Indonesia | Bali | Ubud: September 30-October 13, 2008

October 1st, 2008

We got here yesterday afternoon, and checked in to a little, basic hotel, right next to the Susanta villa. The grounds were beautifully kept, but the room was quite basic. We stayed up late last night, going over our month in the Legian area, our trip so far, and our trip in the future. We went over what we wanted to change about ourselves, our perceptions, our approach, our expectations, and even our itinerary!

But today… today was Karthik’s birthday! We woke up to some cheerful phone calls, and enjoyed the calmness that was taking over us. It was nice to notice the lotus flower in the pond, which was only a bud yesterday, bloom today! We got ready, and the guys from Susanta Villa came over to help us with our luggage to the villa.

Villa Susanta

We entered through the main door, and were in complete shock and awe! This place was absolutely perfect! It was hard to focus on what Susanta and Made (the housekeepers) were telling us about how to turn off the pool filtration every night, and when to put in the chlorine, or where the switches were to certain lights and what is around this area. We were just so happy and grateful to the universe for this place! The guys were so polite, so warm, and welcoming. They reminded us that for the next two weeks, this is our home. They offered to take us to the supermarket so that we can stock up. And when we tried to give them a tip for their help with the luggage, they reminded us that they do this because this is like their home and we’re like their family. So they refused to accept the tip, but instead gave us a warm smile, welcomed us again, and left.

Cutting his 31st birthday cake

Soon after came in Steve, the owner of the villa, with a bakery box in his hand, wishing Karthik a Happy Birthday. Yesterday, Penny had asked him to place an order for cheesecake for Karthik’d birthday today. He too welcomed us, gave us information on internet set-up, and left. We locked the door behind them and started our exploration of this beautiful villa. An open concept bathroom, with the shower sandwiched between plants. A spacious bedroom with a TV and DVD player, and a really high ceiling, with sliding glass doors to separate it from the open concept villa just outside.

Right outside the bedroom is the lounge area, with a flat screen TV, satellite, and DVD player. On one side is the kitched with two lounge chairs, and the other side is the dining table where the internet wire can be plugged in. All the walls are covered with beautiful canvased paintings, some by Steve, who also owns a paiting workshop, and others by other artists. All these areas surround a garden with lush plants and a rectangular, mid-size pool!

Villa Susanta!

Karthik headed out with Made to the supermarket, and as soon as he returned and we had put the groceries away, we jumped right in…to the pool! What an awesome feeling to be in a private pool, right in the beautiful villa with spacious living space and gorgeous greenery! That was quite the birthday present!

The cake was huge, so we cut a big piece and delivered it to Steve to share with the boys. After a beautiful day of being in the water, admiring the villa that we’d call home for the next two weeks, having internet access, and enjoying the powerful shower with beautiful plant life around us, we had some good sleep!

October 7th, 2008

We’ve been spending the last week soaking in the energy and relaxed atmosphere of our villa. Every day we’ve been enjoying our own private pool, basking in the sun, and chilling to the music playing off our laptops! We wake up to CNN every morning and follow the presidential elections as much as we can during the day and definitely watching the debates with great interest. McCain-Palin – what a joke! We’re really getting used to the natural charm of this villa and are already planning on including some of the design ‘ideas’ in our future home, although the outdoorsy aspects do mean having to deal with some insects, lizards, and the like. Karthik has fun trying to keep these pests at bay!

We’ve been religiously cooking at home, with Penny making pasta and Indian food, along with the MTR ready-to-eat packets we scored in Singapore. Susanta comes in every afternoon to clean, and offers to make us something to drink or eat as soon as he comes in! As he is leaving, he asks for our laundry, and if we need him to pick up any groceries for us. Even though we don’t take him up on the offer for cooking for us or running errands for us, he continues to ask, and to be honest, it’s kinda nice! Every couple of days he brings us fresh fruit, which is definitely welcomed.

