25 July 2015 | BY ANDJELKA JANKOVIC | City Guides , Travel
Be it no concern, point of no return, go forward in reverse
Ubud is finding kindness the most attractive human quality.
Ubud is connection without a WiFi signal.
Ubud is planning breakfast, lunch and dinner around a yoga schedule.
Ubud is dancing your heart out with 150 people at on a Sunday morning.
Ubud is forgetting your bathers and swimming in a waterfall.
Ubud is admitting you have no idea what you are doing in life.
Ubud is holding on tight to cute boys on the back of motorbikes.
Ubud is crying while hugging strangers.
Ubud is falling in love with a new music genre in one car sing-along.
Ubud is being wide open and filling it up with new hearts.
Ubud is a bag of carrots and room full of women at a tantric workshop.
Ubud is skipping breakfast for a good conversation.
Ubud is saying what you need to say because you may never see each other again.
Ubud is approaching every day as a clean slate.
Ubud is the view outside the window being better than any movie you have seen.
Ubud is saying ‘sama sama’ and meaning it.
Ubud is talking quickly and eating slowly.
Ubud is reading an entire book by flashlight.
Ubud is accepting the polarity of life – the magic days balance out the hard moments.
Ubud is using Sufjan Stevens’ lyrics as mantras.
Ubud is extraordinary light bulb moments in broken English.
Ubud is having the patience that the Universe will hear your call.
Ubud is searching for a home inside yourself.
Ubud is working on being the girl you want to fall in love.
Ubud is realising all you need is a bed, a hot shower, and no snakes in the bathroom.
Ubud is not sharing the best moments of travel with anyone but the ones who were there.
Ubud is catching yourself being truly present.
Ubud is friendships of ten days feeling like 10 years.
Ubud is not being so hard on yourself – you are changing everyday.
Ubud is returning to your place of last happiness.
“Listen, are you breathing just a little and calling it life?” – Mary Oliver
It’s hard to ignore a burning in your heart so strong it wakes you up in the middle of the night. Five weeks ago I left the place I am from to find a new home. I had every reason to stay (two jobs, amazing friends, close family, year-long sunshine, the best cat in the world) but a faint whisper turned into a murmur and grew into an internal scream that would catch me off guard at the most random times. Waiting for the kettle to boil, sitting at traffic lights, the moments just before falling asleep at night – a conversation would begin with my current and future self: Holy shit, If I was every going to ever do this is had to be now or never.
I could not ignore the call anymore – the call that says “Go – go while you are young.” It was an invitation to live. Selling my belongings and quitting two much-loved jobs was the easy part in comparison to the chaos that struck two weeks before my one-way ticket to North America. Plans to attend a month-long yoga and organic farming program unexpectedly fell through a week before my departure. I went into a tailspin. For all my laissez-faire plans, I was certain of one thing – I desperately needed time to recentre, ground and nourish my soul before hitting the road on a solo adventure.
I was dramatically questioning everything (the Universe, intentions, cancelling the whole trip, ordering more fries) and came to the realisation that when your heart is confused and empty and lost, it needs to go back to it’s favourite place. And for regular Life Curator readers (Hi there Mum!), my calling was for Ubud, Bali in Indonesia. And so I did just that.
My trip to Bali six months earlier was the epitome of transformative travel. Arriving back in Ubud feels like unlocking the door after a long day, flicking off your shoes half-way through the door frame, dropping your bags in the hallway, throwing your jacket onto the floor, diving onto your bed and stretching out like a cat in the sun. Your being knows it: You are home.
Ubud welcomed me like an old friend. I found comfort and confrontation in solitude – the first three days were tough, getting used to the sensation of traveling alone takes time so be kind to yourself. I found warmth and vulnerability in new friendships, as well as ridiculous fun and genuine joy in daily yoga, ecstatic dance parties and unplanned adventures that I could not script even if I tried. One of the more beautiful lessons was the realisation that I am not the only one that comes across the unexpected heaviness of loneliness, and when a stranger strikes up a conversation with you treat it as a gift – to echo Sufjan Stevens – ‘a friend is a friend’.
