Ubud, Our Proper Room and Other Matters

Next morning we relocate to the room we booked, mirror image of where we were last visit – floor to ceiling sliding glass doors overlooking Mt Agung if no clouds and the dense greenery and the Ridge. Many huge frangipani trees are in full pink, larger and more slender-bloomed than those we have at home. So far, aside from lolling in pool, reading, writing, eating and doing the daily Yellow Flower Cafe Walk, we have had interesting conversations with two westerners who live in the area- one Australian woman painter who has visited Bali over many years and finally built what she describes as a mansion with pool for $300,000 including the land which is on a 25 yr lease (she hopes to extend to 50yrs.)

And a woman from Brooklyn, NY who has lived here for 25 yrs and owns five properties, the largest of which we pass daily. They spend extended periods eg 4 months in other places where they meet up with their kids.Vietnam and Mexico were mentioned.They live off the rentals of these accomodations; the big house rents for $6000 p.mth, a good earner. She explained that they had 90% occupancy in the past but as so many foreigners have built here, the competition is stiff and it’s now around 50%. We find the stories of ex-pats endlessly fascinating, a bit of vicarious stuff going on on our part I suspect.

A couple of nights ago, Dave and I went to the traditional Balinese dance/ gamelan orchestra performance in the magnificent outdoor setting and architecture of the Saraswati Temple behind the Lotus Pond in town, always an absolute treat.

Feb. 18,Ubud: Our Slovenians Have Arrived!

Long awaited pleasure to reunite with our ‘Slovenian family’, Petra and Bostjan and their daughters Lara, now 11.5 yrs and Tajda just 10 yrs. We’ve enjoyed quite an ‘ international’ friendship, starting in 2003 when they were a young unmarried couple Woofing with us, and since then having been together at their home in Slovenia, in our home again, in Denmark then Barcelona four years ago and now here! The girls’ English is now astonishingly good and they are impressive in many ways – mature, interested, interesting. This time together will be just wonderful. So after joining us here at Elephant for breakfast with protracted conversation, we taxi for a few minutes as far as the vehicle can go, after which we walk ten minutes in the now extremely hot sun along the narrow concrete paths to their place. The path, though similar in size, differs from the Yellow Flower walk as it passes some little houses, art/ craft stalls, fields of flowers and vegetables but is also busy with motorbike traffic so one is constantly stepping aside, pressed against the high wall to let them pass enveloped in smelly fumes (which are getting to me a bit in Bali now with unrefined petrol and many motorbikes, often difficult to avoid) . But their accommodation is delightful – three old houses in one compound-one for the owner, two rentable, in the midst of fields and sometimes rice paddies. The buildings are unique, incorporating parts of old traditional structures with some modern touches. Two-storey, the floors are solid dark timber, glass windows are interspersed with timber shutter doors and windows, one corner wall is of latticed brickwork to allow light and airflow. Some wall sections and internal doors are of pale heavy carved timber. The kitchen has polished concrete bench tops and the kitchen/dining/ living room is one large open space. Downstairs consists of a huge bathroom and one small bedroom. A modern spiral staircase again of heavy dark timber with black steel railings leads to the large open upper room where two more double beds with mosquito nets stand. A balcony with couch overlooks the fields facing back over both ridges toward our place. As the crow flies, we are a minute away. In fact from my room at Taman, I see the large house almost adjacent to their place! I was surprised at how cool their house felt with only ceiling and standing fans, no air-con.

Together, we go out for a late lunch in their little area five minutes from the house to a cafe raised on stilts overlooking the rice fields. The food, though local, is muted to the western palate, thus disappointing .

By 3.30 Jon and I head home to a darkening sky and make it back to the accompaniment of distant thunder. Within half an hour it starts raining, then pelting down and two hours later is still raining though not so heavily. This is only the third rain in our time in Bali. The thunder is close and loud and it’s moody and beautiful.

Feb.19, Ubud : Galungan

We awaken to overcast and humid but no rain. And so it remains all day. It’s Galungan today, one of the biggest festivals in Bali where preparations start days in advance. Penjor, tall bamboo poles with offerings suspended off the ends, line the streets. Various food offerrings are made in sequence over three days -cooked bananas, fried rice cakes and a pig or chicken is sacrificed the day before Galungan. The festival celebrates the triumph of good over evil.

