Happy New Year – Bali Style

Welcome to 1936, yes folks that’s the year according to the Balinese Caka calendar.

And, as usual, a big crowd gathered in Ubud tonight to watch the Ogoh Ogoh’s being paraded from the football field to the Palace, before the dawning of Nyepi Day – the silent day that starts at 6am.

Take a look at these pictures and tell me what you see, other than the fabulous Ogoh monsters themselves – look closely now…

Garuda carrying Vishnu

Garuda carrying Vishnu





Gigantic, red and mean!

Gigantic, red and mean!

Well – did you see the orbs?

By the way, I’ve described Nyepi in more detail in a previous blog post which you can read here, meanwhile, Selamat Hari Raya Nyepi (Happy New Year)!

Fashion – made from rubbish

Now this really is a different way to re-cycle…

Turn that trash into fabulous fashion!  A great concept, and one that pulled a big crowd at Delicious Onion, Ubud on Saturday.

The organiser and host of this Trash Chic Fashion Show, Alexa, wore extremely colourful garbage and had a train of broken, old, flip flops trailing behind her as she walked.

Trash Chic Fashion Show host, Alexa

Trash Chic Fashion Show host, Alexa

Still on the wedding theme, here we have a wedding dress made from Bali Advertisers!

Wedding dress made out of the Bali Advertiser

Wedding dress made out of the Bali Advertiser

How about using an old fan as a rather cute hat:

One way to keep a cool head!

One way to keep a cool head!

Her dress was made from inside-out rice sacks ‘sewn’ together with inner tubes!

What about this next one – just purrfect… all dressed-up in kitty food packaging (presumably washed before being worn!):

Outfit made from cat food packaging

Outfit made from cat food packaging

And here they used frangipani flowers for the Balinese style headdress and made the dress itself from offerings:

This man really put his back into it…

Who got your back up?

Who got your back up?

Thanks for putting Ubud’s first Trash Chic Fashion Show together Alexa!

Click here for the last fashion show I went to in Ubud – complete with Edward Scissorhands!

White Water Rafting

Vince and his friend Andy came to stay with us and we went White Water Rafting together.

Life jackets, helmets, paddles, sense of adventure… Ready!

All geared up to go rafting

All geared up to go rafting

Actually, no.  Not ready yet.

First we have to walk down 400 steps to get to the river which is DEEP down in the valley.

Our great rafting adventure

Our great rafting adventure begins

Our cameras and the guy’s cigarettes are safe in Mega-Rafting’s water-proof bags, so now we can climb into the raft and listen to our guide’s instructions.

Nyoman said if we were about to hit a rock he would yell, ‘Boom Boom” – which meant ‘Hold On!’  We said that phrase a lot over the next two hours.

Rafting with Yaniq, Vince and Andy

Rafting with Yaniq, Vince and Andy – Boom Boom!

No one fell out, but we did sometimes topple backwards inside the inflatable raft… like insects that can’t right themselves we had to rely on each other for a helping hand.

Fabulous scenery around every bend

Fabulous scenery around every bend

Between the rapids there are plenty of calm waters where you can look up to nature’s jungle scenery on each side of the steep valley, simply breath-taking.

A well deserved beer

A well deserved beer

We had a pit-stop half way along the journey where we enjoyed a cold beer (the women selling the drinks had carried them down 400 steps – is it any wonder they were expensive?).

Yaniq and I at the half way stop

Yaniq and I – chilling on a rock at the half way stop

The rapids here on the Ayung River are grade II or III.  Not the wildest rapids I’ve experienced, but far and away the most beautiful – think: ‘Indiana Jones’, especially when you see the carvings in the rock and go under the steep wooden swing bridge.

It was also the most fun rafting too – especially when our guide slammed us into the waterfall – boom boom!

Hmmm, maybe Yaniq will be inspired to write a song about rafting

Hmmm, maybe Yaniq will be inspired to write a song about rafting – boom boom

We had a waterfight with the crew of another raft and then we jumped out and swam the last section, just as a huge thunderclap shattered the air.

The rafting has ended - let's eat!

The rafting has ended – let’s eat!

Ok, so now we are wet and hungry… easily sorted as Mega Rafting has showers and towels and then they give you a huge plate of food to eat as you sit next to the river.

A great adventure has ended – but now we have to climb up the valley again.  Only 291 steps this time (Andy counted them all).

Rice field walks and volcanic views

I’ve known Dave for years.  We were both in an adventure sports club called Social Pursuits – along with all the rest of you SP’ers!

