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Trip Report Robbietravels Indonesian Odyssey: Part III: BALI

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The flight from Lombok was a thirty minute puddle jump. Merpati Airlines had cancelled our morning flight due to low bookings (quite common, I hear) and we were rebooked on the afternoon flight, arriving in Bali around 5 pm.

Putu Arnawa, our guide for the next few days, met us upon arrival. Since we’d missed a day of touring with him, we squeezed in a mini tour before heading for for five day stay in Ubud. We set off to see the much touted sunset at Uluwatu Temple, about thirty minutes southwest of the airport. It’s an important temple to the Balinese because its one of their eight directional temples. The temple juts out from its perch on a cliff, high over the crashing water below.

Its a hike up to the actual temple and most visitors were crowded in the temple grounds below seeking to take photos of the famed sunset here. While DH followed Putu’s instructions to remove his sunglasses, lest the macaque monkies grab them, he did not expect one agile little guy to swoop down from a branch and remove Fred’s glasses from his glass case in his breast pocket. Informal retrieval crews were standing by to deal with this monkey business. Someone crawled over the low wall to retrieve the glasses from the ground where the monkey had carelessly discarded them.

We stopped for dinner on the beach at Jimbaran Bay on our way to Ubud. Seafood cafes, where you chose your fresh fish displayed over ice or from the tanks, were lined up cheek to jowl for blocks and blocks. We ordered our picks at Teba Cafe and ate at a table on the sand. The fish was excellent. The air was warm. There must have been a hundred partying tourists eating and drinking at beachside tables. This was the largest congregation of tourists we’d seen so far in Indonesia.

Because we so enjoyed the scenic beauty of the Ayung River gorge (we stayed at KayuManis in ’05), we wanted to stay where we would have similar view. Our hotel for three nights in Ubud, Kupu Kupu Barong, started its life as a gourmet restaurant and their first six bungalows were completed a year after the restaurant opened in 1986. They now have twenty villas in three categories: Village View (with or without plunge pool), Ayung River View (with or without pool) and Royal Suite.

Our Ayung Pool Villa was gorgeous: redwood walls and floors, beautiful art pieces, walls of glass bringing the outside in and wonderful outdoor spaces from which to enjoy being in the gorge, seeing and hearing the rushing river below. From my survey, villas 16-19 are the best in the Ayung River category. There were five villas completed two years ago, #35-39. Although they are closest to the river they are very far from the main pool, restaurant and lobby. Because the property is built in to a very steep hillside, getting around is best accomplished by riding their buggies on the buggy paths. Depending on the driver, this can be an E ticket ride. The admonition on the passenger handle of the cart says “falling off can result in severe injury or death”.

Known for its cuisine, the food at KKB is outstanding. The quality and freshness of the ingredients come through in every bite. Breakfasts and one dinner were included in our package. The dinner was so good, we ate here another night during our stay.

The only thing I didn’t like here was the way the staff were trained. Their constant smiling, bowing (wai-ing) and inquiring about every aspect of our stay was, for me, tiresome and excessive. Even the security guards and grounds sweepers give formal greetings with fingertips pressed together just under their chins. Maybe its ethnocentric of me to call this behavior obsequious but it just doesn’t wash with me.

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    First full day we walked around town and strolled through Pasar Ubud, the central market. We surveyed the stalls and made some small purchases. With fond memories of the wonderful food and views at Indrus Restaurant from our ’05 trip, we headed there for lunch. It proved as good as on our previous visit. I tripped on a stair lip going down to the bathroom but I seemed to be OK. This judgement turned out to be premature.

    Some hours later, while enjoying our (pre dance performance) dinner and the captivating views of beautiful Saraswati Temple from our table at Louts Cafe, my left ankle began to hurt. The pain and swelling escalated so quickly, by the time the cab got us back to our room, I was in intense pain and my ankle had swollen to twice its size. With heavy ice treatment, codeine and an elastic ankle brace, I began to mend during the next twelve to twenty four hours.

