Posts Tagged With: Ubud

Baliance: The Beginning

Well, we’re back in… you’ll never guess… Bali. Yup, it’s tradition that every two years we just have to get on a plane, fly biz or first for basically an entire day, and skip a day crossing the international dateline while we’re at it. The whole production is a tiring hassle, but it’s always worth taking a bit of pain for the ultimate Bali gain.

We started this Balinese adventure in an area near Ubud proper called Penestanan. If you want to tuck yourself away in the jungle and rice fields, this is the place to do it. Here are a few vignettes from our time there…

Please tell me we didn’t just do what I think we did

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Once upon a time there was a grand villa in the middle of the Balinese jungle. And it had many rooms. And with those many rooms came many doors and keys and locks in both analog and digital flavours. There were two main doors – one for the front gate that led to the road to other villas, spas, and restaurants admist the jungle – and the other for the back that led to the walking path to the main street.

And so it is our first night, which after travelling for 20+ hours left us weary and a bit slow-witted. We decide to go to the market to get susu (milk) for coffee, Bir Bintang and other vacation necessities. We walk out the back gate, and I firmly shut it, only to discover shortly after that it is now locked, and whatever keys we have can’t open it. It’s starting to get dark, there’s no lights and we can’t see any way around the house other than to take a long alternative route… which we don’t really have a grip on yet. I look at Cam and say, deliriously, you mean we’ve been here for five minutes and we’ve already locked ourselves out of the villa?!?

I thought I was going to cry. But, ever the problem-solver, Cam MacGyvered the situation using a temporary bank card to finesse the lock bolt. It opened in about two seconds. And we never fully closed that door again.

After all that, we forgot the susu. But my first taste of kopi Bali the next morning was nothing less than heavenly, milk or no.

Ol’ Growly on the path (no, not Cam)
That’s our place in the background of the picture below.

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You could say it was a wee bit big for us, but it was damn private, which was the principle goal. This place was so remote that we had to walk down a winding, partly hilly, cracked and narrow concrete path, complete with very steep steps from the main road. No motorized vehicles allowed. Thus, after making a few wrong twists and turns – the best being pitch black and sans torch, we would arrive at our palace.

One day we headed out on said path to get provisions at the Bintang Market, only to find a ‘guard’ dog waiting in the middle of the path, looking super-scruffy and growly (upon closer inspection, he was just old and cranky and didn’t want to move). Of course as soon as we got close, he started barking and growling. Cam, born to face fear it seems, just kept on walking and reluctantly Ol’ Growly moved out of the way. We made friends later when I threw him and a canine friend doggy treats out the villa window.

Have stick, will herd 

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While up on the rooftop terrace of Rumah Cahaya, Cam spotted this ~4-foot tall ibu (Indonesian for mother or elder female) herding ducks through the rice fields, with the intention (we think) of getting them to eat all of the bugs. Small or no, ibu could surely wield a mean stick.

More Ibu – from field to market
Cam’s been taking some serious language lessons, and enjoys practicing with the locals. One time while on a provisional trip to the Bintang Market for Bir Bintang – naturally – he was in the checkout line behind an elderly ibu who seemed to regard his bottles of beer with some disapproval. That is until Cam said to her “untuk makan malam” (“for dinner”). Ol’ ibu went from seriously serious to highly amused. She thought it so funny that she repeated it to her husband beside her. It really is the small victories.

Martinis but no Internet? Perfect.
There’s a restaurant in Penestanan which happens to have the best martinis – by my opinion – in all of Bali. And we’ve been to a lot of swanky places. So, naturally, we happened to find ourselves there. It’s called Element and it’s waaaay tucked away in a small side street. The martinis come in two ways: strong or really strong. This place is so good that we’re actually thinking about making the one-hour trek back up there from Sanur. Plus, you’re forced to talk to your companions after 5 pm. Seriously?

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It’s a small world, after all
Before we even arrived, we quickly learned how small of a town Ubud is. Turns out that the house manager for Rumah Cahaya, Juli, is none other than the brother of the ibu whose family manages the other house we stayed in – Rumah Cinta – two years ago. In fact, we went to this cat’s wedding in 2012 – pictured below with me and bride Koming.

shar bride and groom

Note the before and after pics of Juli – quite a difference! (No makeup for instance…)

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Pictured above: Bapak (Indonesian for father – also used for an elder male) – who carried my 50 lb suitcase on his bony shoulder all along the path and down aforementioned wicked steps – Juli and me the morning we left Penestanan. BTW, that’s Ol’ Growly in the background.