I oversleep after a not so good night, and one of the staff presents herself at 8.30 a.m at our room to inform us that the kitchen will close at 9 a.m. We already knew that Elephant, which supplies breakfast to Taman Indrakila guests, would be closed for the day after breakfast, but not the precise time. The Taman staff are already dressed in their traditional finery for the ceremony and there has been much discussion about scarcity of taxis, what will be open or closed etc for the holiday.The men have made it clear that they won’t go to town with me to see the festivities and I am having difficulty letting go of the idea. Obviously we are getting older  and I too sometimes have problems summoning energy or overcoming aches and pains. The extreme humidity also takes its toll…so, sad to say, none of us go into Ubud centre for Galungan. It doesn’t bother the men but I feel foolish and as though I am letting myself down, being the cultchavultcha that I am. Taxis will be difficult to find today especially for returning to our accomodation so I finally accept my decision, grateful that I have seen the big ceremony before at Kintamani and have good memories and many photos of it. Instead, I check out the street in front, watch a large number of locals, men all clad in traditional white with the head scarf, women in colourful sarong, kebaya and sash, riding to town on their motorbikes or in the opposite direction uphill, presumably to their family homes with their little temples.

I take a walk up the street, get talking to a couple who seem to be looking for somewhere to eat and offer to show them the organic gardens attached to Warung Pulau Kelapa, one of our favorite eating places. I always love walking through their magnificent grounds, over the sturdy, newly constructed bamboo bridge and into the extensive cultivated organic gardens containing ducks, a large variety of familiar and less familiar vegetables and fruits, including mulberries and asparagus, neither of which I would have expected in the tropics. And of course chillis, garlic, gingers, turmeric, lemon grass and much much more.

It transpires that the couple are Lebanese Australians, and we have interesting conversation about the migrant experience, how they met, (her brother in Australia is his good friend).She married him to get out of Lebanon and describes how difficult the early days were, neither speaking each other’s language. But here they are, thirty+ years , three children and four grandchildren later, energetic, attractive, youthful still and clearly happy. He is in the police force in Melbourne working as a cultural liaison officer, a nice man.

A dip in the pool. The two skinny black dogs we see around the place run down the steps and head for the small temple next to the pool, where more elaborate canang sari were earlier placed for Galungan. One skips back and out of sight, the other makes a grab for something and hurtles past me with a rice ball in his mouth! Every dog has his day.

The place is dead, no one in sight except for the unusually constant line of people on the Ridge Walk beyond, mostly locals dressed for ceremony heading toward town. I return to Warung Kelapa with the men for another outstanding lunch.Surprisingly, on our return mid afternoon, Mt Agung is fully visible but for some cloud streaks just under its irregular, blown-off peak. The constant stream of ridge-walkers continues, this time in the opposite direction, people returning from ceremony and the usual tourist/ traveller walkers.

It’s our last day with Jon’s brother and we go out for coffee in the as yet unexplored upper level bar/coffee room at Indus, owned by Australian Janet de Neefe.It’s just up the road saving the many steps down to the restaurant area where we usually go. It’s Happy Hour so we indulge in elegant cocktails- nice as I haven’t been drinking at all and Jon has only has a few beers in 3 wks. This is a magnificent space also, with high carved bleached timber ceilings, pale grey shuttered doors which slide completely open along two sides, marble floors and marble topped tables with heavy elegant timber chairs.

Feb. 20, Ubud: Leg Pain, Balinese Massage And A Night Out

My first massage on this holiday, more fool me! An hour later and $15 poorer, I am sure much tension has no been released from muscles overcompensating for a dicky hip! We see Dave off by taxi to tackle the long journey back to Michigan, brave soul and the day rolls past until it’s time to taxi to town and meet our Slovenians, Petra and the family, at Casa Luna, the other restaurant owned by Janet de Neefe.It also has marble topped tables, huge spaces, gloriously generous vases of exotic tangerine-colour gingers, a burnt orange wall with huge gilt mirror over the entry counter, gorgeous light fittings- the Bali aesthetic is everywhere. It’s Happy Hour again, a repeat performance and a delicious light meal of grilled chicken in Balinese sambal, rice and a green vegetable/grated coconut dish for me; breaded duck confit balls in a slightly

