A cultural centre – Ubud, Bali

Ubud is fantastic – a hot and steamy part of Bali, known to rain, even during the hot season, as it’s located at a higher altitude, and surrounded by jungles. The guest house I’d chosen seemed to be located in the middle of a load of rice paddy fields – I hadn’t realised that a car couldn’t drive up there. The taxi had to stop halfway up this hill and the driver had to phone the villa to find out where it was – the guy told the driver to wait while he came down to us, on a moped. Errr… there’s me, my 10kg rucksack and a smaller backpack slung on my front with my camera and travel essentials – how we gonna do this?! Well, of course, just get on!

I recalled that I had already seen five people on one moped over the last couple days, not to mention the guy riding one while carrying an old TV (and I mean OLD SKOOL, one with a really big behind, you know?), or the woman sat sideways in skirts, holding a baby while the guy in front was driving with a dog between his legs.

All I have to say is, that that was one steep-ass hill we had to go up, and I am grateful for the guys balance – especially as we turned a corner to a view looking over rice paddies, and I saw the small path we were going down, just wide enough for one person to walk… with a brook running on either side… my first experience on one of these things in Bali, and I had to choose a villa here?! Ha! But joking aside, the villa was a little stunner – Villa Bungsil Gading – with a raised eating area, to have breakfast, looking over those paddy fields.

At the time, the sun had started to set with it’s usual pink and amber glows. With the intention of heading out for some food, I quickly unpacked my bag in the gorgeous honeymoon room… at least I thought it was like a honeymoon room, having neither been married nor on a honeymoon before; the big double wooden bed had a huge mosquito net draped over it, as if for privacy, like with four poster beds – all the furniture was dark wood (ebony, I discovered later), and a huge yellow painting depicted workers in the rice fields on a sunny day. Frangipani flowers were strewn across the crisp white covers, and the neatly folded towels provided. There was also a pool below in the courtyard, my balcony overlooking it, and the rice fields in the distance. I could hear the cicadas and geckos, the birds too… and smell the incense in the private temple lazily floating out into the air. Luckily I couldn’t smell any of the rubbish the Balinese tend to burn around the same time – it’s this sickly sweet scent that I only really ever sort of got used to, and as soon as I remember it’s burning rubbish, it makes me gag.

That evening I found a little warung called Savannah Moon just down the road, where the taxi had initially stopped to drop me off. The decor was bright and colourful, and all the furniture, like so many places around Bali, was hand carved, recycled wood. I had Balinese-spiced barbecued chicken and a couple of beers, listening to the kids playing in the streets, trying to fly kites outside the colourful shops.

The shops here are more artisan than those found in Kuta, much tidier and prettier, perhaps even more elegant, in my opinion, and most of the women sitting on the steps aren’t so sales pushy as I had experienced in Kuta. Little art shops were dotted everywhere, with the artists inside painting, or carving, or creating little prayer baskets with dried grass and palms. Everything was closing up by the time I had finished eating, and I could here less chatter and fewer mopeds rushing up and down the narrow road.

The next day I had breakfast made for me by the owner, Wayan. His name isn’t actually Wayan but rather it’s an informative title indicating he was the first born in his family. I would be Wayan too, i.e. Wayan Joanna. Obviously the shortened version might cause confusion when there are so many first borns, as with the words indicating second, third and fourth child (I can’t recall them right now but will possibly remember later). He cooked me up a pancake with jack fruit and honey – oh my days, how amazing was that first bite?? I think I’m in love with jack fruit – it is soooo delicious and the pieces look like yellow flower petals. Wayan saw that I had uncomfortable looking flip flops that had made the flesh on my feet raw, and asked if I’d be interested in going to get some new sandals. He asked this kid (I mean seriously, he looked like he was about 15 years old), to take me down to this local shoe shop. So, we jumped on a moped again – I’m not exactly small, but in comparison to the skinny, small kid in front of me, I felt heavy, especially down the steep slope and over all those potholes, bumpety bump.

