2 large bottles of initially ice cold Bintang (they don't stay cold once released into the wild) have flowed in relatively quick succession but to no long term relief. The sweat keeps coming and I start to crave my old coke habit again as a form of comfort. A 1.5 litre bottle of "Zero" costs around 28,000 idr from the nearby Circle K, the bigger bottle helping to keep the liquids inside cool for longer than it takes to walk the 632 steps back to my room.
Today was mainly notable for one reason, or four as it later became. After just over 1 week in Bali, this morning I noticed my first insect bite has arrived. An annoying little chomp on the top of my left calf. By the evening I noticed a further 3 bites have come up. One just on the shoulder line of the right side of my neck, one on the upper part of the right calf and another on the outside of my left ankle. There must be something about this left leg that excites mosquito's as this was also singled out last time i travelled as the focus of their attacks and I'm now drawn towards the fairly obvious conclusion that mosquitos are the leg men of the insect world, only unable to wear beige macs and round glasses due to the obvious weight and size difference. At least I had the first week free from nibbles, but I guess now normal service has resumed.
The last few days here have been spent exploring the area in and around Ubud, both on organised tours and just wandering off the beaten track. With temperatures in the day exceeding 30 degrees it's imperative that I remember to carry plenty of fluids with me as well as a few packs of sweets to combat the constant dips in glucose levels that often occur in these warmer environments. A walk around the rice fields of Ubud yesterday evening that I thought would take about an hour or 2, in fact took nearly 4, having to munch my way through 2 packets of menthol's over that duration just to get back safely. A beautiful walk that took me past vast rice fields where I studied some of the simple gates in use for controlling the flow of water onto the terraces, through forests and rivers past unabashed locals bathing, past lizards and frogs, dragon fly's and the one barking dog as I headed back towards the town slowly as the evening sun disappeared from view, enjoying the views a little too much and eventually having to rely on my pocket torch to light the path in front of me, and also make myself visible to the onslaught of scooters from both directions that were making the trip to and from Ubud at the last throws of the day. Still, a nice way to spend a few hours
So a quick breakdown of the excursions I have done and places I have visited over the last few days, in no particular order other than what my fingers decide to dictate.
Antonio Blanco Museum.
When reading up on places to visit when in Ubud, the Blanco Museum is a name that pops up quite a lot. One opinion piece I had read that stuck in my mind as I wandered around the museum looking at the art on display (paintings/ drawings / poems / collages) was "the best thing that could be said about Antonia Blanco, is that he managed to be a success despite his lack of talent"*. My opinion is that nothing could be further from the truth. The art here is of a varying standard to be sure, as an artist it seems he was never afraid to try new styles and techniques with many images reminding me of Da Vinci sketches (which I have been lucky enough to see examples in the past), in the sense that one particular area would be singled out and perfectly detailed, with the rest of the composition being less so, but composed in such away that you feel the artist was always leading you to exactly what he wanted you to see. Other things started to become more apparent as I wandered around examining his paintings. It was obvious that Blanco was a fan of the female form but often the body would serve as the framing or subtext for superbly detailed features elsewhere, on the face or hands for example, but make no mistake, the occasional nip did have a fair bit of effort spent on it as well. It may be fair to assume in this case that unlike the humble mosquito, Blanco wasn't really a leg man. You start to notice on some of his pieces that his paint work (sometimes details or maybe a wash of colour ) would come over onto the frames, knowingly breaking that boundary between subject and viewer to great effect. Once noticed it apparent enough, but also remarkably subtle, so much so it wasn't until viewing the pictures on the second floor that I noticed exactly what he was doing. It's after this point you notice not only how the subject of his art was important, but how the choice of frame was paramount to his pictures as a whole. This was also an artist who wasn't averse to the odd visual "name drop", with painted pictures referencing fellow spaniard Salvador Dali along side collages of him with Michael Jackson and Rolling Stones homages. To say this was a man who succeeded despite his lack of talent is a huge disservice to the man and the work he produced. Whilst everything there may not be to everyones taste, some of the pieces are technically breathtaking and it's a collection that should be seen at least, if not adored and all set in the grounds of the artists former Ubud home.
eco cycling tour.
