May 22-25 – final days

May 25, 2010

It’s now Tuesday afternoon, Bali time (about 11 pm Monday in California), and we’re winding down our magical vacation in Bali. This will likely be our last post from here (with maybe a follow-up when we get home).

As reported, Saturday was a relatively quiet day for us, because of the Kuningan holiday, although we did see more Barong parades in the street.

Saturday evening, we attended a dance performance (as distinct from a ceremony), with some wonderful performers. This was more of a tourist pace – not as extended, which was fine with us at this point – but still wonderful to watch.

Sunday morning, we went to another of the main Ubud art museums – the Neka Museum – and continued to be glad of our choice of a painting purchase made last week. On the way back from the museum, we stopped at a supermarket (there aren’t many) to replace some underwear that the hotel laundry had lost. (Doesn’t everybody buy underwear in the supermarket?)

And as we walked back, we thought more about our painting, which, upon purchase, had been detached from its minimal frame and rolled up for transit. We thought: What shuold we do about showing it at home? We decided to see about getting a beautifully carved Balinese-style frame while we’re here (in pieces, for transport). The shop where we’d made the purchase suggested an area outside town to look, and we decided to make that part of our Monday outing with Rai (more later on this).

Meanwhile, one of the hotel staff mentioned that his local temple was doing a performance that evening (Sunday), which would feature a male chorus instead of gamelan, along with the dance. And he was in the chorus! So we figured that sounded good.

In fact, it was wonderful — a very different sort of dance performance from any other we’d seen, with the men sitting in a circle doing fascinating multi-part chanting to accompany the dance. (This type of performance, with chorus, is called Kecak.)

The dance was part of the Ramayana story, involving the kidnap pf Rama’s wife Sita.

That dance was followed by a “fire dance” which generally accompanies Kecak. It began with a big coal bonfire in the middle of the “stage” area, with one of the dancers walking through it barefooted, wearing what looked like a highly flammable costume. (Unfortunately, no good photos of him, but here’s the fire.)

On Monday morning (May 24), Rai picked us up and we set out as a first task to find a frame. It was a bit of what felt like a wild goose chase, finding the right type of  frame place, but we finally found one, and got exactly what we wanted, at the exact price that the art store had predicted. (Probably about 10% of what we’d pay for something similar at home.) Here’s the framemaker (and wife?) packing it up for us. It just fits in the large duffel bag we brought along for additional space.

Another component of our Monday outing was a visit to the traditional “Bali Hall of Justice” (of special interest to Nina). The mural depicted various punishments, fitting the particular crime. For instance, one panel showed the punishment for a butcher who had failed to perform the appropriate ceremony before slaughtering an animal. His punishment was to be eaten by a pig (barely visible in lower right of photo).

We also stopped at a showcase cocoa plantation, where Nina was a huge success by giving away two miniature harmonicas to children of the people who ran the place.

We had to hope they wouldn’t drive their parents crazy with the sound.

This morning (Tuesday), we took a cooking class, which included an early morning walk-through of the Ubud market, seeing herbs, fruits and vegetables, etc. that we would be using.

The class was actually held at our hotel (which is an offshoot of a favorite restaurant here) and we chopped and cooked as instructed.

and then feasted extensively on the results. We finally had a good sense of what goes into the delicious food we’ve been enjoying for more than two weeks. (The key – besides rice, of course – is “sambal” which is an all-purpose term for various salsa-like concoctions that provide much of the flavor.

Our remaining agenda includes a “shadow puppet” show tonight, an herb walk tomorrow, and trying to pack everything safely for transport home.

And that about wraps it up. We are scheduled to fly out late tomorrow (Wednesday) night (which is Wednesday morning at home), and to reach SFO about noon on Thursday (after two overnight flights).

Then we start unpacking and figuring out where to display our treasures.

It’s been quite an adventure, and thank you for joining us on it. There is, of course, much more that didn’t make it into the blog, but we hope we’ve given you a good taste of Bali.


