Monday 25 Jul
Ubud and Aminals
A day for recovering and a fast boat to Bali later, we arrived in Ubud. Hilary had been looking forward to this leg of the trip after hearing such great things about the art and culture center of Bali. The trip through the jungle was beautiful, but as we neared town the gridlock of traffic put us both on edge. We were happy to get out of the shuttle van and wound our way through hoards of tourists and hawkers offering transport, lodging and motorbike rentals. The streets were crowded and noisy and we wondered what kind of peace the yogis that make pilgrimages to this town could find here.
We had splurged on a private pool villa, which was about 20 minutes out of the center of town, longer in the traffic. By the time we reached it we were relieved to have a little peace and quiet. The trip to town the next day to do some exploring confirmed our earlier suspicion that Ubud center is, in our opinion, a huge tourist trap. There are great shops and restaurants, artists galleries, incredible temples everywhere and SO MANY PEOPLE. Talking with our driver we learned that Ubud is busy because people come for day trips from all over the island to see the city, and that mornings and evenings are the best time to explore. We found that mostly true, but by the time we made it back to our quiet little villa that night we were both very tired of politely saying "no, thankyou" every thirty seconds and Ryan was ready to use four letter words to get his point across.
Things got better for us once we decided to get out of city center and the next two days were some of our best since arriving in Bali. We went to an elephant sanctuary and were thrilled to feed and pet the baby elephants, and even take a ride on one of the adults. Having such close contact with those huge, clever creatures was an experience neither of us will soon forget. We were astounded by their intelligence and friendly demeanor, and decided they would make pretty great pets if only they weren't so huge. There's also the issue of feeding them 200 kilos of plants and 80 liters of water per day, not to mention cleaning up manure the size of large coconuts. Ryan took a special liking to a 5 year old "baby" named Ryan who could kick a soccer field goal and whose trunk always found it's way towards him whenever he was near for a treat of palm tree stalk.
We left the elephants and decided to continue our animal theme, heading to the sacred monkey forest in town. We opted to not buy the bananas the woman was selling at the gate, and had a great laugh as we watched tourist after tourist scream and throw the whole bunch of bananas on the ground after being accosted by monkeys. These animals definitely had a game plan to get the fruit. They would climb right up tourists clothing and take the bunch of bananas right out of their hands if they hadn't already tossed them on the ground. Quite the sight. Hilary was feeling a little sick after a lunch that wasn't agreeing with her and sat down on a bench. Before she knew it she had a monkey on her lap, looking up at her like a little person. Ryan had a similar experience as a monkey reached into the side pocket of his camera bag. Finding nothing, the little guy climbed up his shirt and sat on his head, then began reaching down his collar looking for a necklace or other treat. We both wondered where the monkeys kept their stash of stolen items from tourists and were thankful we followed the guidebook's suggestion of removing everything from our pockets before we entered.
The next day we arranged to have a talkative and friendly man named Nyoman take us on a tour of the surrounding area. Ryan reluctantly put on a sarong to visit some beautiful temples, and we were impressed that the ornate carved stone work was created at a time when Europe was in the dark ages. Moss and the marks of age covered stone monsters, dragons and deities. There were also ornate scenes of daily life carved in the walls, and we enjoyed guessing what was happening in them.
Our tour also took us to an active volcano and the famed rice terraces, both incredible sights. We were saddened, however, to see that everywhere tourists were, there were also hawkers working hard to get their money. Another surprise was the amount of trash left everywhere. Plastic bags, water bottles and other discarded garbage littered even the most sacred of places. We saw so many drivers chucking their trash out the windows of their moving cars, and were particularly taken aback as we watched a four year old girl walk past a trash can to throw her piece of plastic over a ledge and into the gorgeous green rice terraces.
It was great to get out and see some of the beauty of the countryside, and pick up a little art on the way, but we both decided we had seen enough of Ubud. With a week left in our trip and the hustle and bustle of Bali being a little different than we expected, we talked about returning to our favorite little spot on Palawan in the Philippines, then settled on heading back to the Gili islands for the last few days of our trip to do some more snorkeling and soak up as much sun as possible before returning to foggy SF. We will be happy to go home, see family and sleep in our own bed, but aren't ready quite yet.