My most cherished moments came with time spent with my Bob Marley loving driver and dear friend Wayan Yoga who I met on my first trip to Ubud. He frequently touts ‘It’s okay – be happy’ and ‘life is complicated enough, make it simple’ when we would hang out. But of all his quips, kindness and cheeky smiles, one thing he said is permanently imprinted into my brain. Drinking tea and listening to Bon Iver, I asked him what he does when he feels confused, lost, empty, sad. He said: “Before I fall asleep, I lay in bed and empty my mind. I say to myself “empty, empty, empty” and then I start from the top of my head and I say: ‘Thank you hair, thank you eyes, thank you eyebrows, thank you ears, thank you nose, thank you mouth’ until I have thanked every part of my body. Then my mind is empty, I am alive, I have nothing to be worried about and I fall asleep.”
Second time around and I discovered more organic food, wellness, yoga, connection and adventure than my soul could handle at times. Happiness is Ubud vibrates through you, and the humidity makes your skin look amazing (although mine did take a U-turn a week into my trip and I am still piecing the hormonal/changing environment/digestion puzzle together).
A paradise for vegan, gluten free love-filled food feasts. Dayu is a beautiful Indonesian woman who cooks for some of Ubud’s most exclusive resorts, and pours all her (extra? she has a lot) passion and creative energy into this cozy hideaway from the main streets of Ubud. Try the tempeh pumpkin lasagna, purple vegetable soup, vegetarian nasi campur and for the love of all that is good in life – do not leave without trying the Shakti Turmeric Chai Latte with Coconut Milk and her amazing vegetable-based cakes (all gluten free and vegan) like Coconut Zucchini and Sweet Potato Cinnamon.
An organic treasure tucked away in a rice terrace labyrinth in the raised paths of Penestanan. Hands down (fork in hand) the best Nasi Campur I have found in Ubud – my favourite dish that I have at least once a day in Bali. Served on a banana leaf, the red rice and eight small vegetarian seasonal side is nourishing and grounding, perfect after a beautiful yoga class at the intimate Intuitive Flow yoga studio a few doors away. Also enjoy the rice pancakes, jam juice and the serene views.
Cafe with a K and yummy with a heck yes! A two-storey bohemian treehouse style hideaway on one of Ubud’s main streets – a hot spot for expats, yogis and solo travelers. Come alone and expect to make a friend at the communal low-seating tables on the top floor, or stake out one of the sidewalk tables and let the bustling scene keep you company. Order as much as you can if you have the stamina and the stomach – I loved the cleansing Ayurvedic Kitchari bowl (and have since replicated it on my travels), Tofu and Tempeh plate with Sambal, Green Goddess salad (liberally pour the dressing on everything) and the Toasted Seed bowl.
Although I avoid the touristy Monkey Forrest Road for dining, Cafe Wayan is the exception – step away from the main road and land your toosh onto a cushion in pavilions surrounded by lotus ponds. The huge Western/Indonesian menu was overwhelming so I employed my ‘when in doubt, order Nasi Campur’ rule and was deliciously fulfilled by all the usual favourites including Urab vegetables (beans and coconut salad), tempeh satay, egg with sambal, corn fritter, tofu curry, rice crackers, tempeh manis. Great for large groups, families and anyone travelling with someone ‘adventurous’ who just wants a steak.
I’ve written about this Ubud gem before in my first Curated Ubud travel guide, but this $3 meal tastes better than any $300 meal back home. Mama Prima is a beautiful soul who meditates for one hour every morning and sings while cooking so that her food tastes and gives love. She is the sweetest lady and will cater to any dietary requirements you have. Plus the cafe is ‘pure vegetarian’ meaning it is a spiritually-motivated diet and Mama Prima does not cook with onion, garlic or potato (a new discovery for me). Mama would often come and sit with me while I ate and we would talk through smiles, hand gestures and questions about wellness and life. I’ve started a little tradition where I always have my first and last meal in Ubud at Prima Veg, and I guess to keep the tradition going I need to come back again and again (which I will!).
