Saturday, June 8, 2013

Beautiful Bali

Oh my, I really MUST stop beginning every post with an apology for being absent so long! And the best way to do that is to keep writing! Seriously, from now on, you'll see regular posts from me. Promise. No, really. I double promise.

So, this time I've taken quite a LOOOOOOONG hiatus from my blog. It's not that I haven't had the time to write -- I've had plenty of time, actually -- I just haven't had the inclination. I think what happened is that I (temporarily) stepped out of "travel mode." You see, I was in Sydney, Australia for six of the last eight weeks and found myself sort of settled into a comfy day-to-day life (of the friends with whom I was staying). In one sense it was so great -- and easy -- but at the same time it lacked the excitement and juice of those days of travel, staying in guesthouses, eating every (amazing) meal out, etc. Instead, I was staying in my friends' home (super great family, cool house), buying groceries (it's WAY too expensive there to eat out), taking walks, reading, working out.... and just basically living the "western" life, minus the job. Again, all good -- no complaints here -- but I wasn't feeling like a "traveler."  So I sort of got out of the habit (and inclination) to write/blog.

But I'm back! And I need to tell you about where I've been since my last post. I'll likely do this in a few different posts (written in close succession!), so that I can publish each one as soon as I write it. 

So I'll start with Bali.... and then I'll tell you about Sydney.... and THEN all about Paris and Spain (where I am now)!! Stay tuned.....

(big sigh.....)

Ah, Bali. Oh, how I loved it there. Thoughts of being there always soften my entire being and open my heart. So for the next little while, as I write this blog post, I'll be transported back to my second most favorite place in my travels (Luang Prabang, Laos comes in at #1).

So how do I adequately convey to you the essence of Bali? It's like no other place I've been. Right from the moment I arrived, I felt its embrace; I felt "at home" there even though it was utterly unfamiliar to me. The people are absolutely beautiful, radiant. Quite literally, I find their features to be absolutely gorgeous, both men & women. And they have a depth and kindness that is palpable and enlivening. And the land.... it is unbelievably lush, vividly green, nearly overgrown with radiantly healthy plants & flowers, with volcanoes, many (many) rivers, and rice paddies everywhere. It is truly heavenly.

I arrived on 10 March, after about 24 hours of travel. Whew! I left Koh Phangan at 12noon on Saturday, 9 Mar, taking the ferry from there to east coast of the mainland of Thailand. From there, I boarded a bus for the 6 hour trip to Phuket (west coast), arriving at 8:00pm. My flight to Singapore was scheduled to leave at 10pm, so I had plenty of time to check in & grab a bite to eat before boarding. I arrived at Singapore airport at 12:30am, but my flight to Bali wasn't scheduled to leave until 7:00am. So, of course, I spent the night in the airport. 

Now if one is going to spend the night in an airport, Changi (Singapore) is the one in which to do it! It is massive, with many, many places to eat, couches & chairs on which to lie down, machines for FREE foot massages, unlimited free wifi, TVs with comfy chairs for watching, TONS of great shopping, and if you don't mind spending the money.... rooms to rent by the hour, and a swimming pool & gym! Oh, and a small Disney play area for kids. I wish I'd taken more photos, but here's a tiny glimpse....

SO.... my flight to Bali took off as scheduled and I arrived at Denpasar airport at 10:15am. My friend, Chiara (with whom I spent time on KP and was now in Bali) arranged for her driver to pick me up -- complete with sign saying "For Nan" -- and drive me to Ubud (about 1 hr from Denpasar). It was an absolutely wonderful & gorgeous drive, as he & I chatted the whole way.

I had arranged to stay at a most wonderful place, Santra Putra, which was where Sunny and her gang were staying. There happened to be an extra room for me, so I took it. I arrived just as the group was breaking for lunch, so I was able to give (& get) a bunch of big hugs before settling into my room -- a gorgeous large room with terrace and kitchenette, looking out onto lush gardens (see below).

... and a bit more of the Santra Putra grounds....

After getting settled in, I met Chiara & Mino (her husband) for lunch and then we took a walk in the area -- down beautiful paved footpaths, past incredible homes and alongside rice paddies....

Couldn't stop snapping pics.... even the doors looked lovely to me....

That evening, as you can imagine, I crashed early. I had slept perhaps an hour in Changi airport, so I was in serious sleep debt. There was no partying for me.... lights out at 9:00pm.

My stay at Santra Putra included breakfast, which was served at a beautiful, large table where everyone (staying there) gathered to eat. On Monday morning at the breakfast table, I met Brad Davis, from Vancouver, traveling alone. He'd been on holiday for the previous few weeks (in northern & southern Thailand) and had been in Bali for about 10 days already. We got chatting and immediately struck up a friendship.