There was a moment of panic after I had purchased two pairs of leather sandals (for just EUR 20!!!) when I couldn’t locate him – I hadn’t realised that he was going to head straight back after dropping me off. So I took myself down the road back into central Ubud, armed with my camera. I walked passed this huge statue of Arjuna, I think, with several arms, and the intricate decoration on it’s skirts so delicately carved from stone. Well, the decoration all over Bali is delicate, and intricate – from wood, to paint, to glass and stone; it’s this beautiful flowing design I just love, unlike the straight, monotone lines found in the Western world.

Just stunning these statues - they are everywhere in Bali!
Just stunning these statues – they are everywhere in Bali!

I walked down the main Jalan, passed the artist’s market, pausing at a shop selling paintings. I bought one similar to that hanging above the bed in the villa, with the intention to give it as a gift to my father. I passed the palace, and oddly didn’t have an interest in going in. Perhaps that was a mistake, but from the outside, it looked like a load more red bricks and grey stones, all of which I’m sure would have been beautiful, but it was man made and I wanted something a bit more organic to look at. So, further on, I found my way to the monkey forest – well, being born in the Chinese Year of the Monkey, naturally I had to check out the little critters. I paid IDR 30k to get in (approx. EUR 4) and a photo frenzy began right down the steps – man, these monkeys are adorable, and of course, not at all apprehensive of humans, but more than that – I’ve never been anywhere in the world with so many gigantic trees! Teak, mahogany, and this other Balinese one of which I can’t currently recall the name…

I was born and brought up practically in a desert, and then experienced the tamed forests and fields of the UK, none of which can compare to the majesty of these trees in Bali.

The vines were hanging from all of them, reminding me very much of weeping willows – except for the monkeys swinging in them. The humidity as well was of course greater than outside the jungle.

Monkey Forest (MF) Gallery 1 – Funky Monkey Eating a Banana

MF Gallery 2 – Monkey Forest Trees & Walkways

People fed the monkeys with pieces of corn, and small bananas – tourists could purchase them from the Balinese vendors and feed the monkeys. Or rather, the monkeys would feed off of them as soon as they held the fruit in their hands, scrambling up people’s bodies and stretching out to reach for their morsels. One woman had a long black skirt on and one of the monkeys ran under it and almost climbed up her legs – she remained quite still, laughing a lot as the monkey tried to figure out a way up, but eventually getting bored with his little tent. While watching, another monkey jumped on my back pack and was aiming to take my scaffolding earring out my right ear – “errrrr, what do you think you’re doing you little bastard, that hurts!” – I covered my ear and it lightly bit on my finger, at which point I did call it a “little cunt” out loud (I think the guys around me were a bit shocked with my language, oops!), and it jumped off and scurried away. Heading down the steps I found monkeys along every stretch of walkway, most of them grooming one another, or lazily laying in the shadows of the trees, sleeping, or at least feigning sleep.

MF Gallery 3 – Monkey Family Dozing

MF Gallery 4 – Monkeys Grooming

MF Gallery 5- Monkey Sees, Monkey Does

Can you tell from all the galleries and photos that I love monkeys?!

So, after the Monkey Forest, and early on that same evening, I had decided to head to a restaurant called Sari Organik, about which I had been informed by a friend had some marvellous local Balinese food. I mentioned it to Wayan who advised that to get there it would be better to take the main roads as it was getting dark, rather than go via the rice paddy fields as he had initially suggested to do during the day, while it was still light out, and so I could take some great photos of the wonderful views along the way.

Having been warned by the owner to not take a route through the paddy fields after dark to get to this apparently well known restaurant called Sari Organik, I ignored his advice and took to the small path leading away from town. The sun WAS still up, with enough light to take photographs of the layers of paddies stretching out from both sides of the small path, which was big enough for two mopeds to get by one another. Obviously taking photos does take some time, and before I saw that I was headed towards this little dark jungle up ahead, I could see I wasn’t going to reach my destination any time soon.

