I’ve been asked by a few people to describe the town of Ubud; how it smells and feels to walk through, so today is dedicated to that.
First, it’s pronounced “Oh-boohd.” Say it incorrectly and you just might have an Indonesian look at you puzzled and say, “where?” They’re not trying to make you feel dumb, they just really don’t understand.
Wandering through Ubud, and Bali in general, the first thing you’ll notice is the flowers. They’re the first thing because they’ll most likely be laid in a nice little coconut or banana leaf package right outside your door. These are the daily offerings and usually include a few grains of rice and sometimes some other food items. The flowers are a beautiful offering to god and the rest, well, who doesn’t enjoy a little nosh?
Next, you’ll notice the smell. Unlike India, which smells of a combination of smoke from burning trash and exhaust fumes from tuk-tuks, Bali smells like incense (think Woodstock without the body odor). The scent of Nag Champa and Frangipani fill the air, as incense is often burned when making an offering.
The weather; while December through March is the rainy season, the rain decided to hang on during my April visit. It rains, nay, storms nearly every afternoon of my visit. It can actually be kind of nice as it cools the stifling, humid air and gives me a chance to duck into one of the many open-front restaurants for a light snack or a local drink. The fruit-juices and Lassi (a yogurt and fruit drink) are wonderful. The Bintang beer isn’t bad either.
So now, I’ll take you on a stroll down Monkey Forest Road – As I exit my hotel, Jati 3 Bungalows, I walk down the long alley which leads to Monkey Forest Road. Ubud has countless hidden gems down nondescript alleys. Duck down one of the many alleys and you might find a beautiful collection of bungalows in which to stay, a fantastic restaurant overlooking some beautiful rice paddies, or a yoga studio where you can get a private class for $8. Today I happen to duck down an alley and find an entire street of guesthouses and homestays. Should you be coming to the area, check out Gan Anila street for places to stay.
I pass colorful floral offerings and breathe in the scents which are just as colorful. As I walk down the street I’m greeted by shop and restaurant owners and managers saying hello. Sure one reason is to sell their goods and services, but some are there simply because the Balinese people are genuinely friendly people. Oh, and they smell good too!
As I walk, I pass a few dogs (all well-fed), a random cat-or-two, and a monkey. This is Monkey Forest Road and, though the monkeys tend to hang in the Monkey Forest (see Monkey Business), they also enjoy a nice walk-about here and there, and maybe a trip to Starbucks or the gelato shop for some Chunky Monkey ice cream.
I pass clothing shops with really pretty dresses, pants, skirts, and tops displayed in the window. Some can be touristy but many of the clothes are light and flowy, pretty and practical for these islands. As yoga is big here, many stores sell yoga clothes, yoga-themed statues, and peace and namaste wall hangings. I walk past tailors and weavers who will make a custom outfit for me in two days, and art galleries which sell decorative art and furniture which I would no doubt purchase if I lived here and had any money.
As I continue walking I hear the three questions which one will inevitably hear whenever exiting your abode:
“Taxi?” You should know that when this offer is made, your taxi is a motorbike and you will be sitting on the back, straddling the driver. Nearly all the taxis here in Ubud are the motorbike kind. Still, it’s a very walkable place, though you should watch your step as the streets are uneven and often the cement tiles covering the streets have fallen through leaving a gaping hole which could swallow a small child (though if your kid is having a meltdown, it could be a good threat). Still, hop on the back of a taxi and you’ll have a genuine Ubud experience.
The second question you’ll be asked is related to the first question, “Maybe tomorrow?” This will be the response when you say no thank-you to the first question. (Please say no thank-you as these guys are just trying to make a living and will not stalk you except to ask the follow-up question.)
The final question in Ubud street-walking is, “Massage?” Massage is big-business here, and I’ve tried a couple. Tonight, I try the one at my hotel. I splurge and get the two-hour package which includes and traditional Balinese Massage, a body scrub, a facial and a floral bath. The fee, $18 (adding a 10% tip brings it to about $20 total). I’m shown to a room and told to take off all my clothes except my underwear and lie down on the massage table. The therapist leaves the room and I do as instructed. There’s only one sheet covering the vinyl table therefore, I’m now lying in my underwear and feeling a bit exposed.
My massage therapist returns to the room and I ask her name (I like to know who’s feeling me up). She tells me her name is Wayan as she immediately begins rubbing me. In my experience here, most of these massage therapists have had no actual training, they simply rub the different areas of your body. Still, for the normal Rp100,000 ($7.75) fee for a one-hour massage, I’d let just about anybody rub me (wait, I’m not that kind of girl).
After a bit of rubbing, I hear Wayan gently say, “So kiss me.”
Um, what? Is this massage going to involve a happy ending?
“So kiss me,” she repeats. “You turn over.”
I follow her instruction and turn to lay on my back. She places a towel over my eyes and finally a sheet over my well-exposed body and returns to rubbing me.
“So kiss me,” she says again. “Now it’s time for scrub. You turn over.”
I turn to lay on my stomach and she spreads gritty goop over my back and legs and then leaves the room. The fan is on and blowing directly on me and, for the ten minutes she’s outside giggling with her colleagues, I develop goosebumps under the grindy scrub. She returns to scrub the now-dried exfoliant over my skin and then wipes the remnants off with a dry cloth.
“So kiss me, please turn over.”
I finally figure out that, while Wayan is very nice, she does not expect a kiss. She’s saying, “Excuse me.”
I turn over and the scrubbing continues followed by some nice lotion rubbed on my face.
When all of the rubbing is finished, Wayan shows me to the bathtub she’s filled with water and flower petals and instructs me to soak for ten minutes and then rinse off in the connected shower. This is lovely and, with the flower petals making it feel a bit romantic, I wish there were a man here saying, “So kiss me?” (Nothing personal Wayan, but you’re just not my type.)
Ten-minutes later, I drag myself out of my floral bath, put on my clothes, and exit. As I’m thanking and paying Wayan for her services, I get to chatting with her and the two other ladies working there. I ask their names and one tells me her name is Wayan, followed by the other who says her name is Wayan.
“You’re all named Wayan?” I ask.
“Yes, it means first born. Are you first?”
“No,” I respond. “I’m third.”
“Oh, you Nyoman.” (that’s the name for all third borns.)
They continue to educate me on the Balinese name game.
“Wayan is one, Made is two, Nyoman is three, and Ketut is four.”
I repeat the lesson to be sure I’ve got it right, accidentally substituting “Ketuk” for “Ketut.” The ladies giggle.
“What?” I ask.
“Ketut,” they tell me, emphasizing the final ‘t’.
“Oh, what does “Ketuk mean?”
They full-on LOL here.
“Oh, it means something bad, yes?” I ask.
“Yes,” they giggle. Now I must know.
One of the Wayans makes a hand-gesture which I interpret to mean sex, “Only bad,” she says.
Oh, I guess that this would be the English equivalent of the F-word. Things must have been tough in school for all of the Ketuts out there.
I thank the ladies for the laugh and head off for a relaxing night in.
Ubud reminds me of Sedona, Arizona. It’s got many outdoor adventures within close reach, the town has a lot of shopping, both touristy and art, you can get your chakras read or cleansed or whatever your chakra happens to need, and yoga abounds. The difference is that Bali is about ten times cheaper than Sedona.
Coming up, The Good the Bad and the Terima Kasih’s
Where, of where will we travel to next? That’s up to you. VOTE HERE!