As (good) luck would have it, I had arrived in Bali only two days before the Nyepi celebration. I described what this Balinese tradition is all about in the beginnning of my "Southern Thailand" post, so I won't go into great detail here (please refer to that if you haven't yet read it), but I'll post photos here. On the night before Nyepi (Mon) I headed into town (about 20 min walk from Santra Putra) to watch the festivities and happened to run into Brad on the way, so we headed in together. This celebration, on the eve of Nyepi, is called "Ogoh Ogoh" and it is a combination parade and performance, taking over the entire downtown. Each "neighborhood" constructs its own elaborately crafted effigy, mounts it on bamboo scaffolding and it is carried through town -- parade-style -- by many (many) of the boys & men from that community. These are massive and incredible figures, designed to look scary, as to frighten (keep away) any evil spirits that may fly over Bali (on Nyepi) and want to take up residence there. As a reminder, Nyepi (the following day) is a day of complete silence and rest. No businesses are open (except for tourist hotels, of course) and everyone is to stay in their homes, make no noise and use no lights. This is in hopes that any evil spirits flying over will think no one is on the island and will continue on their way. But, of course, should one decide to stop, there are the huge effigies to ward them off. The parade....

On Nyepi (Tuesday), I spent the day in my room and on my terrace (below) in silence. As you know, part of the day was spent writing (offline) my Thailand blog post. I also did some yoga, meditated, napped, and read. :) The silence -- over the entire town -- was gorgeous. And almost intoxicating.
Wednesday was my first chance to see downtown Ubud during the day -- to explore the shops & restaurants. Wow, it's really quite amazing. There were so many shops with beautiful clothing that I felt almost overwhelmed. Fortunately, they were not cheap (well, not compared to the rest of SE Asia, anyway), so I was not tempted to buy a bunch of stuff -- that I wouldn't want to have to carry. 

The aesthetic in Ubud is astounding. Every structure, from simple small homes to fancy restaurants, is made with such love, care, detail, and beauty. So much intricate stonework is involved, with sculptures and carvings everywhere. And yet, it is not at all "fussy"; quite the contrary, I found the aesthetic, in every restaurant and shop, to be very "clean" and almost zen-like. Simple, tasteful, artistic beauty. Everywhere. I loved it.

Ubud is also full of incredible restaurants. While it's fairly easy to find plenty of traditional Balinese food, there are also many western-style restaurants, serving all manner of health food.... raw, organic, vegan, macrobiotic, grass fed, fresh juices, smoothies, yada, yada. Simply amazing. A gastronomic cornucopia. At this point in my travels, I was actually excited for this kind of food, as I'd been pining for some salads and health food. But, that said, I still made sure to find some Thai restaurants and had some of my favorite curries from time to time. I never tire of it.

There are many, MANY cafes.... Brad & I sat at one on Wed afternoon and had a delicious latte & cappucino, respectively....
And here are a few typical scenes around Ubud.....


About a half hour drive outside of Ubud is the water temple, Pura Tirta Empul. There, amidst the beautiful grounds, is a large pool with purifying water coming out of several spouts. The idea is to immerse oneself into the pool, moving deliberately along the spouts, saying a prayer at each one then dunking underneath each to be "purified."

It was suggested to us that we arrive early, so that we could beat the tourist crowds. So we left Ubud at 6:30 and arrived by 7:00.... only to find out that the temple doesn't "officially" open until 8:00! Not to worry, a man let us slip in and we roamed around the sacred grounds, with the cutest 3-legged "Buddha" dog leading us (and occasionally following us). Finally, we worked up the courage to take the plunge into the c-c-c-cold water! And we managed to get in JUST before a large group of Brits arrived and "lined up" to take the plunge. And it was exhilarating.... and moving .... and sacred.


Afterward, our driver took us back to Ubud and we had him drop us off at a cafe that we hoped would serve a great breakfast (we'd already had coffee there -- see pic above -- and knew it was yum!). We were not disappointed. Shortly after arriving, Brad went to visit the bathroom, which was downstairs -- and discovered the lower diningroom that was gorgeous and open air to a very lush, jungle-y garden. 
So we moved down there and proceeded to have a most EXQUISITE -- and rather large!-- breakfast. Each of us ordered eggs & bacon ....
...but also decided to share one of the signature Bali breakfasts: black rice, bananas, and coconut milk. OH.MA.GA.... sooooooo delicious!!
Sadly, Brad was scheduled to travel back to Vancouver that afternoon, so he needed to say farewell to Bali shortly after getting back from breakfast. :( We had had such a fun time for a few days so it was a little melancholy seeing him depart. It's interesting with traveling like this.... you make very close connections very quickly and find yourself forging lifelong friendships within a few days. I am still in contact with Brad, as I am with almost every other person with whom I traveled (for more than a day). I love it. And it's hard parting ways.....

Friday was a day for me to do even more exploring around Ubud. I walked and walked and walked that town, stopping in many, many shops, chatting with people all along the way. At one point, I sat down in a cafe and had a delicious lunch. This was what my table looked like while waiting for lunch to arrive (that's a mango/coconut smoothie, by the way). Yum.

Santra Putra is owned by a wonderful man, Karja, and his wife Made (pronounced Mah-day). The Balinese tend to live in family "compounds" in which entire extended families, as well as relatives-in-law, live together. Their compound always includes several separate residences (within the same surrounding walls), as well as the family temple.

