My first nights in Bali had only helped solidify my generalization of Bali as a land of crowded beaches, ridiculous night clubs, and generic chain resorts, all disconnected from indigenous culture.
Then I set foot in Ubud.
Sure it still attracts busloads of tourists, and the success of Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love has only made things worse, but Ubud has found a way of nurturing a tourism industry without losing its identity. If one were to compare it to Thailand, Ubud would be Bali’s Chiang Mai.
The hour and a half drive north from the airport to Ubud took us away from the coastal landscape and into the lush greenery of central Bali’s rice paddies and mountainous jungle. Our first mission was to find food and wifi so that we could book a place to stay. Compared to our Raja Ampat adventure, the amount of choices we had was overwhelming. The city caters to all types of interests and budgets.
We laughed at the absurdity of the morning’s adventure as we dug into the first proper meal we’d had in over a day then cabbed over to our hotel. We chose a place in the south near the famous Monkey Forest, which is aptly named, rest assured. The forest is packed with these critters scurrying through trees, getting into fights, and grooming one another. But be warned, if you so much as have crumbs in your pockets the monkeys will aggressively relieve you of them.
We filled our days in Ubud with ease: long walks through rice fields accompanied by croaking frogs and lit by fireflies, stellar food that varied from organic salads at Sari Organik picked fresh from the farm next door to roasted pig (Babi Guling) at Ibu Oka to fried duck at Bebek Bengil, rich culture in the temples and galleries, lavish massages for next to nothing, and of course an obligatory yoga session at the famous Yoga Barn. This temple of fitness offers everything from beginner yoga classes to advanced colon hydrotherapy. Here we witnessed a quintessential Bali moment when a grey-haired goddess noticed a wandering butterfly that had fluttered its way into the yoga studio, cradled it in her hands, and released it back into the gardens to the sound of a roomful of “awwws.” G and I could barely contain our laughter.
Most visitors in Ubud make the Yoga Barn part of their daily routine, instead I chose Seniman Coffee as my daily pilgrimage. I had been internet and coffee deprived in Raja Ampat so finding a beautiful cafe with a piccolo latte and a 10mbs wifi connection was a godsend. G and I burned through a loyalty card in just three days and we even spent our last night in a hotel closer to the cafe so that we could use its connection to plan our next adventure and Skype our banks to unblock any cards that had been flagged for fraud after the excessive cash withdrawals needed to pay for our reckless journey into Raja Ampat.
We hired a driver on our last day in Ubud in order to explore some of the surrounding temples and to reach our next destination in Seminyak. A private driver sounded a bit lavish when Georgia proposed it, but it turned out to be a very economical way to explore some of the harder to reach places on a day that would have otherwise been a simple transit from point A to B. Our driver even took us to one of his favourite places where you could try free samples of local coffees while staring out over rice terraces. The main draw was the chance to try the famous Indonesian Kopi Luwak. You know, that really expensive coffee made from the beans that a civet shits out? I had no intentions of ever trying this foul-sounding concoction but after learning about the process I had to admit I was curious enough to try it. It was surprisingly good, but certainly not enough to justify the price, not to mention the bitter aftertaste it leaves after witnessing the poor living conditions of those civets. The rest of the day was spent
hopped-up on caffein exploring Gunung Kawi and making our way west to find new adventures in Seminyak.