Monday, April 6, 2015

The Improvising Traveler


I often compare good Orff teaching to the way I like to travel— some idea of a direction to head in, a sense of how to get back to the hotel and then, just take off and see what the world has in store for you. At least at the beginning of getting to know a place. After a while, I’ll get out the map and read a bit of the history and get to know and recognize the landmarks. Very much like the move from Romance to Precision that I often lecture about in my pedagogy talks.

So here in our first full day together in Bali, my daughter Talia and I enjoyed such a day. She arrived last night and said, “Where’s the beach?” Ha ha! (A little bit too much improvising on her part, since Ubud is in the landlocked center of Bali.) But this morning, lounging on a beach chair around our little private pool seemed to give her just what she needed after an intense few weeks teaching school. And then around 11 am, we decided to go out exploring, up and around the road to the North, partially guided by a little makeshift map.

As we approached a small village with white herons, I was exclaiming how nice it was that the sun wasn’t out. Yesterday I walked round-trip almost two hours to and from “downtown Ubud,” every step in blazing sun and 90 degree heat. So just as I was appreciating the overcast day, it started to rain. Oops! No raingear on our part, we ducked into various verandahs while the rain stopped and started and kept heading south. By now, it seemed that we would just arrive in Ubud, but nothing was quite looking familiar yet. Talia let me know that she was getting “hangry”— her new word for her stomach’s anger about being hungry— and we found a little pleasant open air place with the standard Balinese fare. Which, incidentally, is simple, nutritious and delicious— nasi goring (fried rice with whatever), mie goring (the same, but noodles instead of rice), cap cay (mixed vegetables), gado gado (peanut sauce salad), chicken sate and more.

Just as we finished our meal, the rain got serious. Downpour, thunderclaps, little rivers forming in the streets and no sign of relenting. Talia checked her phone and forecast was: 2 pm—100% rain. 3 pm—100% rain. 4 pm—100% rain. Etc. Forecast next five days? Rain. We leafed through a guidebook and read “April is rainy season in Bali.” Oops! No books to read, no cards to play with, we just sat at the table and—gasp!— talked to each other! And about 30 minutes later, the rain relaxed.

On we went, clearly not on the straight line our little map had showed. Past stores with scores of djembes, others with didjeridoos, others with Dreamcatchers. The indigenous cultures of West Africa, Australia and Native Americans had come to Bali along with the tourists and the Balinese, master woodcrafters and adaptable entrepreneurs, were cashing in. Weird, but hey, that’s the modern world. And most of the tourists buying these things were white folks, hungry for a piece of that ancestral magic their people had left behind a few millennia ago.

Finally found our intersection and made the wise decision to walk the 50 minutes back to our little B&B. It’s a little suite with a kitchen (but ridiculous for us to try to cook here) and dining table, one room each with its own bathroom off to the sides and a little (but sufficient) swimming pool out back. Apparently, we’re the first people to stay here and the owner keeps checking in to see if we need anything. Super sweet, as are so many of the people we meet. Talia commented that as a woman, she feels safe around these gentle and friendly men and that counts for a lot. Of course, the women are harassing me non-stop, but that’s just the way it is everywhere I go. (Ha ha!! Not even close enough to make it into my dreams!).

After a refreshing shower and a bit of time to re-charge, we set off again to find a taxi to Pengosekan, a village about 2 km south of Ubud. Before I came, I asked various friends from the Bay Area Gamelan Sekar Jaya for advice and they directed me to one of their teachers, Dewa Berata. Tonight was a performance by the girl’s gamelan and through the magic of Facebook messaging, he invited me to attend. Rehearsal started at 5:30, we left around 5:00 to go to a place that said “taxi’s” and while walking down the road, a taxi stopped to offer a ride. Good timing, as it was clear passing that other taxi place that no one was there. We got there in time to see some rehearsal at the banjar (the community gathering space) and then set off to find food before the little performance started. We walked for 20 minutes with nothing in sight until we came to a little place with very old and very tired and very suspicious food sitting out. When it was clear that this was the menu, we wisely deferred and went back to the banjar, where there was a little stand selling tofu and fried tofu put onto paper, covered with bean sprouts and peanut sauce and then the bag stapled shut. We bought one each and ate by the side of the banjar— delicious! Ten minutes later, the performance started.

Are you still awake, oh, armchair traveler? Lots to say about this performance and the fact that girls were playing and the whole scene there of teens and adults hanging out, but I’m afraid I’ll lose you. Suffice it to say, they played superbly (to my amateur ears). But after three numbers, Talia leaned her head on my shoulder and succumbed entirely to her jet lag. So we left and in the spirit of the day, wondered, “Hmm. How are we going to get back to our place?” Ever resourceful, Talia asked the tofu seller if he could call a cab and he called a friend, closed up his stand and motioned to us to get on the back of their motorcycles. They had helmets, we didn’t, but off we whisked through the cool night air and so happy. I was proud to be able to recognize our turn-off and direct my driver, we got home safe and sound, paid them an appropriate sum and called it a day.

What will tomorrow bring? (Besides rain, that is.)

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