Yogas Egotistical Monkey Dance...

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March 25th 2013
Published: April 14th 2013
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Ubud was always somewhere we’d planned to go and were really looking forward to even before we left the UK, on our last visit it was one of the places we really enjoyed spending our time. It’s rich in culture and we found the people here a lot more welcoming & friendlier than those in Kuta. Thankfully we were not disappointed this time around and spent over a week here soaking it all up and left feeling more than a little sad that we had to move on and could have easily spent our remaining week in Bali right here.

We knew that accommodation here in Ubud was of a high standard so spent a good hour traipsing around the back streets trying to find something we really liked, we were probably being a little too choosy but we wanted to spend a few days here so thought it was worth the effort. It was heavy going with our bags in 30+ degree heat but eventually after walking around and around we struck lucky with Puri Astri 2 homestay on the outskirts of the town. We bagged a lovely bungalow (180,000Rph incl a delicious breakfast) with a stone shower and
Legong DanceLegong DanceLegong Dance

at the Water Palace
big terrace which looked out to the ravine in front. It was run by a friendly family with Cuman looking after our every need for our stay. We also had a nice neighbour in the shape of Malaysian born Dennis who introduced us to the Ubud we probably wouldn’t have experienced had he not been so happy to show us around, he had left Malaysia and now lived in the next door bungalow to us having spent the last 2 years here as a artist.

Ubud is the kind of place where days (and probably weeks) can fly by without you knowing it. It’s very easy to get to the end of a day and ask yourself “what exactly did I do today?”. You can stroll around the streets looking at the wares for sale, take a walk to the rice paddies that surround the town, relax in one of the many spas and enjoy some of the places to eat. We filled our time doing a bit of everything but a lot of it was spent wandering aimlessly around, walking down back streets and out of the town to see what we missed the last time around.

We did notice that the centre had got a lot busier than our last visit. Sure it was a tourist magnet 4 years ago but now it’s chock a block with people and the traffic is terrible. It’s worse around lunchtime when the day tripper buses come in and line up along the small roads causing congestion chaos. It didn’t take us long to figure out that this is the time to avoid the centre with Sophie making a note that going to the market later on in the day, long after the buses had left was the best time to bag the best price. In the evenings it wasn’t so bad and as Ubud isn’t a late night place at all, come 9pm the streets were virtually deserted.

We really wanted to do a bit of yoga while we were here, we’ve never really done it before and had read about the various places in the town which offer classes with the Yoga Barn being the most popular. Typical of our luck though there was a Yoga festival on for most of the week we were there so we only managed to squeeze in one introduction lesson. Yoga
Kecak Fire DanceKecak Fire DanceKecak Fire Dance

lighting the fire at the end
seems to be a big draw here in Ubud these days and we felt a little out of place walking down to our lesson as the place was crammed with very professional looking people who clearly take the whole thing very seriously. We really enjoyed the lesson and will probably investigate doing some back in the UK but we think that at the end of the day it should still remain a fun thing to do, not the kind of vibe we got in the Yoga Barn.

Another activity we’d pencilled in was a spa day as a treat for our weary legs after doing so much walking around in the last few months. There are lots of spas in town of varying quality but we really wanted to spend some time in a beautiful setting so took a walk out of town where we’d seen lots of places on our previous visit. We passed the Tjampuhan Spa which is located overlooking a river and decided that this would be the place for us. We booked in for a half day couples package which would include a massage, scrub, yoghurt rub and flower bath, after which we were able to use the beautiful facilities. The room in which we received our treatments opened out onto the river so we got the sounds of this alongside the obligatory spa music, it really was just how we imagined it would be. The spa facilities were also fantastic and we got them all to ourselves with this being the low season. It was quite newly renovated so everything was pristine, the Jacuzzi was pretty warm and not so comfortable when the air temperature is about the same. Adjoining the Jacuzzi was a ice bath, we both tried it a few times with Dale managing the longest time in there of about 2 seconds.. it was literally freezing and made every part of your hurt when you dunked yourself in! After the visit we found out that this hotel is one of the oldest in Ubud and used to be the home of a famous German painter Walter Spies, you can actually stay in his old house which has now been made up into a little guest suite and looked really lovely.

