Supposedly the cultural heart of Bali, Ubud was nice, but definitely different than we had imagined! We had imagined more real, authentic craftsmanship, but arrived to see a lot geared towards tourists. As we breezed by high-end fashion, Western-style restaurants, and upscale resorts, I realized this was not a good sign for the budget. After my dad and I asked and looked and thought about endless hotels, we made our decision for our spot, a little away from the road with a room big enough and a pool. Finding a good spot we were happy with, was a good decision because endless rain soon chased us around. Blue skies peeked out and we were outside immediately and then back inside as it mocked us with downpour.
If you looked beyond the sheets of rain and tourism, the light of the cultural life there did shine through. There are some things very different: everyone works hard. When you drive down the street into more rural areas, you see men shoveling rock and sand from one massive pile to where it’s needed, women carrying boulders on their heads, and people weeding or harvesting rice in the fields, everything by hand and bent over in the hot sun or pouring rain all day. I don’t know when children learn to ride a motorcycle, but very young, because if something’s ever needed in the house, the 12 year old is sent out to get it, with a motorcycle and usually with little brothers in the back. People are tough and work from sunrise to sunset.
Because tourism is at its low season in Ubud, stores often have a lull in the business and it seems that whenever the people are not busy, they sit on the ground together and make offerings. Instead of flower rings like in Bangkok, people here take banana leaf strips and staple them into a little box or flower and offer candy, rice, and flowers usually accompanied by an incense stick that, if it’s lucky and it’s not raining, burns. These offerings are everywhere; usually there are a couple outside to appease the bad spirits, some in the high temple inside for the gods, by important statues, and pretty much everywhere else, in your car and by the pool. And they’re new every day!
I feel the rain here was so incredible it deserves a little mention. It’s rainy season in Indonesia. Our Lonely Planet guide said that it did rain a lot, but never excessively. I think they might have talked to locals for this description, because to us, it was excessive. Everything becomes very very sticky and suddenly it just rains. There’s not a lot of wind, it isn’t hard or slanted, there’s no thunder or lightning; it just comes out of nowhere and rains, straight down and constantly. The rain never ends, relents, or gives up in any sort of way, just slows down and the clouds rise a little, but by now we can bet it will rain every day for a considerate amount of time, if we’re lucky. After 5 hours of sheets of rain you feel you really really want to pull back to see the sun, you can only shake your head and wonder where it comes from!
While in Ubud, we did see and do things. We visited the Monkey Forest, in the pouring rain, and fed the monkeys bananas. They’re definitely spoiled but cute! We bought sarongs and prayer shawls for too much money. Slowly we are learning what a reasonable price is and how to bargain right, which will prove we are not idiot tourists and know what a rip-off is. At the Palace we watched a traditional dance. It was colorful and alive! Thankfully the program told the stories and interpretations of the different dances, because I’m not sure I would have understood otherwise, but it was fun to watch everything completely new to us, the balinese music, costumes, and movements.
We also took the time to hire a driver from the hotel and see some must-sees on Bali. The Balinese religion is a very unique one; they have their own mixture of Hindu and Buddhism. The temples are laid out very differently than in Bangkok, there are many more open structures and there isn’t really a main building. The ones we went to were also very old and overgrown, giving the feeling of being in an Indiana Jones movie, as my parents have noted. We visited 3 different important temples; one with very ancient religious carvings, the Holy Water Temple whose water comes out of a holy spring, and one with the ancient Elephant Cave. We wandered through all of these, admiring the lush landscapes that accompanied them, and the age, the amount of time this place has been important for its people.
Our driver also took us to a view of rice terraces in Tegallalang. Rice is very hard to grow and is still the most eaten grain in the world. For it to grow the terrain needs to be perfectly flat and there needs to be a precise amount of rain and water. Most of the time the millions of pounds of rice are still planted, cared for, and harvested by hand. This is probably a good thing, since otherwise millions would lose their jobs, but now we can all appreciate the rice we eat and how much work it takes, especially when we see the people at work here. The rice terraces were a cool site; since it has to be flat the people have cut steps into the mountain where the rice can grow, making the rice terraces look like a green carpet laid over a mountainous staircase.
One last place we were led to by our driver was to a coffee and cocoa plantation where we tested and sampled fresh ginger tea, lemon tea, cocoa, and of course, coffee. In one blend they mixed it with ginseng, creating what tastes like caramel coffee. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to see or experience any of what goes on behind the coffee cup.
And now we are in Amed, or what I would like to call the middle of nowhere. A black sand beach and thunderous ocean on one side and a paved road on the other. We are doing schooling and preparing for our next adventures, along the route of Lovina Beach, the island of Java, its cities, and beyond.