It was based in London and we regularly went out into the countryside for unusual outdoor activities, but nothing quite like this…

Drinking from coconuts in the rice fields

Drinking from coconuts in the rice fields

Well, we don’t have coconut trees and rice terraces in the UK, so that might explain it.  (Okay, okay, drinking from coconuts while on a rice paddy walk is not adventurous – but it is cool!)

I’d never seen Dave in temple costume before either…

Outside temple gates

Outside temple gates

While we were at Tirta Empul temple he even drank some of the holy water – straight from the spout.

Don't fall in now

Don’t fall in now

on this occassion we didn’t join the Balinese people who were ‘taking the waters’, but here you can just see one of them waist deep in the water

By the lake with hundreds of giant koi carp

Here I’m holding my take-away holy water bottle

We headed up to the volcano for lunch.

Spectacular volcanic scenery

Spectacular volcanic scenery – no it is not a painting!

The lake at the base of the volcano, Mount Batur, is approx 16k long and it, and Mount Batur itself, are inside the super ancient volcanic caldera.

The restaurant we’d just stuffed our faces in, is on the rim of that very old caldera.

Dave inspecting the coffee process

Dave inspecting the coffee process

And then we sipped coffees and teas at a plantation, where they show you the coffee making process as well as cacao (chocolate), cinnamon, ginger, tobacco etc., etc.

Give 'em a good roastin'

Give ‘em a good ole roastin’

Dave roasted the beans as if he had been born to it… I was even going to offer to buy him a colourful hat like the professional bean roaster by his side.

That's gonna hurt if it lands on your head

That’s gonna hurt if it lands on your head

We came back to Ubud via the scenic, picture-postcard, views of the sculptured rice terraces at Tegallalang.

Rice Terrace View

Rice Terrace View

And we popped into the Monkey Forest where my favourite Beringin tree lives.

The tree that grows on both sides of the path

The Beringin tree that grows on both sides of the path

From the smile on his face, I’m expecting to see Dave here again one of these days.

Dave in the rice paddies

Dave in the rice paddies

Maybe this will encourage other SP’ers to come and visit me here in Ubud, Bali – and if you are looking for real adventure, we have plenty of that too – gonna get Dave on the white water rafting, canyoning, cycling, elephant riding or mountain climbing trip next time around!

What’s new at Rumah Jepun

I want to tell you about the 10 latest additions and improvements here at Rumah Jepun – your friendly guest house in tropical Bali… (For availability and room rates please contact: rumahjepun@outlook.com)

The River View Room and Lotus View Room already offered many facilities, but now they also have:

  1. Free wifi – inside your room, as well as on your balcony
  1. A portable fan – available for guests who do not want to use airconditioning
  1. A lush, mature garden which provides the papaya in your tropical fruit platter at breakfast

    Fresh papaya anyone?

    Fresh papaya anyone?

  1. Breakfast is now served at a time to suit you between 8am and 11am

    Flexible breakfast times

    Flexible breakfast times – legendary pancakes!

  1. Our blog: www.rumahjepun.wordpress.com provides lots of information, pictures of the rooms, guests reviews and things to do around Ubud
  1. An extensive information pack in each room helps you get the most out of your holiday here

    Rumah Jepun information pack

    Rumah Jepun information pack

  1. We can recommend, and book, many scenic and cultural tours / activities for you

    Hot about hot springs next to Lake Batur

    How about hot springs by the volcanic Lake Batur

  1. Airport transfers can be arranged, with a friendly, English speaking driver
  1. A Rumah Jepun umbrella is on your balcony for your use – some guests use it as shade from the hot sun!
  1. And we’ve just bought new sunbeds , so you can comfortably (and stylishly) top up that tan while you’re here too

    For lazing in the Bali sunshine

    For lazing in the Bali sunshine

  2. We’ve got new uplights in the garden, making it look even prettier in the warm, balmy nights
  3. And, to top it off… our friendly, helpful staff, Gede and Ketut, have smart new ‘Rumah Jepun’ T. Shirts  – but wait a minute, that’s more than 10 new improvements!

    Gede and Ketut - with a jepun on their T Shirts

    Gede and Ketut – with a jepun on their T Shirts

So now there’s 12 new reasons to stay at Rumah Jepun – a welcoming guest house, offering bed and breakfast at affordable prices in the heart of Ubud on the enchanting, tropical island of Bali.

Rumah Jepun beyond the banana trees

Rumah Jepun beyond the banana trees

We’ve already had many guests from Europe, Australia, America, Asia and beyond.  Their great reviews have resulted in Rumah Jepun being listed as no. 18 out of 234 guest houses in Ubud on TripAdvisor – and we’ve only been listed on it since Nov 2012!

