Wayans and Waterfalls

“Come and see my waterfall,” Wayan Massage said in her intense, bossy way. I call her Wayan Massage to differentiate her from the 20,000 other Wayans in Bali. First born children, whether boy or girl, are often named Wayan, and I’ll leave it at that for now because this story is about her waterfall, not her name.

I’ve been to Niagara. I’ve been to Norway. I’ve seen spectacular waterfalls. Bali’s are nice but they’re not in the same league. So I stalled a bit.

“Where is your waterfall?”
“In my village.”
“Is it man-made or natural.”
“Ya.” My spotty Indolish obviously didn’t translate.
“Okay, soon.  I will come soon.” I pictured children splashing around a pile of rocks with a stream of pumped-in water stolen from the paddy irrigation ditches dribbling over the top, a glorified fountain.

A few hours later, Wayan gave my visiting friend, Nancy, a massage. Before I knew it we were scheduled to see the waterfall the following week.

The day arrived and as we were leaving, my phone rang. “Where are you?” It was Wayan.

“Just heading out of Ubud. We’ll be there soon.” Twenty minutes later we turned off the main road down a narrow path. Ubud, so close by, is one of the hottest tourist spots in Bali. But foreigners rarely come to this village and heads cranked around to stare as we passed. Excited children on bicycles shouted, “Hello! Hello!” and we waved and shouted back, “Hello!”

Wayan, her son Arya, and her husband Komang, ushered us through the gate into the family compound. “Oh! That’s new!” I exclaimed at the structure that had materialized where nothing but garden used to be. Komang explained that it was the pavilion where all the family’s human celebrations are held, baby ceremonies, tooth filings, weddings. “It is also the place where, at the end of life, the body is prepared for cremation,” he said.

“It’s very beautiful” I scanned the remaining open spaces. “And where’s the waterfall?”

“I’ll take you later, please sit down.” Balinese hospitality has its rules. We sat on the terrace and drank from the young coconuts offered to us. Nancy had treats for them. Arya was quick to sample and grimace as the bitter taste of the goji berry raw dark chocolate brownie offended his expectations. When the magic moment came, seven of us hopped on three motorbikes and set out.

As we zoomed along my first misconception became obvious. The waterfall wasn’t located in the immediate neighborhood.

P1100253When we exited to another small pathway and came to a halt at the top of a cliff of stairs, my second erroneous perception showed itself. Whatever the waterfall was, it probably was not a playground just for children.

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We started down the steps. When they ended and the land fell away at a near vertical decline, and I realized that I was expected to navigate it to the bottom and come out alive, I decided that just maybe this might be a deep-in-the-jungle, bona-fide, honest-to-goodness real authentic waterfall.

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Anchored by one strong Balinese man stabilizing me from the front, and another gripping my hand from behind, I skidded, slid, and plummeted to a point mid-way down where Komang stopped us. “Do you want to see the temple?” A grassy trail cut a horizontal path to the left. No one had mentioned a temple. Yes, we wanted to see. It sounded like a better idea than continuing the plunge downward. Within a few minutes the jungle opened to reveal simple buildings tucked into the mountain on the other side of the river. “How do you get there?” There wasn’t a bridge in sight.

“Through the water,” Komang said.

Of course. How silly of me. Any Balinese woman could navigate that suicide path down the mountain with an offering tower on her head, dance her way through the swirling water, sure-footed as a gazelle, and land safely on the other side, her precious cargo intact.

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We retraced our steps, resuming the downward journey. Then, with a fair distance still to go, I spied the falls through a break in the trees.

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Stunned by the wild beauty of it, I soaked in the sight and sound of tons of water tumbling over jagged rocks. “We bring the ashes here,” Komang said, and I knew he was referring to the cremains of the deceased and that this spot served a spiritual purpose as well as a practical one.

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Reaching bottom at last, Komang and Arya were soon playing in the cool, calm pool at the base of that pounding cascade of water, Nancy, assisted by Wayan Puji, was scaling the steep rock face to the top of the falls, and Ketut was keeping a watchful eye on us all.

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As I sat surrounded by the raw majesty of nature, I felt ashamed. It had been a while, but once again I had misjudged, and grossly underestimated what Bali wanted to show me. Humbled, I whispered an apology to the silent keepers of that sacred place and begged their pardon. But forgiveness, however generously offered, wasn’t unconditional. My penance, unavoidable, lay ahead: the climb back up!

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Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head

Hand in hand with golden days and balmy nights, if you live in the tropics, it rains. I’m not talking drizzle here, the kind that goes on for days until you want to wring out the clouds and shout “QUIT ALREADY!” No, I’m talking gushing, pounding, torrents of water.

I’m thrilled by the power of it, both the sight and the sound, unless it happens to be pouring through the roof into my kitchen. (That happened last night.) Or possibly just slightly worse, I’m on the back of a motorbike.

