Who can explain love?
The more I live it, in different shapes – for people, places, projects, ideas-, the less I know or would want to know about it. Despite the fashion, of which I´m not a fan, and the tourism craze, I fell in love with Bali.
It was a love waiting to happen – so obvious that I wonder how I hadn´t seen it from the beginning. I´d been dreaming about going to the island for many years but only now the skies agreed with that dream.
France, China, Bali and New Zealand in about 3 weeks. I have to thank my body for everything it endures without a complaint. I work and travel non stop with a stamina that astonishes me. All this – overloaded and blessed – body wants in return is love, good food, rest, positive thoughts, passion and a good dose of sensible expectations.
My head´s still spinning, my feet are not quite on the ground, chronic jet-lag seems to have installed itself for good. It has decided to stay, ´cause I never allow it to leave, and I´m learning to live with it. There are worse things in life.
The question of who I am and where I am is getting harder and harder to answer. And still I try. To answer. To land.
I could write a complete guide of Ubud, in Bali, with my favourite places, activities and hotels. The 10 days I´ve spent in the island felt like a year. In reality, it seemed I already knew the island and this trip was just a reminder. I walked the streets of Ubud and the rice fields as if I´d known them forever and tourists felt exactly the same, asking me for directions as if I was a local. Note: I do NOT look Balinese. At all!
From the moment I landed until I took off, I didn´t stop. I´ve watched Balinese dance shows every night, ate in the best traditional restaurants, enjoyed several body and face treatments, checked all the touristic attractions in Ubud and surrounding areas and spent some of the happiest times of my life in the rice fields. To tell you all about it I´d have to stop working on my new book and dedicate myself to Bali. Who knows if, in the future…
What I can do, for the sake of delight and time economy, is tell you about my favourite things in Ubud. Here they are:
- Let me start by telling you an interesting fact: Bali is in Indonesia and Indonesia is very far. (Well, not an interesting fact but relevant). Reaching Bali is a journey in itself. We have to take it one flight at a time, each moment as it comes. No hurry and no thinking about the whole journey. In other words: an opportunity, kind of a push, to be totally in the moment. If you´re not, you can easily go mad. It took me 2 days to get to the Island of the Gods. If you wish to see it on the bright side, which I usually do, the way to Bali is a time where you´re basically stuck in airplanes or in transit and, therefore, you´re free to rest, relax, read, think, scribble and breathe deeply.
- Balinese people. Although the pressure between Western and Balinese culture is taking its toll on people – stuck between their identity and the expectations of foreigners who boost the island economy -, locals are genuinely kind, open and interesting. Talking with people from different walks of life – Balinese and foreigners – is a constant delight in Bali. You do meet a whole bunch of interesting people with extraordinary life stories to tell.
- Balinese music and dance. OMG! Talk about love at first sight. At some point, I had to run away from the music and dance shows so strong was the pull to stay in Bali and dig deep into them. Nature and its – invisible – forces are present in every note; the jungle sings through the mouth of men and wild animals dance through the body of women. The connection between art and nature, in the Balinese culture, is nothing less than fascinating. The dangerous itching that made me move to Egypt started to appear as soon as I sat to watch the first show. I could see myself moving to Bali and learning the local dances, changing my life, dreams, direction, destiny in a wink. “Run Forrest, run!”
- Balinese food. Let´s put it like it is, no poetry in the mix: I ate like a regal cow. And I replaced Indian food by Balinese as my favourite in the whole world. All my food lover phantasies and cravings can be satisfied by the local gastronomy. I don´t eat meat and I rarely eat fish and I was glad to find plenty of vegetarian options – yummy, light and affordable. I became known, in my favourite restaurant in Hanoman street (Cafe Bali), as the girl who bursts into the kitchen to congratulate and hug the cooks. I had to. Every. Single. Time.
