Over the next few days, we traveled by minivan to the highlights across the central part of the island, along with our tour director, drivers, and fellow travelers. Often we had local guides to take us through a village or park. At the first village we visited, just outside of Ubud, we were invited into the “compound” (I’ll explain in a moment) of a highly regarded Balinese artist. He was clearly prosperous, as there were several hired workmen sculpting and chiseling the stonework of a pavilion inside, which is costly. Also, the floors of the rooms we could see were tiled, and there were elaborate wood carvings on the walls.
Our guide explained that Balinese families live inside walled compounds. There are four separate houses of one or two rooms, plus a small temple, built on the points of the compass, each with a specific ceremonial purpose as well as everyday use. Sometimes several families share a compound, but they may have their own cluster of houses within the walls. These houses often had open walls and raised floors, but the compound walls were solid brick or cinderblock with wooden gates, providing complete privacy.
We were then invited to browse the artwork on display, and buy if we wished. The artist was clearly skilled and worked in several styles that apparently have been popular with tourists, because you see similar paintings in many of the shops. However, Karel demonstrated his keen eye for the real thing when he pointed out a whimsical and exotic piece depicting the frog ceremony, which is a traditional dance based on a Balinese fairytale about reincarnation. We both fell in love with it and asked if it was for sale.
The artist explained that it was a painting done by his teacher, who was a nationally famous painter with works on exhibit in museums in Indonesia and Australia. He then pulled out a published book of highlighted works in the collection of said museum in Australia and showed us the photo and description of said painting and artist. Negotiations ensued, and Karel and I bought our first piece of fine art, plus frame and shipping, for about one-third the cost we would have paid in a local gallery. The artist wrung his hands a bit, but later, when he came to the hotel to collect the balance and go over shipping arrangements, he was beaming and told us his teacher was very pleased with the sale. Fingers crossed, our souvenir will arrive safely in Boulder long before we do.
Before leaving Ubud we drove to the top of a nearby mountain, where mountain bikes awaited us, and enjoyed a long cruise down one of the very few paved roads in all of Bali that isn’t crammed from end to end with shops. It cascaded through small villages and terraced rice paddies, and traffic was relatively light. Children called out “Hallo!” and “How are you?!” as we whizzed by, carefully dodging chickens, dogs, and women carrying parcels on their heads.
Our next hotel was in a rural village called Sideman, in the hills. We’d just been shown to our room when I discovered that my suitcase had acquired an army of hitchhikers — ants — somewhere along the way, so I had to take everything out, give it a good shake, and scatter it all across our balcony to keep the critters from getting into our room. The heat and humidity were getting to unbearable levels, so I joined Karel in the beautiful swimming pool, which was about one degree cooler than the air. Just then the skies opened up and it began to pour – our first taste of rain since our honeymoon began. Most of the other swimmers fled to their rooms, but Mike, a fellow tour passenger from the Netherlands, brought us a big umbrella, and Karel and I floated blissfully beneath it. The rain cleared by sunset, and that evening we enjoyed mild temperatures, low humidity, and a lovely view of the southern stars, complete with meteor shower.
We walked through Sideman with a guide, who was a local resident, the next day. The village and workshops were unusually quiet, but we discovered the reason when we came across a big party at one of the compounds, and were invited in to the celebration of the 210th day since the birth of a baby. In Balinese custom, babies are not permitted to touch the ground until their 210th day. The compound was full of relatives and neighbors, two pigs were roasting on spits, and an uncle in an outdoor kitchen was churning out rice and vegetables and other delectables. We were offered green pancakes stuffed with coconut and palm sugar, and also a taste of arak, which is a strong alcohol (40%) made by distilling palm wine. This was a family of farmers and cloth weavers who were considerably poorer than the artist we met. Their compound was unadorned and untidy, but the mood was festive and very friendly.
We continued on to the elementary school…
… and then the local cloth factory, where some women worked at looms making colorful, patterned cloth, although it was less busy than usual due to the party. We then meandered downhill through rice paddies, vegetable gardens, and the grounds of an abandoned retreat center that went out of business after the terrorist bombings of 2002 (a reminder of how devastating that attack, claimed by Osama Bin Laden, was to the Bali economy), to a river, where we were treated to a delicious, home-cooked lunch of typical Bali fare, served in a pyramid-shaped “lunchbox” made of banana leaves. It was spicy and flavorful, the best meal we’d had in Bali so far.This entry was posted in Honeymoon 2013