Monday, March 2, 2009

Day 89: Bali, day 3

I've been putting it off. Cruising around the internet, wasting time on things. But it's time to write.

Rising early the next morning, the two girls waited for their taxi in the hotel lobby. It was open and airy, and they sat on the tile next to the pool--dangling their feet into the cool water. The only sound was the fountain of water coming from a carving of a stone dragon on one end. The sun was just beginning to lighten the sky to the east.

Climbing with their small suitcases into the Volkwagen, they zigzagged through the streets of Kuta--heading out of the city. As they began to ascend away from the remnants of tourism, they reached open fields where rice was growing thick. Palm trees and bamboo groves stood hovering at the edge of the open clearings, dripping with thin green vines. As the sun creeped above the horizon line and began to ascend into the sky, there were more and more people visible--working in the rice paddis.

As their taxi passed through towns that, for her, had no names, she found herself repeatedly dazzled by petite Balinese women wearing colorful sarongs and balancing mountains of fruit on their heads. In one town, there was some kind of festival beginning, with children dressed in all shades of the rainbow, running and smiling on the edge of the road. They seemed, sometimes, like drawings in a children's book more than real people with real lives. There were no lines on their faces. No appearance of worry or care. But, with her head leaning against the glass window, she would catch only a glimpse of a face. Only a moment, and then that person would disappear behind them.

After a little over an hour, they arrived in the city of Ubud. They asked the driver to take them to a good hotel and, this time, that meant a delightful surprise. They were left at the gate of hotel that had been an old, if not ancient, Hindu temple. It was shabbier than their accomodations in Kuta Beach, but felt infinitely more real. And it was even less expensive than their other hotels, which they hadn't thought possible.

Pulling on their swimwear and shorts, they caught a group taxi up to the Ayung river for a rafting trip. Descending down stairs into a green gorge that teemed with sound, they climbed on rafts with a few other tourists and polite native guides. There was hardly any need to paddle as they floated down the river, leaving them free to observe women washing their clothes and children tending cows by the shore. A whole group of young, naked boys dove in and swam after them, laughing and splashing. Looking upwards was an endless jungle and cascading waterfalls. It seemed like everything was suspended in a glorious time warp.

Back in Ubud, she and Georgia decided to visit a local cluster of ancient temples that also had wild monkeys living there. She pulled on a comfortable pink sundress and they set out. Arriving, they purchased a small bunch of bananas and some pieces of yam in a bag to feed the monkeys. Walking just a few yards inside the gate, a few monkeys approached. Reaching into the bag, she pulled out some yam and threw it to them. They never glanced at it, but kept their eyes on the bunch of bananas. More and more monkeys were congregating at her feet--some much larger than the first. She tossed down a banana or two, but--when the largest monkey of the bunch hissed and took a jump forward, she screamed and dropped the whole bunch while making her retreat as quickly as she could. Besides the monkeys, she'd attracted a group of laughing tourists who were snapping pictures. "Better you than me" laughed one British woman.

As they walked among the temple buildings, laughing at the monkeys, they were astonished to see--approaching them--their group of friends that they had intended to meet in Kuta. By happenstance, they had come to the same place at the same time. As they walked, she realized--regretfully--that their plan, to possibly push for the north shore the next day, was quickly disappearing as their friends intended to head back to Kuta Beach. Later, she wished that they had never met up at all, and continued with their own plans.

That night, they sat on the floor of a wooden pier and ate duck that had been roasting, underground, for 24 hours. The stone towers of the ancient temple glowed red and reflected in the water of the pond, dotted with floating water lilies. Dancers emerged, in red and gold, and danced to discordant music.

Leaving early, she slipped away into her room and fell asleep listening to the deep call of frogs and the whisper of fireflies in the night.

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