Dan and Nina


May 20-22

May 22, 2010

We continue to be blown away by the graciousness of the Balinese people, and the presence of art everywhere you look. The shrines, dining tables, even the beds and bathroom counters are decorated with flowers and leaves. The doors and building supports, and the indoor centerpieces to the thatched roofs are intricately hand-carved wood and painted. Almost every Balinese person we meet seems to be a musician, singer, dancer or artist. Many of them perform in ceremonies in their village temples, in addition to their “day jobs.”

Two nights ago (Thursday, May 20), we had one of the most wonderful experiences yet seeing Balinese dance in a religious ceremony (as opposed to a commercial show).  Our friend and guide Rucina took us to a very small village (Tista) an hour away from Ubud – a total of about 300 people living along one street – to see their version of the trance dance. We were the only foreign visitors there. The people were so welcoming. Timing is always rather “flexible” on these events, and we arrived just as people were going home to eat after praying and before the dance. Some local people invited into their house to visit while we waited. One of visiting brothers was a retired English teacher, and we had a lovely conversation while the women and children of the household worked with huge pile of bamboo, palm leaves and other plant products to prepare offerings for the holiday coming up (Kalungan- the end of the period that began on May 12 with Galungan)), where the ancestors visit the families and special offerings are made.

Then we went to the small pavilion-type community center to watch the dancers get dressed, and also met the local priest (shown here with Rucina).

And here’s Dan with another priest:

The first set of dancers were very young girls, around 13. We watched the man in charge of costumes do their elaborate make up, and a group of people help them get into their very beautiful costumes, headdresses, etc.

And here she is being sprinkled with holy water:

The “street scene” was quite wonderful. Keep in mind that this was about 10:30 at night:

We had good seats on the steps of the pavilion, next to the gamelan orchestra, which was playing very unusual gamelan music using a 7 tone scale (as opposed to the usual 5 tone scale) on very small instruments.

The dance we saw had been lost for a time. Through the efforts of some people working on cultural preservation (including Rucina), the dance had been resurrected and taught to a new generation.

The dancers danced barefoot in the street with people lining the sides of the road.

Next came the “trance dance” part of the performance. There was a dancer portray1ng a demon and various members of the audiences went into trances and attacked him with knives (not too sharp, but still fearsome).  It was clear that they were using tremendous pressure to stab him with the knives, but they say that he was protected by the Hindu gods because this was a holy ceremony and he was unharmed.

The priest and several helpers patrolled the edges to make sure no bystanders got hurt and moved the trancers off when they seemed to lose control or go on too long. Several women participated along with around 25 men. The trancers definately appeared to be in some type of altered state. Sometimes they would pass out, and the priest would revive them with holy water.  This was a much more interesting experience than the first trance dance (especially for me -Nina- too short to see much at the first trance dance). It was a very intimate setting. We had a chance to talk with the priest, a lovely, glowing man, who asked us afterward if we believed that it was real. We said yes. Although it was a fantastic scene, it did not seem fake in any way. We had some lovely interchanges with the priest, a man with an other-worldly glow about him.

Yesterday (Friday, May 21) we were invited to visit Made Jati, a friend of Nina’s cousin Denny. After an afternoon visiting a bird park, orchid garden, museum of Balinese history, and local beach in Sanur, with our friend and guide Rai, we arrived at her house. It was the most beautiful and elaborate compound we’ve seen here, really a total work of art, from the Balinese style buildings to the art to the temples. Made is an interesting and very unusual Balinese woman. She is a descendant of fishermen and rice farmers. Starting with very little, she has built up an incredible set of businesses employing many Balinese people. They include a fashion line that uses traditional Balinese lace in modern clothes (with stores all over the island) and a beautiful restaurant in Kuta where she took us for dinner. Soon she will open a dive center and set of bungalows for divers on Lombok (an island off the coast of Bali). Divers among our readers, take note!

After dinner Rai took us to the site of the 2002 bombing (carried out by extremists from Java). People here feel incredibly affected by it. Many lost loved ones. Two hundred people were killed, which would the equivalent (Dan says) of losing 20,000 in the US, given the small population of this island. It was an emotional moment for us, as our wonderful son-in-law Charley came very close to being at the site of the bombing that night. Rai had several relatives who also, inexplicably, very narrowly avoided being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Bali still has not healed or recovered economically from the two bombings they have experienced.
Today (May 22)  is a quiet holiday (Kuningan), celebrated mostly in the home temples, with people communing with the ancestors who have been “visiting” since Galungan and will now depart. People are dressed in their best, families walking through the streets carrying offerings, visiting relatives.

