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Dear family and friends,

We've wandered from Padangbai to Candidasa to Tirta Gangga to Amed by bike, and then from Amed to Ubud by car (with the bikes folded up in the back). Weather conditions have been either extremely hot and humid, or even hotter and more humid -- typical August days in Virginia would be a respite. Hence we decided not to bike up the east coast, the hottest and driest part of Bali.

We loved Padangbai and spent almost a week there, each evening deciding to stay "one more day". There was a wonderful little white sand beach, a perfect crescent between two rocky outcroppings, with rolling waves and several tiny restaurants under the palm trees serving fresh grilled fish. Another little lagoon was a great snorkeling spot, and we spent a morning there looking at brightly colored fish and coral. We biked to Tenganan, a traditional Bali Aga village, with layout and building design quite different from other villages we've passed; the Bali Aga were the original residents of Bali before the Majapahit arrival in the 1300s.

Just when we thought we were ready to move on, we learned that there would be a big full moon festival in the temple in Padangbai, so we stayed on for that. Non-Hindus are welcome to enter the temple and watch, as long as they are dressed properly: sarongs and sashes for both men and women. We'd already bought sarongs for the beach and handwoven sashes at the Bali Aga village, so we were all set.

Late in the afternoon of the first day of the ceremony, there was a steady procession of women bringing offerings, beautifully arranged stacks of fruit, flowers, cakes, cookies, cooked chickens, all on ornate platters, and most carried on top of the head (no hands!). Members of a very large gamelan orchestra had set up instruments under a pavilion. At some signal unrecognized by us, the orchestra began to play, and a group of people went out throught the temple gates to the beach just a few meters away to meet a boat bringing people carrying sacred objects, prayer umbrellas, incense, etc. There were processions into the temple, then a huge procession out of the temple and around the town (with some of the more portable instruments from the orchestra going along) and back, more offerings piled up outside the temple, and the sprinkling of holy water to bless those offerings and the waiting people when the procession returned. Then there was some traditional Balinese dancing by a group of young girls (~10-12 years old), and then everything ended -- took about 3 hours in all. On the second day, there was cockfighting in the temple courtyard in the afternoon, and traditional dancing by various different groups of children and young adults. It was certainly unlike anything we've ever experienced before!

Sunday we finally left Padangbai and biked to Candidasa, where we spent the night in an exceedingly posh place, huge air-conditioned room, private garden with little fountain and rock pool, gigantic bathroom with inside garden and with roof partially open to the sun -- all for $20 US.

Monday we biked uphill and uphill and uphill, all the way to Tirta Gangga, where a rajah built a water palace high on a ridge. The palace had extensive water gardens with fountains, statues, pools, and beautiful plantings around them. This was the place where the Internet cafe had closed because there were so few tourists. Although in some other places they have told us that tourists are beginning to came back again after the bombing a year ago, our hotel owner in Tirta Gangga said he doesn't see any improvement yet. All over Bali we've seen stickers saying things like "Don't let the terrorists win -- come back to Bali", and have met several people who have come specifically because they want to support the Balinese.

On Tuesday morning we biked from Tirta Gangga to Amed -- we'd expected to have at least some uphill, but it turned out to be mostly level for the first part, then an absolutely gigantic downhill to the hot and dry eastern coast. Amed is a very undeveloped area of Bali, with just a few hotels spread out along about 15 km of the coast. We stayed in a place owned by an Austrian, with an excellent restaurant, and snorkeling right off the beach (but not as good as in Padangbai). The beaches in the Amed area are black sand and rock, so not conducive to lounging about -- and very hot on the bottoms of the feet!

After 3 days, we'd had enough of the extreme heat, and opted to come to Ubud, which is definitely cooler than Amed (although still quite warm). And at the moment it isn't raining here as it was a couple of weeks ago when we had first planned to come.

This morning we went for a long walk through the rice paddies. It was beautiful, with the running water in little irrigation channels along the path, and lush vegetation (bananas, coconuts, and lots of things we don't recognize) along the edges of the channels. There is a rushing river in a very deep ravine, which we couldn't see, but could hear, and the ravine is filled with ferns and other shade and moisture loving plants. We saw rice in various stages of growth, and watched several groups of people harvesting rice.

The place where we are staying has some guest houses in a family compound. The head of the household is part of the chorus that accompanies a type of traditional dance, and he took us with him to a performance last night. The story is one from the Ramayana, and one of his nieces was one of the main female dancers. There is a lot of activity going on in the family compound as about 30 family members prepare for a festival in the family temple next Tuesday. They are preparing beautifully woven ornaments from palm fronds, small sculptures made from rice, and a variety of other things which we assume will be offerings.

Tonight we plan to go to another dance performance, in a temple where we have watched children receiving instruction in traditional Balinese dance.

The food here has been some of the best we've had.

We expect to stay here for a few days, since there are lots of interesting walks, lots of traditional music and dance, nice people, and good food.

Love to all,

Ellen and Ron


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