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Bali Swansong

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At long last after an interminable enforced sojourn in Kuta, I finally managed to bag the by now notorious parcel today but not without a suitably crazy rigmaroll. Having religiously, earnestly traipsed the short distance to Kuta's hidden little Post Office every day without fail for weeks now, I had tired of checking the small box of Post Restante mail upon its counter, and had finally found the resolve in exasperation the day previous to make a direct enquiry despite my limited vocab. Lo and behold as it transpired I had chosen to do so on the very day that the place came up trumps, with a card safely filed in the box to proclaim that an item had duly arrived forcollection. besides my enquiries........... Expecting a rip off bribe to corrupt Customs officials, the anonymous untranslatable palace out by the airport which I had mistaken for ground zero proved to be the wrong spot. However unintelligibly the residents between them were actually remarkably helpful in directing me to a hitherto unknown Post Office closer to the airport terminal whose location seemed to elude me in exasperation at security fences, but it was a bonus that in the search for it I stumbled across a lone preserved aircraft ensconced in a small park which prompted the inferno busting pit stop for a cold drink. Finally it was only the promise of a small innocuous mosque which gave me the resolve to encircle the whole neighbourhood in search of its promise, to finally find the Post Office adjacent, a small bungalow.

Under a massive wave of relief upon simply paying the peanuts service fee in receipt of the parcel, I tried to further redeem my long scorchy water guzzling traipse with first a return to the airport terminal where security measures precluded the realisation of any airside viewing, then dodging the persistent transport hopefuls once again in escaping its throes towards the nearby beach. Fortunate in readily tracing it, the beach wasnt actually the priority which was just as well, a squalid looking seafront facing onto an unappealling dirty littortal was qualified by variously coloured outrigger canoes bobbing offshore. As surfers turned up on bikes to be whisked away into the surf, provoked by an offshore reef, I compounded the freshly realised feel good factor by lacing myself with scrummy noodles and more cold drinks from a down to earth shack sprawled in the dirt by the airports approach, feeling like a pig in shit as I watched more gullible punters winging in on the redeye to succumb to the touts feeding frenzy.

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Bali 5

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cc

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Day trip south

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I fought off the habitual hangover that morning to hook up with Ritchie and Scott, 2 Welsh guys I had met the night previous. They'd hired a cheap and cheerful dinky Jeep for a few days and so we struck out into typically crazy traffic destined for Bukit Badung, the eye shaped appendage of rocky scrubland which dips down from the isthmus below Kuta where the airport lies. Lack of roadsigning and an insufficient map dictated a rejuggle of the itinerary and so first of all we found ourselves at Uluwatu Temple, perched precariously at the top of stunningly high and beautiful cliffs on the peninsula's south western tip. The surf rolling in onto the rocky turquoise shoreline barelled in ferociously, huge waves which had to be the most amazing surf I had ever witnessed. It was amazing then to consider that some guys braved these in search of the perfect ride, get it wrong and plainly you were dead. Dressed for the occasion in my newly acquired sarong, I only needed a yellow waist ribbon to complete the requisite homage before discovering the temple itself to be humble and off limits in the main, it was the setting which made it though. Back down the road, we turned off at an enormous ostentatious entrance portal guarded by giant statues, down the new but already badly broken up highway which passed by a failed resort development and very out of place (17 hole!) golf course. From here it was a jolting offroad ride down to our ultimate destination, Dreamland. A world celebrated surf beach, not only were the rollers suitably impressive but the beach also proved to be a rare true paradise populated by surf bums and sexy bums. It was an extravagance prompted by the other guys to indulge in fried noodles on a sunlounger on the beach, but not a bad one at that. Carefull rationing coaxed my pink hue a subtle shade darker, until Scott finally decided to take the plunge with his board, he had clearly been stalling for courage until the surf had notably subsided by that point. Nevertheless he eventually found a wave which promptly wiped him out onto a coral bed, leaving him limping back bleeding and humbled. Though the shoreline was picture perfect the sheer force of waves compounding together would on occasion force chunks of coral the size and weight of a bag of sugar out onto the sand. It was only left for us to negotiate the outrageous traffic back into Kuta, with Ritchie adopting the loca;l tactics of breakneck spee, violent changes of directrion and no quarter given. After having just joked about the possibility, it was no joke then in getting puled over by the cops, strategically stationed at a major junction. We'd ended up stranded in the wrong lane but had had little choice given the poor road directions and partisan spirit. There was also the small matter of the telltale surfboards strapped to the roof saying "spot the tourists". We all knew it was a common practice of extortion we had succumbed to, eventually getting away from the well worn bullshit threat of court designed to intimidate us, by doling out a negotiated £6 "fine". We could see that they had only just pulled up another tourist couple on a motorbike, probably because they were carrying surfboards too. Many of the bikes here had custom made racks that purpose so ity was nothing unusual, but that didnt sway the corrupt opportunist bastards from selectively exploiting minutae of the law flouuted as a amtter of course, the same law they tyhemselves openly flouted too. Ritchie had been to Bali before and so knew to expect it, but in all my close encounters with corruption this was my first direct experience of such a unashamed stereotype. Ritchie dealt with it pragmatically (phlegmatically?) and I'm not sure I would have adopted the same resignation. Upon being gestured out of the line of traffic around a corner onto an open road, I was disapppointed when we didnt just go for it and leave the hapless chancers in our wake. I could bet that they wouldnt bother chasing after us, I doubted they even had the means, but would instead just turn to concentrate on the next car of a doubtless long and lucrative gravy train. Moreover, and it was a questionable tightrope to walk, but the prospect oif further intimidation, a night in jail and an appearance before a doubtless similarly corrupt judge might have been worth it to wind these guiys up in frustration at non-co-operation.

