A softer side of Bali

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June 8th 2008
Published: June 27th 2008
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Rice DreamRice DreamRice Dream

We rented a motorbike and went out of town about 30km to explore the countryside and some nearby villages. Mom suggested turning down this road and good think she did. A magnificent view of rice fields ready for harvest.
Somewhere between the time I left Gili Air and arrived in Ubud my mother managed to travel half way around the world, find me at my guesthouse, and join me in my adventures for the next two weeks. She is such a trooper. I’ve been debating for the past few weeks whether on not to include the next part of this blog or not. I reasoned in the end that this story does far more than show how poor my planning and scheduling skills were. It shows more than just an aloof backpacker who has been traveling for three months, blessed out on a beach for the past week, and therefore lost his sense of time, space, and the very important marriage of the two, time & space. It is a story that illustrates how strong and resourceful my mother is. While this blog is going to tell you about Ubud, a fantastic stop on my three-month journey, the star of the show is my Mom. At my suggestion she took two weeks off work to come to Bali, via Hong Kong and Singapore, to share in the travel experience. I assured her I would “take care of everything,” don’t worry.
Good Morning UbudGood Morning UbudGood Morning Ubud

Mom and I woke up each day with this luscious garden view from out room. The sun peering through the leaves of this jungle was a gentle wake up call.
So it seems more appropriate to include this introductory tale about how she managed to arrive in Bali and find me in Kuta, rather than to exclude it in hopes of saving face.

Here goes… somewhere around the 28th or 29th of May I was living the good life on Gili Air. I told you all about this in the last blog and if you didn’t get it then I’ll say it again now… “I was blissed out.” For those of you unfamiliar with this term “blissed out” it is the state of being in bliss. The consequence of being “blissed out” is that you can often times forget that you are engaged in this thing called life. Life sometimes requires that you engage with people, perform certain tasks, and tend to particular responsibilities. But when you are that caught in the moment, in that much bliss, you sometimes seem aloof and just overlook the details. I’ve seen it many times at spiritual retreats. The meditation sends folks into other realms of consciousness and without a better way to describe it we all just point and say, “Man, that dude is blissed out.” There is a little background on
Artists Artists Artists

Ubud is a true Balinese cultural experience. It is mind boggling how many talented artists there are here. They sell their art in small shops like this. But if you get out into the countryside just a bit you see where all the real artwork is taking place.
what I’m going through at the time. Meanwhile, back in California, my Mom is packing up to come to Bali. I had told her she didn’t need much stuff. “Just bring a couple changes of cloths, only the essentials, what you don’t bring we can buy here for really cheap.” She did a fantastic job. All her stuff fit into one little piece of luggage that was small enough to carry on the plane. I can also imagine that on the 29th she was reading my last email to her. This was the email in which I told her how thrilled and excited I was for her to come. That is the truth of the matter. I was so giddy about her arrival. I had been telling everyone on Gili Air that my Mom was coming, I’d been telling people for the last month. I even promised my friends out on Gili Air that I would return with my Mom the following week and introduce them. I came through on that promise. The rest of the email was the logistical stuff. I had studied her itinerary and knew when she was arriving in Kuta Bali. So I was going to
More shopsMore shopsMore shops

Every street in every corner of Ubud has a similar shop.
be at the airport and was going to have transportation all sorted out for us. I would have our room paid for already and checked in. But just to be sure I included some directions from the airport to the Guesthouse. In case I missed her at the airport we would just meet up at the room. “But don’t worry about these directions because there is no way I’m missing you at the airport.” And in my mind that was the truth, there was no other way I saw that first meeting going other than her coming out of the gate and me running up and giving her a gigantic hug. Did I mention I was a little blissed out during those few days…

So now the date is May 31st and it is time for me to leave Gili Air and take the 10-hour combination of ferries, busses, and taxis back to Kuta because Mom arrives on the evening of June 1st. I had to play it safe and arrive back in Kuta the night before. Arrive back in Kuta on the evening of May 31st is exactly what I did. I checked into the room around 7pm
Yoga BarnYoga BarnYoga Barn

