Thursday, September 29, 2011


During one of the infrequent phone calls we had with Rene’s parents since arriving in Indonesia, they insisted passionately that ‘I have to go to Ubud in Bali’. They explained that it was the highlight of their stay in Bali 28 years ago. In their memories, Ubud is a magical artistic haven with friendly, spiritual locals and quiet streets. Ubud features in the popular book/film, ‘Eat, Pray, Love’ as the place where Linda, the main character, finds love, harmony and herself. Ubud houses plentiful yoga schools and one of my “must do’s” for this trip was to spend a week in a yoga school to rekindle my daily practice. I had high hopes for this place!
I opted for the bus to Ubud from Lovina for 85000Rp rather than take a private motorbike or taxi (of which there were, pricey and plentiful offers). This turned out to be a great decision for the lovely travellers I met on the 2.5 hour trip in a fast minivan. There was a couple from Amsterdam and a couple from Slovakia and all three of us girls had the same problem. We all love travelling and living life and don’t know how to fit in having our own children without having to sacrifice too much! But I’m diverging here…

Stepping off the bus onto the main street in Ubud was chaotic. Everywhere I looked, I saw tourists. ‘Am I in the Gold Coast?’ I thought as I tried (in vain) to locate my position on a Lonely Planet map. Splitting from my newfound friends, I risked death crossing the busy street and found myself walking along Monkey Forest Road (which is not lined with trees as you'd imagine). I’d been told there were hundreds of places to stay so as I walked along, I stepped in through various decorated archways into little worlds of bungalows. I found one with a spare room pretty quickly and managed to bargain their price of 200000Rp per night to 135000. The room was nice enough with a garden-surrounded porch, double bed, ceiling fan and (supposed) hot water shower.

After dumping my bags I set out to explore Ubud and look for better (cheaper) accommodation. I walked for hours in the heat down the crowded, tourist-filled streets lined with men offering taxi rides and women offering massages in between shop after shop and frequent restaurants. I asked at 9 different accommodations throughout a wide area of Ubud; some being simple home-stays and others with pools and attached restaurants. Prices ranged from 400000Rp to 150000Rp per night for one person. On a whim, I walked down yet another alley off Monkey Forest Road and found, at the end, a cute, clean bungalow surrounded by beautiful forest garden above a running stream. Apparently the river contains great energy and spirits – some Canadian guests had photographed it on a moonlit night to discover strange lights amongst the trees. The caretaker was happy to drop the price to 135000 and I moved in to Raka & Rai the next day. 
My room at Raka & Rai Bungalow
After spending one night in my new room, I wasn’t happy with it. There was construction going on right next door (1metre from my window) and the workers all stopped to stare at me each time I ventured out onto the patio or walked to/from the room. Being alone I didn’t feel safe plus it was so noisy! The staff were very apologetic and I moved across one room where it was much quieter and private. I couldn’t help laughing at myself though, three nights in Ubud and each one of them in a different room! Cruising has changed me for sure!! I’m so used to being able to change our location whenever we want to, by pulling up anchor, sailing or motoring somewhere and then anchoring in a new spot!

Travelling to Ubud alone has been interesting and challenging for me. For 16 months we've been cruising (with a 6 month stop-over in Townsville to work) and have travelled from Brisbane to Bali by sea. I've taken my home with me all this way and it's the best way to travel long-term. If I've had enough of a place, I simply go home! Rene and I spend much more time together than if we had stayed in Brisbane working and paying off an overpriced house in an outer suburb. Being alone was challenging. I missed Rene and all the other yachties who are always so friendly and good to chat to. I tried striking up conversation with a few other tourists but it always ended within minutes. Talking with locals was fun but of course there is the language barrier so the topics are pretty limited and they inevitably always wanted to sell me something. The charming one-liners for selling things lost their charm when repeated everywhere I went. 'Special price for you', 'good luck price', 'special morning price', 'special sunset price', 'special first-customer price' etc. What I do still find charming however, is when you do buy something, the seller will often take the cash and touch it against other items in their shop and themselves to encourage further good luck.

I’m not one to shy away from challenges though and I stuck through the lonliness and ended up being stronger for it.

