Rice, rice baby (Back to Bali)

I had been to Bali twice before (once in April with friends, once in July with Larissa and Mom). But I’d only ever stayed in Seminyak (the party/shopping area of Bali), and I knew there was so much more to explore. I remember when Teta Tanya visited Bali in 2001, I was fascinated by what she came back with: stories of Balinese culture and photos of lush green rice paddies. I listened intently (rare in my childhood), and knew I wanted to visit this part of the world someday. This weekend I did just that, and I feel incredibly lucky to have been able to experience beautiful Bali once again.

I stayed at a modest but cute place called Lumbung Sari Cottages, which was small and very cosy with the kindest staff in the world. Bali is a quick 2.5-hour flight from Singy, but if you leave after work around 8PM like I did, you end up getting in quite late. Luckily, there was no line at immigration and very little traffic on the way to the hotel, so I was under the covers before 1AM.

Originally, I was planning to walk around the city and its surroundings on Saturday, but I ended up deciding to do that Sunday (more on why later). I needed a new plan for Saturday, and Roisin recommended to me a cycling tour she did when she was here last year. We travel well together and generally like the same kinds of things (plus, I am the daughter of world-renowned cyclist Michael Hayden), so I booked it and showed up Saturday morning ready to cruise. I was on the tour with a newlywed couple, who were sweet but generally not chill on bikes, so the guide split the group up and got the mountain bikes out for the two of us (the cool kids). We spent the next three hours ripping around the jungle, and it was an incredible experience! The ride was breathtaking—we passed by rich green fields of marigolds, jungle paths canopied in palm trees, and small villages dressed in offerings from a full moon celebration earlier this month.

We made a few stops along the way as well:

  • Coffee break at a Balinese plantation with pancakes, a fresh fruit smoothie bowl and yummy coffee and tea sampler with a view of the beautiful green valley below (our guide also showed us around the plantation garden, pointing out the cacao, vanilla, cinnamon, and clove plants)
    • Just a note here that I feel everyone reading this should know: the most expensive coffee in the world, Kopi Luwak, can be found in Indonesia. Why is it the most expensive coffee in the world, you ask? Get ready to be mind blown and somewhat confused:
    • The coffee beans are digested by luwaks (an Indonesian cat-like animal). The luwak only eats the ripest coffee cherries that surround the coffee bean (it is a very fancy animal, probably drinks water with its pinky up, too). During the digestion process, the coffee cherries and the pulp are removed but the bean itself stays, and some kind of unique fermentation goes down which is responsible for giving the coffee its special flavor.
    • The feces of this luwak are then collected, finished and sold as kopi luwak. You cannot make this stuff up.
  • Anyway…….Viewpoint overlooking Kintamani Volcano and its crater lake
  • Stop at a traditional Indonesian family home (with a lesson on how to make Indonesian prayer offerings!)
  • Cycle through Taro Village (this is where we parted ways with the bike amateurs and headed into the jungle)
  • Cycle through rice paddies
  • Traditional Indonesian lunch at Green Kubu to end the day

I didn’t get a ton of photos (safety first, readers!), but I was able to snap a few and have the guide grab a few of me as well. What a wonderful way to spend the day on Saturday.  There really is nothing I love more than a bike ride through a place I don’t know, and there’s really nothing I can think of that can make you feel more alive.

I was pretty wiped by the time I got back to the city center, so I napped downed a double espresso to power up for the rest of the day (it was about 4PM when I arrived back at the cottage). The mountain biking was a bit hard on the joints, so I decided to take a yoga class. I knew I wouldn’t have trouble finding a studio. The island of Bali is deeply spiritual in nature because Hinduism inculcates itself into the daily lives of its residents, and yoga, being an offshoot the religion, thrives here. I landed on a place called Yoga Barn: a very famous venue in the yogi world that I’d heard of before. It’s a venue to which people from around the world travel for classes and workshops. I was excited to practice in one of the places where yoga is most celebrated globally (tennis fans, it’d be like practicing your swing on the court at Arthur Ashe Stadium. Soccer fans/José, for you it’d be like kicking the ball around on the field of Santiago Bernabéu Stadium).

As soon as I arrived, I understood why it’s so famous. Located on one of Bali’s rice terraces, Yoga Barn is a huge complex with multiple studios but a spacious feel. My class was held in this cavernous room with floor-to-ceiling glass windows facing the jungle. The class was magical but I know if I describe it in detail everyone will fall asleep, and we don’t want that. But—it’s important to note the instructor played Paul Simon during the class, which ruled. Throughout the class, you could hear water flowing down the river underneath the studio, and monkeys howling in the trees above it. It was a pretty cool experience, yogi or not.

