It's Sunday morning and it's been a great few days in Ubud, but I'll be moving on after a river rafting trip tomorrow morning. Yesterday I went for a fun & educational bike ride tour where they drove us up to a volcano with a crater lake, we had breakfast, and then biked downhill back to town stopping for cultural educational experiences along the way -- coffee plantation, rice fields, and a family compound where 3 generations live in different houses within a walled 1/4 acre or so. 3 of us (me and 2 Belgians) also got a little extra real bike riding in when we chose to ride the hilly gravel roads the final 10 miles after the downhill portion ended for most folks. This, of course, turned out to be the best part of the ride. Zero traffic down a narrow road, beautiful rice fields and more shades of green than I could comprehend. Plus it was a nice workout.
Most surprising of all, however, was that there were not people trying to sell us stuff at each of the designated stops. That's one thing that has impressed me with Indonesia compared to other developing nations I've visited -- it's much less harassing of tourists. It's been quite a pleasure.
It's the low season for tourism so Ubud is rather quiet, which is great except when a fellow is looking to have a couple beers and feels a little weird being the only person in a drinking establishment. So Thursday night I ended up at the Lonely Planet recommended Jazz Cafe. Here's the transcript from my journal as I sat at the bar that night...
Hangin' at the Jazz Cafe and listening to a horrible recorded rendition of "Every Little Thing She Does is Magic". I never thought I'd be longing for the likes of Sting.
This is actually my first night out on the town, if you can believe that. Jet lag combined with excessive sun the first couple days had me napping in the early evening and then not really recovering enough to want to go out. It's definitely the off-season here in Ubud with empty tables outnumbering occupied by easily 3:1. Even the joint pumpin' Marley reggae tunes is slow.
I tried to go see a music and dance performance tonight to hear the gamelan music I've been reading about, but all are canceled due to a town-wide ceremony tonight. Bummer. At least yesterday I had the fortune of stumbling upon some children practicing and listened for a few minutes. It's like an orchestra of gongs & bamboo xylophones.
Earlier tonight at a little tapas joint I had my first taste of arak, the local palm wine booze. I wouldn't classify it as wine, exactly, and am glad I got it on ice as recommended. Tasted alcoholy like watered down cheap vodka.
Now the live "gospel jazz" trio is firing up at the Jazz Cafe - drums, 6-string electric bass & keyboards. Ooh, that's some smooooth jazz. But wait! I see a microphone perched next to an empty stool. Please, oh please, no vocals!
According to their in-house propagan..er..literature, the Jazz Cafe offers "Great party packages for birthdays, weddings & special occasions".
Oh shit! Here comes the vocalist! AIIIEEEE!! They're a quartet, not a trio! It's so smooooth..too smoooooth! She opens with "My Funny Valentine". Seriously. I need to find the local underground punk rock joint. But I will say this, she's got some good pipes and an excellent command of the English language.
When the singer just said "Thank you, I hope you're enjoying your holiday in Bali and I hope you like the music" it made me feel like I'm on a cruise ship. Uggh. Not quite the vibe I'm looking for, but quite humorless nonetheless. She's a real pro.
So what's next? This question actually took me down some twists and turns in the past 36 hours. I have an invitation to visit an acquantance in Jakarta next Saturday for an all-day event put on by Ashoka to honor social entrepreneur Fellows in Indonesia. Newey is a woman from Thailand I met a couple weeks ago through work in Mpls and she works for Ashoka Thailand. It seemed like a cool opportunity to interact with the locals in a more intimate manner and I could easily combine it with other activities on the island of Java. But yesterday I learned from the Belgians in my bike tour group that the top 2 sites I wanted to visit on Java are closed because of the volcano. Borobudur is the image shown at the top of this blog and is supposed to be an amazingly beautiful temple, similar to Angkor Wat in Cambodia. But, alas, it is covered in ash and closed. Mount Bromo is a volcano close to the one currently erupting that is a great hike affording amazing views of the other volcanoes in the region, but it is also off limits. Those two sites would have allowed me to road trip across Java to Jakarta on the west side of the island, but with them out of the picture it's not really worth it for me to fly to Jakarta just for the one event.
Many other options exist, however. I've decided to head tomorrow to the Gili islands just east of Bali, specifically the largest with a circumference of 8km, Gili Trawangan. Going to do some SCUBA diving and maybe island hop east to the island of Komodo. Yes, Komodo is home of the famous Komodo dragons, largest living species of lizard, and also very highly recommended diving to see dolphins, manta rays and sharks (not great whites, don't freak out).