We arrived in Bali pretty late at night, so decided just to spend the night at the airport to save money and avoid the struggle of late night transportation. Luckily the airport is pretty sleeper friendly, and we actually found cushy couches near a cafe that gave us a pretty good night’s sleep. In the morning we walked to our hostel in Kuta, Bedbunkers 2. It’s one of the most ridiculous hostels I’ve ever stayed in, with beds stacked three high and five across in the dorms. I’m glad I didn’t have to sleep on the top; it looked like a pretty perilous climb.
Our first night in Kuta was fun; we went out to an extravagant night club with a group of friends from the hostel. Sky Garden, which boasts seven floors of entertainment, offers a nightly buffet from 4 to 9 that includes unlimited alcoholic drinks. We showed up right at 4 to take full advantage of the deal, and scarfed down some of the best western food we’ve had since leaving the states and enough drinks to pay our entrance fee twice over. By the time 9 o’clock rolled around we weren’t ready to leave, so we stayed at the club and danced the night away.
The next morning took a nasty turn. I woke up covered in red, bumpy, extremely itchy bug bites. They were on my arms, my knees, my hip and tummy. I got bed bugs!! The hostel staff switched us to another room immediately, but later when I asked them to do my laundry for free they accused me of having already had the bites when I arrived. They denied that it had happened the hostel, citing that they had never had a problem before and that they “clean all the time” which I never witnessed. I finally got them to agree to pay for half of my laundry and took solace in the fact that there’s no way they properly cleaned the bed I stayed in and will soon have a huge bug problem. If you’ve ever had bed bugs you know how itchy they can be, but I found relief in cajuput oil. I was so stupidly cranky for the day that we didn’t do anything other than chat with people (which I found exhausting) and watch TV shows.
We quickly found out that Kuta wasn’t really our scene; it’s all about the party. Going out for a night can be fun, but I don’t find that I can create real connections that way, and I don’t enjoy feeling hungover and laying in bed all day. There were some people staying at the hostel that did only that, though, staying for weeks in Kuta to party all night and sleep all day. It’s a lot cheaper to do it in Indonesia than Europe I suppose, but it just didn’t satisfy our wanderlust.
The next day we only wanted to leave but our laundry took forever to finish, so we didn’t get out of Kuta until late afternoon. Arriving in Ubud was like a breath of fresh air. Unlike Kuta, Ubud is a spiritual and cultural center of Bali. Healthy food and yoga abound. The focus of the area is mindfulness, detoxing, and destressing. We rushed to a free yoga class at a beautiful yoga complex called the Yoga Barn and then ate dinner with some friends we met in Kuta, Dan and Caitlin. Our lovely homestay in Ubud, Griya Sugriwa, was friendly, accommodating, homey, and helpful. It was so much better to be there than Kuta.
When we woke up the next day we rented motorbikes, stuck Dan and Caitlin on the back, and ventured around to find the beautiful temples of Ubud. Bali is home to thousands of temples; they are peppered throughout every city as often as churches in southern U.S. Towns, but they are far more beautiful and intricate. Most of the temples on the streets aren’t for tourists, though. We visited the biggest ones that have been turned in to tourist attractions. The first was Goa Gajah, the elephant cave, a combined Buddhist and Hindu temple home to magnificent carving around the mouth of a cave.
The second temple we visited seemed to be more hidden; we were the only white people there. Mengening Tampak Siring, a water temple, focused on the cleansing of the mind and body. Lush, green moss and plants covered all of the rock faces. The water was chilly and completely clear. At the bottom of some stairs there were two separate pools meant for bathing and prayer, one for men and the other for women. We cautiously entered the water in our bathing suits trying not offend, but the locals around us went in in only underwear. They told us to drink the water from the fountains and wash ourselves of negativity. We were surrounded on all sided by vines and trees and it was incredibly peaceful.
After the locals water temple, we visited the more famous water temple, Tirta Empul. This one was surrounded by tourists and was a bit more expensive to get into. We went for the full experience and got in the cleansing pools at the long line of fountains. There were three pools. The first had maybe 11 fountains. We stood in line at each one (except for two that are used for cremation) to pray, drink of the water, and wash ourselves. Each one is supposed to stand for different aspects of life, but we didn’t opt for a guide so we didn’t know what they were. We were told, however, that while cleansing you must focus on your ancestors, your family, your loved ones, and your karma. I did just that. This pool was meant to cleanse and wash away negativity. The second pool had two fountains, one for the male parts of your soul and the other for the female. You use both for balance and to restore yourself. The final pool had only one fountain we were meant to pray at, but there were 8 there. This final pool was meant to restore positivity. I felt very fortunate to have the unique cultural experience of cleansing myself in the holiest water in Bali. Although I am not religious, I relished in the chance to set aside time in my day to think upon my wellbeing and that of my loved ones, the wealth and knowledge provided me by my ancestors, and the importance of mindfulness and love in my future. I greatly admire Hindus for incorporating this as such a regular part of their lives.