So contact us asap with your holiday dates, just email: rumahjepun@outlook.com

We look forward to welcoming you to Rumah Jepun, Ubud, Bali.

Kind regards

Julie and the Rumah Jepun team…

Pasek, me, Gede and Ketut

Pasek, me, Gede and Ketut on a team night out

For availability and prices please contact: rumahjepun@outlook.com

Spiritual Art expressed as Dance

Diane Butler calls it sharing ‘Awakening Art’.  But what does that mean?

I googled ‘Awakening Art’ and found, unsurprisingly, a range of sites about painting.  They mainly focused upon artwork of a spiritual nature and some of them sprinkled yoga or music into the mix.

But Diane is a dancer at heart and so she uses embodied movement to express and share her art.  It’s a term that other dancers may be familiar with, but I’m not a dancer, or am I?

Goa Gajah - elephant cave

Goa Gajah – Elephant Cave

We met by the lotus pond in the garden of ‘Goa Gajah’ (the Elephant Cave) in Bedulu Village, not far from my home in Ubud.  The surroundings of this atmospheric temple go back to circa 9th century and it is thought to have been two hermitages where Hindu and Buddhist monks had resided side by side.

A small group of us sat on the ground wearing our sarongs.  We introduced ourselves under dappled sunlight while the rest of the jungle spread itself down to the river below.

At this point, I was too focused on our conversation to hear the birds sing.

On the other side of the pond we could see a niche in the cliff above.  This small, bare, south-facing ascetic’s hollow is where meditators from ancient times would do their practice and here we were, in 2013, to engage in own practice right in front of this holy place.

An ascetic or monk, probably lived in that small cave for months or even years, whereas we stayed for just three hours.  Their form of meditation would have been very different and the results, after such long periods, would have been significantly more intense too.

Perfect place for meditation

Perfect place for meditation

I wanted to drink from the same natural spring that these spiritual Balinese ancestors would have used, and I did.  Well, it was right there, convenient for us and those monks of ancient times.  What’s more, it was, ‘Banyu Pinaruh’, a special day in Bali for purifying yourself with water – perfect!

Our surroundings were stunning but we were not tourists.

We were there to use our bodies as moving art, to share, flow, express, learn, be at peace and become one with ourselves, each other and nature.  We were there to utilise energy, to embody movement, to embrace space and to ‘be’ Awakening Art.

Diane, an American movement artist living in Bedulu for the past 12 years, had brought us Balinese canang.  We were to use these offerings of small baskets made of coconut leaves containing coloured flowers and incense, while moving. 

I reached into the bag to take a canang and noticed that it was less perfect than the others.  I could have exchanged it, as there were spare ones available, but I decided to keep it.  It reminded me that everything is perfectly imperfect.

This one is a pretty perfect canang

This one is a pretty perfect canang

Nothing happens until something moves – Albert Einstein

We moved.

In the garden down there in the valley, below the temple, beneath the meditation niche and below the constant supply of fresh and holy water, we moved.

Some more skilled, confident or more graceful than others, not that it mattered.  At first I was very conscious of being looked at by sightseers who didn’t have a clue what we were doing, or why.  Initially I felt embarrassed, but when I overcame that anxiety and gave myself to the moment, and to the movement, it felt liberating.

Sometimes we held the canang, other times the incense was used and its aromatic smoke wafted along the side of the lotus pond.

At one point I held the canang up high.  It remained in my hand, yet to my eye it appeared to take centre stage of a coconut tree.  It was as if the branches of that giant tree were emanating out of this small offering perched on my finger tips.  Slivers of bright blue sky shone through the leaves of both the tree and the canang.  I would never have seen this view without this opportunity to share Awakening Art through embodied movement.

Lowering my arm I moved my hand around to my back where it met my other hand.  I transferred the canang and watched as it appeared from the left side of my body.  It moved fluidly through the air in my hand, now to the left and downwards, now curving back upwards in a slow spiral.

Both the canang and my hand moved through Diane’s outstretched arms and towards someone’s shoulder.  Although we were aware of each other and moved through and past one another, there was no eye contact and only occasional, random, physical contact.  We just kept moving.

Sometimes Diane asked one of us to tap a small piece of tile with a shard while someone else hummed.  All through this ‘musical’ accompaniment participants flowed and embodied movement.  The back of my hand briefly met someone’s upper arm.  Moments later I smelt the incense as a hand moved past my face.

