The next few days were spent basking in intellectual fervor at the annual Ubud Writers & Readers Festival, a week-long event of writers, readers, and everyone involved in the sphere of writing-reading, sitting in a cafes, restaurants and balconies surrounded by lush tropical foliage, bemoaning the state of the current publication industry, expounding on ways to get published, inspiring young writers, finding your own inspiration and, all in all, scratching each others’ intellectual and writer-ly itch. After living in a town with no English books readily available or easily accessible, I was in heaven, surrounded by novels, poetry, writers, readers, wordsmiths, captive audiences of the word.
One particularly dynamic panel, titled “Worlds, in Words” featured four authors– an Aussie writer who spent years working with people in Papua New Guinea, a journalist who traveled to Montreal to work with women refugees, an Indonesian writer who spent 3 years in Afghanistan, Kazahkstan, and Mongolia, and a famous Aussie novelist with a razor-sharp wit and a splendid storytelling voice. Listening to their travel tales beneath the drumming of an afternoon rainstorm just outside the gazebo was a mesmerizing way to end the event.
Since the festival is held in a tropical venue each year, it tends to draw the travel-savvy. On one panel of travel writers, a heated topic about the responsibility of a traveler and particularly a travel-writer, emerged with particular relevance to an island whose dependency is on tourism and on writers to wax poetic on the little island with the goal of drawing more tourists and more money.
In the days after the Writers and Readers Festival we explored the rest of the island from the base of Ubud. We ventured into the Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary where the four-legged children –sometimes cute, usually naughty, downright belligerent if you deny them anything–run wild. They’re not afraid to pilfer the religious offerings made to the gods.
The sanctuary was used for the King’s worship back in early Balinese history and was turned into a government protected sanctuary with the support of the nearby village. The sanctuary is both a protective area for the monkeys as well as the environment and the temples located on the grounds.
It’s one of the last protected natural spaces on the island where no tourist-centric business can invade to build a resort. It houses the Pura Dalem Agung and Pura Prajapati, and the Holy Spring bathing temple. Since the temples are located on the sanctuary grounds, they’re free of begging children and kitsch hawkers.
Also, the long-tailed macaques are adorable.
After a day of carousing with the apes, we trekked outside the town to explore the rest of the island. Side by side with our Homestay neighbors, a brilliant couple from Switzerland, we motored along the island’s sinewy web of barely paved roads. We drove down winding curvaceous paths, past sprawling rice paddies, through small villages where people were parading in all white to the local temple. We dined atop a spectacular hilltop overlooking a sun-drenched valley of emerald rice crops.
From the roadside we explored what life might be like on this gorgeous island. We stopped to peek inside a few temples along the way, including the main temple, Pura Besakih. Since there was an important ceremony taking place in the temple, our access was limited. But what little access we had was enough.
The complex was a maze of split gateways, stone steps, terrace-roof pavilions, towers and statues of various condition. Crowds of white worshipers filled the temple, hauling massive baskets of decorated flora, incense and food–offerings to give to the spirits.
While the temple was beautiful, the number of child beggars was astounding. They’d follow us, begging us buy a postcard or a trinket, or even worse, just give them a dollar.
So we passed through the temple, feeling a little of the thick, haunting cloud that tourism leaves on such a delicate island. As we departed the temple with the sun-setting behind the tips of the jungle trees, the lives of Balinese and the future of the island was certainly on our minds.