It feels a lot longer than three weeks ago that I stepped off a plane to be greeted by the sultry, tropical climate typical of Bali. After clearing immigration, and confirming I was a millionaire in the country, I was immediately relieved of a significant part of that amount by the airport taxi stand. Clearly, I would need to work on my negotiation skills over the trip.
An hour’s drive later, through narrow roads zigzagging through motorbikes, I arrived at my destination; a community house in a small village called Petulu, 3km north of Ubud. As I entered, the place was swarming with backpackers and mosquitoes and I spent the rest of the evening getting to know them both quite intimately. The next morning, up at 4.30am due to jet lag and roosters, I decided to get an early start on exploring Ubud.
Ubud lies in the heart of Bali, in the center of the fertile southern rice fields. Fertility means much more than just an abundance of verdant rice paddies though – there is a huge flowering of the arts which happens throughout this magical town. Painting, batik, music, dance, gamelan as well as woodcarving, silversmithing and mask making – there’s something for everybody. From my tour operator who carves wood in his spare time, to the gardener who paints canvases when he’s done tending the community house garden, everybody is an artist in Ubud.
With a name that comes from the Balinese word Ubad, which means medicine, it has long been known as a mystical place with healing powers. Although more actively popularized since the release of “Eat, Pray, Love” – Ubud has long since been recognized as Bali’s cultural and spiritual heart. Scores of yoga retreat centers, spas and vegetarian and vegan options (even more than in New York!) line its streets, with hoards of delicious, cheap food to choose from.
My days in Ubud were spent taking in the beautiful rice fields and amazing temple views from the back of a motorbike, getting daily massages (at $6 a massage, who wouldn’t?), practicing yoga, taking cooking and woodworking classes, eating delicious food, watching traditional temple ceremonies and dances, climbing Gunung Batur, and making lots of new friends.
All that said, it’s not all rosy here. Tourists, heavy traffic and strays throng the streets – there’s filth amidst the beauty, chaos amidst the tranquility, and modern establishments (like Starbucks) replacing the semblance of a quaint old town. Still, you see what you choose to see. And I see that the place is hanging on to a magic that I can only hope will transcend the rapid changes taking place here – a magic that causes its visitors to want to come back over and again and for many, to move here to change their lives.