    I was feeling quite the Calamity Jane with my elephantine ankle, cuts and scrapes on ankles, knees, elbows and arms from the rocks at Mangsit, Lombok, mosquito bites decorating otherwise unclaimed bare skin (including the pair of mosquito bites on my cheeks, where I would much prefered dimples) and increasing, unwelcome deposits of adipose tissue (who can say how such things happen on vacation!). Did I mention my finger got caught in a chair I was moving closer to the beachside dinner table at Quinci?; so I had a swollen middle finger too. Kindly stifle all snickering. I wasn’t the Ugly American just the unsightly, uncoordinated one; its a case of my mind and body disagreeing about my age.

    The next day we did half day touring with Putu. I agree with the posters who recommended him, he’s a gem. We especially enjoyed visiting his village, Tanggayuda, and his family’s compound. We watched the women there preparing offerings in a communal kitcahen and met Putu’s mother and some of his young nephews. We toured his compound and learned about where structures were located and why and enjoyed watching his family go about their daily activities.

    Just in case I’d overlooked something in my prior visit to Prapen Silver four years ago, we paid a visit to this lovely jewelry store and workshop in Celuk, fifteen minutes from Ubud. Nothing sang to me, so Fred counted himself lucky. We spent the afternoon enjoying the magnificent view of the Ayung River and its jungle clad banks from various outdoor vantage points within our compound. We read on our chaises facing the gorge, we swam in our pool mesmerized by the gorge and the wild orchids growing in the jungle foliage ten feet away. We had drinks under the mosquito netted structure, an outdoor drawing room with rattan sofa and chairs. I could live in this suite and its outdoor rooms for months, if not longer.

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    You're still far more coordinated than I am. I trip, slip, stumble, cling, clutch, grasp and ultimately crash my way through just about every Asian trip. It's always a wonder that I can survive unescorted when I get back home.

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    robbie, Glad to hear that the KKB didn't disappoint. I haven't been there for 20+ years when my son -- then 3 -- nearly tumbled through the restaurant window and over the into the ravine while his parents enjoyed a long lunch!

    I know what you mean about the excessive personal attention. Sometimes you just to be left alone. I'm also bemused about the tendency to "wai." It is not idigenous to Indonesia but seems to have become the universal Asian resort greeting.

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    Putu is indeed a gem. His sense of humor brightens up the entire time you spend with him. The visit to his family compound was really informative about Balinese life. Sorry about your ankle. They can be very painful and even more annoying.

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    Really enjoying your report, your writing style, the level of detail, and your sense of humor about your scrapes & aches. Glad you seemed to heal quickly - sprained ankles are painful. Your descriptions of KKB are adding to our dilemma of where to stay in Ubud on our first trip to Bali next year. So many great choices - so little time! Can't wait for the next installment.

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    Your feedback puts a smile on my face. Femi I invite you (and others willing to confess) to become a charter member of my newly formed Klutz Klub.

    I wasn’t ready to leave this idyllic retreat (KupuKupu Barong) but we had booked the next two nights closer to Ubud (and at over half the cost) at Alam Shanti. While at breakfast, I was summoned to the lobby phone. Alam Shanti had double booked our room for tonight. They were very, very sorry and suggested alternatives. After confirming our room at KKB would be available for another night, I declined AS’s offers and headed back to breakfast with an ear to ear grin on my face. Fred was also pleased with this turn of events. I try to avoid one night stays but this was well, if not unavoidable, irresistable. So we continued our life of Riley at KKB for another blissful day.

    Next day we toured with Putu for half the day. According to the 210 day Balinese calendar, this was a day for blessing the animals. Although this is usually a ceremony carried out in one’s home compound in a village, Pura Hyang Api is the temple to visit if you have sick animals and need special blessings for them. In the first temple courtyard a gamelan orchestra was playing; they really put their hearts in to producing the soulful tones of their instruments. When the musicians were in need of a smoke, they took a smoke and chat break. When they felt like it, they resumed playing. I appreciated the music all the more for reading Colin McPhee’s A House in Bali; a delightful account of his adventures in Bali during the years he collected and documented Bali’s indigenous music.

    Families were streaming in and out of the temple complex. Women walked erectly while balancing on their heads the artistic baskets of fruit offerings they had lovingly prepared earlier that morning. In the inner courtyard the faithful were seated on the ground praying. The priest moved among the devotees, sprinkling holy water on their heads and putting a ladle full in their hands, for drinking. After a drive through lush countryside, we repaired to KKB for a late lunch by the pool and our afternoon outdoor lounging ritual.

