Posted by Kaspar from Kathmandu, Nepal covering Aug. 29th-Sept. 6th.
Wanna be surfers and string bikini euro bathers set against the backdrop of a paradise struggling to survive real estate development is how I would describe my first impressions of the Bukit Peninsula scene. After being in Sumatra it was hard to reconcile these two worlds - remote jungle 5hrs from an airport vs. resort beaches minutes from the airport - but we were able to experience it for ourselves and found that the area around Ubud in central Bali was a saving grace.
We got into the act of being bungalow living beach goers and found the Terra Inncognita which are these idyllic looking huts at what used to be the end of the road before you reached the Uluwatu Beach (the most popular surfing beach). This used to be a quiet spot with the pool overlooking the canyon. Now the view is of a bridge that was installed a few years ago carrying traffic to Uluwatu Beach from the south and eastern side of the peninsula. It is still a great spot where we enjoyed beers by the pool and the kitschy illuminated disco buddhas at night. At Padang Padang Beach we found some solitude in a cave
The urge to excape the bikini and surfing mecca for some culture overtook us, so after breakfast at Suka (imagine a crowded hipster cafe plopped on the side of the road in Bali) we escaped on motor scooter to the Garuda Wisnu Kencana Cultural Park. It was nice to get away from the beach and mix it up with a few bus loads of Korean tourists. The highlight was a Balinese dance medley. One thing that is strongly reflected in Indonesian culture is the diversity of being represented by around 18,000 islands. Relatively young as a unified government Indonesian culture and dance takes many very disparate forms. Later we rode to Jimbaran for some fresh seafood on a long white beach among the fancier resorts. For our last 10 bucks we got a fried fish, squid, grilled clams and shrimp.
The next day we returned to the relatively quiet side of Padang Padang Beach. In the evening we braved the crush of people at the Uluwatu temple high on the cliffs with the monkeys. We were ready to see what crafts, culture and terrain we would encounter in Ubud as we watched the sunset on Uluwatu Beach that evening.
Please take a moment to enjoy the slap dash google map overlay provided below to give you a sense of where we were going and our modes of transportation. On September second we took a bus up to Ubud. Apparently this is known as a cultural center of Bali and along the route you could see the fabric weavers, the wood carvers, furniture makers and general craft studios as you roll into town. There was some concern as the traffic thickened and we passed the Starbucks, but after disembarking and walking down a smaller street and finally finding our guest house we were really in luck.
The top floor of the Uma Devi 2 was ours for only $16 a night. I will let the pictures speak for themselves. This was our quiet oasis to return to and our hosts found us another accommodation after this since we could not book another night there.
Gulah, who ran the Uma Devi 2 is a known painter in the area as is her Uncle. Painting as an art form has a rich history in Ubud and the modern expression of that heritage is displayed in depictions of everyday life. We went to the Museum Puri Lukisan to see Gulah's work and then to her uncle Ngurah's studio where we ended up getting some things to send home...still have not arrived yet. :)
The Blue Herons of Pulutan, one of Ali's favorite moments which inspired us to buy Ngurah's painting of herons.
The Blangsinga Waterfall which we pretty much renamed, "doo doo" falls or "mud butt cliff" as if Charlie had relocated his chocolate factory.
On September fifth we set out for our first long trip on the motor scooter. Our destination was Danau Beratan, a volcanic lake in Northern Bali. It was about a 1.5hr ride, but we stopped along the way to see an entire caravan of vintage VWs as well as to visit a real (not just for tourists) market to pick up some snacks for the road. Below is a good shot of the roads we traveled.
The lake was beautiful and Ali did some good navigating to get us to a construction site adjacent to the Pura Ulun Danu Beratan temple we were visiting so we just slipped into the side gate without paying a fee. This is an iconic temple situated in the water with a view of the lake in the background. It is similar in most SE Asian countries that you see temples placed near natural features of great beauty, but I think that Bali has a particularly strong affinity for places near water. In this case the temple and its associated downstream counterparts serve each individual irrigation area so that people may make offerings to goddess Dewi Danu for continued water flow and fertility of the crops.
Afterwards we rode up to the largest botanical garden in Indonesia, Kabun Raya. This place was a standout. Very few people and acres of beautiful jungles and garden. When we arrived we were pretty hungry so we stopped at a stall to get food, but all they were selling was a chicken soup. The woman who ran the stall was eating a really good Gado Gado (mixture of noodles, cucumber, setan and peanut sauce) so we asked if we could have that. Since it was home made her friends encouraged her to go home and bring us some of her Gado Gado. It was the best we had on the trip. With bellies full we entered the park. Below is a picture looking back at the ancient fern garden, displaying fern species throughout the history of the world.
On the drive back to Ubud we did stop at the obligatory Luwak coffee garden where we were introduced to an entire array of teas and of course Luwak coffee. Our guide told us all about the teas while she practiced her english. She was happy to have us try every tea they offered and shared some candid thoughts about the literal monetary costs of having such a strong religious fabric in Indonesia that it felt like much of her income went to supporting temples and ceremonies. Ali was in tea heaven.
We did a number of other things in Ubud like buying some beautiful fabrics and considering some furniture. We did visit the monkey forest and Ali did get accosted by the monkeys. We did the famous and romantic ridge walk and yes the jungle here is ridiculous.
Finally one last shot of us leaving our pad at the Uma Devi 2. Next stop Vietnam. We finally felt like we had the swing of things in Indonesia and now it was time to move on, but this would become a trend. Finally feeling comfortable in a place right before jumping to the next and opening the cultural faucet to inundate ourselves with a whole new reality.