We couldn’t leave Ubud without attending one of the dances which we’d enjoyed so much before, even this time we enjoyed the first one so much we went to 3 altogether during our time here. Each one was slightly different but our favourite was probably the Kecak & Fire dance performed by a group of men sat around a fire. If you go to Ubud we would highly recommend this one as it’s mesmerizing with the chanting and almost sends you into a trance. There isn’t so much of the beautiful dance moves by the girls so it’s a little different but the man kicking hot fire coals around at the end makes for a memorable finale! We also went to the beautiful water palace for one of the dances, the setting here alone is stunning and we’d recommend it just for that.

The final dance we went to was one that Dennis had invited us to, as part of his work here he is painting a group of dancers and has daily contact with them so he asked if we’d like to go along to watch their performance and we were more than happy to attend. When we got there he surprised us with a backstage visit to meet the musicians and dancers which was a real treat.
Puspa MekarPuspa MekarPuspa Mekar

Welcome dance
We were both fascinated watching the girls prepare for the dance and the amount of work that goes into their makeup, hair and outfits is awe inspiring. Don’t forget that the temperature here in the evening is still in it’s late 20’s and we were both dripping with sweat just standing there. Ok they are more used to the temperature but still, wearing so much make up and being bound up in metres of material while balancing heavy headpieces on your head is something you cannot fail to be impressed by. The girls were all so lovely and more than happy to chat to us with their limited English while they prepared, we were taken aback by how quickly they got ready too but we guess that comes with years of practice. The dance was one of the best performances we’d seen and this was because this group are trained by the sons of Anak Agung Gede Mandera, one of Bali’s best dancers and choreographers. There certainly were a lot of different dances in this show and it never fails to amaze us how beautiful the dances are with the various movements of the hands, feet, body, head and eyes. As before seeing this really was another highlight of our trip and if we ever come back here we are certain we’d want to see more. If you ever come to Ubud we cannot recommend going to at least one of these dances enough, try to get there early though so you get a front seat!

While in Ubud we were lucky enough to have the company of a friend of a friend. Nanna was a friend of Mette, a Danish girl we met in Vietnam in 2009. Mette has said Nanna was coming to Bali and it would be great if we could all meet up. We always forget though that when people arrive from their home country they may not be as used to the heat and endless miles of walking like we are now. We can walk round all day, not really doing anything or realising how far we’ve gone and probably have done about 5 or more miles! We’d planned to go and see a rice paddy just behind our accommodation which Dennis had recommended to us so took Nanna along so she could experience a bit of the countryside too. The rice paddy was beautiful and green and we ventured off the path and onto the narrow paddy walls to get to the centre, we all got wet feet after falling into the water and mud a few times but it was a nice walk and not too strenuous. We walked into town for some lunch then down to Monkey Forest and back up to our accommodation. Just a casual stroll though town but in reality it’s quite a long way and poor Nanna was nearly on her knees by the time we deposited her back at her room!

Monkey Forest was quite an amusing experience, we are not fond of the macaques that roam Asia, we’ve said before that they are far away from being cute and cuddly and we won’t let them near us. We laughed when we saw one couple thinking it was a good idea to invite a group of monkeys onto their shoulders, it was all going well until we heard “ugh John it’s pissed down by back”. We were sniggering behind our leaflets as the river flooded down her back for a good 30 seconds… and that’s why you don’t have monkeys on your back! To be honest we are always more worried about them biting us and again we were glad we avoided them when we saw some tourists being screamed at by a group of monkeys. They really are quite scary when they bear their teeth and we found out that one monkey had stolen the girls earring and they were trying to get it back.. don’t go near the monkeys! They are still wild animals!

There is only so much walking around even we can do so we opted for 2 wheels one day so we could explore a little further afield than the centre and it’s surrounding area. We really wanted to go North to the Tegallalang rice terraces but this wouldn’t take all day so we went East first and found a short walk off the main road down to the river, there are some beautiful houses in this area and we could only dream of living here if we won the lottery one day.. this area would certainly be on the short list if only to fill it with all the furniture & fittings we looked at each day in town! We rode around enjoying the countryside passing exclusive resort after even more exclusive resort eventually going back through town and up North towards the terraces. Dennis had told us about a small detour on the way where you could see hundreds of herons nesting, “you will know when you are there by the bird poo on the road” he told us and sure enough you couldn’t miss it! All the trees along this road were full of herons, nests and chicks, we had to be careful where we stood though as we didn’t fancy getting covered in poo as we tried to take our photos!

