Friday, August 30, 2013

Singapore/Bali trip diary - day 7

We both unthinkingly drank some of the tap water here (which is fine to do in Singapore but not in Bali) which may have contributed to neither of us getting an ideal night’s sleep. Once we got past that, we continued our marveling at where we’d found ourselves, wondering how we’d ever do justice to all our space (no matter how large our hotel room, we both typically end up huddling on the bed). We had a heavy downpour around 9.30 am (we were using the outdoor shower at the time,  so enjoyed the groovy intermingling of the hot water and the rainwater), and left the room around 1o.15. We walked round the resort a bit – quite an undertaking in itself. It’s a gorgeous feat of design, albeit that you might say it just commandeers a big chunk of the island’s common heritage for the benefit of a few people (the beautiful view of the river above, for instance, is locked deep within the grounds of the hotel), and a place where seemingly everything has been anticipated; for example, we found a kids’ entertainment area with a hotel employee sitting alone inside, apparently in the forlorn hope of any kids turning up. We wondered whether the hotel was largely empty (it can’t be full, given how we were upgraded) but then we started to see more people here and there – I guess the whole art is in making you think you might be unique.

The hotel has a shuttle to and from the nearby town of Ubud every couple of hours during the day, so we caught that at 11 am. Confirming last night’s impression, the turn-off to the hotel is just slotted innocuously between other places you wouldn’t blink at; you’d never imagine that if you drive a couple of minutes back from the road, and get past the guards and the sniffer dog, a whole lush world opens up (the sniffer dog seems pretty lucky because based on what we saw, all the other dogs around Ubud are strays). Soon after arriving there, we embarked on one of the most lovely walks we’ve taken in all our time together, through the rice fields above the town. The start of the walk is barely signposted, and initially takes you past a dense series of tour guides and cafes and art stores and suchlike, then they thin out and the rice fields come into view, dazzlingly vast and green, with farmers positioned at picture postcard intervals, and it goes on like that for almost an hour if you follow the main trail as we did, and perhaps forever if you take some of the side trails.

It’s a very peaceful walk, although you have to regularly stand aside for motorcycles, and every few minutes along the way you encounter further vendors of, usually, either art or coconuts. You pass some surprisingly serious-looking houses along the way too, some of them advertised as being for rent – it’s rather beguiling to think one might impulsively decide just to stay in the heart of the rice fields for a month or two. At the end of the trail you can loop back along a road, but it seemed much nicer just to retrace our steps. We forked off in a slightly different direction, and found a remote-seeming café where we decided to have lunch, the Sari Organik Café; it was surprisingly full of tourists, so I think it must be a bit of a destination in itself, as a place to watch the rice farmers as you eat, without having to walk too far from town (it doesn’t take long to learn that prices in Bali are much cheaper than those in Singapore, at least the way we did it – our lunch cost about $15, but would probably have been two or three times as much there, and four or five times as much at the Raffles). From there we walked back down into Ubud, but we could almost have turned right round and done the same walk again.

We walked up and down Ubud’s central street for a while. It consists mainly of art stores and galleries, with a relentless soundtrack of people asking if you want a taxi; and so many temples that you imagine it would be hopeless for anyone to try to inventory all of them. It’s pleasant enough, but probably not vital to an emblematic Bali experience (it seems bizarre that so many tourists would just walk up and down the street and let the amazing sights above the town go unseen, but that’s what the relative numbers seem to suggest). We caught the shuttle back, but with definite plans of returning to Ubud as a starting point for a further walk. They’d put some kick-ass chocolates out for us in our room. Ally swam in the pool and I sat at my desk doing this and the other stuff I do, and time went gently by. It rained heavily again for a while, so I guess we were lucky to have avoided it on our walk (in Singapore, strangely or not, it rained around 1 pm on I think three of the five days we were there). We both went to sleep for several hours and woke up in what could have been the middle of the night. It was actually around 8 pm, a time of day I enjoy because it’s 8 am back home and I can see Ozu on the Urban Dog webcam (he looks fine!)

We ate at the hotel restaurant again. It was a theme night built around an Indonesian feasting concept – earlier on there’d been a dancing performance. By the time we got there at least, only a few tables were occupied. They’d brought in a near-coachload of young girls as extra waitresses, all in local costume. The food was good, although I’m not sure it really embodied the subtle contrast of flavours described on the menu: the main course for instance had five different meat/fish dishes which inevitably tended to blend together. Afterwards we returned to our villa and drank a bottle of wine by the pool. Except for the occasional barking dog in the distance and some mysterious rustling in the trees, we might have been hours away from any other major form of life…

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