Saturday, 7 January 2012

What could you offer the gods?

There are other some really interesting things about Bali I wanted to tell you about. When I think of Ubud I instantly think of rich colours, lush greenery, weather so humid it's almost swamp-like and Balinese music, which is traditionally played on an instrument called a gamelan. It sounded vaguely familiar to me at first and you may also think it is repetitive, but it's not. There is, however, something a bit creepy about it for me (I mean that with no offence intended at all). The actual sound of the gamelan is pleasant, but the music it makes is... I can't put my finger on it. They play it in a lot of places - even the arrivals "hall" (basically a small room) at the airport.

Have a listen and tell me what you think, or if it reminds you of anything. Feel free to skip this step by the way! I'm just trying to fully get across what my experience in this lovely place was like.

The next thing that was new to me in Bali was the Canang - or daily offerings - that turn every street into a colourful symbol of faith. These are basically little handmade baskets containing flowers, rice, incense and a variety of other presents for the gods. I saw different offerings include sweets, cigarettes, biscuits and even money! There are many reasons why these baskets amazed me; they're intricately woven and involve quite a bit of handiwork, they're beautiful, they're placed on pavements, doorsteps and even supermarket tills, and they are a sometimes thrice-daily ritual for Balinese Hindus (the majority of Balinese people follow this type of the religion) who believe that the gifts will appease the gods and help to keep demons and evil spirits at bay (there is a bit more to it than that, but that's the gist. The video below also explains it a little more).

The sad thing is, once the baskets are put in their place, it's not long until they blow away, get trampled on or a dog eats them. Apparently though, this doesn't matter, because by then the energy from the offering has done its job. For some reason this ritual fascinated me - especially when at the supermarket I was paying for some things and a woman comes over, puts a basket on the receipt printer, lights some incense, then recites some words while flicking water and flowers over the rice! You can see exactly what I'm talking about in the video below - it's at about the 4.30 mark. It's just so peaceful and serene, and beats being asked if I have a Nectar Card.

One of my favourite pictures from my whole trip is this one. It's a collection of the baskets on a pavement one afternoon.


And here's the video... definitely worth a watch!

Comments encouraged as always!

Friday, 6 January 2012

Ubud, Bali

Bali is an Indonesian island located about a six-hour flight from Sydney. It's really popular with Aussies as a sunny holiday destination; although I knew this already after my hairdresser who had been there once said to me: "You know how Brits go to Magaluf? Aussies go to Kuta [a beach town in Bali]." Cue me making a mental note never to go to Kuta.

When I booked my trip I was given the option on my ticket of going to Bali or Fiji. To be honest, I didn't put a lot of thought into it, but a friend had been to the latter and said it was unequivocally "shit". Fair enough, Bali it is! I was pretty excited to start the Asia part of my trip and I would recommend Bali as a good introduction to this part of the world. No, I'm not saying it's all the same... it most certainly is not. But compared to where I had visited so far on my journey - North America and Australia - it was very different, yet easy enough to get around, not quite as chaotic as I was to find other parts of south-east Asia were, and really lovely and friendly.

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So, whereabouts in Bali should I start? This is actually a pretty difficult question, because while travelling gives you certain milestones to hit e.g. flights to catch, countries to leave and enter, it's totally up to you what you do inbetween. I can imagine that if you travel with a friend, it's fairly simple to bounce around a few ideas, read a few guides and just make a decision. But I found this part of the process quite tough! It definitely forced me to rely on my own instincts more and really weigh up the various choices, considering what I wanted and needed out of a destination, what I wanted to see or do, or simply where I liked the name of (ahem, I'd never rely on that method though, honest). Also, it's crucial when making this kind of decision to think about the practicalities. For example, my flight from Sydney (I had flown from Cairns to Sydney and then to Bali) didn't reach the capital, Denpasar, until 11pm at night. Call me a scaredy cat but as I was on my own this somewhat limited the amount of places I wanted to connect to that late.

I'm just going to take a break from writing this for a moment as I want to eat some Twiglets and don't want to get crumbs all over my new computer.

I'm back. I've pretty much demolished half a tub of them. Oops.

