Kamikaze Maniacs!

I should have stopped with the first cup. I shouldn’t have drained the whole pot. Coffee. It gives me the jitters, and I did not need a panic attack perched on the back of Ketut’s motorbike in the midst of a traffic jam on Jalan Raya, the busy main street of Ubud central.

Days ago I had mentioned that sometime I would like to explore the area of Ubud that lies south of the palace. I’ve walked the village for a couple of miles in all directions, but I know there is more to see. Touring the streets by motorbike seemed a good idea. This morning when Ketut brought my breakfast he inquired, as he always does, “What is program for today?” I told him I was going to work hard, write-write, all day. “Oh…no program?” he asked. Obviously writing does not qualify for program status in his world. In the next moment he was making a circular gesture with his arm saying, “Go look Ubud?”

A few hours later I climbed on behind Ketut, fastened a death-grip around his waist, and we were off. Okay, this is why I am determined to learn Indonesian. I pictured a leisurely weaving back and forth through narrow streets just south of the palace, up one, down the other, and getting a general lay of the land. I had also mentioned finding the large Delta Dewata Supermarket and the Seniwati Art Gallery, all well within the general area of my frame of reference.

As we pulled into the congested flow on Monkey Forest Road Ketut hollered something about did I want to see Bintang Supermarket too…big big? “Sure!” I hollered back. A big big supermarket would be fun…right? We rounded the corner onto Jalan Raya and were absorbed into the teeming sea of motorbikes, tourist buses, mini-vans, bicycles, and clueless tourist pedestrians. It isn’t a total free-for-all like the kamikaze maniac drivers in Sicily, but it is cause for hyperventilation if you’ve had too much coffee.

For what seemed like hours we squeezed through openings that I would have sworn on my life were impassable. We challenged tour buses for our right to the road…I would have slunk, cowering behind them, sucking up the noxious fumes, grateful to be alive. Not so Ketut! Then, suddenly we were free, speeding along an open road, breathing great gulps of clean air. And on we went, and on, and on…. After several more miles I asked Ketut, “Are we still in Ubud?” “Yes, yes, very good area,” he assured me. And on…and on….

The landscape began to look rural, and as we rounded a tight curve I gasped…”Stop!” Before us were rice terraces, those ethereal masterpieces of agriculture that seared their beauty into my memory when I first beheld them in Bali three years ago. “I take pictures, Ketut!” I explained as I clambered off the motorbike fishing for my camera.

My heartbeat triples its cadence whenever I see the terraces. I don’t know what it is about them but to me they are the essence of prayers.

Ketut and my chariot patiently waited. Then I resumed my perch and off we went. Bintang Supermarket is huge compared to CoCo’s and small compared to Sam’s Club or Costco in the U.S. I took a quick swing through, didn’t see anything I couldn’t live without, and was back in the saddle in no time, still headed farther away. Then, without explanation or apology, the road made a giant loop and, yes! We were going back toward Ubud!

Upon re-entering the part of the city I recognize (I used to call it a village…it has today, in my mind, graduated to city status) we finally began the weaving process I had originally imagined. But it wasn’t easy. There are north-south streets but very, very few east-west connectors. And sometimes what begins innocently enough as a road, ends as a trail through the rice paddies.

The road above with no warning became the trail below.

We turned down a street. It became a bumpy lane, then a cart path, then the trail you see here, and then…we turned around. With expert maneuvering Ketut got us to Delta Dewata, but today Seniwati Gallery was nowhere to be found. It was totally my fault for not having an address.

Our adventure had taken two hours. Where were we? I have no idea. But I saw new sights, took some great photos, bonded with Ketut and the motorbike, and made it, once again, safely home. What could possibly be better than that?

Shopping Bali Style

I have a week left so what’s uppermost in my mind? Shopping, of course. What do I want to bring back that will remind me of these leisurely, sun drenched days, the tantalizing smells, the sounds, and food, the glorious food! I decided, having taken the cooking class, that being able to recreate Balinese dishes I love when I get home would be a really great idea. So I made a list of ingredients then narrowed it down to the ones that I’ve never, ever, in all my years of grocery shopping, seen in a Minnesota grocery store. Here’s the list:

Pandanus extract

Palm sugar


Kaffir Lime Leaves

Pandan Leaves




Tamarind Pulp

Photo by Ollie L.

Armed with my list I headed resolutely for CoCo’s Supermarket and made a bee-line for the spices. I poured over the labels then poured over them again. Nothing. One of the adorable twelve-year-old employees (they look so young) asked if she could help me. Gratefully I showed her my list. She painstakingly read through each word, then headed down an aisle at the end of which was a stunning fifteen-year-old (maybe 18). The younger girl handed the list to this new one with a string of Balinese words by way of explanation. The young lady read it and we were off again to presumably find the manager who turned out to be a male of indiscernible age. This time I got answers. “We have no leaves,” he said first. Then took off with me in hot pursuit. He found the belecan and the palm sugar. Hurray! Two down! Then told me to go to the market early in the morning. They will have leaves.  So these are fresh leaves? They aren’t dried leaves? “Oh no,” he assured me. “Fresh leaves.” Silly me. I had pictured something like dried basil leaves in a sealed container that would easily clear U.S. Customs. For some reason custom’s officials do not look kindly on REAL foliage being smuggled onto U.S. soil. Well, that saves me the early morning trip to the market. As for the other five missing ingredients…I will stop by Dayu’s Warung tomorrow and ask Dayu where she gets these exotic potions. I’ll also ask what I can substitute for leaves. They’re her recipes, after all! If anyone knows the answers she will.

The rest of my shopping was delightful. I’ve always enjoyed the art of negotiation. Here in Bali it is expected. I wanted a hand-made batik fabric. I found the shop I was looking for where the woman makes them herself, and the process began. How much? “Oh for you, special discount, 20%, more if you take two.” I only took one and ended up getting it for about 1/2 of the original quoted price. It takes awhile, you have to be so sorry, maybe tomorrow, start to leave, then you find out the real price. It doesn’t matter if the price is marked on a tag on the item. That is what I would call the “suggested starting price.” There are, perhaps, some exceptions. The high end hotel shops probably would look down their noses if someone attempted to bargain. But in the hundreds of small retail cubbyholes that line Hanoman St. and Monkey Forest Road you can get some fabulous buys.

Then a silver shop reached out and grabbed me. Oh I hate it when that happens! I love rings. I’ve been looking for a particular ring for years…truly…years. And today I found it “No!” I told myself. “You are shopping for gifts. Gifts are for other people.” I tried oh so hard to resist. I didn’t even attempt to negotiate. I didn’t say a word. I just kept fighting with my conscience and the quieter I became the lower the price dropped! I kept shaking my head, “Oh, no, no, I can’t…” and it dropped 100 thousand rupiah. “Please, stop!” down another 50,000. Finally I was afraid if I didn’t buy it they were just going to give it to me. It is fabulous! After looking at so many rings you begin to know the ones that are one-of-a-kind, designed and crafted by an artist in the Balinese style.

So tomorrow I will visit another kind of store. They are everywhere and they’re called Money Changers. Then I’ll continue shopping for Other People.

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