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    Next day Putu drove us to the village of Batuan and to Bali Gong Art (phone 361 298269; in reply to my request to see high quality antique carved pieces. Its a huge antique complex of many rooms and outdoor spaces, worth a half day for a serious shopper. Putu noted that American celebrities come here to buy carved doors and large temple pieces and have them shipped home for their large interior spaces. I found a small piece of carving from an old temple and a more modern sculpted face. Delighted with my purchases, I asked them to wrap each piece very well as my supply of bubble wrap was fully deployed.

    Our next touring stop was quickly scrapped as the rain pelted our van. Putu wisely recommended a visit to Rudana Art Museum and Gallery back in Ubud, a sterling (out of the rain) choice. The museum itself was a work of art with glorious traditionally carved ceiling beams and rafters. The colorful palette of Nyoman Gunarsa’s oil paintings of Balinese dancers excited my senses. After viewing the three floors of museum works, we were escorted (under huge umbrellas) to the galleries where the owner was clearly hopeful of a sale. By the time we returned to KKB, the storm had passed and we could enjoy sundowners from our villa followed by another delicious dinner at KKB.

    Finally, we had to depart KKB at noon next day. The drive to Alam Shanti was no more than twenty five minutes and it was a bit further from town than I’d imagined. The staff couldn’t apologize enough for the room mix up and requested we be their guests for dinner in town at Cafe Warung. Alam Shanti is well described by others on this board like Gpanda and RKK, whose reports led to us booking. The rusticated, faded glory of Gangga Suite was a lovely contrast to the grandeur and opulence at KKB. After settling in and enjoying the rice field views from our balcony, we shuttled in to town. Tonight, barring any mishaps, we would see a Legong dance performance at Ubud Palace.

    The elegane of the Palace was a perfect setting for the elegance of the dances. DH began to twitch after an hour but he hung on until the dazzling finale. We decided to decline the thoughtful offer to dine at Cafe Warung since the buzz was to avoid this restaurant. Instead we had a late, light dinner a Ary’s Warung. A fine meal although I preferred the dinner at Cafe Lotus.

    Our final morning in Ubud area. I took RHK and Gpanda’s recommendation to take the rice field tour offered by Alam Shanti while Fred continued to consort with the sandman. The guide for this tour was outstanding, a university and law school graduate, named Darta. (He can be contacted c/o his daughter Rumah Roda, Jl Kajeug #24, Ubud 80571; phone 361 975487). His motivation to attend law school was to learn how to reclaim the family’s rice fields, taken from them in a swindle. I enjoyed this walk so much I would like to take this tour again when back in Ubud.

    Wayan, our tour guide from our first Bali trip, picked us up late morning and we set off for East Bali. It was satisfying to reconnect with him. We took an incredibly scenic route via Muncun and Sideman. The rice fields in the east are impossibly green and verdant owing to the richness of the volcanic soil. And the high peaks of the volcanic mountains in the background made the stunning scenery all the more dramatic .

    The Tirta Gangga Water Palace was not the quiet, pristine locale I’d envisioned. Hundreds of school children were here on school trips, splashing in the fountains, swimming in the large pool fed by the nearby spring and squealing with delight.

    The Hotel Tirta Ayu is located within this Water Palace on a rise overlooking it. Rather than looking out on to the serenity of an inspiring arrangement of water features, the scene was akin to a Balinese Disneyland. The last king built this water palace in 1956, paying too much homage to European style and too little to Balinese architecture in my view.

    We expected to meet Wayan for touring after breakfast but a young man named Gusti introduced himself. He was from Wayan’s village and sent to be our guide because Wayan had been recalled to his village for pressing family business that required his van. We were headed to the village of Tenganan, one of the Bali Aga villages that claims descent from the “original” Balinese. The village is well known for its unique village layout, its double ikat weaving and its annual Usaba Sambah Ceremony, a festival with several days of activities.

