It's easy to love and loathe Ubud at the same time. We have a comfortable room in a friendly little guesthouse on the edge of the rice paddies. The place used to be a village, or a collection of villages and is now becoming a town. "Tourist Central" is how it's been described to us, and there are echoes of Thamel in Kathmandu. But step off the main roads and you can find yourself walking around a sleepy kampung, or amongst rice paddies. Not for long though. There's always an art gallery just around the corner. Balinese art seems to have evolved into the mass production of modern art, all of it looking rather similar. There are other more traditional arts and crafts such as stone and wood-carving, and these also seem to be mass-produced for the tourists. It's everywhere. Tucked away on a quiet lane we find a shop promoting the weaving of women from all the islands. It's a unique Fair Trade place and those involved have worked hard to revive traditional weaving techniques and local styles, particularly of ikat.
What's most striking and visible here are the daily rituals of the mainly Hindu population. Balinese Hinduism is quite different to the original Indian variety. It was only brought to the island in the 14th century by a kingdom fleeing a Muslim conqueror in Java. The religion was incorporated with the already strong animistic practices of the Balinese. And so ancestor and spirit worship fits alongside the worship of the Hindu trinity of gods. In addition, there is a single overarching god. Every building and every village seems to have a shrine or collection of shrines, where offerings are made and incense lit daily. The shrines don't feature any particular god, and are empty, although occasionally we see a Ganesh perched at a doorstep, or on a ledge. In front of every door and gateway are the tell-tale offerings of rice and flowers and incense sticks. It's the first time that I comprehend that Indonesia is a country made up of many different peoples and cultures.
One thing that remains constant is nasi campur (pronounced champur). This might just be the national dish, although it's a close run thing with nasi goreng. The latter is just fried rice with a fried egg, whereas nasi campur is plain rice with a selection of different meat and vegetable dishes. Sometimes you can get chicken, jackfruit curry, greens, and fried anchovies, all topped with fried peanuts, coconut and chilli. It's become our favourite dish and is usually available everywhere we go.
We don't attend any of the 'cultural evenings' in Ubud of dance and music, put off by the touts pushing tickets - there are perhaps five events each evening, some advertising 'fire dance'. We don't think we have the patience for a two hour show. Instead we shove off south and finally arrive in Kuta, a place we've been dreading. It's not so awful - just a very large beach resort for package holiday makers and surfers alike. Blackpool's worse. The beach is nothing special, in fact disappearing under the onslaught of big waves. And it's the waves that attract the surfers. We have come to see Greg, our friend who we last met in Varanasi. He lives here, and like a true Californian, loves the surf. Kuta has expanded considerably since he first came here and it's become more built up with shops and swish restaurants, bars, clubs and one large traffic jam. Height restrictions have stopped the building getting out of hand, but the place is spreading with development. The place is full of Aussies on holiday and some of the local touts greet us with a "mate" tagged on. We are very happy to catch up with Greg, who has just returned from the States, and we have a couple of nice evenings with him. One night he takes us one at a time on the back of his motorbike to eat. I think it's fair to say he cannot drive like this in the States. When it's time to get off I have to peel my fingers off the pillion I've been gripping. Gayle is treated to a short ride up on the pavements mid-journey. You can pay to ride pillion like this with motorcyclists, called ojeks. I swear after this that I will never go near one.
Greg's charms and hospitality can't hold us in Kuta though and we want to move on. We are about to hunt down a bemo, a local minibus to take us to the bus terminal when we pass a travel agent offering private transport for tourists. We finally crack. We pay what feels like a large sum but probably isn't for a transfer out of Kuta and off Bali by boat to the Gillis - small islands just off the north west coast of Lombok. We're in a rush to get away and find a quiet place.......