This cruiser didn't have a poncho and he wasn't stopping for anything!

This cruiser didn’t have a poncho and he wasn’t stopping for anything!

It was on one of those epic journeys to Kintamani that the weather turned. Fortunately, Ketut saw the storm coming and pulled into a roadside warung just as the first sprinkles hit.

This warung came in handy in three ways: 1) hot coffee, 2) petrol 3) shelter.

The warung had what was needed: 1) hot coffee, 2) petrol 3) shelter.

It was the perfect opportunity to fill up. The proprietor grabbed one of the amber bottles. She unscrewed the cover of the gas tank, uncapped the bottle, poured, then secured the gas cap again, all while holding an umbrella in her other hand. Rumor has it that the government is trying to outlaw these hazardous, do-it-yourself gas stations. I’m guessing it will be awhile.

Do you recognize this? It's the petrol station. One of those little jugs about fills the tank of a motorbike.

Here’s the petrol. One of those bottles fills the tank of a motorbike.

We sat and enjoyed steaming cups of thick Bali kopi just inches from the drenching downpour. Brown eddies swirled past our feet. This smiling fellow had stopped only to don his poncho. No coffee for him! He was on his way to work.

These ponchos come in all the colors of the rainbow. Everyone hopes they remembered to pack it when it starts raining. My smiling friend is getting ready to leave.

The ponchos come in all the colors of the rainbow. Everyone hopes they remembered to pack it when it starts raining. My smiling friend is getting ready to leave.

And off he goes.

And off he goes.

The warung was across the street from a temple that had an impressive flight of steps leading to the top. When we arrived a little trickle of water had started. After only fifteen minutes, the steps looked like this. When I say it was raining hard, I want you to understand what that means. Folks…it was raining HARD.

No, this is not a waterfall. These are the steps to the temple across the street.

No, this is not a waterfall.

The gutters were overflowing, completely flooding the street, and a man with a bright red umbrella tried to dislodge a huge branch that was blocking the culvert. He was unsuccessful.

Leonard Cohen does a song "Famous Blue Raincoat" and here's the Famous Pink Umbrella to go with it!

Leonard Cohen does a song “Famous Blue Raincoat” and here are the Famous Blue Slippers to go with it!

Eventually the cadence of the drops slowed and Ketut fished out his rain gear. Pulling it on, he seated himself and started the engine. In one flying leap I whipped the back of the poncho over my head and flung my leg over the seat. “Ready!” I yelled through the din.

There’s only one thing scarier than riding in the rain, and that’s riding blind in the rain. I could see nothing. My head was underneath the poncho. I tend slightly toward claustrophobia. I’ve gotten better, but for a few miles I had to sing so I wouldn’t hyperventilate. (That’s a great technique, by the way, for those of you who tend to panic!) Then, as quickly as it began, it was over. I pulled my head out from under. “You wet?” Ketut shouted over his shoulder.

“No! You?” I yelled back.

“No! Big rain!” he said, and I guess that tells it all.

Bali Building Codes

I have seen construction sites in Bali that make me shake my head. After working on commercial projects in the interior design industry for years, I was familiar with strictly enforced building codes.  In Bali I’ve heard of only one: nothing can be built higher than a palm tree. There are some mighty tall palm trees, but a building over 3 storeys is rare.

That leaves the playing field virtually wide open for creativity, nevermind safety or accessibility! The Balinese are artists and if they can think it, they will build it. Or if YOU can think it, they will build it. Which brings me to the subject of my latest residence.

Approach to Front Door

From the outside it looks like a normal structure with handsome brick and stonework. There’s a wide tiled terrace a step up from the yard and a garden of banana trees, coconut palms, frangipani, and thousands of unknown plant species.

Right of Entrance

Lush foliage borders the right of the entrance.  The gap between the wall and the roof allows fresh air and light into the luxurious bathroom.

Stepping through the door, however, all similarities to Western design cease. The front entrance allows a view straight through the house to the back garden, and there are no walls or windows blocking the sight. A wooden platform floats serrenely in the air above the tiled living area. The stairway access has no unsightly railings and the surround enclosing the platform has openings large enough to allow countless small children to fall through unhindered.

Platform Overlooking Garden

It is something like heaven to wake up at dawn, pull out my yoga mat, trundle up the steps, and greet the day with sun salutes while nature sings it’s lungs out around me.

Daybed on Platform

A daybed occupies one end of the floating deck and I could easily live right here. This is where I enjoy morning coffee and start my writing for the day. The view of the inside of the house from this perch reveals a sweet informality. The furnishings, although not entirely my taste, work for me. The home was built to last 25 years ago, with brick walls 10′ high, tile floors, and a ceiling that soars 20 feet.

View of House from Platform

Below the platform is an extensive terrace living area. It is open on three sides and as one friend remarked, “It looks like anyone or anything could walk right in.”