On Saturday, Karja's brother was to be married and Karja was kind enough to invite Sunny's group (Sunny has known Karja for several years) and ME to the wedding at the family compound! So we were able to experience a Balinese wedding, which is utterly unlike an American/western wedding. All the women wear sarongs as skirts, with a sash around the waist, with a shirt that covers the shoulders (preferably long-sleeved). The men also wear sarong-skirts with a shirt and the typical Bali headwear. Below is a photo of Karja (middle) and two of his relatives.

The couple is heavily made up and adorned in fancy sarongs and jewelry. But before they even come out (of their preparation room), the priest performs many rituals, says prayers, rings bells, and basically blesses the ceremony.
When the couple come out (below) they are brought together and given several blessings to ward off evil spirits and to give them good luck in their marriage. There's lots of food & drink and a festive atmosphere after the blessing. We were not able to stay much beyond the ceremony, as we all had somewhere to be, but it was such an honor to witness this sacred ritual.

Altogether, I stayed in Bali (Ubud) for 2.5 glorious weeks. Each day was different as I explored around, walked a ton, did some hiking, some yoga (LOTS of yoga in Ubud), and hung out quite a bit with my new friend, Chiara. One day we walked out of town, through rice paddy fields, to an amazing, organic restaurant for lunch....

There were some little shops and vendors along the way, and I simply HAD to take a pic of these lovely, unique bottle openers that one guy was selling.... (tee hee hee).
Sunny and her group completed their program on Sunday (17 Mar) and so Sunny & I made a plan to have dinner together before she left to head back to the states. As usual, in Ubud, we had a most delicious dinner -- and, as always, the company & conversation were outstanding. :)

As you know, Bali is an island -- and a fairly small one at that. However, Ubud is sort of in the middle, so staying there means having to drive at least 45 mins to the beach, depending on which one you visit. While I was truly loving being in Ubud, I definitely wanted to see -- and spend some time on -- a Bali beach. So Chiara & I set a date and arranged for a driver to take us one day. The day before we went, we ran into another friend of Chiara and she decided to join us as well.

It was an absolutely perfect Bali day.... sunny, hardly a cloud in the sky, and nice and warm (hot in Ubud, breezy at the beach). We arrived at White Sand Beach at about 10:30 and were there until 5:00pm. The time flew by.

I think we may have been 3 of about only about 30 people on the beach that day. The water was crystal clear and a shade of blue that seems almost fake it's so perfect. We put our things on some lounge chairs, then told the owner of the beachside "restaurant" (Chiara's friend) to make us a lunch of grilled fish (whatever they had caught that day), rice, & veggies, to be eaten around 12:30. We then walked down to the other end of the beach to swim, do some yoga, talk, laugh, swim some more. Then headed back where lunch was served! We spent the rest of the afternoon playing in the water, doing some partner yoga on the beach, and just enjoying the surroundings. Glorious. Absolutely glorious.

 For my second week in Ubud (after Sunny & her group had left), I decided to move to a different hotel -- one right in the center of town. It was a 20min walk to town from Santra Putra and, although I actually didn't mind the distance, I wasn't so inclined to want to walk back to Santra Putra after dark (by myself). So I thought it would be nice to be a closer in so that I could play in the evenings and be very near where I was staying.

I found a place down a little alleyway just off Monkey Forest Road (the main drag). It was practically spitting distance from the heart of town and yet, set back on an alley, was very quiet. Here are some pics of my room and the grounds....

 ... and the rooftop yoga room, complete with mats & water, open for anyone to use any time!
The view from my room (below)
(random) This was a cute shop in town that I had to take a picture of.... for obvious reasons.
The rest of my time in Bali was just as dreamy as the first part. I spent my time walking, brousing, eating, sipping (coffee, wine...), watching, chatting, reading, resting, swimming (in the pool at my hotel)...... etc. I spent quite a lot of time with Chiara and also with Erin -- who,  you might recall, was at Jungle Yoga with me and is the person with whom I traveled to Koh Phangan. Turns out she headed to Bali a little before me and stayed long after I left. And I ALSO ran into a very old friend there, Alicia, and so I had the chance to spend time with her (& her 5yo daughter, Olivia) as well. Alicia is someone I know from Berkeley days(!) and now lives in Bali. Back in about 1991 I hired her to teach fitness classes at UC Berkeley! She's now a yoga master, running yoga teacher training courses all over the world (for Yoga Works). How crazy is that? Sadly, I don't have any pictures of her, but I SO enjoyed our time together.

With great sadness, I had a ticket to depart Bali on Tue, 26 Mar.... and so I bid my farewell -- promising Bali (& myself) that I would return and headed to my next destination....

I traveled to Singapore, where I spent 3.5 days staying at the home of a friend, Sonya, and her family, then flew to Sydney, where I proceeded to spend the following 6 weeks.

I'll stop here, since I've been blogging for many hours now and want to get this published. My next post, which I will start on tomorrow (really!!) will cover Singapore (about 2 paragraphs) and Sydney (a great deal more). And then I will tell you all about the beautiful Spanish mountains, where I now reside.

Thanks for checking in and I'll see you soon!

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