I was feeling SWEET after class. Yoga always puts me in a good-to-great mood, and I really could’ve flowed for another few hours. I showered once again (in the hot/humid cities of Southeast Asia, showering multiple times a day becomes a norm), and then was feeling hungry, and I had a place in mind for dinner: KAFE. Yummy vegetarian fare that even my vegetarian-bashing coworker said he not only ate there, but enjoyed it. Done. The food there was sooo good and flavourful: I got a cashew-based curry, and washed it down with some iced lemongrass/ginger tea. My new dessert island meal, I think. I had some friends in town that I met up with at dinner, and we headed to a place called Cafe Havana afterwards for some Saturday night fever. I will conclude this paragraph by stating that, although I planned to get myself up and out of bed for a 7AM class at Yoga Barn, I did not make it. A shocking twist of events!

I did get a bit of a late start on Sunday, but the activities I had planned took a lot less time than I anticipated, so it was all good. After eating a hearty, healthy breakfast at the cottage (life lesson #1 from dear old Dad), I trekked out to Ubud Palace, in the center of town. This is a historical complex that serves as the official residence of the royal family of Ubud. It was beautiful and the history I read on the plaques was interesting (the guy that built it was drawn to the plot of island because of the immense spiritual powers he felt when he was nearby. This feeling immediately resonated with me, as I experience a similar pull while walking or driving past a Shake Shack). I even got to experience some little girls practicing their traditional Balinese dance under the watchful eye of two coaches (super cute!). But, as with many places in Southeast Asia and particularly in Bali, it was very crowded with tourists, so I stayed only briefly to snap a few photos and then I GTFO.

Across the street from the palace is Ubud Market. There is typically one main marketplace in every big Southeast Asian city (whether it be a daytime market like this one, that sells lots of knick-knacks and keepsakes, or a night market which is more food-based). These markets can get monotonous, but Ubud Market was a different story. Of course it had for sale all kinds of items unique to the area (which has a very cool style to it), but I was also able to experience several interesting traditions of the Balinese people there.

It’s recommended to visit the market early, and until reading into this further, I thought this was an avoid-tourists tactic. But actually, because the Balinese are deeply Hindu, there is a belief that a merchant’s luck for the day is based upon its first customer. So, if you are the first person to walk into a shop at the market, they really want you to make a purchase and get the good juju flowing for the rest of the day, so they’ll offer you DEEP discounts. I tried it out at my first stop, a small jewelry shopfront, and it worked! The necklace at which I was looking cost 160,000 RP (13 USD), I said the price was too high and offered her 60,000 RP (4 USD), and she went for right away. No negotiation required—the perfect kind.

Following the crowded market, I really wanted to get back to the beautiful open space that Ubud does so well (my favorite memories of Ubud are the lush fields, valleys, rice paddies, and mountains). The Campuhan Ridge walk is just a 15-minute stroll from the city center, so I headed over and was stunned with what I found. The walk is along the narrow spine between the eastern and western branches of Ubud’s Wos Rivers, and offers really nice vista and village views. Though the blog I read beforehand advised “The walk is not strenuous, but there’s a few uphill sections, and some stairs in places,” my attire of flip-flops and maxi dress was most definitely not appropriate, so just a word to the wise, if you ever decide to take this walk along the ridge, suit up.

My phone had started to die about halfway across the ridge walk, and since I needed directions to find my way back to the city, I decided to step into a small little homestay at the top of the hill. I’m so glad I did! The family running the homestay was absolutely lovely. Not only did they allow to charge my phone, they invited me into their kitchen while the mother was making prayer offerings. Feeling a boost of confidence from my previous day’s lesson, I took a shot, but given I did not receive the gift of craftiness (I have other valuable and lucrative skills!!), my prayer offering looked more like the art project of a three-year-old. Awkward because moments earlier they had told me that in Balinese culture, a woman’s ability to assemble a prayer offering determines her value as a wife. Conclusion: I have the same value as the goats kept behind the home. HOWEVER, the mother made me some delicious Balinese coffee and hooked me up with two bags of traditional Balinese rice cake (soaked in brown sugar and fried, it was delicious, and no one would deny this offer). Plus I got to spend almost an hour with this sweet, sweet family, get a real taste of local life. Win!

The drizzle that started on my walk back to town turned into a pour, and since I had wanted to get some writing done (some trips I write, some I read, some I focus on photos, etc. Always a creative pursuit in mind), I headed back to my cottage,  sat under the cabana by the pool, sipped some afternoon tea, and dove into some writing I’d been wanting to get done. You’ll feel starstruck to know that part of that writing effort was THIS VERY BLOG, the first ever post created in the very location I am writing about. Be the witness to greatness.

There’s something about Bali that lends itself to soulful creativity. There’s so much art, culture, spirituality and fun, that it was the perfect environment to renenergize my creativity and get some projects done that I’m been putting off for some time. On a lighter note, it was incredibly fun walking around snapping photos, eating and doing yoga in this beautiful place!

Bali, I’ll be back.

A few photos from Ubud: