Our first destination in Bali was Ubud, a place made famous by the recent, and apparently quite rubbish film Eat, Love, Pray starring Julia Roberts. I actually read the book a few years ago and loved it, what can I say, I love happy endings.
We arrived at night, so I didn't get to see much of the place, although I loved our welcome. The owner said it’s late at night, go to bed we’ll check you in, in the morning. How thoughtful. We were staying in a type of home-stay which was incredibly beautiful. Everywhere we looked were little shrines, statues decorated with flowers, a main family temple and plants and trees in every nook and cranny.
After a lovely lie-in we watched one of the family members gather the flowers that had fallen from
the trees and arrange them in a line on ledges, use them as large earrings on statues, gather them on the small tables on each porch. It became apparent, very quickly that the Balinese like things to look pretty.
Close to lunchtime, we walked down to the centre of town. It wasn’t a long walk, but it left a huge impression. As we walked down the gorgeous tree lined street, every other building seemed to be a temple. Wafts of sweet smelling incense greeted our nostrils and every couple of metres we’d notice a little offering on the pavement artistically decorated with strips of bamboo and flowers. All this combined with sweet smiles and happy hello’s from the beautiful Balinese people had me enthralled. In our months of travelling, no place had had such an immediate and strong impression on me. I was officially in love!
We stopped for lunch at a famed suckling pig restaurant that had queues outside. We knew we were at the right place as we’d just seen two guys riding a motorbike whilst holding a huge tray on their head containing a WHOLE cooked pig. Unfortunately I was too busy laughing to get my camera out in time. It would have made a great photo. But funny photos aside, the highlight of the afternoon was definitely our meal. The pork was cooked with different Balinese spices and it tasted sublime. We loved it so much that we ended up coming to this place 3 times, always having the same dish. That’s saying something when you’re in a town, which I would soon discover, is full of AMAZING restaurants with innovative, drool inducing menus and stunning decor.
That night we met up with a few people we’d befriended along the way and had a great night feasting on amazing pizza in a place that’s overlooking the rice fields. By the end of the night I was convinced, I’d finally found home. Ubud is just perfect. It’s a place that’s full of art, artists, amazing restaurants, and surrounded by beautiful nature. All set in a great climate and a few hours away from stunning beaches. It’s no surprise many westerners end up calling it home. Hopefully Paul and I will too one day.
Paul and I don’t tend to do many tours but we picked up a leaflet describing a cycling tour and one read of it had us convinced we wanted to do the cycling tour that was advertised. We convinced our new found friends to join us and the next day, all 7 of us were picked up to be taken to our starting point - a lovely restaurant with gorgeous views of a volcano and the surrounding countryside. Our guide was very funny. The minute he opened his mouth he sounded like he’d just stepped off the set of Eastenders. When I commented on this he said he’d learnt English from a girl who hailed from Tottenham. It was hilarious hearing the strong cockney accent every time he opened his mouth, which was very very often. We learnt
loads from him, and were fascinated by some aspects of Balinese culture.
Did you know that in Bali everyone has the same name? Well one of four names. There’s a set name for the first, second, third and fourth child. So if someone tells you that their name is Ketut, you know they were the fourth child. As he told us this he quipped that the fifth child is normally called oops.
More interestingly he told us how every village has a strong community and that the elders meet up every week to discuss community matters. If anyone does something wrong, he gets dealt with in these meetings, rather than by the police. Wrongdoers are greatly shamed, because in the community’s eyes they’re attracting bad karma towards the whole community and not just themselves. This tends to discourage most from committing crime.
Every family lives in a commune. A son is expected to take care of the family and so when he gets married his wife joins him in the commune and together they care for the parents. Which is why it’s extremely important for a married couple to have at least one son. Two sons are even better. Incidentally, if a Balinese man or woman got married to a non-Balinese, part of the ceremony would involve the foreigner getting their teeth filed down (something all Balinese do when they're young). How's that for a true test of love?!
We spent a glorious day cycling, mostly downhill, through gorgeous rice paddies and pretty roads, stopping every now and then to visit a commune and learn a new piece of information.
As we watched a man carve an intricate design we were told how every village has its own craft. So if you’re born in a particular village you’re expected to become a painter, or a sculpture or a weaver depending on the village. It takes the whole 'I don’t know what to do with my life’ crisis away. On a quick tour of his shop we discovered a wood carving that had started off as a simple drawing, that had some pretty disturbing scenes on it. We soon learnt it was a scene of the afterlife that showed what could happen to people who didn't live a decent life. Worryingly when we asked why there were a few people hanging upside down from a tree we were told that they were people who chose not to have kids!
During the tour we got to visit a coffee plantation and learn more about how the famous Luwak coffee is made. At about $20 a cup it is the most expensive coffee in the world. It goes through quite a unique processing system as the berry is first ingested by a type of cat - called a civet cat.
Civets are extremely particular when it comes to food and will only eat the ripest berries, which automatically make the best coffee. You may have noticed I've tried and managed to avoid using words like 'cat poo' in this description. Especially as P and I got to try a cup.
At one point we came across some people harvesting rice and went to join the party. We were given bundles of rice which we beat against a piece of wood to separate the rice kernels from the stalk. It’s great fun, although if you have to harvest 150 kilos of rice a day, as the locals do, it could get quite tiring.
We were lucky to come across a small village preparing for a celebration. This is definitely not a rare thing in Bali – there’s a celebration happening on practically every day of the year. It was quite magical to see a large group of women, about a hundred of them, all dressed up in beautiful sarongs and colourful tops eating together and chatting happily. This place takes exotic to a whole new level.
My favourite part of the day was when we came across a group of kids who were playing together. We stopped and they were delighted to see us. We’d had kids giving us high-fives throughout the whole day which was really sweet. Paul played a bit of football whilst I took photos of some really gorgeous kids who were so excited to see themselves in the photo.
This cycling tour was one of the most fun and memorable days of our trip so if you ever visit Bali, lookup Eco Cycling Tours and spend a day with them. I promise you, you will love it!
As we have so much to say on Ubud we have decided to do this blog in two parts. So end of part one.......
Bye for now!
Lots of love
Karen and Paul