Mom and I went to an evening of chanting at the yoga barn, took a Tai Chi course there, and Mom did some yoga. The building was beautiful and the view from the open aired room where all this took place was equally as stunning. Have a look for yourself.
and by 8pm I had already been down to the bar with my Canadian friends I met the week before and had two Bintang’s (national beer of Indonesia) while exchanging stories of Gili Air for me and Ubud for them. By 9pm I was eating dinner and by 9:30pm I was walking down the road to the Ocean Beach Club where I planned to have a drink and dance a bit before calling it a night. And that is when it happened… A motorbike pulls up along side of me, the driver removes his helmet, I recognize him as one of the Guesthouse staff, he checks to make sure it is me, then he says the words that haunted me for the next week… “You Mom is here, she’s mad at you.”… It was as if his words had the power to alter time, because in that moment time slowed way down. I immediately started to ask myself what day it was, could I have really missed an entire day, did I have the right flight information in my notebook, is it possible that I made the mistake of thinking she was arriving tomorrow when she really was arriving tonight?
Mom outside the yoga barnMom outside the yoga barnMom outside the yoga barn

Just feeling the flow of the space.
I quickly answered all those questions for myself when I responded with a simple… “Bullshit!” It couldn’t be true. I’ve never screwed up a timing thing this bad in my life. I’m usually Mr. Organized. But he just looked back at me and said, “No really.” And seconds later I was on the back of his motorbike speeding down Poppies Lane II back to Segara Sadhu Inn. I left my friends in such a hurry that I didn’t even say goodbye. We pull up to the Guesthouse and I run up the stairs to my room. The door is open and inside is Mama Filly. I cannot believe my eyes and after we hug and I wipe away a few of the tears the apology begins.

My Mother. She traveled 18 hours to Singapore, with a stopover in Hong Kong. When she arrived in Singapore she spent the night in the airport at the transit hotel. Her flight the next day for Bali, Saturday the 31st, not Sunday June 1st, left at around 4pm and arrived in Bali at 7pm. This is just the time I had returned from Gili Air to Kuta and was unpacking my own things
Class BeginsClass BeginsClass Begins

We took a cooking class the started as they all should in the local market. Here I pick the instructors brain about local ingrediants, I think chili peppers in this case.
in my room. She had been in an airplane or airport for the last 36 hours or so. Of course she arrived with no bags checked and walked right out of the gate with all her belongings expecting to find her son waiting there for her. But I wasn’t there. So she waited, and waited, and waited. And with each passing minute I can only imagine the worry that must have come over her. Thoughts that maybe I didn’t make it back from the Island, that I could be in trouble… the list goes on I’m sure, it goes on to places that only a parent can understand and therefore I wont’ even try. But eventually she thought it might be a good idea to get a cab to Kuta and attempt to find my guesthouse where I said I would be if we missed one another at the airport. I didn’t give her the best directions since I was surely not going to miss her at the airport. So she had very little to work with and the cab driver told her all sorts of lies like the place she wanted to go was really a bad neighborhood, that
Don't Distract the ChefDon't Distract the ChefDon't Distract the Chef

Mixing up our first dish and they were trying to get me to look at some photographs on the wall. Come on people I'm working here.
she probably wanted to go to the really expensive area and stay at a nice hotel. None of these things put her at ease and when he dropped her off in Kuta, not at the guesthouse, she was left to find her way in what she had now been told was a “bad part of town.” But she made it. She found her way to my room, asked about me, was told that I had gone out for the evening but that I was staying there (this was comforting to her), and they let her into the room so she could put her things down and relax. Fortunately I had been telling everyone that she was coming so when she arrived they knew right away who she was and what room to direct her to.

