The airplane touches down into Depensar and immediately I locate my driver outside. My head is swimming in the fog of a long travel day and the late hour is wearing on me as I stand curbside waiting for the car. The warm sticky air slowly wraps around me and with one tight squeeze I am flooded with the safety and sanctuary Bali provided me with last year. It's an unexpected experience and I’d all but forgotten the relief felt when finally, I’d arrived someplace free from the harsh conditions of other parts of the country. A place where I wouldn’t raise eyebrows or draw harsh judgments. Whispering sleepy gratitude as my bag is placed in the trunk I sit down in the passengers seat and respond with a smile when asked, “Is this your first time in Bali?”
Within an hour we’re cruising down deserted streets I’d walked countless times. We pass Monkey Forest Sanctuary, the soccer field and dark lifeless market, finally arriving at the doors of Ketut’s Place. Despite the hour, Ketut himself graciously greets me and the driver is introduced as his son-in-law. Shown to the unit next to one I occupied last year, sleep does not come easily and I forgot about the rooster that also comes with the room. It is however, comforting to wake in familiar surroundings.
My morning gets a leisurely start and re-acclimating myself to the bustling main streets I pop into a raw food restaurant I frequented last year. Kicking off my flip-flops and cozying into my favorite spot, it dawns on me that my previous choice of words describing Ubud were incorrect. I said it wasn’t the real Indonesia. But as I settle into the vibe, all the reasons I returned do also and it isn’t about spa treatments. It is about the culture: smiles of locals, wealth of artisan talent and deep religious beliefs. Tourism is merely a prominent element within this culture.
Ubud can almost be viewed as a utopian experiment. Girls with yoga mats strapped to the back of bicycles glide by scooters and vans full of tourists. Slim women appear from shop doors, as delicate as the offerings they lay beside their businesses and at temple doors. The tiny, square palm leaf plates are as fascinating as the gifts of incense, flowers and small crackers inside. Balinese men every few meters asking if you need transport are as prevalent as the dogs scarffing down the crackers intended for the Gods. “You need taxi?” “How about tomorrow?” Balinese women balance large woven baskets on their heads with practiced grace, only to be overtaken by their male counterparts. Maneuvering past with tall sections of thick bamboo hoisted on their shoulders displaying indigenous textiles, together they dance. Skirting canines, drivers and chunks of missing pavement it’s a sublime performance set to beat of thick humidity and desire to relieve themselves of their burden.
A large open-air artisans market anchors the town while Yoga shops, bookstores and organic restaurants serve a feast for the mind body and soul. Locals and ex-pats alike are working toward protecting the environment & preserving the heritage, promoting Fair Trade and organic farming. Nestled amidst rice terraces and sense of belonging, they’ve all been called here for their own purpose but share a common thread in the energy swirling around the Balinese microcosm of Ubud.
~ by Christine Fowle