My heart sank as our taxi wended its way along the main street of Ubud: shop after shop of expensive tourist clutter. And thronging with tourists. It reminded me of Byron Bay only worse. Why didn’t anyone warn me?? This is not what I was expecting. I was imagining lushness, tropics, peace – a small magical hinterland. Yes, I know I’m probably one of the few people on the planet never to have been to Bali & now I know why.
Except. We’re staying at the most tranquil and heavenly place on earth. Truly it must be the most gorgeous and relaxing place we’ve ever stayed at. Right behind the Monkey Forest – in gardens lovingly tendered and beautiful sculptures/statues everywhere. Orchids grafted onto trees everywhere (can someone look in on my poor orchid which is probably dying in my office?). Our activities consist of a walk thought the Forest to the main street to have a coffee and use free wifi and then a laze by the pool followed by lazing on the huge daybed on our very spacious balcony listening to the various birds. Stroll to dinner – last night we saw a Balinese dance performance while eating some wonderful smoked duck.
I can understand why people come here.
And even not having a SIM for my phone & iPad has turned into something of a blessing: freedom from connectivity. Now I really do feel like I’m on holidays.
In all this tropical lushness the thing that surprises me most is how drab the clothes and batik are. Shades of pooh brown with some khaki thrown in to enliven it. How can you tell people who are so proud of their cultural designs you don’t want to buy because you find it ugly? Though I must admit I don’t add to the spectacle – it appears that in all photos I too am in a shade of drab. Time to bring out some colour.
I suppose the reason for traveling to foreign places is to see the sights and try to understand the culture. That usually entails going to all the tourist attractions. Thankfully in Yogya there are relatively few and so we have been able to spend our time here doing very little. An excursion in the morning. Followed by reading poolside with a couple of G&Ts. And we go to bed very early. That’s partly because there’s little to do here and partly because we wake so early. The muezzin call is at 4 in the morning – not 5, which somehow seemed a bit better. Sunrise is sometime after 5 so we’re up around 6 (though obviously awake much earlier). By 8 o’clock we’re ready to go.
The other day we organized a car to take us to Borobudur – the ancient Buddhist stupa – about an hour’s drive from here. We were asked if we wanted to go to see the sunrise (what most people do) but on hearing that it required starting off on our journey at 3.30am we opted for the more civilized departure time of 6am. Did we require a wake-up call? With the muezzins competing over their loudspeakers before dawn? Unlikely. Had we known the roosters would start crowing at 2.30 we probably would have gone for the sunrise spectacular.
As it turned out it was a bleak day with intermittent rain. A blessing really because it kept the tourists at bay and those who did venture out seemed intent on climbing to the top, having their picture taken with a foreign tourist (M and I started to feel like tourist attractions: mister can we take your photo?) and then scramble back down.
Borobudur is interesting: every surface of the lower 6 levels is carved in relief. The upper levels are circular and have giant stupas which are like domes (or like hand held bells) with seated Buddhas inside. The idea is that you walk around each level clockwise and contemplate the carved narratives. A spiritual practice.
But it’s not a patch on Angkor Wat where the power emanating from the ancient places of worship was palpable. And just more beautiful. But all praise to Raffles who was responsible for Borobudur’s restoration. Alas no wonderful hotel in which to sip cocktails here. Actually, there are no cocktails here. Or wine. Bintang anyone?
Muezzin – that’s the call to prayer. 5 times a day. There must be at least 5 mosques in the immediate vicinity of our little villa (located in a kampong in the heart of Yogyakarta) and to our horror yesterday we discovered that they all send out their call to prayer over their loudspeakers. Some less expertly than others. Well, mostly so. It just sounded like pregnant cows in labour. This morning I think they conducted the entire service over the loudspeaker. There is no possibility of sleeping through it.
And so here I am sitting having coffee on our verandah after a morning swim listening to the more dulcet tones of the rooster next door. And the birds. People keep them in cages and pay a lot of money for them. They’re song birds and provide a most beautiful musical background – that is if you can shut out the sound of the old cock next door and the motorbikes as they slowly make their way along the narrow lanes.
Oh well. Time for another swim and then off to find some earplugs. I imagine it’s a thriving business here.
The journey so far:
Singapore seems soulless. Our hotel was across the road from Raffles – a beautiful building that has had its day & is no longer the doyen of the chic & wealthy. It seems to have turned itself into a shopping centre of sorts. This part of town is far from the madding crowd: not much happening and no real night life. Admittedly we did arrive on a Monday but even so the place seemed deader than heaven on a Saturday night. Chinatown was a huge improvement with lovely old buildings and some very chic restorations – the groovy part of town.
Orchard road was teeming – how can a place sustain so many luxury shopping malls? Who buys all these too expensive goods? Everything seemed much more expensive than back home -:)
So much for my shopping spree – I bought nothing.
And so on to Indonesia where our trip really begins.
First impressions: it’s like Kerala or what Vietnam was 15 years ago. Lots of motor bikes, few cars and many stalls selling not very much at all. It’s hot. And humid. Food is terrible. It consists mainly of over-fried over-dried chicken and fish and over-cooked green weeds and rice. The food is cooked in the morning and is served all day, but it may as well have been cooked last year. I’m sure we’ll find better food eventually.
Yesterday was M’s birthday and our lunch consisted of an avocado, Indonesian sardines and some cream crackers (because that’s all I could find in the supermarket) washed down with a bottle of Mumm. But our villa is a wonderful haven with a lovely garden and large pool. The bathroom is huge with twin showers and twin basins – guess which is the tidy one?
We wake early. Very early. Because there’s a mosque at the end of our street. The call to prayer is at 5am. On Friday – being the day everybody goes to Mosque – the call to prayer is particularly long. And then just when you fall back to sleep the roosters next door starts crowing (incessantly). And so our day begins. Coffee on the verandah followed by a swim (and yoga). Life could be worse.
Time for a swim. More later.
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