Today is a day to explore Ubud without a plan. Well, a plan to maybe explore the palace grounds and a museum if, maybe, we get around to it. After a great breakfast accompanied by unlimited coffee (which I’ve really missed in some locations – not the coffee part, but the unlimited part) and, of course, refreshing watermelon juice, we head off to explore this Balinese town.
We walk down Monkey Forest Road where I meet I Made Sudana, an eighty-year old local artist carrying on his family tradition. He sits down with me on a stoop for a few minutes and shows me some of his work while explaining the lengthy process of creating his work beginning with making the cotton paper which is the canvas for his paintings. Gina is anxious to move on so I tell I Made, “I’ll be here for a week, will you be here?’
“I don’t know,” he replies. “I’m eighty years-old.”
Point taken; I’ll have to take my chances.
We move on to walk up towards the palace and through the gardens. The Balinese understand swimming pools and landscaping and most gardens and swimming pools which I’ve seen thus far have been really incredible. The palace is no exception and, while I learn no history of the place while walking through the gardens, the beauty of the flowers, plants and trees, along with the temples within are indescribably beautiful. Oh yes, the temples – Bali is crazy with temples; they’re everywhere. I’ve come to think Bali’s tourism slogan might include the phrase Random Acts of Temples.
Stopping for a minute to watch a couple of Balinese boys learn the art of Balinese dance, we then exit the beautiful gardens to walk towards the music we hear from across the street. We follow the sounds and find a xylophone orchestra made up of about twenty-five men. I sit against a column for a few minutes, close my eyes, and absorb the sounds. After a while, I begins to sound just like church-bells ringing in celebration.
As we head out to continue our walkabout, we notice a narrow street with no cars and lots of color. We’ve found the Artist’s Market, which we head into the heart of to explore. The street holds beautiful artwork, whimsical crafts and unique jewelry. I buy my traditional magnet, which I allow as my one item of collection from each country, and Gina and I make a deal with a jewelry seller for a cheaper price as we’re buying two items (there’s your negotiating tip for the day).
After wandering through the rest of the market we begin walking towards the rice paddies, which we’ve noticed on a town map. We’re pointed down a pedestrian street which seems to not simply be a walkway, but a public art project. Each square has a message or picture carved into it. Some have messages of love, some advertisements for businesses, and some political statements. As we follow the artwork up a hill, we run into some men writing messages in some of the fresh cement. One man is professing his love to (presumably) his wife, while three others are writing various other messages. I notice a spelling error in one message (always a writer) and point it out before the drying cement ensures the word “adn” is permanent. Just think of me as your manual spell-check. It turns out that the man writing the love note is part of a group of owners of some villas up here who have financed this path which leads to the villas. They thought this note path might be a much better entry than the previous dirt path.
We’re told that there’s a short scenic path to walk through the rice paddies which takes about a half-hour, or a longer one which takes about an hour and is more scenic. We choose to take the longer one. It’s a beautiful day and the scenery is spectacular.
Besides the beautiful greens against the clear blue sky, we’re accompanied by the sound of trickling water from the irrigation system in the rice paddies which drips from tier to tier. There’s also a small, river-fed stream which travels through these rice paddies. It’s a bit as if a painting had a sound-track.
We stop at a spot next to the small stream to enjoy a few minutes of quiet meditation before continuing on (wow, this is different than India). We walk, following the only path we see, after over an hour, we begin wondering if, perhaps, there was a short walk, a long walk, and a longer walk. I’ve already applied the Band-Aids, which I carry in my wallet, to my feet as I’m wearing my new flip flops as I didn’t know we were hiking today. We walk along a cement ledge which drops off into the stream on one side and down a cliff on the other.
Eventually, we find a shack in the middle of the jungle which sells chips, soda and coconut water directly from the coconut. It’s our 7-11 in the jungle. We order up a coconut to share and take a seat at the picnic table made from salvaged wood and covered with a dirty, plastic tablecloth which is nailed to the top. There’s a tire swing (actually a part of a tire swing as it’s not a complete tire but really just a piece of rubber strung between two ropes), and the man keeps calling me “mama.”
After finishing the juice from our coconut, one of the men takes his machete, slices it open and cuts the meat out for a snack. He thank the men and continue on our trek. We soon walk out of the jungle and back into the rice paddies where we find an organic farm whose restaurant we decide would make for a nice lunch.
As we continue walking after lunch, we see more and more bungalows, tiny restaurants and craft shacks. Also attached to all of the bungalows for rent are message services. Balinese massages start at about US$10 and I plan to get a few while I’m here. And while a the rice paddies would be a beautiful setting, the combination of the slime on my body from the mixture of sunscreen and sweat, along with the fact that I still have a long walk back to my hotel has me deciding that now if not the best time for this.
Eventually, we make it back to the hotel and immediately throw on our swimsuits for a dip in the pool before heading to dinner.
Dinner is set in a courtyard with fishponds running through it and consists of a tasty salad followed by spinach ravioli. Yes, you can get most any kind of food here in Ubud. Oh, and there’s wine (of course there’s wine). Unfortunately, a decent wine in Bali is one of the few things that isn’t cheap. There is the option of a Balinese wine, most of which is a homemade brew which I’ve not yet been brave enough to try.
Following dinner, we walk over to Laughing Buddha where the blues band, Cool Tones is performing. The band is comprised of four guitarists, a drummer (thumping on a wooden box-like instrument which recreates the sounds of an entire drum-set), and a fantastic male lead singer. I order up a Lychee and Lemongrass Martini and sit back to enjoy some blues. The set opens with Sweet Home Alabama immediately followed by a strange man climbing on stage, speaking with the lead singer and announcing that he’ll be singing the next tune, which he also wrote back in the sixties. It’s a blues song and it’s mostly about the government taking away his drugs. (From what I see, the government might not have taken away all of his drugs.) It’s a really awkward few minutes and the applause at the end is more likely than not, the audience’s relief that he will be exiting the stage.
The house band sings one more song before they invite a singer they know from The Netherlands to join them onstage to sing the classic blues song, Sweet Home, Chicago. She’s pretty good (and, you know, didn’t invite herself) and it’s a nice finish to an active day of trekking and sleep is well-deserved.
Tomorrow, Monkey Love.
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