spicy sauce, a quite wonderful, European/ Asian fusion followed by nasi campur for Jon. It a delight to be with our young Slovenian friends and we now meet the friends with whom they are travelling and ready ourselves to go to a traditional dance performance, again in the Saraswati Temple. As we are about to leave the restaurant, the sky opens and it’s pouring soon after. Jon and I came with small umbrellas but the others are ill- prepared. Petra has no hesitation in asking the waitress whether it might be possible to borrow an umbrella and her request is immediately granted. How gracious and trusting. Can you imagine this anywhere else? Lara huddles under my little umbrella with me, and arm in arm we skip across overflowing gutters and in a short time arrive at the temple to be told to go upstairs into a charmless room with three other people already sitting there. Fortunately the rain eases, then stops, the performance will indeed proceed on the outdoor usual ‘stage’ in front of the great illuminated temple under huge frangipani trees and we are instructed to come back down. The plastic seats are wiped off, the stone paved stage area likewise, the gamelon players arrive and the performance commences. Regular flashes of lightening add to the already bright illumination of the temple structure, the orchestra and the performers but the sky remains closed. A perfect night enjoyed by all. Petra and the kids ask if the dancers have had their fingers broken, so astonished are they at the flexibility of their fingers of the dancers!

Feb.21, Ubud: At Last The Ridge Walk!

Yesterday’s massage gave me a very good sleep so I am determined not to leave Ubud without doing the Ridge Walk.There’s only so much a woman can forgive herself for! Jon agrees to join me so, concession to knees, hips, steps and heat, we arrange to taxi to Keliki, the village at the far end of the ridge from where we will start along the narrow paved road. Although a stone’s throw away as the crow flies, it is a circuitous route and a good ten + minutes drive to go round the ravine passing through densest rainforest.Blessedly it is overcast today so even at 8.30 a.m. it’s not too hot.It’s the first time Jon has done this short walk (less than 3 km in total), my third in several years and, although overheated by the end, he thoroughly enjoys it. Flanked with rice fields bright green with new shoots, we pass a few small warungs. The fields are sparsely dotted with houses and accommodations. Karsa Spa is the most obviously impressive place we pass so I lead him downhill on a path beyond it’s cafe and through their most beautiful grounds. Several ponds are brim-full of large pink water lilies;huge stone pots are overgrown with mosses and lichens containing large plants.The cafe and many small open roofed pavilions which serve as individual treatment rooms, overlook the paddies.

Back on the little road we continue, noting the various accommodations, as I have always yearned to stay up here away from the pollution and noise of Ubud’s roads, Jon has always been put off by its relative ‘remoteness’. My other issue is number of steps, irregular in height and large in number, at Taman Indrakila especially , even more down to the pool, as the premises is built on the side of the steep ravine. We look in on a fine-looking establishment, much younger in years than Taman and presumably more expensive and are delighted to find it traditional/modern, beautiful grounds, huge swimming pool accessed by only a few steps, all overlooking the steep ravine. Surprisingly it’. Not too much more expensive than Taman and if we were to stay a week, they would certainly cut a deal. We are both won over! The daily walk would be flattish along the level section of the ridge with many small concrete paths coming off it into the rice fields, a few little eating places, perfect for the future.

Back home, Jon takes a large load to the laundry lady which will cost something like $3! By 12.30 it is raining lightly, much cooler and I am ready for lunch.

Petra et al decide to join us so we take them to, guess where, Kelapa the organic (yet again- hard to beat a place of this excellence). I notice an unusual spread of small dishes at one table and figure it’s the famed rijsttafel (lit. rice table), a meal consisting of a large number of small dishes and sambals originating in W.Sumatra and adapted by the Dutch. We have only eaten this once before several years ago and certainly didn’t know it was available here. A separate menu is given to us and what a feast. The kids order individual dishes and the adults two of the above, each recommended for two persons but would be sufficient for three. After eating, we walk ‘the Slovenians’, (I love referring to them thus, sound formal and funny) through the organic gardens between rain showers and then back to a Indus for coffee. Heavy showers are keeping the temperature down. We say our good byes, as we all leave for Lovina tomorrow and will meet up with them again there.

Feb. 21, Return Trip To Lovina

The drive from Ubud takes an unexpected three full hours as, being Sunday and still school Holidays, there is much traffic around Lake Bratan, the Twin Lakes and Bedugul. The latter has a substantial and long-standing Muslim population and we pass some small mosques and see women with headscarves. Creeping up the mountains we head into a bit of rain but my bet of fine weather down on the coast proves right. Heavy traffic again as we go through Singaraja, Bali’s second largest city and one I always enjoy passing through because of its Dutch colonial architecture, impressive administrative buildings and tree-lined streets.

Again a feeling of ‘coming home’ as we are welcomed back to Summer Guesthouse. This time it is full, even the one dormitory room which has seven beds and the tent rooms.

