Let me start with a confession. The first time I heard of Ubud, was when I read Elizabeth Gilberts “Eat, pray, love”. And the first time I wanted to go to Ubud was when I saw the movie adaptation and Julia Roberts cycling through the greener than green rice paddies bathed in the sunset orange light. So in a sense you could say I am one of the many – MANY – tourists who’ve come to Ubud without having a clue why Ubud would be a good idea and just following the footsteps of all the other tourists who’ve read this book.
Except that from the moment I started reading more about Ubud I knew I wanted to come NOT to see Ketut Liyer (who died before I made it here anyway), Wayan or the place where the author met Felipe, but to see the stunning surroundings for myself. I did not just want to come to feel the hipster vibe that the book did not do justice to – or that just wasn’t the same way back in 2003 – but to gaze upon the green jungle and to explore the surroundings, riding a bit further afield on a scooter, braving the chaotic traffic of Bali. So, with excitement in my heart – and some trepidation because high expectations can so easily lead to disappointments – we came to find the green jungle of Ubud.
Again, that view
It appears that Bali is going to be the place of insanely beautiful views from our hotelrooms. We arrive at the Sayan Terrace resort (a relatively cheap option just outside of Ubud that we found on Airbnb) in the late afternoon and when we are shown to our room, we cannot contain our grins.
The view is even better than we had anticipated and impossible to capture on film. It is a view of the mountains covered in jungle greens of every imaginable hue. In the distance, the mountains become hazy, giving them a mysterious air, as though the further you go, the more magical this place will become. Nearer to our hotel, there are countless trees containing countless birds and giving your eye something new to rest on every few seconds. We breath in deep, relaxing completely and just gaze upon the natural wonders before us for a while. Here, green really is the prettiest colour of all.
After watching the sun set behind the mountains nearest to us, we decide to go do something cultural and see a Balinese dance. We ask how long it will take to get to Ubud centre and when we hear it’s at least a 30-minute walk, we decide to take a scooter. Turns out that without Google maps but with a very under-detailed map it will also take us 30-minutes by scooter because we get lost a bit. We do drive on ever smaller roads and almost make it down some stairs with a small strip of concrete next to it so I am just going to say we took the adventurous route instead. Count your blessings and even when it appears to be stupidity, just call it an adventure!
Firedancing outside and inside
We make it to the Ubud Palace where apparently we can buy tickets to see a dance. A man approaches us and being well-travelled by now, we are a little bit wary about him offering us tickets to either a normal dance or a fire dance. Not having been here long, we are unsure of the haggling procedure and even possible scams. The man seems trustworthy enough though, so we decide to get tickets for the fire dance that is being performed at the big temple.
The temple is almost completely dark so that we have no idea if it is a big or little temple, but we find a square with small plastic seats along three sides of it and a staircase occupying the fourth side so we assume we are in the right spot. After being a bit pushy and pretending not to understand that an American girl is keeping six seats occupied – she was just switching the seats to be occupied when I came walking up to two I wanted and I figured she should just have done that sooner – we are waiting for the show.
Neither of us really knows what to expect. I have only ever seen a traditional Thai dance and thought it was boring – sorry – and Erik hasn’t seen anything like it. Thankfully we have been given an outline of the story so we know what to look out for and – perhaps most importantly – when we will be getting to the end.
The show turns out to be a big group of women singing a hypnotic repetitive rhythm sitting in a circle around a fire – with one woman repeating the word “bok” in a high pitch every second throughout the entire hour and a half show that will drive you nuts if you don’t manage to ban it from your brain. In this circle, the story is played out by other dancers who move in small increments, placing a hand or a foot or even a finger just so that it says something about the story. I am not always sure about the meaning of each gesture, but the beauty of the thing is undeniable. Although, I do get a bit bored at a few points where I’ve lost the story. Guess I’ve always been and always will be someone who enjoys a well told story, while other – more visual – crafts like dancing are somewhat lost one me. What can you do?
After this show we are treated to show by a fire-dancer. Basically it’s a man in a white dress with a horse-like shape attached to him being put into a trance so that he will walk over burning coconut shells. It is strange to look at. On the one hand it is completely mesmerizing – seeing a man walking through something burning – and on the other hand we are asking ourselves why on earth anybody would want to do this – especially for tourists. It does make for an interesting show and so we are glad we went.
By now it is getting quite late, so we start to look out for a place to eat dinner. We see an Indian restaurant (Queen’s of India) and decide to eat there sitting at one of the low tables were you sit on the floor. For me this is no problem but I giggle as I see Erik struggle to come into a cross legged position – at which he fails after a few minutes – and then stretching his long legs along one side of the table, his feet dangling of the little raised area. Asian sizes are usually not really considerate of his length – although his height does make it really easy to follow him in a crowd.
We order dinner and are soon served delicious curries with naan-bread. I’ve opted for a mild one while Erik has gone for one spicier. Although the food indeed cannot be classified as hot, a small fire still erupts in my mouth, but with some drinks it is manageable. I wonder if I am finally getting used to it and starting to enjoy hot spices or if this restaurant is just really good. Either way, I am in love with the food and hope to taste more of it while we are here.
Scootering around Ubud
We spent the rest of the night listening to the many sounds of the jungle, from the chirping crickets to the calling monkeys and singing birds. We even have a guest performance by a frog croaking just outside our door on the balcony. And then there are the stars. So far away from big cities the light pollution is lessened dramatically and we can see many stars shining. That makes it feel like a small piece of paradise and I can easily understand why people would want to stay here.
