Friday, December 4, 2009

Bali, Cambodia, and Thailand: September 12, 2009

All material including photographs are ©2009 Ronald Dunlap / Doglight Studios

Woke up a little later this morning, but we finished breakfast by 9 and were in the van by 9:30 heading into the interior mountains to visit the Ulum Danu Beratan Temple located at the edge of Lake Beratan. It’s about 50 km north of Denpasar and a good hour and twenty minutes from Ubud, through some really beautiful scenery. This Hindu/Buddhist temple is dedicated to the goddess of the lake and river waters. It was just before 11 am when we purchased our entry tickets. The place was somewhat of a zoo, a zillion tourists and locals, all there to participate or watch the cremation ceremonies. It was mid-day and the light was really ugly, I only got one acceptable shot the first hour and a half we were there. In the right light the temple would be incredibly beautiful, but with the light being so harsh and the landscape being as crowded as it was, I knew it was hopeless to stick around unless we wanted to wait for sunset, but that was still four or five hours away with no guarantee that we’d have a clear sky. It was decided to shoot another 30 minutes and then leave our 4,000 foot perch and head back down to the low land. (Travel tip: The sun in Bali doesn’t seem that strong, but you need to apply sunscreen at least every three to four hours, especially on your neck and ears, otherwise you find yourself sleeping on your face.) We maneuvered our way out of the parking lot and headed south down the mountain.

I’m sure Dewa got tired of us asking him to pull over every 10 minutes, but the landscape was so lush we couldn’t resist grabbing shots of the island's interior terraced rice fields, local business fronts and even a flock of rented ducks cleaning a rice paddy of insects.

I was looking for a couple of Balinese wooden masks and asked the driver if he knew of any carvers whose shops we could stop at. He said he did and it was our first stop in Ubud. The sales staff met us at the door and told us that we could shoot pictures of the buildings and the carvers that were on display, but no pictures were allowed in the galleries where the pieces were for sale. They had a few small miniature masks, but nothing like what I was looking for. They did have a wonderful carving of Ganesha. Unfortunately it was $750, well beyond what I was willing to spend at this stage of the trip. Can never tell when you’re going to need some extra cash to get out of a bad situation.

It was now after 3:30 and my stomach was growling. Dewa found a beautiful restaurant for us to stop at, and we asked him if he’d like to eat with us, but he said that they (Balinese) always ate alone, that way their digestion and renewal weren’t disturbed by human interaction. The restaurant faire turned out to be about one tenth as inviting as our surroundings. Naturally I’d ordered Spaghetti Bolognese, but it wasn’t like any I'd had before or since. At least I was able to wash it down with a Coke. Lunch was 180,000 Rupiahs (about $20). (Observation: Eating in the tourist areas is just a little cheaper than eating in the U.S. If you want to cut your budget, you have to seek out the places where the locals eat, which in Ubud is a hard thing to do, I couldn’t find a place. I think they must all eat at home.) We shot in Ubud, around the tourist shops (no Balinese could afford to shop there), some store fronts and some tourists. I especially liked the female Japanese visitors, they were always dressed to the nines and buffed to a high sheen. They looked incredible, especially when you consider the humidity.

Ann had a spa appointment back at Alam Sari, so we left Ubud at 5:30 and arrived just a little before 6. Dewa had had a long day and I'll bet he was glad to see the last of us for a while. Ann went to get ready for her treatment and I went to my room to clean my camera equipment and myself. I grabbed some chips and a diet coke out of the fridge and sat down to clean. Digital cameras have been a godsend to my work, the only drawback is dust. Even though my Canon 1Ds Mark III (Opinion: The best camera on earth) has a self-cleaning feature, I just don’t fully trust it, so I’m ever on the lookout to prevent dust from sneaking in, especially through my zoom lens, which as I understand it is not fully sealed. As you zoom the lens in and out you suck minute particles of dust into the lens housing, and somehow they work their way down into the interior of the camera. Last year I purchased an Aquatech Sport Shield, it’s like a raincoat for your camera and also keeps out dust. It’s expensive (about $250) but was money well spent. After my experience with it in Vietnam and Cambodia, I was so pleased that now I rarely shoot without it.

Ann came back from her treatment all smiles, with tales of just how wonderful the full body massage was and how lovely the spa women were. I listened for 10 minutes then suggested that another helping of pasta was in order to help stabilize her good mood. We arrived at the dining room, which was deserted as usual. Most of the younger guests were still in Ubud just beginning to party and wouldn’t be back till late. From some of the stories I heard, Ubud has a pretty extensive club scene and it acts as a magnet for much of the tourist dollar. We sat at our usual table, ordered spaghetti and went over to the lobby's computer to check email. I did my business, then Ann took over the machine. I returned to our table to enjoy the mild night and a tree frog serenade that sounded more like green parrots than anything else I could reference. The nights here are like velvet, the air has a tangible physical quality like the caress of invisible butterflies. The Spaghetti arrived and Ann decided she’d prefer to have just noodles, so I got most of her Bolognese sauce, which combined with my own made for a fine meal. I always figure the more protein the better.

Back in the room I did a quick review of the day's take, then pulled the full CF card out of the camera and placed them all in their waterproof case face down so that I'd know which were full and which were ready to work. I changed out the camera battery and made sure to load a fresh memory card, then put the Mark III into its raincoat and zipped it into my sling bag. Knocked on Ann's door and made sure things were copacetic, and said goodnight. Checked my windows and doors to satisfy my paranoia. Lights out at 10 pm