Last full day in Ubud, and boy are we sad to go. There is no question in my mind that I will be coming back to Bali.
We had our delicious Balinese breakfast (which I will surely miss) and headed into town to the Monkey Sanctuary. We had heard that the monkeys could bite, and to definitely not bring in any food; naturally, we were a little apprehensive. The monkeys here are long-tailed macaques. The minute we bought our tickets we saw a monkey sitting in the pathway, just chilling with his balls out. I was beyond shocked that the monkeys literally own this area - they go where they please, and the entire area is open (when we left we saw several monkeys outside of the sanctuary). When you added in the massive trees with sunlight shining through and the old temples, it really was a sanctuary in the middle of Ubud (which is a sanctuary of its own sorts). We walked around the forest in awe of every monkey we saw and how human-like they were. We saw them fight, eat, defecate, play, screw, nurse; we saw elders, teenagers, moms, dads, and babies (which were Benjamin Button like) - it was the whole spectrum of being a human. At one point we were walking and one of the monkeys came up to me and started to reach up my shorts and then tried to take my flip flop off. It was amazing how soft his hands were and how gentle he was. When he realized he wasn't winning anything from me, he moved on to Katie and tried to reach into her bag to see if she had any goodies. Once again, he realized he wouldn't win, but we ended up in a lot of foreigner's photographs.
We left the monkey sanctuary ravenous and sweaty, but after a quick lunch we headed to the spa! We had signed up for a 5 hour spa day, which included a massage, body scrub, yogurt bath, facial, hair treatment, mani/pedi, and dinner. All for a whopping $95. Turns out, it was a couple's treatment - sorry, Aaron.
It was the perfect end to our time in Ubud. Now onto the beach to relax some more!
Thanks to recommendations from two grad school friends (Emily and Jaime!), we spent our day on a fabulous bike tour (Bali Eco Cycling). I highly recommend it.
When our 8am pickup arrived, we were happy to find 4 other energetic girls in the van - Jenna from Canada, Harriet from England, Yoska from Holland, and Chelsea from Oz. We really couldn't have asked for a better group!
That said, we were all quite hangry. Luckily the first stop was breakfast with an amazing view of Batur Volcano and Lake Batur. Batur Volcano is active, and we could see areas where lava had previously been flowing. Filled with eggs, rice, Balinese pancakes, fresh fruit, and coffee, we piled back into the van and drove to a coffee farm where we (once again) learned about luwak coffee and got to taste a myriad of coffees and teas. This time, however, we also got to taste various fruits (guava, tamarind, and snakeskin fruit), as well as Balinese chocolate.
Then it was off to our bike ride! We got our mountain bikes, grabbed helmets, and headed downhill! The first stop was at a traditional Balinese family compound. Here we learned the following:
• One of the buildings in the family compound is used for the oldest family members (grandparents, typically). It is actually higher than all of the other buildings (which is humorous since stairs can be difficult for older people).
• The first building is the kitchen. We got to look inside this family's kitchen - it was very simple, but had the necessities and some well-seasoned pans!
• There was another, completely open, building (except for a roof) that had a bed on it. We were told that this building is used for ceremonies - weddings, births, funerals. There are 3 types of Balinese weddings, and the one that stuck out the most to me happens to be the most common. Our guide referred to it as the MBA marriage, or Marriage By Accident. This is what happens when the girl gets pregnant first, and it's relatively common because "you gotta test the goods before you buy them" (yes, direct quote). It's really because the family wants to know that there is someone to continue the lineage and stay within the family compound, so if you can't get pregnant you get to live with mom and dad forever. We also learned about Balinese funerals (or really, the Cremation Ceremony, since the Balinese believe in reincarnation). When someone in a Balinese family dies, they are placed on the bed in the wall-less building as though they are simply sleeping. When it is time, the body is placed in a sarcophagus often resembling a lion (though there are two other animals it could resemble that I don't remember now). The body, in the sarcophagus is then processed to the temple, where it is burned. The ashes are collected, placed inside a coconut, and released to sea. This is a very expensive process, so lower classes will often bury the body and wait for the village's mass cremation, which occurs every 5 years.