The next morning, we wake up to the sunrise as there are no curtains except the lace ones that keep the mosquitoes out, but let in all the sunlight. We open them fully and enjoy our view, with the green looking more fresh than the previous evening and different animals displaying their unique musical abilities. Again, I feel completely relaxed and calm and think to myself how all the different shades make green such a wonderful colour. I tell myself I should try and find bits of nature to go to back home so hopefully I can replicate this feeling. I love cities and will probably always want to live in one, but I also really love finding myself in nature.
Breakfast is spent in contemplation of the beauty before us and then it is off with the scooter to the rice fields. It’s a bit of a drive – apparently this was different 10 years ago, but we don’t have that point of reverence – and totally worth it. The green stretches everywhere and the blue skies with only a few white clouds seem endless. We take a few little dirt roads trough the fields with people looking at us until we bid them a friendly “selamat bagi” (good morning) after which they smile. They ask us how we are (apa kabar) and after we’ve responded with “baik baik” (good) continue with their work.
The afternoon we spent walking the streets of Ubud, looking in on the markets and enjoying the sun after which we have fun walking through the monkey forest. This sacred place has monkeys running around everywhere and you’d better give them what they want if you don’t want them attacking you. Neither Erik nor I feel the need to feed the monkeys so we have put everything away, but we do have fun watching other tourists apprehensively holding out bananas. It’s a bit scary; walking around and fearing a monkey may just jump on you. However, since we have nothing on us, we are uninteresting to the monkeys and we make it out of the forest alive.
There are more animal temples around Ubud and since we still have time we visit the elephant temple Goa Gajah. Here I buy a sarong thinking the friendly woman is trying to sell me one because otherwise we can’t enter the temple, only to realise we could have borrowed one. We really should have known! Oh well, as far as being ripped off goes I am happy it got me a sarong I can use as a scarf in a colour I love – so other than it being for the wrong reason there is no harm done.
We make it back to the hotel to watch the sunset from the pool, but because it is still some time away we play around. We do canon balls and feel like little children again! Every once in a while letting your inner child run free can be a healthy exercise. And by every once in a while I really mean once every day, or just whenever I feel like it – though never enough. We do stop the cannonballs when we see how much water is going over the sides of the pool though. We’ve heard that the fresh water on Bali will run out in the next 30 years or so if the use of water continues the way it is and we don’t want to contribute to that even in this small way.
Dinner is a generic affair because today we are unable to find a great restaurant. Seeing as all the food around here is amazing, that is not to big of a shame and because we are tired from all the impressions of the past few days it doesn’t matter anyway. I make sure Erik finally gets an ice cream like he has wanted to get for a while now and am happy to see him smiling like a little kid – so content with just his ice cream! After that, it is another night of the jungle orchestra before we fall asleep dreaming of the green earth and blue skies we’ve come to love around here.
On the schedule is another temple and it’s the one you can see on the front of the 2015 edition of the Bali & Lombok Lonely planet; Pura Ulun Danu Bratan. It takes us more than an hour to get there on the scooter and all the while we are getting dusted by a thin layer of soot by all the vans and lorries without a soot filter. The views during the drive are worth getting sooted for though.
This temple is more touristy than the others we have seen and I am a bit disappointed. The surroundings of the actual temple are beautiful though. We just have to focus on the ancient temple and its lake and mountain backdrop instead of the plastic left behind by tourists everywhere.
We want to visit some waterfalls as well, but without internet we cannot properly plot a route there that doesn’t involve us driving al the way back to Ubud first. The only place we figure might have WiFi is a new resort serving a buffet lunch. We have to eat somewhere so despite our soot and sweat covered bodies – not to mention our very casual outfits – we walk into the place that is still being build. The view from the gigantic window is amazing. We have a great time trying every bit of food available – especially the deserts – and looking at yet another stunning view – they just don’t stop around here.
Driving to the waterfalls turns out to require driving back to Ubud after all, so we decide to just skip them; instead opting for a few hours of reading and view gazing before our massage. We’ve booked a massage at the hotel because coming to Bali it would be a crime not to have one. When we are going down to ask where the spa is, a few hotel employees are walking up to our room with beds. Turns out, the massage will be given in our hotel room.
The next 90 minutes are pure bliss. The women know how to find our sore muscles and work them just so that they relax completely. I zone out and feel simply happy to be here at this time. If you are ever in Ubud, I can recommend the sports massage at this hotel!
Sadly, the next morning it is time to leave this lovely place. I can easily see myself spending an entire holiday in Ubud. I like this town a lot and it appears to be a great base to go and explore other parts of the island that I would still love to see. We however, are leaving Bali and will be going to Lombok in order to tackle mount Rinjani and end our holiday on a literal high point.
Our taxi is late though– of course – so I have some time to talk to our receptionist who we’ve seen every day. She is a curious 19-year old and I enjoy talking to her about our different countries. She asks me questions about the climate and how much everything costs back home and how much I earn. Because she just told me what she makes – I asked her first – I feel a bit ashamed about telling her; it seems like an insane amount compared to that, though I do try to explain that everything costs more as well.
During our taxi ride I am still thinking about this very cheerful girl who told me she found me inspiring when I told her I had travelled quiet a lot on my own before I met Erik and how I planned to keep doing so if I wanted to see stuff on my own. She must have such a different live and yet there were many things we recognized in each other. This tantalizing combination made me curious and makes me want to learn more about the dreams and hopes of other people – although I have not yet found a way to satisfy that curiosity but I am on the look-out for it. For now, I am going to chase my hopes and dreams and climb a mountain!