After pampering ourselves for a week, we moved to an AirBnb about 15 minutes outside of Ubud. Because we were one of the first people staying at this AirBnb and we were staying for an extended period of time, we got an amazing deal to be able to afford such a beautiful place in Bali. We had a private entrance and garden, a kitchen/dining room, 2 bedrooms, and 2 bathrooms all to ourselves for $23.75 a night. Yup. You read that correctly. $23.75 a night. Did I mention a maid also came every other day to clean?
The only issue with the place was there were no signs from the main road, so our taxi driver had a difficult time figuring out where to drop us off. We finally called our host to come out and help. We followed him up the steep driveway towards our home for the next month. Our host was incredibly nice and graciously answered all of our questions. The one thing missing from the kitchen was a pot with a lid, so I asked if there was one I just didn’t see. You know what he did? He bought us a rice cooker. Wha?? Amazing. He also explained to us Nyepi day, which we effectively had one day to prepare for. Our next task was to rent scooters. We walked out to the main road and hailed a taxi to the center of Ubud. Once there, we walked to one of the places Bryan had found to rent scooters…only to find it closed. We walked to a second place to find only one motorbike available for rent, so Bryan rented his scooter there and afterwards we searched for my scooter. We found a 3rd place, but the price was higher than the other places. At this point, Bryan was getting frustrated, so he was walking up and down the street trying to find one more reasonably priced scooter for rent. I stayed and talked to the woman running the 3rd place. It became clear to me that she wasn’t actually running the shop, after I tried a negotiation and she had to call her husband to get permission to accept my offer. While she was on the phone with her husband, I explained that their prices were well above those renting around her, and if they would throw in the insurance for free I would rent a scooter from them. She and her husband agreed to my offer. I flagged down Bryan to tell him to stop looking and told him the agreement we had come to. He agreed, and we finally had transportation! Now, back home the word “scooter” brings to mind slow Vespas that barely go 30 mph. Not in Indonesia. These puppies can get up to 60 mph or more and are often referred to as motorbikes. To drive them you need an international driver’s license and technically a motorcycle’s license for anything over 125 cc. Bryan and I both carry international driver’s licenses, but only I have a motorcycle license, so Bryan took a little risk.
Our next step in Nyepi preparation was food. So, we went to the only grocery store we knew of in Ubud and bought a bunch of groceries. As we rode back, we experienced Ubud traffic, which was a lot of stop and go and included scooters driving on sidewalks and weaving in and out of the line of cars and trucks. After parking our scooters in our driveway we were greeted by our neighbors. They introduced themselves and throughout our stay always said hello whenever they saw us. Our first morning in Ubud we received a bit of a fright when I heard the gate to our enclosed garden open. I peeked through our curtains to find one of our elder neighbors placing flowers and cooked rice on the statue in our garden. She then proceeded to burn incense and wave it around the garden before leaving. We later realized the statue in our garden was a Hindu temple for the house, and our neighbors would make offerings every day to provide protection for the house and us. After learning this, I felt a sense of gratitude for the neighbors to do this on our behalf. Bali is a unique island in Indonesia in terms of religion. The majority of the country practices Islam, but Bali remains the only island to predominantly practice Hinduism. Well, technically, it’s Balinese Hinduism, which has its own unique customs. You see, I knew Bali practiced Hinduism when we arrived, but I was soon confused by all the Buddha statues I kept seeing. At first I thought it was just foreign yogi influence that promoted Buddha. In reality, Balinese Hinduism is a sect of Hinduism that incorporates animism, ancestor worship, and Buddhist saints, hence all the Buddha statues. It also, in order to be recognized by Indonesia as an official religion, is a monotheistic religion. Even though there are many gods in Hinduism, Balinese Hinduism believes these gods are manifestations of one supreme being. That little nugget we learned from a taxi driver who patiently answered my questions about the Balinese culture.
