We arrive in Denpasar and are whisked away by Sharon's absolutely unbelievably accommodating brother, Joel. By "whisked" I mean after a 3-hour wait in a painfully hot, crowded Denpasar airport, we somehow find Joel, squeeze all our stuff into his Honda,... well, ALMOST all of our stuff. Sharon's purse is missing. So we run BACK INTO the airport and miraculously find it at a security checkpoint where she had left it because she was SO wasted and discombobulated, ... and then we sit in rush-hour traffic for another hour. The normally 90-minute trip to Ubud takes about 3 hours.
The story gets better. Once in Ubud, we are staying at the lovely Fibra Inn. The room itself is nice enough (altho there is barely enough light to read by), but the BATHROOM ...!!! OMG. Check it out:
Sharon relaxes with a guidebook outside our room at the Fibra Inn, Ubud.
After four days staying in Ubud, we move out to Joel & Nirgrantha's luxurious Villa Vajra. It is about 15 minutes north of Ubud in the small village of Sebali. This movie shows some of the gorgeous gardens surrounding the villa, as well as the nearby rice paddies:
Sharon's brother Joel, co-owner of Villa Vajra, is a photographer and filmmaker. One of his photographic endeavours led to a set of 108 "Sky Buddha" Tibetan style prayer flags.
Looking up from the gardens at the balcony of the living / dining area
Ketut & Saba. Ketut is one of the two chefs employed at Villa Vajra. She is the world's cutest person. Saba is one of the two men who cleans our room and serves our meals.
Gusti, on the left, is the manager of the villa. An amazing man, he is responsible for EVERYTHING. He not only pulls it off, but never once loses his smile. That's Saba again on the right.
Early in the morning on about DAY NINE, we notice a group of men gathering just outside the Villa. There is a railing which encloses an area about 15 x 20 feet. We ask around and eventually learn that the cock fights are set to begin around noon. Can't miss that! We're pretty well the only non-Balinese in attendance, and other than a short visit by an Australian woman, Sharon is the only female. But the guys don't even seem to notice us. We can gawk and video and photograph all we want.
The cock fights are part of a local ceremony. Well, the first fight is blessed, anyway, then the rest are pretty much about gambling. But later that day I am out for a wander, and I hear gamelan music nearby. Inside a family compound I can see smoke, and there are women parading around carrying what look like offerings. I don't dare to intrude, but as I am peeking in, Saba - one of the men who work for Joel & Nirgrantha at Villa Vajra - recognizes me and catches my eye. He waves and signals that it's o.k. for me to come in. Here's a bit of what I see.
Chatting with one of the men there - an artist - I learn that this is a purification ceremony.
On DAY THIRTEEN, Joel, Sharon & I head north to Bali's central mountain region. This little movie begins with a drive through Batubulan, where one passes by mile after mile of stone carvers' shops.
We head up to the temple at Gunung (Mount) Batukaru, then on to Candikuning and the beautiful Lakes Bratan, Tambligan and Bulan, with their stunning views of rice paddy terraces. We end up at a coffee plantation where we sit and enjoy a break at the friendly, if unpronounceable, Cafe Ingiring Ngewedang, near the village of Munduk.
Joel Singer at Café Ingiring-Ngewedang, near Munduk.
On DAY FIFTEEN, two days after our Central Mountains excursion, I decide to act on an impulse that had been supplied to me by a pamphlet I had seen around the villa. The pamphlet advertizes a "Culture Tour & Eco Trek." The subtitle says "Enjoy a unique, authentic Balinese experience and give something back to the local community." The artwork and printing look just homemade enough to pique my interest. Turns out it's a 3-hour-ish hike through the village, the forest, then the rice paddies, and it's offered by none other than Ketut The Cook's older brother, Made (pronounced mah-DAY), who also happens to be a local painter. The pamphlet promises to "explore one of the local temples where you'll learn about Balinese Hindu customs and the importance of religion in family and village life" plus a visit to "a typical [family] compound house." All this for about $15; and 100% of the funds help support some very worthy local Sebali projects. What's not to like? Made turns out to be as personable and skilled a guide as his little sister is a cute and talented cook. For the first 30 minutes of the trek, I am so interested in what Made is showing and telling, that I forget to take any pictures. That's why in this video there's nothing of our tours of the temple or family compound.
At the temple, Made explains Hindu monotheism by saying "We only believe in one god. It's just that he has many aspects. It's like, there's only one Made. But there is Made the painter; and today I am Made the guide, and tonight I will be Made the father of my son, and so on like that ..." Made's trek is full of wonderful metaphorical explanations like that.