Our time in town came to a rapid close and we had arranged a second rental house in an artisan area called Ubud. This interior part of the island attracts an older, slightly more sedate crowd. Here the pace of life is slower catering to those seeking out yoga studios, art classes and lush green surroundings. After some perplexing moments trying to precisely locate our new Airbnb and after coaxing our large van down a small driveway, we were finally greeted by our new host. Katut was a small ball of energy, who was a tireless resource for our ten day stay. The new place was tucked down below a busy roadway, adjacent to rice paddies and fringes of abundant vegetation. This was great habitat for humming, buzzing insects, birds and frogs. Nightfall brought on a charming and varied orchestra and enhanced our sense of being away from urban life. Our villa offered a large shared living area and spacious bedrooms, each equipped with its own bathroom and small patio, in addition to a modest sized but refreshing swimming pool. To our surprise, and unusually for an Airbnb, the place also included a daily breakfast, delivered by a smiling Katut. Life really could not have been more relaxed or pleasant.
The first order of business in Ubud was a visit to the famous Monkey Forest. This large, highly vegetated site in the heart of the town is home to several very large, old Hindu temples, an assortment of new temples and countless stone carvings and statues. As the name implies it is also home to a hoard of long tailed macaques. The six hundred or so residents divide the large park area into five clan zones and the locals report the gangs can get quite testy with one another when they stray into each others territory. The monkey abundance and idyllic green space where they are protected and fed makes for some pretty intense human/simian interactions. Few tourist it seems have the first clue about safe contact with what are essentially wild animals. Many people purchase fruit to hand feed the formidably fanged macaques and we could only look on in bemusement at people who put their health at grave risk by inviting an inadvertent monkey bite. One break of the skin and off to the hospital they would go, trying to halt Hep B or rabies. We were not having any of that kind of drama and took the warning signs not to feed the little fiends seriously. Nonetheless we still managed a little monkey mayhem in the form of a contest over a highly coveted water bottle. The youngest member of our eight member Canadian troop went head to head with a mamma macaque and her two spoiled offspring. After being in the park for only about 15 minutes, Emily, under her father’s wise counsel, was about to take a sip of her water bottle when mamma macaque came strolling by, almost seeming to whistle to herself in an effort to project an air of indifference, when she dropped the innocent pretense and made a lightening quick pounce on poor Em’s water bottle. Within about 45 seconds mamma had the lid to the 500ml bottle threaded off and proceeded to pour the cooling liquid into her thieving gob and then shared her booty with her squabbling brood. Emily was both stunned and aggrieved by this assault and took a dim view of our insistence that the monkeys were only having fun and were actually very cute creatures. She knew better the black heart of these marauders and not once in the two hours we spent in the forest did she let her guard down. Later, she burst out laughing at the stupidity of the many adults she witnessed letting the monkeys eat from hands and climb vulnerable torsos. She knew where such behavior ended, in a showdown of wills. Fool her once shame on them fool her twice…well that wasn’t going to happen.
Despite our monkey troubles we really enjoyed the morning strolling from temple to temple and especially liked the dramatic komodo dragon statues and traversing over the romantically old carved bridge that spanned the site’s small water course. The lushness of the diminutive ravines and the exotic look and feel of the built environment was deeply satisfying. We emerged on the far side of the forest into the bustling market streets that radiate from the park. We ambled up the road, sought out sustenance, and admired the varied architecture and multitude of carved surfaces and objects that abound in urban landscape. It seems every entrance way, window frame, light fixture, or door handle is an invitation to inscribe testimony to the divine, or simply decorate for the sheer joy of it. We began to appreciate that generating and maintaining a density of beautiful carvings everywhere is simply a way of life for the Balinese.
Not long after our experience with the mad monkeys our extended family needed to return home to snowy Ontario. It was a sad scene waving goodbye to their airport van, all of us feeling melancholy about their departure. It had been so easy and enjoyable being in their company, playing games, seeing sites and sharing meals. The end of their time in Bali meant the four of us were on our own again but happy to have so many great shared memories of time in paradise with our relations.
The next few days were devoted to homeschool and day trips to some great local activities. Among our favourite was the four kilometer ridge walk in central Ubud, starting at a classical temple site and winding upward to a serpentine trail above lush greenery on two steep downward sides. This popular trail led to a pleasant lunch time hotspot overlooking rice fields and swaying grasses. After our long, very hot walk, we descended back down into the town centre on the hunt for a local not for profit organization called Pondok Pekak Library & Learning Center. Here, local artisans offer a wide assortment of lessons to visitors including kite making, cooking, carving and dance. Once we located the artisan collective tucked beside the local football field, we sat down to an excellent homemade lunch and the friendly staff got us quickly booked into some cooking and kite making classes for the next day. For the remainder of our day, we poked around the compact but comfy library, where the kids located some of their favourite titles and where we were able to devote a few hours to researching the next leg of our journey. We were the only patrons and we were very content to sit among the pillows on the floor enjoying the solitude and quiet to read and relax away from the blaring hub bub of the main part of town. Before we made our way back to our beautiful apartment we were gently induced into purchasing tickets to the classic Balinese dance performance that the organization mounts every week. We all were very much looking forward to witnessing this celebrated artform later that evening.
That night we were thoroughly charmed by the Frog Dance performance put on by the Pondok Pekak collective. This traditional Balinese artform is lush in costume and musical accompaniment. It tells a classic love story with many bouts of mistaken identity and premature judgments. The dance was largely in groups of exquisitely turned out performers including a few dramatically mimed animals both mythical and real. The highlight for us came near the end when the audience was invited, one by one, to join the dancers on stage. This enticement of entering into a freestyle dance in the spotlight was definitely not on my must do list but Gabe dove right in! He has always loved to get a groove on, and despite a poverty of dance genetics, is able to remain solidly in synch with a beat. It was a delight to watch him interact with the lovely young dancers and express genuine joy and pride about his courageous choice.
The next day we were back at the arts center, Carolyn and I eager to hone our culinary skills while the kids learned to assemble homemade kites. Over the course of about two hours, and under the patient and cheerful guidance of our cooking instructor, we created a delicious multi course meal, featuring all local ingredients, while being introduced to many mysterious new spices. With hands stained and pungent from slicing and grinding turmeric, chilies and garlic the four of us sat down to an incredibly rewarding meal. After we savoured the food we had great fun flying the carefully fashioned kites in the adjacent soccer pitch. Despite a lack adequate wind speeds there was a fierce determination on the part of our offspring to see their handicrafts soar. With bursts of speed they managed to get their multicoloured kites aloft, albeit briefly, so that we could all properly admire the custom paint work and designs. Another grand day in our journey! Our time in Bali was rapidly counting down and we all tried to soak up all of the unique features of the place before zooming off to the unknown of Malaysian Borneo.