Gardeners are drawn to gardeners, dog lovers to dog lovers and Ketut of Summer Guesthouse and I bonded over both on our 2018 visit. She has just finished grafting cuttings from the wonderful red flowering frangipani in front of Wayan’s warung and a second colour onto hers;likewise with her desert roses.

We spend time and enjoy lunch at the warung with Wayan and later Putu who is home for less than 24 hours, and borrow her large umbrella for the 2-minute walk home as the sky is black. A huge rain sets in and, as before, feels as if it will never end but an hour or two later the clouds lift. Coffee and the adored Greco Napoleon (custard with mille feuille pastry) early evening are followed by the walk down the the sea and back up the small parallel street dropping in again at the warung to spend more time with Putu. However, she has gone into town to a kids’ playground with brother Ciri and little Elina.

Feb 22, Lovina:A Busy Day

We wake to sun, blue skies and how beautiful are the tropics!The ‘green walk’ alone before breakfast is always a wonderful start to the day, still cool and shaded enough for almost an hour and so much to observe! I pick my way through puddles from last night’s rain and come to the nearby building construction which, in the five days since we were here, has almost completed stone foundations. A lorry is tipping off a load of gravel and an hour later on my return, has delivered another load of soil. Later, when we pass en route to lunch, a huge new pile of rock has been delivered.

Opposite in the wet field, a young man crouches down and I can’t make out what he is doing. In his hand is a fine metal thread one end of which is embedded in the ground and which he gently pulls on, as if fishing. What could it be? Frogs? Lacking his patience, I continue on my way after a few minutes, none the wiser. A small boy responds to my pagi (mornin’) with a grin, emerging from the field where his parents are working. Further along, three boys dressed in their Sunday best, sporting sophisticated hairdos, shyly greet me and call hello to me when they spot me on my return.

Many of the village houses I pass on these small concrete lanes have chickens running round the yard and several have a black pig or two, one of whom is clearly demanding breakfast from its owner! Another plot has a small structure with palm frond roof under which two doe-eyed Balinese cows are tethered together with two young calves, all curious about my close presence.

After breakfast, we spend time with Putu before she must leave to return to her new nursing placement, this time just two weeks in Infectious Diseases before two months in an out- patient clinic nearby here, an outreach service of a large public hospital.

We have decided to go to Buda Bakery and restaurant in the backstreets of the village, a hot 15-minute walk but well recommended by Trip Advisor which we haven’t used before.It’s a delightful setting one storey up in a tiny quiet residential street overlooking red tiled roofs and huge coconut palms laden with young fruit, large and very tall clumps of bananas, mango, other dense foliage and large trees. Jon chooses an asian coconut- chicken soup followed by chicken cordon bleu, something European for a change and I have a tomato and feta salad

and grilled fish fillet with sambal and rice.Somehow we are disappointed with the meal, appreciating Wayan’s cooking as far superior.

After a short time in the pool it’s time to meet up with Wayan to undertake a mission-a seamstress to make up something I want for Jon. This involves riding on the back of Wayan’s motor scooter, something I haven’t done for many years. Oh dear, hip and legs haven’t been brilliant for the last couple of days and getting the leg over the seat is a bit challenging and distinctly unpleasant. But once on, I brave the main road traffic for a short distance seated behind Wayan, both helmeted, before we turn off. After a few minutes on the village road we arrive at our destination. Now a very short ride to Wayan’s massage lady where we have been together once before. It’s a treat she can’t normally afford and needs.Two massage tables in a small room, two sisters, both had undertaken a six month course years ago in Denpasar and one had spent four years working in Turkey just as Ciri’s wife now is doing. She spoke positively of the experience and said it was no problem being a single woman there. Good to hear.

Getting back on the motor scooter after the massage was noticeably easier and the massage quite wonderful. I could become addicted! Heavy rain fell during our massage but luckily has stopped.

Just as I am about to walk home from the warung, Jon turns up so we set off for coffee at Cafe Greco and the delicious mille feuille pastry Greco Napoleon again, repeat the round walk to the sea, pass many empty or almost empty eating places and feel sad for the struggling locals. In The entrance to one shop is flanked with two cats looking like statues. Not far along, we see a tall European woman with a puppy in her arms and stop to chat. Dutch, married to a Balinese, she has already adopted six dogs and hopes her husband will accept this seventh, feverish pup!

The ‘busy’ day ends back at the warung and more quality time with Wayan and Kembar. We are pleased that she has had quite good customer numbers since our return yesterday and tomorrow brings more as our Slovenian friends, together with the other Slovenian family, seven in all, are taking her Cooking Class in the morning and in the evening, Jon and I have arranged a 40th birthday feast prepared by Wayan for Petra.

