Our drive to Ubud began with a bit of a detour. We agreed to check out a temple or two on our way up, but the temple that was of most interest was pretty much in the opposite direction of Ubud. No worries though.
We arrived at Pura Tanah Lot just as the biggest and darkest storm clouds were gathering. We got out, snapped a few photos of the attractive Hindu gateway, paid our entrance fee, and meandered through the laneways of tourist knickknacks before reaching the foot of the temple complex.
We made our way down through the gardens, past the pagoda, and down to the base of the temple which is perched on a ocean cliff. Unfortunately, the temple is guarded by several men that know maybe two or three words of English, but definitely made it clear that we weren't going to be going up to the temple. So instead we found an excellent vantage point on the rocks alongside the temple to take in the view as the ocean surged and foamed at our feet.
Just then the sky opened up and began pouring down on us. We hid under a pagoda until we were ready to face the rain. We scurried through the maze of shops and finally got back to the parking lot where our driver was waiting. Somewhere in the sea of thousands of cabs was our driver, sitting warm and dry in his car making zero attempt to look for us.
As suspected, we sent good ole Ball out in the pouring rain to find him. After a good five minutes we were gestured out from our makeshift rain shelter across the parking lot and climbed into the dry, air condition blasted minivan.
Well, that was that. Off to Ubud we go. The two hour drive to Ubud was pretty incredible. The winding roads are lined on either side with bright green terraced rice paddies. Turn after turn, you can see dozens of tiny women in conical hats bent over in the fields, enduring what appears to be backbreaking labour in knee deep muddy water, no less. It's really a beautiful sight (the rice paddies, that is...not the labor).
On the final stretch out to Ubud, we made a pitstop at one of the MANY silver shops that line the stretch of highway. Though, there were tons of beautiful pieces that we could've easily purchased, there wasn't that one that we HAD to have, so we soon moved on.
We arrived at our new digs, Artini 3 Villas, just in the nick of time. Right as we had gotten cozy in our rooms and received our hand delivered luggage the rain began to pour once again. This time, however, we enjoyed it in the comfort of a chair on the covered balcony with a cold Bintang in hand. Much more pleasant!
We happily chatted for a couple hours until it was time to shower and roll into town. The evening's plan included dinner and a traditional Balinese dance performance. Our restaurant that evening is an Ubud staple aptly called Lotus, as the dining area is virtually surrounded by one of the largest, lushest, and most spectacular lotus gardens I have ever seen. The food was fresh and delicious and our company was fantastic.
We finished up dinner just in time for a quick stroll over to the dance company, a purchase of three more Bintangs off the aggressive old ladies out front, and finally procuring four of the few remaining seats left around the covered stage.
The performance was interesting. It included all the key elements you would suspect, singing and chanting, beautifully adorned Balinese women moving slowly and very intentionally around a massive candelabra, and men dressed up in ornate masked costumes. The story was a bit difficult to follow and certain parts were a bit tedious, however, all agreed that the excitement certainly picked up at the end with the traditional 'fire dancing'.
When I think 'fire dancing', in my mind, I'm imagining scantily clad women, twirling kerosine soaked fire balls, in fur-covered bras and boots, on a dusty "Playa" in Nevada, but this 'fire dancing' is a bit different. In the center of a large circle two men dump two wheelbarrows full of coconut husks, soak the pile in some sort of very flammable liquid, and set it ablaze. On que, in dances a very zenned out man in a trance-like state. He dances around in a jumpy, jerky sort of fashion and soon after he very quickly and confidently walks, kicks, and dances his way through the raging inferno.
This certainly was incredible to see... Once. But this F'in guy did it again and again and again. Each time the two men standing by would rake up the husk and pile them into a big fiery pit, and each time the zenned-out man would kick and dance his way through. This continued until it began to be too painful to watch. Eventually, he had smoldered the fire into nothing with his poor feet and the performance was over. As the lights came on, the man continued to sit very still in the circle with his black, burned, ashy feet exposed in an effort to collect a few tips. Apparently, the rest of the audience were as impressed and horrified as we were, because he Cleaned Up in tips that night.
After the performance we were picked up and taken back to the hotel for a nice restful slumber.
The next morning began with a nice, leisurely swim in the pool, followed by breakfast. We hatched a plan that the four of us would take a long, routed walk through rural Ubud. We threw on our walking shoes, grabbed water and sunscreen and headed out.
The route we chose first took us through the sacred Monkey Forest. Monkeys have become a bit commonplace on this trip, but this Forest was pretty incredible. Hundreds of tiny, adorable monkeys jumping, playing and scurrying around your feet. You could feed them, but we all elected not to. We continued the walk down the steps to a temple and river next to a massive and gorgeous Banyan Tree. There were awesome looking Komodo Dragons carved out of stone, as well as a beautifully carved stone bridge and archway. We snapped several photos and negotiated our way through the growing crowd of tourists and made our way up and out of the Monkey Forest.