One of the coolest house features… EVER
The whole time we stayed at Rumah Cahaya, we were wondering how to access the basement suite. We could see the door from the outside, but had no idea how to get to it from inside. That is, until the owner Bruce showed us a secret door behind the bookshelf, which led to a whole other room, bathroom, bar, and theatre.

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The space between the shelves is the opening to the secret room below. Spooky!

Apparently this is where Bruce lived when the rest of the place was being built. I was super-impressed. How English gothic is that? Noted for our future mansion.

Stay tuned for my next post – a remote island called Gili Trawangan off the east coast of Bali.

– S

Categories: Adventure, Bali, Pool, Travel, wedding | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Best Travel Moments of 2012

2012 challenged me. This year, I ‘let go’.

I left my old job of almost ten years and got a new and exciting placement three months later. Meanwhile, our 15-year-old cat passed away. Thing is: we ‘rented’ a cat shortly thereafter, which turned into a full-on adoption – that is, she adopted us.

And of course, we traveled. It was a bit different this year: we traded our usual summertime island jaunts for a longer stay in Asia, and I also traveled for work, which I hadn’t done for ages. Nonetheless, it was still varied, fun, crazy and challenging. But mostly fun. Of course, when it comes to the way we travel, I would expect nothing less. So here it is: my favourite travel moments from 2012.

February – Celebrating my birthday in Sayulita, Mexico.
Nothing beats the February blues and turning another year older than soaking up the sun on a beach – any beach, really. As long as it’s warm. Here I am sipping a ‘coco loco’ in Sayulita. Moments later, the Candyman appeared with his huge wheelbarrow stacked to the gills with – you guessed it – candy. I even got my very own spectacular sunset. It really was the perfect day.

shar and bday drink

April – San Jose to see Coldplay – twice!
We went to see one of our fave bands twice in one of our favourite places – California. Although it was my first time in San Jose, I was pleasantly surprised by all the city had to offer – namely pretty, tree-lined streets, the ridiculously expensive Santana Row, incredible food, and any kind of tequila you can possibly imagine. Oh, and Coldplay was pretty damn awesome, too. First night was up in the stands, but close to the stage; the second night was even closer – four rows out on the floor.

First Night: Chris Martin up-close with bassist Guy Berryman.

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Second night view from fourth row floor. See if you can spot Chris Martin in all that confetti!

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September – Maple Ridge.
I know I said in a previous post that I didn’t consider heading to the mainland Vancouver – namely Maple Ridge – as really traveling. What the hell was I thinking? This is as much as traveling as it gets – a 40-minute drive to the ferry, a 1.5 hour ferry ride, followed by a 1.5 hour drive to MR – and this isn’t counting side-trips to Starbucks (one must fuel up for such a journey), or my sis Karen’s fave clothing store Sweet Orange. However arduous the journey, trips to MR always include fun and relaxation in the form of martinis, junk food, wine, hanging with the kids, playing with their cat, watching cheesy movies, and of course more wine. This trip in particular was to celebrate my bro-in-law’s birthday, complete with a cocktail party and some of their best – and wackiest – friends. Simply put, I absolutely loved it – almost as much as I love them.

Me, sister Karen, and her daughter Emma (the awesome Emu).

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October – Las Vegas.
Although Metric at the House of Blues was amazing, probably the biggest highlight of this trip was our hotel room. For more pics and a detailed description, check out my first post on this epic trip. The room was beyond luxurious; by far the best upgrade I’ve ever received. For the first time in our traveling lives, we actually clocked some quality time in the hotel room. Who could blame us?

A shot from our conference room (seriously) looking out to the full-on living room suite. 

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October – NYC.
Less than a week before Hurricane Sandy, I went to NYC on business for a social media conference. Little did I know the place would be almost torn to shreds in a matter of days. Happily oblivious to that fact, I wandered the (very) crowded streets of Manhattan, taking in every smell, sound and funny catcall (at one point I was mistaken for Jennifer Aniston – to my delight the guy yelled it to the passing crowd). Additional favourite moments were spotting Snopp Dogg (twice), hugging Cookie Monster in Times Square, wandering beautiful Bryant Park and swilling double martinis in Hell’s Kitchen. (For the record, the Empire State Building is an absolute rip-off – v. expensive for a so-so experience. I’ve heard a night visit is far better.)