Terrace Below Platform

Indeed they could. But the bedrooms and the kitchen have locking doors, and I tend to like the security of that when I sleep! However, the bedroom window has only a decorative wooden design that would prohibit an adult from entering but it wouldn’t stop a monkey! I just lower the bamboo blinds, arrange the diaphanous mosquito netting to make a cozy tent, and sleep more soundly that I have in years.

Bed, Mosquito Netting, and Window

This house comes with staff. Ibu is a 67 year old woman who wades across the river every morning (there’s no bridge) to make breakfast, clean the house, and do whatever else I need. The first day she disappeared for about an hour. When she returned she was carrying a box of a dozen two quart bottles of drinking water on her head. I fussed at her and she left again and returned with a second big box of 12 more. I can barely slide the darn thing across the floor and she not only lifted it up to her head, she carried it all the way from the market. And she did that twice. Later, she was nonplused when she saw I had made my own coffee and she apologized profusely for not knowing I wanted it. 

It’s hard for me to let her do anything. She’s a grandmother and has worked hard all her life. But this is her livelihood. She speaks no English. I am grateful I know a little Indonesian by now, but it’s not nearly enough. Still we are making each other understood, and it is fascinating to see how much is communicated non-verbally with absolute clarity.

I did , however, ask one thing of her. It is something I want done that only she can do. The Balinese fill their homes and businesses with offerings daily. They spend hours making the little palm dishes that hold the bits of moss and flowers. My new home has the traditional house temple. P1020771

There are statues of Rama and Sita, Buddha, and Dewi Sri. It was a strange feeling to know, though I am not Hindu, that something needed to be done, that there was unfinished business here. So I asked Ibu if she would honor my house and make the daily prayers and offerings. The next day she arrived with no less than 15 of the little palm dishes filled with flowers. She lit sticks of incense and put on her sarong. Then she went through the rooms placing each offering where only she knows it should be placed, sprinkling holy water, and making prayers.

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There was one on either side of the entrance to the house. There were three in the front yard, one in the back. There were two in the kitchen, one on the dining table. I watched with moist eyes.

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My heart overflowed with gratitude for Ibu, and the grandmothers who know what to do. They are a dying breed. When she finished the ritual, she told me that now the house was protected. We had appeased the high gods, the low gods and the animals. We had blessed the plants and the ancestors, and brought safety to my home.

Pasek stopped by later. “How much you pay?” he asked, noticing the offerings. When I told him he quizzed me again, “How many?” Again I offered up the requested information. I’ve gotten used to the direct questions of the Balinese. If they want to know, no matter how personal, they ask. When I approached a temple a few months ago with a Balinese friend he turned to me and in all seriousness asked, “Are you menstruating?”

I don’t know if Pasek approved of the price or not. It doesn’t matter. For sixty cents a day I have the joy of watching Ibu perform a ceremony that has deep meaning for her and has its roots in the oldest belief system on earth. Even if the complexities of it are beyond my understanding, it nourishes my soul, and that’s a bargain at any price.

Taking Tea with the Prince

 

I’ve had tea with the prince. My life is complete.

Several weeks ago I happened upon a construction site. Looking at it from the other side of a yawning gorge it appeared an ambitious project. I followed steep steps beside a waterfall to the bottom, crossed the bridge, and huffed and puffed my way up the equally steep steps to the top of the other side.

Construction site

I wondered if it was another new hotel being built for the booming tourism business here in Ubud. But there was no one to ask so I carefully picked my way through building materials. The project took on a more finished appearance as I progressed. Then suddenly before me was the entrance, a towering edifice with not one, but four tiers of carved Barong faces guarding against unwanted visitors, earthly or otherwise. I began to wonder if this might be a private home. The doorway was constructed in traditional Balinese style, but I have never seen embellishment of this refined detail, even at the Ubud Palace.

Entrance edifice

I crept up the steps to peek, just peek, through the gilded doors standing slightly ajar. In front of me, barring further view, was a splendid Ganesh. Should any of those said unwanted beings happen to pass the first line of defense, his placement directly in front of the entrance was guaranteed to finish the job. My curiosity insisted on seeing what lay beyond.

Ganesh

So I proceeded, and Ganesh didn’t seem to have a problem with that. The scene that met my eyes when I cleared the final barrier was like something out of a fairy tale, or a Disney theme park! On my right, 15′ stone maidens poured the contents of their jugs into terraced pools.  Between the maidens water cascaded over lapped panels of metal. The landscaping was a glorious profusion of Bali’s most exotic vegetation.

Fountain wall

There are few places where I’ve stared with my eyes bugging and my lower jaw gaping…the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles, the Vatican…my standards are significantly elevated. It takes something pretty special to impress me. This gilded oasis at the end of the rice paddies definitely made the grade. After ogling shamelessly for several minutes, I tore myself away and went home. But I couldn’t get the images out of my mind.

