After about a month at Gili Gede, and still no solution in sight regarding where to leave the boat, we were all getting a bit edgy. We needed a change of scenery. I was really keen to visit Bali, and we figured it’d be a good idea to check out the Bali Marina and the moorings in Serangan, rather than rely on hearsay from other cruisers. So it was decided – we’d leave the boat on the mooring at Gili Gede, and spend a week or so in Bali. We felt the boat should be safe for that length of time, and our water maker membranes could probably last just about that long without bacteria growth.
I’d been reading up on Bali, and Ubud just spoke to me. I’m not sure why – probably because it’s inland, surrounded by lush rice paddies and is supposed to be the cultural centre of Bali. I’d seen enough beaches and surfers for a while – time to indulge in some arts and culture! I spent many frustrating hours trawling the net trying to find the perfect place to stay, which was difficult given the short notice. I’d almost given up hope – but eventually found a gorgeous little bamboo cottage in the middle of a rice paddy (called Firefly Bamboo Eco Cottage). Perfect!
Preparing to leave the boat was time consuming, as there was so much to do – secure and stow everything properly, make water one last time, sort out food and fridges, pack surfboards and clothes, etc. Our friend Lan from Gili Gede, came to fetch us early in the morning in his boat. As we were about to leave, Marco discovered that the bilge pumps in the engine rooms weren’t working – pretty important things! It took a while for him to figure out why – but turned out to be a blown fuse and loose wire, which were easily fixed. Leaving a boat is worse than trying to leave the house with small babies!
Eventually we were off, and Junaidi was waiting with the car to take us to Lembar, the nearby port on Lombok from where the big public ferries leave. We bought the tickets (around $4 each) and could walk straight onto the docked ferry, which departed about 30 minutes later.
The trip was comfortable and pleasant. Once we’d declined the many offers of fruit, fried rice, snacks, bottled water, t-shirts and sarongs, we were free to relax. The sea was calm (although we noticed some strong currents), and we sat outside on the deck to enjoy the breeze. 4 hours later we arrived at Padangbai, with the mighty Gunung Agung rearing up out of the clouds ahead of us. It had been rumbling and threatening to erupt for a couple months already – but still docile (for now). We disembarked, dodging the scooters, trucks and bemos that poured out of the ferry, and trying not to inhale all the exhaust fumes that had collected in the basement level.
It didn’t take long to organise transport to Ubud. We were soon hurtling through the streets of Bali with Wayan at the wheel – the first of many Wayans that we would meet during our stay. (Wayan, Made, Nyoman and Ketut are names typically given to firstborn, second, third and fourth-born children, respectively). We whizzed through numerous little villages, past Hindu temples, shrines, statues and palaces, and along streets framed by tall curved bamboo poles which had been adorned with baskets, flowers and dried leaves. This was nothing like the other Indonesian islands we’d visited! It was bustling and beautiful and almost magical.
We later learned that these bamboo poles are called penjors, and that they are placed outside Hindu homes during the festival of Galungan and Kuningan. Our visit had coincided with this festival, and we were treated to beautifully decorated streets.
Our cottage was so hidden away that our driver couldn’t find it – and we were met by one of the staff (Ketut this time) who escorted us to a tiny non-descript footpath that led off the main road. Over a small rise, and there we were – in a sea of green rice paddies, with our little cottage tucked away in the distance. So close to town, but it felt like miles away! A little canal bubbled next to the footpath, as if edging us forward. We walked about 500m, passed through an elaborately carved doorway and were there.
The cottage was everything I hoped it would be – gorgeous, artistic and a complete change from the boat! It was entirely made of bamboo, with bamboo mats for walls and an intricately woven roof with tall peaks at either end. It reminded me of those crazy goblin-shoes, called winklepickers. The boys were keen to swim, so we ambled off to the pool and lounge area where we spent the afternoon lazing on the oversized couches and chatting to the friendly staff.
I woke up early the next morning as I wanted to take some photos. It was so beautiful to walk in the rice paddies just after sunrise – the air was fresh and cool, the roosters were crowing and the Hindu morning prayers were just audible in the distance. The land is so fertile, and I came across many trees laden with fruit. One of the resident cats joined me and was constantly on the lookout for mice, which I’m sure are plentiful in the rice fields. As I returned, the landowners were placing their morning offerings in the various shrines dotted around the paddies. It was all such a beautiful, peaceful scene.
Breakfast was brought to us on our patio, and we chatted to Pandai, the owner of the land whilst he was checking the progress of his rice paddies. I studied the ever-reliable Lonely Planet and put together some Ubud plans – generally involving a walk and lunch.
Just walking through Ubud was a treat. There are so many unusual and exotic things that catch one’s eye – like the shop selling myriads of pots of all colours and shapes, or the massive statue (of Indra, apparently) at the top end of the main street, the black and white checked cloths and umbrellas draped around trees and statues, or the locals on motorbikes, all dressed in their Kuningan finery on the way to the temples. The town is pretty busy, but once we turned off the main road and meandered up our chosen walking track it was quiet and peaceful again. We did the popular Campuan Ridge walk, which took us past a number of interesting temples and to a smaller village in the hills, where we enjoyed lunch with another gorgeous view.
We were unfortunately not able to stay in our cute cottage for more than 2 nights (as it was previously booked), so needed to find alternative accommodation. Gusman, who worked at Firefly, offered us a house just across the rice paddy (for about a tenth of the price – bonus). It looked like a temple with its ornate terracotta and grey coloured pillars and elaborately carved wooden doors and shutters. Marco and I stayed upstairs, with a spectacular view across the rice paddies, and the boys had their own room downstairs.
