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So, This Is Bali

It was awful, just awful. Just the right temperature, there were monkeys and beaches, cheaper food and booze than in Jakarta, and good company. Awful, so awful, let me tell you all about it.

Bali: it was one of the few words that I identified with Indonesia before I came here. People save up for years to come vacation on the mythical island famous for beaches, rice fields and Hindu temples. And recent Eat, Pray, Love fame has continued to draw in more tourists. Due to a kind co-worker, a three-day weekend appeared and I thought that after over four months in Indonesia, the moment was right to go see if all the hype was true. And, well, it is.

I decided that I wanted to stay inland in Ubud. Ubud has gained notoriety in recent years because of Julia Roberts biking through rice paddies and falling madly in love with Javier Bardem (who wouldn’t?). But, my main reasoning (Javier Bardem aside) was that I wanted peace and quiet, so that meant not staying in Kuta, which I hear is the Australian version of Cancun. I also had heard wonderful things about Ubud since freshman year at Wesleyan because one my dormmates, Elena, is from Ubud.

I didn’t notice it until my co-workers, friends and travel companions started discussing it, but it was sort of nice to have a reprieve from the call to prayer five times a day. For me the call to prayer has become so routine that I don’t notice it anymore, but I have to admit, it was nice to have some exposure to Hindu culture and customs, like daily offerings placed all around Ubud — from someone’s home above, to our home-stay, to the entrance way of a store.

The Spa: Day One

Emily (apartment-mate and co-worker) and I flew into Bali early in the morning on Lion Air. From the Denpasar airport it is another 90 minutes to two hours by taxi to Ubud and this runs around Rp 225,000 to Rp 250,000 ($25-$28). We found a very cheap and basic homestay on Jalan Monkey Forest (Rp 200,000 for a room with two beds and bathroom) called Frog Pond Inn. The best part: breakfast was included and it was delicious.

We were both pretty exhausted so after a delicious lunch (food post will follow) so we decided to get coffee. From the coffee place we could sort of see a rice field, so we decided to go look. That was when we stumbled on the Kayma Spa. Spa culture is huge in Asia. There are signs for spas everywhere (granted some of those are for sketchy places that involve “plus-plus” massages). But, Kayma was a beautiful spa and Emily very easily talked me into having my first spa treatment ever. I settled on a two hour $25 treatment that included a massage, green tea body scrub and soak. And, I am now officially a spa convertee — I get what people are talking about. After a great massage, the scrub was applied. After I rinsed the scrub off, the lovely lady brought in a bowl full of a white liquid. I was confused, this part wasn’t on the description. Turns out that it was yogurt, so I was then covered in yogurt. The smell of yogurt now relaxes me in the morning. After another rinse I relaxed in a warm flower peddle bath and was brought lemon tea and a fruit platter, man, I could get used to this!

Ubud Palace and Walking: Day 2

The traffic and pollution of Jakarta can really start to get to you. I really miss being able to walk around without a. breathing in tons of exhaust and b. triple checking whether it is safe to cross the street. So on our second day in Ubud, some more friends joined us and we decided to walk and explore. Our first stop was the Ubud Palace:

Balinese people are super friendly. This probably has a lot to do with the fact that they live in a beautiful place, but also because tourism drives so much of the economy. Everyone here speaks English. So, it was very helpful when we hired a driver to toss in a few “that’s too expensive” phrases in Indonesian. I found my ears perking up a lot as we walked around from all the French being spoken and the occasional bit of Russian because of all of the tourists. When Emily and I first arrived it was a bit of a shock for us to see so many white people. You can go several days in Jakarta (besides the office) and not see any foreigners.

After the Palace we walked through the pasar, market, where you can find plenty of souvenirs. Be prepared to bargain. After this we wandered down side streets and eventually made it back to where we had started. We saw many beautiful homes and there were many open courtyards with statues, so we wandered around. A lot of the open courtyards led further back to artist homes and display spaces. Ubud has many galleries and is known as an art center on Bali. We also met a few dogs along the way, some sleepier than others.

The gardens and flowers in Ubud are beautiful. Some of the courtyards we wandered into had really elaborate and beautifully manicured gardens. Mom, take note, I think we should try and plant some of these:

We also saw a beautifully dressed couple getting their wedding photos taken. There may or not have been a few shots with tourists in the background taking photos of them too.

Monkeys and Beach: Day 3

After a strenuous day of wandering, followed by cheaply priced Pina coladas (Why is everything so expensive in Jakarta?) we decided that the next day we would go to the Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary and make some new grey-haired Balinese macaques friends. I had never seen baby monkeys before and I have to say they are alien looking and not very cute:

The best way to attract a lot of monkey all at once? Throw corn at them. We dubbed this man the monkey whisperer. It was interesting to watch the monkeys come eat because whenever a giant Alpha male approached, everyone else backed off.

The sanctuary is a beautiful place to walk around in and the shade helps too.

The monkeys are not afraid of people or taking your things. Tim made a new friend. At one point I sat down to make sure I had my boarding pass and a monkey, out of nowhere, jumped on me and tried to get inside my purse. Nice try, buddy. On our way out of the park we saw a monkey wearing sunglasses and very surprised looking Brit. The women who sell bananas at the entrance were pelting bananas at the monkey and it ran after them and dropped the glasses. The Brit was relieved.

Your standard flea inspection:

Remember this guy from up top? He opened his banana very quickly.

After playing/running from monkeys, we hired a driver to take us to the other side of the island to Ulu Watu. Tim (pictured with monkey above) is a surfer and had heard a lot about this legendary surf spot. Since we needed to be on this side of the island to catch our late night flight, we figured let’s go. And I am so glad we did, it was, well, just take a look.

The water was on the cooler side, which was nice because the sun made up for that. It was incredible to look up at blue sky and float in the ocean and realize once again, I am in Indonesia — that still hasn’t gotten old. It has been weird to live in an endless summer. Around September my body and mind felt that it should be getting cold, and that I should be seriously buckling down and doing tons of reading and studying. We’ll see if the approaching rainy season fills this void.

The photo below, where the surfers are walking, shows how far out the tide goes. All of that was covered in water earlier in the day.

We had some tempeh (a type of tofu) burgers and watermelon juice and watched the big show:

Then on Tuesday morning it was back to work, back to a polluted and noise-filled reality. When I came in I saw that one of my stories had been printed and was also the top read online, see it here. During our trip, I also thought a lot about a story that I wrote a few weeks back that is still ongoing, here. A 14-year-old Aussie boy bought some weed in Bali and got caught and is now facing some serious consequences. Indonesia has very strong drug laws and the death penalty is applied in certain cases. It will be interesting to see how this case plays out. As I was leaving the office today and rummaging for bus change in my bag, some sand got stuck under my nails — you never really leave Bali.

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