“350 thousand” the driver in blue uniform said while I was getting a taxi from Ngurah Rai Denpasar Airport to Ubud.
I negotiated to 300 Rupiah, the driver smiled and said “Okay”.
He guided me to the parking lot to his fairly new blue Chevrolet taxi. I stuffed my backpack at the backseat and sat in front to sight-read the places on the way, as if it were a text. There’s an ID hung on the rear view mirror where I saw the driver’s name, Nyoman. Visiting Bali for the first time, I was so excited to see the place and know more about its people. And since Nyoman was the first Balinese I spoke with I had a lot of questions: best food to try, was it safe going around at night, how to say “thank” you in Balinese, places to see and shops to check out. While chatting with him, I noticed 3 rice grains on his forehead. I was bothered by it so I said “you have something on your forehead”. And since Nyoman spoke a little English, I was speaking and doing sign language at the same time. He said “it’s prayer”. “Oh”, I uttered. Good thing I didn’t remove it myself, I thought.
After almost two-hour drive from Denpasar, I arrived in Ubud, the capital of the so-called Theater State. As I wandered around looking for a place to stay, I had noted down the names of a few of the stores: Bali Sari, Suta Shop, Café Angsa. And after checking into a modest guesthouse, I had gone out in search of a meal. I ran across a pizzeria, a steakhouse and a slew of stylish Mexican cafes. Eventually, however, I wound up at Kafe, a local restaurant serving organic food and drinks. Here I have met Ladan, a yoga teacher, an author, a fitness guru and solo traveler like myself. While we enjoy the fruit platter and Bali coffee, we talked about travel, yoga, meditation, men and how we should handle negative emotions and anger towards others.
At nine in the evening, almost all establishments in Ubud were closed. I didn’t really go there to party and get drunk anyway, so it’s good to know that nights were silent and streets were peaceful.
The next day I woke up to slanted rays of sun peeping through my window. I gently slid the light brown curtain and looked outside. My room was across the family’s shrine and there I saw Ayu, the owner wearing silk sarong and carrying a tray of colorful flowers as offering to their gods. I went outside and walked on a pathway with fallen white and pretty frangipanis all around. A bowl of watermelon, banana pancake and a hot coffee was waiting for me at the gazebo.
The weather made me even excited to see Ubud that day. After breakfast, I prepared my hobo bag, things I would need for the whole day and took off. I knew I’ll be out for the whole day. I passed through a market in Jalan Raya where they sell vegetables, coconut and colorful flowers. At 8AM, most establishments were still closed. I made my feet my best friend and had gone wherever my feet took me. I passed by hotels set among rice paddies and restaurants built atop dreamy lotus ponds. Balinese people were not selfish in giving their smiles. Women wore scarlet hibiscus in their hair and silken sarongs around their supple bodies. The soft-eyed local men seemed gods of good health with their dazzling smiles offsetting the flowers they tucked behind their ears. Even old women, were slender creatures who moved with a dancer’s easy grace. There was no friction in this land of song and dance; nothing unlovely: children to be taken as angels of purity descended from the heavens, were never scolded or spanked, crime was unknown and even cremations were festivals of joy. Everything was at peace.
After I oriented myself with the streets around, I arranged for a tour to the temples around Ubud. I was with a young Swiss couple and a French couple who were celebrating their honeymoon in Bali. I told the French couples “You know what? It’s ironic that Asians go to Europe, in Paris most of the time, to spend their honeymoon and you are here to spend yours. It’s really good to go out and experience the best of both worlds.”
Our driver brought us to Monkey Forests, Goa Gajah (the elephant cave temple), Tampak Siring (the holy spring temple), Sribatu Coffee Plantation, Besakih Temple, Kintamani, then we ended our trip by having lunch in Mahagiri Restaurant with Mt. Batur and rice paddies as our view.
Our driver brought us back to the Ubud Center and I, walked around again. My senses were so active and hungry to discover and learn about the place and the people around me.
“Konitsiwa”. “Arigato”. The sellers and motorbike drivers greeted me while walking along Monkey Forest road. They thought I am Japanese so I just smiled back. After two days of walking around, I realized I was the only Filipino in the area. I haven’t seen any Filipino around, I wonder why. Most of the women I came across on the streets were solo, checking out yoga shops, buying peasant skirts in the bohemian stores, trying out vintage turquoise rings in silver shops and waiting for their turn in spa houses. While enjoying my watermelon shake in Warung Laba Laba along Jl Hanoman, I was thinking, so that’s why solo travelers love this place. Ubud was suitable for solo travelers as it’s easy to orient yourself with the main streets, it’s safe to just walk along even at night, locals respect foreigners and other foreigners respect other travelers.
My last morning in Ubud was spent walking, again. I fell in love with Ubud I even had second thoughts of leaving and just rescheduling my plane ticket. The morning air with a hint of incense and smell of fresh flowers greeted me while I walk the hills and curved Ubud streets. In Ubud every house had its own shrine and every village had three temples. Ever y day, women in sumptuous silks were sashaying through the early morning sunlight, stately and unhurried, piles of fruit on their head to be placed as offerings to their gods.
With all the magic I saw in Ubud I got lost in time. So I hurriedly went back to my room, got my backpack and left for Kuta, my next destination.