Love to you all,  N and D

May 16-19: More Munduk and back to Ubud

May 19, 2010

<If you read the May 13-16 post with no photos, you might check it out again, because photos have been added.>

The afternoon of May 16, we watched a dance class for children, held at our hotel. It was quite charming. The young people seemed quite talented.

Just as we prepared to leave the dance class for our spa events (massage for Dan, facila for Nina), there was an enormous downpour (we seem to have a thing for downpours and spa afternoons), and the dance teacher interrupted his class to call for someone to bring us extra-large umbrellas to walk the few hundred feet to the spa (even though we had our little fold-up umbrellas). This was typical of the nurturing provided at the hotel (and really, everywhere in Bali).

We ate all our Munduk meals at the hotel (being a bit cautious about food safety), and it was quite delicious. (Maybe we’ll say more about Bali food in another post.) But one wonderful plus at dinner was the music. Each evening, there was a group of two or three musicians, two players on the tingklik (?) – a xylophone-like instrument, with a third musician some evenings, on enchanting flute.

Monday morning, Dan took a more ambitious trek (5 hours, lots of up and down). Although Dan had the camera, he didn’t take any photos because the hiking itself took full focus.) Nina had a class with an old women on flower arranging. Here’s the result of her work:

We took it wasy for the rest of the day, except for another walk into town and another session of watching the children’s dance class. The instructor (below, with his beautiful daughter and Nina) invited us to his home in Singaraja, but it’s not likely we”ll be nearby.

Tuesday morning, Rai picked us up about 11, and we traveled back to Ubud, making various stops along the (circuitous) route — including a beautiful rice field and a hot spring. The photos below are at a butterfly farm. That’s a “barong butterfly” Dan is holding in the first shot, and then a large praying mantis-like creature.

And the butterfly farm “guide” placed several beauties on Nina’s blouse:

Our last step en route was at a sea-side temple, Tanah Lot. From parking lot to temple was pretty touristy, but the temple itself was magical. Dan walked to the holy spring, and as he left, was sprinkled with holy water and had rice placed on his forehead (standard procedure here – one sees lots of people with rice on their foreheads).

We found the scene below when we checked into our room. Very Bali.

It’s now early afternoon on Wednesday, May 19. We’ll try to keep you posted as our adventures continue.

May 13-16: Masks, trance dance, and on to Munduk

May 16, 2010

[We were in Munduk when we wrote most of the text below, and the internet connection was slow, so the photos were added when we returned to Ubud.]

After a quiet morning on Thursday (May 13) — blogging, swimming in the pool, etc. – Rucina picked us up from the hotel for another exciting day. Our first stop was at the workshop of a master mask maker (maker of masks for various ritual dances). We looked around, and then one of his assistants (his nephew, I think) did several dance excerpts using various masks, while the master or the dancer sang the appropriate melodies.

It was amazing how a mask with a fixed expression came to life when part of a dance.

We made a purchase there (“the king” – see photo above) and then traveled to Jimbaran to watch a “trance dance” at the temple there (actually, mostly  in the streets outside the temple). Here is the crowd:

Here is another figure from the dance. You can see some of the watching crowd in the background.

Much of the performance was similar to others we had seen, though sometimes very slow, and in the crowded context, often hard to see clearly (especially for Nina). But the key was at the end, when many individuals – not dancers, but “lay people” – just members of the audience- entered the scene, with their swords drawn, and proceeded to stab themselves while pledging loyalty to Barong (remember Barong – the lion?) who is a key figure in the dance.

They apparently inflicted some injury to themselves, and many went into a trance and had to be carried off the scene, into the temple where they were later revived, in a state of exhaustion. It’s hard to describe, but part of the drama of the event was the sudden animation of the watching crowd , as people suddenly moved back from the street to avoid being stabbed by accident. (Unfortunately, the extreme humidity fogged up the camera lns by this point, so we have no photos of the climax of the dance.)

