From Ubud to Amed

I shed a few tears as I left Ubud yesterday. After living in the family compound for over 10 days, I felt like I was part of the family. I had also grown accustomed to the other people that were staying there and, as many of you know, I don’t do goodbyes very well. Each day I shared meals with new friends, had a chat in the evening after our days to exchange experiences and greeted each other upon returning “home”. It was a busy time in Ubud and I’m a bit overwhelmed to write about all of it!

One day our threesome hired Abut, the oldest son in the family to take us to Lovina which is on the north shore of Bali. It was an all day trip up and over the mountains on twisty mountain roads. We stopped at a waterfall to hike out a bit. Like almost everywhere in Bali, there was no shortage of people wanting us to buy from their little stalls. The dialogue is always the same: “What’s your name? Where are you from? Where are you going? You like buy…. For you, I give good price.” Then, depending on the time of day, “First thing in the day, good luck, for you special price”. Or, “Slow day, for you special price”. Or a litany of descending prices without even any conversation.
To be fair, the Balinese are also very friendly, usually with a smile as I pass by or “Hello, where are you going?” just as a pleasantry.

As we sat at an outdoor table by the beach, with few tourists in sight, a woman first approached wearing a pile of folded sarongs on her head. (If you know the story Caps for Sale, she reminded me of the hat peddler). She proceeded to lay out her wares, making comments about their beautiful colors and her great prices. Then, a man joined her sharing his jewelry. Then there were three girls of ages 7 and 8 with their plastic bags of necklaces. “You like? You buy?”. As we ate, they all sat and watched and after we were finished, the real sales pitch began. I found a sarong that I liked and we did some furious negotiating starting at her outrageous price of 250 rupiah. I counter offered with 40, I think, since I knew the sarong prices. I ended up paying 65 for a batik sarong. Then, the real pressure began as she laid her sights on Nadine who had eyed a green sarong. The woman followed us to the car, laying sarongs on our laps leaning into the car. Nadine got the benefit of my purchase as the price went down to 50. She also got a new sarong.

At my new digs here in Amed on the coast, as we settled into chairs by the sea after a wonderful swim and some easy snorkeling, the sales pitches began again. First, it was the older woman offering massages. Then, there was a young girl who sat patiently in the sand nearby. Later, she started talking with me as Nadine read nearby. “Where are you from? What’s your name”. She was selling little heart shaped boxes filled with salt which is produced here in this village. She had written an explanation in English in a little notebook for me to read about earning money to go to school. I politely declined. Then, a young boy joined her. He was a persistent salesman with an answer to anything, selling necklaces. I engaged them both in a long conversation about their lives here and sharing pictures from home. Her favorite subject is English and his is sports. They are both in junior high but in different classes – one goes in the morning, the other, the afternoon. I’m sure they will be back again later today.

In Bali, children are first named by their birth order. First up is Wayan, next is Mede and so on. The girl was Wayan, the boy, Katuk, the fourth child. If there are more, they just start again. When a man becomes a father, he is then known as “father of Wayan”. There are no family names but everyone has a nickname. They are also given a name by the temple at a ceremony.

One night in Ubud, the three of us got dressed in our new sarongs and sashes and walked to the temple down the road. Formal dress is required to enter. We took a spot in the back as we watched women carrying in huge offerings of fruit and cakes piled into huge pyramids. Datar, the owner of our homestay, and I had a conversation yesterday morning about how the offerings have become more elaborate and expensive as he gets older (he’s my age). He is a natural storyteller and I read a book of stories collected by a British man who lived with Datar and his family many years ago.

Offerings are carried to the temple in woven baskets, placed on the altars and offered to the gods during the prayers, and then brought home to be eaten. Datar stole something from an offering as a child and he said it was especially delicious (forbidden fruit). When he was caught, he asked his grandmother why the food tasted better before it was brought to the temple. Her explanation was that the gods took the flavors.

The flavors for us were especially delicious the other day when we signed up for a cooking class. We went to the market with our guide, tasting and learning about the various fruits, vegetables and spices. Here there is a temple just for the market where vendors make their offerings each day. We stopped at a rice paddy to learn about the cycles of cooperative rice farming and the meetings next to the rice temple to resolve any issues. Then, we donned our aprons to begin the preparations for an incredibly delicious and huge meal. Many of the Balinese meals contain a special sauce made of chopped garlic, shallots, fresh ginger and tumeric, shrimp paste, chiles and some other ingredients that I wasn’t familiar with. We used a Balinese “blender”, a stone mortar and pestle, to grind up peanuts and the ingredients for a peanut sauce. We cooked fresh tuna in banana leaves over a wood fired steamer and grilled over coconut husks. We stir fried vegetables in coconut oil (a very fragrant process) and cooked bananas in coconut milk. I mixed the contents of a chicken satay with my hands and we formed the meat around bamboo sticks. All of our dishes were served on plates lined with banana leaves. I also saw those used as huge umbrellas by people walking along the side of the road. By the time we consumed so many dishes, we were all exhausted and full. It reminded me of Thanksgiving evening with the effort of cooking and the full bellies making it hard to do the dishes. In this class, all that was done by the help. Bliss.