I couldn’t help thinking about how few adults ever get the chance to move in this unfettered way.  Usually the nearest you would get to relative strangers is by accidentally bumping into them on a crowded bus or jostling for position in a queue.

I imagined how professional dancers must practice… let go of their inhibitions about movement, shed their concerns about daily life, purely move where their breath, heart and desires take them.  But I suppose that’s incorrect, as ‘formal dance’ requires set moves and what we were doing was the opposite.  This was open to possibilities of different artistic expression through movement.  It was free of rules, constraints and expectations.  It was even free of charge.

Not only could you place your right elbow on your left shin and leave it there for a moment.  But you could contemplate the relationship between these two points of your body which, quite probably, have never made contact before.  You could see and feel things from new angles, different perspectives.

Me, Diana and Brandon in front of the meditation niche

Me, Diana and Brandon in front of the meditation niche

We sat back down on the ground and, following a conversation about time, Diane advised that some elder Balinese people still know what the time is by the sound of particular birds.  As soon as she said this, I heard them.  The jungle was full of bird song.  But to be so close to nature that you know the time because a certain bird sings, or because of the silence when it stops, well, that’s really something.

She also explained that generally people in the east perceive ‘mind’ as being located in the heart-centre, more than the head.  It made me question my own thinking about the word.  I would have said it has to do with the head… and yet, when I say, ‘I don’t mind’, that comes from my heart, doesn’t it?

This reminded me of my own maxim about, ‘Learning how to unlearn’ (i.e. unlearn all those old ‘truths’ that no longer stack up).

The mosquitoes were getting the better of us, so we decided to move from the peaceful pond to the running river, fed by small waterfalls that spring out of a cliff.

Long ago a huge stupa fell here and its moss-covered relics interrupt the flow of the river.  You can walk around these massive boulders with your feet ankle deep in the clear water, and we did, still carrying the canang, still moving.

As sunset was approaching, we stopped and sat chatting about how we felt.

I felt awake, uplifted, happy and grateful that, just maybe, I am a dancer after all.

Bye bye Mr Sunshine

We arrived at this beautiful beach with just a few minutes to spare before sunset.

Crossing the wooden bridge

Crossing the wooden bridge

I’d never seen such characterful beach buildings before.  They were all propped up on wooden stilts and were either cafes or accommodation (note to self… must stay there next time).

Walking past the cafes on stilts

Walking past the cafes on stilts

You can see how late in the day it is by the long shadow cast by Yaniq and his guitar.

Yaniq singing about the beach

Yaniq singing Ticket to Paradise

We found a good spot to chill out at and Yaniq kicked off with his song, ‘Ticket to Paradise’ – which was particularly appropriate, given the Balangan beach setting.

I was his only audience on this ocassion, although some passersby did tune-in while they walked along the beach… that started to drip with gold…

Just look at those sunset colours

Just look at those golden sunset colours

Don’t you just love sunsets?

How many shades of sunset yellow?

How many shades of sunset yellow?

I particularly like the colours on this next pic

Bye bye Mr Sunshine

Bye bye Mr Sunshine

Cheers – here’s to sunsets and music on the beach



Fluffy white cotton balls against a blue sky

No, I don’t mean clouds – these really are balls of white cotton!

They grow inside the pods of a ‘kapok’ tree and, when they’re ready, they burst into fluffy white cotton balls.

Fluffy white cotton

Fluffy white cotton

We saw quite a few of them in the Bukit area of south Bali, were we stayed this weekend.

...fit to burst

…fit to burst

It’s sometimes called silk cotton and it can be used for pillows – as well as material for my blog… hahahah.

Are you hungry Mr Turtle?

We took a drive out to Serangan island and went to see the turtles at the sanctuary.

There were hundreds of them.  Mostly little baby ones that were climbing all over each other, but there were some giant ones in the big pool too.

Hello Mr Turtle

Hello Mr Turtle

I’ve swam with turtles, but I’d never fed them before.

This was a new experience.

Feeding time for turtles

Feeding time for turtles

I was giving them handfuls of seaweed to munch on as an afternoon snack and they loved it.

Giant turles coming together for feeding time

Giant turles coming together for feeding time

These big ones are 60+ years old and will probably live until they are 80 or even 100 years old.

The sanctuary does a good job looking after these wonderful sea creatures.  They run a ‘turtle release’ program, letting them go back into the wilds of the ocean where, once before, I swam with them – in their world.

