After surviving the chaotic taxi journey, we’d finally reached the cultural centre of Bali: Ubud.
I had expected the jungle climate to be more humid than the coast, but it was actually much nicer and the heat (about 29 degrees celsius) was lovely yet comfortable.
We spent three days in Ubud, relaxing by the pool and enjoying the rice fields view, exploring the town and seeing the sights. Three days wasn’t enough really – we would have happily spent a much longer time there.
Having read about the monkey forest in Ubud and the fact that the monkeys could be a little aggressive and hearing that several people had been bitten, we were reluctant to visit. However, we walked to
the entrance and watched several monkeys lounging around the tourists. They seemed fine. What I’d read was that you shouldn’t take any food in with you, as they would smell it and literally steal it from you.
We had no food on us, and deciding to adopt common sense and caution, went in.
Within the first five minutes we saw a monkey leap up a Japanese tourist and swipe his tin of Pringles away.
Otherwise, the monkeys seemed pretty chilled and we could quite peace-fully observe them and the various temples dott-ed around the forest.
We walked around Ubud and admired the various shops full of local
art. Although we weren’t overly impressed with the paintings, the handiwork of the woodscraft was something to behold. The same went for some of the architecture and details in the temples. We went for a coffee at Cafe Lotus that overlooks the Puri Sariswati temple and went for a walk around it afterwards.
Massages are advertised everywhere, with prices in villas/hotels around £10 to £20 an hour, whereas the back streets you could find one for more like £7 (we later saw one in Kuta for £3.50 but it looked very dodgy and dirty!). We tried a couple of different massages at the hotel; my Balinese massage was very pleasant and the aromatherapy one had me moaning in pleasure throughout! However, the girls seemed to be only able to follow a set pattern/routine. Both my girlfriend and I were suffering from stiff necks/shoulders and when we asked for them to concentrate on those areas they couldn’t really cope; they spent a few more minutes on those areas then lapsed back into their set routine.
It had taken about 40 minutes to walk into the town from the villa. In many places there were no pavements, and the roads being rather chaotic and full of lorries and mopeds, we decided to use the villa’s driver to go back to the town for our evening meal. The cost was 50,000 Rupiah (about £2.50) each way. The local taxi drivers normally asked for around 70, 80 K.
The next day, we hired a driver (a friend of the villa’s driver as he wasn’t available that day) to take us to the volcano at Mount Batur and to see all the sites on route, in particular, some of the many temples (pura) of the region.
First up was the temple Goa Gajah – AKA the “Elephant Cave”. We
wondered where the elephants were; however, it takes it’s name from the nearby Elephant River (also lacking in elephants!). This was a pretty interesting temple with some nice buildings, set in pleasant surroundings, but it was a bit ‘tatty’ and there was a lot of litter around, which was a shame.
The next temple, Pura Gunung Kawi, was much more interesting, with fantastic views of rice terraces as we walked down the 200
or so steps to get to them. The area is known as Bali’s “Valley of the Kings“. The cliffs opposite the river have shrines carved into the stone walls of the river; quite impressive.
The walk down the steps to get
there in the heat is hard work but worth it for the temples at the bottom and the jungle and ride paddie views going down; we stopped for some coconut water on the way down to refresh us.
The third and final temple we visited was Tirta Empul. Here you can
take a dip in the holy water (after making an offering, of course) to bring good health and fortune.
What really struck us here though was the local music that was being played by the priests – it was hauntingly beautiful. One particularly ‘song’ immobilised my girlfriend and literally bought tears to my eyes. We wanted to stay longer to see if they would play more, but it seemed they were having a break and our driver was waiting, so we moved on.
Walking around the temples, we had been offered various wares and goods from stalls positioned strategically to ‘trap’ tourists. However, we hadn’t felt much pressure, aside from the few ladies insisting on us purchasing sarongs (to wear in the temples) despite it being obvious we already had some. It certainly wasn’t anything as pressuring as walking along the streets of, for example, Egypt, or a busy nightlife strip in a popular resort. We were able to politely say ‘no thanks‘ and move on. However, something we did succumb to, was buying green (or young) coconuts. In the blistering heat, the cool coconut water – deliciously fresh and sweet from the younger, green coconuts – was exceptionally refreshing.
However, a word of advice – don’t drink too much! Coconut water can have a certain ‘flushing’ effect on your digestion!
The volcano itself wasn’t actually that interesting. Our driver had taken us to the place tourists typically viewed the volcano from, a restaurant. However, we weren’t hungry at this point, and we’d also
heard that the restaurant wasn’t particularly good – a typical tourist trap. Strolling down the hill slightly, we found a smaller, more local looking cafe with even better views. We ordered another coconut water and took a few snaps. Sure, it was a pretty, mountain view, but nothing so impressive as to indicate it even being a live volcano. We’d found the jungle and rice field scenery more spectacular.
