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Bali is actually not far from Perth, only about 4 hours so it wasn’t a big journey but we did have to wake ourselves up to the fact that we were leaving super easy Australia and entering Asia – the first time for both of uw. Firstly, we must fess up to a little concern over the transit of our luggage from Oz to Bali. There have been some notorious cases of stuff being stashed in unsuspecting peoples cases and the best advice on offer was to lock your cases. The problem for us is our backpacks kind of suck in the security department.We had them lurking around the house for a while before we left home, but until we actually came to pack and leave, we didn’t realise there was actually nowhere proper to lock them. There is no hole in the zip to use – we have to padlock through the string that pulls off the zip. This is really rather pants and barely counts as security as, obviously, you can not only cut the string in about 2 seconds but also they have been known to slip off the zip itself anyhow. But the padlocking, along with a few cable ties back in the beginning, was our security and it wasn’t really a big deal or concern. But for our trip to Bali we had to be a bit more sure that no tampering was possible so we were really scratching our heads how to get around the problem. The solution, from Perth to Bali at least, was cling film! They have machines in the airport which I think in the past were used for broken cases but are great for the purpose of sealing your luggage. It really is just wrapping strong cling film round and round your case/backpack until everything but a handle is covered. It’s cute – they looked like little cocoons afterwards. So that was our solution and as our flight neared Bali and we heard the words over the tannoy ‘Death Penalty’ and then as we entered the airport and saw posters again with ‘Death Penalty’ in big old lettering, we were happy that even though we looked a little freaky with our shiny packages, we could breathe easy knowing our luggage tampered with. Admittedly they tend not to kill the western people found with drugs but prison sentences are lengthy and without much care for whether you are guilty or not, so better safe than sorry. Mark would be rubbish in prison!
So, with our visas sorted and our little plastic cocoon packages, we proceeded our drive from the airport to Ubud our first port of call in Bali. Co-incidence would have it that we were arriving on the Balinese new year.
This made for a VERY interesting ride to Ubud from the airport, as we drove for a couple of hours through the preparations for that nights celebrations. There were absolutely huge effigies made out of paper and glue (I think) which loomed over us as we drove along, snapping through the car window. They were painted bright colours and were generally delightfully menacing. I have never seen anything like it. We had certainly picked a great time to turn up. This was made all the more fun by our driver’s fabulous taste in soul music. We have an amazing soundtrack to this crazy, amazing drive. There were celebrations starting all the way and people were out on the streets. We came across a little procession at some point where kids had smaller hand held effigies that they were bashing on the ground and against the wall and everyone was making a right old din with bells and drums.
It got a little tricky towards the end of the journey as we kept finding streets shut, ready for the celebrations, but we made it to our lodgings at around 7pm by which time it was dark (one thing I hate about being near the equator). We didn’t venture far that night because, as I said it was dark and we didn’t really know where we were or where to could go. Because everything was shut down for the celebrations and in preparation for the next day – very little was open. Although we knew that Bali would be considerably cheaper than home and australia, we were shocked when we discovered it was less than couple of quid for a beer or a wine and the same for tasty meal. We breathed a sigh of relief, realising that if things were this cheap, then we could indeed last a little longer with what was left of our budget. Happy days!
Shhhhh…….. It’s all gone quiet
The day after new year is known as Nyepi – the day of silence. Basically the whole island has to stay in, stay quiet and keep the lights off or dimmed at night. This is to pretend to an evil spirit that there is no one on the island, so he will pass by and not attack. People don’t work and are not supposed to partake of any form of entertainment, TV etc.
I’d accidentally found out about this about a week before we left and was a bit worried we wouldn’t have a chance to get any food the day we landed, to last us for the day (tourists aren’t allowed out of their hotels either – I believe the streets are patrolled, but we wouldn’t go out anyhow out of respect). But at our accommodation, they assured me that they’d provide all 3 meals that day and for free.
Rather than a hotel or hostel, we are staying in a kind of homestay. Basically a large amount of the homes in Bali, well at least in Ubud, are ‘family compounds’. These are based around kind of courtyard areas and have lots of small buildings/rooms off where various members of the family, over different generations, live. We are staying in a fairly big one with buildings all over the place. i think they rent out 5 or 6 rooms, but it’s never very busy. There is a pool here but that is actually incredibly unusual in the family compounds, so we got lucky. It is a lovely pool with a statue in the middle and is always a gorgeous temperature. The room has a big, four poster bed with muslin covering it to keep out the mozzies, a bathroom and a veranda to sit out on. It’s a little rough and ready in places, but has everything you need, as well as bags of character.