    This village of about four hundred inhabitants quadrupled its numbers on this last day of the Usaba Sambah. I’ll spare you the lengthy myth concerning the derivation of this celebration. Suffice it to say that it commemorates the time in which the king granted these lands to the village.
    More to come soon.

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    Rustic, huh? I'm curious to know more about your experience at Alam Shanti. Did you love it? Obviously it probably pales in comparison to your first hotel...but I'd still like to know more about the room/the hotel/the food, etc.

    I'm reading every word of yours with anticipation and slight envy. It's thrilling to be reading about the places we'll be visiting shortly. Get that butterfly feeling in my stomach--like the first time we went to SEA...not knowing much about the place/the culture/the sights. I can't wait--thanks again, Robbie, for bringing us along on your journey!

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    I'm interested in your thoughts too....i'm not sure if you liked it or did not like AS?? to us it seemed to radiate a "real" bali lux setting, rather than the westernized living of the 4 seasons, etc....maybe i am wrong??

    in any case we will be returning next spring for 2 nites in the room downstairs from yours....we call it panda's room...

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    I did like Alam Shanti. The staff was friendly and accommodating, the grounds were lovely and the Gangga Suite had great character. I would have preferred more light spilling in to the room but then we were gone a lot so it didn't matter. Aside from a light breakfast, i don't know about the food; we were only there overnight. AS is on a village road so I enjoyed ambling around the village. Fred liked reading on the spacious balcony overlooking the rice fields. Afternoon tea in our room was a nice touch too.
    Having arrived at Alam Shanti from KupuKupu Barong, puts AS at an unfair disadvantage. Since I soo love being in the river gorge, anything else pales a bit for me. Yes, KKB is Westernized Balinese (because of the sensational rooms and high level of creature comforts) still it preserves a sense of place, I felt I was in Bali.
    If I didn't know or care about the river environment (and high living), I'd be quite content at AS. And Will, rustic as in lots of old wood, not as in bugs or cabin. AS is on a village road so I enjoyed ambling around the village. Fred liked reading on the spacious balcony overlooking the rice fields. Afternoon tea in our room was a nice touch too. I'm sure I would have grown to appreciate this property more, if we stayed there 3 or 4 nights. I don't see any downside to staying there.

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    We were told the ceremonies in Tenganan Pagringsingan began at ten a.m. Upon arrival around ten, we learned that preparations began at ten; the events would begin at two. It’s not uncommon for information to be incorrect or incomplete and for things to change on short notice; so having a Swiss train time mentality never does well on a vacation in general and all the more so in this part of the world. We now had plenty of free time to explore the village as it prepared for the festivities.

    The crowds were increasing, the car park and motorbike parking areas were full beyond capacity. We walked past the large, thatched rectangular bale agung where the village council meets. Groups of villagers, gathered around large tables, were cutting and cooking special foods under open thatched pavilions. Makeshift stalls were being set up and the concession vendors were setting out their goods.

    Characteristic of a Bali Aga (meaning original) village, Tenganan is laid out along two parallel stone paths with houses facing each other across each lane. The two rows of houses began just past the bale and ran from the front of the village to back; every few houses was a few steps up from the previous ones. This tiered arrangement provide drainage. At the back of the village were pasture lands for grazing cattle and trekking paths that led up in to the forest. Fred wandered off to take a call on his cell and says he encountered several of the largest water buffalo he’d ever seen (Caveat: DH is prone to exaggeration. At a safari dinner in Zambia where everyone was outdoing each other in regaling their best siting of the day, DH described the herd of leopards he’d seen!)

    On walking back toward the central part of the village, we happened on a devotional at one of the village temples (Pura Banjar). Women and children were seated on the dirt floor, their very large, high and colorful offering baskets placed around a shrine. A priest was offering blessings and sprinkling holy water on each participant. The scene was tranquil, the silence profound. When the rituals were completed the women retrieved their offerings, repositioned them perfectly on their heads and descended the temple steps in a stately recessional through the village and back into their homes.

    By noon the photographers were staking out their shooting locations. Many Balinese young men, wearing traditional sarong, sash and head scarf, were chatting in small groups, sporting very sophisticated equipment. Fifteen megapixel digitals with 500 mm zooms seemed to be the phallic symbol de jour. Some hope to sell their photographs; others were there to enjoy their hobby.