You can’t keep me away! Immediately upon getting to Ubud I suggest you make your way to The Yoga Barn and get a monthly schedule for non-stop yoga classes, meditation, dance, music, kirtan, eating and socialising. If I close my eyes I can imagine I am in Carlos’ Vinyasa Flow class, where he plays the guitar and sings Venezuelan love songs (that’s what I am going with) while you blissfully hold a downward dog for two minutes, and then pick your jaw off the floor as you proceed to warrior two. I revisited all my favourite teachers and classes as well as trying two of Punnu’s meditation classes – his afternoon Charkra Meditation class is confronting, enthralling and transformative – do try to experience at least one. I also did an enthralling 4 Day Yoga Immersion workshop with Bex Tryer which included a sacred Balinese Water Blessing Ceremony that spiritually and physically set me up in the right frame of mind and heart for beginning of my six month travel adventures in North America.
Prior to Ubud, if someone would have told me that 150 people were dancing, sweating and generally having the time of their lives (with no drugs or alcohol) at 11am on a Sunday morning, I would not have believed them. But surely enough – with my pals courage and booty – I experienced the most joyful and love-filled 90 minutes dancing in a room with strangers to the beats of our own wild drums. It can take a few moments to warm up and accept this really is happening and then ecstatic dance overtakes your body. Let go of what people think (no is thinking anything, they are too busy dancing!) and let loose, feel the music and go for it with every limb and ounce of your spirit. Realisation – I love to dance! It sort of gets repressed out of us (unless you have a top-hitting quirky YouTube video) and my four rounds of ecstatic dance has opened me up to feeling a beat anywhere I am (San Francisco train, Dubai airport, Lake Tahoe service station) and have a momentary dance party with myself.
If you are staying in Penestanan, Intuitive Flow is a yoga studio sent to you from the gods. Wooden floors, high ceilings, 360 degree glass walls and that jaw-dropping view – oh yeah, and yoga! To complement the peaceful setting, the yoga is gentle and focuses on Slow Vinyasa and Hatha Yoga classes. I started my first five mornings at Intuitive Flow and would pinch myself each time my eyes met the sun rising in front of our eyes and our bodies waking up to the beauty of Bali.
You can’t come to Ubud and not leave Ubud. My drift being – there are so many ecological, spiritual and historical gems just outside of the main town accessible by car on day trips. Amongst thick jungle greenery and ancient carved stones is the archaeological Goa Gajah (Elephant Cave) that houses not actual elephants but roughly translates to ‘elephant border’. Ticket entry is 15,000 Rupiah and make sure your bring a sarong to cover yourself as your enter the temple otherwise be prepared for persistent heckling from the many sarong sellers at the doorstep.
North of Ubud is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the most recognisable terraced rice fields in the world – partly of Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love fame. Climbing up and down is the real deal – no rails or safety features here which makes it all the more charming and fun. Make sure you take small change as along the way various local farmer huts will ask for a donation to help preserve the rice terraces. The rice paddies are farmed all year around so be mindful of the locals actually working while you pretend to be Julia Roberts.
The best of Ubud is in the jungle – precious tranquility, lush greenery, fresh air and no phone signal. The morning after one of the funnest nights of my life, a group of new friends and I set off on an enchanting and adventurous walk through the jungle. It ended up being an experience I will never forget as we reached a secluded swimming hole with a waterfall and dived in naked and refreshed. We quickly became friends for life, sharing laughter and silence in the midst of an Ubud not many people get to see. Definitely take the chance to walk off the beaten track and explore your own jungle heaven.