So when I asked Ketut this morning if he wanted an adventure, my plan was to return and see what progress had been made in the past two weeks. We hopped on ‘Pink’ (a fitting name for his pearlized mauve colored motorbike) and were there in a matter of minutes. My jaw dropped again. I hadn’t glamorized it in my mind. If anything it had grown grander in two weeks. We strolled the path toward a group of workers installing a pair of dazzling chandeliers on the porch of the main structure. It would be good to ask permission to be there, I decided.

One of the men was obviously not a worker. His diamond encrusted watch probably cost more than a small oceanside villa, and the two rings he wore, one on each hand, would make Tiffany’s drool. Ketut had addressed one of the workmen but I approached the jewelry and said, “This is amazing. Who is the owner?” The man smiled benignly, almost humbly. “I am,” he said. Then he proceeded to introduce himself as Cok Wah and invited me to sit on the floor of his glistening black marble porch with him. He said a few quick words of Indonesian and I knew he had ordered drinks for Ketut and me. I quickly said, “Not necessary,” also in Indonesian. Again the beneficent smile. “I want you to feel welcome in my home,” was the gracious reply.

So I sat. And as we shared tea and Balinese sweet cakes, Prince Cok Wah told me about his father, the king of Ubud, and how he was building this palace to honor him. He seemed in no hurry to be anywhere else. He explained the two female statues flanking the gold bust of his father at the great entrance. They represented his father’s two wives, the women who had raised him and his five siblings. He talked about other plans he had for the unfinished portions of the project. Then, as I’ve often experienced with Balinese people, the conversation turned philosophical. We contemplated good and evil, light and darkness, and the necessity of maintaining balance in our lives. I kept checking in with myself to make sure this wasn’t some surreal dream, but the tea was wet, cake crumbs were accumulating in my lap, and I was sweating. In a dream I wouldn’t be sweating.

Two chandeliers dripping with crystal were being installed on the ‘front porch’

Then he told me that I would have to come back and see the palace after dark. “The lighting is automatic,” he said. “It comes on at 6 p.m.” He whipped out his iphone (seriously) and showed me pictures of the palace after dark. I told him I would like nothing better and made polite leave-taking noises. On the way out he took us behind the aquarium that is built into the entrance stairway. The aquatic scenery that appears to be in the tank itself is actually painted on the walls of the room behind it.

Aquarium after dark

Ketut had been uncharacteristically quiet during our tea party. As we putt-putted back home he told me that Cok Wah is a member of the Ksatriya Caste. In the Hindu system, they are the rulers. There are three Balinese languages, one for the lowest caste, one for the middle caste, and the most formal one for addressing royalty. Ketut admitted that he did not know the language well enough for addressing a person of Cok’s social status. Rather than insult the man he had opted for silence.

We did return to the palace after dark. Prince Cok Wah was still there. He greeted me by name and apologized that he had to leave but told us to stay as long as we wanted. Evidently a TV crew had been there about a month ago and filmed the palace extensively. The special program was due to air that night and he was going home to watch it. Before he left he escorted us into the compound and seemed terribly pleased to hear our exclamations of astonished awe. Then he was gone.

The main house

View of the entrance from the main house

Detailed carvings on the entrance edifice

The lighting effects on a dragon’s head

Steps ascending to the family temple

The family temple

Gilded woodcarving adorning the structure where important ceremonies are performed, weddings, cremations, tooth filings, and the like.

The pavilion for gamelan and Balinese dance performances is still under construction

We stayed a long time. The almost full moon watched as I took 164 photos. Ketut chatted with the security staff. When it just didn’t make sense to take another picture we found our way out of the magic kingdom, located Pink, and headed home. Ketut, faithful scout that he is, was eager to tell me what he had learned. Evidently the project has been underway for five years. So far it has cost over $80 million (that’s in U.S. dollars). It will take another year before it’s completed. On the back of the motorbike my jaw fell open for the final time today and I repeated the worn-out word that my lips have reverently breathed over and over and over again…

“WOW!”

Making Peace with Good and Evil

Good and evil, yin and yang, are balanced today in the village of Bakbakan.  It isn’t easy to maintain harmony with these energies. The level of sensory intensity in the ritual prayers, dances, and offerings that are required to keep peace between the sacred and the profane is unparalleled by anything I’ve seen before.

My friend Wayan invited Nancy (who is visiting from the U.S.) and me to attend the temple ceremony as guests of her family. The village of Bakbakan is about 30 minutes from Ubud. I arranged with Pasek and Ketut for motorbike transport. After a sidesaddle ride, which Nancy accomplished with impressive decorum, we were delivered to our destination and welcomed warmly by Wayan and Komang in ceremonial dress.

A group of women had already congregated. They were stunning. They looked like brides, all in white with a colorful sash at their waists. We had a few minutes to visit and then a line started forming. The row of towering pyramids of fruit, cakes, whole baked chickens, and colorful confections were retrieved by the woman who created them and placed on their heads.

