Rice Paddies, The Healer and Downward Dog

Fittingly our round the world journey ends in the same Balinese village where Elizabeth Gilbert concluded her journey in the book “Eat, Pray, Love”.  [If you haven’t read the ‘About Our Trip’ page on our blog click here to find out the connection.]

I got a calm vibe from Ubud from the get go.  Perhaps I was influenced from reading that Ubud was a place where people live healthy, spiritual lives while practicing yoga and meditation.  The village of Ubud was founded in the 8th Century by a Buddhist holy man named  Rsi Marhandya.  He felt a positive, healing energy from this place, meditated on it and declared it a holy place (I think that sort of thing was easier back then.  Try doing that in Bayonne!).  He named it Ubud which is a derivation of the Balinese word Ubad meaning medicine, so it has always been a place of healing.

Fresh from our ten day detox program and eager to continue losing the gobs of weight we gained during our first three months of travel (damn you Italian pasta!!) Francesca and I dedicated our week in ubud to the pursuit of the meditative arts.  That included yoga, working out, eating healthy and, of course, daily massage therapy.  As noted in my earlier posting you can get awesome traditional Balinese massages for only $6 here!

But before any treatments or workouts we had to find a place of lodging that would serve as our zen home away from home.  We found it in a place called “Artini 2”.  At $50 a night this place was mid priced for Ubud.  Putting aside the $400+ per night luxury resorts like Amandari and the Royal Pita Maha, you can find very comfortable lodgings for $30-70 per night.

Many of Artini 2’s rooms are less than $50 per night, but we paid up for what we called “The Artini Temple”.  It was a single unit at the far back of the Artini compound in a standalone building raised up on a platform with steep steps leading up to it which was reminiscent of a jungle temple.

There are two main streets in Ubud and Artini 2 is located right in the center of one of them; Jalan Hanoman.  But like many of the properties in Ubud its busy street front façade masked a garden of earthly delight.  Upon entering the premises down a steep flight of stairs which borders a rice field you travel down a long pathway through neatly manicured gardens with a few villas off to the left.   Descending another flight of stairs it opens up into the main courtyard that houses the reception and restaurant adjacent to a refreshing, blue watered pool next to a cliff etched with stone carvings from which a waterfall trickles gently down.   There is also a Balinese pagoda by the pool where Francesca and I often ate and took advantage of the free wi-fi with our netbooks.

The garden path that leads to The Artini Temple where we stayed.  You can barely see its orange tiled roofs through the foliage.

Continuing down another flight of stone steps (past a statue of a monkey with an enormous penis – see the Artini montage above) brings you to a long path surrounded by lush gardens that leads past the two story building of rooms to The Artini temple.

The view from our sitting area just outside the Balinese wooden doors that enter The Temple.  Each morning I would sit out there and have a cup of tea and watch a group of elderly Italian women as they practiced yoga on the closely cut grass below.

We were keen to get our own yoga on and eagerly began sifting through the plethora of Ubud’s yoga establishment brochures.  We ended up purchasing a multi-session pack from “The Yoga Barn” primarily because it was the closest to the Artini 2. [In case you were curious, Artini 1 is a home stay across the street and Artini 3 is a resort and spa down the street.  We looked at both, but thought Artini 2 was the best].

They also had a delicious, organic food restaurant called “Little K” in back of the yoga studio.

Stay tuned for a separate posting with my thoughts on our yogic experience.

We also got a one week membership to the Ubud Fitness Center which is, as far as we could discern, the only western type gym in Ubud.  There is a lot of wellness going on in the Ubud area, but not so much cardio or weights it would seem.

Franny studied the zen-like art of shopping…..

…while I got my fill of Ubud culture (and primates) by visiting the Monkey Forest at the start of the appropriately named Jalan Monkey Forest street.

The Monkey Forest is a 27 acre forest reserve housing three temples that the monkeys (Balinese Macaques) are supposedly guarding.  They (the park staff, not the monkeys) make it very clear in the literature you receive at the ticket office that we are guests in the monkeys’ home and should conduct ourselves accordingly.

