Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Renting a house in Bali

We've been on the road for 10 months now, and many people have been asking us: "aren't you homesick?"

Not exactly. We're not homesick for Colorado, per se, but we do miss HAVING a home. We miss being able to unpack our belongings. We miss being able to store food in the refridgerator and cook our own meals. (The service is quite slow at most restaurants, so every breakfast, lunch and dinner turns into a one-hour affair. There's no such thing as snacking; no such thing as grabbing a 'quick bite'.)

The solution? When we arrived in Bali, we decided to settle down in one place for three weeks -- that's the longest we've spent in any area -- and rent a house.

For the first time in a year, we've unpacked. I mean, really, unpacked. We've put our clothes on shelves. We put our sunblock inside a drawer. Our books are in a cupboard. We've even used hangers. It's amazing to use a hanger. Remember that everytime you see one. When you can open the door to a closet or cupboard, and see your shirts just hanging there -- not bunched up inside a stuff sack at the bottom of a backpack, but actually hanging up, as shirts are meant to do -- it feels like order is restored in the world again.

The house a two-story beauty; two bedrooms, wood floors, tiled roof, floor-to-ceiling windows, and an enormous front porch that looks over a koi pond. The kitchen is a detached from the house, due to a culture that sees cooking as servant's work -- the kitchen is made of concrete and has no windows, so when we're cooking we occasionally lapse into coughing and sneezing fits and have to run outside for air. The rats are everywhere, so we have to store everything in the refrigerator -- Oreos, Ritz crackers, cooking oil, ketchup, all must live in the rat-proof fridge. In spite of this, the rats ate our soap and toothpaste on the first night; items we forgot to protect.

The rats accessed it because the bathroom, though attached to the house, is "outdoor" -- it's made from stones and has no roof. There's just a big hole in the wall, and when you step through it, you enter a beautiful garden with plants and flowers and a stone fence, with moss creeping up the stone and plants growing through the cracks. And on one end of this stone fence is a little showerhead, and that's where we bathe. It's quite beautiful to shower outside; like being under a waterfall.

We chose to live in Penestanan, on the outskirts of Ubud, Bali for two reasons. First, its a lush region where life can't help but grow. Life is everywhere. Vines creep up tree trunks and wind around fences. Little plants grow on the vertical rise of each stair. Trees bloom with pink and red flowers, whose petals get blown to the ground by the wind, so that the streets are littered with flower petals. The Balinese people leave offerings of rice to the gods every morning, and chickens and birds spend the afternoon pecking at the offerings. Caterpillars climb up walls, ants build highways along the sidewalks, and we can see every variety of butterfly and bird known to man -- purple/red/white/orange/violet butterflies and blue-white-black winged birds with long curious beaks.

There are water fountains and water fixtures everywhere (apparently water fountains are quite cheap: just dig a hole, fill it with water, stick a jug in the center and attach a pump.) Fish, usually koi, live in all of these, and all day long they dig up insects from the bottom for food, so all through breakfast we listen to fins splashing as the koi dive-bombs to the bottom of a pond, and the afternoon soundtrack is the crowing of chickens and twitter of birds, and evening brings a symphony of insects (along with a smatter of mosquitos.)

Nighttime is also when the geckos come out to hunt, big blue-striped geckos bigger than the distance between my middle fingernail and my watch. We watch them, sometimes, as they hide behind a clock or a roof tile, waiting for a praying mantis or a smaller gecko to wander near, and then *snap*, they catch their dinner. Life just keeps happening in Ubud, playing out its many dramas.

The town of Ubud itself, about a 20-minute walk from our home in Penestanan, is dedicated to art. There are galleries and museums strewn all over the city, and spas and restaurants offering 1 hour Balinese massage for $5 dollars, or one-and-a-half hours for $7. Every night there are cultural performances, which I usually shun (cultural song-and-dance feels contrived, when most of the locals are listening to Bollywood soundtracks on their mp3 players). But Ubud is like the New York City of Balinese music and dance; the cultural performances are the authentic production of talented lifelong dancers, who get on stage in silks and gold and heavy makeup and tell the Hindu saga of the Ramayana with their hips.

But the art and culture isn't the second reason we chose to live near Ubud; our second reason was for the food. For the first time in nearly a year, we can eat more than rice. I repeat -- we finally are free from the obligation of eating rice and noodles. These supermarkets sell bread; real sliced bread. They even sell brown bread and focaccia bread, which now tastes to me like manna from heaven. And I nearly fell down and wept with joy when I saw that they sell cheese. Cheese! I can't remember the last time I ate cheese, except on the occasional overpriced pizza. But here it was in all its varieties: feta, brie, goat's cheese, cheddar, mozzarella, edam, gruyere. I bought it all and ate until I was sick and loved every moment.