This woman’s husband helps her with her 4′ tall, over 30 pound offering.

I cannot comprehend this feat of balance and strength.  It’s a challenge for me to balance a book on my head for more than a few steps. How on earth do they do it? The stately procession was followed by the gamelan musicians. Nancy and I walked alongside the men, snapping photos as discreetly as possible.

A stunning parade, at least 50 women all in white, carried their towering offerings the 1/2 mile to the temple.

The temple complex has three areas. Those who cannot enter wait in the least sacred area outside the entrance. If a relative has died recently the family cannot enter the temple. If a woman is menstruating she must not enter. At we approached Komang politely asked if Nancy or I were menstruating. There are very few bodily functions that register as taboos in Bali. Community life is an open book. There is no embarrassment around such things. I assured him we were both well past that age. He smiled and motioned us to the holy water where we were sprinkled. Then we passed through the gate and entered a magical realm. All was in readiness for the evening festivities as we passed through this second area.

Stepping through the last gate into the most sacred portion of the temple a riot of color and commotion assailed us. The air vibrated with expectation and the hum of voices. We were urged onto a platform, a seat of honor, and woven bamboo mats were quickly spread for our delicate foreign bottoms. Nancy and I sat by Wayan while Ary slept peacefully in her arms.

Komang’s cousin, Made, appointed himself our teacher and began explaining the events that would take place. His English was excellent and I learned more about Balinese Hinduism in the 30 minutes with him than I have in 5 months of reading and asking questions. We sat and chatted while other friends and family came and went.

The gamelan began, signaling time for prayer. We sat on the ground in family groups. Each family brought, in addition to the 4’ high offering tower, a basket of flowers and incense which Komang’s mother placed in front of us. Prayers were chanted in unison as the intricate rituals were performed. I tried to chant. I’m pretty good at following along with most melodies, but this wasn’t exactly a melody. When we got to the end I recognized the words and gave it my all, Om Shanti, Shanti, Shanti, Om.

A buzz of excitement rippled through the crowd at this point and almost as a unit the we moved to the perimeter creating a center space. A cloth was spread on the ground and offerings were placed there. These were different. Some appeared to have been slightly burned. There were a couple of smaller, colorful ones but the rest were almost scary looking. Made explained that there would be a dance and prayers now to balance good and evil energies. A row of holy men in white sat behind the dark offerings. Incense was lighted that did not have the sweet fragrance we had been experiencing all night. This odor was acrid and harsh. The gamelan musicians began again. Then a grandmother appeared moving to the rhythm. Another grandmother joined her and soon a group of elder women were dancing in front of the offerings and the holy men. We had been told earlier that this would be a trance dance. It was eerie. The women appeared to be doing battle with the dark energies. I watched, mesmerized.

The solemnity of the prayers and trance dance complete, food suddenly appeared. Wayan handed us a tangerine, some beautiful little striped crackers, and a lacy confection of shredded coconut glazed with palm sugar. Yum! We ate, visited, and anticipated the beginning of the evening’s entertainment. People started moving into the performance area and Komang hustled us into position at the front. What followed were three traditional Balinese dances, each one more spectacular than the one before.

The first dance, Penyembrahma, was brilliantly colorful.

That was followed by the spectacular, twirling Bird of Paradise dance.

The costumes in deep maroon with gold were absolutely gorgeous.

Bird of Paradise was followed by a brilliantly costumed trio. I missed the name of this performance and it moved quickly so photo ops were difficult. It was hard to keep my eyes behind the camera when I really just wanted to absorb myself completely in the moment!

It was 9 p.m. by the time the dancers finished. We were told that there would be another performance starting soon, but this was a ritual dance and it would be dangerous for us to leave in the middle. It again had to do with balance of good and evil. Once we started watching we would have to stay until the end at about 2 a.m. As much as my curiosity, my heart, and my mind wanted to stay, my body was in protest. Komang graciously escorted us to the street. Pasek and Ketut had returned and were waiting for us. We exchanged sweet farewells and started home. The cool night air brushed by as we zipped through dark, quiet streets. I was overwhelmed once again with immense gratitude for the opportunity to live this kind of life, a life I have created for myself knowing what I need, what I want, and what I love. It is a life that fits me like skin.

The Night Market at Mas

Question:  What do you get when you cross a Hindu ceremony with a Balinese all night market?  Answer: Sensory overload!

When Ketut asked, “You want to go to different market?” and I responded “What is different?” I was operating on the assumption it would be the same kind of market in a different location. Assumptions. Ketut expanded, “Night time, whole night, by temple, big football field.” I sought further clarification, “You mean all night? 24/7? No close?” Yes, that is exactly what he meant.

Of course I want to go, and my friend, Nancy, who is visiting me from the U.S., wants to go too. I picture a series of small shops around the perimeter of a large open area beside a temple. Why does my mind do that? Why do I presume to know what to expect? I do it every time and every time I’m astonished by something so utterly and completely unexpected it blows my tiny mind.