The evening ended with dinner on the beach at Jimbaran.

Friday (May 14), our guide/friend Rai (see May 10 post) picked us up in the morning to take us to Munduk, a small village in the mountains. Along the way, we visited his home and met his family. That’s Rai n the middle, front, with his wife at the left, and children and nieces/nephews around.

We also visited a lovely temple by a lake – a very serene and calming place.

We are staying in Munduk at the first hotel built here (about 20 years ago), whose owner runs an extensive training program for local people, including sending them to Denpasar (Bali’s main city) for language training. Our “cottage” here overlooks a gorgeous valley with more mountains beyond. The fog drifts in and out, giving a sense of mystery.

After settling in briefly, we walked into town and back, with warm smiles from many people.

For Saturday morning, we arranged for a local guide for a trek (a walk, really) to the main waterfall in the area. Along the way, our guide told us about the various plants and trees in the area, including clove trees,  coffee bushes, and banana trees.

Water is very abundant here, and there is an extensive and impressive system for controlling the water for irrigation purposes and to prevent erosion. Here’s a small water mill that was generating power at a construcion site.

(There have been several rainstorms while we’re here.) Our walk took us past many gardens, and our guide pointed out clove trees, coffee plants, and many other local types of vegetation (some familiar, some not). The off-and-on rain gave us a good excuse for a very lazy day, our first time for really “vegging out.”

On Sunday morning (May 16), we woke early for a morning walk into town to see the local market — mostly fruits and vegetables. Here’s one ofNina’s “market shots”:

We also had a delightful chat with a young man who was clearly happy to impress us with his English skill (and invited us to his home just out of town — we didn’t find time to go before we left). And we bought batteries for the camera (batteries don’t seem to last long in this humidity) as well as some apples and local craft work.

Later today, we’ll go watch a dance class for local children and spoil ourselves at the hotel spa. That will leave one more full day here in Munduk, and then Rai will pick us up Tuesday for return to Ubud.

That’s it for now.

May 11-12

May 13, 2010

We have had an incredible two days, celebrating the  Balinese holiday of Galungan. On Tuesday (the day before the start of the holiday) we took a 5 mile walk from the Ubud Monkey Forest around the villages surrounding the city. People were all working on their “penjors”, which are very large bamboo poles that arch over the street and are decorated with designs made a palm leaves, other plants, and bamboo. Every house has one or more for the holiday and they form a graceful archway over the streets.  The offerings to the gods, which are everywhere in Bali, get bigger and more elaborate for the holiday.

Everywhere we went the children were really friendly and very spirited, often having fun cutting up for the camera.

Towards the end of the walk, a young man sitting by the side of the road struck up a conversation with us. He is a cook at the very fancy hotel in town and is delightful. It started to rain, so we sat with him on the porch of an art gallery for quite some time. At the end of the conversation, he invited us to his house to celebrate Galungan the next day and said he would pick us up in the morning.

Tuesday night we went to a performance of a new Balinese dance choreographed by a friend of our friend Rucina, who seems to know all the artistic people around. It was wild, lots of spooky smoke at scene changes, incredible costumes, the movements are just indescribable. This was in a temple and there were only a few tourists among hundreds of Balinese. The show started two and a half hours late (the concept of time if fairly elastic here) but was well worth the wait.

The audience was rapt, except for a young woman beside me who was checking email on her iphone! Here’s a photo of us with one of the dancers.

The next morning, true to his word our new friend Made (mad-aye, meaning second born) was at our hotel at 8 am to take us to his home.  Here is a photo of him with his mother.

We had a lovely visit with him and his family. We had brought children’s gifts from home and his kids and their cousins had fun with the kazoo and harmonica we gave them. It was our first chance to see a “family compound”, which is how the Balinese live. Little rooms for sleeping and cooking for each smaller family group, with the  parents, sons and families. The daughters generally go to live with the husband’s family. Each compound has a family temple with lots of shrines to the ancestors and offerings at each shrine. The women make and place the offerings (which involves a little ceremony) and it is quite a bit of work, from what they say.    Made’s family appeared to be quite prosperous. Everything was spotless, we sat on the porch and had tea and cakes. Lots of motorcycles and bikes for the kids.