The final temple we visited was the rock temple, Gunung Kawi. We were a bit rushed in our visit and there were a great many stairs that tired me out, but the carvings in the rock were well worth the strain. Surrounded by picturesque rock carvings, the rock temple was certainly the most beautiful of our visits. Tall and wide rock faces housed larger than life carvings and caves used for meditation. After a quick tour we sped back towards town to make it to the evening’s free event at the Yoga Barn: a heart talk.
The Yoga Barn hosts free events every evening to draw in people. Understandably so, it creates a lot of business for them. This place is fantastic. A huge and well built complex, there is lots of green space, healthy vegan food, and enough studio space for many classes to happen at the same time. The heart talk was hosted by spiritual guide Rodolfo Young. He discussed with us the importance and influence of choice in our lives. That everything is choice. Although I didn’t necessarily agree with everything he said, he made a lot of good points that gave us all plenty to think about. After a quick dinner of Nasi Goreng, the food I’ve most commonly eaten in Indonesia, we all went to bed. Nasi Goreng is fried rice with veggies and chicken (usually) and a fried egg on top. The other popular version of this dish is Mie Goreng, which is the same but with fried noodles (usually of the Ramen variety) instead of rice. These two dishes are ubiquitous throughout Indonesia and can be found almost anywhere.
The following day the four of us slept in and then met up at the Ubud monkey forest and had a fantastic time there. The monkey forest is an enclosed monkey sanctuary, although the fences around it aren’t so much to keep the monkeys in as they are to keep people out. This jungle like setting is home to a temple and many intricate statues, and also 700 Balinese long-tailed monkeys. They are bold. Used to tourists, and incredibly smart, these adorable little guys are master thieves. They know how zippers work, they understand humans carry around interesting toys in their bags, and they ALWAYS know when somebody has food. Within minutes of entering we were surrounded by cute little babies, protective mothers, and cranky males. We were carrying a CamelBak backpack filled with water, and one monkey instantly knew what it was and came up for a sip. He couldn’t figure out the locking mechanism though, so he ended up just stealing the mouthpiece and running away. We spent three hours interacting with the little buggers before leaving for dinner. By the time dinner was over it was too late to do much else, so went in to relax for the evening.
The next day we met up a tasty vegan restaurant with half price Mondays and spent many hours simply getting to know each other. Caitlin is from the U.S. while Dan hails from southern England. Afterwards went to see a a traditional Balinese kecak (ka-check) dance in a nearby village, Jujungatu. The village was hosting the dance to help fund their celebrations for Nyepi, Balinese new year. The kecak is so named because of the sounds that the musicians make. There is no music during the dance, but rather a circle of perhaps 100 men sit around the dancers and say “check” over and over again in rhythms, while a few of them sing bass or make beats. It’s difficult to describe, but it was beautiful to listen to and incredibly interesting. The dance told the story of the Ramayana epic, a popular topic for Balinese dance which features the beloved hero, the monkey king. I was engrossed in their precise movements; every little twitch of the hand has meaning and their facial expressions a re as much a part of the story as the narration. I enjoyed it so much so that we resolved to see another dance performance the following evening.
The next morning we woke up at 1:30 a.m. to trek the volcano, Mt. Batur. Although our driver was late picking us up, and a party the had cancelled delayed us by more than 30 minutes, we still made it to the mountain in time to make the climb for sunrise. The Mt. Batur trek is a fairly popular tourist outing, and we were joined by hundreds in the difficult task of scaling the 1710 M volcano in the dark. Being the least in shape in our group, I had a difficult time and had to take many breaks, but after two hours of steep climbing, falling, and slipping, we made it to the top just in time to watch the sun crest the other volcanoes in the distance. The view made the entire ordeal well worth it and then some. We were surrounded in indescribable beauty. The way down in the light of afforded spectacular views of the surrounding landscape, as well as the monkeys that live on the mountain.
After returning to our hostel we took a quick nap and went to the market to get sarongs, then went to see our second dance performance. This one was a bit more professional, so had a very different feel from the first which was put on by a village. The numerous musicians played traditional Balinese instruments, most of which were percussion but there were also flutes. The dancers were maters of their craft, and they conveyed the stories and emotions exquisitely through each movement. Instead of telling one story, this performance was titled the “Spirit of Bali” and featured small portions of all the most popular dances. The show was lovely, but the end left a sour taste in my mouth with the worst cultural appropriation I have ever witnessed. After the grand finale featuring the beloved monkey king doing a powerful and exhausting routine, a white man playing a saxophone and his wife came on stage. She performed a sorry excuse for Balinese dance, and the entire room was filled with tension and discomfort. Leave it to white people to ruin everything!
The next morning we arranged a ferry to take us to Gili Trawangan, another party island. Although Ubud was a restful experience, it was time to move on. I could easily spend many months exploring Ubud, doing yoga in the mornings and exploring culture during the days. I guess that’s exactly what happened in Eat, Pray, Love (I wouldn’t know, I’ve never read the book or seen the movie) and I can understand why. Although it’s a little sad that Bali is being overrun by tourism, especially since the release of Eat, Pray, Love, it still has much to offer. Ubud has been one of my favorite destinations thus far in the trip.