    Without warning, a colorful procession began, participants walking from the back of the village to the front. The red and yellow temple umbrellas at the head of the procession were held high and shimmered in the strong sunlight. The priests and village elders were in the lead, players of the huge gongs followed. Striking teenage girls walked in step, wearing pretty sarongs and strapless tops, showing the beauty of their faces and shoulders. When the procession ended there was another long (forty five minute) wait during which time more photographers and observers secured a seat, a perch, a small step ladder (borrowed from a family home) to shoot over the crowd.

    The main event on this final day was the Mekare-Kare ceremony. It’s one to one combat among sets of competitors, matched by age and size. Each man holds a weapon of bound bundles of pandanus leaves (with thorns down each side of the leaves) in his right hand and a rattan shield in his left hand. The object is to inflict scratches on the back of the opponent. Rivulets of blood from scratches to the other’s back are common but striking the opponent ‘s face is prohibited.

    The combatants and soon to be combatants, who duel on a raised stage, were cheering each other on and in high spirits. After each match a winner was declared (I couldn’t fathom how) and the locals rooted and hooted, having a grand time. Each set of players left the stage with battle wounds, bloody scratch marks from the attack of his opponent.

    I was stationed ringside in the shade with bodies pressing in to me from all sides. Everyone was pushing forward to get a better view or grab a photo above the throngs. Fathers lifted their tots on their shoulders, so to see above them, bigger kids climbed trees. To shoot down on the stage above all this, several enterprising women gained permission to stand on someone’s rooftop.

    One local photographer kept overstepping his “spot” and putting his camera directly in front of my face or my camera. When there was a momentary opening in the crowd, I bent down to scratch my leg. While doing this, the pushy photographer next to me leaned his elbows on my back and began using my back as his personal tripod. He deserved the gentle reprimand I gave him translated by an English speaking Balinese photo pal next to me.

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    There was to be dancing from the village girls in the evening but after watching many matches, the heat and the press of the crowd became too much. We were hot and tired and didn’t want to drive back to Tirta Agu and then later back to Tanganan. I did try one ploy to see the evening activities. I asked our guide to drive us to the Alila Manggis for a late late lunch around four. Its about twenty minutes away on the south coast. I hoped DH would be fortified by an outstanding meal and be persuaded to return to Tanganan in the evening.

    The Alila chef was recommended to us by owner Karl and chef Chris at the Galle Fort Hotel in Sri Lanka last December. They spoke so highly of the food that I remembered it when I consulted my mapbefore departing Tanganan. I also wanted to check out the hotel to see if we could stay there one night and reduce our stay in east Bali to two nights. We had a terrific meal. Our table at the open air dining pavilion overlooked the sea. The concierge came by to answer my lodging questions and invited us to stay for tea on the lawn; besides being hospitable they probably wanted to set up for dinner. I ordered a mixture of lemongrass and jasmine, wonderful Dilmah tea from Sri Lanka.

    On the way back to Tirta Ayu we drove through small villages and shimmering rice fields. The rice fields here are unbelievably green and verdant owing to the richness of the volcanic soil. Besides the usual motorbikes and pedestrian traffic, there were brigades of school kids in uniform walking along the road with brooms and buckets in hand. End of term exams were over but students were not yet on vacation. First there were cultural trips to various places in Bali and then they was the required clean up the school premises. These activities take place for all school children in Bali, where the cost of education at every level is borne by the family.

    Back at Tirta Ayu we requested to depart next morning rather than stay the next night, no problem. We decided that we’d seen what was of interest in east Bali and Tirta Ayu was just too remote. I called the Alila and booked for one night, having learned yesterday that they had plenty of vacancies.

    At dinner at Tirta Ayu’s restaurant, we were the only guests. The food simple and well prepared. The chef here worked at Alila Manggis for some years before seeking a post closer to his home village. We were the only overnight guests as well. We were staying in the premier villa “Raja”, quite a nicely appointed, spacious room; less than $100/night. The villas are build in to the hillside so the hotel does not really have its own grounds. Guests can use the spring fed pool of the Water Palace. There isn’t a lobby so folks gather in the thatched open air restaurant that overlooks the Water Palace.The staff were sweet and charming young people without “hospitality” affectations.