• One of the most prominent structures within the family compound is the temple. Depending on where on the island the compound is, the temple is in the corner of the property that faces the sunrise and the highest mountain. These family temples are beautifully elaborate, with multiple shrines, and only members of the family are allowed to enter.
(If you have questions about Balinese culture, feel free to ask, as we learned quite a bit more than this. I've found that the history and culture here is so deep, and their religion so complex, that you can never stop learning about it).
Once we finished our tour of the family compound we rode downhill some more to rice paddies, where we got off to see men planting rice. We were given the opportunity to try it, and I decided why the hell not, took my shoes off and climbed down with them. Boy was it surprising! I sunk in up to my mid-shins as the mud squeezed between my toes. (Hope the water and mud were cleanish since I have a bunch of mosquito bites)! I was handed a bunch of rice and told to place them in the grid system that was marked out. An older Balinese man quickly informed me that I wasn't putting them in deep enough when he shoved my hand even deeper into the mud.
And that's when the rain really started...it started as a drizzle but as it got harder we nestled under a small shelter in the rice field with the men. They took out cigarettes and lit up while we unsuccessfully tried to get our belongings out of the rain. Once it seemed to stop we rinsed our feet and hopped back on our bikes.
A little freakier now as the dirt path was now mud, and several times my back tire skidded out. As we continued biking it started to POUR. My initial thought was that we would be forced off our bikes and into the van. Boy was I wrong; we just kept going. The rain pelted my skin and the front tire of the bike sent a stream of water straight into my face as we continued downhill past lush greenery and small villages. And then the thunder and lightning (and a yelp from me) came, but we kept going. After a quick stop at a massive Banyan tree, we were drenched but finished (with the downhill portion).
At this point we were given the option of getting in the car and heading to lunch, or continuing on with the uphill portion of the ride. Jenna, Katie, and I opted to continue - North America, represent.
The uphill portion was NOT easy, and made me realize I need to get back to spin when I return to TX. The rain continued to pelt our skin, and at times it was so heavy that it seemed like we were biking through rivers in the road. The gears on my bike were loose, making it so I could not stand to peddle uphill, and my back tire kept skidding out - definitely not easy to keep moving uphill. That said, we eventually made it, looked like wet dogs, and celebrated with lunch (and beer) with the rest of the group.
The entire time, through the rain, the back tire issues, all of it, I couldn't help but smile. Balinese on the sides of the road (in their covered shops) smiled and always said hello as we rode by, and it was so nice to be caught outside in a storm and just stick with it.
Our first full day in Ubud! We woke up and Ketut's wife made us the most delicious breakfast ever - an omelette, a Balinese pancake (think banana, coconut goodness), fresh fruit, and Balinese coffee. All served to us on our front porch, surrounded by lush greenery and the family temple.
In traditional Balinese culture, an extended family lives together. When each son marries, his new wife moves into the family compound (which means sisters move out of the compound). Twenty-six people live within Ketut's compound - we've met his wife and two sons, seen some of his brothers and their families. But I do know that his family built every structure on this compound, including their magnificent temple, and they've lived here for at least 150 years. When Ketut was explaining all of this to us over breakfast he put it this way: "What's more important than your family? We go live our lives and then we come back home and have dinner and talk with family every night - they will always be there". We also learned that if anyone in the family were to stop practicing their religion (Hindu), or stop participating in traditional Balinese culture, they would be kicked out and not allowed to live on the property.
During our amazing breakfast we met two other women staying with Ketut and fam - Angela who is from Arizona, and Amani who is Canadian but currently living and working in Doha, Qatar. We opted to spend our day with Amani and had a fabulous tour of rice fields and a coffee plantation by Medhe (Ketut's second son). The rice fields are simply stunning with the vibrant green terraces interlaces with durian, papaya, and Palm trees set against a beautiful blue sky. We learned that it takes about 6 months for the rice to grow to a point where it can be harvested. We also saw some beautiful lotus flowers and got to meet a local and very talented artist.