That evening we went to the main square in Ubud for the Ogoh Ogoh parade. Ogoh Ogoh parades happen all over Bali on the eve of Nyepi. Ogoh Ogohs are essentially evil spirits within humans. Each village makes a lightweight statue of whatever they deem represents an evil spirit. The Ogoh Ogohs are then paraded around town and set on fire to symbolize self purification.We parked our scooters on the outskirts of the parade route. We saw many Ogoh Ogohs lined up in anticipation for the parade. I think my favorite was the Scottish clansman…I’m not sure why a Scottish clansman was considered evil, but there he was! We then made our way to the center square only to find it incredibly packed with people. Locals and tourists all tried to cram into the same tiny square, pushing each other to get in front, selfie sticks held high blocking views of the parade of the unlucky people in the back. The parade then begun, or at least it tried. The police had to come through and ask people to stay out of the square. There were so many people though, they couldn’t open the square! Having little patience for this insanity, Bryan and I decided to leave the square. This was another challenge in itself as we tried to go against the flow of people trying to enter the square. We finally just walked in the middle of the street around the Ogoh Ogohs and dodged the crowds on the sidewalks. The feeling of breaking through a crowd was such a relief that Bryan and I hopped on our scooters and didn’t even bother trying to see the rest of the parade. I think if we were to do it all over again, we would find a smaller parade in a nearby village. We went home and finalized our preparations for Nyepi Day by downloading a few things from Netflix.
The following morning was Nyepi Day. This is a day of silence in Bali that falls the day before Bali Hindu New Years Day. They take this day of silence very seriously. Everyone is expected to stay inside, meditate, and cleanse themselves for the New Year. There are even guards that walk around the streets to enforce this. No loud noises are to be made, and if you watch TV you have to do so quietly—Bryan and I wore earbuds while having a Netflix marathon. I had made sure to prep food the day before to make sure the cooking was kept to a minimum. There are no flights in or out of Bali from 6 am the morning of Nyepi to 6 am the following day. Because the day changes every year, flights get cancelled every year. There was also no cell phone service. Now you know why we downloaded Netflix! As terrifying as this all sounds, it was actually a very peaceful day! I did some yoga, journaled, read my book, experimented making bread in our rice cooker (it works!), went through some of my travel photos, and of course had a Netflix marathon. The temple behind our AirBnb that usually has people playing music all day was silent. We couldn’t even hear our neighbors, just the birds chirping. At night, no light is allowed. If we did have a light on, we had to make sure our curtains were drawn tight. The upside is this is one night in Bali where you can see the Milky Way, which I had been looking forward to. Unfortunately for us, a huge rain storm lasted the entire evening and night. Overall, I love the concept of this holiday. Imagine a day like this at home—no one is bothering you from work, you can’t mindlessly scroll through social media so you do the things you’ve been meaning to do, and at night there’s a possibility to see the Milky Way—even smack dab in the middle of whatever biggest city is nearby!
Throughout the rest of our month in Ubud, we got a chance to get into a sort of routine. We worked more on our blog—writing, video editing, and going through photos. I got back into cooking and became inspired by many local Balinese dishes. Bryan attempted to run a few times, and also became weary of the many many street dogs in Bali that saw his running as a threat. We both did a little yoga. And we ate at a lot of really great places! We also met our other roommates, lovingly named Albert and Greta. They’re giant geckos that lived on our ceiling. They would poop in the same spot at the same time every day, although one time Bryan got pooped on while sitting in bed haha. We didn’t mind though, they kept our place free of mosquitoes and most other bugs. Just something you have to get used to while in Southeast Asia—geckos everywhere!
We grew close to one neighbor in particular—Itchy. She was a small, very short-haired dog that always greeted me (and eventually warmed up to Bryan too) when she heard our scooters coming up the driveway. She would jump up on the part of my scooter where my feet would normally be and she would watch me unpack the compartment below my seat. She then would race inside our garden when we opened the gate and lay down on our porch. If I sat down on the porch, she would slide into me for tummy rubs and scratches. I then would have to bribe her to leave with crackers or she would hear her owner’s scooter and run off on her own. We named her Itchy because she would always scratch herself raw behind her ears. I inspected her for fleas and found none, but I always washed my hands and arms after our daily interactions just in case. She was such a cute little personality to come home to, you couldn’t help but smile when she sprinted into our garden—itchy ears and all.