    Next morning we visited Amlapura. This is the largest town in eastern Bali; its main street was bustling with shoppers along this thoroughfare and stalls tucked into alleyways. It was formerly known as Karangasem (the name of the regency); the story is that after the eruption Gugung Agung in 1963 the town’s name was changed to Amlapura to improve its luck. We were told that when something bad happens, people in Indonesia will change the name of the person or place to reduce the odds of recognition and a repeat of the bad experience. The population mix here was noticeably different; it seemed about half Balinese Hindu and half Muslim. The central market was busy; there was an enclosed shrine area where vendors brought offerings. In the market, Gusti pointed out fruits, vegetables and spices not familiar to us. Inside a shop selling ceremonial good, he explained the meaning and use of the religious articles householders might buy here.

    Then we visited Puri Agung Karangasem. When you sign in and give a donation, you get a welcome and orientation sheet signed by the grandson of the last king of this regency who died in 1966.The late 19th century palace is a human sized compound consisting of three major parts. The ornately carved and freshly painted blue and red entry doors give entry to the first compound (called Bencingah) used to house special guests. The family photographs in the receiving rooms give a homey charm to this building. There were only a few tourists mid morning and it gave me the sense of discovering the palace. The second section is a lovely garden that leads into the innner court of Maskerdam, where the last king lived until his death in 1966.

    Next stop was the Taman Soekasada Ujun aka the Water Palace of Karangasem. This last king of Karangasem was passionate about water palaces and built two; his desire was to blend art and nature, European geometries with Balinese form. There were loads of kids on cultural trips from various schools. One teacher in charge of a large group spoke thru a megaphone. Children then sang some simple songs. Later they delighted in a number of foot and relay races across the expanse of one lawn area. The lawns were also a favored venue for family picnics. From the top steps of the Water Palace there was a lovely panorama of the surrounding fields and hills. I liked this water palace better than the one at Tirta Gangga. The latter, built in 1957, has more of a European feel; it might be found in any European city except for a few Balinese stone carvings.

    After morning touring we drove south to stay at Alila Manggis, about six miles west of Candi Dasa on the southeast coast. The rooms are small by Balinese standards but nicely done. Our balcony overlooked the huge pool surrounded by lawns and the sea beyond. We enjoyed another delicious lunch and then relaxing by the pool.

    In the fading afternoon light Gusti drove me to Tenganan Dauh Tukad, the sister village of Tenganan Pagringsingan. This village has its annual Usaba Sambah festivities some weeks after its sister. I’ve read the war ceremony here is more enjoyable since fewer tourists come it. At the village entrance I was asked to sign in and make a donation. I was assigned a young guide. This village guide/promoter immediately took me to his home where he laid out lots of weavings his mother (weaving nearby) had produced; he had the making of a good used car salesman. I convinced him that I was there to explore his village and had already purchased weavings in Tenganan. We walked up one dirt path and down another. One old man was sitting on his front stoop. Our guide served as interpreter. I learned he was ninety years old. I told him I thought he looked well for his age. He replied with an organ recital, a prerogative of his longevity: his knees were bad, his few remaining back teeth hurt all the time and so on.

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    We skipped two “high value” tourists destinations in the eastern part of Bali: Klungkung and Puri Besakih, the Mother Temple. We had seen the wonderful sights in Klungkung on our first trip. As to the Temple, Wayan had strongly advised us against visiting. Because it is on land owned by the local village, the locals have taken a nasty and predatory stance toward visitors that mad ethe experience unpleasant at best according to our guide. We trust Wayan and skipped the Temple. On return home I looked up some recent tourist accounts and they reflected the very hassles, scams and annoyances Wayan recounted. Not just a pity for tourists but for Balinese honor as well.

    I was sorry to leave Alila Manggis the next day. Along the coast, we stopped at Pura Goa Lawah , the Bat Cave Temple, a mile or two north of Kusamba Harbor. To my surprise it was a lovely untouristed (new word) temple complex, especially important to the Balinese in matters of the afterlife. While we were there, several dozen locals sat in prayer in front of a large cave that thousands of fruit bats call home. A holy woman was conducting a ceremony.

