After a 3 hour plane ride from Kuala Lumpur, we arrived in Denpasar, Bali, Indonesia. I was already feeling this island - the airport was one of the nicest we’ve flown into, partially covered in flowers and greenery - very tropical and exotic. Our host - Oka, was waiting for us by the exit. We had about an hour drive ahead of us to Ubud, our first stop, and I was so excited to see what the island has to offer. Bali has been on my bucket list for a very long time, and I was feeling very connected to this place…and I will say one thing…it definitely did not disappoint : ) Driving through this island already put me in a tropical state of mind…
Our villa was located just on the outskirts of central Ubud, very rural setting and tucked in between rice fields. The villa itself was beautiful - 3 bedrooms, 3 outdoor showers, patio/lounge area, swimming pool and a detached kitchen. In order to get to the villa, we had to walk 100 meters down a dirt sidewalk from the main road - the path leading to the house was narrow, and only wide enough for a scooter. Oka’s family lives on this property, right behind the kitchen area, and they care to the property - cooking, cleaning, landscaping and securing everything around here. Our luggage was transported one piece at the time on the back of the scooter - I was very impressed by this technique and was waiting for Yuda - Oka’s brother, to balance the suitcase on his head : ) Our suitcases after all weight every bit of 55 lbs. After settling into our new living space, we ate dinner, took an outdoor shower (kids loved it, especially since there were occasional guests such as lizards and spiders), and went to bed. The first night brought a bit of sleeplessness, as the sounds of nature’s creatures is quite loud, and a bit scary from time to time.
There were other reasons for a night of being restless. We experienced our first earthquake, 5.7 tremor that happened off the coast. The quake lasted all of 10 seconds but the beds shook and it sounded as though a freight train was heading right at you. We’re in the “Ring of Fire” and Indonesia houses over 120 active volcanos. A lot of attention has been given to Mt. Agung and a possible eruption, that could happen anytime. It’s on Bali’s east coast, and we are about 60 km away. We’ve been aware of it since we arrived and felt pretty safe but after experiencing some ground shaking, we started to lose some piece of mind. They have started evacuations on a 12 mile radius from the volcano, and we really feel for the villagers who make their living working the land. Hopefully, she doesn’t blow.
This area is very remote and super quite even for being only 5 km from the center of Ubud. After breakfast, we met with Oka who was our driver for the week. We were contemplating renting a car in Ubud, but after seeing the crazy traffic and very nonchalant driving style, scattered with scooters, cards, and bikes, we were very glad to have Oka as our driver. Our first stop was a visit to the Monkey Forest. It’s a small park filled with monkeys, monkeys, and more monkeys! Literally, they were everywhere - on the sidewalk, trees, temples, and of course, all over people! You could buy a few bananas, hold them in your hand and within few seconds your head will be used as a sitting area for a monkey! It looked so funny and kinda gross at the same time. I really wanted to try it but honestly, I chickened out! The whole park is quite nice as well - very green and exotic with magnificent trees. We strolled around for a while, witnessed monkeys jumping on people and trying to steal whatever they had hanging loosely. Upon entering Monkey Forest, you are being warned not to wear anything flashy or expensive since it attracts the monkeys, don't scream and make sudden moves, even if the monkey jumps on you, and never look them directly in the eye because that can make them aggressive - what can I say, it’s all monkey business out there…
Next, we headed to Tegenungan Waterfall which was hmm ok. From far away, the waterfall looked quite impressive, however, once you got closer it was kinda dirty, very crowded, touristy, and it was impossible to swim there. The current was strong and the water itself was very brownish, it did not look refreshing at all. We absolutely love waterfalls, but this place was ho-hum. But I guess, if you come to Ubud, it’s one of those things that you have to see. So we saw it, we took few pictures of it and moved on to the next attraction.
