12 July 2010

Leaving Disney Bali

Keith told us that if we got off the main roads, we would find the fascinating world of the real Bali, but here we are driving from one hotel 1.5 hours to the second, and the life of the main road is fascinating. The roadway itself is a study in emergence, traffic patterns emerging and weaving, creating four lanes where just a minute ago there were two, then falling back into two lanes again. The ubiquitous motorcycles go wherever then want, whenever they want, a father driving with his three-year-old balanced on his knee, mother behind, infant pressed to her breast between them, luggage off the side and to the front. There are something like 200 times more traffic deaths here than in New Zealand. All these tiny heads, much beloved of their families, darting and weaving. I pull my seat-belted children closer watching.

We pass people shucking piles of corn, others selling it, packaged or grilled. Watermelons and corn seem to be the currency along the road, along with stands filled with bottles of clear amber liquid which we took at first to be a local drink until we were informed it’s petrol. Massive stone Buddhas smile serenely from rock carving stands and gilded teak lions roar soundlessly from woodcarving stands . Hand-woven baskets filled with daily offerings—frangipani blossoms, a banana, a cigarette or wrapped mint—sit outside each shop, each house, on the dashboard of every car. Beautiful girls in sarongs leave the baskets on the ground, in a spirit house, in front of a gate. Small boys wrestle playfully on front steps of a tiny shop.

This morning in the one hour left at our resort hotel, we went down the waterslide dozens of times, played our last games of ping pong, admired the sculpted perfection of the hotel and grounds. I heard a pattering noise and then a crash and a burst of water. A man with a machete was up a coconut palm, pruning the lower branches and cutting out the potential-missiles of the coconuts. There were no tears and it was with good cheer that we piled into this little car in our standard form: Michael in the front, the rest of us in the back with Aidan in the middle.

We pass little store fronts, grungy houses with cement walls and no windows holding up sheets of tin roofs, glimpse through ironwork gates into posh courtyards and plush hotels. Here there are rows of corn, towering coconut palms, a sign that says “antiques made to order.” Rubbish and blossoms blow listlessly in the pre-rain breeze.

Through a rainstorm, past ever more quaint villages, and we were down a side street and to our new hotel. This is not Disney Bali. This is actual Bali, a hotel in the middle of a rice paddy, a gathering of Balinese builders carrying straw and brick and dirt on their heads and back to build another villa here. Then another ride through villages, past brown hens followed by a flurry of black chicks, past a village celebration, past tiny houses selling massive paintings on stretched canvas, and we were in Ubud. This village, swarming with people and cars and motorcycles, has mazes of markets and miles of storefronts selling everything from inexpensive silk sundresses (yes, I bought one) to massive “antique” metal sculptures (made to order?). We fingered cloth and silver, and Aidan drove his first market bargain (“How much are these?” he asked. “5,000 rupiah,” she answered. “How about 2000?” he shot back in a flash. She took it.). Then, just before the rains thundered down, we got a table at Lamak, which the guidebook had said was one of the best restaurants in Bali, where we waited damply for one of the finest meals we’ve ever had. We celebrated Aidan’s last night of eight-ness with stories from earlier birthday parties and declarations of what he’d like the next year to hold. The rain splashed around our feet and legs and dripped down my back. We shouted over it and passed the mocha tart around the table.

Tomorrow we will go to the Bali Botanic Gardens, way to the north, to walk through the flowers there and play on the ropes at the Bali Treetop Adventure. It is Aidan’s birthday tomorrow, and he’s selected every moment of it, although it turns out there’s a beautiful temple near the park, built in 1633, which I’m allowed to visit. The next day we have booked a back-roads mountain bike tour through villages and rice paddies. We are discovering real Bali is even better than Disney Bali, and that family vacations are more precious than gilded lions.

Pictures today are from our last hours at the beach--perfection before the rain storm and then our first hours in real Bali, as Naomi fingers the sarongs in the Ubud Market. The last picture is Aidan's last picture of eightness--eating a magnificent dessert.

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