Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Ubud, You're good!

After leaving Kuta, we spent a week in an inland town named Ubud, which is possibly most famous for it's appearance in the book and film Eat, Pray, Love (haven't read or seen it but I'm told this is the case). In keeping with this theme, it's very relaxing with a bar curfew of 10.30pm, a location in the centre of sprawling rice paddies, numerous yoga retreats and vegetarian restaurants and a very strong Hindu presence which is even more apparent than in other parts of Bali. We used Ubud as a base to explore other areas of a Bali and also to see the local attractions and it's great for this as it is so close to a lot of different villages.

Getting from Kuta up to Ubud proved to be something of a challenge. There are no public bus services on Bali so we had to organise transport with one of the numerous local tour operators. For the grand price of 60,000rupiah (about £3.50) we could hop on one of their shuttle buses- sounds good yes? Well for a start it was an hour late which was already irritating seeing as we had to sit with our stuff in the heat of Bali. When it eventually turned up it was some dude with his minivan which seated 9 with 7 people in it. There was no boot, no roof rack and people's luggage was already on our seats and in their laps. Basically we ended up with our legs sandwiched between a suitcase on the floor and Rob's two rucksacks and my holdall piled on top of us completely obstructing the entire back window. At one point our feet were touching the gear stick and safe to say it wasn't a great day to wear a dress. 

We arrived in Ubud and headed to our guesthouse, Bale Bali House. Possibly the nicest place we have stayed so far, this is a homestay where for £6 each a night we got- a private double room with ensuite, air conditioning and fan, free breakfast, free tea and coffee on tap, free access to a pool and daily room cleaning. Basically it was a palace for us. On top of this, it was run by the loveliest family who lived next door to the two rooms which they rent and could not have been more friendly and welcoming (including their dog, Lucky). A notable member of the family was the father of the owner (call me Papa) who was the most multi-talented individual we have ever encountered- chef/artist/plumber/builder/dog-walker and all-round good guy!

The next day, our first full day in Ubud, we decided to stay local and head to some nearby attractions. We walked the 10 minutes to the Sacred Monkey Forest which is one of the key tourist hotspots of Ubud centre. The forest is really cool with a huge troop of macaque monkeys (our favourites) living within it. They are still wild but seem to be somewhat accustomed to humans wandering through their habitats although if you get too close they aren't happy. One of the guys who worked there got them on our heads with crackers which was funny although I was slightly concerned it would poo on me. 

Even without the monkeys, the forest is definitely worth a visit. It's green and airy with a number of small shrines and the sacred monkey temple within it along with natural attractions such as a small stream and waterfall. There are numerous trails to walk along and when in its depths, it seems hard to imagine that a bustling town is right outside. 

Heading out of the forest, we walked along Monkey Forest Road which is one of the major streets in Ubud and passed by the various art shops which litter the street along with small stalls selling batik print clothing, pottery and other souvenirs (most of it less tacky than Kuta). It's apparent that one of the things Ubud is famous for is its art with a wide range of stores including those selling lower quality prints and artists workshops where you can commission one of the numerous local artists to create a custom piece for you. The road also has hundreds of statues of monkeys (obviously pointing towards to forest) ranging from whole monkey families to monkeys randomly riding turtles.

We stopped briefly for a drink to replenish us after walking around the hot and humid forest, it's crazy that we walked into a cafe and on one side of it was the main road filled with cars, motorbikes and shops and on the other side of it was the most perfect view of sprawling rice paddies. Nature is never far away in Ubud and most of the art we saw takes inspiration from this. We spied a turtle playing in a nearby pond (a source of great amusement to watch the effort he took getting out of the pond only to jump back in). We headed back to the house and after a quick dinner had the first of many quiet evenings (Ubud isn't the place to come for partying).

The next day, we again stayed local. After a bit of a lie-in our first stop was lunch and we visited a local Warung which we had read about online which is ran by the not-for-profit organisation, The Fair Future Foundation. This is aiming to provide free, basic healthcare for all of Bali and runs a free clinic which was opposite our homestay. As well as helping a good cause (all profits from the warung go to the foundation) we had a great meal of red curry for me and a giant chicken sandwich for Rob. Definitely worth checking out.

We headed to the market, Pasar Ubud, after this which again is focused mainly on art and homeware, in order to get some more Christmas shopping done (I'm up to 23kg already). I now think we're more prepared than we would be at home! Can't tell you what we bought because of various people reading this blog. We did do some extreme haggling however making our money stretch a bit further. The women are really persistent here and clearly are seasoned veterans at this game. At one point, people just started thrusting things at us and shouting out random numbers e.g. a camel box which we had expressed no interest in! The sellers of sarongs are perhaps the most frequent (mostly due to the huge amount of competition) but you need them to go into a lot of temples so the $1 they cost is probably worth it.

The following day, we ventured slightly further afield on foot heading to a nearby restaurant we had heard rave reviews about, Sari Organik. Housed next to a farm and with all home grown and organic produce we thought we'd give it a go. It also provided us with an excuse to take the lovely, scenic walk through the rice fields to get there. Passing by farmers with scary scythes wielding them with intent, women carrying hay bales on their heads and some very archaic looking farm machinery, this felt much more like authentic Bali. Sari Organik was good but not exceptional but the view from our table alone probably made the trek worth it. Our visit was made slightly more eventful by an incredibly obnoxious and loud group of tourists who seemed intent on discovering if every drink on the menu was a 'shake' or a 'smoothie' (not sure on the difference myself). 

We walked back to the guesthouse and after a relaxing day headed out for a quick bite in the evening. At nighttime in Ubud, we got accustomed to seeing two things- a large number of stray dogs who are unfortunately not very friendly (as my hand discovered when one tried to take a chunk out of it- thankfully not breaking the skin or I'd probably be having rabies jabs still) and also taxi drivers jumping out from the shadows (nearly giving you a heart attack in the process) trying to get you into their vehicles. Don't think this is the best marketing strategy!

Arriving back at the house, we were ready for an early night in preparation for a few full days outside of Ubud being welcomed by Papa painting one of his many portraits at 10pm on a Saturday night. More to follow...

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