You are encouraged to purchase bananas from vendors at the entrances to the park and dole them out (no pun intended) liberally to the monkeys.  They also advise you not to leave your sunglasses on your head or even in a loose pocket as the monkeys are infamous for stealing them.  They further warn that the monkeys are wild and can become aggressive if you try to hide food from them.  A definite no-no.

Pura Dalum Agung Pedangtegal, the main temple in the Monkey Forest.

When the monkeys weren’t accosting tourists for food they could be found playing in one of the pools or sitting quietly grooming each other.

They would meticulous groom each other.

Not sure what this guy is grooming for, but I don’t think he enjoyed the paparazzi catching him in the act.

These two guys had located the motherload of potatoes left by the park staff and seem to be imploring me not to divulge their location to the other hungry monkeys.

While the larger monkeys dominated the tourist attention I tried to make sure that I gave some of my bananas to the little guys.

But the big guys would not tolerate that for long and would climb up on me to ensure they were given some of my tasty treats.

Further into the forest there was a sacred bathing temple with carved statues covered in beautiful moss.

As with several other destinations on our trip we were blessed in Ubud by the generosity and kindness of some local friends.  Jan and Avi are a married couple who have been living in Ubud for the past year having moved from Jakarta where they established a travel magazine called “Kabar” which is a Balinese greeting.  Jan is the sister of a good friend of mine from business school Eddie Russell an Irishman who now lives in New Jersey with his American wife Julia.  He put me in touch with Jan and both she and Avi (of Indian parentage, but raised in Jakarta) could not have been more hospitable.  On our first night in Ubud they invited us out for a coffee to get acquainted and we then met up again that evening after dinner so they could introduce us to the Ubud nightlife.

Ari, Jan, Avi & Franny

Along with Ari, their friend and colleague at the magazine, we talked and drank the night away in a small, but lively bar.  Having not rented our scooter yet, we stumbled back to Artini 2 on foot at about 4am.

The next day was Jan’s birthday and they invited us to their house for a party Avi was throwing for her.  So in preparation Francesca and I both got mani-pedis for $6 in a nearby salon.  I didn’t get mine colored though as Franny wouldn’t permit it.

Daughter of one of the salon workers.  I could not take enough photos of this cute, little princess.

Jan and Avi also invited us to a purification ceremony that Avi had arranged before her party.  We were the only other non family guests (aside from Ari who was staying with them) and we were honored by the invitation.

The ritual lasted about two hours (although we arrived with about 30 minutes left as instructed) and was presided over by a very holy looking priest who among other things conducted a sacrifice of a live chicken.  I will spare you the photos of that poor bird.

The birthday girl was a vision to behold in her white, traditional garb and flower in her hair.

The children of Jan and Avi’s landlord were also on hand to participate in the event.

They were friendly, but seemed to be a bit wary of me, which is probably understandable.

Jan and Avi’s place was absolutely AMAZING!  It was called “Garden in the Sky” and was a huge compound off of Jalan Hanoman accessed only after traveling down a long, twisting, narrow alleyway which, unbeknownst to us, is not wide enough for a moped to travel on safely with a passenger on the back.  We made it through unscathed, but were met with shocked surprise from our hosts when we told them.  “No one ever tries riding through with a passenger!” Jan told us.

Jan’s birthday party was a veritable who’s who of the Bali expat community.  Everyone from artists to teachers to filmmakers and business owners were in attendance.  Francesca and I have never met so many interesting individuals in one night.  And they all have incredible stories.  Like Nea, the pretty, young American woman from St. Louis who had never been out of the Midwest before graduating college when she traveled to Bali, met a Balinese man who was a surfer and a tattoo artist and never went back.  They are now married and have a beautiful baby boy.

An then there is Douchon, the Renaissance man and former Hollywood recluse who was once accused of scuttling a big Hollywood film by punching out Jean Claude Van Dam (he claims this is untrue and they are good friends).

Note the “New York Sate” on the chalk board menu behind Francesca.  We asked Brian, the owner, what was New York about the sate and he told us “the portion size”.  That must be some large sate!

We would end up getting together with Jan and Avi several times during our short stay in Ubud including our second to last night when they took us to a place called “Naughty Nuri’s”, a delicious steak and ribs joint about a ten minute scooter ride from Artini 2.