One of the only authentic Balinese healers left is Papa – a joyful and merciless deliverer of pain and health via tapping your feet and giving reflexology with a vengeance. His trademark “no pain, no gain” motto is delivered with a cheeky laugh, and his outstanding ability to read your body is what makes people from all over the world come to Papa for healing. A friend who pointed me to Papa told me to expect to cry out in pain and he was right. I screamed, withered, squirmed, and then out of nowhere (I must have burst through my pain threshold) I started uncontrollably laughing and Papa joined in saying “You are young and healthy. Health is wealth and you are very wealthy”. This was such a much needed and grateful reminder to stop looking for the ‘wrong’ in our bodies and appreciate what is already (and thanklessly) working right. Papa is an unbelievably kind and giving man who does not charge for his reflexology sessions but simply asks for a donation. Visit him for reflexology at Sandat Bali after 3pm everyday – just turn up and ask to see Papa, there will likely be people waiting as word of his talents have spread across the world, or if you are lucky you can step right in and bounce right out.
The ubiquitous ‘Sauna’ justice happens three evenings a week around a bon fire at Dragonfly Village, a 20 minute walk from the main road. Imagine stepping into a herbal steam sauna at least 5 degrees hotter than you thought your body could ever handle, the actual temperate is a mystery but my skin was simultaneously burning and cleansing in this small clay hut that fits about 6 people. Next you jump into a salt water pool that brings your back to life, and then you rinse and repeat. The bonfire under a clear sky is a mystical and primal experience, you feel the beauty of the setting in your bones. Make sure you get a cup of delicious tea from the billy can and join in on the chanting and group singalong – as it turns out, everyone does know the words to Oh, baby, baby, it’s a wild world.
Despite eating out for every meal in Ubud Nasi Campur-style, I was missing for love of cooking. Seing all the gorgeous produce at the markets and not being to cart home to make giant feasts was breaking my feeder heart. The solution – attend a Balinese cooking class of course. The options can be overwhelming but I was very happy with Lobong Culinary Experience – a family run experience that picks you up from Ubud and takes you to an authentic local markets outside of town (read: the only tourists was our small cooking group) and then an educational and interactive cooking class at the family compound. The menu was extraordinary – we prepared a homecooked Balinese feast of 10 dishes including my favourites Sate Lilit Ayam (Chicken Satay Skewers with Grated Coconut and Kaffir Lime), Jukut Urab (Mixed Vegetables and Coconut Salad), Sambal Ulek (Tomato and Chilli Sambal) and the grande finale of Bubur Injin (Black Rice Porridge with Coconut Milk and Palm Sugar). We excitedly sat down for lunch and stuffed ourselves silly, vowing to next eat again (a short lived resolution).
Laughter, tears, eye gazing, yoni awakening, soul searching, and a bag of carrots – I am so glad I took my own advice (feel the fear and do it anyway) and attended a one-day The Yoga Barn workshop to re-awaken feminine essence and energy with Celine Levy, a French tantra and hatha yoga guru living in Bali. Tantra is the study of interconnectedness and feeling alive (a far cry from tacky red satin bed sheets) and ultimately self love and inner peace. We spoke about how the great sickness of the West is loneliness (with others and our self), and feminine sexuality is a birth right that tend to get throw to the side. Every moment of interaction and new strand of information was fascinating, especially learning how women are more wired for pleasure than men and yet we have more blocks. The key takeaway was listening to your truth, rewiring your brain and body for pleasure, and asking yourself: What will make you blossom?
Occasionally in life you meet a genuinely magical human, and on my first trip to Ubud I was fortunate that my path crossed with Elf – a feather entrepreneur and maker of fairytale hair extensions. When she was delicately weaving her trademark cruelty-free feathers into my hair she said to me: “These feathers will change you”. I smiled politely, not taking her words seriously until low and behold – within a swift 24 hours of serendipitous events, my heart never felt more open and I never felt more free. This time around Elf and I spent an unforgettable afternoon drinking tea, talking love, breaking down the bullshit of life and refreshing my feathers – bringing back the magic that I imagine a free bird feels returning to their place of last happiness.
Read Curated Ubud: A Travel Guide from my first trip to Bali.