We’re in Ubud now and it’s much nicer than Kuta. In a way it’s just as touristy, except the tourism here is kind of cool because it’s all centered around art. The shops lining the streets in Kuta all sell the same kind of crap: cheesy t-shirts, fake designer sunglasses, keychains, etc. Here, they mostly sell beautiful wood carvings, paintings, sarongs and sculptures. They’re of varying quality, of course, but it’s still nice to see so much celebration of the arts.
I was also surprised by how easy it is to get out of town here. There are two main streets, Monkey Forest Road and Jilan Raya Ubud, where all the crowds and shops are. Off of those streets, you can walk in any direction and be surrounded by beautiful rice paddies in about fifteen minutes. We’ve spent whole days walking. One of the first places we explored was the Sacred Monkey Forest. The monkeys that live there are actually long-tailed macaques and they’re not very nice at all. They’re known for snatching things right out of people’s hands. I saw a couple of them actually jump on people to try and get whatever they were holding! Luckily, none of them jumped on us.
We also went for a long walk through the countryside where we saw beautiful rice paddies and coconut trees. It was probably exactly how you picture Asia in your head. There were even men using cows to plow the fields. It was so quiet and peaceful, especially compared to the noise and traffic in the city. And then we took a wrong turn and our little 8.5 kilometer walk became more like a 15 kilometer walk. Oh well, at least we weren’t in a hurry to get back!
In the evening we went to a dance performance. Since Ubud is the cultural center of the island, there are tons of different dances and venues to choose from. After doing some research online and getting even more confused, we just randomly picked one. I wasn’t expecting much, but it was amazing! The one we picked was the Kecak Fire and Trance Dance presented by the Desa Adat Sambahan troupe in the Pura Batu Karu. It was held outside in the temple “courtyard” under a huge tree. A chorus of men singing and chanting rhythmically made up all the music and dialogue. The dancers, in beautiful costumes, danced and acted out the story. The style of dance is very unique. They keep their eyes open very wide and constantly move their arms, hands and fingers into awkward-looking positions.
They were acting out a section of the Hindu epic Ramayana. The story is a bit complicated, but the general gist is that the evil Rahwana kidnaps Princess Sita while her husband, Prince Rama, is out hunting a magical golden deer. He then tries to get her back and is helped by monkeys and the King of the Birds. Interestingly, the Kecak is only part of the story, so it ended before Rama got Sita back. The story was printed on the program, but they did a good job acting out. Even though it was all in another language, I could follow along with what was happening and who was who.
When that dance was over, there was the much shorter Trance Fire Dance. A man came out and dumped a pile of coconut husks on the ground and lit them on fire. Then another man, dressed as a horse, came out and ran through the fire barefoot, shuffling the husks and embers all over the place, while the chorus men chanted. The first man swept the embers and flaming husks back together in the center and the horse scattered them with his feet again. This pattern continued until the fire was totally out. Apparently it’s supposed to protect society from evil forces and epidemics, but I’m not quite sure how it does that.
As you can probably tell from this long post, Bali is a very interesting place and it’s been quite an experience for us. Despite often feeling lost (literally and figuratively), we are really enjoying our time here. Internet connections haven’t been the greatest, but we’ll upload some pictures as soon as we can!