We have been joking with Wayan that by the end of the day she will be tired but rich!

Feb 24, Lovina: Ketut’s Garden, Learning More and The 40th Birthday Feast

Today the plastic wrap surrounding her new grafts came off the desert roses and frangipanis. Now she sits under the bale, the open-sided raised pavilion at the end of the pool, with sharp knife and palm leaves preparing offerrings for Kuningan, the next ceremony. While she commences this, Desi, one of her three employees, washes Domi the dog who stands patiently and seems to enjoy all the touching.

These offerrings, again made from sectioned pieces of palm leaves, differ again from the Galungan ones. The small segments are stapled together making a round shape, representing the earth. Prior to the use of staples, fine strands of bamboo were used and our Wayan still uses this method.

Kuningan marks the end of the 10-day Galungan period and the Balinese believe that Kuningan day is the day when their ancestors return to heaven after visiting the earth during Galungan celebration. They make offerings to be given to the ancestors on their farewell day. The offerings include yellowed rice (Kuningan is derived from the word kuning which means yellow) which is placed in a small “bowl” made of woven coconut leaves. Other common offerings are chicken, seeds, fish and fruit like papaya and cucumber. The yellow rice is the symbol of human’s gratitude towards God for life, joy, wealth, health and prosperity given. The ‘bowl’ is placed on a woven tray and surrounded by fruits and the small, colourful canang sari described earlier, sit on top.

Due to the amount of preparation needed, the local government allows a two-week vacation period for (almost) everyone. That way, people can prepare for both Galungan and Kuningan.

Yesterday on talking with a Ketut, I learned that they own a shop near the beach which was her first business and behind which she, her husband and two boys used to live.When they accrued sufficient money, they built this guesthouse and she tells me they are constructing another accomodation nearby. Putting two and two together, I realize this is the building site with the stone foundations mentioned earlier which I pass on my daily green walk. So today I stop and chat with one of the workers,mention Ketut and Summer Guesthouse and get a warm reception. They plan to make the new accomodation exclusively a hostel, without swimming pool and convert the one dormitory room here into another large room for two like ours. They also own a third block of land nearby, not yet developed.

The Birthday Feast

Petra turns 40 and we have asked Wayan to prepare a feast for nine. She has also, said in consultation with us, ordered a black-forest cake decorated with ‘Petra 40’ on top and a few candles.The foodp, all Balinese except for the cake, is wonderful consisting of many different dishes – ikan pepes (fish baked in banana leaves), nasi goreng, tempe with roasted peanuts, fried chicken pieces with sambal, fish sate sticks, uraban( green vegetable and coconut dish) and more. Everyone is delighted and Jon and I feel so proud of her. She joins us when she has finished cooking and charms everyone with her engaging personality. As her kids help her in the kitchen when available, Kembar is ‘on duty’ and I tell the group a bit about this. Petra relates very well to this as she also leads a hectic life as a full time professional lawyer, now in partnership with her husband Bostjan,lectures part-time at the university and is a wonderful mother. An interesting conversation ensues. Petra has a lovely manner with people, empathetic and warm and there is something special for me seeing two younger woman ‘of my life’ connecting so well. Precious moments.

Later, twin Kembar and girlfriend Indra briefly join us and their grace impresses, especially given their limited English, their youth and Slovenian accents to deal with.

Feb 25, Lovina: A Visit To The Villa

We have never been in a Balinese villa which is what Petra et al have rented for a few nights. It’s in Dencarik, a 15-minute drive west of Lovina set well off the road on a rough track like our place, which then leads onto smooth concrete running parallel to the beach along which stand villas, each large houses on very large blocks of land. Five bedrooms and four bathrooms, full time gardener and staff of two who prepare three daily meals and clean. There is a huge swimming pool, a bale with soft mattress and cushions, many outside lounging chairs and couches and beautiful gardens.It faces onto the sea and the gentle breeze is noticeable.

I am curious as to the owner (I am curious about everything, and not being shy, ask lots of questions and learn much). The owner is Chinese- Javanese like the adjoining property.

We share a meal and spend several hours talking around the outside table.Sad to think our reunion will finish by the end of tomorrow when we will all eat at Wayan’s again. It is a special friendship.