When we decided to stay an extra week we moved to a different room which had the added bonus of a sofa out the front on the veranda, which is lovely to slouch around on.
The furniture in the whole place is gorgeous – the dad of the family also runs a shop selling this furniture. It’s made out of old boats and is big, chunky and gorgeous. He is Mr Chicken, so the sign says out the front….. We do not know why….. There are no chickens here.
That, in fact, is actually unusual -everyone else seems to have them. They are everywhere. The chickens here have really long legs. The cockerels start at about 4am and go on all day, but you soon blank it out.
We are away from the road and not bang in the centre of town, so it’s generally pretty quiet. We do, however, have a lot of noise of the ‘natural’ variety. Various things make a racket at night – I don’t even know what half of it is. I think it’s frogs that make the most noise. They are often the culprit. Incredible for such small creatures, the racket they can make. And there’s bats about the place, so I’m presuming it’s them you can hear banging around in the middle of the night up in your roof (there is a wicker ceiling so there is space for plenty up there). On the first couple of nights it was really quite disturbing, but like everything you get used to it.
One of the loveliest things is there is some frangipani bushes in the garden so when you sit out on the veranda at night, the breeze brings over to you waves of the most divine smell ever. It is utter bliss.
So, seeing as we’d been travelling like crazy for months, the day of silence, being intrapt in our accommodation, a warm, lovely place, with a pool, didn’t seem bad at all!! We just settled down, chilled out and read.
After Nyepi, it was actually a day and a half before we even saw anything much of Ubud. It was definitely a pleasant surprise when we eventually did. The sights and sounds of Ubud cannot be explained. It seems hectic at first but it’s not really and you get used to it’s foibles pretty quickly. The majority of traffic is mopeds. They are everywhere. With 5 members of a family on them sometimes. Very often holding onto baby, large packages and of course there’s the ones which have built in road side stores. They are super wide carts on the back of the moped and I have no idea how any of them manage to drive without falling off, but they do!!
The thing you first notice, coming to Bali, is the beeping. Everyone is beeping – it seems very stressful. But actually, the beeping here is not ‘get out of the way’ beeping, it is, in fact, just to say to everyone else ‘here i am’!! That’s a big difference in my book. Everyone is driving defensively (in a positive way). You panic less about crossing the road (or walking in it, which you have to do much of the time due to dodgy or lack of pavements) when you realise that they will do their darned best to avoid you. So, you just keep your eye out and trust that between you and them, we’ll all stay upright!
We walked the streets in amazement that first day. I don’t think we even took any photos because there was SO much to see that it kind of blew our minds. There are temples you stumble upon and to be honest, most peoples homes/compounds looks as beautiful as temples. There are sights and sounds and colour everywhere, as well as lovely smells from food, flowers and incense.
We made our way down one of the main roads and although we hadn’t planned on going to it, stumbled on the Monkey Forest.
The Monkey Forest does what it says on the tin. It is a small forest surrounding a temple, in the south of central Ubud, which has… you guessed it… monkeys! As ever they are mischievous little beggars so keeping tight reign on sunglasses, cameras and the like is quite necessary. You are told not to take in any food in your bags – they will smell it and THEY WILL HAVE IT. They do sell banana chunks in there, for tourists to feed them, so the are well fed and not desperate for food at least. They literally clamber aboard the person who has a banana in their hand. If they try to hold it the banana back and not give it to them, the monkeys will get quite vicious. You have been warned before you enter, so it’s your own stupid fault if you do anything silly. But of course there were plenty of people doing that. A silly girl posing for a picture holding out her hand to the monkey as if she was giving him something. She didn’t have anything, so he was (probably quite rightly) p’d off and lashed out. Well what do you expect? It continues to amaze me the dumb way some people act in tourist places after being given some simple, ‘there for a reason’ guidelines. Some of the monkeys had got hold of some sweets. This looked all very cute and everyone including Mark was taking photos. I pointed out that the sugar rush was going to hit in a moment and it wasn’t going to be pretty and I backed off. I was proved right and a bit of a fracas erupted amongst the monkeys as the one who’d supped the sugar went a little berserk. Don’t give things with sharp teeth sugary treats shouldn’t have to be a rule, should it?
