Woke up this morning and Ginger simply looked different. It wasn’t just me, I checked with Ian too. She looks older somehow and, of course to us, prettier. Suddenly, she isn’t almost two (on the 30th), she IS two. We have conversations with her, she makes jokes about her tummy hopping like a kangaroo when she has the hiccups and she looks, well– older— more like a kid and less like a baby. For both of us, our reaction to this development is a mixture of pleasure and pain, pride and nostalgia. Is it ever any other way with parenting?
Overall, this trip seems to have been an incredible influence on G. The Good Ol’ SD Zoo will never seem the same, now that she’s run with the monkeys and she watches Balinese dances with the same rapt face with which some kids watch TV. These dances have become a real favorite for her and when it gets dark and we are still out and about, she naturally assumes we’re headed for one. Balinese dance performances are hard to describe to someone who hasn’t seen them for themselves because one would naturally assume that a traditional dance performed for tourists in a foreign country would come off as artificial or recreated. But these dances are nothing of the sort. True, they are ancient rituals, telling age-old stories, most often from the Hindu Ramayana myth– a love story. But the people who dance are usually the local villagers taking part in the everyday happenings of their own neighborhood temple. Being a part of the dancing is something that most children learn to do as they are raised under their temple’s wing (as most all are) and it just so happens that Bali has a lot of tourists who are also interested being there to see them do it. There are also specialized dance troupes who perform in places of honor like the ARMA museum or the Ubud Palace. But more often than not, the local temple’s Kecak dance is outstandingly performed by the guys who helped you get your luggage to your room and the precious little girls who played with your daughter on the beach that day.
Ginger’s favorite dance to see is the Kecak (ke-chack), or fire dance. This dance re-enacts a scene from Ramayana in which the Princess Sita is stolen from Prince Rama by a Barong (demon) and is rescued with the help of the Garuda bird and the white monkey, Hanoman (this, incidentally, is what we’ve been calling G lately cause she’s so white and such a little monkey). Instead of music, there is a giant chorus of men chanting “chek chek chek chek” in complicated rhythms interspersed with occasional grunting. These men are in sarongs with no shirt and Ginger calls them the Naked Babies. The Naked Babies all sit around a floor chandelier of fire and at the end of the dance, Hanoman comes out and lights coconut husks on fire as well. Then he dances across the lit embers with bare feet, kicking them up into the front rows where European women generally shriek with fear but never seem to get burned and a good time is had by all. As I said, Ginger can sit or stand still for nearly the entire hour this dance takes with a riveted, television-zombie-like face. Amazing. She also really likes the Legong Dance because it has a lot of little girl dancers and she now has a book about a little girl who is learning to dance as she grows up in her Balinese village. These brightly painted women and girls are robed in pinks and greens with gold patterns and elaborate gold headdresses. It is enchanting to watch them dance with their whole bodies including their ultra-flexible fingers and shockingly expressive eyes. These dances are accompanied by a gamelan orchestra whose alternating rhythmic pinging sounds like the most soothingly coordinated set of chimes on the planet.
Now that I’ve descirbed this central part of Balinese life and of our life as well, while we are here, you are probably wondering why we haven’t shown pictures of this before. Well, the dance is a sacred thing and, like most acts here, is done as a tribute to the gods. However, there is something going on for us and the gods of photography because every single time we’ve gone to one of these dances something goes wrong and we are unable to shoot. Well, Ian took some 16mm film once, but no stills whatsoever. Either the battery has died, the memory is full or the camera was left behind through a comedy of errors. It used to be frustrating and embarassing that as professionally trained photographers we were failing so miserably at this basic task. I mean, the whole thing is set up for you right down to the lighting. But now, we just find it funny and decided to share it with you all as well. No more photo-shame for us, we are coming clean! And in that vein, we are now shamelessly presenting you with images of Balinese dances stolen from the internet with pride. We just can’t keep it from you any longer and we can only hope we haven’t angered the gods further with our brazeness…Enjoy!
Ian and 2 American friends who are visiting from home went to see a medicine man near Canggu. Apparently the guy could see through people’s bodies and had already helped cure a friend’s friend of cancer. The 3 guys met with him as a group and he sat behind a Hindu alter. Later, Ian said it felt like they had gone to see the wizard. When it was each of their turn, the medicine man, named Petut, meditated over them and asked them to look into his third eye. Every one of them, even the non-believer, reported feeling high during this part.
Ian was told he was in pretty good health but had a few circulation and kidney issues to be cautious of. No big deal (thank God!) The Non-Believer was told to be careful of his heart and not to eat the yellow part of the egg ( I could have told him that, the guy drinks like a fish, smoked for 20 years and went crazy in India due to lack of red meat!) The last guy, we’ll call him The Tall One, gave Petut some pause. He asked The Tall One if he had kids and was shocked when he responded that he did. Petut struggled to explain his ailment and asked their driver if he could help translate.
Now the driver was a guy who calls himself Ricky Bobby and goes around the corners way too fast, calling “Shake and bake, Baby!” Yes, he has seen the movie “Talledega Nights” one too many times. Ricky Bobby heard what the medicine man had to say and started laughing uncontrollably. When he stopped, he said, “Man says you have trouble with make babies, like— short sex.”
“Short sex?” The Tall One asked and the other two looked away uncomfortably.
“Yes, short sex, are you sure you have baby for sure?”
“Yeah, I’m sure. Definitely sure” The Tall One responded.
Not to worry, the medicine man said. If he drank a tea his wife would prepare, all would be cured in 3 days (at which point, you will find The Tall One at the disco in Kuta). Coincidentally, tea and 3 days time was the cure for all of them.
And so the wizard had spoken. Ian needed a new kidney, The Non-Believer a new heart and The Tall One, well, a new sex. This is not something we will let The Tall One live down soon. I mean, this Petut really did know what he was doing. Laughter truly is the best medicine.
We have traveled away from the ocean and back again since last we spoke. When we left Uluwatu, we were pretty insistent on finding transport with seat belts so G could be in a car seat for the long ride. Felt kind of silly, though, as we tucked into traffic behind motorbike after motorbike with entire families on them, including all ages of babies. How the Balinese can convince a 1 year old not to squirm as they navigate Kuta’s crowded streets I would like to know! Ian’s favorite was one sarong-clad woman nursing an infant, driving her motorbike and texting on her phone all at once.
So we made our incredibly safe way up to the mountain town of Ubud for a few days of rice paddies, art and temples. Ubud, for those of you “Eat, Pray, Love” fans needs no introduction. It is considered the cultural hub of Bali and much of the wood, silver and paintings comes from Ubud and the areas around it. Therefore the art market is sensational, as are the little boutiques with a far more sophisticated edge than most other stores on the island. Also not to be missed are the extensive galleries and museums, At one, the ARMA, you can catch the young girls practicing their Legong dance in the afternoons for free. Another big draw is the Monkey Forest, aptly named for it’s forest of roaming monkeys and gorgeous temple inside. Of course, G loved this place, even though the monkeys stole our nuts and then our water bottle and climbed all over her Dada in the process. Afraid the zoo will seem a bit boring after this. We also went to outlying sites of 11th century elephant caves, temples of holy springs and tiny warung’s (like a small restaurant joint) nestled into endless hills of terraced rice paddies. Legong dance at the Ubud Palace outdoors (of course) was also sensational with fascinating women of pink and gold lace and impressive warriors with acrobatic feet. Ian and I are constantly struck at how there is no place on earth like Bali. No place has the tropic climate with it’s requisite blooms and fragrances, such a richness of cultural sites and art and of course, these warm, gentle people with gigantic smiles that are always real.
We’ve now made our way back to the beach to a place called Canggu (cha-ngu) due to an interesting turn of events. While here, Ian was recently contracted to do a commercial for Hurley’s new revolutionary boardshorts (they actually repel water and stretch like rubber). That Ian was already here when the job came up was coincidental enough. Even more serendipitous is the fact that the shoot’s star is none other than our neighbor back in Cardiff, Rob Machado, who also has a house in Canguu. I’ll let Ian fill you in on the Fellini-like details of trying to accomplish a first world shoot on a 3rd world island, but all in all I’d say it was incredibly successful and lots of fun to do. In Canggu, we’ve been put up by the D.P. from the shoot and his wife and 10 year old daughter. Of course, once again, Ginger is thrilled to have a big girl to prattle behind. These people have been incredibly welcoming to us and the villa in which they are living is incredible. Karma Island continues to be good to us.
As a post script for Ginger fans, you should know that she is now speaking pretty fluently telling us things like, “Ian not Da-da. Ian Papa!” (she’s heard the Balinese call him that) and “Got stroller now, no sling, no need it.” She also busted out with some Indonesian this morning as we passed a woman on the road through the rice paddies and she called out “Pagi!” which means “Morning!” In memoriam of her quickly dying off Ginger lingo, I wanted to list some words that are all her own, before they get absorbed into boring old proper English. As with all the others, we will miss this stage so! – mitney = blanket – Ninny = Ginger – Burr = vitamin – ee-eee = open it – Uh-sigh = other side
We’ve only just arrived in Bali and already feel we are in Nirvana. The most bedrock tenant for all life in Bali is the ideal of Beauty. The minute you get here you are bathed in it. The mountains, ocean, trees, rice paddies, the flowers and their smells, the birds and their songs, the people and all of their intricate and devoted art, music and dance, all pay heed to Beauty’s call. You cannot help but become gentler, more aesthetic, upon arrival.