Ubud is known to be the foodie-capital of Bali, and I was keen to explore this side of life. I booked myself into Paon Bali Cooking School to learn some Balinese flavours and techniques. It was such a worthwhile experience, I can’t recommend it highly enough! It started off with a market visit, where the more unusual fruits, vegetables and spices were shown to us. I was familiar with quite a few of these, having shopped for food at Indonesian markets for the past 4 months, but it was quite new for many of those on the course. We were then taken into a rice paddy and the whole procedure of growing and harvesting rice was explained, which was pretty interesting and relevant given that one is often surrounded by rice in Bali!
It was then off to the kitchen. Puspa, the Balinese lady who runs the school, is the doyen who rules her kitchen with charisma and flair. Together with her efficient team, the school runs very professionally, but still with a personal and light-hearted atmosphere. There are long demonstration tables, separate cooking stations and big communal dining tables overlooking the jungle. We were completely involved in preparing, cooking and eating every dish – and received a copy of the recipes afterwards. Such good value – 5 hours and so much information, for $35!
So what did we make?
1) Clear mushroom and vegetable soup – Such delicious flavours of lemongrass and ginger coming through.
2) Gado-gado – A traditional Indonesian dish meaning “mix-mix”. A mix of various vegetables, leaves, sprouts and tofu covered with a peanut sauce.
3) Chicken sate – Skewers of minced chicken roasted over coconut embers, covered in a peanut sauce.
4) Chicken curry – This was my favourite, based on one of the most important things to master in Balinese cooking, Bumbu Kuning (yellow sauce). Shallots, garlic, 3 types of ginger/galangal, fresh turmeric, candle nuts, chillis, coriander seeds, nutmeg and shrimp paste are all pounded together in a huge pestle and mortar. The resulting paste is then fried in coconut oil, and lemongrass, salam leaves and palm (lontar) syrup added. It ends up as a very fragrant brownish curry paste that is used as a base for various Indonesian dishes. I have made it since the course, and I must admit it was delicious!
5) Steamed fish in banana leaves – Fresh tuna spiced up with Bumbu Kuning (amongst other things), wrapped in a banana leaf and steamed. Divine!
6) Bean and coconut crunchy salad – So unusual with coarsely grated coconut.
7) Deep-fried tempeh in sweet soya sauce – Really more-ish. A lot of people on the course hadn’t tasted tempeh and raved about it. We already enjoy tempeh, but I hadn’t deep fried it before, and really enjoyed the crispiness.
8) Banana and coconut cream pudding – So simple but so delicious. Definitely on my list given the number of ever-ripening bananas we always seem to have on the boat.
After all this inspiration I had to buy myself a traditional Indonesian pestle and mortar. They are flatter and bigger than the Jamie Oliver one I already had, and made of volcanic stone. The Ubud Market was the place to go – and I found the perfect one for $15.
One of our missions in Bali was to check out the marina at Benoa Harbour, so Marco and Josh set off on a motorbike to do just that – Josh in charge of navigation, thanks to Google Maps. It was quite a journey – travelling the 30kms took about 1½ hours each way, as the roads are narrow, winding and congested. To top it all off, Marco’s phone dropped out his pocket and into the water whilst he was at the marina, so they had to navigate back without Google Maps! The good news was that the marina seemed like a good option, albeit expensive. The other good news was that they made it back before the rain.
Meanwhile Noah and I had been exploring a bit more of Ubud. We ended up at Warung Bernadette at lunchtime – known for the best Rendang in town. It was the best Rendang we’ve eaten in Indonesia thus far – such tender beef and intense flavours! The bad news is that we didn’t make it back before the torrential rain. Stormwater drains are pretty rare, so the streets become raging rivers. Noah and I waited it out under the awning of a nearby toko and enjoyed watching the motorbikes that continued unabated – the drivers just whip out big colourful ponchos and carry on.
The one other thing I wanted to do in Ubud was see a traditional Balinese dance performance. Performances are held every night in various temples and stages throughout the town, and I picked one that had a mix of Legong, Kecak and Barong (different styles). I can only describe the dancing and music as … bizarre. It’s so different to anything I’d ever seen, and portrays stories and myths that are so foreign to Westerners. The music is played by a gamelan orchestra – one of the main instruments is called a bangso, and is kind of like an elaborately adorned xylophone played with a big metal hammer. The keys are all tuned into a slightly discordant chord (to my ear, anyway) – and the musicians hammer away in a frenetic rhythm that I think would eventually drive me crazy.
The women dancers are beautiful and so interesting to watch. Their movements are so unusual, and involve elaborate twisting hand and finger movements, almost-impossible neck movements and big staring darting eyes. The men are even crazier – slow stork-like steps, and then a sudden flurry of jerks and stamping. One of the characters depicted was Juak, who has a frightening mask with bulging eyes and super-long fingernails. It was really interesting to get a glimpse into an ancient culture that is so different and foreign to me – but I’m not sure I’ll be incorporating any of these dance steps into my collection of dance moves.
After 4 wonderful days it was time to leave Ubud and head to southern Bali. It had been a breath of fresh air, a total change of culture, of lifestyle and scenery. I’m so glad that Ubud “caught my eye”, and it’s a place I’d definitely like to come back to one day.