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Bali 3

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TTT

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Day trip to Denpasar

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With an enforced early rise which made something of a novelty these days, I was lucky to bag the last seat in a Bemo for the local price against expectation and in spite of plenty of other transport touts to resist either end, I managed to succinctly trace priority number 1 in view of its threatened early closure that day. Past a grassy central square having already been availed of much ornate statuary, relief carvings and temple style doorways, the Bali Museum at first appeared to be closed, a deflating realisation supposedly confirmed by caretakers at an adjacent pagoda type shrine. I donned my yellow waist sash as was the local decorum to visit it, spying from there that there certainly appeared however to be a few early bird tourists in the neighbouring compound.

BALI MUSEUM

The Panca Yadnya, the 5 main ceremonies of Balinese Hinduism were thus explained:

Dewa Yadnya - Dedicated to god and all his manifestations.
Pitra Yadnya - To purify the souls of ancestors.
Manusa Yadnya - The ceremony of the human being.
Rsi Yadnya - Dedicated to saints and priests.
Bhuta Yadnya - To neutralise evil spirits.

These are caried out according to the Balinese calendar, referred to as the "Wuku and Saka" calendar, designed to harmonise the relationship between god and man, men unto men, and man to his environment. The Dewa Yadnya for example had varying interpretations in turn, performed upon the opening of a temple, also every 210 days ie. annually according to the Saka calendar, then subsequently every 5 years, every 100 years. Presumably the latter dates are more grandiose and the centennial must be a humdinger of a party. The calendar was further explained as consisting of auspicious and unfavourable days over a period of 30 weeks (Wuku), a grid of 7 by 30 squares being portrayed on paintings or small wooden carvings, used to predicate the precise nature of every day of the year. These might be referred to for example to select a suitably good date for a wedding. The smaller wooden carved examples used abstract symbolism but one large excellent depiction showed at random pixels of people tending crops, performing crafts or images of demonic figures. There were depictions of everything from fighting the devil to cutting hair. A similarly checked pictorial astrological calendar only prescribed 35 days.

"Lontar" books were revealed to be Balinese legends including the Indian Hindu classics printed with incisions on palm leaf, cut into half metre length strips akin to rulers. There were also miniature models of the crematiion ceremony and strangely the Tooth Filing ceremony (or diod they mean filling?!). It was explained that the cremation ceremony entails returning the body to Panca Maha Butha, an interesting revelation with medieval overtones, referring as it did to the elements of Earth, Fire, Air, Water and Ether. The body is elevated in a tall pagoda for ritual burning with a large bull figurine placed adjacent.

Idolatory included dragon figures, a bull with deities Siwa and Durga upon its back, as well as offering plates and pots for holy water. Numerous deity figures varied enormously in their representation and adjacent were some massive examples of Barong, monstrous or ghostly effigies perhaps 11 feet high made of a bamboo frame, I had to presume that someone danced within its cage. There were swathes of scary face masks and what was remarkably similar to the whole ensemble of a Chinese dragon dance epic, also screen puppets.

The fantastical Tooth Filing ceremony was then related to reduce "Sadripu", 6 enemies believed to exist within the huiman self, thoser being Greed, Pride, Vanity, Short Temperdness, Sadism and what were described as "Frame People", presumably they meant traitors. It was a bonus to then overhear a guide say that he was 17 when he had his doine, something of an initiation into manhood one might presume then. Moving on to a section on dance, highly importanty in balinese culture, I learned that traditional dances had evolved to maturity during the Majapahit era, split into 3 categories. wali dances were reserved for ritual ceremonies, Bebali dances semi sacred corresponding to lesser ceremony, and the Bali Balihan were secular, designed for entertainment.

Outside a small cannon was unusually marked with the raised lettering LITTLE, TOT, and I had to presume that it was the Brits who had decided that cannons could be cute. Comprising a series of small traditionally styled outbuildings, the thatched roof villas donated by 5 of the local kingdoms were overshadowed by the overindulgence of variously monstrous or deity like statues and relief carvings, with each of the many gateways being crowned by ornate high tiers. Though there were a few tourists around it wasnt mobbed as one might have expected on such a popular island, a fact rather qualified by the museum itself being much smaller a limited in scope than I had imagined despite its excellent presentation. Building work in one of the larger blocks perhaps typified my poor luck when it came to such matters, the all important historical section was destined to remain a mystery.

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