Leaving Ubud with Rudy, Datar’s brother, we had a 3-4 hour car ride to the east coast where Nadine and I are staying for a few days. Marion joined us for the ride. We made a few stops along the way – twice for Rudy to make offerings at roadside temples to pray for a safe journey. One temple was across the street from the beach where people were kneeling on the sand in prayer. The other was as we entered the mountains. Rudy bought the offering from a vendor as we watched the monkeys cavort up in the trees above.

We stopped at a huge water palace where I got to walk from stone to stone in the water viewing the various monuments. The other stop was at an ancient village which is like the “old” Bali. They open their homes to share their two sided weavings and demonstrate how they do it all there from dying the fibres, spinning the yarn and weaving the cloth on hand-held looms. They also sell lonton, which are stories inscribed on palm leaves specially prepared for the process. Pictures are carved with sharp knives and then rubbed with a charcoal. They are detailed and beautiful and fold up into a little scroll. I’m sure I paid a good price.

Here in Amed, on the east coast, Nadine and I are each in our own little bungalow across the street from the beach and the restaurant facing the ocean. There is only cold water but there is a shower, a big bed, a flushing toilet and a little porch with chairs and a drying rack. From the cafe, you go down a couple of steps to the volcanic black sand (which is really hot so wear your shoes!). There are chaises to rest on and spider like boats lining the sand. These are used for both fishing in the early morning and to take divers out during the day. The fish here is freshly caught each day. Last night we had some grilled tuna with the characteristic Balinese chile paste on top. Fresh makes a big difference in fish and it was really tasty. Since we can’t drink the water here, we try various fruit drinks – pineapple, banana, lemonade – or the local Bintang beer. I have stayed healthy so far. In Ubud there was a big jug of bottled water I could use to fill my Nalgene bottle but here you have to buy water one bottle at a time. Instead I use my new steripen to kill the bugs with an ultraviolet light. It takes 45 seconds to clean a liter of water and saves both money and unnecessary plastic bottles which accumulate quickly in the heat.

Just off the beach, there is a coral fantasy. Tiny florescent blue fish dart along the shore and just further out – no more than 10 feet – are fish over a foot long. I recognize some from aquariums like yellow and black angel fish but they come in a rainbow of colors. My two favorites so far are a long, tapered bright yellow trumpet fish and a brilliant blue sea star with legs each over a foot long. Having rented snorkel and fins for my time here, I can just jump into the sea for a 10 minute snorkel to cool down. It’s a unique experience to snorkel and still hear the sounds of chanting from the temples or the gamelon music played on a restaurant sound system.

This morning, after a nice dip in the Bali Sea, Nadine and I walked up the steep hill nearby where we saw the sunset last night. We walked down to the next village where we found both a funky place to do yoga and a bike tour company. I’m signed up for a yoga class this afternoon and we are doing a bike tour tomorrow. Between things, the decisions involve whether to swim or sit, read or write, have the massage or buy the necklace, or where to take the next snooze. Beach time in Bali – I’m blessed.

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6 Comments

  1. careful, you could get used to this. Can I steal the part about forbbiden fruit? I’m working on something about forbbiden pleasure. It all sounds wonderful, magical even.

    Reply
  2. pam perkins

     /  February 24, 2012

    Yes, those “what’s your name?” and “where are you from” are hard to resist. Traveling for the next 9 months makes it easy not to say “yes.” When you come to our house, you will see why we have a problem saying “no.” I trust you are eating safely and staying well.
    Your photos are divine. Enjoy the beautiful snorkeling & biking.

    Reply
  3. Janie

     /  February 24, 2012

    You are a long way from Lassen Volcanic National Park! I can’t wait to see ALL the pictures!

    Reply
  4. Barbara

     /  February 26, 2012

    I admire your ability to say no to all the sweet “bargains”! I know I wouldn’t have that kind of strength- I’d have a large box to ship home!!!

    Reply
  5. Janie Sherwin

     /  February 26, 2012

    Not only are you a talented writer, but your photography skills bring everything to life. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate your chronicles.

    Reply
  6. paula

     /  February 29, 2012

    Oh Ellen, what a grand adventure you are having! I admire your ability to say “no” to the necklaces etc from all those gorgeous little faces…not sure I could but, you were smart to bring such a small bag! Your photos really enhance this rather gray and odd winter/spring we are having…snow today, near 60 yesterday.

    Reply

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