Saturday, August 26, 2017

Indonesian Adventure - Elephant Caves and the Sacred Monkey Forest

Saturday, August 5th.

The time change from San Francisco to Bali is in our favor and we wake rested and are not suffering jet lag. The manager of our guest house cooks us breakfast in our outdoor kitchen and we enjoy eating an artfully arranged fruit platter, succulent banana pancakes and a vegetarian omelette overlooking the lush jungle beyond.  We hurry along the path to meet Tabra at her house and from there walk to Vespa Café to meet our driver for our trip to the Tegenungan waterfalls, the Elephant Cave and the Water Temple. Because we know we will have a trek down into the grotto at the Elephant cave, we only view the waterfall from afar. There are families below on the rocks enjoying the cooling splash of the falls and were Alisha here with her family, I know they would have made the long climb down the stairway to the falls. Tabra and I however need to save our energy. 

Tegenungan Waterfall
We arrive shortly at the parking area for the Goa Gajah Temple, (Elephant Cave) and push our way through the inevitable maze of souvenir stalls. In the center of the plaza is a familiar tattooed man entwined with a large python. I pay the requested 5000 rupiah and he drapes the python around Alisha’s neck and I take many photos of one blissful Alisha and one not so blissful python. The snake has it’s jaw taped shut and although probably not delighted by it’s owners profession does not show any signs of agitation.

Tattooed Man with python

Alisha with the Tattooed Man and his python

A python's embrace
Beautiful Alisha in a python's embrace

We pay for our tickets and descend a wooden staircase down to the Goa Gajah temple grounds. Before us are the pools with carved stone steps leading down to the sacred water that spits from temple goddesses. We are visiting in high season and must wait our turn to take photos of ourselves alone in front of the gaping Elephant God’s mouth that is the entrance to the cave. We enter the dark cave through it’s mouth and explore the small cool confined space. Candles flicker on two small alters. 

Mouth to the Elephant Cave, Goa Gajah
Alter within the Elephant Cave

Exiting again into the bright sunlight we leave Tabra resting in the shade of an ornately carved wooden temple roof and Alisha and I make the steep climb down into the grotto. The day is hot and below, a spring flows from the rocks that are carpeted in thick green moss. Banyan trees weave their tangle of roots between the rock crevices and creep along the stairs. Vines drip from above. The grotto is lush and tropical and exotic. Alisha climbs down into the rocky pool and wades in the shallow water. Returning, her face is aglow with wonder and delight.

Goa Gajah Grotto
Alisha in the Goa Gajah grotto
Goa Gajah park

Goa Gajah grotto
Goa Gajah grotto

 We climb a short distance up to a small temple platform where a priest is blessing visitors with a few grains of rice pasted upon their foreheads. We gratefully accept his blessing and deposit a small offering. Instead of retuning the way we came, we take a narrow dirt path along the back side of the cliff and circle around past a couple of tiny souvenir shops cut into the cliff face. I am looking for an egg painting shop that I discovered three years ago but his rickety shutters are drawn and we return to the main temple grounds.

Tourist shops, Goa Gajah

Sacred bathing pools, Goa Gajah
Goa Gajah Temple grounds

Elephant carving, Goa Gajah

Garuda temple god.

Our driver is waiting to take us to Pura Tirta Empul, a water temple with a holy spring. On the way we stop in Tampaksiring, a village specializing in bone carving. We stop first at the Pegasus Gallery, the high-end gallery in the village. The owner is a friend of Tabra and a very talented artist and we spend considerable time visiting and perusing the exquisite carvings designed and made in his workshop.

Bone carving shop in Tampaksiring

It is Saturday and Tabra’s business manager and accountant, Made, lives in the area. Tabra makes a call and Made and her family meet us for lunch at a lovely outdoor garden café.

Restaurant  cafe
Lili pads

Restaurant seating

Koi pond

Tabra suggests we order Lemon Squashes, which will prove to be Alisha’s and my favorite drink over the next few days. The juice is freshly squashed, not squeezed, and a small pitcher of simple syrup accompanies the icy drinks. My grilled barbecue squid is excellent once I get past the tiny arms waving at me at the end of each skewer. Grilled eggplant and vegetables are served along side with a spicy dipping sauce.