So much love and respect goes out to my Mom for making it to Bali and navigating her way through all the obstacles that my stupidity created for her. It was the accelerated version of an introduction to Bali. Some of the positive things about the surprise arrival were that we suddenly had an entire extra day together, nothing forces you into the present
Private LessonPrivate LessonPrivate Lesson

I didn't mention this but we had the instructor and restaurant to ourselves. For about 35 dollars, for the both of us together, we had a private lesson, we learned 7 or 8 dishes, took a guided tour of the local market, and ate so well for the 3 hours. That is like walking into a great restaurant and saying to the head chef, "For five dollars will you take time out of you schedule to teach me your signature dish and feed me." Don't think that would go over to well with Gary Denko.
more than a surprise, and now she had already been exposed to some of Bali’s harder edges and would be prepared for anything that was ahead of us. I didn’t sleep much at all that night. I don’t think the adrenaline ever wore off. It just hung around all through the next day. We walked, talked, and played together for half a day there in Kuta before we left to go to Ubud, our first real destination together in Bali and the spot where we would spend the next week.

When I planned out our two weeks together I didn’t anticipate spending 7 nights in Ubud. But when we arrived in Ubud and spent just a day we knew there was so much to see and a week was suddenly not that much time at all. We had been told of a place to stay called Khrisna Guesthouse (not Krishna). This caused some minor confusion when we arrived, but we ultimately made it to our destination. It had been recommended to us by a couple of backpackers I met in Kuta. They knew me well enough and knew that my Mom was coming with me so I was pretty
The finished productThe finished productThe finished product

There it is, our creation after 3 hours of cooking, eating, and education. And that is just the leftovers.
sure they were setting us up in a nice place that was quiet. Khrisna GH was beyond nice and was way more than I could have hoped for, paying only 15 dollars a night. First let me just say that there were only 6 rooms in the entire place. Three small houses split into upstairs and downstairs sweets. The only room available was on the lower level and the Balinese gentleman working the front desk was worried we would be bothered by the noise from upstairs. So I asked if any of the upstairs rooms would be opening up in the next day or two. He confidently said “no”. We later found out that the other residents, Charles, Joyce, and Herminka, had been occupying the other 5 rooms for 4 years, 5 months, and 2 years respectively. I guess they were in no hurry to be leaving. Each of them had taken work in Ubud and we true Expatriates (Expats). Joyce lived above us and because of the construction of the houses we could hear every move she made upstairs. But she was really considerate. She also had a great music library and she would turn up her stereo so

On that same road Mom suggested turning down we found a sacred waterfall and temple that several Balinese families were visiting that day to worship. They were taking ceremonial baths in the waterfall and praying to this shrine.
everyone could hear. We loved her music in the mornings and evenings. We were happy to be staying. The room was very clean, big, and had a nice bathroom to go with it. The guesthouse staff cleaned the rooms everyday, scrubbed down the bathrooms, brought us hot water for coffee and tea each morning and at 4pm, made us a breakfast of eggs and fruit each morning, and were extremely nice and accommodating. Nyoman was the primary worker during the day. He took care of cleaning not only the rooms but also the whole property. The landscaping was incredible. We felt like we were in a jungle. And he made sure it was spotless every day. Wayan was the owner and he was around most days but was busy doing other odd jobs. He lived in the front building with his wife and son. Wayan and I bonded over the week we were there. We had fitness and weightlifting as a common interest. I saw him wearing a Gold’s Gym Venice California shirt one day and I made a comment that I had trained there once and worked out at a Gold’s back home. There was an instant connection. Wayan
Bustling MarketBustling MarketBustling Market

I had to go back to the Market and catch the action early. This is around 6:30am, a couple hours after the action gets going and possibly the busiest time of day. The local market is all about food in the morning and all about locals.
is a true bodybuilder. He is a physique trainer and loves to lift weights like the old school pumping iron days. High volume training. I’m about 4 years removed from my hardcore bodybuilding days myself so I was totally juiced to be talking with him about training. I used to watch Pumping Iron weekly. Arnold was my idol as a bodybuilder before I came to respect him as much as I do today. (Arnold is my hero… sorry to all you anti-Governator Californians) One day I even suggested that Wayan and I go work out together. We went to Ubud Gym, a 3 dollar a month membership place, with very basic equipment, hardcore lifters, pictures of bodybuilders on the wall, and a scene straight out of Pumping Iron. We did a biceps and triceps workout together. It has been years since I did any type of focuses muscle training like this but I loved it. No shirts, no shoes, just sweat, and hard work. I had a blast. And for the next two days I thought my triceps were going to fall off. We were hooked up in a great guesthouse and were being taken care of by a very
More MarketMore MarketMore Market