Later in the day, we were invited to the home of Ketut (fourth-born — all Balinese have these names indicating birth order). He is a driver for our friend Rucina, who runs a foundation providing education for low income Balinese children. This was in a very rural village. No running water and seemed very poor. They were so hospitable. We sat on the porch, where the entertaining and eating is done, and played with his son, who had previously be scared of westerners.  Ketut’s beautiful wife is a dancer for temple ceremonies. Both Ketut and Made met their wives at the temple ceremonies, which seem to be social as well as religious hubs.

Then a group of children came to the entrance to the compound with a dragon-like puppet of Barong, a lion spirit, considered a friendly force. (The same creature was featured in the dance we saw on our first full day – May 7 – but the photo was actually included in the May 10 post.) At each door in the village they danced, sang, played gongs. We walked around the village with them, which was great fun.

That night we went with Rucina to a different temple to see a more classical Balinese dance. Below is a young dancer, after her performance, and a woman  placing offerings by the gamelan instruments.

Bali is totally living up to its reputation as friendly and welcoming. We have been moved to be invited into the homes of  people we barely know, who seemed genuinely glad to extend their warm hospitality to us.

Today the plan is to visit a mask maker and see the trance dance.

Another great day – May 10

May 11, 2010

It”s now early morning May 11 (Tuesday), and we had a wonderful day yesterday.

But before getting to that, I want to post a few more photos from the first couple of days.

Our hotel (Cendana Resort and Spa) is on a main street (Monkey Forest Road) but set way back from the road, so it’s totally peaceful. Here’s a photo of us from the breakfast area, looking over the rice paddy (where we usually see ducks feeding in the water in the morning).

This statue gets extra decoration occasionally, perhaps as a result of the upcoming festival, or maybe it’s just Bali being Bali.  (The greenery is simply growing up through the statue, but the flowers are placed by hand.)

Here are some of the musicians and dancers at the performance from Saturday morning:

Some more shots from the procession, Saturday evening — women gamelan performers and a group of boys waiting for their moment.

And here are the boys at their dance class (Sunday afternoon). This is taking place on a small pavilion right in the center of town. Notice how focused their eyes are in the second photo. They aren’t just watching the teacher — this is part of the dance itself.

And now for Monday: We had arranged for a half-day of guiding with a man named Rai (“rye”), whose name we had received from Bay Area friends who had been here, had him as a guide, and become friends with him. He was a real treasure, greeting us with warm hugs. The 4-5 hours with him were very special, not so much for what we saw (some photos to follow) but because of his charm, knowledge, and warmth. We had some in-depth conversations about Hindu-Bali (i.e., the blend of Hindu religion and Balinese culture), family relations and customs, and so on.

For instance, we explored the idea, which we’d already heard about, that when a couple marries, they go to live with the husband’s family at the “family compound” (which includes several buildings as well as a family temple).This is based on the principle that sons are responsible for their parents.

Rai told us, for instance, of the ceremonies in which the bride says farewell to her own ancestors and in which she is introduced to the husband’s ancestors.  If a family has no sons but several daughters (Rai currently has two daughters), it’s possible to arrange a marriage for her with a family with several sons, but that may involve a formal declaration that almost sounds like a gender switch for the couple (and may imply a lowering of status for the husband).

It’s hard to put more of the conversation into words here, but it gave us new insights into the world of Bali.

As we drove, we saw preparations everywhere for Wednesday’s Galungan Day, the beginning of a 10-day celebration, We expect to post Galungan photos after Wednesday’s celebration, but here are a couple from Monday: Rai and Dan with a rice-paddy terrace background, one of just the terraces, and a status of Seraswati (sp?), goddess of education and the arts. (I think this is from a temple called Galung Kawi.) Rai says they chose a beautiful women for the education goddess to make learning attractive. Dan shared the Jewish tradition of putting honey on the young child’s first book of learning the alphabet, so that learning is seen as “sweet.” Actually, we’ve been amazed at the many parallels between Hindu and Jewish thinking.

