offerings were left at the shrine.

Our private pool
We walked up Monkey Forest Road, me doing the best I could given how sick I felt.  I really wanted one thing - Saltines.  There are no Saltines in Indonesia, to my knowledge.  Shrimp crackers?  Yes.  So, we found a little vegetarian cafe, and I had a bowl of minestrone soup, the most calm non-Indonesian thing I could find. As much as I liked and wanted to experiment with Indonesian food, just the thought of Nasi Goreng made me feel nauseous.  Todd had also tired of Indonesian food and sought out a grilled cheese, which he said was just ok.  It was not ideal, and I felt pretty terrible.

Now, let's revisit the Indonesian bathrooms.  In Part Two, I mentioned my general confusion over the squatty toilets in public restrooms.  Well, while I was in this vegetarian restaurant, I had to use the bathroom.  There was a sign on the toilet instructing people not to stand on the toilet seat in order to squat.  Like, on the left was a drawing of a toilet with a person standing on the seat, squatting there -- with a big red X through it. On the right, the same drawing of a toilet with a person sitting on the seat (no X).  Really??  Fascinating, just fascinating, the restrooms in Indonesia.

We headed back to the room (yes, on the path around the monkey forest), and Todd convinced me to put on a bathing suit and head down to the pool.  So, I grabbed my Pedialyte and headed down.  With further convincing, I got into the pool and it actually felt really refreshing - it was pretty hot and humid, and we'd been out walking.  We read our books, dosed, and swam off and on for the rest of the afternoon.

That evening, we decided to try one of the restaurants in town, so we utilized the free shuttle that the hotel provided and headed to Terazzo.  I could tell that we would love it the second I walked in.  This was a top-notch restaurant, with modern decor, a wine list, and delicious western food.  I ordered mushroom pasta (pappardelle), and Todd had a filet.  It was so good, although I could  not enjoy it like I wanted to because I was still feeling pretty rotten.  We even had chocolate lava cake for dessert.  I had a few bites of everything, and managed to eat about half of my entree.  Then, the waitress called the hotel for us and had them send the shuttle back to pick us up.

We went back to the room and relaxed for the evening.  We'd been going to bed early and waking up early the entire trip, so our sleep schedule was to be in bed by 10:00pm.  For those of you more adventurous than us, though, there is plenty of night life in Ubud.
The shrine next to the room below us

 A view of the rice paddies from our room
Stay tuned for Part Eight... OMG, part EIGHT?  I am really long winded on this trip, so I hope it's entertaining.  Anyway, stay tuned for a better day in Ubud, where we get to see the town, go on a beautiful hike through rice paddies, and attend a Balinese funeral.

1 comment:

marathonmaiden said...

it clearly was a great vacay if you can right EIGHT parts hahah!

bummer about the food poisoning. at least you were able to be sick in a beautiful spot. silver lining?

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