You can buy fresh ingredients or cooked ingredients. This guys is serving up something for breakfast.
lovely staff of workers. Each day we found something new about the place that was charming and memorable. One day it was the small banana leaf offering to the Gods that was left on our patio. Another day it was the delicate flower arrangement that was placed on our coffee table, flowers picked directly from the guesthouse landscape. Other days it was getting to talk with our very interesting and unique neighbors. The street the guesthouse was on may have been the best in all of Ubud, quiet but busy, close enough to everything but far enough away at the same time, and just up the street from our favorite store Bali Buddha where we could buy yummy snacks, drinks, and have two terrific dinners that week. The accommodation you pick can often times make or break your experience in a city. Sometimes it isn’t even a thought when you look back on your visit to a place. In the case of Ubud and Khrisna Guesthouse it was terrific. Lots of memories, all positive, and central to our Ubud experience.

I thought that now would be a great time to tell you about Ubud. What is the city like?
Walking home from the MarketWalking home from the MarketWalking home from the Market

And when you have all your produce for the day then you put your basket on your head and walk back home.
I could then give you a thumbnail sketch of all the stuff we did and we could pretend like you got the whole gist of the experience. But that just won’t cut it. Ubud is great. Art, food, shopping, culture, people, yoga, mediation, sights, spas, you name it and it is here… cheap. But if you want to know more about Ubud then I suggest reading up on it through some other source. I just can’t do the whole place justice. I will however say that any trip to Bali is not complete without a visit to Ubud. If you stay to the coast and just visit the beaches then you are slighting this small island. Ubud and the surround areas have retained a great deal of Balinese culture. It is stunningly beautiful, a beauty you can’t find out on the coast near the beach. The people are extremely kind and friendly. The art in Ubud is fabulous and there is so much variety. Upscale food is very cheap and terrific restaurant meals, with multiple courses and drinks, can cost as little as 10 dollars. Furthermore, you can see from the pictures what kind of stuff is going on in

They are everywhere in Ubud. Statues, sculptures, all representing different gods and sacred beings. Some of them have great color like this one.
Ubud. I know most of you like the pictures most, so enjoy.

The two things I will talk about more specifically are my dining experiences at Ibu Oka and my trip to the local market early on the morning of my last day. These two experiences are perhaps two of my most memorable experiences from Bali. Ibu Oka is a restaurant that serves up the mother of all Balinese dishes. I learned about this gem from my good friend Tony Bourdain (who else). Almost 5 months ago now I saw an episode of No Reservations that was filmed in Indonesia. Tony Bourdain went to a place in Bali where he ate Suckling Pig that he called the best pig he had ever had. The description of his experience and the images that were left in my mind had been with me for months now. I didn’t know it until I got to Bali and researched that the place he had visited was in Ubud and called Ibu Oka. When I found out the restaurant was only a short 10-minute walk from our guesthouse I made arrangements to eat there on my first day in Ubud. 5 months of anticipation
Rice fields at sunriseRice fields at sunriseRice fields at sunrise

On my morning walk I wandered up a new street and found views of open rice fields. Just minutes outside the hustle and bustle of the local market I was in this serene place.
were leading up to this meal. No way I could leave my expectations at home on this one. I was expecting the very best and was going to be damn disappointed if the pig didn’t live up to Tony B’s description.

Babi Gulung, or Suckling Pig, is a very traditional Balinese dish. Because the process of roasting a whole pig takes so long and requires so much work and attention, Babi Gulung is generally saved for special occasions. That usually means a special ceremony celebrating something like a child’s coming of age. But Ibu Oka is doing this everyday of the week. Here is an excerpt from a food bloggers site that tells a bit more about Ibu Oka…

“Discovering just what makes Ibu Oka’s suckling pig so good demands a visit to that kitchen, and while a trip to her family compound just around the corner may be one short step in distance, its a 100 years in time.