- Balinese SPAS. Ok, stop the traffic! How much can a girl pamper herself in ten days? I´ve taken the challenge and I might have won it. From different kinds of massages, to facials with natural oils, to feet treatment, to full body treatment – massage, scrub and bath with flowers. I´ve done it all. How could I resist? I´m Venus incarnated and love everything that has to do with taking care, and giving pleasure, to my body. I´m the first to undress myself, close my eyes and deliver my soul to God if you tell me there´s a SPA in sight. Saying I was in heaven is an understatement.
- Yoga. Another Ubud Classic. I might have run away from the famous Yoga Barn – too busy, pretentious and stressful, the opposite of what yoga is supposed to be – but I found my secret yoga spot and I´ve spent some of the coolest, most peaceful times there. BodyWorks in Hanoman street. Polite, kind staff attending to the public; good kundalini yoga teachers who are there to teach, not to show off their fancy moves or sport the latest fashion in yoga wear; small classes where personal attention to each student is provided; the classroom stays at the top of the building with a beautiful view of the rooftops of Ubud and one of the most incredible sunsets I´ve ever seen in my life. Highly recommended if what you´re looking for is a good, old, real yoga practice.
- The rice fields. Not the touristic routes but the ones you end up discovering if you have the stamina and the curiosity to walk around Ubud in the mood for discovery. I recommend staying a few nights in some of the houses/hotels there. Although staying in the centre of Ubud gives you easy access to all the cultural activities, it can get too noisy, messy, busy. For some relaxation time and a touch of genuine countryside magic, stay in the rice fields. Suggestion: Trinity Gardens. Heaven on earth.
- Vedic chart reading. It was the first time I´ve had my Vedic Chart (Indian Astrology) read by a professional and I was impressed. I found the astrologer, by chance (?), while I was walking in the rice fields, and I intend on returning for more soul searching. Details via email (email@example.com), if you´re interested.
- Monkey forest for a taste of deep Balinese jungle and some funny episodes with the local residents. At some point, I was walking around with two (monkeys), one on my head and another on my shoulders.
- Antonio Blanco Museum, another fascinating place I found by chance, where you can see a bit of the history of Bali and one of its famous – foreign – residents, a Spanish painter who married a Balinese dancer and lived in the island, painting its people, traditions and his own phantasies.
- Juices, coconut water, local tea and coffee – the best in the world. Hands down.
- The weather: hot and humid, my favourite. Not a crowd pleaser but certainly a Joana pleaser. I never feel so comfortable as I do in this kind of weather. My skin and hair remain wet during the whole day, my body gets flexible, comfortable, flowing, asking for good stuff. I feel like breathing deeply, and lovingly, the whole time.
- Bali remains one the rare places where the connection between earth and sky hasn´t been broken. Daily offerings are put at people´s doors every single morning, filling the air with the scent of incense, flowers and fresh food.
- The telluric power of this land made the core of my bones shake. It´s obvious the land under our feet is alive and thriving; it´s even more obvious that Balinese know about it. And respect it. I´ve only felt this strength, coming from under my feet, in the Yucatan Peninsula, in Mexico. Powerful and, somehow, scary if you don´t know how to deal with it. Powerful energies need positive directions.
- The acknowledgement of evil as something natural and necessary to keep the balance of the Universe. Coming from a Christian Catholic heritage, where evil is condemned and, of possible, destroyed, visiting a country where that negative force is accepted and dealt with naturality is refreshing, to say the least. From a logical point of view, it makes sense. Can we ever eliminate evil, low and negative energies, the destructive impulse that exists in Nature (including in us)? I don´t think so. Learning how to deal with it, keep it in balance, may be a wise option. Balinese surely know about it.
- There are many reasons why we fall in love with a place but some cannot be expressed through words. I could keep on writing a list of the things I loved in Bali but that would take too long and it would be my list. I suggest you find your list. Every person is unique as is every journey.
I´ll launch a tender “see you soon” to The Magical Island and start planning my return. Telling about it is awesome but living is the thing.