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Published: August 18th 2017
UbudEvery day, in every way, I'm getting better and better. Every day, in every way, you're getting better and better.
So chanted the yoga instructor during shivasana (the time when you lie down at the end of a yoga session) as she clanged on her Tibetan healing bowls. My thought bubble pops: "Oh my god. I'm turning into an Eat, Pray, Love
cliche. And I don't even like EPL. Jeff is going to have a field day when I tell him about this. Oh, what the heck. Ommmmmm....."
The decision to go to Bali wasn't as quite easy as I made it out to be in the closing paragraphs of my last entry from Flores.
I had to ask myself a few questions. Am I retreating to the familiar? Was Bali too easy, and shouldn't I be looking for more challenging travel destinations? Can I learn anything from a place I have been to three times already? I was also dreading seeing the inevitable changes Bali would have undergone since I was last there.
Those of you who know me in person know that I am very Type A. I am curious and fidgety. I often have
This is my third time here. It felt like coming home.
to put my inner Type A aside, and I usually get rewarded when I do so. Once I acknowledged to myself that this journey of mine was not a competition, and that I was once again focusing on the destination rather than the journey, I gave in to instinct and went where the universe indicated I should go.
A Sort of Homecoming
I took off from Maumere Airport on August 9. Along the way, I had a bird's eye view of Flores, its mountainous interior, and the crazy winding Trans Flores Highway. I came a long way! Arriving at Santra Putra a few hours later, I was warmly welcomed back by Karja and Made. I was saddened to learn that their dog Neko has been killed by a motorcycle. In his place was a skittish black dog named Baca. Made (of Made's Warung opposite Santra Putra) happily welcomed me back too. Karja sat with me at breakfast several times. It felt like coming home.
Ubud has a way of sucking you in, and before long, you're immersed in it. Since I've already been here three times, I didn't really have a list of things to do and
Groan. Why would anyone acknowledge EPL? Why?
places to see other than Pura Lempuyang in the eastern part of the island. I was happy just to be here and to experience things as they unfolded. I did seek out yoga classes, though (I've been casually doing yoga at my former workplace) and so I scheduled a lot of my activities around the daily 2pm or 4pm yoga class near my accommodation. A typical day would be: wake up, eat breakfast at Santra Putra, wander somewhere, lunch (sometimes at Made's Warung, sometimes not), chill, yoga, relax and watch the sunset from my verandah, dinner at Made's, chill and eat some fruit, sleep. The days melded into one another.
Yoga, you say? My spouse Jeff has teased me mercilessly about turning into an Eat, Pray, Love
cliche. I have to remind him that Elizabeth Gilbert found love in Ubud. He continues teasing me. I love how secure he is. Either that, or he is trying to get rid of me.
Sights and activities
I covered my day trip to East Bali in a separate entry
Here are some sights and activities I've done in and around Ubud, in alphabetical order. Read also the captions to the photos
I loved this statue. I think it is a man squatting.
as I tell some additional vignettes via those photos. Agung Rai Museum of Art.
Commonly known as ARMA, this museum houses an extensive collection of Balinese art as well as works by Walter Spies, a German artist who lived in Ubud between the two world wars. Balinese art tends to be dark and it is amazing for the textures that artists can tease out from varying shades of black and grey. My favorite pieces were a collection by an unknown artist about Arjuna's life as an ascetic, and a humorous take on the Lion Air jet that missed the runway at Bali in 2013 (there weren't any fatalities). The museum grounds were pretty. While I was there, jazz artists were rehearsing for a jazz festival. It was a little jarring to listen to jazz while viewing traditional paintings. Balinese Massage
. Believe it or not, I have never tried Balinese massage so I gave it a try this time at Lili and Lala's next to Santra Putra. It isn't a gentle massage but it isn't anywhere as painful as deep tissue massage. I was a little surprised that the staff at the spa spoke next to no English since
Selfie among the rice terraces.
they deal almost exclusively with tourists. I can get by in Indonesian so communication wasn't a problem, but I could hear an Australian lady in the next cabana struggling to make herself understood. Blanco Renaissance Museum
. Often described as the Salvador Dali of Bali, the flamboyant Antonio Blanco lived on a grandiose property next to the Campuhan Bridge. The museum housed his paintings, many of which were of female nudes, his favorite type of muse. Some were also overtly sexual. The museum also had a giant squatting man sculpture at its front entrance which I absolutely loved. There is a collection of exotic birds in the garden. Campuhan Ridge
. This is a pretty hike up a ridge to a viewpoint for some spectacular rice terraces. On my previous trips, I did a long loop through Kedewatan back to Penestanan. I didn't do the loop this time as most of it is on road and, apart from one temple, the route wasn't particularly interesting. Roundtrip from Penestanan was about 4.75 miles. You can see the workout stats here
. I was surprised to see many tourists on this hike; there were hardly any tourists on my two prior hikes up
Meet Noel, the token black kitty. He took an immediate shine to me. When I came into the cafe, he walked right up to me and meowed. All my cats are either black or predominantly black, so this fit a pattern. He even rolled over and exposed his tummy to me. This is the ultimate compliment a cat can give you!
this ridge. Cat Cafe.
I stumbled upon this gem while walking to ARMA. All the kitties were long hair breeds. They appeared well taken care of. Two kitties - Momi and Noel - took an immediate shine to me. Momi purred while I petted her and she later jumped onto my lap. Noel even allowed me to rub his belly. This is the highest honor a kitty can bestow on a human! Independence Day
. Due to bali belly, I needed to remain near Santra Putra on Indonesia's Independence Day, August 17. The highlight of the celebration was the villagers (and a Caucasian tourist sucker
volunteer) climbing two greased poles to get goodies at the top. The team that climbed the shorter of the two poles was made up of mostly teenagers and it was fun to watch them work together. The other team was dominated by an experienced pole climber and once he was hoisted up to a certain height, he pretty much did everything himself. It was far less fun to watch him. Of course, nothing beats the time Jeff volunteered to help
during our 2013 trip. Kecak (Monkey) Dance at Pura Dalem.
