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Irene's Adventures

Bali - Ubud & area

INDONESIA | Tuesday, 1 February 2011 | Views [1006]


It's Open When It's Open 

We took a 1.5 hour taxi to Ubud, as it was the same price and much faster than taking a 'bemo' local bus. Most homes in Indonesia have stone/brick walls around them, with many small buildings within the compound that house the extended family as well as a private temple. Many operate Homestay’s which is exactly as the name implies – you rent a room with the family. They are very quaint and private and a great way to interact with the locals and experience the culture and customs.


Every morning before breakfast the women go around in traditional Balinese dress (kebaya, sarong & sash) and place offerings to their Hindu gods in all the places that are of significance, such as the entrance to their property, kitchens, businesses and our guest rooms. The women spend a good part of the day making intricate little baskets from coconut leaves to place the offerings in. The offerings are mainly flowers, some rice, and incense. You see these little packets absolutely everywhere!! As the day wears on, they get trampled (its OK to step on them only after the incense has burned out) at which point they get swept up to start the process all over again for the afternoon offering, then again for the evening. If not possible to do 3 times per day, twice is OK, too. It is absolutely lovely to see all these little baskets of flowers at each and every business, home and other random spots around the little village. The women must wear traditional clothing while placing the offerings, waving the incense and splashing water with a flower on the statue or blessing site, as well as on them self. It really gives the village a quaint and tranquil feel as their dedication to their ancient beliefs and religion are still adhered to in the traditional way and on a daily basis.


The Home Stay where we stayed (Goutama Home Stay) was having a private celebration in their private temple while we were there. The temple can only be entered if one is wearing the traditional clothing. Happily, Irene had a kebaya made the previous day and the hostess graciously invited her to join the celebration – camera not a problem :) The holy man sat on a platform waving a small bell in one hand and a flower in the other while chanting. Many of the older family members were chanting as well. Then the holy man would flick the flower away, then sprinkle some water with another flower while a woman would pour some water on the ground. Then he kept on chanting etc, while a group of women went with incense to various statues and waved the smoke toward the statues with a small fan. This went on for several minutes with no particular pattern of who did what. Suddenly EVERYONE positioned them self on their knees facing one particular statue, and began chanting and raising their prayer hands in the air. Then they did the same thing with offerings enveloped in a small banana leaf – with a coin tucked in, for good measure. It was magical and such a privilege to be asked to join in this private family celebration. Then when it was all over, they invited all of us to join in the celebratory meal – dress code not required. It was absolutely delicious!!


We took a walk to the Monkey Forest on the edge of the village. It was hard to believe that this dense monkey filled jungle sits literally right across the street from the tourist shops. It is quite surprising that the monkeys don't venture out into the village as we weren't 2 meters into the forest when there were dozens of monkeys jumping about in the trees and scoping out the tourists, looking for food. There are huge signs warning you that the monkeys may steal your sunglasses and not to carry bottles or bags. You can buy a bag of bananas to feed them, but after watching a bunch of monkeys going after one guy because he had a bag of bananas we were quite glad we opted out of the offer. Ed had his sunglasses in his pocket and one little monkey must have thought he was holding out on some goodies and jumped on his shorts and started reaching into his pocket. Irene had a plastic bag from a purchase she had made earlier and had to tuck it under her shirt after they monkeys started banding closer, eyeing it. The signs warned to walk away slowly should this happen, which can take a great deal of self control when you are ready to scream, swat and run.


One evening we took a ride out to Petulu, a small village near Ubud, to watch the herons returning to feed their young. The story goes that in 1966 the village held a protection and blessing ceremony during a civil uprising where thousands of Indonesians were massacred. About a week later thousands of white herons showed up and began nesting in a 400 meter strip between the two main temples. They are only on one particular strip of road, not even behind the houses or shops which are just meters away. The belief is they are the souls of those who were massacred during the communist uprising, many of whom are buried near this site. As such, they are considered holy and no one harms them. The babies sit in the trees and await the parents return every evening around 6 when the sky fills with the returning birds. It's quite the sight!