We spent quite a few full days shopping around Ubud. There are tons of cute shops selling silver jewelry (Bali is known for their silver), chocolate, yoga gear, colorful and flowy dresses and pants, and plenty of knockoff designer clothes and accessories. We attempted to look for Ogoh Ogoh statues, only to realize they BURN Ogoh Ogohs, so they probably wouldn’t want any bad spirits hanging around. We also had a mission to shop for my dear friend Grace, who is getting married. She has made other brides, including me, wedding advent calendars. The love that you feel opening a little gift every few days thoughtfully picked out for you and with a note from a friend is priceless. So, of course I had to return the favor—although hers was going to be Balinese style. I found a beautiful sarong to use as the fabric to sew her wedding advent calendar, and was went all over Ubud and Canggu finding little gifts that I thought she would like. From all this shopping I can tell you the Ubud Art Market was disappointing. Just like San Jose, instead of artisans selling their crafts and artworks, it was a ton of people selling the same large-scale manufactured stuff. I think it’s interesting for a tourist to walk through, but we didn’t buy anything as we were expecting more of a small artisan experience. Walk down some of the cobblestone streets in the center of Ubud instead. You’ll find a lot of funky shops, and if you look hard enough, you’ll find some really unique crafts. Then when you’re almost too hot to handle from all that shopping find the nearest gelato place and cool off with some gelato. Ubud has a surprisingly large amount of gelato places, sometimes it almost feels like Rome. Our favorite was Ice Dream. They had many locations around Ubud and 2 decadent vegan flavors we couldn’t get enough of—Snickers and Ferrero Rocher. The other hidden gem we found was Ubud Coffee Roastery, where we found our latest stock of pourover coffee to take home. I forget the name of the coffee we went with, but I do remember it was described of having notes of jackfruit…and we actually could taste the jackfruit, so it became known as jackfruit coffee to us. The staff there is incredibly friendly and pays attention to their customers’ interests in coffee selection. Not to mention the coffee shop is a cold retreat from the scorching mid-day Bali heat.
We wanted to become more active than we had been in Thailand, so Bryan found a great place to go for a trail run or walk—Campuhan Ridge Walk. Now, being outside in Bali is almost unbearable between 9 am and 4 pm, unless you’re exploring jungle waterfalls, hiking in the mountains, or swimming in the ocean. Knowing this we decided to do the ridge walk first thing in the morning—like 6:30 am to beat the crowds and definitely the heat. The walk starts off in the jungle near local temples displaying classic Balinese architecture. You then climb up to the ridge where the jungle opens up to gorgeous rice paddy fields. At the top you get a fantastic view of the jungle and river below. We continued down the path which gave way to a road with a few cafes and shops. It was quiet and uncrowded in the morning, and we loved getting away from the crowds and locals who constantly bug you to buy something. It gave us a glimpse of Bali’s real beauty. If I could do this month over again, a few more mornings would be spent in this hidden paradise.
One of the first things you notice while driving in Ubud is the traffic is insane, as I mentioned earlier. The second thing you’ll notice is sometimes there are monkeys on the road—especially by the Monkey Forest Sanctuary. The Monkey Forest is by far the most popular thing to do in Ubud, and both Bryan and I agree it was totally worth checking out. After getting briefed on how to safely walk around an area of many free roaming monkeys, we were hesitantly delighted in seeing so many monkeys in such close proximity eating, grooming, sleeping, and even crushing berries with stones! We only saw one monkey attempt to jump on a boy for an unknown reason, but instead of remaining calm he ran away from the monkey. The monkey of course chased him. I’m also pleased to report we saw many adorable baby monkeys playing with each other or hanging off their moms as they were transported up a tree. I even caught a glimpse of the Insta-famous monkey, known for never looking at the camera and somehow contorting his body to look perfectly candid and beautiful at the same time.
Enjoy our video below of tiny puppy Dora from the Pineapple House in Canggu and the Monkey forest in Ubud. Next post we will talk about our day trips outside of Ubud around the island of Bali. Happy Traveling!!