Thankfully I had been given a torch, which instantly became my closest friend. I didn’t realise that I would have to walk one foot in front of the other in a straight line because the paths were that narrow and long, but that’s what I did – with water rushing on both sides of me. At one point the left side dropped away below me into darkness – I have no idea how far that fall might have been, and didn’t stop to check. Continuing on, I had insects flying into my mouth a couple times – I tend to breathe through my mouth due to a cartilage build up in my nose from a fall I had when I was about three years old. One moment it’s the insects keeping me company, but the next I heard voices, and saw a building in the limited light to my right – it was actually more of a concrete structure without any walls, a bit like a car park… I wondered where the hell this thing had come from, and who might have built it so far from any roads.

There, in one of the gaps between the main pillars holding it up, I could see that someone had indeed put in some plywood for walls, and light was streaming from the gap at the top, the plywood not large enough to block the whole space.Inside kids were playing and I could hear someone frying food. I understand people are poor here, but to actually see someone take up residence in a car park shack like that, well, it was a bit of a surprise, and a little farther on I stumbled across two people – a boy crouched down having a conversation with a girl, who was having a bath in the river, at that exact moment washing her hair.

I was more embarrassed for her really as I’ve seen so many boobs, but they were more than helpful when I mentioned I was trying to get this restaurant, and pointed up, “jalan jalan”. I was thinking, “Up? They want me to go up?” I hadn’t realised that there was a steep slippy bit at the end up which I needed to scramble. Hmmmm… with a little slipping and sliding, a bit of mud, and some grunts, I managed to get up – it had started raining lightly; of course it had, ha!

At the top I could have carried on in the same direction as before but instinct told me to turn back on myself, like a U-turn, and head down one of those narrow paths again. I passed a couple of silver smiths and artist shops selling paintings, all of which were closed for the night, so I had no one to ask for directions again. In the distance I could see this one lonely light zigzagging across whatever narrow paths might be out there, and in the end heading in my direction. I made what room I could at this point, with the intention of letting whoever it was pass me by.

The scooter stops in front of me. “Hallo, do you know where the Dragonfly Village is? Is it down there?” the German accented voice asked me in the darkness, pointing, I think, back the way I had just come. “No idea mate – I’m not exactly from around here and as far as I can tell, back there is nothing but paddies and winding paths, and maybe a few small huts for the rice farmers. But let’s see what GPS has to say…” I still question why I did that for him, as the next seven minutes online with data roaming basically cost me EUR 50 and cut me off from using my phone again. But regardless, I found what he was looking for, and, lo and behold, it was next door to the restaurant I was looking for – so, killed two birds with one EUR 50 stone! He needed to turn around, and in-so-doing, introduced himself as Sebastien. I asked if I could hop on the back as we were both going the same way, to which he agreed.

Now, I don’t know if you’ve ever been on a moped before, or travelled through paddy fields without much light, but put the two together and it’s a rather interesting experience.

There I was holding up my torch ahead of us to light the narrow path we’re going down… it’s all a question of balancing, hey, and I could understand why we were having so much trouble – the paths weren’t just narrow but they were completely uneven and zigzagged up and down as well as to the right and left.

Bounce bounce bounce… light going awry… “Oh shit…” and then suddenly both of our left legs are deep in knee-high muddy water as the scooter had toppled to the left.

My right leg was still up on the bank, but I could feel myself slipping, whereas Sebastien had swung his right leg over the bike, barely missing my head and was firmly standing in the mud with both feet – he also briefly lost his flip flops (or thongs, as the Aussie’s like to call them). With my legs spread in a rather unladylike fashion, I clambered back onto the bank, holding the back end of the bike between my thighs, while Sebastien tried to locate his flip flops. Having done so, and with both of us wetting ourselves with laughter, we righted the moped and jumped back on, continuing on our mission, our feet squidgy in our sandals.

Ah, there in the distance, after just a few more minutes riding in the darkness, we saw light…

Other snaps of Ubud:

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2 thoughts on “A cultural centre – Ubud, Bali

    1. It really is a contrasted island – so much beauty, and yet so poor that it can’t afford proper infrastructure, much of which the western world takes for granted. It’s artistic, and creative, intuitive and, just really inspiring – I couldn’t stop taking photos, ha! So much to see, to record for my memories 🙂

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