Ubud was one of our most anticipated stops on our 10-day trip to Indonesia. Known for its lush rice patty fields, beautiful temples and an exquisite art scene, Ubud is an interesting mix of earthy-hippy mixed with high-end chic. Polo stores and one-off boutiques line touristy Monkey Forest Road interspersed amongst natural healers, yoga studios and art galleries.
According to Eileen, if she were to write a book about our time in Ubud it would be entitled Eat, Poop, Sweat. Disappointedly, a little known illness termed “Bali Belly”, casually omitted from the original Eat, Pray, Love, had us both lying in our air-conditioned room at Pertiwi Resort curled in a ball, limiting our ability to fully indulge head first into Ubud culture, but that didn’t stop us from trying.
After arriving, our first stop was the outdoor veranda at highly rated Three Monkey’s Café where we each ordered a club sandwich and lemon and ginger fizz and sat amongst the rice patties. We chatted about how we were both secretly nervous to enter the famed Sacred Monkey Forest but eager to buy some local crafts. Mostly, we were both excited for our cooking class the following morning but I felt weak and achy so we retired early to bed. And by early I mean 7 pm. Twelve hours of sleep later…
We were picked up for Paon Bali Cooking Class, rated the #2 activity in Ubud on Trip Advisor and highly recommended by a friend, by our adorably cute driver. Our first stop was the Ubud food market. They cleverly take you in small groups so you are able to maneuver around the sellers with ease, and the intimate time with the guide is an excellent way to learn firsthand about how they make their local prayer offerings from banana leaves and flowers amongst other items. We weaved through the small lanes until we came to the fruit section under the cover of a large building where we got to try some interestingly produce whose names now escape me. Onto the vegetables, women sat with green beans as long as arms, next to peppers as red as fire and thick purple eggplant. With a nauseous stomach, I attempted to divert my eyes from the decaying fish and the feral dogs roaming through the piles of garbage scattered around.
The highlight itself was Puspa, the beautiful instructor and matriarch of the family home the class took place in. Once all 17 guests arrived, we were provided a welcome drink as we sat outside in the center of the complex and listened about Balinese traditions. It was fascinating to learn that culturally a woman always moves into the man’s home. If you don’t have a son, you typically will adopt one from another relative so the family can continue. But most heartwarming was the belief that there is no conflict in the home. Every evening the elder initiates discussions in the family temple so everyone can go to bed in peace, as they would have disclosed their worries or discontentment with the entire family.
Over an entire half-day we learned how to make 8 different Balinese courses. The class itself was so unbelievably organized, it had every participant involved at all times, whether it be chopping vegetables, plucking fresh lime leaves, sautéing garlic and chili or crushing it all in the ‘Bali blender’.While chatting away with other travelers, we learned that yellow sauce, salt and pepper, coconut oil, chili and palm sugar are essential ingredients to most dishes. While my stomach was not up for large consumption, Eileen rated both the chicken in coconut curry and tempe with peanut sauce as her favorites and we walked away with a nice recipe book of the day’s dishes to try at home. I’ll keep you posted on my unlikely outcome.
For dinner that evening we eagerly ventured to the much-anticipated Bebek Bengil aka Dirty Duck Diner, who specialize in fried duck. While the premises sit on a beautiful, lush green rice patty, we came at night not knowing that the view was half the pleasure and therefore sat in darkness listening to the buzz of a few far off quacks. When our ducks arrived so deep-fried that we couldn’t decipher between bone and meat, only by the hairs still intact on the skin, another early night called our names.
This was all after my AMAZING spa treatment at The Wibawa Spa mind you. Let me make it clear, imagine this scene: a soothing full body massage with essential oil to the sound of tranquil music. Next, a body scrub of turmeric and jasmine in which they first apply and let dry, then scrub off to exfoliate the skin. Afterwards, you’re covered in thick white yogurt. And finally, you soak in a bath of flower petals and then rinse in a shower under the night sky. The entire treatment was 1 h 45 minutes and would you believe what it cost me? I don’t think you will. It cost me $21. Enough said.
We braved the Sacred Monkey Forest the next day with much hesitation. The forest hosts over 500 macaques in addition to three holy temples. While roaming the grounds and admiring the beautiful sculptures covered in varying shades of moss and Indiana Jones like temples, things turned for the worse. Eileen provided this narrative afterward: “At 11:39 am today, Lisa Vecchio (30) was attacked by a macaques monkey (134). Witnesses report that after letting out a guttural scream she regained her composure. Vecchio left the scene and the macaques persisted, eventually giving up.” When leaving the park I was not only shook up and weary of any monkey in sight, but utterly speechless to spot a chubby 12-year-old boy with a stalk of bananas under his shirt. I’m just lucky I didn’t get bit.
We ended our time in Ubud with a Legong Trance and Paradise Dance performance by Sekehe Gong Panca Artha at the Ubud Palace. The most mesmerizing aspect was the dancer’s ability to move their hands, eyes, and fingers all to the beat of instruments being played on the side of the stage. While we weren’t too sure what was going on, it was still a fascinating and impressive cultural experience.
On our way out of Ubud our driver stopped off at Jakawana coffee plantation. A small family run business overlooking beautiful rice patties, all guests receive a quick tour of the grounds, including local plants and herbs, along with an overview of the traditional coffee making process and a tasting of an impressive 12 coffees for free. The tastings included everything from herbal tea with turmeric to coconut coffee. For a steep $5, Eileen was brave (and I took a sip) to try the Kopi Luwak, a coffee bean digested and excreted from animals. Neither of us favored it, but it fit right in with our Ubud theme: eat, poop, sweat.