Fall on the streets of New York City.

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Downtown view from Empire State Building.

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November – Bali.
Ok, I’ll admit it, I’m addicted to traveling first class. Especially when going halfway around the world, as we do to Bali. Then there was Ubud, a town up in Bali’s rice fields. This picture was taken at by far my favourite moment – the rain pouring down and me sheltered on the deck with everything I needed: a beer, a good book, and something amazing to gaze out on.

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I couldn’t get enough of Bali’s bright, fragrant flowers and intricate woodwork. Also, I really loved the fact that I never once had to turn the hot water on for an entire three weeks.

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December – back to Maple Ridge.
With yet another few weeks off of work for the holidays (yes, it’s true – please don’t cry), I took the opportunity to spend some quality time at my sis’ again in MR for a few days before the Christmas craziness. It was nothing short of awesome. We did a lot of the aforementioned, with the addition of watching classic Christmas movies, admiring of tree ornaments, and actual buying at Sweet Orange (I acquired a little Xmas present to me – ok, I may have a slight addiction to clothes), plus a few socials, including a “Death Party”. This took place, fittingly, on December 21, which you’ll recall was to be our last day on Earth. It was actually a friend’s birthday, with the added cool twist of a death theme. Dress code was anything black (she wore her wedding dress spray-painted black). Along with a few questionable and amusing characters, there was a humongous tray of THE most amazing mac and cheese, a coffin filled with beer, rented slushy machines – one filled with bellini mix, the other lime and vodka – and a tarot card reader. A party the next day boasted 40 adults and 40 kids, a zillion appys, an open bar and even an official wine tasting. I was in heaven.

Me, my niece Alex, and their cat Tuna. Note the horrified expression on the poor kitty’s face.

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I’m sure 2013’s jaunts around the globe will be nothing short of memorable. Autumn in Italy, anyone?

– S

Categories: Bali, Beach, British Columbia, California, Glamorous, Mexico, Shopping, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Ubud: Serenity Now

Tucked into the Balinese highlands, in the midst of long and lush flora, gently-flowing rivers, and cooling skies, lies Ubud, Bali’s cultural capital. On previous trips to Bali, we’ve only gone to Ubud on day trips perusing silver, batik and wood carving shops while baking in the afternoon heat, stopping to have a kopi es (iced coffee) until we’d gathered enough energy to venture out again. We’d have a grand old time at the monkey forest, or partake in a popular locals’ pastime, such as dining at Ibu Oka’s (for more detail on that, check out one of my previous posts: The Freaky, The Fresh, and the Fabulous).

But listening to other travellers describe how peaceful, even magical, it is to actually stay in and around Ubud made us think differently for this trip. There were stories of incredibly private villas with glorious pools set in the middle of lush rice fields, with a myriad of spa resorts and retreats steps away, where you could rejuvenate, meditate and no-doubt exfoliate yourself to a temporary Nirvana. Many people swear Ubud is the ‘real’ Bali, so we thought we’d give it a try.

We arrived via transport from Seminyak, about an hour away. Our destination was a villa in the outskirts of Ubud proper, in an area called Penestanan. Once our driver figured out how to find our rather elusive and hidden villa, it was crazy to think we could actually have missed it. I took one look at the entrance’s 100 or so steep (and I mean steep) stone stairs and said to Cam, “How are we going to get our suitcases up there?” He pointed to the two frail-looking Balinese women who greeted us on the street and said, “That’s how.” OK – I had to see this.

Without hesitation, each woman took a 50-pound suitcase of ours and placed them ever so gently on their heads. And up the stairs they went. And up. And up some more. By the halfway point, I was panting from just carrying my beach bag. Watching these women, I was respectfully humbled. Who needs bootcamp, anyway?

Pic of our entrance stairs sans incredibly strong ladies (but an equally capable Cam).