After the rice fields we went to a coffee farm where we got to see many different plants - cinnamon, ginger, coffee, cacao, pineapple, and more. We also got to see and feed coffee to luwaks. Luwaks are Asian Palm civets (look it up). The luwak eats the coffee but is unable to digest the coffee bean so it poops it out and then the coffee beans are taken from their shell, roasted, and ground. We naturally had to try the poop coffee (and others, too, including ginger coffee, lemongrass tea, ginseng coffee, and more). The luwak coffee was quite delicious, and you could taste the difference when you drank it side by side with regular Balinese coffee.
Katie, Amani, and I then headed into downtown Ubud for some food and a little shopping before yoga. Indonesian food has yet to disappoint - their ingredients are so fresh and everything is delicious and has a light feeling to it. We wandered our way through shops and made it to Yoga Barn for a vinyasa class. Practicing outside in the upstairs studio was lovely, with the sounds of birds, the breeze, occasionally a motorbike; there were even lizards "practicing" on the ceiling with us.
Sweaty practice done, we grabbed coconuts and juices for more shop meandering before making our way to the Ubud Palace for a traditional Legong and Barong Dance. The dancing included music played on drums, and an instrument similar to a xylophone. The first thing I noticed was how much eye movement and hand movement were an integral part to the entire dance; at some points, the dancers were completely still except for their arms, hands, head, and eyes. The dance we saw told the story of the battle between the virtue and the vice.
We departed the dance a little bit early to make it back home for a BBQ with Amani, Angela, and Ketut's family. Ketut's wife is an amazing cook - we ate traditional Balinese food and a lot of it! There was tofu and tempeh in peanut sauce, Balinese rice, vegetables, and skewered and grilled coconut chicken and pork satay. We were stuffed, but still had dessert - a delicious black rice pudding.
From rice fields to catpoocinos to yoga and a family BBQ, we definitely can't complain about our first full day in Ubud!
Unsurprisingly, after a late night in Bangkok followed by an early morning flight, I've gotten behind on blog posts. We arrived at the Bali airport feeling terrible...tired, hungover, hungry. I had booked us an AirBnB homestay in Ubud with Ketut Mendra. If you have never used AirBnB I 100% recommend it. If you are ever coming to Bali I 100% recommend staying with Ketut and his family.
Ketut's first son, Wayan, picked us up. A little history on the Balinese naming system - they often name their kids one, two, three, etc. Ketut is four, and Wayan is....? You guessed it, one. Anyways, that means there are multiple people with the same name.
Despite the rough state that we were in, Katie and I couldn't help but be talkative and feel full of life when we met Wayan. He is so joyful, funny, and answered all of our questions about Balinese culture and island life. One thing that was tough - the driving and the roads! The roads are quite windy once you leave the city, and technically they drive on the opposite side of the road, except we realized that it's more of a "drive wherever if it works for you" type of driving. Literally, sometimes we'd have motorbikes coming straight at us.
Once we arrived in Ubud (Payogan is actually the little village where we are staying) we were shown to our room and were blown away by its beauty and the niceness of Ketut. Our room is the perfect little studio - marble floors, a small sink and fridge in one corner, a raised living/eating area with a beautifully carved coffee table and cushions for seating on the floor, two twin beds and more amazing furniture. The room is surrounded on three sides by windows, and a sliding wood and frosted glass door leads to our outdoor bathroom. We even have a front porch where we leave our shoes when we enter our room (as is customary in Bali when you enter inside a house, temple, or store). Ketut immediately realized we needed a nap so that's what we did. To give you an idea of just how special this family is, the minute our door closed Katie started to cry - the beauty of our room, of Bali, of Ketut and his family was simply overwhelming.
Post nap, we walked into town for some food! We didn't know what to expect of Balinese food and were pleasantly surprised. Fresh ginger iced tea, a salad with lettuce, tomato, cucumber, and avocado, a very light coconut chicken curry, and Indonesian fried chicken (that was also light, somehow). The freshness of the food was amazing and we are sure this will be a nice change from the heavy (but delicious) Thai food.
The only way to fully describe Bali is magical. The Balinese people, the scenery, the way of life, the food - it is all so magical and indescribable.