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The other day we went for a invigorating Balinese massage at the spa right next door to our villa. The masseuses didn’t hold back in wrestling the knots and stresses out of our bodies and we ached pretty good for a couple of days after! Still, it was a worthwhile experience and we’re definitely gonna do it again before we leave. Also, we’ve been catching up on work and finishing up some projects, since we have a much better environment than Legian to work in… with Internet!

Yesterday, we went to check out the White Herons at Petulu village, a few kilometres north of Ubud. Steve, the owner, arranges for a package every Monday to take guests to see the herons roost at sunset. We drove to this picturesque little village and watched people go about their business, packing rice sacks and selling fruit and hanging out on their verandas. We walked along the street lined with trees that were ‘filled’ with herons roosting and flying about. Apparently, these are supposed to be a blessing on the village that came after a major religious ceremony in the 60’s.

Steve gave us the ‘unofficial’ story where there was a major uprising in Indonesia targeting communists and other undesirables in 1965, where a lot of people were also killed in Bali. Being a Hindu island, relatives of the dead wanted to pay respects and cremate the victims. It was only after this that the herons started to arrive and it is believed these are the ‘souls’ of the deceased returning to their homes. It was an eerie and disturbing story for the both of us, however we managed to take it with a grain of salt and enjoy the sights of the beautiful white birds flying overhead and roosting on the treetops.

After this, we headed off to Junjungan village to watch the Kecak Fire dance. Set on the grounds of the village’s main temple, each family contributes a member to participate in the all-male dance. These dancers, of which there are 150, are supposed to represent the monkeys in the Ramayana epic that are ‘watching’ the story as it happens. We got good seats and as the night sky fell, the dance began with the lighting of the main centre lamp, around which the story unfolds. We were thrilled at the ‘chak-chak’ chanting by the men and found it amusing to hear the ‘authentic’ monkey sounds being made! Eventually, the main characters appeared – Rama, Lakshman, Sita, Hanuman, and so on, with a few of them being played by the only women in the dance.

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The dance also included a couple of funny character dressed as bears that were walking around narrating the story and providing comic relief. There was also some fire-breathing with flames erupting everywhere to signify the burning of Lanka and the final war. Overall, we enjoyed the dance and the theme of monkeys that was at its heart!

October 9th, 2008

Yesteday, we rented a moped to explore Ubud and visit the Monkey Forest! It was a neat experience and Karthik managed to do a good job riding around on the crowded and narrow streets – making turns and climbing hills was another story, though! We stopped off at the Monkey Forest, which is a sacred sanctuary and a top tourist spot for Ubud. As we walked into it, we were immediately greeted by the sight of monkeys! It was an amazing sight – all these monkeys around – baby monkeys, older monkeys, pregnant monkeys, sleeping monkeys, climbing and jumping monkeys… the whole lot! Other visitors with bananas in their hand (bought outside the forest) were quickly separated from their fruits! We walked around hearing the incessant chatter of these creatures and saw them playing with each other, fighting each other, and generally monkeying around!

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There were also some temples in the forest and on the way to one of them, we crossed a bridge with overhanging trees, filled with monkeys climbing up and down vines and leaping from branch to branch. There were some cool carvings along a path that went beside a stream running through the forest – really picturesque place. On our way out of the forest, we happened to notice several pregnant monkeys slowly walking and not able to be as active in snatching food away from visitors. We hoped that they would somehow get their food. All in all, a unique and rewarding experience.

We hopped back on the moped and drove along the Monkey Forest road when Penny happened to notice a building with neat and intricate carvings. Karthik had already passed it and as it was a one-way street, we drove all around the centre of Ubud again, stopping by a musical instruments shop to buy a Gamelan, a local Balinese instrument resembling a xylophone. We also stopped by a cafe that had a very natural garden atmosphere as we sat on the raised floor and took in the beautiful surroundings as we ate our meals.

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On the way back to our villa, we visited the Ubud market – a fairly large maze of alleys and vendor stalls and got some cool coconut carvings and plates that were made of coconuts and cinnamon threads. Haggling was a given! Our last stop was the Ubud palace, a large compound consisting of open rooms raised above the ground level, all decorated with intricate Balinese sculptures and surrounded by gardens with beautiful flowering trees.