I’m not overkeen on monkeys – they have a right attitude don’t you think? They are like teenagers the way they look at you, all challenging, like ‘what you gonna do about it?’. After we’d been there a little while, when I opened my bag to get the camera out, one climbed right up my being and tried to get into my bag It’s backside was all too near my face for my liking. Despite Marks panicky voice beside me (‘walk away, walk away, they say you should walk away’ – umm, it’s ‘on’ me – how do I walk away from it????), I remained calm held onto my bag, glared at it and told it to get off. That worked just fine. Round one to me!
If anyone has read the book Eat, Pray, Love, or seen the movie, you will know that the last part of the book is set in Ubud and the effect on Ubud can definitely be seen. There is the odd Eat, Pray, Love ornament on sale in the tourist shops and apparently prices for a lot of things in the touristy areas have been affected but most noticeable is there is a LOT of single 30 something to 50 something women here alone. Floating about here, often with the Ubud uniform of yoga pants and vest top with ethnic accessories. It’s not a bad thing obviously, it says something really nice about Ubud that women can safely travel here alone. I’m sure some of them are coming seeking something that they possibly won’t likely won’t find – healing, enlightenment, a hot brazilian lover (read the book), but I can’t think of anywhere where you’re more likely to at least come close to it!!!!
And yes – I have read (well I should say ‘heard’ as I have the audio book) Eat, Pray, Love quite a few times. I love the book, although I will never watch the film – I dread to think what they have done with it as it’s not a simple, film like story and in fact through much of the book Elizabeth Gilbert isn’t really a particularly likeable person but it’s a fascinating ‘journey’. And I can’t deny that unless I’d read about Ubud in that book, the town or even Bali may not have been on my list of places to visit on our year off. So I have much to thank the book for. It is every bit as amazing as the book describes, I also know to take it some things with a pinch of salt. The Ubud expat ‘lifestyle’ as a whole, is quite fascinating. Some are getting a little ancy at their lovely idyll becoming more popular and commercialised due to the Eat, Pray, Love knock on effect, but then they started moving here in the 60s and continued ever since, so they too have brought about change and commercialisation to some extent. The yoga centres and spas were not all there without western influence. It’s just life I guess. But it does make Ubud a unique place – every westerner who lives here or is staying long term is kinda similar, hippy-esque/new age/spiritual/alternative, whatever you’d like to call it. I bet loads of people from Brighton come here It’s very earth mother! Yoga, Meditation, chakras, healing – all things new agey really (I do hate that expresson but no-one’s really come up with another one to fit the mould). Having this kind of vibe, mentality and accessibility is one of the things about Brighton I love too, so suits me fine here. I’ve had a go at plenty of things in my time – reiki, cranio sacral therapy, hypnosis (10 years no smoking – thank you!), bowen therapy to name but a few. I definitely have hippy dippy, ‘alternative’ leanings which easily get lost at home amidst everyday stresses. Which of course it shouldn’t, as it exactly the kind of stuff that you should be doing to balance you out andn make you feel better able to handle the everyday stresses, but looking after yourself tends to come last on the To Do lists doesn’t it? Being here has kind of reminded me that taking time out should include looking after your mind and your body rather than just charging through the world.
All these things adds to the interestingness and complexity of Ubuds balance. The locals are quite straight forward about things. They are uber spiritual and make offerings at least 3 times a day, participate in the many, many ceremonies to keep on the good side of the gods and they use massage and herbs and the like to keep them well and on the good side of their bodies. Simple as that. That was what drew Elizabeth Gilbert here in the first place – looking for balance. It’s a buzz word for everyone trying to find something. And I can see how this is a place to find it – whether it’s balancing your mind of watching someone balancing 2 huge sacks on their moped.
There’s a fair few cafes selling super food juices and various health food, raw foods and macrobiotics etc. It’s generally got a pretty hippy, wholesome vibe to it. I like it personally, it makes me feel at home – got all that stuff going on in Brighton. Plus the same stuff you’d pay a bomb for in a brighton health food shop or veggie cafe is super cheap here. We’ve even had a couple of wheatgrass shots (newsflash for the uninitiated – tastes like grass, sweetish grass!) which are pretty pricey at home so could never justify having them there.
