SYNOPSIS:  On and off the beaten path around Ubud.  Exploring some more of the cultural sites with lazy Marde.  The other side of the story of Ubud; talking to some locals.  Getting ready to leave Bali.

Tutuk was a bit creepy, I have to say.  The way he swept flowers out of the pool and in front of my bungalow forever, constantly peeking into the direction of my window… I could tell because there was a slit in the wooden window through which I could observe him without him seeing me.  I tried not to let this get to me, but to greet him nonchalantly and friendly when I finally opened the ornately carved shutters.  He spoke hardly any English.  Just enough to ask: Breakfast?  Omelette?  His omelette turned out to be a masterpiece, but that he felt compelled to observe me eat it, squatting at my raised porch, was less appreciated.  Since I could not get rid of him, I decided to put him to work.  I had purchased a painting yesterday which was literally 1/2’’ too big for my suitcase.  Damn, if it did not have to come out of its frame after all.  That meant to remove about 3 dozen staples.  Tutuk was delighted to help.  A man’s task and another excuse to squat at my porch…  He told me in sign language that I had a beautiful face and asked if I was going to swim.  I pretended I had not noticed the come-on and responded by talking about the beautiful flowers in the garden instead.

I was the only guest in the Rona compound. No wonder.  The bungalows are not clean, there is no soap, no bottled water, no toilet paper, and none of the family atmosphere as there is just across at the Putra Putera, where I had stayed for the last 6 days.  But there is a well maintained, large pool and that makes up for something.  I did swim in it twice yesterday, when nobody was around.  Once, late last night.  Fun!

Tutuk kept working at it, telling me that he was a dancer, making some of the very stylized eye, facial and hand movements so typical for Indonesian dances.  I asked, if I could take a picture of him dancing and he agreed.  Finally, it was time to leave.  Tutuk had carried my very heavy suitcase into the compound, down some huge steps, but when I needed help to carry it out, he was nowhere to be seen…  Isn’t that typical!

The next disappointment came when Kadet was not available as agreed.  She was supposed to drive me around today, looking at some more sights and then dropping me off at the Bali airport in Kuta.  But she was “busy”.  Instead, the Indonesian system of “brothers” kicked in.   Marde, who was substituted and introduced as Kadet’s father’s brother was for sure not his brother but the owner of a small taxi booth just up the street — precisely the one I had not asked to drive me around.  Now I got stuck with him.  Oh, well.

Was he just lazy or did he really have a problem with his knee.  I will never know.  But one of the sights I wanted to see — a 14th century stone relief, rediscovered in 1925, and known as Yeh Pulu — he had not even heard of.   When we finally got there, he did not show an interest in seeing it!    When I first described (following what my guidebook said), where we needed to go, he drove me to the Gedong Arca, the Archaeological Museum of Bedulu instead.  It was a nice little stop, with some most unusual stone sarcophagi that are estimated to be 2500 years old.  But it wasn’t what I had asked for…  Luckily, the museum staff knew exactly what I was talking about and gave him directions. 

Only a few hundred of the hundreds of thousands of visitors of Ubud bother to come to Yeh Pulu.  I think that is a good thing.  The single, lonely vendor who had set up shop along the way bemoaned that fact, but he also was one of three people today (him, Marde, and a museum staff member) who told me how they resented the changes Ubud has undergone over the last 10 years.  They all measured the damage by what has happened and is happening to the land.  The entire area around Ubud used to be rice fields.  More than 1/2 have already disappeared and made room for hotels, shops, urban sprawl.  I knew there was another side to this tourist heaven! 

I was the only visitor of the 25 meter long nearly life-size relief which depicts delightful scenes of ordinary people greeting, working, hunting, carrying cooking pots.  There are a few horseback riders and a few women, one in ornate costume, another old lady, just opening a door.  At the end, there is Ganesh. But aside from him, there is no hint of any of the usual suspects: scenes of Hindu mythology, fights, demons, etc.  I read that to date, nobody has proposed a plausible textual source for these reliefs.  Perhaps, they are just some person’s pastime in between tending the nearby rice fields?  The relief is situated in a lush jungly kind pasture with a stream and a couple of waterfalls.  It was my favorite place of the day.

After that, it was back to tourist heaven:  Goa Gajah, or the Elephant Cave, dates from the 9th and 10th century and is a site with both Hindu and Buddhist remains.  Except for the very modern elephants that flank the entrance to the site, I could not figure out where the name Elephant Cave comes from.  Perhaps, it is a reference to the once common wild elephants, which used to roam the area?  Instead, the center piece of the site is a huge “mouth-door” of a figure known as Boma, Kala, or Kittimukha which can be seen over just about every house, temple, or palace door warding off evil spirits.  This one is possibly the oldest one around.  I will put up a photo essay of this motif shortly.  Inside the cave are some empty niches and a trimurti, a shrine dedicated to Shiva, Vishnu and Brahma.   

Very touching were the tumbled huge boulders which once must have been a multi-tiered Buddhist stupa.  It predates the elephant cave and attests to the side-by-side of Buddhism and Hinduism for a short while.  Discovered much later than the cave is a sunken bath with six maidens whose navels spill holy water.  I am sure people used to bathe in there just the same way I had observed yesterday at the Water Temple.  Not these days — the bath had a rather neglected feel to it.

Traffic going from Ubud to Denpassar was hellish even though this was midday.  Traffic jams are another nasty byproduct of the commercial over-stretching of this area.  We were inching along.  A visit of the Ulu Watu Temple which had been part of the original plan for today, was out of the question now.  🙁

But a stop at the National Museum of Art in Denpassar was not bad either.  It is not too big, and built combining all the elements of Balinese Architecture that by now have become quite familiar to me: shrines, courtyards, roofed-over platforms, freestanding pavilions.  Each of the pavilions housed a number of exquisite examples of typical Balinese art ranging from puppets to ceremonial objects, to kris (daggers).  And it provided me with a photo opportunity of a beautifully dressed wedding couple that had come here for a traditional backdrop.

Before dark, I checked into a cheap airport hotel in order to be nearby for my 6 AM flight to Kalimantan (Borneo).

I am leaving behind the well-trodden tourist path now and am getting ready for some jungle adventures.

But that means… no internet for a while; hopefully enough electricity to charge and re-charge everything from cameras to computers..  And for my absence, I prepared a few days of photo essays for you.  Enjoy.  I will be back.

Good night.