Several months before our trip, we had booked space in the cooking class at Casa Luna in Ubud for the next morning. As suggested in the confirmation of the booking, we called them the day before the class to confirm. However, the person I spoke to couldn’t find us listed as a reservation and advised the class was fully booked. While I’m sure we would have enjoyed the class and had looked forward to it before setting out on our trip, at that point, we were so relaxed that it really didn’t bother us at all. In fact, it allowed us to spend a few extra hours in Munduk before driving out of the mountains back down to Mas.
It’s about a 2-hour drive from Munduk to the Ubud area. On the way, we passed back by Lake Tamblingan and a spot along side the road where monkeys were holding a get-together enjoying the antics of tourists. In every village we passed through, we could see people working on the Ogah-Ogah statues or gathering for Melasti ceremonies. We could really feel the excitement of the people getting ready for Nyepi Day. It was really a great time to be in Bali.
After our drive down out of the mountains, we arrived in Mas and the Taman Harum Cottages around lunchtime. We had booked through the Bali & Lombok Forum and actually got a rate that was a couple dollars cheaper than on the Taman Harum web site. The standard Villa we stayed in had a sitting room and air-conditioned bedroom as well as a private open-air bathroom downstairs and an upstairs with a (smaller) 2nd bedroom (without a/c) and a covered veranda overlooking a rice paddy. We paid $48 USD plus tax per night.
The Taman Harum hotel has a decent restaurant. Our room rate included breakfast plus we were there on Nyepi Day, which meant we had to eat lunch and dinner there that day as well and while it was not special, we were satisfied with the food. We found the prices at the restaurant (and the mini-bar as well) to be exceptionally reasonable for a hotel. The Taman Harum also allows guests to use their Internet connection for a very modest fee.
The hotel offers a wide range of cultural courses — most about 2-hours in length. After our long drive down out of the mountains, we weren’t all that keen on heading straight back out when we arrived at the hotel so we just spent the afternoon relaxing by the pool.
That night we went to a dance performance at the Royal Palace in Ubud that was terrific. Then we walked around the corner to have dinner at Terrazzo. This was another great meal with high quality food prepared in original recipes in a very nice setting at a price that was a fraction of what we would pay for the same back home.
The next day was April 12, the day before Nyepi and we were looking forward to the Ogah-Ogah parades that evening. We were leaving Bali on the 14th and would have to stay on the hotel grounds on the 13th, so we wanted to do some shopping that morning. Since Wayan was committed to attending his own village’s celebration that day, he couldn’t guide us so we arranged with the hotel for a driver for a half-day.
After we departed, we discovered that our driver was in fact, the hotel manager. The manager suggested to us that even though a lot of markets and stores were going to be closed this day, it actually was a very good day to shop, as people needed a little extra money to contribute to their temples and neighborhood funds for Melasti and Ogah-Ogah.
Our first stop was a workshop in Sulawati where performance quality shadow puppets were made. The shop was actually closed but the owner was within the compound so she opened up for us and we bought some really nice leather puppets. It’s interesting that so much care obviously goes into decorating the puppets since only the shadow is visible at the performance.
Next on the list was a visit to an art gallery. The hotel manager had told us that he was an art collector himself and frequently visited this gallery for his own interest. Our process was to walk around the gallery and pull aside anything that looked interesting. Then when we completed our tour around the gallery, we sorted through all the pieces that had caught our eye. There were 3 pieces in particular that we really liked. The nicest was an oil painting of a traditional village scene done in a modern Western style. Given the starting prices, even with some serious negotiations we really didn’t think we could afford to buy all 3 but the hotel manager huddled with us and we discussed our negotiation strategy.
I told him a number that I was willing to pay for the oil painting and then he suggested a number to me that he thought we might be able to achieve for all 3 paintings that wasn’t all that much more than my figure for the 1. So we decided that if we could get all 3 for that number we would go for it. Amazingly, we did it. We ended up paying 23% of the starting price.
Our final shopping stop was a nice wood carving shop where we met with similar results. With some coaching from the hotel manager, we managed to get 2 nice masks and a few other souvenir quality pieces for just under 30% of the starting prices.