Goa Gajah or The Elephant Cave is an old temple that was built in the 9th century. The entrance to the cave and its facade were the best part of it - different scary creatures and demons craved into the rock. There are two theories explaining this place - one says that the main figure used to be an elephant and hence the name - The Elephant Cave; the other explains that there used to be a statue of a Hindu elephant inside. Nevertheless, the cave was super small and it felt very claustrophobic. We stayed there for 2 seconds and came outside to get some light and fresh air. Right in front of the cave, there was a huge swimming pool with five statues holding vases that act as waterspouts. As we walked around, we stumbled upon a little sitting area full of Balinese women making rice cakes. Leo was trying to join them but unfortunately, he was not allowed :)
The last attraction of the day was The Holy Spring Water Temple or Tirtha Empul Temple. This Hindu temple is situated in the valley between the hills. To the locals, its a sacred place to melt all the bad influences in the body and purify the soul and mind. There is a belief that the water coming out of the shower eliminates all kind of diseases, causing an adverse effect in the human life and giving the new holy spirit. We witnessed tons of people lining up and getting washed in this holy water. I am quite sure that if Leo and Mila were given the green pass, they would be splashing there like two fishes. Since we have our rascals with us, it was kinda impossible to participate in this ceremony - although the whole idea of this soul, mind and body cleansing sounds pretty amazing :) Once we got home, we went for a short swim and relaxed at the pool. Floating in the pool with the view of the rice fields was a really calming experience, especially after such and intense and noisy day.
That night Oka’s cousin, who is a chef, cooked a delicious dinner for us. He served us balinese style grilled snapper with vegetable and rice, spicy coconut chicken in a green curry sauce, spring rolls, carrot ginger soup and for desert, balinese crapes with vanilla ice cream. The four of us absolutely loved this balinese feast and completely cleaned the plates. It was so fresh and full of flavor - a true heaven in your mouth.
We did some research on Ubud and found several nature walks close to the city center. After banana and pineapple pancakes for breakfast, Oka drove us to central Ubud. From there, we started the search for the Campuhan Ridge Walk. The distance one way was about 2 km and it led us through a paved walkway, surrounded by trees, hills, and very jungle style scenery. It was a hot and sunny day, 90+, so we made several stops to cool off and simply let Leo and Mila take a break. This walk ends at a beautiful spa with the view of the rice fields. Both Leo and Mila had a blast spotting ducks hiding in the rice fields. Once we got back to the main road, we decided to grab a lunch at one of the local restaurants. The main street of Ubud is something out of this world - it has only two lines that are constantly busy and full of cars and scooters. Add thousands of pedestrians walking along the sidewalks and believe me, your head is spinning. But here is the funny things - I really love the vibe of this city, for as crowded and noisy as it is, there is something special and unique about it. In a way, I feel very spiritual and balanced here. I can only imagine how wonderful it must be attending a yoga retreat here…I kept telling myself - one day Gosia, one day you will come back here and fully embrace this balinese culture - not that easy when you have two little children to look after : ) After lunch, we went back to our villa and relaxed. Leo and Mila are loving the pool and could easily spent all day there. We swam with them for a while and then lounged around, snacking on watermelon and chocolate - that’s what I call a balanced life.
The next morning, at about 5:20 am, I woke up and my whole bed was moving again! I was so scared and terrified! I wanted to grab Rick, the kids and our passports and just run away, hahaha! The quake again lasted for about 10 seconds and it stopped. For the locals, it’s pretty much part of life here as they experience these little earthquakes all the time. However, for us, its a bit of a nerve-wracking experience. Living in Florida, at least you have time to prepare for a hurricane, you just never now when Mother Nature is going to shake the ground you sleep on. We really hope this volcano decides to stay calm.