Curry soup 
Barbecue squid

Made is strikingly beautiful, in her late 30’s, with a perfect smile and her straight black hair tied fashionably back. Her English is impeccable as well as her graceful charm. After lunch her family leaves to enjoy their Saturday but Made offers to accompany us to the water temple. Although Alisha and I are wearing long skirts, we do not have sashes, which are available at the entrance for tourists such as us. Made explains that the "sarong" is worn within the temples as a sign of respect.  She shows Alisha how to tie the sarong and then tells us that because she is having her period, she will wait outside the temple. I believe this is her graceful way of asking Alisha if she is menstruating because women may not enter the temples during this time. Alisha confirms that she is not and Tabra suggests that Made go inside with us. Tabra asks, "How would anyone know?" Made replies, “Tabra, I’m Balinese.”

Made helps Alisha with her sarong
Temple goddess

There are outer and inner grounds to the temple and Made and Tabra wander the exterior grounds while Alisha and I enter the ornate gates of the water temple. Three years ago when John and Art were with me, John quickly changed into his swim trunks, wrapped his sarong around his middle and descended the steps of the sacred pool. Alisha wishes to do the same but refrains because we have read that the "borrowed" sarong should not be gotten wet. Both Balinese and travelers alike wade waist deep in the holy water moving from one flowing fountain to the next. The Balinese give offerings of flowers and incense, making appropriate gesticulations as they move from one station to the next.

Pura Tirta Empul
Pura Tirta Empul
Pura Tirta Empul

We explore the inner grounds, admiring the many intricately carved wood and thatched roof prayer pagodas. These sit on massive stepped stone bases where Balinese gods keep a watchful guard over those who come with offerings. The holy spring that feeds the bathing pools is in a large walled-in enclosure with sparkling water gurgling from cracks deep within our earth. Although the water itself is crystal clear, there are unworldly mineral formations and algae growth within the pool.

Men, Pura Tirta Empul
Devotees, Pura Tirta Empul

Pura Tirta Empul

Temple grounds, Pura Tirta Empul

Sacred spring, Pura Tirta Empul
Sacred spring, Pura Tirta Empul

We drive with Made back to the bone carving village and make a few stops at the general workshops. Between having previously viewed the very best carvings and our jet jag catching up with us, we are unenthused and indecisive and leave without making any purchases. Before returning to Penestanan we need to drop Made off at her home and she invites us inside her compound. It is unusual for a couple to live on their own instead of in the parental compound but she explains that there are so many cousins and siblings in the family that there is no longer any room for her growing family. Although her compound is quite new, they have plans to add a building and a family altar. We meet her mother who is 67 years old and has been watching her two boys. She greets us shyly but speaks no English.

Rice paddies, Penestanan 
Rice paddies, Penestanan

Detail, rice paddies

On the way back to Penestanan, we stop upon a rise overlooking the rice terraces. The low afternoon sun casts a silvery sheen over the landscape. Penestanan, (which, by the way, means "Black Magic"), is adjacent to Ubud but on the far side and there is unbearable traffic into Ubud. Our driver swings around to take a circuitous route, but even so, covering a few short miles takes over 30 minutes. He drops us off at the corner Vespa Cafe and the three of us walk the short block to Tabra’s workshop. She has leased space for a number of years in a family compound and she shows us her endless collection of stones, beads and cast components that she has designed. Tabra was a pioneer early on at the Bay Area art shows and, at one time, sold her work on Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley. She has been an inspiration to me in her entrepreneurial drive, her creative genius and her international travel experiences.  Naturally we fall into business and jewelry talk and she gives Alisha a beautiful pair of earrings. Alisha is both delighted and honored. We walk with Tabra behind the village, past Tabra’s gem of a living compound and choose an inviting outdoor restaurant overlooking the rice paddies for dinner. Although the vegetarian food is good, after last night's dinner at Moska’s, nothing will ever compare. Tabra seldom drinks, but Alisha and I share a bottle of wine and when we part ways to walk through the rice paddies back to our guest house, the moon is brighter and the frogs and insects much louder than the previous night. We fall into bed exhausted.

Sunday, August 6th

If it’s possible, this morning we enjoy an even more elaborate and delicious breakfast than yesterday. At 7:30 a.m. our courtyard gate opens quietly and a gregarious woman of undetermined age enters. Alisha is sill dressing in our room but our morning chef greets me happily with a gummy crooked smile offset by a few stray teeth.

