Friday, January 22, 2010

Ubud, Bali, Indonesia

Ahhhhh….now this is more like it.  THIS is the Bali we were dreaming about (at least the one I was…Mohit’s still holding out for deserted, and *clean* white sand beaches).  The roads surrounding Ubud are curvy and the scenery alternates between liquid expanses of bright green rice shoots, dense jungle of ferns and bamboo, and suddenly steep ravines with trickles of water tumbling below to narrow rivers.

Our hotel is a collection of terraced villas amid a still blue pool and overhanging gardens.  We have an airy, sunny, top-floor room with a four-poster bed draped with netting (for decoration only, since there are barely any biting bugs here) that opens onto a terrace with a beautiful carved wood bench.   From the terrace, we have a tree-top view of the hillsides beyond planted with rice and edged with tall coconut trees, over which the sun sets in the evening.  Tasty fresh-to-order breakfasts are included and this all sets us back a whopping $36 USD per night.  There is one drawback- Mohit’s been fighting a cold these past few nights and he’s been woken up in the early mornings by a persistent barking dog next door.  But we’ve looked at some of the other options nearby and have decided to stay put for now.

This town is more laid back.  The sidewalks are still lined by girls handing out pamphlets for spas and massages, and men trying to sell us taxi rides.  But life here moves at a slower pace, the shops are brimming with paintings, handmade silver jewelry, dyed batik fabrics, pretty baskets and hand-woven ikat fabrics.  The traffic is less urgent.  Every restaurant has a fountain or a rice paddy view or a garden.  There’s plenty to keep us occupied and happy here for weeks, we think we’ll stay for 5 or 6 days.

On our first afternoon in town we decided to explore the Sacred Monkey Forest that’s at the bottom of the hill on the outskirts of town.  The sanctuary consists of a series of paved paths cutting through a tall, dim forest, with a few temples scattered within, and is inhabited by a band of grey Balinese macaques.  At first glance the monkeys are cute.  We saw tiny baby monkeys with black hair clinging to their mother’s bellies, and pairs of young monkeys chasing each other and playfully rolling around.
But then one of the big grey males with a fuzzy beard started stalking Mohit.  Unlike many of the other people nearby, we didn’t have any food, so we couldn’t figure out why he wouldn’t leave Mohit alone.  Suddenly he lunged and yanked the yet-unopened bottle of water out of  Mohit’s hand and triumphantly sat down in the middle of the path.  He promptly punctured the bottle with his sharp teeth, then held the bottle aloft and let the streaming water fall into his mouth.  Then he grabbed the top with his little grey hands, unscrewed the cap, and chugged the rest.
Mohit was annoyed.  I was laughing, and making fun of the shriek Mohit let out when the monkey lunged at him.  However, as soon as I stopped giggling, two monkeys started scrambling towards me.  I shrieked even louder than Mohit and backed away quickly.  They chased after me and I screamed and ran backwards even faster, trying to shoo them away.  They kept after me and it was only after I nearly toppled off the side of the path and barely missed tumbling down a steep forested hillside that they finally gave up.  This time Mohit was laughing.

On our second day, I treated myself to a wonderfully cheap three hours of spa bliss.  I was massaged with a fragrant jsamine-scented oil, followed by a gentle green tea exfoliating scrub.  Afterwards, I rinsed off and then soaked in a warm bath filled with floating red and purple flowers.  A girl brought me a plate of fresh sliced papaya and a cup of tea with big chunks of ginger at the bottom.  I topped the morning off with a foot massage and pedicure.  Now this is vacation.

In the afternoon, we followed a recommendation in Lonely Planet for a four hour trek along Campuan Ridge, above the Gunung Agung River, through tiny rural villages, past periodic isolated art galleries, and among more rice fields.  We bought a tiny traditional Balinese painting of tropical foliage and colorful birds.  We came back to town sweaty, exhausted, but thrilled with the amazing scenery.  This is a beautiful slice of earth here.

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