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Friday 24 May 2013
Ubud, Indonesia

Volcanoes, bikes, paddies, paintings and another round of batik

Sometimes you just need a practical day to sort out the little things. In a fit of productivity, I found an internet cafe to back up my photos; found the post office to send things where they needed to go; e-mailed a dive school in Gili T; booked a cycle tour and the batik course again and a different hotel for the next few nights. I also bought another couple of handmade books to send to Jim in Canada with an apology from the 'cheeky monkey' who stole his books at the Sacred Monkey Forest. What a busy day!

The next day was a great day out of Ubud on a Bali Eco Tour cycling trip. We were picked up early and driven up to the Mount Batur National Park, where we had a delicious buffet breakfast with stunning views across the Batur caldera. Mount Batur has errupted numerous times, most recently in 2011, so the caldera has multiple cinder cones and a vast turquoise crater lake. After eating, we visited a coffee farm. They had civits there, but these ones were caged and didn't look nearly as happy as the ones we saw in Yogyakarta.  

There were bikes and helmets waiting for us. The best thing about this bike tour was that the cycling was almost exclusively down hill! Starting at the volcano, we followed the roads down between hundreds of rice paddies. Using a very complex, clever system of irrigation, the water starts at the crater lake and flows down through the rice terraces for miles around. Rice takes around 90 days for a full growth cycle so farmers can grow three crops a year in each paddy using a varied cycle, so they have rice ready to harvest every few weeks. We freewheeled along stopping to admire the views and to help groups of farmers with cutting and harvesting their crops.

In one village our guide took us around a family home to explain Balinese family life and roles. Each home is a small compound of separate buildings, each usually consisting of just one or two rooms, and a family temple. There may be several generations of the same family within one home. The whole complex is surrounded by a wall with a traditional Balinese doorway - two ornately decorated brick pillars with a triangular stone over the top, carved with a Balong mask to frighten away any evil spirits and protect the home. The biggest building will be the Grandparents' bedroom, usually raised on a higher platform than the rest of the buildings to indicate respect. Unlike many cultures, in Bali it is the younger son who is expected to take responsibility for the family home on the grounds that he would expect to live the longest. Cooking is done first thing in the morning and family members simply help themselves as and when they are hungry, eating the same food throughout the day. When a son marries, a new building is added to the compound for him and his bride, often with an additional kitchen (to stop the women bickering in the kitchen!). When a daughter marries, she will move out of her family home and in with her new husband's family. The family have clearly defined roles - women do all cooking and cleaning, except for the first three months after having a baby, when her husband takes over temporarily. When the last grandparents pass away, the whole family moves up a level to put the eldest relations into the main bedroom. The family will visit their own temple every day to put offerings out for the spirits. There is also a village temple which would be used twice a year for special ceremonies. Some families may have to save up for ceremonies such as funerals, so a body may sometimes wait several months before the official funeral rites can be carried out - sometimes waiting for other deaths so the families can club together for the required feasting and celebrations.

Continuing our down hill ride, we stopped at a carving workshop to see some beautifully intricate doors being carved. The Balinese have decoration everywhere, whether it is carved woodwork, animal statues or patterns of tiny pebbles in the pavement or driveways. With so much greenery in between, it is a visual riot of colours, textures and features that makes simply walking around a real pleasure. This is definitely my kind of place!

At the end of our ride, we had the option of a 10 minute bus ride up hill to our lunch stop or cycle a further 40 minutes up hill... I was surprised at how many people actually chose the up hill cycle... I didn't! We had just 12 people in our group, but as there were at least five other groups following the same itinerary a few minutes before or after us, it still felt a bit like tourist-herding at times. Lunch was a delicious Balinese buffet of chicken satay, noodles, rice, curries and assorted vegetables. They had made me a separate portion of gluten-free food which was excellent, although I missed out on the speciality smoked duck.

At the end of the tour we were driven back to our hotels. I jumped out with a few others and walked back along Monkey Forest Road in order to stretch my legs and wake up a bit after dozing off on the drive back. Financially, this was a big mistake as I got out near one of the many art shops in Ubud. My eye was caught by a big bright flower painting, but it was another picture at the back of the shop which really got me. It was essentially a big green square, blending from a pale yellow-green at the top down to a dark blue-green at the bottom, painted with a pallet knife so the paint was thick and choppy to represent the grass in a rice paddy. In the top right corner were two women harvesting the rice. It was beautifully textured and vibrant, while at the same time being calm and peaceful and so evocative of my time in Java and Bali that I fell in love with it straight away. I bartered hard but still ended up on a price I wasn't completely happy with. When I then found they couldn't take a credit card, I managed to get an even better price by claiming it was all the cash I had on me. I am glad I did because I had to pay a ridiculous amount to send it home again. Thankfully it reached home safely and I have an amazing souvenir of a really special holiday. I got it back to my new hotel just as the heavens opened for the regular afternoon thunderstorm. I had been staying at Artini 2, a lovely quiet enclave off the main road which had rooms in private villas around the garden or overlooking the pool. Artini 1 is owned by the same family but this is a home stay in their family compound across the road. Many families in Ubud rent out their spare rooms to tourists and, having learned more about family life on the cycle tour this afternoon, it was interesting to move to a homestay and see it for myself. My new room was smaller than at Artini 2, but contained a huge carved four poster bed that took up most of the room. It was incredibly comfortable and I enjoyed a well earned lie-in the next morning to finish off my book.


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