On the way back to the hotel, the manager took us by his home village community center where his neighbors were putting the finishing touches on their Ogah-Ogah statue. The hotel manager was such a sweet guy. He was on the verge of tears as we were driving away and he told us “I love my village. I love the people in my village.” He was so excited about Ogah-Ogah and Nyepi that we got the strong impression that what he really wanted was to drop us as off as quickly as possible and get back to his village to help with the preparations.
Traffic congestion from villagers moving their statues into position for the parade later that evening was already building but the hotel manager insisted on making one last stop to pick up a cheap soft sided suitcase to better pad some of our purchases and then (I think to save time) went ahead and negotiated the price for us there (R100,000). We just had him drop us off at Tutmak Kopi Warung for lunch and he said he would send the hotel shuttle to pick us up after lunch as he headed straight back to his village.
I know the word is overused but Tutmak was most definitely a “cool” place. Virtually all the customers were young tourists and the place had a bit of a bohemian atmosphere. It was the kind of place where travelers lingered over their coffee and meals and read or watched the world pass by on Monkey Forest Road. We noticed (and eventually participated in) the movement of customers from one table to another with a more desirable vantage point as others paid their bills and left. I’m not sure of her name but I’m 99% sure I recognized one very pretty girl from the Sports Illustrated annual swimsuit issue sitting in a corner with a friend. And to top it off, the food and Bali coffee were very good and reasonably priced.
After dropping our purchases at the hotel, we had planned on returning to the center of Ubud later that afternoon to pick out a good spot to watch the Ogah-Ogah. But at the hotel reception desk, they suggested that it would be impossible to get back near the center of Ubud because of every neighborhood moving their statues through the streets before the parade. So we ended up just walking a few blocks to the center of Mas and finding a seat on the rock wall near where some local residents were waiting. All around us kids were setting off firecrackers in anticipation of the procession.
The parade was a great spectacle with both large and small statues representing evil spirits being carried by kids and adults alike. Most statues were followed by a small crowd and a walking gamelan orchestra making noises to chase the evil spirits away. Eventually we joined in the procession. After what appeared to be the last group had passed us on their way to the village center, we walked back to the hotel. Only about 2 blocks after leaving this wild celebration, we walked by the most serene rice paddy with bubbling brook right in the middle of the town.
The next morning we took a cooking class and then spent a part of the afternoon by the pool and packing for our return to Hong Kong the next day. The lack of sound of airplanes or cars or motor scooters or just about anything else was noticeable. In the afternoon, we noticed that some villagers were taking advantage of the rice paddies on the backside of the hotel and other adjacent buildings to move from one compound to another as they were forbidden from walking in the streets.
Wayan picked us up the next morning and we spent a little time in the Ubud market picking up a few last minute souvenirs. Mary Anne was delighted to finally find the ceramic salt and pepper holders with the frog tops that she had been looking for since we arrived. We picked up a few brightly colored masks for about R35000 each. Then we walked across the street and toured the Royal Palace in Ubud where we had attended the dance performance. We were glad we hadn’t left without seeing it in daylight.
After a quick stop in Sanur for lunch on the beach we were off to the airport. As I was checking in at the Cathay Pacific desk, Mary Anne was a few feet away re-arranging the things we had bought that morning in Ubud. I heard a little cry and a sincere request for my attention. It seemed as she moved one of the mask, she had noticed a scorpion waving his tail. Being the brave man that I am, I managed to dispose of the beast and checked the other items for compatriots. She laughed nervously thinking how long she had held that package on her lap as we drove from Ubud to Sanur and then on to the airport.
As you can probably imagine from this report, we totally enjoyed our trip to Bali. We would probably make a few changes if we were to do it again but all in all, we were just blown away by the beauty of the place and the friendliness of the people. Things had changed a lot in the 20 years since my previous visit but it’s still a very special place if you make the effort to really see it and have the right attitude. It’s a very long way from the east coast of the US but we’re hoping to make it back again before another 20 years pass.