Open mind but covered ears at a Balinese dance show

by Jacob Jarvis 

With an emphatic clattering of percussion instruments, the Balinese dance show commenced with the obscure and somewhat sinister tone which it would encapsulate throughout. It was a completely immersive musical experience – whether you find it enjoyable or not is down to your own personal tastes.

As the show commenced, each band member sat with their face set in stone looking forward, concentrating solely on creating the intricate but chaotic traditional noise which would soon accompany the dancers. The music took centre stage first though, with the group hammering away for about 15 minutes before any other performers joined them.

Though clearly painstakingly composed, honestly it sounded mostly like a pure wall of sound, which relentlessly blasted out in almost constant crescendo. Each time the song would culminate to a high-paced racket of drums and bells it seemed as if it couldn’t possibly continue – but continue it did.

Then came the dancing. Despite wearing traditional outfits of every colour, which are undoubtedly breath taking, and make-up which would make any drag queen look natural, it’s the performers eyes that really strike you. Not only are their bodies’ moves neatly and uniquely choreographed, but their eyes also move completely in time with them, sometimes seeming more important than their arms, legs or hands. They pull you in and hold you, in a manner which is equally fascinating and terrifying.

At some points the incredibly intense display might make you want to throw in the towel, but sitting back and appreciating it for what it is, it’s certainly uniquely beautiful. Each performer is fully living in the moment, undoubtedly very proud of the heritage which they are able to show to the ignorant onlookers.

As one of those who had zero clue what to expect when I went, I was taken aback. And, honestly, I couldn’t say for sure it’s something I’d watch again. But at the same time, I’d consider it completely unmissable if you’re in Bali. Go with an open mind, but potentially covered ears. You might regret it, but you won’t forget it.

Ubud’s monkeys will hate you

By Jacob Jarvis

When you see monkeys on TV they’re always cute but mischievous. Remember Marcel, Ross’ pet in Friends? He’d joke around but you know he’d never actually do anything too bad. Wrong – they’re all rowdy trouble starters and they’re proud of it.

Walk in to Monkey Forest sanctuary in Ubud, put down my water for one second, little long-tailed scoundrel comes and steals it. After shouting at him and a member of staff getting it back for me, I kept it tight to my chest, like I was in a desert with no other liquid scheduled to come my way.

Inside the tree covered walkways you can buy little bunches of bananas, so you can, you’d hope, get a nice and innocent photo of yourself feeding one of the cute miniature mammals. Wrong. Some old one will slink up, push your chest, maybe show some fangs, and take all the damn fruit he wants. Moral of the story – don’t try and befriend them. Instead, sit back, and watch on as the whole act of unrequited love between monkeys and visitors unfolds.

Honestly, these little fuzzy guys act all cute, and legitimately they are sometimes. The babies are a joke, just hanging off their parents, super lazy, super demanding, endlessly endearing. But the best in show has got to be the old boys. They stomp about. They don’t like the guests. They aren’t dealing with it. No falsity from them.

You know when you’re on a night out and there’s that one dude who gets belligerent drunk and wants to start on every one? That’s these guys just standard level, no beers needed. Get too close, you’re getting bumped in the chest. Go near their baby monkey and they don’t like you, you’ll get a growl. If you respect them, they’re chill enough most of the time. Annoy them, get too close for that social media selfie, or try and tease them with food, they aren’t going to let you have an easy ride.

My friend had a chocolate bar on him whole time we were in the reserve. I told him it’d be fine to eat, probably wasn’t because you just know they want to steal it, but I wanted to see him gamble. Instead he waits until we’re out of the gate. Monkey jumps out of nowhere, grabs the bar, my mate puts it in his pocket, the primate is unstoppable, clawing his pocket, until the food is thrown on the ground and he gets to munch away.

To the point – don’t go expecting super serene snaps for your friends. Do go if you want to see some animals thriving and not caring one bit about the people who pay for their keep, and literally biting the hands that feed them.

A misty Mount Batur morning

By Jacob Jarvis

Slipping out of a dorm room at 2:00am in Ubud, Bali, feels somewhat like a scene from a retro horror novel. The street lights are out. Nobody is a round. The only sound is the howling of stray dogs. If you want to make it to Mount Batur in time for sunrise, though, this is the eerie scene you have to endure.

I sidled my way into the van we were heading to the peak in, blinked, and I was there – the plus point of early journeys being that sleeping practically makes the travel non-existent. Our tour driver gently woke each of our party, before escorting us to a dimly lit dining area, where we were given an incredibly early breakfast of traditional pancakes and banana, to prepare us for the two-hours of hiking in utter blackness.

Equipped with a torch that looked older than me, I began the ascent, clumsily and slowly, in my sleep deprived state. But, with still hours to come until sunrise, the labour felt justified with one glance at the stars and the crystallised crescent moon, shining more brightly for the hills than they would any modern day city. Then, refocussing my attention earthwards, the strange procession of meagre lights being carried by each wanderer almost reflected the sky itself, painting a star-spangled caricature of the sparkling blanket above on to the mountains.

Upon reaching top, the fog was evidently going to be problematic for those of us with visions of viewing a pure sunrise, and when 6:26am hit, and the sun began to peak over the jagged rocks surrounding us, it first gave off nothing but a slight golden glow. In disappointment, those with little faith in nature’s abilities began to head back down the mountain. I was tempted myself.

As half an hour passed, the temperature seemingly decreased if anything, and the chances looked slim of seeing any of the sky through the stagnant mist. Slowly, but quite definitely, the wind picked up. Then our nearest star mustered all of its power, and split the clouds down the middle. Genuine applause broke out amongst the eclectic mix of pilgrims – such was the feeling of relief the walk wasn’t wasted.

And, apparently, this appreciation didn’t go unnoticed, as the clouds lowered and began to dance around the mountain peaks ahead of us and the feet of everyone at the top. This slowly allowed the landscape to reveal itself, and Lake Batur even joined the festivities eventually, posing for everyone graciously, as the crowds took photographs.

On certain days everything at Mount Batur looks completely untouched and perfect, thanks to the fog, that wasn’t what the view I received. The feeling of community amongst the hikers and the beauty of the surroundings still came to the fore though – proving the true mysticism of Bali’s most famous volcano.