The villa is called Rumah Cinta, which translates to the house made out of love. It was humongous – built to contain at least a couple of families. In fact, they closed off half of the house so the two of us occupied the newer half.  The place had all the right things: a large pool and an open-air, stone-built shower (the greatest thing EVER) for starters. It was simply an awe-inspiring place, somehow mystic, comprised of beautiful traditional Balinese architecture as shown in the pic below, which just happened to be above an alcove in our gardens:

(There were so many large and small touches like this that every day we seemed to discover a new gem or another – including many shrines on the property, which received daily offerings.)

Shortly after we settled in, it started raining unlike anything I’ve ever seen or heard. Not the typical long, misty, all-day affairs we get at home. No, it was one of those tropical rainstorms that give little warning and a lot of result: big, hard drops that render you completely drenched almost immediately, umbrella or no.

Our timing was spectacular: getting caught right in the middle as we were walking back from the supermarket. It was so ridiculously loud and intense that we  laughed most of the way… until the aforementioned 100 steps, where we slopped and slipped as we juggled bags and umbrellas all the way up. Despite this, it was a lovely respite from the from dusty, scorching streets of Seminyak. Once somewhat dry, we tucked in for a night of watching the rain from our balcony, relaxing, reading, and drinking Bali Hai beer. We finally succumbed to a long, deep sleep to the tune of a VERY loud singer – what we originally thought was a frog and then later learned it was actually a large gecko – and dreamt of green phosphorescent fireflies (which we really did see – very cool).

View of our villa grounds from the master bedroom balcony during a rainstorm.

We woke up early that first morning and breakfasted at Ibu Putu’s warung, a local’s restaurant just down the path. Ketut, the man whose family manages the villa, met us there to help us prepare for our first-ever Balinese wedding. He had invited us to his brother-in-law’s wedding about five minutes after we arrived. Although we were initially taken somewhat aback, we quickly learned that it’s considered a bit sophisticated to have foreigners at your wedding, especially as we were in the (relative) Balinese sticks. Whatever the case, we were only too happy to oblige to attend as very pale ornaments. Ketut dressed us in layers of fancy sarongs and sashes – required for entering holy sites and temples – and off we went with another couple hailing from – weirdly enough – Edmonton, Alberta.

Ketut led the way through the village, and once at the family compound, we were greeted warmly by the betrothed couple, who then promptly disappeared to adorn themselves in elaborate dress and makeup.

Then we proceeded to wait. And wait. Two hours, many cups of sweet tea, spicy satay, rambutan (a favourite of Cam’s) and several suspicious-looking jellies later, the young couple emerged, snapping us both out of our near-comatose state. The bride and groom then led a procession through the streets to her family’s home for more visiting and eating. As the actual ceremony was not for another several hours, we decided to bow out at that point.

Me with the bride and groom: Koming and Wayan. I’m the one in the middle.

Since we were only in Ubud for three nights, we decided to do yet another thing we hadn’t done before: walk through the Ubud countryside (translation: vast rice fields). While attempting to follow a route suggested in one of our guidebooks (the directions left a bit to be desired), we made a few wrong turns, one in particular that set off a neighbourhood dog in a fit of snarling barks, chasing us back up the slope (much to its owner’s delight).

The trek took about three hours, during which we sighted rice field after rice field, flooding, harvesting, a river gorge and an intricate irrigation system, scarecrows comprised of a combination of stalks, metal and garbage, and miniature shrines. Finally the crooked stone and dirt path spit us out, sweaty, hot and dirty, about 1000 metres from where we were staying. Very convenient.

An old ibu works the fields.
A flooded rice field before harvest.

Although you can pretty much get anything you need in Ubud – massages, manicures, health retreats, yoga studios, sweet organic cuisine – really, there is no need. The place itself is enough – serene and beautiful in its nature alone. It envelopes and captures you with its beauty and raw nature. (Not to mention you could hide out in a warung/homestay and pretty much disappear altogether for months on the cheap.)

I can’t really articulate properly how I felt in Ubud. Some people may describe it as a spiritual connection. Others would say my aura agreed with it, or some other such nonsense. All I know is I felt quiet. I could just clamber up to our rooftop terrace (where the feature photo of this post was taken) and stare into the surroundings all day. Just watch life go by. I felt like I didn’t need to talk, or even think all the time. I felt serene. Or maybe I found something there I haven’t found anywhere else: peace.

Then again, it might have been the Bali Hai – pun intended.
– S
Categories: Adventure, Bali, Dining, Pool, Travel, wedding | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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