After emerging from six weeks of isolation at Bali Silent Retreat, the noise, crowds and activity of Ubud was much welcomed. My experience at the retreat was well worth it and something I needed to experience, but I was more than ready to move on and begin meeting other travelers and just be in civilization in general.
Ubud is a bustling little tourist town with a lot going on. It is a huge destination for western travelers, probably because of the beauty and energy that Bali offers, but with many of the conveniences that westerners are accustom to. It is not exactly a true Balinese cultural experience though. I’ve spoken with a couple local Balinese people who say that they don’t leave their homes except to go to work or to visit their home villages. They are merely here to make a living. This has helped me to really appreciate the time I spent in Penebel Tabanan at the retreat. I literally lived right in the rice fields and the only civilization nearby were tiny little villages with just a few houses, temples and basic markets. Ubud on the other hand has tons of shops selling western clothing and restaurants serving western food with western music and decor. It’s hard to tell you’re even in Bali once you step foot in them. Organic, clean food with vegetarian and even gluten free options seem to be the trend here. I’ve been doing my best to avoid the western restaurants and eat at as many local Balinese restaurants as I can find. The trendy restaurants tend to be a bit more pricey ($5-$10 USD for a small meal) while the local food is very cheap ($1-$4 USD for a large meal), and I’d rather eat the local food anyway. So far I’ve tried quite a few local dishes including Nasi Goreng (stir-fried rice with vegetables and/or meat served with rice “crackers”), Mie Goreng (same as Nasi Goreng but with noodles) tempeh satay (deep-fried and skewered with peanut sauce), Balinese coconut and curry soups and some fritters and vegetable dishes that I’m not sure of the names because I picked them out of a window. Everything I’ve eaten has been delicious and I’ve been lucky not to have any issues with “Bali belly.” Thankfully because some of the local restaurants I’ve eaten at have seemed quite questionable on the cleanliness side. I’ve managed to continue eating vegetarian since I left the retreat (aside from eating shrimp once), my body just doesn’t seem to be craving meat. And vegetarian dishes, tempe and tofu are quite plentiful here.
I’ve participated in a couple touristy activities – a visit to the Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary as well as to the Ubud Market. The monkey forest is a nature reserve filled with beautiful natural scenery, a couple temples and of course lots of monkeys. They seem to be quite used to and comfortable with people being around. I didn’t dare bring any food as they tend to be little thieves and can be aggressive. It was pretty entertaining and also a very peaceful experience, aside from two monkeys attempting to break into my backpack. The Ubud Market was less peaceful, but equally entertaining. It is a large open air market on the streets consisting of local Balinese vendors selling small items – clothing, jewelry, soaps, figurines, artwork, and other random items including wooden penis shaped bottle openers of all shapes and sizes that seemed to be everywhere. The Balinese can be quite ruthless and pushy with their bargaining. I had no intention of purchasing anything other than a refrigerator magnet for my mom, but I ended up with two pairs of pants and a sarong in addition to the magnets. Luckily everything is quite cheap, although I probably could’ve gotten lower prices for the same items from the shops around the corner. I need to work on my bargaining skills, but I figure it’s all part of the experience.
The Yoga Barn
The Yoga Barn is quite famous in the yoga world. I have heard about it from many other teachers and students and have even heard it called the “Disneyland for Yogis.” Sadly, my experience was slightly disappointing and I don’t really understand all of the hype. Of the ten or so different teachers I tried out, I was really only impressed with two. Maybe I am just spoiled by all of the amazing teachers in Denver, but most of the Yoga Barn teachers offered little to no alignment cueing, many of them practiced the entire class on their mat completely unaware of what people were actually doing with their bodies in classes of anywhere from 30-80 people. Only four of the teachers I experienced offered any type of dharma or intention beyond just the physical practice. I took a few Iyengar classes with a woman named Krysten who was quite knowledgeable, clearly trained in India and true to the traditional Indian way of teaching. And I was completely blown away by a girl named Bex who was one of the best teachers I have experienced anywhere in the world. Not only was she a knowledgeable teacher, offering alignment cues and walking around the room assisting and adjusting individual students, but she also integrated the perfect amount of dharma weaving without going overboard. And she even took the time to personally greet and welcome each and every student at the start of class. There were about 50 of us.
