At Home in Paradise

I love Bali. I fell in love with it on my first visit in 2006, and although tourism has increased dramatically since then, I was happy to find the soul of this tiny Indonesian paradise has remained the same. After nearly a year of our on-the-go lifestyle, I was craving a home and community, so I planted myself in Ubud for a month.

Ubud is Bali’s cultural capital, nestled among rice paddies and ravines at the heart of the island. It has attracted artists since the 1960’s and hosts a substantial expat population—Westerners like me who have been won over by Bali’s people, culture, food, and lifestyle. I had more than a few moments of serious consideration about joining the expat community myself! Bali vibrates with a unique and powerful energy; whether cosmic in nature or cultivated by the people, or both, I soaked it up and felt both radiantly alive and blissfully relaxed. I slowed way down, approached each moment with more mindfulness and gratitude, and explored the spiritual side of life.

After returning from Java, I was excited to get away from the madness of Kuta and Denpasar and introduce Ramesh to Ubud. Upon arrival, I was surprised to see how much it had grown (thanks to the filming of “Eat, Pray, Love” here), but the people were still warm and friendly, the town charming, and the food delicious. We followed Anthony Bourdain’s footsteps to Ibu Oka for finger-licking suckling pig (literally, as you eat with your hands), we wandered into Jazz Cafe one night for the best mango pudding ever and a fantastic performance by Balawan, and we attended one of Ubud’s various cultural performances, the Kecak dance. Within a day or two, I was feeling pretty settled in this town. Ramesh, however, was itching to see some waves and soon headed south to find his own piece of paradise in Bali.

Since I’d decided to stay a while, I wanted accommodation that felt more like home, with a kitchen so that I could cook for myself—something I’d missed for a while, as most places we’d stayed in Asia didn’t offer kitchen access. After an intensive search, one day I happened to walk by Suci’s hand-lettered “for rent” sign and decided on a whim to wander back through the rice fields to see what it was all about. I lucked out; Suci and I negotiated a good deal on a newly renovated room with a large private patio, kitchen area, and a great view. Suci was lovely and funny, and her husband, Sudiana, was easy-going and chatty. My little Balinese sanctuary was just what I needed.

Much of my social life in Ubud I owe to Couchsurfing, and in particular, to my friend Mark. Before my arrival in Ubud, I had plugged into the Couchsurfing community online and was fortunate to meet Mark, a really generous and friendly American transplant who’d been living in Ubud for a while. He immediately provided me with a wealth of information and invited me to various events or just to hang out. (Thank you, Mark!) He was my buddy on Thanksgiving, when we enjoyed quite a feast at Taksu while amusedly shouting to each other over the din of the gamelan orchestra. I was happy to click with someone so quickly and found it generally easy to meet people in town. Ubud has developed over the years into a destination for those interested in yoga, healing arts, holistic health, and spirituality, drawing people who are pretty open and welcoming. Add to that the importance of harmony in the local culture and the genuine warmth of the Balinese people, and this place quickly becomes a cocoon that’s hard to leave.

To spend so much time relaxing and doing exactly what you want, when you want, is such a gift. I made use of the little library in town and spent countless hours lounging on my patio reading. I sweated through unique and challenging yoga classes and experienced vibrational healing through sound medicine at Yoga Barn, by far the most beautiful place I’ve ever done yoga. I trekked along the monkey forest to the other side of town to Mark’s place when he offered to cook—a real treat! I snapped photos along the path through the rice paddies and spent the afternoon with a glass of dragonfruit wine and tasty food at Sari Organik. Some of my favorite moments involved doing nothing other than simply being present and observing: stopping to enjoy a Balinese ceremonial parade pass by, or being amused by a squirrel hanging upside down in a tree trying to hold onto and eat a mango that’s bigger than himself. And speaking of mangoes—wow, they’re heavenly in this part of the world! I couldn’t eat enough mangoes, bananas, papaya, dragonfruit…truly the best fruit I’ve ever tasted.

After a couple of weeks in Ubud, I met up with my friend Bagus, whom I’d met during my first visit there. It was wonderful to see his smiling face again, to catch up on the last six years of our lives, and to pick up again as if no time had passed. In typical Balinese fashion, he wanted to make sure I was enjoying my visit and was proud to show me around his island. We spent a couple of days exploring outside Ubud on his scooter—through the hills and villages, to a coffee plantation, and a thrilling ride along a narrow muddy path between rice fields, during which I held on for dear life! Scooters are really a fun way to travel, as long as I’m not the one driving. Thank you, Bagus!

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Welcome to Ubud...

Stone guards keep the evil spirits away.

Penjors (bamboo celebration totems) left at a temple from a recent ceremony

Following Anthony Bourdain's footsteps to Ibu Oka for roast suckling pig

Delicious! And even better when eaten with your hand.

One of many traditional performances in Ubud, Kecak is a trance ritual and dance depicting a battle from the Ramayana.

Thousands of white herons have gathered each evening in the village of Petulu since 1965, after a hunt for communists led to a massacre here. Local lore says they are the souls of the people killed.

Ah, the food in Bali...worthy of many photos

After a long search, I found a home in Ubud.

The walk from the road to my place

My little haven, above the owners' home. Suci and Sudiana were friendly hosts, always smiling and trying to teach me some Bahasa Indonesia.

Home sweet home

So great to just hang out, with no specific plans. I read this book in one day while enjoying the rain from a cozy cafe.

Balinese kitties are quite relaxed too.

Caught this view while walking home one evening.

One of many happy breakfasts on my patio, this on a Saturday after getting a pastry from the nearby farmers' market

The beautiful walk to Sari Organik, a farm and restaurant out in the rice fields

Following Mark on the long route to Sari

Bath time

A very scary scarecrow

Ducks diligently cleaning up a paddy post-harvest

Another penjor, symbolizing devotion to God and the universe in the form of a mountain, as mountains provide water and irrigation for the rice paddies

Mark took me on a little tour of Sari's farm.

Enjoying Sari's dragonfruit wine

They make fantastic hummus!

Hanging out with the couchsurfing crowd

Glad to see everyone else takes as many photos of food as we do!

Sunset view from Sari

Mark takes in the view from a friend's house in Penestanan.

Making new friends at Samia's birthday party

Another day, another festival—came across this one on a walk to Mark's house for lunch.

Mark's yummy chipotle chicken—nice to hang out with someone who loves to cook!

The dragonfruit murderer, caught red-handed

Ahhh...another breakfast on my veranda

Thanksgiving at Taksu Resort

The cure for my homesickness on Thanksgiving!

The gamelan music put a Balinese twist on T-day.

Thankful to be able to celebrate Thanksgiving!

Out with Ramesh during his one-night stopover en route to the next surf spot

Breakfast of champions

Doing a bit of roasting at a coffee plantation

Bagus and I sample the various coffees, including the famed "kopi luwak".

Bagus and his high-school buddy, who hooked me up with some beautiful silver earrings.

One of the best meals of my year, at D'Waroeng

Mmmm...black rice pudding

Mesmerizing scene from my balcony, with the full moon and faint singing from the nearby temple

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