This is the only cultural performance I wanted
This monkey was picking stuff from his scrotum and eating it. Nasty.
to see again. I had already seen this twice. This time round, however, it was different. Audience participation was incorporated into the performance, and this jarred me a little. In past performances I attended, the performers barely acknowledged the audience. Not this time. Also, the performers were in a trance in my previous performances and they were led out of it by a priest. This time round, it looked as if only the fire walker was in a trance. Overall this was a letdown for me. It felt less authentic. Monkey Forest
. Always good fun to be had here. Highlights included a monkey picking stuff from his scrotum and eating whatever it was he picked, and me making the mistake of opening my backpack for a drink of water and having monkeys climb all over me as a result. My water bottle has a squirt top, and I had to squirt the most persistent monkeys to get them off me. Museum of Marketing
. Located on Museum Puri Lukisan's grounds, this is a rather pointless exhibit showcasing one author's book on marketing and spirituality. But hey, admission is free and the aircon is cold. Museum Puri Lukisan
Independence Day celebration. This was the lower pole that was climbed by a mostly teenage set. Here, the participants are cooperating and working as a team.
visited this on my last full day in Ubud. As soon as I stepped in, I began to question why I was visiting yet another museum on Balinese art. But I did find one exhibit that fascinated me - a series of 200+ year old paintings on cloth. These fragile pieces of art are lovingly preserved. The admission price includes a drink and a delicious Balinese snack at the restaurant. Neka Art Museum
. Situated along the Campuhan to Kedewatan road, this museum had a wonderful collection of traditional Balinese and contemporary art, including paintings by Arie Smit, another European resident who, like Walter Spies, influenced local art. There was also a keris (dagger) collection and historic photographs. Every item was painstakingly labeled in English and Indonesian. Pokémon Go
. Apart from Labuanbajo, there were no pokegyms and pokestops anywhere in Flores, not even in the towns. Pokémon were scarce too. I was having withdrawal issues after not playing for a week. I could finally play again when I got to Bali. Unfortunately, Bali doesn't appear to have a critical mass of players so I didn't catch any of the newly released legendary Pokémon which can only be caught when
These were "healing bowls" that the yin yoga instructor used. During shivasana (the end of the yoga session when you lie down) she walked among us and clanged the bowls. A little too new age-y for me. When she invited us to this session a day earlier, I thought she said "singing balls". Damn her Euro accent!
players cooperate. Wandering Around Penestanan
. Santra Putra is located in Penestanan, which is west of Central Ubud. Much of Penestanan is not accessible by car; most of the village is a rabbit warren of paths. I enjoyed walking along these paths and finding little gems all over the place, such as hidden rice fields, pretty gardens, statues, and altars. There is water flowing everywhere in this village and it added to the atmosphere. Towards the end of my stay, I developed a mild case of bali belly (I think my body was rebelling against 2+ weeks of coconut in my food) so I remained within the vicinity of Santra Putra and explored the area. Wandering Around Ubud
. Ubud is a visual feast and there is so much to look at. These include beautiful doors, art installations, temples, public spaces, and shops. Yeh Pulu
. This is a 25-meter long collection of 14th century rock carvings. It depicts life in Bali before European contact. It isn't anywhere as grand as monuments such as Gunong Kawi, but I went there because it was the only significant monument I hadn't visited in the Ubud area. Yoga, Yoga, Yoga
. I purchased
a package of yoga classes at Intuitive Flow near Santra Putra. I mostly attended basic classes. I was intrigued, however, when an instructor described her yin yoga as having "singing balls". I came for her yin yoga class and it turned out she meant "healing bowls". Damn her Euro accent. I had a hard time keeping a straight face during that session as it was too new age-y for me.
The Inevitable Changes
It is easy to romanticize Bali. I try hard not to compare the Bali of today with the Bali I experienced in 1993. But, it is clear that the influx of tourists and development has strained Bali's infrastructure. Traffic is noticeably worse - it takes ages just to exit the airport. My room at Santra Putra looked directly into rooms from two new developments next door. They are so close I can hear the other guests showering. Many of the new villas and guest houses are more upmarket and almost all of them are foreign owned. Migrants flock from other parts of Indonesia to partake in the tourism and construction boom. In fact, several of the guides-in-training I met in Ruteng, Flores
said that their goal is to move to Bali to work
The steps leading up from the main drag to my accommodation. I walked up and down these steps every day.
as guides. It goes without saying that these new arrivals are culturally dissimilar to the Balinese.
Mercifully, the trash problem has improved greatly compared to my last visit in 2013. I learned from Karja that many of the villages have taken steps to tackle the problem. At Penestanan, Karja had been elected village head. Under his leadership, the village now disposes trash in a central receptacle for a private contractor to remove. There is no central municipal authority for management of trash in the Ubud area. In Central Ubud, I now see trash bins everywhere, and signs urging people to sort between organic and non-organic trash. Karja says that the villages haven't quite reached the stage where they are willing to sort their recyclables. Hopefully that is the next phase.
I worry for how sustainable this all is. Thankfully, the cultural identity still seems strong. I can't tell how serious the impacts are on the community. Bali has always been a welcoming place but too many tourists visiting and foreigners buying or leasing land must be a strain; let's not forget the Indonesians from other provinces entering the mix too. One can only hope that there will be
a more coordinated effort to manage development and infrastructure.
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