    We continued west along the coast until we neared Kuta. I was shocked by the onslaught of traffic that began a few miles before the city limits. I didn’t remember the traffic being this bad four years ago. After sitting in bumper to bumper traffic for half an hour on a Friday afternoon, we scrapped our plan to have lunch in Kuta (we were still twenty minutes away) and Gusti took side roads to get us to Seminyak.

    We sat down and refreshed in the cool of The Legian lobby. Once again we stayed in #431. I’m sure one of the reasons Marmot recommends this particular luxury one bedroom suite is that it has two balconies, one facing north and the larger one facing the sea on the top (3rd) floor. This was by far the most Westernize place we’d stayed. The expats and visiting European and American women were clad in “smart resort attire” and jewelry; just not my Bali style. Either the clientele has changed since our last visit or I was less observant last trip. It now felt like a sophisticated urban escape from nearby Asian cities. Nonetheless, we wanted a place to rest up before the long trip home. In retrospect, we would have done well to stay three nights at the Alila Manggis and go to the airport from there. Nonetheless, we did what we do so well at the beach, nothing.

    We had dinner at Kafe Warisan and what a find. The international cuisine was sensational, the courtyard dining ambience lovely. Not inexpensive but worth every rupiah. Adjacent to the restaurant was an antique shop. The quality of the furniture and accessories was top notch, if only I had the budget and a cargo container.

    Next morning we lazed around by the pool fronting the sea and then repaired to our balcony. We ordered room service at lunch, very tasty pizza. Then we took a half hour cab ride to Denpasar to watch the opening events of the 31st Bali Arts Festival. The street parade began at a square in the heart of the city and proceeded along a two km route passing three elaborate stages for high ranking officials and foreign dignitaries. If you love a parade, this is THE parade to see. Some 3500 dancers, musicians and other performing artists entertained continuously throughout the hour and a half walk along the parade route.

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    This was a unique opportunity to see local village culture up close. A year in advance,
    the cultural groups in the villages throughout Bali are practicing, organizing and competing. The best of the best from each regency perform at the Arts Festival.

    From tiny tots marching with batons to prancing barongs, everyone in the parade and at the parade was having a great time. I felt a high level of excitement during the whole two hours. Every few minutes the procession would halt while a group performed in front of a dignitary dias. While "on hold", clowns interacted with the throngs of onlookers, a dance troupe, danced in place, drummers did an encore. The costumes were dazzling, the music and dancing breathtaking. Hopefully, some of my photos will express the feeling of this extravaganza.

    After the parade we located what appeared to be a clean snack shop and relaxed from all that excitement. DH thoroughly enjoyed the “eye jollies” and was ready to return to our digs. I couldn’t bear the idea of missing the evening Opening Ceremonies that began at 7.

    So we walked another few blocks to the striking Werddhi Budaya’s Arddha Cahndra open air amphitheater where thousands of Balinese began pouring in. Staff from every consulate in Bali, dressed to the nines, were escorted to their seats. At the conclusion of this hour long parade, the President of Indonesia and his wife entered the arena.

    The Governor of Bali gave a a welcoming address to wild cheers. Then President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono gave a very long speech; it seemed even longer since we understood not a word. Finally, the program began, a dance drama episode from the Hindu epic, The Mahaharata. The large gamelan orchestra punctuated the exquisite dancing; the costuming and lighting were perfect. I had another adrenaline rush watching in wonder. This was quite a grand finale to our three terrific weeks in Indonesia.

    I know I’ve had a satisfying travel experience when at its end, I feel ready to come home. After twenty one days in Java, Lombok and Bali, I was very full and renewed and ready to re-enter my usual world. Next afternoon we made our way to the airport and overnighted at The Novotel in Bangkok. The flight from Bali to Bangkok on Thai was a far superior level of food and service than the Thai flights from LAX to Asia. We overnighted at The Novotel in Bangkok and next morning flew Bangkok to LA on ANA, a very good plane experience. Now that I've completed this saga, I can begin to think about where next in Asia.

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    Robbie - enjoyed your report to the end. When we were in Bali in 2003, Putu steered us away from Besakih as well - I did not know it was on land owned by a local village though.

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