Our day ended with a Bali weather adventure. There has been occasional light drizzle – nothing to bother anyone, and it’s perhaps better than the hot sun. Our plan was to get massages at a place just out of town where our new friend Rucina had made us appointments, at 5 pm. Normally, when one walks along Monkey Forest Road, one gets asked every 100 feet or so if you need transportation, so we figured we’d just head up the street and find someone to take us. But just as we left, there was  a torrential downpour. We ducked into a shop, and after feeling a bit despearate, asked for help finding a taxi. (Actually, there aren’t formal taxis – just individuals offering transport.) She simply walked out to the street and waved to the right person (getting wet in the process), and refused to accept a tip in appreciation. The young driver helped with his umbrella (Nina had one), but still all got soaked going 20 feet to the car. As we drove, the streets were more like rivers. But we did get there in time, and he led us in (sort of a back-alley entrance — we’d have had trouble finding it on our own), and he agreed to come back when we were done. The massages were excellent (roughly $15 for an hour). We put on our soaking wet clothes and had a charming conversation with the driver on the way back. We ate at a great restaurant next door to the hotel (in our wet clothes), and by the time we were done, the downpour was over. We were glad to return to our room to get out of the clammy attire, and called it a night.

First Days of Bali Trip – May 7-9

May 9, 2010

Thanks to all who responded to our initial message with enthusiasm and encouragement. We hope our blog lives up to your expectations.

We are having  a great time. We arrived Friday afternoon, after more than 24 hours of travel, with only one little glitch (see end of post). Settling in to our lovely hotel and getting dinner were enough for the rest of the day.

During the day on Saturday, we had a pre-arranged tour for part of the day, including a dance performance based on Hindu myths, and visits to various crafts villages.

Saturday evening, we went to a celebration at a Balinese temple. A young Balinese man, named Ketut, who works as a driver for a friend of a friend (Rucina) took us. As we drove up, women in green sarongs and white blouses carrying huge towers of fruit and other offerings paraded by,perhaps several hundred of them.

Dan and I were dressed in traditional Balinese clothing, which is required to visit the temples. We looked pretty comical, I think, but appropriate for the situation. (Those who followed our Japan travels may see a theme here.)

Inside the temple there were 4 women’s gamelan orchestras, troupes of children ready to perform, hundreds of families, people in special areas meditating and praying. It was quite magical. Then Ketut, who brought us, took us over to see the (illegal) cock fighting.

Today (Sunday), after wandering the market for awhile (which left us with a fuller backpack and a thinner wallet), we happened upon a class of small boys learning Balinese dance. They looked to be about 5-10 years old, all very attentive to the dancing and the teacher and working on whatlooked like pretty hard dance steps.

In the afternoon, we met with Rucina, who is helping us plan a full Bali experience. She is formerly from the SF Bay Area, but moved to Bali many years ago, married a Balinese man, and has lived here ever since.

We are here during a major festival, which begins Wednesday (5/13) with Galugan Day and ends 10 days later. Both beginning and end have major processions, dancing, etc. So we hope to see and experience much.

<The “glitch” mentioned earlier is that we arrived at SFO for our flight, which had been arranged through American Airlines, on Cathay Pacific. But the Cathay Pacific agent said that while we did have a reservation, the ticket had never actually been issued by American. Off we go to the American Air desk, where a friendly agent got on the phone, muttering “vary strange,” and persisted until it got straightened out. Back to Cathay Pacific, where they already knew that it was all okay. We’re making sure our return carrier, Japan Air Lines, also knows it’s okay. Otherwise we might have to stay here indefinitely.>

Dan and Nina’s Bali Blog

April 20, 2010

Hello, everyone. This is a test message on the blog we’re starting in anticipation of our trip to Bali. We don’t make any promises, but hope to keep you in touch with our adventure.

Our schedule is to leave the U.S. early in the morning on May 6, arriving mid-afternoon May 7, and leave Bali on May 26, arriving at SFO about noon on May 27. We welcome your feedback and comments.

The photo here is from our last big trip, to Japan, Cambodia, and Vietnam, in February/March 2007. It’s just a test.