Feb.26, Lovina: Dolphins And A Dandy Pampering

On my recommendation the Slovenians decide for the dolphin trip which Jon and I did a few years ago as this part of the north coast is rich with them. We start out at 7 a.m on an overcast morning with two outriggers and within fifteen minutes are amongst another ten or more boats already hovering out there. Almost immediately we spot small pods of bottlenose dolphins.They slip so silently and fluidly in and out of the water, sometimes breaching entirely and landing back with a loud smack; occasionally blowing air audibly from their blowhole. In fact they do this 4-5 times per minute but as they are constantly on the move one doesn’t hear it often. Nonetheless, there is something touching about it, being reminded that they, like us are mammals and air is their life source. The kids shriek with delight (sometimes the big kids too!) every time one breaches or spins in the air or a group come right beside the boat.They’re so endearing. The boats follow the pod(s) gently and it is apparent that the dolphins have no discomfort with this as they could easily out-swim us and don’t. It’s impossible to know how many individuals we actually see but the sightings must be in the hundreds. Looking back to land, the mountains behind the coast are partially shrouded in cloud, the water is mercurial, it’s a subtle vision of grey on grey, gorgeous!

I have badly neglected my fingernails and toenails and decide to treat myself, aged almost 75, to a manicure and pedicure for the first time in my life! Fussed over hand and foot by two beautiful young Balinese women who snip and file and buff and push cuticles and still more before washing, applying creams and massaging; they finally apply multiple layers- 1 clear, 3 coats of my chosen red and a final clear coat. Seventy-five minutes later and only $30 poorer, I emerge feeling like a queen and committed to repeating this indulgence as needed at home! Who could EVER do their nails like that alone (though I won’t bother with colour on the fingernails- too much housework and gardening to sustain it).

By mid afternoon the black clouds over the mountains once more break open, accompanied by some lightening and thunder and really heavy rain for an hour or two before easing. The thunder becomes more distant, the dropped temperature stays with us.

Feb.26, Lovina: Last Supper with The Slovenians

They join us for dinner at Wayan’s warung without their friends, everyone choosing individual dishes.My rendang pork is absolutely delicious and the others all enjoyed their food. Everyone agreed that it was perfect to just be the six of us alone. Our relationship with the girls is precious as they were little kids when we were last together and spoke little English. Our Skype and WhatsApp calls in more recent years where they are always present, indicated a deepening connection but this time together has moved the relationship profoundly. They are people in their own right with humour, grace, warmth, empathy, sophistication and the brightest of intelligence and, it seems, they can’t give or receive too many hugs! And the closeness between the sisters is something to marvel at. A wonderful family to have in our life.

Another unexpected joy is the way Wayan and Petra connected, starting with the cooking class the Slovenians did with Wayan and growing with each interaction.Little Tajda said of their connection, I think they are like sisters.From entirely different cultures and worlds, their paths have curious parallels, each having come from humble (relatively speaking) backgrounds, both being extremely intelligent (though educational opportunities were never available to Wayan and Petra is a Ph D), extremely hard-working and determining their respective paths.

Feb. 27, Lovina: The Sound Of Water, Buying Fruit & Tea With The In-laws

Last full day, up and out early on green walk much of which is, for the first time, accompanied by the sound of water gurgling down the concrete channel beside the dirt track.I have beaten the construction workers whose site is a mud bath after all the rain, but see them squatting on the ground eating breakfast(makan pagi)under the adjacent temporary woven structure where they appear to be living while working on the site.

At the next dogleg, a channel about two metres wide has a veritable stream of muddy water rushing along it! The mountains behind this area are nearby and rise at least 1000-1500 mt thus create much run-off. As at home, they experience the same prolonged dry season and I can’t help but wish there was some system of storing this precious commodity.

I zig-zag up and down a few of the little lanes walking along the main village road for only one block. The fruit stalls and the few shops are now open, so I take the opportunity to buy my favorite fruit, mangosteen and some rambutan. I know what this should cost so when the price is doubled I jack-up. Happily another local on her motorbike speaks reasonable English and intervenes, explaining that the prices are high as Kuningan approaches. Business is business wherever one is but we negotiate and I am happy to have a half kilo of each for about $3. A win-win, we are all smiling.

Once again I find myself in the lane where Ciri’s in- laws live and *Ketut(yes, another), the father-in-law, spots me and comes to greet me. We shake hands and he immediately calls his wife Tomy and they invite me into their compound for a cup of tea, first time for me although I had talked with Ketut when I first met him a few years ago selling jewellery on the beach before he was ‘connected’ to Ciri.