Wayan, our guest house cook
Breakfast in our garden courtyard

She sets to work in our outdoor kitchen and soon serves us steaming hot Balinese coffee followed shortly with elaborate fruit plates. Alisha and I have it figured out. I trade Alisha my watermelon slices for her papaya and we do our best to each eat the generous pineapple slabs and banana slices. Following the fruit course are two plates of savory Nasi-goring topped with a fried egg; toast with butter and jam and, just in case we haven’t had enough, crepes stuffed with fresh bananas. Although I am not a banana fan, I have always loved the Balinese banana crepes, so under the watchful eye of our congenial cook, I eat.  We check our e-mails, make FT calls to Papa and Sterling and during one call, introduce our morning friend to Art. The woman is delighted to meet "Papa" and if possible glows and smiles even more broadly.

Penestanan pathway
Morning in Penestanan

Morning walk, Penestanan

Rice fields, Penestanan

Between all this food and congeniality, we are running late. At 8:45 we walk quickly along the rice terraces to Tabra’s house. As always, she is dressed beautifully in gypsy fashion and she carries a container of dried dog food to feed a local dog. He is anticipating her morning visit and squeezes out from under his family's compound gate and greedily inhales the food. Tabra tells us that even after all this time, he still will not let her pet him. Rather than taking a car, we choose to make the long walk into Ubud, stopping frequently along the way. I show Alisha the guest bungalow that Art, John and I stayed in 2 ½ years ago and although it’s difficult to point out something that no longer exists, Tabra and I talk about the vanishing rice paddies and where the villa we stayed at 10 years ago is now sandwiched between guest cottages, restaurants and yoga centers. When we pass a bakery-restaurant selling chocolate coconut balls, Tabra buys three and and when Alisha and I decline her offerings she eats two of them on our walk. I am learning more of Tabra’s quirks and addictions and that she is passionate about dogs and chocolate. (If you’re not good at reading between the lines, I love and admire this woman greatly.) 

Tabra, feeding the local dog
Penestanan wall dog

A new way to display sunglasses

We climb down the steep staircase connecting Penestanan to Ubud. The stairway is lush with ferns and hanging vines and deposits us onto the main artery of Ubud. Instead of air laced with incense and humming with birds and insects, we breathe the smell of exhaust and listen to the roar of traffic. We power-walk through a long tunnel and when we reach the other side, the boutiques and galleries begin to unfold. We stop in a high-end ethnic gallery alongside the bridge and spend nearly an hour perusing the Indonesian tribal and handmade Balinese goods.  Tabra visits with the owner while Alisha and I shop; he is interested in carrying a display of Tabra’s jewelry on consignment.  Had we been hurried, Alisha might not have noticed a wonderful collar of silver "claws" interspersed with green jade beads. I browse. Alisha asks both Tabra’s and my opinion and we give her a unanimous thumbs up. Alisha later tells me that had either of us nixed the purchase, she would not have bought it. On the other side of the bridge is another great shop with upscale masks, shadow dancing dolls and ceramics. I take note of a beautifully carved wood and painted Hanuman (Monkey God) mask that I may want to buy, but first I must explore other tribal and mask shops in Ubud. We continue along the main road, crossing over to a clothing shop that specializes in cut embroidery clothing. I have been here before with Tabra and she orders several blouses in various colors. Alisha and I try on various styles of skirts, dresses and blouses and all three of us exit with purchases. We manage to make several blocks headway before stopping at an Ikat weaving shop where I find a beautiful shirt for Art in subtle colors and geometric patterns. The woman’s loom is centermost in the tiny shop and when all three of us agree on a particular pattern, I pay the reasonable price. We cut down from the main road window shopping along a side alley and allowing ourselves time to pop into the many shops. At a gourmet chocolate shop, Tabra buys three pieces of raw chocolate and hands Alisha and me each our own logo imprinted bag containing a generous square each. She devours hers immediately but Alisha and I nibble slowly on the rich goji-berry and cashew nut chocolate squares. The chocolate is extremely rich and satisfying and Alisha and I save half of each of ours for later.

Tabra, lunch in Ubud
Alisha and Tabra, lunch in Ubud

Lemon Squash, lunch in Ubud

Needing a break and a restroom, we spontaneously choose an open air restaurant for lunch and are fortunate that the food is excellent. Three Lemon Squashes and three delicious vegetarian entrees later, cost just $25. It is past 2:30 when we pay our bill and, with blinders on, we make our way directly to Tabra’s gallery. We meet Tabra’s two sales women, ______ and ______ , both exotically dressed in skirts and sarongs that Tabra designs and dripping in Tabra’s jewelry. The artful displays in Tabra’s tiny, exquisite gallery are enticing and we spend close to an hour visiting with her two gals and browsing the exotic jewelry and clothing on display. I buy a small pair of Jaguar and turquoise earrings. I now belong to the “tribe.”