Right now, the weather is perfect. Warm and humid but just right with the ever-present off-shore breeze. It is a much-needed break from cold, cold, Oz in wintertime. I am lying on my back looking up at puffy white clouds speeding across a candy blue sky. A large plumeria tree in bloom branches across of my view and in the corner, a canvas umbrella completes the look. Ginger naps blissfully on a carved wooden lounger beside me so that I am free to read or write or make my way across a vanishing pool that merges with the Indian Ocean where Ian surfs below. I got G to sleep in the stroller on cobbled paths at our hotel, then a kind man with beautiful cheek bones helped me carry her here, to our resting point. Bliss.
It was sweet of this man to help, or perhaps he was just doing his job. But I doubt it. The Balinese are a lovely, lovely people. I could happily sit and watch the wide shouldered, slender fingered, almond eyed women sweep a floor for hours, their glossy black hair mimicking the movement of the broom. Doubtless Ian feels the same way. And they all LOVE children. Worship them in fact. Now, we have heard this about many places we’ve traveled: Mexico, Hawaii– all true. But none as much as the Balinese. Perhaps you have heard of their tradition of not letting a baby touch the ground until 6 months of age, at which point an elaborate ritual (there is no other kind here) celebrates their full transition into this life from the spirit world. This reverence does not end at 6 months though. It is as if, when you cross the path of a Balinese with your child, they are being blessed with a deity. They get giddy and approach the babe, beaming and tinkling with joy. Actually, I can’t figure out if it’s more like a devotee meeting a holy figure, or a child meeting a character at Disneyland. Either way, the effect is adorable and incredibly helpful, actually. This morning at breakfast at the hotel, I watched a woman come in with a baby, hand him off to a thrilled waitress and then eat her entire meal in peace while the wait staff enjoyed her child. What a blessing for all!
The flight here was murder and it is a credit to this place that I’ve already almost forgotten. Suffice to say that Jetstar has incredibly strict restrictions on the weight of your bags and for every single kilo you go over, you pay 20 dollars. Our bill came to $525!!! Desperate, and in a mad rush because boarding was starting soon (the lines had been crazy), we hurried over to something called “unaccompanied baggage”. There we mercilessly chose items, including G’s porta-crib, that we could do without for a few days and handed them over to be sent when there was space on a future flight. This cost too, but about a fifth of the first price. I joked with the man who worked there about how many parents he got rushing over from Jetstar. Stone faced, he told me not that many, it’s on the return, once you’ve been shopping in Bali, that you really need the service. Yes, I thought with a sinking feeling, he’s quite right. Then Ginger proceeded to pull a near all-nighter and was still awake at midnight when we got off the 6 and a half hour flight. Those around us without kids thought, judging by her mania, that she must not be tired. Those who had kids smiled knowingly saying, “No, that’s just how tired she is.” It was about that time, with meals on our trays and G climbing the poor people’s chairs in front of us that we regretted not buying the Little Bear her own seat.
Anyhow, so happy to be here now.
We are staying at a place overlooking a surf spot called Uluwatu. This has always been a sacred place for me. For some reason, when I lived in Jackson Hole many years ago, as I hiked through the snowy backcountry to snowboard, the name of this spot would get stuck in my head. It would hammer me all the way up and then fly through my brain as I cascaded down. Then when I finally came here in 2000, the time I spent at Ulu was some of the most peaceful and meditative of the trip. At one point, I went days without having a conversation with anyone, walking miles a day to the beaches and sacred temple here, healing a soul that had been battered by a rough tumble with capitalism back home. As for Ian, the place is like magic for a barrel-loving goofy foot and he can’t believe our luck at landing here right from the start. We are both thrilled to show it to G.
Here’s part 2/2 of Ian’s catch-up NSW posts, this time it’s a pic post of his side of the Ulladulla trip:
Here’s a post, part 1 of 2, catching you surfers up on Ian’s exploits in Southern New South Wales:
Me mates Pancho , South mission expat and our host, 80s Northern Beaches pro legend Matt Jones took a few “sickies” off to show me down the coast.