All this healthiness has come in very handy as we have decided to give up booze for a while. We had our last drink on the Balinese new year, our first night in Bali. Guttingly, this was the point we realise that alcohol is really, really cheap here but we’re trying not to think about that. Ubud is actually a really good place to not drink though. It’s definitely not a party place, it has no bars, just restaurants/cafes you can drink in. Plus it has nice, cheap alternatives. I don’t really drink soft drinks. I gave up ‘pop’ about 12 years ago, before I even gave up smoking. I was a diet coke freak – including drinking it first thing in the morning, last thing at night and when waking up in the night. One day I had an epiphany about what was exactly is in these drinks and so just stopped. Since then the only fizzy I have partaken of is tonic water from time to time – well you have to have a gin and tonic don’t you? And perhaps the odd Pims. Funnily enough, during this trip, for the first time in years I’ve had some fizzy pop drinks on their own – some fanta and some sprite. It’s always when I’ve been out somewhere super hot doing lots of walking and have craved it to kind of pep me up. Can’t usually drink a whole one though – too sickly.
Anyway, juices are very common here and there are also, as I mentioned, the places that do healthy juice cocktails. We sometimes pop into one of those to make us feel like we’re having a treat (yep sad aren’t we!). Not sure how long we’ll give up for, but for the rest of Bali at least. Will help recuperate after those months of hectic travel. And we can finally eat well too. I haven’t had chips since we’ve been here – happy days!!! It’s not like I had them a lot in Oz, but you’d often end up somewhere where there really was nothing to eat cheaply but something with chips!!
So the food is mainly Balinese and Indonesian and often a mixture of both. Lots of chicken, pork, a small bit of seafood, but not much as we are not by the sea (this is a good thing of course) and a fair amount of vegetarian options. My dad lived in the Netherlands for a few years and they have lots of Indonesians living there so that was the main Asian take-away. So I was used to Indonesian food from back then (mm 20 years ago?) but haven’t had anything decent since. The main indonesian dishes are Nasi Goreng, a kind of fried rice with particular spices. Satay – mainly chicken. But it’s not like the satay you get in the UK which tends to taste of peanut butter which I never eat (even though I like peanut butter). This is as it should be. I don’t know how to describe what that is, but it’s good!! Nasi Campur is a mixture of dishes of things like tofu, chicken, there’s some kind of thick compressed nut bake thing which is big here and which is lovely, a kind of bean salad and of course half boiled eggs in a particular sauce. I hate boiled eggs but Mark, who I’ve never known to eat them actually, finds these delicious. Balinese differs to Indonesian mainly by the spices being slightly different, but unique to Bali is their use of Pork (the rest of Indonesia is Mulsim, as opposed to mainly Hindu Bali). There’s various kinds of curries available, all delicious. Another speciality I finally got to try is black rice pudding which is cooked in coconut milk. This is an unusual taste at first, but is absolutely delicious
Apart from exploring Ubud itself (which, believe me, never gets boring), we are yet to go anywhere further afield. After months of moving around pretty frequently, we’re enjoying staying in the one place for a while. Well, a couple of weeks feels like a while to us.
So we’ve settled into little routines and we’ve been able to spend some serious time doing work for our business (www.manawamusic.com). It feels rather apt as it’s the relaxation and motivational music that we (mainly Mark, him obviously being the musical genius) spent a year writing and recording before we left. Where better to think about things to inspire and improve peoples lives?
It’s pretty easy to get about, as we are fairly close to town – prob takes about 15 mins to get bang in the centre. We also have some great places nearby if we are doing loads (or doing nothing) and don’t have time to go in. Prices are cheap everywhere but on the less central streets like ours, they are at their cheapest, and best quite often!
Ubud is easy to walk around but it gets dark at about 7pm and it’s not so easy at night. Not because it’s unsafe, just that you can’t always see where you’re going on the further out streets. There’s quite a lot of dodgy pavings and massive holes that you can easily descend into. It’s fine in the middle but we are on an off road and if we go one way to town, it’s a bit ropey in the dark. It’s okay the other way, you just have to try not to step on any dogs or fall down any of the holes. We’ve not particularly gone sight seeing as such, we’ve more just wandered around in various directions, up various roads. It really is amazing everywhere you look. As half the homes look as good as temples and there is colour and gorgeous smells everywhere. Then there’s things to entertain you such as the aforementioned 5 to a bike families and the food sellers or gorgeous little kids or people dresses up in golden and colourful threads off to the temple. And ceremonies can just pop up around you at a moments notice.