Biking, Dance and Yoga in Ubud

I can’t believe it. I just finished writing a long post and it disappeared when I hit publish. Expletive deleted here…

Things are different here than what we are used to at home. Blog posts disappear. Credit cards aren’t used anywhere except the fancy tourist shops. Plans are made to meet by talking and setting times. Instead of driving, I walk everywhere. I’ve seen people washing clothes and dishes in the water running through the ditches and I’ve seen others bathing and using them as a toilet. In the family compound, I learned to eat with my hands like the family does.

Ubud, though, is filled with westerners. Restaurants have not only Balinese food (quite delicious) but also western comfort food. It also has spas, shops filled with sarongs and souvenirs, taxi drivers on every stretch waiting for a fare (“Taxi?”) and yoga studios. Yesterday I tried one out with a couple of young people I met who had never taken a class. We did a beginner’s class at a studio in town that was fine but only exciting by its setting.

This morning, I walked almost an hour to take a class at a different studio. I got lost again, easy to do in this place with no street signs and “roads” that are paths through rice fields. I was about ready to give up this morning after knocking on doors and asking for directions when I spotted two people carrying yoga mats. Sometimes the universe does provide just what you are looking for. The class was worth the trouble. It was held in a studio high above a rice field surrounded by tropical vegetation and with windows open to catch the occasional Bali breeze. It was an intense 2 hour advanced class but I left feeling both relaxed and invigorated.

On the way back, I stopped at the Blanco Renaissance Museum. There I saw paintings famous for their depictions of Balinese women with gorgeous breasts. Apparently, carrying offerings and other things (I’ve seen women with cement blocks on their heads at construction sites!) develops the pectoral muscles in a very nice way. Women no longer walk around half naked but they still carry things on their heads everywhere.

I’ve been to two Balinese dances recently where I saw other women dressed in elaborate, colorful costumes. The first one was accompanied by about 60 bare chested men, chanting in a sort of acapella chorus of percussion sounds and melodies. The second one had a gamelon orchestra. These are percussion instruments much like a glockenspiel played with axe like hammers. There were two young women dancing as spritely deer and a few young boys who were the monkeys wearing masks. I could see them cavorting backstage looking very monkey like without the masks too.

The first night I also got to see the Fire Dance. After the first, opera-like dance was finished, a man dumped a basket of coconut husks on the pavement in the middle, proceeded to pour a gallon or so of fuel on top and then lit it. Fire leaped up into the air as a young male dancer entered trancelike. He got to the pile and kicked the burning pieces right toward me, landing just a foot or so away. Then, to our astonishment, he started walking on the burning coals. He kicked the coals into all four directions, they were swept up and then it started all over again until the coals burned down. Life is definitely different here.

One of my favorite ways of experiencing a place is by bike. I signed on for a bike tour the other day. A dozen of international cyclists rode in a van to the top of a volcano. We had a breakfast buffet before riding down the mountain about 25 kilometers. We stopped at a coffee plantation for tastings and a tour of native plants. I saw a man roasting coffee in a wok (not quite like your roaster, Jackie), tasted different coffees and teas, saw which plants produce which spices (like cinnamon, cardomon, tumeric and vanilla) and got to sample my favorite fruits again.

We also stopped at a village family compound. This one, like all family compounds in Bali, is laid out in a specific way but had dirt floors, pigs and chickens in back and a rustic fire fueled kitchen. Our guide told us of Balinese customs and ceremonies like the tooth filing ceremony held when children reach puberty, and yes, it hurts!

When we reached the lowest part of the ride, having passed through several villages, past school children calling hello, dogs wandering by, seeing rice being harvested and grown and the little shops along the way selling fuel for scooters in Absolut vodka bottles among other things, we were given the option of riding the last 10 kilometers or getting in the van. I was one of two who opted to bike to the restaurant for our Balinese lunch buffet. It was a hot uphill ride but I was glad to still be on the bike, despite the sweltering heat. I admit I was also glad to be riding much stronger than the Dutch man who came with me. Every time we waited for him I had a chance to take another pictures. We were applauded as we came in for lunch. Who were these crazy sweaty people? Ah, that would be me.

Having lost my writing already today, I think I’ll end here. Time to get back to my leisurely Ubud life, living moment to moment and day to day. Don’t worry. I know my way home from here.

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8 Comments

  1. pam perkins

     /  February 16, 2012

    Great story, great photos. As you know, be prepared for the unexpected. This won’t be the only time your entry will disappear. Love reading your posts. I’m practicing on Blogspot for MM entries.

    Reply
  2. Janie Sherwin

     /  February 16, 2012

    I hope you know your way home, Dorothy! We all miss you.

    Reply
  3. Anne Cowan

     /  February 16, 2012

    Ellen, try writing your posts on Word, saving them often, and then when you are finished, copying and pasting them into the blog. That way, you have them if there is a glitch in the upload. That is what I did on all three of my long rides. If something goes awry, you still have a copy. NOTHING is so exasperating than writing a long and thoughtful post and having it disappear!!! Each time I have something to write, I just add it to the word document. It also gives you a nice long document of your own to read when you get back!

    Hugs, and safe travels.

    Reply
  4. Dawn Fogarty

     /  February 16, 2012

    All I can say is WOW – you are so adept at jumping in and inhaling the whole amazing experience – inspirational! I’m loving your tales and your beautiful photography Ellen. Thank you so much for sharing.

    Reply
  5. paula

     /  February 16, 2012

    Oh Ellen, this is so much fun! I always wanted to see Bali, the gorgeous batiks in those radiant colors, the beautiful women and vegetation. But I would never have visited with the vigor, strength and fortitude you have (biking in a virtual rainforest…yuck!) so thanks for taking me along! I’m loving your words and fabulous photos and so thrilled you are having this great adventure and sharing it with all of us. Thank you! Stay safe. Love you….

    Reply
  6. Phyllis Biegun

     /  February 16, 2012

    Heaven! I so enjoy your travels and tales. Keep them coming Ellen!

    I taught a yoga class this morning and now I’m off to Houston to visit Zach.

    Not Bali, but I expect Houston will be foreign in some ways.

    Reply
  7. Barbara

     /  February 19, 2012

    Once again you made me feel like I was right there! Harris Hill was today- I was thinking about you on the other side of the world having an adventure. Thanks for sharing- the photos are wonderful.

    Reply
  8. Connie

     /  February 19, 2012

    Hi Ellen,
    I love reading about your experiences! I have a new e-mail address, so will send it to you.

    Reply

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