On the drive back we visited a coffee plantation. The main attraction at these plantations is the novel Lawak coffee, or Civit coffee.
The idea here is that the civet mammals will eat a coffee bean, selecting only the best. The remains at the ‘other end’, shall we say, are only semi digested, and once cleaned, make a supposedly beautifully smooth coffee.
In nature, this is fine. However, its seems that farmers have realised the money they could make out of this and now “civet farms” have emerged. The poor animals are locked up in small cages and literally force fed coffee beans, whether they like it or not. The result is them living short and painful deaths from a poor diet.
There’s an interesting article by the man who started it all in the UK and a petition for Harrods to ban its sale there – which I believe has now been achieved – more info here.
As an interesting aside, the Indonesian people are generally very kind to animals. We noticed many, many cats on our travels there and they were all well fed and looked after, and extremely tame and friendly on approach.
We decided to not drink the Lawak coffee, even though the guide at the plantation assured us that their coffee was made from naturally sourced civet dung.
We didn’t believe them.
However, it was interesting to see the rest of the plantation, and their complementary array of 12 different coffees and teas was duly sampled. There were some beautiful flavours and we ended up buying several boxes of coffees and teas from them.
However, we later realised that these were far inferior dried versions – I wouldn’t recommend them.
Finally we had a quick stop to see some of the famous Balinese rice terraces.
In between each place of interest, we chatted to our driver, Sandhu, who spoke reasonably good English. We asked him about crime, as we heard it was low on the island. He explained that most people in Bali were Hindus, and therefore believed in karma. Their genuine belief in that doing good will bring good and doing wrong will bring wrong unto them seems to result in these low crime rates.
He told us about a ceremony that takes place each year in the villages. They make a model (from paper – possibly paper mache?) of the evil and ugly god. They then parade this through the village. The bad spirits are attracted to the ugly god, and go inside it. They then burn it, thus getting rid of the bad spirits.
We asked him what the cloths at the bottom of trees we’d noticed were for. He pointed out that they were normally black and white checks – an equal amount of white (good) and black (evil) to balance out the spirits in the tree!
We got talking more about karma and spirituality, and we mentioned the massages we’d had and the fact that they hadn’t
helped my partners shoulder issues. She asked if Sandhu could recommend someone. He couldn’t think of anyone in Ubud who
would be able to help but started talking about the village ‘Healer’. Apparently he had a good reputation for being able to help people by removing ‘the demons’ that were causing the problem. He then started talking about the Julia Roberts movie Eat, Pray, Love set in Ubud but said that the problem with that particular healer was that he was getting too old, and was losing his powers.
He recommended his particular healer and suggested that he may also be able to help with her skin rash (this appears to have been down to a food allergy).
Ever the sceptic, I wasn’t convinced that a ‘village healer’ was going to able to help – especially when Sandhu started recalling seeing him at work and describing how people would yell as their evil spirits were extracted, and him reenacting the scene, playing the part of a demon crying ‘arggh, arrghh, I’m coming out, I’m going, I’m going!!‘.
No BAFTA award for this taxi driver-come-actor.
Still – we thought it might be an interesting experience, and as the cost (an offering to the gods) was only around £10, we thought we would give it a go.
We drove to Sandhu’s village and parked at his house, then walked a very short distance to his neighbour, the healer. He was a old, rotund and jovial looking fellow with several missing teeth wearing a stained vest with several holes in it. Sandhu did the translation, and he beckoned us into his yard.
Chickens scratched around in the dust as we were led to a bench. The property looked rather run down but we passed the healers temple – which was absolutely magnificent. Obviously the ‘offerings’ were spent well and genuinely on the temple.
My girlfriend was asked to sit on the bench whilst the healer sat behind her and attempted to find her demons. Sandhu had of
course already explained about the shoulder issue and the skin problem was visibly obvious. The healer ran his hands over her back and shoulders and mumbled to himself. He nodded and mumbled in a self satisfied way as if he had found the problem, and Sandhu translated, confirming the case. The healer then took a small, pointed stick/dagger like object and poked it gentle into the area, and spoke what sounded like an incarnation. He then made several stabbing motions (apparently it didn’t hurt) and exclaimed contentedly that the demons had been extracted.
He then attempted to find the cause of the skin issue. He located the root cause of this in the base of the neck, and performed a similar ‘exorcism’. Sandhu translated that the demon was leaving without too much difficulty, and was actually saying ‘ok, I’m leaving‘ rather than in the other examples he’d given in the taxi where the demon was forcibly removed.
Soooo… was that it?
No. The healer then took some (rather filthy looking) coconut hair and proceeded to brush where my girlfriend has the skin rash. He did this for a good 15 mins or so, which was apparently very soothing to the itchy skin.