And therein lies Ibu Oka’s secret: Her suckling pig is prepared and cooked as it has been for decades and, as the saying goes, “practice makes perfect”.

Stacks of timber line the walls of the compound,
Jl Jebawan Jl Jebawan Jl Jebawan

This was our street. We stayed at a guesthouse on this road and here is what it looked like in the early morning. Shops getting ready for business. Up the street from Bali Buddha, an organic/health food cafe and shop, next door to Wayan's Traditional Balinese medicine/message (the woman from the book Eat Pray Love).
cubic meters of the wood delivered daily to heat fires that will cook up to 10 suckling pigs a day.

Half a dozen live pigs are housed at the back of the compound, snuffling, eating, sleeping and generally enjoying life before the pre-dawn kill that will have them cleaned, gutted, stuffed and spitted by 4 a.m., ready for the warung’s 11 a.m. opening.
Roast suckling pig doesn’t get fresher than this.

Prior to spit roasting, the pigs are packed full of Balinese herbs and spices, such as shallots, garlic, chili, ginger, galangal, turmeric and bay leaves, then roasted over an open fire for at least five hours. This is five hours of hot, heavy work for the cooks who rotate, non-stop, the wooden spit by hand, regularly dousing the flames with water to maintain the perfect cooking temperature.

Getting the temperature right is an art that has been handed down from generation to generation, the suckling pigs slowly developing that warm golden sheen that makes for the best crackling, the inner meat cooking slowly until it is utterly succulent.“

When I arrived the place was just as I had expected it to be. There was floor
Quiet streetQuiet streetQuiet street

With a hint of smoke in the air from the open fires at the home compounds along the street, I capture a photo of this perfect little street that we stayed on. It felt like home.
seating around very basic tables. The place was packed solid and they were turning over seats the entire time I was there. You have to walk in past a giant roasted pig that they are hacking up to serve their waiting customers. The smells when you enter the gate get the mouth watering. By the time you are served you can hardly contain yourself. The skin is cooked to perfection, as crispy as a hard piece of peanut brittle. The underside of the skin has a soft and tender layer of fat and spices that compliments the crunch of the outside. Calling the meat you get served moist and tender doesn’t fully capture the texture. A small cut of blood sausage is terrific and the whole mess of meat is accompanied by a green bean side dish that is chopped very finely and mixed with spicy chili. I came back to Ibu Oka three times while in Ubud and had the other dining options in Ubud not been as good I would have been here everyday. If you go to Bali and you want to have Babi Gulung, I suggest you wait until you get to Ubud and have it
Our GuesthouseOur GuesthouseOur Guesthouse

If you go to Ubud you should stay here. Khrisna Guesthouse. Absolutely beautiful landscape, wonderful people working there, fantastic owners, and some true expat characters that have become long term guests (some having been there as long as 4 years)
here. Don’t settle for anything less. There are plenty of places out there that are trying to do suckling pig but don’t have the turnover like Ibu Oka that keeps it fresh and perfect each time. By all means, if you are invited to a ceremony and they cook up a traditional suckling pig in honor of the occasion you should eat. But if you are tempted to go into some tiny place in Kuta to get Babi Gulung… don’t do it. Wait like I waited and you’ll have that amazing first bite and flavor embedded in your sensual memory bank forever.