Interviewing a best selling author

I interviewed the best selling Australian author, Fiona Higgins as part of the ‘Festival 4Play’ at Bar Luna – a teaser for the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival.

Fiona wrote, ‘Love in the Age of Drought’ and ‘The Mothers Group’ and will be attending the Festival in October.

She’s been based here in Bali for a year now and told me that, on any given day, she’s likely to be doing one of three things: parenting, writing or participating in the philanthropic sector.

Her first book, a memoir called, Love in the Age of Drought was published in 2009 and 2010 by Macmillan.

Interviewing Fiona Higgins

Interviewing Fiona Higgins

It’s a thoroughly entertaining and educational read – a bit of an ‘eco-love story’.

As a memoir, it’s obviously about Fiona herself, a city girl from Sydney, who falls in love with a rural gent from S.E. Queensland.  He’s a rather unusual farmer called Stuart and, in the words of Fiona’s best friend, ‘He’s white gold, girlfriend’.

In Fiona’s explanation of why he was referred to as ‘white gold’, we learnt what a considerate farmer Stuart was.  They had even met at a conference on ethics!

The dialogue in the book gives a lot of interesting and easily digested information about the contentious area of cotton farming.

I now have an understanding of the serious effects of drought.  But then too much water can be devastating, so can whitefly, or aphids etc, etc.  Also it appears that Australian farmers typically only have 3 good years in 10!

Whatsmore, the Australian cotton farmers only grow this crop because we, the public,  want to wear it.  Yet it appears that the Australian public give them a lot of flak for growing it due to the excessive amounts of water needed!

Love in the Age of Drought

Love in the Age of Drought

During the interview we learnt more about Fiona herself.  For instance how, and why, she raised $100,000 for humanitarian programs in Indonesia – by cycling 17,000 kilometers around Australia!

She also explained some of the things she had to deal with in her new life on the farm.

For instance being a vegetarian with a thing for lattes and social life after work in the city, proved difficult, if not almost impossible, in rural Queensland.  This was highlighted when they were invited for dinner and the host assumed that a roast chicken would fit the bill.

There were bigger challenges she had to face though, and she read to us about the frogs in the toilet and snakes on the steps.

But eventually farm life got under her skin and she couldn’t wait to get back home from her city business trips.

Fiona Higgins - best selling author

Fiona Higgins – best selling author

To cut a love story short, the couple had their share of downs, but most of the book depicts an upbeat, happy couple coming to grips with living together under very challenging drought conditions.

Conditions which, in the end, result in Fiona and Stuart selling the farm at a time of major change in their lives.

The book ends just as a new character has arrived on the scene – baby Oliver (oh, and by the way, Fiona’s husband, Stuart, was in the audience, and so was Oliver who is now 6 years old).

And this brought us nicely to the next book. 

The Mothers’ Group published in 2012 by Allen & Unwin

Because the first book ended with the birth of Oliver, I automatically jumped to the conclusion that ‘The Mothers’ Group’ continued where ‘Love in the age of Drought’ left off, but that’s not the case – as this new book is a novel.

The Mothers' Group

The Mothers’ Group

I found ‘The Mothers Group’ scary.  Some pages had me squirming with discomfort.  However, it’s an important book and it reminded me what absolute heroes all mothers are.

Fiona explained why she had written such a ‘warts an all’ description of motherhood.  Also why she had broken, what she refers to as, ‘the code of silence’ about some of the darker realities of motherhood.

For instance, she read a description of the life changing effects, not just of having a baby, but of what can happen if the mother suffers from pelvic floor damage as a result of the birth.

There are 6 chapters in ‘The Mothers Group’ and each chapter is written from the view point of one of the six women in the group.

They’re a mixed bag of characters who probably wouldn’t have become friends if it hadn’t been for their babies.

Five are from Australia and one woman, Made, is from Bali – although, interestingly, at the point of writing the book, Fiona had no idea that she would end up living in Bali.

Interviewing Fiona

Interviewing Fiona

The book contains a tragic event and Fiona explained how emotionally difficult it was to write that part.

I read a quote from the highly regarded newspaper, ‘The Australian’ which said, among many other things, “… it has that capacity that good social novels should have of creating meaning and intensity from what on the surface may appear ordinary”.

We finished the interview with some questions from the audience and learning that Fiona was in the process of writing another book.

So look out for that, as this is a best selling author who not only writes well, but is a joy to interview too – come and see her at the festival in October.

I thanked the staff at Bar Luna, Janet DeNeefe, the Festival 4Play team and the audience for coming out to listen – and, of course, we all gave our thanks to Fiona Higgins.


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