Naughty Nuri herself barbequing some tasty spare ribs and chicken.

Me, Franny and Brian, the owner of Naughty Nuri’s.

The owner, Brian Aldinger, came by to say “hi” to Jan and Avi, who, despite being vegetarians, are frequent diners here.  Francesca and I hit it off with the Queens born, Montclair, New Jersey raised Brian and talked for several hours with him about things American, things Balinese and his interesting story.

Francesca (wearing Avi’s glasses) and Brian at a live music house next door to Naughty Nuri’s.

Brian had come to Bali fifteen years earlier after realizing he didn’t want to have a nagging wife, four kids and live in a small house somewhere in Jersey (it wasn’t until later that he did not have such a life before, he was just speaking hypothetically of what he didn’t want).  So he obtained a passport (never had one before) and traveled to Bali where he met a young local girl named Nuri as they were passing each other in the street.  He says it was love at first sight and that love contributed to him opening up the restaurant to indulge his wife’s passion for barbeque cooking.  She has three children from a previous relationship and they now have a baby daughter of their own.

Brian enjoyed our company so much (as we did his) that he insisted we all continue drinking together down the road at a live music house with an amazing Indonesian cover band who sounded exactly like whichever artist they were covering.  They encouraged people to get up and sing, karaoke style, with them, but I was the only one to take them up on it singing my signature tune “Brown Eyed Girl” (which, fittingly I also sang with the band at Jan’s brother Eddie’s wedding years ago).

Rain drops on the Artini pool.

Franny geared up for riding in the rain at the entrance to Artini 2.

We got lucky with predominantly hot, sunny days while in Ubud, despite it being the rainy season, but the skies did open up on our last day there.

The snails were out in force before the deluge.

We couldn’t leave Ubud without trying the famous pork barbeque at Ibu Oka, a crowded touristy, but tasty hole in the wall restaurant opposite the Palace near the Ubud Market.

BBQ Pork and a frosty Bingtang Beer.  Ahhh.

A new pig is brought to the restaurant about every hour to satisfy the rush of customers at lunch time.

We also felt we had to pay a visit to Ketut Liyer, the Balinese spiritual healer made famous in Elizabeth Gilbert’s book “Eat, Pray, Love”.  So after filling ourselves with barbeque pork we set off on our scooter to find Ketut’s house.  Stay tuned for a separate posting on our visit with Ketut.

An interesting note about Balinese names.  Generally speaking there are only four first names in Bali.  Wayun which means first born, Made, second (literally “middle”), Nyoman, third and Ketut, fourth child, or literally “the tail”.  If a family has more than four children they start again with Wayun and add Balik after it, then Made Balik, Nyoman Balik, etc. Apparently it is very rare these days for a Balinese family to have more than three children with the result being that there are fewer and fewer Ketuts running around.

What about girls you ask?  Same, same, but different.  For girls, they order of the names is the same, but they add “Ni” to it so the first born daughter is Ni Wayun, the second, Ni Made, etc.  While an interesting naming convention it definitely poses problems when looking for a Balinese person.  It was very frustrating when Francesca and I were looking for our driver when we went to Jimbaron Bay and people asked us what his name was and we only knew Wayun.  That didn’t help much.


6 Responses to “Rice Paddies, The Healer and Downward Dog”

  1. you’re looking more svelte by the day, all that healing and detox must be working, and I notice you can fit into your normal shorts again, although the riot of colour ones continue to make an appearance. Bali looks like a real highlight of the trip …

  2. a dry artini, aken not stirred ?

  3. Next time you’re in Ubud, head up the road and around the corner from Nuri’s to Fly Café. Enjoy the world’s best BBQ Ribs, the island’s best Key Lime Pie, Bali’s best Eggs Benedict, or any of the other yummy meals from the extensive menu of local, international, and vegetarian cuisine. It’s probably the best value restaurant in Ubud. And by the way, your buddy Avi drops into Fly Café frequently.

    • aroljahns Says:

      Darnit Herb, I wished we’d known about the Fly Cafe while we were there. Looks like Avi was holding back some of his better Ubud secrets from us. 🙂 Thanks for reading.

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