Let me start by letting you in on a small fact. Like many people, Sarah and I are both very fond of pizza (we often cook it at home where Sarah makes a delicious base). Sarah does not however like Tuna. In fact she loathes the smell of it, so I really have no idea at all if she also dislikes the taste.
Now as our plane whisked us from Dili back to Denpasar, our stomachs were mildly grumbling (having skipped breakfast in our haste to ready ourselves to leave the backpackers hostel).
So when a small service was announced on our Merpati flight, it was obviously welcomed by the ravenous duo that were we.
It was with some disappointment that Sarah looked down and saw not only a fishy looking slice of pizza (it may have been Tuna, but hunger won out and she gave it a go anyway), but also a bag of mixed nuts, another morsel she would have to pass on due to nut allergies (she isn’t anaphylactic, but she will get sick). At least there was some chocolate she could enjoy!
With Sarah’s generosity again seeing me in a window seat, it was another scenic flight, highlights including many rugged islands, blue seas and more of Indonesia’s trademark volcanic peaks (it was also a short flight, as the distance between Dili & Denpasar is not huge).
We shortly found ourselves back around a baggage carousel waiting for our packs… which after some delay turned up on another carousel (our designated carousel was at some point changed), although the time did allow me to get a better look a my spotted feet after several days being ravaged by Timor-Leste’s Mosquitoes.
Putting itchy feet to the back of my mind, we set about finding our way up to Ubud, a place that certainly seems to be a buzz destination at the moment, so why not check it out?
We’d gotten a couple of quotes from private drivers for the journey, but eventually found that a taxi from the official desk at the airport was just as good an option for the trip that was longer in minutes than it was in kilometres.
When we finally located our accommodation (after a few false starts as it wasn’t immediately known to our driver), our first impressions of this quiet, beautiful place were very good.
Our private little room faced onto a shaded courtyard with ponds (even our private bathroom had a small pond, complete with fish) and although we both felt far too hot to even contemplate enjoying the complimentary tea on arrival, it was a nice touch nonetheless.
So far so good! Let’s go for a wander and check out this town that is Ubud.
This is where our disappointment began. Think not of tree lined streets, but instead of row after row of shops, most selling the same as the other next door… or across the road… or up the street. Tacky tourist trinkets, many galleries selling artworks (plenty of repetition here as well, but at least some were original) and busloads of day trippers.
Yes, I understand the hypocrisy of being critical of other tourists, however when they arrive, and also move around en masse, they really do detract from the feel of a place and frankly, we had not yet seen enough to delight us in this place to really make it seem irrelevant.
I was initially puzzled as well by the prevalence of lycra (both in shop windows, as well as on many people wandering the streets) until Sarah, and the sighting of several yoga mats set me straight.
So this is a ‘spiritual’ town as well… also savvy enough to cash in on the craze of people all eager to touch their own spiritual side since Julia Roberts had that movie, ‘Eat, Pray, Love’
I’m not sure if all 3 elements are what she found in Ubud, however from what we found in the town proper, ‘Eat’ was certainly to be the most enjoyable and enlightening.
Which leads me to dinner…
Since arriving on Bali we’d been looking forward to trying Babi Guling (roasted suckling pig), so this seemed as good a time as any to finally find a place serving it.
The first restaurant seemed a good deal… until we went to order and they sullenly advised us that there was none available (they may wish to take their chalk sign advertising it down), so it was off to option 2 which was as luck would have it, right next door!
What was dished up was very tasty, however it wasn’t the roasted pig experience we had truly imagined, so it was time to grab a few travelers (travelers would be beers on the go) and head back to our room to relax.
I was very thankful that I had gone for a safe option in the form of a large Bintang, as it became very necessary to wash away the taste of the other beer I had thought I should try, Bali Hai. I would comfortably rate this as the worst beer I have yet sampled on our travels!
Disappointed by our impressions of the town proper, day 2 saw us following a lead from our Lonely Planet guidebook & heading out to the countryside to hopefully rescue something from the experience.
It wasn’t long before it at least started to look more beautiful, as the photos will illustrate (in truth, our photos of Ubud are certainly far better than the experience we felt we had).
Our walk was to take us down into a small valley, where we would follow the course of a small stream, and eventually snake back towards town. After a bit of searching, we eventually found what we believed to be the path down into the valley (the path we’d chosen was indeed the correct one), however what we had not expected was the working crew repairing the path where a landslide had taken much of it away.
As usual, we were prepared in our best hiking shoes for such conditions, our trusty flip-flops.
On the trail, a we ran into what seemed an overly helpful local who explained that he was a guide from a nearby hotel (we figured he was fishing for some business) and explained to us that the original trail set out by Lonely Planet had long been swept away by a landslide, and that entrepreneurial locals had fenced off any path along the river, charging for access from one field to the next.
As we hadn’t thought to carry much cash on us, our walk was now limited to a scramble to the bottom, a quick wash in the river, before clambering all the way back to the top. Worthwhile all the same!
Not fully satisfied that we’d experienced it to the fullest, back in Ubud we were again on the hunt for Babi Guling, this time going for what is apparently a local institution, Warung Ibu Oka.
As soon as it arrived, this one looked the goods, and we happily washed it town with couple of fresh coconuts and cold beers.
It certainly meant that when we left Ubud, at least we had some better memories than those left by our first impression.