My perfect last day in Ubud all got a kick-start at 6am when I visited the local market. The central market in Ubud sells everything. All day it plays host to tourists who come in to get good deals of art, cloths, souvenirs, and the like. But in the morning, starting as early 4am, the market belongs to the food vendors. It is a multiple level maze of produce, meat, fish, spices, herbs, dairy, and more. You can get cooked food as well as fresh ingredients. There are live chickens being sold and carried away, pools of
Ubud GymUbud GymUbud Gym

This old school gym had the bare essentials. Photos of bodybuilders on the wall, old rugged equipment, a "no shoes, no shirt, no problem" attitude, guys working on their posing routines. I felt like I was in Pumping Iron and was having so much fun.
live fish caught just off the coast, and just about every food item you could think of to create all the best dishes. Restaurant owners, chefs, mothers, daughters, grandmothers… they all show up here early with their baskets and bags to get the days ingredients to feed the families or stock the restaurant. Many homes in Bali don’t have refrigeration, so fresh ingredients from the market are essential and buying them daily is mandatory. All these things combine to make the market a perfect place to come and see the local people, observe typical Balinese life, feel the energy of Ubud, and witness culture first hand. In fact, that is what makes just about any market in any country you travel to one of the best places to visit. It is why I made it a point to go to markets in every town, village, and city that I went to. Tony Bourdain told me to do that. In Ubud I finally understood why, on a very deep level, this was the place to be. I moved about the sea of people and my entire body was infused with the spirit and energy of Bali. It was magical.


The owner of Khrisna Guesthouse, Wayan, was wearing his Gold's Gym Venice shirt one day and of course we got to talking about lifting weights. I've been to Gold's Venice and he thought that was cool. I suggested we go lift weights together and so we did. Here Wayan bangs out a few concentration curls. This was an old school style bodybuilding workout. Biceps and Triceps.
the market I walked the streets of Ubud. Families got ready for the day, people walked and drove their motorbikes to worship, women swept their properties, and small fires burned the leaves in front of various family compounds. Sunrays crept through the surrounding trees. The early morning gave way to the heat of the day. I made my way back to the guesthouse where our patio was protected from the sun and still cool. Mom and I sipped our Nescafe and Dancow lattes. We ate our omelets and enjoyed the perfume of the incense burning on our table. About 10 I went to exercise up Ubud Fitness center. When I returned it was lunchtime and there was no place I would have rather gone than Ibu Oka. This time mother joined me and she got to witness the experience first hand. The rest of the day included a fabulous dinner and a Kecak dance.

Ubud was very good to us. After a week I can see how people like our good neighbors Charles and Herminka have been here for years. It is hard to leave.

Hope you all enjoyed a taste of Ubud

Additional photos below
Photos: 25, Displayed: 25


Ibu OkaIbu Oka
Ibu Oka

The highly anticipated Ibu Oka. I have been thinking about this meal for months now. Anthony Bourdain ate suckling pig here on his Indonesia episode of No Reservations that I saw many months back. "This is the best pig I've ever had," I think that was his quote. That is a monumental statement from a pig man like Tony. I finally made it here after all this time. I was literally shaking with excitment when I got here. It opens at 11am every day and by 2pm all the pig is just about gone... so get in early and ask for a Special (the best cuts).
Babi GulungBabi Gulung
Babi Gulung

Babi Gulung is indonesian for Suckling Pig. This is the product that makes this place famous. They slow roast these bad boys the day before over open fires. Someone paints them with a mixture of coconut juices and other ingredients for hours to give them increadible flavour and crackling (skin) that really does crackle, like a great piece of peanut brittle.

I almost forgot to photograph this one because I was so eager to sink my teeth into it. But here it is. A little rice, soft juicy pig meat/fat, crackling, blood sausage, crispy intestines, chili/green beans, and a lovely side of chili sauce to heat things up. I ended up having this 3 separate days I was here. Would have made it 7 of 7 had there not been so much other great food in Ubud.
Another day another plateAnother day another plate
Another day another plate

"Same old soup, just reheated".. Consistent, quality, delicious, so much love....

13th July 2009

i went to Ibu Oka for the first time ( and I've lived in Bali 2 years now!!!) last week... everything I was told about it was true... enak sekaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaali!, especialy the skin. Cheers, Hetty
28th July 2009

I'm so jealous that you got a chance to eat there recently. My friends and I just roasted a 60 pound pig and while it was tasty it couldn't hold a candle to Ibu Oka. Happy Eating and give my love to Bali. Marcus

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