Tegallalang rice terraces are supposed to be one of the things to see here in the area and we’d agree that it’s nice enough but after seeing the Banaue rice terraces it had a lot to live up to. They were very lush and green and you can enjoy the scenery from one of the countless coffee bars or tacky souvenir shops that line the main road. We found that the terraces themselves looked a little unmaintained compared to others we had seen and wondered just how much of the money that comes into this area goes to the farmers that work here to make it such an attraction? The price of the drinks was exorbitant so we can only hope that a share of it goes to the people who make the attraction itself… but we doubt it.

We can’t sign off from our time in Ubud without mentioning the food here as it’s amazing! Ubud is primarily famous for it’s suckling pig with Warung Ibu Oka being the frontrunner. We found that they had expanded, probably due to their popularity, and most people were directed to their new restaurant about 50m from the original. This one is much larger and eliminates the need for people to start queuing at 10am in order to sample this delicious meal. We enjoyed it so much we went there 3 times, at only 30,000Rph (around £2) you can’t beat that! We ate in a variety of places each as delicious as the last and we couldn’t get enough of the fresh food & vegetables here, such a difference from the Philippines. Dennis took us on a mini culinary tour one evening where we got to sample truly authentic local food in the backstreets and Sophie was delighted that it was mostly vegetarian, the favourite being ground rice cooked in banana leaves and served with vegetables and a peanut sauce with a fried jackfruit side dish. Dale had a fun experience in a salad bar on the outskirts of town one day, aren’t people who eat salad and beans supposed to be calm & loving people? They certainly liked to try and look the part, you know the bra-less free loving types but one lady almost tried to start a fight when Dale mistakenly got in front of her in the queue? We didn’t go to the salad bar again… partly due to this but mainly due to the exorbitant price! Why is it that salad is always so expensive and when did hippy’s get such massive ego’s?

On our final day in Ubud.. bearing in mind we had originally planned to leave 3 days earlier!.. Dennis invited Dale along to a ceremony down by the sea. The ceremony was much like the one we’d seen days earlier in Kuta but it would start here in Ubud and they would travel down to the sea with the locals so it would be quite a nice experience. Sophie had been invited along too but let the boys go alone so they could photograph the whole event without her hanging around kicking her heels.. besides she had important things to do… shopping! The day started in the local village where we’d seen the dancing and Dale & Dennis watched the group prepare for the days celebrations. Later on in the day everyone moved down to the beach, not a mean feat when there are about 2,000 people so they were loaded into a convoy of 50 trucks and off they went, a big snake of trucks all full with people! Everyone was in the beautiful Balinese outfits and as Dale was attending he also had to comply so we put together a very makeshift outfit in the form of Sophie’s sarong (complete with daisies), Sophie’s headscarf and Dennis’s headpiece. Dale kind of looked the part and at least made the effort but didn’t look half as smart as everyone else! It was something else to see so many people on a deserted beach and you can get an idea from the photos of just how crowded it was. Everyone made their offerings and prayed with the leader who chimed on his bells. The whole experience was
Backstage at the danceBackstage at the danceBackstage at the dance

Dancer preparing her hair. These are all individual gold flowers she had to put in.
quite special and we were glad that Dennis was so welcoming and keen to let us join in with a special celebration.

After this unbeatable experience we decided it really was time to move on, Sophie booked the bus tickets so there was no turning back an after an amazing, relaxing and entertaining week here in Ubud we moved on to Nusa Lembongan, the island we had hoped to visit from Sanur but the weather tricked us! Nusa Lembongan is touted as the “Bali you have been searching for”… ok well we haven’t really been searching for it but we’ll give it a go!

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Carved stoneCarved stone
Carved stone

We never get bored of seeing all these wonderful carvings.. if we had more weight in our bags our garden would be full of them!

14th April 2013

I've heard that Ubud is paradise, and your photos and adventures there seem to confirm this. Loved your videos--that fire dance was primal, a little scary and exciting, while the others were so exotic and graceful. Great blog!

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