“It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.” Ernest Hemingway


8 April 2015

Ubud: Monster Madness & Silent Saturdays

19th – 23rd March 2015

     We had a slight conundrum whilst in Medewi. With the Hindu festival of Neyepi (Silent Day) fast approaching do we venture to the cultural heart of Bali, Ubud and waste a day sat in a guesthouse or do we stay in the Muslim dominated Medewi with the promise of wild beach parties? Strangely enough we turned our backs on the beach and headed inland. It may sound crazy but Jono and I both agreed we had dawdled long enough in Medewi and it was time to move.

     Once again we caught a cheap public bus, this time all the way to one of the terminals near Denpassar. Remaining unsurprisingly consistent this overstretched transit van retained the standard features of non-existent leg room, durian air freshener and a box of free range chickens under the seat. However it was clear that this vehicle must have been part of the luxury fleet due to the appearance of a bus conductor. Sadly we soon realised my initial assumption had been incorrect when the vehicle slowed to a halt on a slight incline. The geezer jumped to his feet, pulled a large wooden wedge lassoed in thick rope from under an adjacent seat, threw himself off the bus and rolled the wedge behind the rear passenger wheel. It was at this point both of us realised the guy’s actual occupation wasn’t a bus conductor at all, but a HUMAN HANDBRAKE! (Actually thinking back to it there were two kids sitting on the roof called Pebbles and Bam Bam).

Market street n the heart of Ubud
Pyscho Goat
Weird Pig wth Afro 
     90 minutes later we arrived in the busy island capital of Denpassar and frankly we didn’t intend to stay. The streets of Denpassar were really just generic urban sprawl lacking in features unless you count the congestion. Taxi drivers clung onto the bus looking for business even before we had reached the bus terminal. As one elderly Indonesian lady left the vehicle on the city outskirts one such driver hung his head through the window, saw me and asked the ever familiar phrase “Where you going mister?”, to which I frankly replied “Where this bus is going. That’s why I’m sat on it”. Now I understand that it helps to show a certain degree of anticipation to get ahead of the game in a competitive market, but this was ridiculous. Once at the bus terminal we left Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble behind and flagged down one of the many bluebird taxis to take us the 12km to Ubud. Bluebird are mentioned in the Lonely Planet guides and are known in the region as the most professional taxi service on the island. They always use the meter and have the bluebird logo and contact number on the windscreen. There are many fakes around though so if any refuse to use the meter due to “technical issues” or “because it broke this morning” find another driver. Between Denpassar and Ubud the scenery from the cab window was pretty spectacular. Despite Indonesia’s monetary poverty when compared to its neighbours the country certainly contains natural riches beyond measure.

Tina Turner Lizard with acrylic nails
      We finally arrived in Ubud late in the afternoon to a height of activity. Tourists were jostling through the streets searching for guestrooms and locals were weaving through the dense traffic on mopeds rushing to help out with the preparation for the upcoming festivities. Sure the silent day was not for another two days but plans were in place for the much anticipated evening parade. The festival of Neyepi is all to do with tricking evil spirits away from your home or town. As with Bonfire Night in England some locals construct idols to burn. In England it’s traditionally models of Guy Fawkes. In Bali its huge fiberglass monsters called Ogoh-Ogoh. After settling into our room at Sania’s House we went on a monster hunt. The majority of the Ogoh-Ogoh were being constructed on the football pitch in the centre of Ubud. They all looked good enough to be used as props in some big Hollywood horror movie. A huge ginger wolf, a snarling wild boar and a weird green lizard woman that kind of resembled Tina Turner. Definitely would have given me nightmares as a kid.     

Ubud had a surprise in stall for our first night when we found out our German friends from Yogyakarta were also in town. Dennis and Mara had set off to Bali a few weeks before we arrived and had already explored the Gili Islands and Lombok. It’s always great to bump into people you have shared experiences with and although it’s unlikely we will see this cool couple again as they only had a few days remaining before heading back home, having a laugh and sharing experiences around a restaurant table seemed like a fitting farewell. We can only hope that our paths cross again someday.
     Bumping into past friends became a growing trend in Ubud as the next morning we heard our Spanish buddy Alberto had rolled into town literally. Alberto was another member of our temple group in Yogyakarta and like Dennis and Mara he had also hightailed it to Bali to hit the surf and explore the island by scooter. Thankfully our room at Sania’s House was large enough to accommodate three people so Alberto joined us in our tourist trap refuge.

This is what rabies does to animals
    The town itself has plenty to distract the typical tourist crowd. Markets selling all kinds of tack from slingshots and sarongs to Bintang lager vests and cock shaped bottle openers. The perfect gifts to airmail home to your loved ones (Hmmm I hope my Dad likes that bottle opener). Art galleries and craft shops also account for most of the shop fronts in town with wood carvings, stone masonry and oil paintings galore. If all this bores you can always chill out in a bar and people watch whilst tucking into some Nasi Goreng or if you’re feeling really adventurous wander along one of the popular walking trails along nearby rivers and rice fields. However we never had time to venture beyond the town limits as it wasn’t long before the much anticipated national holiday of Neyepi kicked off to an energetic start.
The monster mash.........It was a graveyard smash!
    Once the sun retreats to end the penultimate day before Neyepi the locals appear for a monster march of impressive proportions. Men, women and children of all ages band together to carry the cumbersome structures along the main street to a nearby temple where the monsters are quite rightly put to the torch and cast out in the prevailing wind. Not since the Hindu festival in Kuala Lumpur had we witness such a cacophony of lights, lyrics, music, and mayhem. On many occasions across Indonesia I have felt a definite divide between the local and tourist population but on this particular evening all the jealousy, naivety to foreign culture, disrespect, stereotypes and resentment vanished as everyone embraced the holiday vibe. If you visit Indonesia during Neyepi. Don’t head to the Muslim regions to avoid silent day, decide instead to stay for the parties just before the big day.
entrance to the cool Balinese home compound known as Sania's House

I know I miss our dog (Zac) and cat (Chester)
but I can always find other creatures to wind up 
     Silent Day was pretty much what was described on the tin. Nobody is allowed to leave their hotel, all public transport (including flights) come to a halt and all the stores are closed. It’s as if the whole island switches to energy saving mode and focusses on the things that matter closer to home. For backpackers and holidaymakers the day offers the chance for people to turn to more traditional forms of entertainment be it reading a book, writing a diary (or notes for a blog post) or having a drink and a game of cards with friends. It does however help if you have a place to stay that offers a little space to manoeuvre alongside a social vibe and we found such a place. Sania’s House is located in the very heart of Ubud just next to the street market. It’s an inexpensive guesthouse set in a stunning traditional Balinese home complex with its own pool. After a month or so of rooms infested with termites and bathrooms with frogs the place seemed like a secluded Garden of Eden. The place was a real find and with three people staying in the room the price dropped to £4 a night, so a stay won’t break the bank.

Great Place to try local cuisine and help others

Located on a quiet corner of the football pitch in the heart of Ubud is the quaint, little café “Sjaki’s Warung”. On the grounds of a local charity run school for developmental disadvantaged kids the café offers a place where the students can practice their English with customers whilst learning how to run a successful eatery. If you’re looking for the best Indo dishes in town look no further and the best thing is that all proceeds go straight back towards funding this great project.
Go on guess which one is Spanish

Unfortunately we never had the chance to venture outside Ubud as by sods law the heavens opened with unrelenting rain the day after Silent Day. Alberto left us to surf in Southern Bali for a few days and Jono and I caught a bus the following morning to the harbour town of Padang Bai. The gateway to Lombok and the Gili Islands.

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