Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Getting to know Ubud

The road Jalan Hanoman, where our homestay was, is charming. It runs off of Jalan Raya Ubud - the main drag through the town, which struggles with heavy traffic of both the motorised and tourist varieties, and includes the large market, main temple and loads of shops and restaurants.

Jalan Raya Ubud
Hanoman has a quieter pace, though still busy, and is pretty upmarket compared to some places we've seen since. The shops sell all the common souvenir stuff like bright cotton trousers and tie-dye dresses, bangles and beads, and then there are little boutiques selling jewellery, jams, art, yoga wear and soaps. The eateries range from average Indonesian warungs to Western-inspired, new age cafes serving homemade cakes and pastries (huge slabs of almond chocolate cake, apple pie and glazed fruit danishes), potato wedges, chicken parmigiana, huge salads and health juices. They're popular spots with tourists and ex-pats - all sporting deep tans, linen pants and Apple hardware. The food is great but pricey and the staff lack the charm of smaller, less commercial places.

Kafe is the key example and has a sister branch at the nearby Yoga Barn (A.K.A. The Hippy Mothership). We headed over for their Monday night movie, which was really good fun. We paid 85,000 rupiah each (about £5.50) for an all-you-can-eat buffet of delicious food. There was green salad, grilled tuna, watermelon, pasta, rice, tofu and tempe*. The movie (Lost In La Mancha) was after dinner, projected onto a screen in a massive wooden yoga hall. There were probably 30-40 people there so it was cozy with a nice atmosphere and we all laid on the floor with cushions and yoga mats, munching free fresh popcorn and listening to the rain hit the thatch overhead.

*Tempe is a soya bean product used as a meat alternative, but the beans are left more intact than in the mushy curd they use for tofu. And it's great. Good taste and texture and really versatile; during our time in Indonesia we ate it marinated and stir-fried, deep fried and crispy, curried, in omelettes and more. I can't understand why that bland crap tofu has become so pervasive in the West yet we've never heard of tempe!

Jalan Hanoman also has some cool stone carvings/statues etc... 

Check out this little dude throwing a peace sign
And this badass tiger! Rargh.
The weather in Ubud was much greyer than it had been on the north coast. We didn't get much rain but there was a lot more cloud cover to break up the sunshine. Still hot though!

We rented bikes one day and cycled up to the Neka Art Museum, which is reputed to have the best examples of Balinese art in the area. It didn't disappoint. We saw a wide variety of traditional paintings - many based on the aesthetic style of old shadow puppet shows - through to some by the 'Ubud School' depicting everyday life, and contemporary artists doing more abstract work. The Arie Smit collection was lovely too. Interesting sculpture as well, both traditional and modern. It was a nice way to spend a couple of hours and the setting itself was peaceful, set out among a quiet compound of gardens and pavilions. It was good to absorb something really Balinese, away from the tourist-centric town centre.

A door carving
Dave contemplating
A little of the Keith Haring about this one, m'thinks
Our next experience of hired transport was the bemo... retrofitted minivans that have the seats replaced with low benches running the length of the vehicle, which speed along with no seat belts and the doors open. Fast and fun! Our driver Kadek took us out of Ubud to see a couple of sights.

We went to a largish temple (Pura Ibu Pejeng) that houses the Moon of Pejeng, the largest bronze kettle drum on earth. It was 'on display' at the top of a tall, decorated (but dilapidated) stone platform and you couldn't see much. The temple was practically deserted and in places was very shabby, but it was nice to wander around the grassy areas with trees and bright tropical flowers dotted about, seeing the stone Hindu idols, the towering pagoda-like stupas, the statues draped in different coloured cloths and the gold-painted wood carvings. 

The Moon of Pejeng
Dogs sleeping on the platform of the largest pavilion, which looked newer than the rest.
We had a nice encounter with the couple of young lads manning the entrance of the temple. One tied on our obligatory sarongs, carefully reaching round our waists and deftly knotting them. We didn't have the correct money for the donation and they didn't have change, which wasn't a problem and we went in to look around giving it no more thought. But as we were leaving and returning our sarongs, one of the boys handed me a few rupiah - they'd clearly gotten the right money from another tourist while we'd been inside and remembered to give it back to me. It was a heartwarming example of thoughtfulness that was refreshing after the regular barrage of pushy hawkers we'd encountered a few times in town. Obviously, I asked them to keep the money.

After Pejeng, Kadek drove us to Yeh Pulu, a small area among some rice fields that's home to some 14th century reliefs carved into the rockface. And more hawkers and chancers...! "I show you stones? Tour? You have transport? You need trek tomorrow? Sarong sarong? My wife makes! Transport? Tour?" Plus the lady sitting by the carvings who ignored by protests against the blessing she forced on me and quickly uncovered an until then hidden pile of folded donations which I was then obliged to contribute to. 

But the carvings were cool, and we saw a praying mantis.

All in all, a few good days sightseeing and getting to know Ubud and the surrounding area.

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