What Do You Call This?
It’s hardly fair to say this trip is work. Even with all the packing and planning, who are we kidding? We aren’t holding paying jobs this year, and we can drink a beer with our lunch every day if we want to (but we don’t, well, maybe just the really hot days.) At the same time it’s hard to think of this as just vacation; there’s a lot of effort that goes into getting us from place to place, keeping us fed, keeping the kids on track with school, etc. Somehow when we were diligently watching our smarthistory.com videos and trooping to museums in Europe, it managed not to feel like a vacation but this sure does.
We passed through Bali twelve years ago and knew it would be easy to take. Back then we splurged on three nights in an über plush resort that had shown up in all the travel mags called the Begawan Giri (now the COMO Shambhala) with a lovely infinity pool, decadent spa treatments and a butler. A butler! Then we continued on as our normal backpacker selves in a place that was $15/night which included a delicious breakfast, and found we liked that just as well. That’s the thing with Bali; the sky’s the limit, but the Balinese aesthetic is so eye pleasing, and the people so nice and the prices so cheap, there’s no need to go there. For under $50 a night you can go here instead.
We spent our first two nights in beachy Sanur, just as a way point, and that was a good thing since AirAsia decided to leave the grownup’s bags behind in Kuala Lumpur. It had to happen eventually, right? It took some nervous hours and a trip back to the airport, but eventually we were reunited, and it felt so good. From Sanur we took a boat out to laid back Nusa Lembongan, just for fun. We rented motor scooters to get around, and did some of the best snorkeling I’ve ever seen. Growing up in Maine it’s easy for me to get excited about warm, clear water and lots of pretty fish but I swear this spoiled us forever.
After four nights, we puttered back to the “mainland” and caught a bus which wound up to Ubud. Before we got here folks told us, “It’s changed!” And it has. The roads are busier, the traffic scarier. Many blame Elizabeth Gilbert and the success of Eat, Pray, Love for Ubud’s growth spurt- that Conde Nast Traveller called it the best city in Asia in 2010 didn’t help, either- but isn’t that a story that’s been told before? Beautiful, charming place gets attention and attracts so many visitors it stops being charming? There are pockets of loveliness now in the glimpses of courtyards and peaceful rice paddies down the lanes, but it’s harder to see. The streets are packed with trinket shops and restaurants cheek by jowl behind uneven sidewalks, every other stoop has a group of women offering massages or taxi drivers wanting to know if we needed transport today? Tomorrow? And then, how long we are staying, what we have seen, what we plan to see, if we need them to take us to the temples, beach, volcano, rice paddies, safari park, marine park, night market, white water rafting, their own home for cooking lessons with their wife? Honestly I started to feel a little panicked we weren’t DOING enough. What was our “program” anyway? What happened to just getting cheap massages and doing yoga overlooking a rice paddy?
So why the heck did we come to Ubud again? Well, it’s the cultural capitol of Bali, and we do love our cultural enrichment around here (because we’re not on vacation.) We enjoyed a batik class, although a monkey tried to steal Della’s results on the way home, thinking the plastic bag she was carrying contained something edible! Della, so brave, would not give up her project, even though the thing was in the process of climbing up her leg before Vance told it off. They are such jerks. (I don’t know why I booked a hotel so close to the Sacred Monkey Forest. Somehow in my mind’s eye, I remembered them as smaller and more appealing than the greedy, foul creatures with big, pointy teeth we’ve encountered in Sri Lanka, Borneo and now Bali. If we want to go into town, we either walk a 300 meter gauntlet of monkeys or take a taxi several kilometers around. Awesome planning that! But I digress…) We took in a shadow puppet performance which was a little hard to follow, so bless the guys for including some fart humor in their act and winning Miles over. We also took a class for making canung sari (the lovely little offerings that are scattered all around homes, temples and businesses daily) a cooking class and a dance performance. And yes, I admit it, a cheap massage or two.
We were lucky to be here as preparations for Galungan, an important festival on the Balinese calendar that celebrates the return of gods and ancestors for a ten day period, were under way. As our guesthouse sits in the back of a traditional family compound, we’ve witnessed the regular beehive of activity that went into preparing elaborate offerings, spiffing up the many statues and decorating the bamboo pole, or penjor, that was eventually erected in front of the house. Watching these poles sprout up all over town was great fun as was seeing everyone dressed up and taking offerings to the temples (the women riding side saddle on the back of motorbikes in their tight sarongs, balancing big trays or baskets as well as themselves I’ll never know how.) On the afternoon of Galungan itself, groups of kids playing drums and gongs accompanied the furry Barong (a mythical lion-dog creature) on his circuit down the streets and through compounds, helping to restore the balance of good and evil for all.
So not a bad few weeks! We have a late flight on Sunday, which gives us time to see the last Hobbit movie in Denpasar (for a dose of a different kind of culture.) Then we’ll continue on to Australia where we’ll meet Vance’s parents for a low key Southern Hemisphere Christmas- small gifts only and I’m hoping there will be enough equipment in our rental kitchen for a batch of Christmas cookies. Wherever you are and whatever you celebrate, happy holidays!