At 6:00 p.m. we’re ready. We have our sarongs in a bag to tie on when necessary. Ketut arrives, takes one look and says, “Pasek already sarong.” Okay, we need to wear our sarongs. At 6:30 we are still struggling to wrap the 2 meters of fabric in a semi secure fashion that doesn’t include an unsightly bulge around the mid-section. We both look about 8 months pregnant. It isn’t working. Finally, sweating bullets and laughing because it beats crying, we agree to quit trying to make it perfect and just go. I’m packaged like a tootsie-roll pop. Walking is a challenge.

I start to mount the motorbike (sidesaddle of course) and Ketut patiently repositions me. Since they drive on the left side of the road it is less likely my protruding knees will snag a passing vehicle if they stick out on the left. (Yes, the oncoming traffic is THAT CLOSE!) I glance at Nancy. She has hiked up her much more loosely wrapped sarong and is straddling the back of of Pasek’s bike. She’s taking no chances.

My first clue that the Mas Night Market may be a cut above the norm is the traffic jam. Suddenly every motorbike in creation has converged on this point. As we inch our way forward I notice a temporary toll booth of sorts. It is a chair in the middle of the road with a sign on it. The attendant standing beside it collects the fee. And then I see them…rows upon rows of motorbikes lined up two deep as far as the eye can see on both sides of the street. Ketut and Pasek make a few adjustments to the arrangement and we’re parked. We join the throngs. The flowing sea of humanity reminds me of Times Square on New Year’s Eve. Here however, out of literally hundreds of people, Nancy and I are the ONLY tourists.

Nancy pauses outside the huge stone entrance to the temple area and Pasek waits just inside the gate

Pasek on the left, Nancy on the right and in the background a parade of people, all in ceremonial dress, bring  their offerings into the temple

In another area of the temple people sit amid flower petals praying

This altar is adorned with rich fabrics and loaded with offerings

I still hesitate to take photos in the temples during ceremonies. It feels intrusive and disrespectful. The Balinese are always gracious and invite snoopy folks to photograph whatever they want. So it may be just me. But I cringe when I see some guy in shorts with a telephoto lens as long as Pinocchio’s nose, climbing on whatever is handy however sacred it might be, shooting, shooting, shooting. At the very least wear a sarong…try! Fortunately there were none of those types around on this particular night.

We leave the other-worldliness of the temple and are thrust into the earthly business of buying and selling. Carried along with the flow, we pass blankets spread on the ground with mounds of lace fabrics. Women are pulling out colors they like and looking through the merchandise just as I would around a bargain table in the U.S. There are wind-up toys, watches, jeans, t-shirts, underwear, jewelry, sarongs, balloons, tennis shoes, sandals, motorbike parts, and food…lots and lots of food. The aroma from this particular warung cannot to be ignored. We try three different kinds of satays.

Making and selling satays in the Mas Night Market

And they are delicious…smokey, spicy, mouth wateringly delicious!

I’m lovin’ this fish satay. Pasek is being his stoic, patient self. He’s a saint!

I notice a stall where that beautiful feminine undergarment of torture, the corset, is on display in abundance. I need one. I have the sarong and the lacy kebaya, but to be 100% correct I need the strapless push-up-pull-in-rib-crushing corset to complete the look. In spite of the human current pushing me I slow way down. Pasek, a few steps ahead but ever-vigilant lest he lose one of us, is immediately beside me. “You want to buy?” Somehow the vision of one of those adorable little Balinese girls strapping me into the most intimate of undergarments in front of the gods, and Pasek, and everybody gives me pause. A corset that doesn’t fit is worse than no corset at all, and the retelling of the story of me being sausaged into one would provide enough entertainment in the village for weeks to come. What am I thinking!? Common sense surfaces and we move on.

There must be something about greasy fried food that triggers a neural response. The warungs selling heaps of piseng goreng (banana fritters) and other deep fat fried bready foods are like magnets. We cave to our salivating taste buds. I point to one heaping mound and two handfuls of the stuff goes into a bag. Before I can ask the price two heaping handfuls of something else goes into the bag. I started to speak but STOP!!! doesn’t seem appropriate so I watch in fascinated horror while the bag is filled with two or three handfuls of everything. It comes to a dollar.

We agree it is time to head back to the peaceful sanity of Ubud. The motorbikes are located and the Polisi directing traffic gets us safely on our way.

Leaving the night market

The ride home is uneventful in the best possible sense of the word. Pasek and Ketut join Nancy and me on the balcony for tea and mounds of greasy delights. I forgot to mention that each deep-fried handful was accompanied by two or three whole green chilies.  And what do you know…a bite of fritter and a bite of chili when chewed up together in the same mouthful…bliss!

Oh what a night!