He then proceeded to check for any other issues, and after some poking around, found a issue – in my girlfriends womb!
Apparently there was a problem with the womb, which would restrict her from becoming pregnant. The healer then proceeded to
use his ‘demon exorcising’ tool (read: poke with a stick) to extract this particular demon.
Again, success: and the information given that she could now get pregnant; and that it would be a boy.
Of course, my girlfriend’s shoulder still hurt the next day, and her skin rash persisted. We since discovered that it would appear to be the peanuts in many of the Indonesian sauces that was the culprit; on coming home, and eating other foods, her skin quickly cleared up. A day later she ate some peanuts (not something she regularly eats – cashews or pistachios being our usual nibbles, but we had a packet to use up) and her skin immediately started itching and the old rash flared up again.
However, our visit to the healer had been worth it for the experience.
Not that we’d be back in a hurry.
We continued chatting with our driver about local culture, in particular the music, and the beautifully haunting local music at the temple of Tirta Empul and wanted to experience more. He mentioned that there was a dance with music being performed
that evening at Ubud Palace. It wasn’t exactly the same type of music as we’d heard but would be similar instruments, so we
thought we’d try it – tickets were 80,000 Rupiah each (£4).
He drove us to back to the villa where he waited whilst we freshened up, then drove us back to the centre and to a
restaurant where we ate quickly before the performance.
We’d agreed a price with him of 350,000 Rupiah previously, which is around $35USD or £18 – not bad for a whole day. However, we’d intended to end around 4pm and had ended up using him until about 7pm and he had taken us to several more places, so it went up to 500,000 Rupiah – still only around £25 which was quite reasonable.
Although we’d tried lots of different local food over the past few days and had mostly enjoyed it, we had struggled a little to find suitable vegetarian options for my girlfriend, and had heard excellent reports about a more international restaurant called Locavore, so though we would give it a try.
Unfortunately, it was fully booked, but walking down the road (Jl. Dewisita) we had seen plenty of nice looking options, including a place called Batan Waru. We decided to try it, and were glad we did – the food was excellent. My girlfriend had opted for something
with peanut sauce (before she had realised this was causing the skin irritation, obviously!) and it was so good that she asked for the manager to thank him – and also ask for the recipe, which was duly supplied!
Going back to the local food options – most Indonesian food is somewhere between Chinese and Indian food. Lots of rice, noodles, spicy or nutty options. Nasi Goreng or Mia Goreng are rice or noodles stir fried in a tasty sauce with a few vegetables, with a fried egg on top – quite often offered as a breakfast choice (alongside the usual egg/omelette options and banana pancakes, seemingly a local favourite). Gado gado is a popular dish consisting of tofu and tempe (a nutty/bready concoction made from fermented soya) with vegetables and a delicious peanut sauce.
They were the only vegetarian options really though; everything else was seafood or meat based. Even the vegetarian red curry we ordered once apparently had prawn paste in the sauce.
Food in Bali is quite cheap; the above ‘basic’ meals were normally served as small to medium size dishes for around 45,000 Rupiah (£2.25) and larger main courses were normally at 60,000 Rupiah (£3) with meat dishes starting around 100,000 Rupiah (£5).
Alcohol however was relatively expensive. A small bottle of Bintang (the local Indonesian beer) would cost around 35,000 Rupiah (£1.75) and a large bottle 50,000 Rupiah (£2.50). Wine was even more expensive, with a bottle costing 400,000 Rupiah (£20). However, some places did a house wine, usually Plaga or Hattens, which a glass could be had for 60,000 Rupiah (£3). I wasn’t so keen on the Plaga white (quite sweet Chardonnay) but the white Hattens was pretty nice, like a dry Sauvignon Blanc. Both reds were acceptable.
Supermarket wine prices were similar; however, we found a 2 litre carton box of the Hattens white for only 240,000 Rupiah (£12) which was excellent value.
After our food, we headed over to Ubud Palace. The performance was put on right in front of a floodlit temple, which made it very impressive. The play/dance consisted of several girls dancing in a
traditional manner to expressive music, displaying even more expressive facial expressions, to convey the meaning. Monsters and demons and other characters joined the dance. It was very interesting to watch, although I can’t say I followed the meaning of it all. The music was enjoyable but not as good as we had heard at the temple earlier in the day.
We then headed back down to the Cafe Havana Club which had been just up the road from the restaurant. We’d heard some
excellent music coming from their earlier so decided to continue the musical evening. Of course though, this wasn’t local music. True, the band consisted of local musicians, but they were playing Latin music. Still, it was very enjoyable, especially with an accompanying coconut water based cocktail served in coconut shell.
Our three days in Ubud were up too soon. We booked a driver the next morning and headed down to Sanur Beach to book our boat
over to Nusa Lembongan, where we’d booked a hotel for a couple of nights on the island.