The tightly wound “onion” spinning between Tazzie and SA had just the millibars and distance to throw us a solid south swell. The weather seemed to be cooperating so it was off we went. After a few “flat whites” we began to see the size difference between the Sydney “beachies” and the more exposed Coal Coast, aptly named for the abundance of black stuff breaking off from its primordial slabs. Every point and reef was exploding with raw power with few takers to give us any size reference. After mind surfing several of the area’s standouts, we made our way south and discovered a few spots that we could paddle into. The swell was juicy and super consistent but it wasn’t all that clean being so close to the source. There was a lot of water moving about which made it an intense paddle and take off situation. When I did finally decide to “take one in” I simply stopped paddling as hard as I could and got swept down the point by the raging rapid-like current until getting hammered by the ten foot + shorebreak at the beachie a 1/4 mile in.
When we all returned to dry land I likened the experience more to white water rapids than an epic day the point. In the end we got to see some of the area’s reefs and points come to life. After all the driving and energy spent chasing waves we realized that a surgical 1 hr flight up the coast to Angourie or points north would’ve been more fruitful to let the swell even itself out . When I logged onto Swellnet afterwards I realized we had made the wrong choice. Everyone up that way calling the same swell “the best winter swell yet! “
Well, we have been woefully out of airport range for a while now and it’s hard to upload pix while renting time at an internet cafe and the like. Therefore, we have a few pix from the trip to Melbourne as well as Ian’s latest surf adventures that will have to wait for later. For now, I just thought I’d catch you all up, lest you think we forgot you (far from it, as homesickness comes in waves now:).
First my mom, or the Mirster, or Wa-wa(as Ginger calls her) was here for a week of whirlwind travel. We spent a few days in Sydney that were nice, but somewhat marred by broken-down cars, broken- down weather, and broken-down bodies: my flu, G’s cold, Mirster’s hip( although she did remarkably well coming all that way, we all agree), etc. Then we flew down to Melbounre and rather than head into another big city, drove down to lovely little Philip Island where we gazed upon finally sunny pastures of lime green and more sweeping ocean vistas the likes of which we never tire. Highlights included a trip to a great Koala Conservation Center as well as the very touristy and very worth it homing of the penguins. Picture you and 300 of your closest non-English-speaking friends all huddled up on half a little league’s worth of bleachers set up on the beach at night, flood lights on the water and you hoping no one you know will see you. Then, these adorable little Fairy Penguins come waddling up the beach, taking time to play in the surf beforehand (I call it getting their land-legs under them) and making their way to burrows in the bush under and behind you. As you walk back up to the main center, you encounter these little guys all along the trail making their beds and squawking away and they are really enough to make you forget your embarassment at having sunk so low among the masses. Too funny!
We drove back to Melbounre via the Mornington Peninsula and got to drive onto a ferry boat, which G loved. Then we spent a couple of days finding out that Melbounre is every bit as charming and diverse and cultural as everyone had said it was. I won’t go into the pathetic tactic of describing pix you’d really rather just see, but trust me when I say they also really know how to light that city up at night!
Now that Wa-wa is back Stateside (so sad to say goodbye) the 3 of us have gotten back to Sydney and promptly taken a trip down the coast to the lovely town of Ulladulla. The National Park is incredible here and, of course the beaches are stunning. Ian’s friend from home who lives here now, Pauncho, has come to stay with us for a couple of days, which has been very fun for them because the surf has been awesome ( I know, you want pix- be patient!) I have really enjoyed the hiking trails around our holiday park and have started to think of walking in this country like talking a walk on Earth’s Sister Planet (or chould I say, California’s?) It’s like everything is very familiar and reminds you of somewhere you’ve been before but, just slightly different. Very sublime. The woods have a simliar feel to them to many hikes you’ve taken before(of course, they’re so nice, if they were at home there’d be many more RV’s and oversized families coming through) but if you look closely, the trees are ones you hardly ever see, like gums and banksia. The animals, too, are like cousins-once-removed to the ones you know– very familiar, but somehow not quite right. Like their kookaburras, cockatiels and stunning rainbow lorakeets, they all seem like such novelties to us, but are clearly very run of the mill to people here, perhaps like our jays and hawks back Stateside. Then there’s the ocean which is just a slightly different hueof blue like you’ve never seen before and never the temperature you’d think it would be.
We are all loving the new experiences. I have finally realized that when Ginger asks to go “Back home, Mama” she is really just saying that she’s tired of the car and wants to go back to wherever her toys are. Since Grandma came and we then went straight off to the new holiday park down here, when we check into a new place to stay, she walks in and says, “Nice room!” Lika Australia, Ginger never fails to delight.