01.03.2012 - 03.03.2012 29 °C
Writing about Ubud was no easy task, as words cannot describe much of what we experienced there. As you read, please try to use your imaginations to fill in the details. And when you're finished reading, please take a look at our photos from Gili and Bali... http://s1055.photobucket.com/albums/s507/colinandleah1/Bali%20and%20Gili%20Trawangan/
Ubud is the "cultural center" of Bali and home to numerous artists and entertainers. Immediately upon arriving one can sense the creative energy of the city. Almost every home couples as a studio with signs outside explaining what art form the occupants practice (woodcarving, painting, music, etc.), and many residents also offer private lessons in traditional dance, music, and the like. Many of the home/studios are open, so that one can easily observe the artists at work, and everywhere there are galleries displaying local work. We were even lucky enough to see a couple of massive sculptures being created in the town square.
The area is known for its woodcarvings, and the outskirts of town is lined with studios and shops displaying some of the most beautifully and intricately carved wooden doors and furniture we've seen. Equally impressive were the stone carvings. This area of Bali is Hindu, so most homes, which are divided by massive stone fences covered in an intensely green moss, have large stone altars and statues, presumably of Hindu gods, at the gates. (It seems that the Hindu ritual of prayer and offering is frequently observed, as we have seen it practiced at all hours of the day and night in most establishments, as well as on the streets.) These gates are works of art themselves, and we wish we'd had more sunny weather and free time to photograph them.
We only spent a couple days in Ubud, but we did a lot. In addition to taking the time to visit galleries and enjoy the local art, we went to the nearby Monkey Forest. This is exactly as it sounds: a forest with monkeys. It was a great experience and a lovely walk, but with no unusual stories to share (the monkeys didn't attack us as they did other tourists, despite the fruit hidden in Colin's pack), we'll let the photos do the talking.
After the forest, we followed Leah's vague memory of a walking tour she'd read about online, which led us through a neighboring village and into the countryside. Along the way we tried some new local food, stopped at a roadside juice bar for some fresh papaya juice and the company of some cute kids, stumbled upon a duck farm, and eventually met a local guide, who encouraged us to go into the rice paddies. We walked through the maze of rice paddies for awhile trying to figure out how to get out (the guide had long since abandoned us when he realized we weren't interested in paying for a guided paddy tour, and even a group of ducks seemed confused, running back and forth in one muddy pit), when at last we heard the sound of drums in the distance.
We followed the sound, walking alongside a cliff with a river below at the edge of the rice paddies, when we came upon a small house. We decided to cut onto the property to find a way down the cliff and across the river to a road, which we hoped might lead us back to Ubud. As we approached the house we saw that there was a group of men sitting outside, some of whom were dressed in costume, while others had painted chests and faces. They were excited to see us and offered up a sip of local brew (we've yet to find home brew or for that matter, any affordable alcohol in this heavily religious nation). We snapped a couple photos and inquired about their costumes and the music we were hearing. The only English they muttered was, "traditional dance."
Excited to see the dance but not sure where to go, we followed their hand signals down some narrow stone steps and across the river, realizing all of a sudden that we were surrounded by people. Some were costumed as the boys had been. Others were dressed only in traditional Hindu garb (the sarong must be worn by men and women to enter the temple). There were women in beautiful, colorful, jeweled gowns and headdresses, and many men dressed equally as elaborately.
Men and women, old and young, appeared to be gearing up for something massive. There were huge floats of Hindu gods, drums of all shapes and sizes, and many more instruments. We walked up a hill to discover that everyone was congregating outside of a temple. We weren't sure how to enter, nor were we dressed appropriately (we later tried to enter anyway and were asked to leave), so we decided to join the masses on the streets. Everyone seemed to be waiting for so something, but we weren't sure what. There was a great deal of bustle and excitement as many more costumed or fancily dressed people arrived by motorbike, truck, car, or on foot, and entered the temple.
After about 45 minutes of watching various people enter the temple, but mostly amused by the crowds and excitement on the streets, the temple doors opened and a procession began. For almost 30 minutes, clusters of people streamed from the temple, each new group dressed identically to one another but drastically differently from the last. We saw so many amazing clothes and costumes, and with each group that emerged, the crowd became more and more excited. This culminated with several young couples appearing at the top of the steps and descending to the applause of the crowd.
(At this point, we wondered if we were witnessing some kind of mass wedding ceremony. We later tried to find out what we'd seen but with no success. Our guesthouse owner said that there are often massive celebrations or festivals at various temples scattered throughout the nearby villages. He thought our wedding theory seemed plausible. Many of the boy/girl duos were quite young, but we've since learned that some children wed as young as late elementary here. I guess we'll never know for sure what we saw.)
The final boy and girl to emerge were being carried on separate chairs. They were the last two to depart the temple, and generated a great deal of cheering and enthusiasm from the crowd. They, like all the couples, were covered in heavy makeup and ornamented gowns. They were really young, perhaps 11 or 12, and both had very sour, almost angry, expressions. The best part was that, under his fancy clothes, the boy was wearing bright white knee-high tube socks. We thought that, because of all the fuss, they might be a prince and princess.
Observing what we did of this celebration was awesome, and we walked away feeling almost fulfilled by our Ubud experiences. However, we still had not seen the traditional dance. On our walk back to Ubud we found an outdoor venue that had an evening performance of a traditional "fire dance."
The show was really interesting with about 80 men sitting around a candle fire providing powerful vocal chants while costumed men and women performed the traditional dance/play. About halfway through the show, the skies opened up and poured rain, and we we were ushered under a covered stage area where the performance continued flawlessly with almost no break. It culminated with the candles being replaced by a real bonfire, set ablaze with lighter fluid than reduced to hot coals. A man then appeared, dancing over the coals and kicking them toward the crowd (thankfully it kind of scared the French people that were annoyingly blinding everyone with their flash photography). Overall, it was a truly stirring performance, and the perfect end to the uniquely Balinese experience that was Ubud.