Bali: Realism and the Rice Fields

“Pack your bikini,” said a friend as I announced I was going to Bali. Coming from Bondi, I highly doubted that the beaches of Bali would spell any magic on me. Call me a smug, but the beaches of Australia have spoilt me and my standards are set very high. Unless you bring me a beach with turquoise-hued water, unicorns in the air and glistening sand, I will not raise a brow. Oh, and no children helps too. Have you got that all noted?

So, I did pack my bikini but thought about how it’ll probably be sitting at the bottom of my suitcase, along with the running shorts I packed. I was going for a holiday – surely I wouldn’t be exercising!

What really happened was, bikini stayed underneath the mess and running shorts were sent to laundry three times.

Tourists come to this island to stay around the water and surf in the amazing currents it has to offer. Maybe an odd adventurous lot would make a day trip to the north of the island to see the two active volcanos (I KNOW!) but dare they leave their 40-inch flat screen TVs, the clubbing district of Kuta and the overpriced spas behind for more than a few hours. Oh the horror!

How I started my holiday was contrary to what Lonely Planet suggested. I started in the heart of Bali, in a little town called Ubud. The town is known for its rice paddy fields, tree-hugging yogis, overly healthy food and wet, humid weather. Oh, and after staying there for the past week, I’ve also found out that it’s known for its scary reptiles that you can’t recognise and its really dead streets post 9pm. No nightlife here, folks! It’s no Kuta or Seminyak; it’s a century far from it, in fact. I don’t think it could handle all those lady-boys on bikes and Chris Brown on repeat. Ubud would have a heart attack and so would all its geckos.

It’s a slow paced town which you hear a lot of in Elizabeth Gilbert’s best-selling book, Eat Pray Love. In fact I’d say more than half of its tourist attraction comes from women oohing and aahing after reading the book. Everyone wants a love affair in Bali, and she promises you that (LIES!)

If you haven’t read the book, I’m assuming you would have seen the awfully directed movie starring Julia Roberts. The pretty woman makes Bali look oh-so-serene and lovely with its playful monkeys and non-existent reptiles to wake you up in the middle of the night with their loud gossip sessions. How rude! Reality is that Bali has ferocious monkeys and zero Brazilian hunks who will crash into you and sweep you off your feet. Trust me, I looked!

What Ubud has is a lot of smiling people; a ton of them. You see them all, from wide eyed confused smiles, to toothless ones from old grandmas and even some creepy ones from farmers, but you can generally avoid the latter. Also, there’s more spirulina here than in the warehouse of a health food store in Bondi. From spirulina cupcakes to spirulina quiches, the amount of green I’ve eaten in the last week, I wouldn’t take offence if you compare my insides to Hulk’s. The amazing part is that Ubud loves its raw and vegan food, and thanks to that it made my turning-vego-for-the-holiday pretty freaking easy. Just bring me some raw blueberry cheesecake and I’m yours.

I’ve been cycling, a lot, here in Ubud. I hadn’t sat on a bicycle for over 8 years until day one in the town. I hired a cycle with a basket (totally living my Parisian dream in 40-degree heat, so what?). Apart from scratching a car, falling over a million times, dragging my bike up massive hills and looking like as red and confused as a chicken who just ran a hundred miles sans its wings, it was so much fun! Yes, I did have my, I-am-Julia-Roberts-bitches moments, but those didn’t last very long, as I was splashed with muggy rainwater and dogs chasing me down the side streets. I got to see the town in its true essence with no one trying to sell me sarongs or offering me “transport” which is a cue for taxi ride here in Bali. If you ever come here, make sure you do the Banyan Cycling Tours. It’s one that’s not to be missed, especially if you want to cycling past the Komodo Dragon and fall in rice paddy fields where there are snakes! Okay, let’s not scare you – it’s amazing! You cycle for about three hours, cover 25-30 kilometres in and around Ubud and I say there is no better way to enjoy a new place than by doing that. Apart from my really sore bum (sorry for the overshare!) and calf muscles, I had a ball of a time trying to dodge motorbikes, four-legged creatures and chickens on the main road. Actually, I was chasing the chickens away; they run really funny. Almost like a wave-your-hands-in-the-air-like-you-just-don’t-care move, but coming from a chicken… ha ha!

Gibert talks about reaching this balance in her book where she found her soul, found the sense of being and challenged herself to living the city life, post her enlightenment, with utmost ease. I’m not sure if a week anywhere in the world would be able to give you that. Most certainly not when you decide to take a break from all the earth-loving and party with Indonesia’s prime gay community (yeah baby, I went there – more on that later!).

I didn’t come to Bali to get tanned (damn, have you seen me?) and neither I came here to “find” anything. I’m not sure what this trip was about. Well apart from travelling solo and eating one-coconut-a-day, I guess this trip to serene Ubud was like a house inspection. I’ve checked out the place, saw if I would fit in its vicinity and if things changed in the future, the stock market of my life sustained its shares, then who knows, I might return here to write a book one day (I want Anne Hathaway to play me, dear director). Maybe even learn how to do black magic and voodoo (evil vs good spirit is a HUGE thing in Bali. They believe in ghosts, damn straight!). I might not return to be a hippie or become one, not at all, I don’t think I could pull off the no-underwear situation. But I might come back to uncover my already-found self. And this is completely going by the fact that I have found myself and what I want from life elsewhere. Where is that? Damn, I don’t know! Don’t ask so many deep questions.

Ubud makes me want to be a happy person with its numerous smiles and angry dogs. It makes me want to be creative and do something, as opposed to lying on my stomach in a bikini and letting the sun burn my brain cells.

When I was leaving the town last night and heading to the airport, the peachy pink sky peeped from behind the dark grey clouds from the heavy afternoon of showers. That sight of hope and assurance that shone through the lush green blades of grass in the rice paddy fields is what made me think, “I’m going to come back here… if not to find someone or something, then just for its chickens, smiling locals and to live amidst REAL Bali minus the loud tourists for another week… or a few months”.

Speaking of which, I have two more yoga classes to do at the Yoga Barn, and I’ve already paid for them. Need to come back for that – if anything!

And until then, I’ll try to find solace and enlightment on the beaches of Bondi, where I actually like the feeling of sand between my toes and the ocean breeze kissing my hair strands. No cringing or whinging required!

Below are some of the photos from my time in Ubud… your chance to take a glimpse of the REAL Bali.

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