Goa Gaja – The Elephant Cave

Goa Gaja, known as the Elephant Cave, is nothing short of extraordinary. Dating back to the 9th century, this was and still is a sacred temple site of the Hindus. The entrance to the cave is covered with carved figures. Upon entering through the yawning mouth of the beast, the air instantly becomes oppressively thick and dead. The cavern is small and ‘T’ shaped with Ganesha in a niche straight ahead. The two chambers off the center each hold another deity.

The monsters guarding the entrance wear plaid sarongs with the colors of the three-part god, Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva, red, blue, and white. Brahma is fire, Vishnu is water, Shiva is wind. Maybe this is true. Maybe not. Sometimes it depends upon who is telling the story!

In 1950 the baths at Goa Gaja were excavated. It was believed by the early Balinese that this was the fountain of youth. Now the waters that pour from the jars held by six maidens are considered holy water and used for purification in the ceremonies. For this photo I am standing high above on a path cut into the side of the mountain. You can see the thatched roof below me.

There are three maidens below and to the right, and another three maidens holding their jars stand beside the pool just to the left of these.

This is a community meeting place where they plan the ceremonies and festivals that are held here.

We walked around this building and there below us was a lush jungle valley with a b’zillion steps leading down into it. As I descended the stone stairs I had to stop on each landing to take pictures and to breathe, and that was going DOWN. The air was thicker and more humid with each step.

 

I remember reading a book in high school by Richard Llewellyn about a Welsh mining community. It was a wonderful story. The title was, How Green was My Valley. I thought of that today gazing at the impossible green-ness of this valley.

On the valley floor were huge carved pieces of a Buddhist temple scattered in an irregular line. At some point in history an earthquake or a mudslide tumbled them from their perch on the side of the mountain and deposited them in the midst of the stream.

I followed a narrow path (in spite of my aversion to high, narrow places) around the side of a jutting rock and found this cascading waterfall.

It came from up there…

I was mesmerized by this incredible root system…

and this cluster of delicate white flowers with the orange blossom surprise adding a splash of color.

Being in this place is pure magic and I suddenly realize why. It’s because I can actually see it. There aren’t hundreds of people tramping up and down the stairs and stopping in front of me to take pictures. The only others here at this hour of the morning are a woman placing offerings and a gardener. I feel like I have stepped into the pages of a fairytale where colors are brighter, trees are taller, scents are sweeter and life is bliss.

Monkey Business in Monkey Forest

Monkey Forest Sanctuary is home to around 200 macaque monkeys and three Hindu temples that were built in the middle of the 14th Century. The monkeys roam freely which can be both fascinating and frightening. I am generally fascinated and have stood, mesmerized at the zoo, watching these distant relatives do things people do. But today a precocious teenage monkey decided I probably had something he wanted in my purse. I know better than to carry food into Monkey Forest so I had nothing. But he jumped on to my shoulder and in a split second, he had himself draped around me, grappling with the zipper on my bag and then my camera case. I had just witnessed two monkeys fighting and I saw the vicious teeth those little creatures have so I didn’t want to upset him in any way. As he readjusted his grip around my neck I slowly lowered myself as close to the ground as I could get hoping he’d hop off. No such luck. The next thing I knew he swung around my arm, a Tarzan-like move, and was on my head. I know their penchant for grooming and I didn’t want to go there! I saw a cement pillar near by with a flat top. I moved close and tilted my head. Junior finally got the message and left in a bit of a huff. I gave the monkeys a wide berth for the remainder of my visit today, and I wasn’t approached again.

They’re just so cute when they’re little!

Then they become teenagers…

And then, ah well, it happens to all of us.

The lush green jungle is a feast for the eyes. If you notice about half way down on the right side of this photo, two mossy green alligators perch on the edge of a cliff.

The sidewalks are spotlessly clean and are kept that way by women with pink dustbins and bamboo brooms. I watched a tourist intentionally drop a plastic bag on the ground. Another person in the group said, “There are recycle containers for that.” His reply, “Oh, the monkeys will take care of it.” Within moments a green uniformed Forest Attendant picked up the bag and took it to the recycle bin.

Monkey Forest Sanctuary is also a cemetery used by the village of Padangtegal for their cremations and burial grounds.

Directly across from the headstones is the cremation area. There had recently been a cremation and smoke was still rising.

The temples are awe-inspiring with their statuary and intricately carved edifices.

I wonder what the ceremonies looked like that were held here in the 14th Century. Probably not much different from what they are today.

No trip into Monkey Forest would be complete for me without seeing the incredible dragon bridge. Shrouded in the dripping tendrils of the banyan trees that surround it, the bridge spans the rushing creek in the chasm below.

Magnificent! And so was the day. My trail home took me past Atman and I had to stop. Just look at these bananas, fried in butter with two sauces on the side, one is coconut cream and the other is carmelized raw cane sugar. Go ahead and drool. It was beyond delicious!

Holy motorbikes!