Starting at a view point looking over Mount Batur, we cycled (or coasted) along 26km of roads and paths, stopping at temples to take on water before coasting again past school children "high five"-ing and "hello"-ing us as well as non "high five"-ing villagers. As the day progressed and the temperature rose it became more common to see rice scattered out in heaps the middle of the road, much like you would see sand scattered on an large oil spillage back in the uk. Like Bobby Charlton the rice needs a comb over now and then, but rather than serving a purely aesthetic purpose (unlike Bobby's), the rice comb over was to enable it to dry throughly using the heat generated from the sun and retained by the tarmac
During the 2 hours or so on the bikes we only had 3 very short but brutal inclines to overcome. These would have been more manageable if the bike I was on didn't seemingly have a phobia of anything uphill, completely throwing off it's chain in a strop when any real force started being applied through it and leaving me with nothing else to do except either swear, shout and hit it with a branch that had been conveniently left just off camera to the right, or just push it up the bloody hill. Over all though a good experience which has left a lasting impression, mostly on the back of my left hand as it caught the sun badly from resting in the same handlebar position for a prolonged period of time.
Mutiny on the buses.
Less of a pleasant excursion was a day trip to see the temples around the local area. With 5 of us in a mid size van we had plenty of space and comfort, but all of us were suffering from the heat as the driver seemed to have an aversion to putting the air-conditioning on, meaning that each time we returned sweltering from one of the temples with caves bereft of air or a climb of seemingly endless steps, we returned to a van which might as well have had a selection of vegetables cooking in it (which you could argue was very soon the case). Unfortunately though you are a tourist and these trips undoubtably take you to places in order for you to part with some cash. The view from Mahagari resort where we stopped for lunch later that day undoubtably had a fine view of mount Agung and the surrounding vistas, but the food there is bland, soulless and expensive. The coffee plantation where you get to try some of the chocolate and coffee that is grown in Bali is interesting enough, but as usual ends up in the onsite gift store where expensive goods visually fight other expensive goods for your attention. "these products are only available here" after all. Before the end of the tour the overall feeling among all of us was that we had all just seen enough for the day. The last 2 places the driver tried to take us to we decided that we weren't that interested in, and decided just to push on back to Ubud and write that one off.
White Water Rafting on the Ayung river
A better experience was White Water Rafting on the Ayung river, although a more accurate description would probably be river rafting as there were no major drops or anything to cause any major fear or concern, still a good trip though. After being kitted up in a blue and yellow lifejacket and passed my safety helmet I realised that my decision to wear a yellow and blue t-shirt had now made me look like someone going to a despicable me party in costume that had been hastily put together. A short waddle later followed by a steep decent over steeply dealing rock cut steps we arrived at the river, received basic instructions from our guide and set off down stream. We passed around and over rocks, descended mild drops facing either forwards, backwards or sideways, continuing to paddle forwards through scenic setting after scenic setting for the next couple of hours, under rope bridges, past carvings that had been cut into the cliffs and drifting under waterfalls both natural and ones created by little pipes that could be seen protruding through the foliage, at times momentarily ruining the illusion of being surrounded by natural unspoilt nature . The river is busy with lots of people doing the same thing, but rather than being an unwanted distraction this leads to an almost ancient desire to acheive naval superiority, silently approaching unsuspecting rafts before launching a salvo of water scooped ferociously from the river with much oar and a side dish of verbal abuse. The cool water being a shock to the unsuspecting victims, but the return volley is usually a welcome relief from the heat the would building up all the time. The end of the trip ends at a deeper part of the river where you are able to fall in and just drift down stream for little to cool down completely, a much needed couple of hours break from the almost constant onslaught of the Balinese temperature.
One thing that can't be disputed is the quality of the food I have eaten at many different places in Ubud. All Varied, All different and several making the grade as "The best I've ever tasted".
It may be too early to declare this yet, but I would imagine that the one of the main things hat will stick in my mind from Ubud is the amazing quality of the food here. Topped only by the amazing hospitality I have received from the owners of the homestay that I have resided at for the last few days. They have offered me a far better experience and stay in Ubud than I would have in many other places I'm sure and given me guidance and suggestions of things to do whilst here. Its people like that who help make place worth going to.
All I have to decide on now, is where I jump to next...
* paraphrased as i can't find the original source.