Our journey continued down a quiet street lined with temples, more stone carvings, and the occasional yoga studio or guesthouse. I was starting to get the sense that Ubud, especially the surrounding area, is definitely the peaceful, serene, spiritual center of Bali. Which, I suppose, is why it was cast as one of the main characters, 'Love', in the international best seller turned awful movie, "Eat, Pray, Love".
After a short busy section of our route we turned off into the rice paddies. We weren't sure if this was totally legit or not, but were sure we were on the right track so kept on trekking. We were soon approached by a friendly farmer, who offered us a coconut to drink. None of us were particularly interested in a hot coconut slashed open with a filthy knife, but got the feeling that this was the protocol. We paid the man 20,000 Rupiah for the coconut, or rather the toll, and continued on our way.
We walked through an artist village, past more rice paddies, and finally stopped around 12:30, for a drink and an escape from the sun. We leisurely chatted and sipped our drinks until it was time to finish up our journey.
We got back into town after roughly 4 hours and 10 kilometers. We were beat. We pulled up four chairs at the Luna cafe and ordered a late lunch. It seemed we finished up just in time too, as we were enjoying our meals the storm clouds, once again, began to gather and the rain, once again, began to fall. Despite the rain we made our way back to the hotel on foot, browsing and window shopping all the way home.
Back at the hotel, we took a dip and relaxed until 6pm when we were picked up by a local spa company and brought to Bliss. Adrian and Art enjoyed their one hour traditional Balinese Massage, while Judy took in 30 minutes reflexology and a head/hair treatment. I elected to pamper myself with an hour facial and head/hair treatment.
We emerged fresh and relaxed. We were dropped in the center of town where we continued window shopping until we came upon a local, cheap and cheerful eatery. The food was just ok, but better was the gelato we had afterward. Pineapple & Mint for Adrian, Avocado for Arturo, Judy went for the Ginger snap and I settled on the Banana and Brown Sugar. We once again walked back to our hotel and retired to our rooms and put an end to a long, active day.
In the morning, Adrian and I got up early and went for a run around Ubud, which proved difficult with the broken sidewalks, traffic, and us temporarily getting lost. We made it back to the hotel, showered, quickly ate a bite for breakfast, and promptly at 10am were picked up for our whitewater rafting adventure.
30 minutes in the van left us in the middle of a barren field with no river in sight. Confused, we hopped out of the van and followed a random guy through a small village to a shack where we signed our lives away, forked over our cash, and were outfitted with our gear, lifevest, helmet, and paddle.
Still unsure where this river was, it soon became apparent as we began our massive stair descent down to the water. A bit trecherous, but eventually we made it down and climbed into our raft. We were given a detailed, yet unclear safety briefing and off we went.
The trip was fun. The rapids were impressive and much bigger than any of us had anticipated. The problem, however, was our guide seemed to be rather clueless. While other groups easily negotiated tight slips between rocks, rapids, and small waterfalls, our guide couldn't help but hit every rock in the river and get severely wedged no less than 6 times. It got rather irritating having to stop and start while going down what should have been a very fun rapid. All considered, it was a beautiful ride down the lush green canyon, and a great way to spend the afternoon.
After roughly two hours, we paddled our raft to the river's edge and climbed out. It was then, that we began the lengthy, steep climb to the top of the hillside. Over 350 steep, uneven stairs brought us to the top and after another 15 minute walk we were at the rafting hut. We dried off, had some lunch, and got back into the van for the ride home.
Judy and Art had spoken to a Texas women that morning at breakfast who had raved about an art gallery in town called Antonio Blanco. So, on the way back into town they had the driver stop and drop them off. I, on the other hand, didn't have the energy to keep up with these youngins. I elected to head back and rest for a while back at the hotel. Thoughtfully, Adrian accompanied me.
After an hour snooze. I roused myself and went for a nice, cool swim. We showered and changed and went out to do a bit of shopping down one of the main streets. After some price comparing and fierce negotiation, I settled on a bright blue dress that might be acceptable for a couple weddings coming up in the near future.
We quickly headed back after stopping for some cheese, crackers, and drinks to have with the folks. We got back to the hotel realize that those crazy kids were still MIA. So, instead we kicked off happy hour just the two of us expecting them to arrive any minute. Eventually, the beers were gone as was most of the cheese and crackers, and they still hadn't come back. Just then, we received a call on the hotel phone. They were down the street enjoying their own dinner and happy hour. Well la-ti-da...
We finished up, walked over and joined them. We heard all about the gallery, saw all of their day's shopping purchases over a couple drinks. Eventually, we paid the bill and made our way towards home. As the folks already ate, Adrian and I stopped off at a small taco shop next to our hotel. We enjoyed surprisingly scrumptious burritos and went back.
Back at the hotel, we geared up and went for one more late night swim before calling it a day. And once again, what a day it was.
In the morning, we showered, packed up, and hit the road around 8:30am. An hour stop off at Sanur, and we hopped on the Scoot Express fast boat off to a tiny island oasis called Nusa Lembongan.
We were heading back to the beach, and there ain't nothing wrong with that...