ANYWAY. Back to me deciding where to go in Bali. I chose Ubud, which is in the centre of the island and about a 45-minute drive from the airport. There were two reasons why I went for Ubud; a friend went there on her honeymoon and said it was gorgeous and I'd heard it was full of arts and crafts, which I love. I have to admit I didn't do masses of research before going (I never really do), but I found these things called home stays, which are very informal sort of apartment-type things in a bit of land usually owned and run by a family. Suffice to say Bali is very cheap (but actually not that cheap compared to the rest of Asia) and I emailed a family who said for the equivalent of about £12 I could stay in one of their rooms for a few days, plus they'd pick me up from the airport. Lovely!

I was a little worried when I got to the airport and got in a van with a guy who said he was there to pick me up (he had my details and name so I wasn't suspicious or anything, but it felt a bit weird). It's dark, I'm in the middle of an island very far from home, I have no working phone and I'm alone with a stranger in a van. Bit odd. But he was super chatty, whacked a bit of Bob Marley on the stereo and everything worked out just fine. He also offered me some weird cigarettes (not anything dodgy - I later found out they were clove cigarettes... they smell very sweet) but I obviously didn't take one. We arrived, and I was shown my room, which was basically AWESOME after living in hostels for three months.


And here's my balcony - behind the trees was a big rice paddy.


The trees outside were home to some of the loudest frogs and crickets I have EVER HEARD. It was very amusing. Then a rooster would start up about 8am... although that's hardly a Bali-specific thing, as here in Sale some right joker has got a rooster and it starts barking every morning while I'm trying to enjoy my coffee and watching the previous night's episode of Teen Mom (kidding... sort of, but oh my god has anyone watched it lately?). So, when I sat on the balcony in the evenings reading, this was my view:


Pretty sweet.

Breakfast was included. Basically you wake up, walk down to this outdoor patio type-thing (surrounded by a little waterfall and stream, I mean come on I hate cliches but this was pretty amazing), take your shoes off (you have to take your shoes off in a lot of shops, obviously all temples, most people's homes etc) and sit down. Then, about one minute later, someone arrives with whatever breakfast is that day. Most of the time it involved bananas. A lot of the time it was unrecognisable. All of the time it tasted phenomenal. And the family were just SO NICE. I caught the dad snoozing in front of the TV a few times snoring like a beast, but hey, he made good banana pancakes, so you know, swings and roundabouts.

This is a long blog post so far. I won't keep you much longer, because to be honest, my days in Ubud were full of long walks, checking out all of the local arts and crafts, eating amazing food, reading and just straight relaxing. There isn't much else to say about it.

Oh yeah, apart from one thing.

I had forgotten that in that GOD AWFUL book Eat, Pray, Love the main character (played by Julia Roberts in a movie whose only redeeming feature is Javier Bardem, check out the poster for the film by the way in that link, Julia is LICKING A SPOON for crying out loud, BECAUSE APPARENTLY THAT'S WHAT SINGLE WOMEN DO WHEN THEY ARE THINKING AND THEREFORE OBVIOUSLY IMAGINING THEIR NEXT WEDDING DAY) goes to Bali as part of her quest to "find herself" after a divorce and, guess what, when she's in Bali she meets a Brazilian painter and they fall in love I MEAN COME ON that's just so stupid and cliched and makes every solo woman in Bali (the movie was filmed in Ubud) look like they are SUPER DESPERATE and the more I think about it now the more women I saw in cafes looking wistful and attempting to seem nonchalant yet SUPER AVAILABLE should a DASHING ARTIST happen to need to borrow some sugar. Please.

The other thing to say is that Ubud is very, very beautiful and colourful, although there is a monkey forest, which freaked me out. Not keen on monkeys, although this little guy was a cutie.


Here is a small selection of my pictures... including one at the bottom, which I saw the first morning I was in Ubud. Yes, it's a Starbucks camouflaged to fit in with Ubud's aesthetic. I thought this was a bit of a shame, as it's contrived and also pointless; Balinese coffee is very tasty and different to many other types so there is no reason to pay massively jacked-up prices for something you can get at home.






Beautiful food! Almost everything, including some breakfasts, is served with rice in Bali.



As always, comments are encouraged! I have to go now because Masterchef is on.