Friday, September 19, 2008

The Cultural Capital of Bali: Ubud - Part 2

Day 4 - Vroom, Vroom, Vroom: Spinning around with a motorbike

Having never rode a motorbike, much less driven one before there was a certain degree of uncertainty in having to not only learn to drive one, but also drive on the opposite side of the road. After a few minutes of wobbling down the side street, it became a little easier and we were on our way to the Elephant Cave, Goa Gajah. Built over 900 years ago, the age and simplicity of the cave certainly shows in contrast to the intricate temples that adorn the island today. The T shaped cave consists of three basic "windows" which contain a statue of the elephant lord, Ganesh, and on either side the male and female phallic symbols of the Hindu god Shiva. Even in it's simplistic manner, the grounds themselves were really nice with a lush hillside leading down to a small river. The next stop on the list was the ancient temple of Gunung Kawi. It too was built at the river bottom and the steps to the bottom were quite daunting knowing that every step down meant the same step coming up. Assuming (you know what that does) that the sarong (in order to enter any temple in Bali, you must wear a sarong along with a traditional "belt") by donation stand was at the bottom, we walked all the way down only to realize that it was back at the very top off to the side. Rather than trek back to the top to rent one and then make the trip one more time, we just poked our heads in the entrance and figured that was enough. Similar statues were also on the outside of the temple so we got a good view of them. After enjoying the scenery (they plant rice just about anywhere!) we climbed up the steps and stopped at a nice little roadside warung (cafe or small restaurant that mainly cater to locals) where we enjoyed our first es buah (ice with sweetened condensed milk, fresh fruit and some type of syrup) which was surprisingly good, and our staple meals here, mie goreng (fried noodles with vegetables, chicken and an egg on top) and nasi goreng (same only with rice instead) pedas (spicy!).

Next stop on our scooter tour were the silver shops of Ciluk. After a quick little jaunt to the south we arrived in the little town and were greeted promptly by a seemingly nice man on a motorbike asking the now infamous question "Hello, where you go? (first question they ask when they want to sell you something about 75% of the time, the other 25% goes to the question "Hello, where you from?" followed by transport?, rent motorbike? where you stay?, etc.). After chatting with him while driving down the road no less, we soon realize that he works for one of the hundreds of silver shops and wants us to go to his shop of choice. Yes, even driving down the road you get a little harmless harassment. I guess everyone has to make a living somehow right? After browsing the shops for a bit, we made our way back north to Ubud before it got dark. By the end of the day, we had honed our skills on the motorbike that we even went up a one way street the wrong way (not on purpose, but I was just following the flow of traffic oddly enough - quite the accepted practice here). I would not say that driving here is easy, but you get used to the aggressive, make your own path attitude and have to join in to some degree.

After parking the scooter for the day, it was time for us to do the other half of Ubud - hit the spas. After all the walking, trekking and touring we started our relaxation that night with our first massage of the trip. Ubud is the center of Bali for spas and the choices here run the gambit from murah murah(cheap cheap) to mahal! (Expensive!). We choose one across the street from our hotel. We signed up for a one hour massage (125,000rp or about $14 us) which really ended up being about 40 minutes with 20 minutes of getting dressed afterwards and sipping on a little cup of water. Needless to say, we were not that impressed, especially since the price was quite a bit more than other places around. At least the massage itself was nice, despite the time issue.

Day 5: Need Transport? Yes we do!, bathed in flowers, and Ke-chat, ke-chat, ke-chat

The next day we went and booked two days of a driver - one day to see the temples and a waterfall that was a little too far to go on the motorbike for our comfort, and the next day transfer to Amed with a few stops along the way (more on both later!). After looking around a bit, we met a really "Nice Driver" (His sign said so so that makes it true, right?) named Putu. After chatting with him for a while about various places to go and see, we settled on a price (400,000rm $45 US for one day; 500,000rm $58 US for the second day with transfer). Now, I know that all you independent travelers out there are thinking this is a bit of cheating not to mention pricey, but we did it for a couple of reasons. One, we wanted to find out more about the culture and having the same person for two days that we could understand and ask questions in English was a huge help. Secondly, having someone explain some of the meanings of the temples is a huge help as well rather than just wondering around a sight and thinking oh this is nice, but what does it all mean? Lastly, getting around by public transport is rather expensive in itself (other than catching Bemos from small town to small town until you get your destination wasting a lot of time in the process) so for the two of us to travel around by public bus, it's virtually the same price. If we do Bali again, packing much lighter and renting a motorbike for the whole time would be the better option for getting around Bali. The Island is small and most drives are less than 3 hours apart.

After getting the next couple of days booked, we hit the spa! There was one that had just opened and was running a special price of 50% off everything. Quite the deal so we opted to do the hour and half massage and scrub followed by a soak in a tub filled with flowers followed by a manicure/pedicure. It was a nice little spa and the flower bath was quite unique. Filled with fragrant flowers like hibiscus and frangipani it was a relaxing a pleasant experience. The mani/pedi was lacking a little however, but for 25,000rm (less than $3 US) we can't complain too much! All in all, our three hour spa treatment was the same cost as the massage alone from the night before (250,000RM about $30 US for both of us).

Relaxed and muscles loosened, we decided to take in one more show before we left the Ubud area. Kecak Fire & Trance Dance uses a gamelan suara (choir of 100 men) to set the stage for dancers interpreting a piece of the story from the Hindu epic, Ramayana. At first, we must admit, the choir of a hundred men was quite humorous. All the "music" is provided by the men making noises using their mouths only. Sitting in a circle around a small statue filled with candles, the men started to make a noise like Ke-chat, ke-chat, ke-chat. For a small clip, click here. Once the story started however, it made more sense and we enjoyed the performance. After the story of Ramayana, they set the stage for the trance dance. Trance Dance: A horse rider is lulled into a trance by the gamelan suara (choir of a 100 men) and in his trance he walks on a bed of burning coconut husks responding to the rising & falling sounds of the gamelan suara. The fire was lit and as the gamelan suara changed noises, the rider (in this case a hobby horse) would kick the burning husks around and then walk across them! By the end of the dance, the rider's feet were completely black and he sat a while after the performance presumably letting his feet rest before walking on them again. We both walked away from the performance in awe and we highly recommend you don't miss this particular dance.


Jess Mason said...

I'm confused - is Jason or Tracy writing most of these posts? I need to know who's voice I should be hearing as I read this!! :)
Jess M.

Diane said...

Enjoy reading your blog and looking at the pictures. Keep the information coming.

Jason & Tracy said...

It's both of us. Jason is writing most of them and I upload them and do the pictures but I have occasionally written a few :-)

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