A handsome well built man with several decorative tattoos and a most beautiful smile, he is, like his wife,warm, open, personable and intelligent. They treat me as a member of the extended family, no longer attempting to sell me anything even when I pass Tomy’s clothing stall and are always pleased to see me as am I seeing them. Like most Balinese,he has a ready smile and a good sense of humour.

I sit on the tiled stoop in front of their humble home and drink sweet black tea with them and we talk for quite some time about life, the terrible floods currently afflicting Jakarta which leads to talk of moving capital cities, rising seas, extreme weather and the implications of climate change. He talks about greed and sharing and makes reference to god or a higher power. I can’t remember his exact words but his is not a guilt-based belief system. Several times he says this is life and that maturity reduces ego which the young still struggle with.There is much wisdom in what he says.His humanity and empathy come across loud and clear and I am struck by the fact that several Balinese people with whom we have had in-depth conversation express the same philosophy.

I ask about Kuningan preparations as none are evident, which gives me an opportunity to discuss ceremony. As there are at least thirty per year of which a handful are major, I suggest this is very time-consuming and must be quite costly. He explains that one makes offerings in accordance with ones ability,so if poor or suffering lean times, water,a little rice and some flower petals will suffice.

*A Little About Balinese Names

A complex subject which I have by no means mastered but here is a starting point.

The name most Balinese people will give you is not a personal name at all. In this ancient culture, the most commonly used names simply indicate the person’s position in the family as first, second, third or fourth born child.

There is only one ‘fourth born‘ name: Ketut.

While Wayan is the most common name for first born children, they may have the alternative names Putu, Gede or (for girls only) Ni Luh . The second child in the family is usually called Made, which means “middle”,  but is just as likely to be called Nengah, Ngurah or Kadek. The third born child is called Nyoman or Komang.

In previous centuries Balinese families were not encouraged to have more than three children and may have practised some form of traditional birth control. Nowadays there are plenty of fourth born children, so a name was needed. Ketut means “little banana” – the smallest banana at the end of a bunch.

A family with a fifth born child might call him “little Wayan”, the sixth “little Made” – and so on.

As most of these names are also the same for boys and girls, they might add the prefix “I” (pronounced “ee”) for boys and “Ni” (nee) for girls. They are similar in meaning to “Mister” and “Ms”.

There isn’t an equivalent of a family/surname which would indicate relationship, but rather a ‘personal’ name added to the above and also a name which indicates caste.It is endlessly complicated for the simple-minded!

Kembar has been interested to see my website and we arrange to spend time with him in the warung today. I show him some of my artwork, none of which he/they have seen and am astonished at the sustained level of interest, even with work that is not straightforward. He asks the meaning behind the work and understanding my explanations.

As there are no customers in the warung, we sit with Wayan and Kembar.It’s not often we get concentrated time for discussion. Wayan is really smart and there is a lot of give and take in our conversations. We also learn much from her. While we sit talking, someone appears at the front step asking for money and she gives him 5,000 IDR ( ca.40 cents). So we discuss the problem of to whom and how much one gives. She tells us there is an entire village of people who live in decent homes, have motorbikes and cars but live from begging.They drive to a given location in a van wearing tattered clothes, sometimes with dirty, ragged babies in tow and older children. They then separate out and commence begging. We have encountered three such children in front of the Cafe Greco(also two lots on the Yellow Flower Walk in Ubud, one with four kids in tow, too close in age to all be hers, a giveaway as to her modus opera did). Not long after she has given the man the money, a woman appears. She presumes it to be his wife or certainly of the same group hence gives no more. This sounds very much like the Gypsies of Europe we have encountered. She seems quite tolerant of it and says she feels guilty if she gives nothing, just like me and we agree that one can’t give to everyone

Feb. 28, Lovina: Lifting Heavy Rocks

Last morning walk and as usual I pass the construction site and the man who speaks a little English greets me again. Although not raining now, the site is a thick sludge of mud and in parts is ankle deep in water. The men are continuing to fill with rocks a trench which runs down one side of the new stone foundations. They carry the smaller, still sizeable rocks one by one on their bare shoulders, covered only with a piece of towelling. With this heavy weight they trudge through the sludge. Another man is slowly manuovering a large rock, perhaps 50mm in diameter, slowly this way and that in order to slip a rope around it to sling onto a bamboo pole in order that two people may lift it into a nearby metal wheelbarrow that has seen better days. I marvel that the barrow hasn’t yet fallen to pieces. This will then be pushed through the wet mud to where it is required. And all this under a punishing sun and sweltering humidity. I look at these small thin men and contemplate the stress this must place on their bodies and imagine them ageing well before their time and suffering with bad backs. Mind you, it is women one sees constantly, as everywhere in the less developed world, carrying huge and often heavy loads balanced on their heads