Tabra's Gallery and sales team

From here we walk to the Monkey Forest. Tabra has purchased two bunches of bananas and has them tucked in her bag. It is nearly 4:00 p.m. when we arrive and I try to steer Alisha past the monkeys just inside the entrance, but she is captivated by mothers with their babies and handsome males with their intelligent eyes. We eventually move a few hundred feet into the park and descend the stairway down to the sacred grotto. We walk across the narrow Naga (serpent) arched stone walking bridge, precariously spanning the gorge below. A waterfall of vines drip from the banyan trees above and, when I step from the bridge and look back, I wonder how structurally sound this stone bridge is, spanning several hundred meters with seemingly no reinforcement below? The carved Naga bridge is blanketed with moss and a sea of pedestrians funnel into the sacred grotto. We wait impatiently, along with the throngs of other tourists, looking for that moment when we might take an unobstructed photo of ourselves in front of the Naga gatekeepers. A few meters along, the pathway widens and there is a sacred spring shrine with brilliant koi and shadowy catfish lurking at the bottom. It begins to drizzle but we are somewhat protected by the umbrella of trees and vines above. We walk along a narrow, slippery pathway, wet with the raindrops, and pay our respects to the Komodo Dragon carvings, tucked off in a side grotto and nearly invisible with their camouflage of green moss. We have whiled an hour away here and the crowds are thinning when we return along a new bridge back to higher grounds and more monkey business.

Marty, Sacred Monkey Forest grotto
Alisha, monkey business

Alisha, Monkey Forest grotto
Tabra, Monkey Forest grotto

Komodo Dragon carving
Komodo Dragon grotto

Carvings, Monkey Forest
Serpent carving, Monkey Forest

Erotic carving on upper terrace

Serpent carvings, Monkey Forest

On an upper terrace we find fascinating stone sculptures that I had not noticed on previous trips. Erotic and wonderful, snakes, lizards and strange deities entwine suggestively.  Monkeys cavort and we offload many of our weighty bananas. A baby monkey extends its hand to Alisha and she holds it reverently. Alisha is baiting the monkeys with bananas and they jump onto her back. I’m not certain if Alisha looked happier with a python entwined around her body or with monkeys on her back, but she is beaming with delight. Most of the park rangers are trying to prevent this but it is closing time and one ranger is seemingly taking bribes and I pass a 2,000 rupiah note to him after I take photos of Alisha. So many monkeys…so little time.

Monkeys, Sacred Monkey Forest
Mother and baby monkey

Alisha, Monkeying around
Alisha, Monkeying around

Got bananas?
Venerable monkey

 It is 5:45 p.m. when we leave the Monkey Forest. We have been walking since 8:30 a.m. and my back aches and my feet throb. Nevertheless, I stoically fast-walk the half mile back up Hanamun Road to where we hope to watch a Kecuk dance tonight. We arrive at the open-air Kecak theatre at 6:15 p.m. and purchase tickets for the 7:00 p.m. performance. Tickets are 75000 each, about $20.  We choose front row center seats and I leave Tabra and Alisha to hold mine and I walk a few long blocks up the street looking for snacks and water to eat and drink during the show. When I return, the theater is nearly full and as 7:00 p.m. approaches, people are seated on the floor in front of us. The venue is completely packed and we have the best seats in the house. This is a much more intimate venue than the two other Kecak dances I have seen on previous trips. The Kecak is based on the great Indian epic the Ramayana. More than fifty male dancers appear, wrapped in black white and red sarongs and the rhythm of their chanting and hand clapping is mesmerizing.  Soon, two elaborately costumed women emerge from an ornate stage archway, undulating their lithe bodies to the rhythm, their slender hands, gesticulating in the traditional Balinese dance style. There are three acts and the final act is a fire dance and the rooster horse man dances among burning coals and kicks glowing ashes into the audience.

Kecak dance, Ubud, Bali
Kecak dance, Ubud, Bali
Kecak dance, Ubud, Bali

Kecak dance, Ubud, Bali
Entry of Hanamun

Throughout, there is the intoxicating chanting and hand clapping that I will continue to hear in my dreams tonight. The audience is not disappointed and after a final applause we exit onto the street in search of a taxi home. Our taxi drops us off at the the corner Vespa Cafe in Penestanan. We are so exhausted that we say good night to Tabra at the entrance of her compound, skip dinner and walk home along the narrow paths edging the rice paddies. The frogs and insects serenade us and the moon lights our path. 

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