I settled into a rhythm of waking early to the sounds of the bungalow caretakers sweeping the grass with a hand-bound straw brooms. Breakfast (included) is a green banana pancake with fresh fruit and smoothie with tea or Balinese coffee (which is pretty dismal for a coffee lover). 
Cheeky monkey eating from a spiritual offering.
To walk through the forest normally costs 20000Rp but I found a back-way along the motorbike path to avoid having to pay this fee twice a day. At the other end of the forest is Nyuh Kuning village which is still sleepy and consists of a dusty road lined with spas, restaurants and shops. But most importantly for me – the whole reason in fact, for me being in Ubud – was an Ashtanga Yoga Shala.
Mysore style yoga class in Ubud
The Ashtanga Yoga Bali Research Centre is run by Prem and Radha – world-renowned yoga teachers – who run the Mysore-style yoga centre. I had booked in for one week and attended class from 8 till 10 each day. I went because I was missing the atmosphere and enthusiasm of a yoga class. My own daily practice was struggling with the lack of routine in our lives whilst cruising in addition to the (often) lack of calm anchorage. It is very difficult to balance in any of the standing postures when the boat is rocking about! It had been 6 months since my last class (back in Townsville with Live and Breathe Yoga) and I went in hoping I could remember the whole first series. Mysore style yoga involves a set series of postures that are designed to be practiced every day in the same order. The students all practice on their own as the teachers walk around and help, advise and adjust people who they deem require it. I had thought I was doing OK with my practice but I soon learnt that I have A LOT more to learn.
Prem adjusting me in Marichyasana C.
I learnt so much during the week of classes. I realised that I’d let my ego get in the way and I wasn’t concentrating on the right things. Instead of thinking about whether the asana (posture) I was practicing looked good, I now know that it is more important to concentrate on breathing and doing the posture correctly. Most of the class was quite serious and I was the only student (I think) who laughed at myself or smiled when catching someone’s eye accidentally. I was told a few times to stop talking by Radha – I struggled with this as I love talking!! She explained it was for my own safety while in difficult postures. I was told that I wasn’t ready to do the whole first series and now only do two thirds. I discovered that I wasn’t doing many of the postures correctly and have had to return to basics with a few of them. I left after the week with plenty to work on and inspiration to work towards improvement, not just physically, but mentally and spiritually too.
I spent most of that week in Ubud alone. One day some friends from the Kiwi yacht Sharita came up to spend a night in Ubud – the supposed cultural capital of Bali. It was so nice to hang out with yachties!! They invited me to swim in the hotel pool which overlooked rice paddies and shouted me to dinner and cocktails. They even walked me home that night to ensure my safety. 
The saltwater pool Sharita invited me to in Ubud!
I started to make friends with some of my classmates and shared a dinner and a breakfast with a bunch of them. As with yachties, yogi’s all come from such different backgrounds – it’s so interesting to meet and get to know such a variety of people. Due to the yoga crew, I discovered a nicer area of Ubud, away from the bustle of Monkey Forest Road. I was introduced to an amazing café, Clear Café which had incredible food and the best coffee I’ve had for about a year! A latte with vanilla beans made on cashew milk! WOW 
Oooh lala delicious food at Clear cafe
Eating out in Ubud was twice the price of Lovina. I found some cheaper places but they either had unhappy staff or kitchens that hadn’t ever seen disinfectant. Western food was the same price as local stuff so I mixed up my Indonesian diet of tempeh, tofu, Gado Gado and rice with pasta, pizza and nachos! Because we’ve only got one month left of this trip, our budget is very tight as we are at the end of our savings and need to work again asap. I think I would have had a better time in Ubud if I’d had more money to burn and if my laptop hadn’t died. I could have stayed a little out of town, gone to more yoga classes, had more massages and eaten at nice places every day with free WiFi.

Rene hired a motor scooter from Lovina (40000Rp per day + fuel which is only 7000Rp per litre) and drove all the way up to Ubud at the end of my week there to see it for himself. I showed him around and we explored further afield with the scooter. We found an archaeological museum which displayed ancient crypts, rice fields with a large ‘Not For Sale’ sign artistically presented amongst cut-outs of people, locked temples with amazing stone sculptures at the entrance and busy, busy roads. I was quite concerned about our riding about on a motor scooter. Each day in Bali, 8 people die from motorbike/scooter accidents. We saw an expat in a café with deep wounds up his leg from a recent accident and passed by a more serious one as the ambulance arrived to care for a man with blood pouring from his neck, his arm being help up limply by a bystander. I took out our first travel insurance for this trip because this is the most danger we’ve been in – strangely enough, sailing is safer by far!! 
Riding along in a quiet hill-side street above Ubud.
Ubud used to be a quiet, spiritual and artistic little village. Now it is a large sprawl of endless shops selling sarongs and dresses, large air conditioned Western-style shops, millions of motorbikes, huge bus loads of tourists, busy streets which often jam up during peak times and hundreds of restaurants. 
Thousands of motorbikes/scooters in Ubud.
There are nice, quiet areas away from the main streets and I should have tried harder to find these areas. What I did like about Ubud was the artistry in everything. At almost every house/shop entrance is a stone sculpture of a Hindu God like Ganesha. Each day these are decorated with fresh flowers and little offerings. The locals perform spiritual offerings a few times a day in meditative ceremonies that are intriguing and beautiful to watch.
Ganesha at the entrance to Raka & Rai Bungalows

Check out the ears on the left statue!!
I went to a performance of traditional dance and music one night. The Gamelan band was very professional and the performers all had amazing costume and makeup. They enacted a series of traditional stories, in a slow and sometimes confusing display. Rene also saw performers while in Lovina for the Sail Indonesia rally events but he thinks that what I saw was more professional. 
Great costume and make-up!
After a week in Ubud, I was missing my floating home. We loaded up the scooter and drove for 5 hours back to Lovina. Our bums were sore as the journey took far longer than we’d expected. How can the bus have only taken 2.5 hours? We passed through some gorgeous, green landscape and some busy, stinking towns. Along the top of Gunung Batur we had to pay 11000Rp tourist tax for simply driving along the road. We ate at local roadside warung’s and I was glad to arrive in the quiet streets of Lovina at the completion of our journey. What a ride!

Back on Anima, the swell in the anchorage was so bad that I had to take a seasick tablet, having lost my sea legs after a week on land! We caught up with friends, ate cheap and delicious locally-made food and I was glad to be home. They say that ‘home is where the heart is’. ‘Anima’ means soul or life force in Latin – it really has become this for me during our four years living aboard. I complain about various aspects that I’d like to improve and yearn for a large, roomy catamaran, but Anima is my home, it’s where my heart is… for the moment.
View from my home anchored in Lovina

1 comment:

  1. Well it was lovely talking to you on the phone but you can't beat a good story with pictures!
    xxox Rog and Jan