We were finally glad to be back safe and sound as it seemed like quite the adventure in independence today.

October 11th, 2008

More days just chillaxing in our pool and having an all-around good time – we really wish we had stayed here for longer. Yesterday, we rented a car to explore more of Ubud and see some of the main attractions. We stopped by a local post office first to ship out some items we’d collected while in Indonesia before driving off to our first stop – the Besakih, or Mother Temple, the largest and most important Hindu temple in Bali. On our way there, we climbed in elevation and passed several beautiful rice fields cultivated on the sides of hills. Our driver assured us there would be better ones to come later in the day. At the temple, both of had to wear sarongs – Karthik wore one supplied by the driver while Penny wore the one bought from a vendor selling them at a scenic lookout point along the way to the temple.

Apparently, we had to employ a local guide to get us inside the temple or else we would only be able to see it from outside. Having no other choice, we got one and this guide spoke good English and was a friendly chap. On our way inside the temple, we happened upon an older Sikh couple from Malaysia. We naturally stopped and chatted for a while, exchanging pleasantries and mentioning that Kuala Lumpur was our next stop. The conversation was of a fairly expected nature, however we remarked after that they didn’t really extend any hospitality (like the parents would have) to us, especially since we were going to a place where they’d been living their whole lives! Ah well – some people just have their ways.

We ventured further into the temple and our guide explained the many rituals involved in Balinese Hinduism which is remarkably different from the Indian one and the temple was the focal point of the all main ceremonies in Bali – those that happen every Full moon; bigger ones that happen every 10 years; and the biggest that happens every 100 years. The temple had all these beautiful pagodas (towers) and intricate carvings that were dedicated to the main gods, Vishnu, Brahma, and Shiva. We even stopped by and participated in a prayer, noticing just how peaceful the entire ceremony was. But, we noticed we had been here for longer than initially expected, so having seen most of the temple, we made our way back to the car.

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We headed off to the next stop – the Kintamani volcano and lake. Upon reaching the destination, we saw a large mountain lake surrounded by the remnants of a large extinct volcano. A really picturesque sight! It was lunchtime and our driver took us to a restaurant that overlooked the volcano and lake, and noticing just how many restaurants there were here, we knew it was quite a tourist-y spot. After fighting flies off our food, which was a local buffet, and paying way too much for it, we headed back to our villa.

On our way back, our driver explained he knew a plantation where they sold coffee and that we should try some. We thought (and especially Karthik) why not, so we pulled into what looked like a large plantation.

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Our driver walked us through gardens where they planted all varieties of herbs, spices, and even saw some interesting things, such as a fox-like animal in a cage that had a very unique purpose. Apparently, you could get this type of coffee made from a bean that was… ahem, ‘expelled’ from the digestive process of this creature! Well… we passed on that one. But, we saw how the locals roasted and ground their coffee beans and then sat on a veranda overlooking a large field of trees and plants of all kinds. They grew absolutely everything here – coffee, fruits, and as seen earlier, every possible herb and spice known to man! The view was amazing and the atmosphere very relaxed and natural. We enjoyed samples of different teas and coffees, including ginseng and ginger coffee. We were extremely glad our driver brought us here!

After we left, our driver said he’d take us past some amazing rice fields, and he certainly delivered! We stopped by a spot where there were rice paddies cultivated along the sides of hills that looked just out of a picture-perfect Balinese postcard. Simply awesome sight! We took some snaps, enjoyed the view, and made it back to our villa after a long day exploring Ubud. We really wish we had stayed here longer!

Our time in Ubud

October 13th, 2008

We’ve had a really awesome time here in Ubud, enjoying our villa and pool and exploring this amazing place with its wonderful energy and natural beauty. We had another round of Balinese massages tonight, did some packing. Our next two weeks will certainly be hectic, visiting four cities in four separate regions! Tomorrow, we fly out to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

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