A Summation

I leave Bali with a tumble of emotions. I feel for the poverty that remains so obvious, the struggle of ordinary people, our Wayan included, the ridiculously low wages and the gulf between rich and poor, not exclusively the domain of Bali of course. Many things have improved however, in the years since we were first here- motorbikes, and to a lesser extent cars, replace walking and bemos though the infrastructure to support them lags behind. The resultant dense traffic on narrow roads emits considerable fumes, even penetrating many outdoor eating places.Really unpleasant especially around food. Nonetheless, life for many is much improved. When Jon first came to Bali in 1974 Kuta had no electricity and I doubt there are any places without it today. Everyone, but everyone, reaps the benefits of mobile phones even if internet connections are sometimes a little patchy and internet speed apparently on the slow side.

The landscapes, Balinese architecture including the omnipresent temples, the welcoming gentle people, the smiling faces, the food are all quite wonderful yet the grime, the lack of maintenance of buildings and footpaths with treacherously uneven surfaces and gaping holes, all indicators of poverty, sometimes depress.

It’s an ongoing lesson about appreciating all one has and not taking it for granted. A mere cosmic accident that we were born to such privilege. One inevitably must try come to terms with with the discomfort of this discrepancy, not easy.The bottom line is that I’m a privileged white(almost!)woman with my painted nails! But you have to laugh too, as the Balinese do so readily, laugh and smile…and be grateful and kind.

And A Funny Addendum

So, here we are in the Lounge at the airport in Denpasar, enjoying the comforts and food, this trip being our first experience. I decide to have a glass of wine and am somewhat surprised when, instead of pouring from a bottle, the barman takes the silver bladder of a wine cask and squeezes the dregs into my glass! Less than elegant. Jon had stumbled on an unseen protrusion on the floor where we sat and I hadn’t taken much notice. Not long after, having helped myself to food, I am carrying a plate of vegetables and salad back to where we are sitting and trip, almost falling over on the same protruding object.I instinctively let out a bit of a shriek as I think I am going to fall, exclaiming how dangerous this thing is. Pieces of cauliflower fly, Monty Python-style, from my plate to Jon’s trousers and then decorate the floor. Jon looks put- out but happily, a staff member on hearing my little shriek, comes to the rescue, bends down and forces the power point flush to the floor and snaps the lid closed as it should have been all the time. All is well. You’ve got to laugh!

March 1, Hydeaway Bay: Journey’s End, Home Sweet Home, From Green Walk to Blue/Green Walk

Yesterday we spent a total of nine hours at Denpasar and Brisbane airports with a six hour flight in between and only two hours sleep. My heart begins to sing immediately we fly our of Brisbane- the landscape below is green and as we approach Proserpine, the glory of the Great Barrier Reef and the Whitsunday islands lays itself bare once again. Below, I gaze upon a myriad of greens in the patchwork of cane fields and then the hills dense with trees. The ground below is no longer brown but a velvet carpet of emerald. Nothing but nature with an occasional farmhouse at the end of a long dirt road winding between hills. How the Balinese would envy this open space and clean air! I rejoice at being home and consider myself blessed to live in such a beautiful area.

It’s amazing how exhaustion lifts, bringing enough energy to start the nesting process at home-things empty out of suitcases into washing basket or cupboards, a bit of sweeping and mopping, moving a few potted plants back into place, Jon sorting through mail and finally a deep long sleep.

Although we were told how hot it is here, it seems easy- 30C but only about 60% humidity, a far cry from Bali’s 90%. We have had many inches of rain in our almost five- week absence and the frangipani trees have grown much taller and filled out with foliage for the first time since the devastating cyclone almost three years ago. Weeds are rampant all through the paths and elsewhere.

Today I set out on my usual walk incorporating both foreshore and road. I go to the end of the sealed section where the houses stop, and then a few minutes further on the gravel section high above the sea, to the top of Oh My God Hill before turning back. It’s Sunday, so only one car passes, otherwise only birdsong, SO much more than in Bali, fresh unpolluted air and the familiar fragrance of a weed in flower. Before we left, the Kapok trees were just beginning to sprout new leaves and were full of large, fragile pods ready to release their white fibrous contents. They are now plush with leaves, barely a pod remains and they form a dense foreground to the sea below. Wherever my eyes fall, I see either blue or green. Sad as I was to leave Bali, I couldn’t be happier! Home sweet home.

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