Barely touched down in Bali, I was greeted (surprise!) by a couple of Ubudian friends at the airport (not there just for me), driven to a friend’s sparkling new home, had my bags carried down a few flights of steps to the equally new and sparkling new guesthouse, and splayed my sorry, aching and jet-lagged butt ‘n body across the ironed white sheets (and Dutch bolster), when it was time to pick myself up and get into gear.
I had been (unintentionally) delinquent, having missed the volunteers’ orientation session for this year’s rendition of the annual Ubud Writers and Readers Festival (by a mere 5 hours). With no time to waste – and a body groaning for more rest – I high-tailed it to ‘base-camp’ which was, mercifully, a stone’s throw away, across the street. Yippee.
There I loaded up on badges, program book, t-shirt, more swag and info. And then the first day rolled right into the second, then the third and finally, the last day. By the end, I told a friend they’d woven themselves into a mush of vaguely held memories, permeated by writers of every ilk; poets, novelists, travel writers, social commentators, comic book writers and artists, childrens’ book authors and even a slightly overexcited Canadian-born-turned-Indonesian-speaking-sensation and You-Tuber.
The Festival had barely wrapped up when a months-long temple festival, at Pura Gunung Lebah, at the confluence of Ubud’s two rivers (Campuhan), reached its peak. After months of renovations and reconstruction, the temple was ready for public viewing and many a high priests’ blessing.
It was a day of ceremony where Balinese Hindus flocked into town from all over the island, arriving through the gates in their finest, to gasp and gawk – as I did – at the magnificence; breathtaking and completely over-the-top ornamentation, floral arrangements and offerings; a total of 70 opulently decorated Barong creations (king of the protector spirits, and lion-like in appearance) each one decked out in dozens of freshly-plucked frangipani buds; mythological figures chiseled out of lava stone; towering structures comprised of brilliantly colored rice and grains; umbrellas created out of various materials – cloth, yarn or pigs’ entrails.
It was a sight to behold. As I’d ventured to the temple in the early-morning hours, long before the crowds, high priests, musicians, dancers, Royal family and VIPs arrived, I unwittingly managed to be one of the few ‘tamu’ (foreigners) taking photos before we were all forcibly exiled to the outer perimeter of the temple.. from where very little could be seen.
By mid-day, I was festivaled out. Removing my sarong and sash, heading further into traffic-choked town, I passed many celebrants crossing my path, on their way down to the temple. I reached a point where I stopped and looked around, then realized that I couldn’t wait to get away from the madding crowds. I just needed a BIG break from it all.
I returned to a sanctuary that was even more remote from town. It was up among the hills, jungles and rice fields. Despite the occasional bits of business that I had to grapple with; and despite the sounds of construction from the opposite ridge, on the whole I basked in quiet, many a sunrise, an eclipse and the warmth and company of two friends and their dogs.
I swam in the shadow of Buddha, walked the ridge, descended into the valley to spot the bodhi tree, and snapped photos of green stalks against the sunrise. I sunk into a massage by a pony-tailed Balinese biker while hearing porcine neighbors oink with gusto, and spent the better part of a day watching home movies and avant-garde films.
I feasted on daily salads, risotto, pancakes, tarragon chicken, pizza and wine; then was lulled to sleep by the sounds of tinkling and muffled drums – thanks to the gamelan troupe practicing in the nearby temple well into the night.
Hard to know what tomorrow will bring. But after being thoroughly fested out… a rest like this was custom-made, a la Balinaise.