As adventures go, today gets a perfect 10. It had all the required elements: suspense, terror, discovery, delight. To say that I have an uneasy relationship with motorbikes would be, well, a lie. I am white-knuckle-clench-jaw terrified of riding on any motorized vehicle with only two wheels. So when Wayan invited me to visit their home I was thrilled until she said she would pick me up on her motorbike. My big smile did an instant melt-down. “Motorbike?” I squeaked. “Yes,” she flashed her own lovely smile, “you ride on the back. I will take you.” Face it. An opportunity to visit this Balinese family in a village about 30 minutes away, to experience first-hand how these beautiful people live, just doesn’t come along every day. There was no way I was not going.

Suspense. Wayan was coming at 4:00. By 2:00 I was feeling knots in my stomach. At 3:00 my palms were sweaty. By the time I heard the sound of a motor approaching at 3:55 I was hyperventilating. Taking a deep, cleansing breath I grabbed my bag and went out to meet her. She strapped me into a helmet, popped the back foot rests down and I climbed on. My grip on her rib-cage probably permanently rearranged her vital organs. Terror!  Then off we went. Traffic on the streets in Bali is frightening enough when I’m walking on the sidewalk. But to be weaving in and out between tour buses and hundreds of other bikes similar to hers, horns blaring, without anything protecting my fragile body, put me in a catatonic state. I clung to Wayan’s tiny middle for dear life.

After a few miles we left Ubud. The air was fresh, traffic was light, and in spite of myself I began to enjoy the ride. I don’t believe I said that! But its true. Upon arrival at her home I was introduced to her husband, Komang, and their adorable son. Komang works at the reception desk of a high-end resort spa. Both Komang and Wayan speak very good English.

My tour of their home commenced. I followed Komang to the family temple area. As he explained the function of each of the structures and what they represent I was struck anew by the dailiness of their beliefs. There is no separation between the secular and the holy. They are interwoven so seamlessly that one is unrecognizable without the other.

Komang explained that each of the small buildings in the temple area has a purpose. One is for making offerings to honor the ancestors. One receives offerings for safety. Another, offerings for prosperity. One that struck me with particular impact was the edifice that represented caring about doing good work. They make offerings and prayers, daily, for caring about doing good work. With all these prayers, setting the intention for such goodness, its little wonder that Bali is a very special place.

Did I mention that I was an instant celebrity here. Upon arrival children began to gather around me. No matter what I did or said they found it hilariously funny. They have mastered the words, ‘Hello’ and ‘Bye.’ But they mostly like Hello, so every few minutes one of them would blurt out, “Hello!” and wait expectantly for my answering, “Hello!” Then they would all laugh uproariously.

 

 

The Balinese lifestyle is completely different from ours in the West in other ways too. They have a house for sleeping, a separate house for cooking, a place for the ceremonies of marriage and death, and the temple area. All of these are surrounded by a wall, maybe 8 feet high. The buildings are small by Western standards, but most of life is lived outside. And why wouldn’t it be in this climate where as the saying goes, “Even a rock, if planted, will grow.”

There is a stream that runs a little distance from the house. Earlier Wayan had pointed to it saying that this is where she does her laundry. Huh? Sometimes I have to catch myself so that my shock and disbelief don’t offend. A few moments later she added that this is also where the women bathe every morning at 6 a.m. “Men too?” I asked. “No, men go somewhere else.” As I said, much of life is lived outside.

When we returned from our walk through the neighborhood, Wayan disappeared into the kitchen building and emerged a few minutes later with a treat. It was fresh coconut milk, straight from the coconut, which was harvested from one of the three coconut palms on their property. Then Komang’s mother joined us. She takes care of their mischievous three-year-old while Wayan and Komang work six days a week.

 

After refreshments Wayan and Komang offered to take me to the night market. Even though it meant another motorbike ride, my curiosity triumphed and off we went. There were no tourists there tonight, and we strolled through the isles, Komang carrying his son and Wayan holding my arm. I saw many Balinese women walking arm in arm and I felt much love for this little family that has so warmly welcomed me into their lives.

 

 

There were food vendors everywhere and the knawing in my stomach reminded me that Wayan and Komang had come straight from work and were probably hungry too. Komang pointed out the various dishes naming them. “And this one is bubur ayam…” he had barely gotten the words out of his mouth and I interjected, “Oh! Can we stop and have some? I will buy your dinner. I love bubur ayam!” My gracious host and hostess agreed. Three heaping bowls of the savory dish were presented and what a delicious treat it was. Three bowls of bubur ayam and beverages set me back a whopping $2.00.

As we finished our meal the sky looked like it may be working up to another twilight downpour. We quickly returned to the motorbikes and straddling the trusty machine, I once again wrapped my arms around Wayan’s waist. Waving goodby and thanks to Komang, we set off to beat the rain. What a spectacular day. And, thanks to Wayan, I think I may have overcome a major phobia involving two-wheeled, motorized vehicles!

 

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