The thing I appreciate most about The Yoga Barn is all of their meditation and non-yoga asana offerings. In my two week stay, I had the privilege of participating in four Tibetan Bowl meditations, two Gong Baths and a Shamanic Breathwork session. These are things that are offered at home but at a high price and it was wonderful to be able to participate in so many of these deeply healing and transformative practices for the same price as a yoga class. Absolutely the highlight of my experience!
I think the thing I was disappointed with most was how pretentious the energy felt. Most of the other students and even many of the teachers were not friendly, rarely smiling or making eye contact. I only made one friend outside of the shared dorm I was staying in. There is a cafe outside of the studio with large sharing tables, but virtually everyone there was already in their cliques or staring at their phones the entire time. Even the girls in the dorm were hit or miss. I got lucky and there was a woman from Hungary who lives and teaches English in China staying in the dorm for eleven of the sixteen days I was there. She was very laid back and down to earth and we shared many meals and conversations. Most of the other girls were in and out in 2-3 days and didn’t seem to want to be bothered with getting to know us.
I’ve come to the conclusion that Ubud is not really the place to meet other travelers, at least in my experience. It is full of tourists that are here for a week or two, seemingly traveling with other companions. I will say though that the last three days of my stay here have been the best and Ubud has really started to grow on me. So maybe it just took some time for me to settle in and find my groove, especially after coming out of six weeks of isolation.
I grew close with one of the other teachers at Bali Silent Retreat and after we left the retreat she went to Seminyak for her final week in Bali. We Skyped one day and she and I agreed that we were feeling slightly lonely and not meeting many others. She extended the invitation to me to come to Seminyak and stay with her for a couple nights since she was renting a full house and it’s only about an hour drive away. I figured why not see another part of Bali and it would be nice to see the ocean so I arranged to have a motorbike taxi take me the next day. That was quite the ride, lol. I went in the afternoon so there was a ton of traffic, but luckily there are literally no traffic rules or driving etiquette so my driver was able to weave in and out of traffic and get me there in about an hour and a half. However, she had no idea where my destination was and even after mapping it on my phone, she had to ask about five different locals where to go. I also felt like I was going to fly off the back of the scooter every time she hit the gas so I was holding onto the handle on the back of the seat and was apparently pretty tense because my wrists are still sore four days later. I was looking at the other locals riding in twos and no one seemed to be holding on. Apparently I haven’t quite mastered which way to lean and which muscles to engage to keep myself on the bike so I stuck with my method of holding on tight.
I finally made it to Claire’s about two hours after leaving Ubud. We decided to check out a famous beach resort called Potato Head Beach Club and we were there for about five minutes before deciding it wasn’t our scene (and was outrageously overpriced) so we walked down the street and had a couple beers at a restaurant with a more laid back vibe. We got a taxi home which was a bit of a scary experience. The driver dropped us off at the wrong location, so before he left we jumped back in and told him we were at the wrong place. He started arguing with us wanting to charge us more money and when we wouldn’t agree to pay him more, he turned down a dark alley and shut off his car. We refused to get out so he pulled out of the alley and started slamming on his brakes every couple feet to throw us around the car. All the while Claire was arguing with him since it wasn’t our fault and we shouldn’t have to pay more to remedy his mistake. At one point I considered jumping out of the car, I was quite scared and not really interested in seeing what this guy was capable of doing to us. But luckily both Claire and the driver calmed down and he got us to our destination and we all apologized and we still ended up paying him a bit extra. Even though we were in the right, the value of money to them is obviously quite different and I’m sure their view of us is that we were just rich white girls and we could afford it. Nonetheless I am very appreciative that nothing worse happened.
Thankfully the next day was less eventful, we walked around and shared a couple meals and beers and lots of lovely conversation. Seminyak is a larger city than Ubud and even more touristy; huge storefronts with designer clothes, restaurants and resorts all over and everything priced higher. We ended the day walking on the beach and watching the sun set which was gorgeous. I ended up having to book my motorbike taxi home that night because of a holy Balinese holiday the next morning, which was another slightly scary experience. The guy showed up 15 minutes late and acted extremely inappropriate during the ride. He was touching my legs and hands, asking me to be his girlfriend and telling me he loved me. I spent most of the ride praying to my angels to protect me from any harm and luckily I got back to Ubud safely and unharmed. He did try to force himself on me after I got off the bike and I had to push him off and tell him no, but luckily he wasn’t too forceful. It was a good lesson for me to be more aware of the situations I put myself in as a single female traveler in a very foreign land. Thankfully my angels protected me and nothing worse happened but I will most definitely keep this lesson with me through my travels in Thailand and India.