Indonesia 2010: Ubud By the Book

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Ubud, Indonesia


The traveler’s bible, in many cases, is the Lonely Planet guide. One only needs to look what’s in the hands of the foreigners plopped down at the cheap food stalls or streetside cafes in the tourist area of almost any country to know that this is true.

Although I’ve been to Indonesia and Thailand before, I still find the books a handy accessory for easily forgotten details like transportation logistics; and it’s usually a fun read through the interesting bits of biased prose injected by the author.

When brushing up on Ubud, I came across this little report:

“You see them everywhere these days in Ubud: women of a certain age strolling the streets with that look. A mixture of self-satisfaction, entitlement and too much yoga, with maybe just a hint of desperation that they haven’t yet found their Felipe. Yes, it’s the readers of Eat, Pray, Love, the best-selling book that chronicles the author’s search for self-fulfilment (and fulfilment of a book contract) across Italy, India, and yes, Ubud. “That Damn Book” was the immediate reaction of a long-time Ubud resident when we asked her about it. And it was the same phrase used by another Ubud friend – we detected a trend.

“…If you want to find Ketut Liyer, the genial and inspirational friend she abandons once she has Felipe, ask around and you’ll be directed. Although his porch is sagging from all the book’s readers who turn up.”

A little harsh perhaps, but as I discovered upon my arrival in Ubud a couple of days ago, not inaccurate. I felt, feel, slightly embarrassed to know that I am more than likely lumped in with this very visible group by the cafe owners and taxi touts and hotel managers whom I pass in the street. I am, after all, a woman of a certain age. In Ubud. Finding four consecutive nights in a hotel was a challenge, though it is technically low season. “Maybe because of the movie,” one hotel manager shared with me. I decided instantly that I would make no effort to visit Ketut Liyer, and silently cursed myself for not having done so last year, before the movie was out. He will most likely die before the hype does. He is 95.

Ubud feels busy and noisy and polluted, which it is of course in comparison to tiny, vehicle-free Gili Air. Its streets full of slick shops, bustling restaurants and moneyed tourists hold less intrigue than they did for me the first time around. This is a city for people who like, and can afford, to shop and eat out a lot. Though just a 2-hour fast-boat ride away, the lush, incense-infused island of Bali is worlds apart from its ramshackle neighbour to the east, Lombok.

it is a perfect place for transitioning between remote island life and my return to the western world. I have enjoyed eating various forms of pork again (BBQd ribs the first night; the famed Ibu Oka roast suckling pig the next day for lunch, and a BLT that same night). Bali is the only surviving Hindu culture (mixed with Animism) in a Muslim country and it doesn’t have any rules against serving up pig.

A fresh-water shower is a welcome luxury after a month of bathing in salt, and my favourite restaurant, Cinta, still serves up knockout 2 for 1 happy hour mojitos. My hotel balcony with its huge day bed faces west, where the sun sets red over the rice fields and coconut trees. I always enjoy stepping gingerly around the little palm-basket offerings that are scattered on every sidewalk here (the Balinese believe that spirits inhabit every home, temple, business, tree, construction site, cave, etc and place offerings out several times a day – some up high to please the gods, and some on the ground to placate the demons). Despite the growing tourism and the shrinking rice fields, the culture still seeps out of every pore of the city, carried along by the waft of spicy incense. These are a beautiful, exotic people, on a beautiful, exotic island.

It is my last day in Indonesia. Tomorrow this woman of a certain age will load up her backpack and head south to the airport and on to the granddaddy of Southeast Asia, Bangkok, for one last night of sweat and spring rolls before the long trip back to Canada, where the cold and the dark threaten to swallow me alive.

During this month, I have savoured every morsel of food. I have marvelled at sunsets and friends and simple things, and I have said a hundred silent thanks for all of them. I have embraced every moment with an open heart, even the seemingly dull ones.

Book or no book, certain age or not – I did indeed Eat, Pray, and Love.

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