We took in a local Balinese dance performance one evening. It was held in a local water temple – there is a beautiful lotus pond at the entrance. We had commanding seats, front and centre between the lotus pond and the stage, and felt like we were royalty with the all female musicians and dance troupe performing just for us. The costumes were exquisite, the music enchanting and the dancers mesmerizing. They not only danced with their bodies, but also with their hands, doing intricate mudras, flicking their fingers like some crazy Vulcan “live long and prosper” stutter and arm movements that gave them the appearance of being rubber-like. As well, they danced with their eyes! They had makeup that made their eyes look huge, but they forced them WIDE open and would dart them from one side to the other, or wink with one eye still WIDE open. This was all done with such precision that the troupe looked as one. Each dance had a story, which was explained on the program. One was simply a welcoming dance, one was about a bird, another about a warrior, another about rabbits (weird but lovely) and another about an old man who doesn't want to admit he's old.


We then spent a day touring some historical sites. One was Goa Gajah – the elephant temple and ancient sanctuary. One part is Hindu, the other part is Buddhist. The Buddhist part goes down a steep path covered in a fine moss that gives it an Indiana Jones feel. There was obviously some cliff carvings that have long since fallen away and are also covered with the same fine moss. The path wove up to a small village, through a rice paddy and back to the starting point. The Hindu part has a huge stone bath, complete with statues pouring water into the fish filled bath. Beside that is a huge cave with carvings etched into the rock surrounding the cave entrance. The interior of the cave is quite large and has alcoves carved out which are large enough for a person to sit in and some large enough to lay down in.


We then went to Gunung Kawi, which has huge carvings etched into the cliffs. Again the site has both Hindu and Buddhist history. The huge carved shrines are Hindu. The older dwellings carved into the rock is a Buddhist hermitage. Peering inside one can see rooms with shelves carved into the stone. Everything is covered with moss and it is easy to see how these sites can be totally obscured and buried by jungle within short order. It is located next to a river and holds that the river and water is holy, which plays in well with the surrounding rice paddies and basic sustenance of the Balinese people.


We had to walk through a virtual gauntlet of merchants peddling their wares, albeit, most carvings were absolutely stunning in their detail and beauty. Nothing is machine made in Indonesian, it is all handmade – everything! They sit and whittle or string beads or crochet while waiting for customers or while chatting with friends. Their hands are forever busy making something.


The gauntlet of shops was well worth it as the scene on the other side of the path was breath taking! There were steps and steps of rice paddies surrounded by dense jungle. Some of the steps are 2-3 meters high. Some are as narrow as 1 meter wide. Unlike the rice paddies in Laos that had to be rebuilt every year, these are shored up with stone and quite possibly cement to keep them from collapsing with the constantly flowing water. It is quite ingenious, functional and beautiful and not difficult to see why they considered it a holy place.

The Balinese are fantastic artisans. As mentioned, they hand-make everything. There are rows upon rows of shops that do nothing but wood carving, rows of stone carving, rows of jewelry making, and the list of crafts goes on and on. They have artisans that do sidewalk art as well. It is so pleasant to see flowers and assorted patterns worked into the sidewalks. This one was particularly nice, as it was the entrance to a small Gang (alley).

We went to a salon and were absolutely pampered! The salon is located on a main street, but is set back behind high stone walls and nestled in a beautiful garden. We were led to our private outdoor massage room, which was about 4 x 4 meters in size and semi-canopied.. There were tiled walls on 3 sides with woven bamboo rising above to ensure privacy. The forth wall was covered in creeping vines. The massage table was off to the side, under a bamboo canopy. After a 90 minute professional and extremenly relaxing massage, they finish with a sea salt body scrub. Then you get off the table where they wash you off with coconut ladels of warm water followed immediately with a yogurt rub. They wash you off again, then you step into the canopied stone bath that is filled with a rainbow of fragrant flower petals. You soak there for 15 minutes, sipping your ginger tea while watching the tropical birds frolick in the trees through the uncanopied part of the cabana. Yup, life is tough here in Bali...... 



Amed next....



Places to stay:


Ari House 150,000 – highly recommended by fellow travellers but were full

Goutama Home Stay 125,000 – where we stayed


Nur Salon 300,000 – for 2 hour treatment (8800 RP / 1 $)


Dewa Warung (restaurant) 25,000 – 30,000 per meal (excellent food & portions)


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