Right after the small earthquake we witnessed a tropical rain that was quite relaxing, especially after losing our balance caused by the shakes. I also need to add that although we absolutely love the idea of the outdoor bathroom, we are terrified to use them at night, hahaha! I am afraid of using the toilet in the middle of the night and encountering some local species…they look much better in the daylight :)
As I mentioned before, Oka’s family lives on the property in the building behind the kitchen. Upon our arrival, he explained to us that one of his brothers sleeps on the floor on the patio area leading to the kitchen. When I heard that, I thought to myself, no way, he must have made a mistake, there is no way he sleeps outdoors, on the cold stone floor. As it turned out, I was wrong…since the morning earthquake scared me away and I was not able to fall back asleep, I walked to the kitchen to make some coffee and there he was, Yuda - Oka’s brother, and his 8 year old son were both sleeping on the floor next to the dining room table. That view broke my heart, the same space where we enjoyed a beautiful dinner the night before, was being used as their sleeping quarters. We immediately gave a newfound respect for things like taking our shoes off when we enter the patio space or kitchen, cleaning up the little specs of rice from the mess our kids make after a meal. I understand it’s part of the Balinese cultural, but honestly, it’s difficult to understand. In our villa, there is an extra bedroom where they could sleep. I asked Oka about it and he simply said that’s the way they live, there is nothing more to be said. Also, as soon as we come back from our daily excursions, they all run to the back of the house and do not come out until we go to sleep. It’s so bizarre to me, I want them to sit with us at the table, share a meal and simply enjoy each other company. I realize that we are the guests and they treat us like royalty, but we don’t want to be treated that way. It’s all so wrong and strange, especially, since they are such nice people. But this is what makes our trip unique, gaining a newfound appreciation for how a culture operates. We may not agree with the way they chose to live, but we respect it, understand it, and gain even more gratitude for the embarrassment of riches we have. As your reading this, think about the solid roof over your head, the hot water you have, fresh drinking water, and even electricity to charge up that phone you just can’t put down. Sometimes I feel we’re downright spoiled in Western Culture.
Our last day in Ubud was spent visiting the beautiful Saraswati water temple. The gorgeous architectural building is surrounded by two water pools with floating lilies. The temple itself was closed that day but who are we kidding, we were not going to enter this sacred place with two little wild and crazy kids :) We decided to walk over to the Ubud’s Central Market and eye shop. It’s an indoor/outdoor market full of ethnic clothes, gifts, food, art pieces, cosmetics and many other things. Since it was close to noon, we all were a bit hungry and found a cute local balinese restaurant for lunch. Leo and Mila ate chicken nuggets and fries - how balinese, right?!, while Rick and I ordered chicken/spinach soup and coconut dessert. Everything tasted delicious and very fresh. Ever since we arrived in Bali, I have been thinking about getting a hair cut. Since we did not have much planned for today, we decided to find me a hair salon and chop my hair off, but as it turned out, it was not an easy task. We walked into 4 different places and they were all booked, bummer! In that case, we decided to pamper ourselves a bit and went to a spa! Rick got 30 minute back massage, I received a pedicure and Leo and Mila watched two episodes of Paw Patrol - everyone was happy! It cost us about $9, brilliant! On the way back to our taxi we stopped and got some ice cream and freshly pressed juices. We finished our day with a swim in the pool and delicious balinese dinner. That night once again, we felt some small shakes but nothing to crazy. We truly hope this volcano decides to take a chill pill and go back to sleep.
Our stay in Ubud comes to an end. It was a perfect way to start our adventure on the island of Bali. We both decided that we will be coming back here one day but without the kids. I don't think that Ubud is a perfect place for kids - it’s very crowded, full of backpackers, and tourists from all around the world, who honestly, lack a lot of respect and good manors! The sidewalks are two narrow and bumpy for a stroller so a child carrier is a must. We have not seen any playgrounds and activities for kids - besides our pool, of course :) Fortunately, Leo and Mila are amazing travel companions who can provide self entertainment for hours. I would love to come back here and attend a yoga retreat - maybe one day :) For now, we are saying goodbye to Ubud and heading up north to Lovina Beach!