Temple in Ubud

A Silent but not so Quiet Retreat

Entrance to my room
Entrance to my room

I spent my last few days in Bali at the Bali Silent Retreat, which is set among the rice paddies and jungle about an hour and half north west of Ubud. I arrived in the early afternoon. The Angel Office Lady greeted me, showed me a video and gave me a tour of the retreat. After that, it was all silence!

My room had a balcony overlooking the jungle. There was no window, just a bamboo blind, so I could lie on my bed and look and listen in solitude. Just because it was silent, didn’t mean it was quiet! Myriads of sounds accompanied the early morning meditation as the sun came up. First the cicadas and cockerels, followed by the birds and the frogs, early morning prayers from the temple, and lastly motor scooters and voices. It was worth getting up just to listen to this cacophony.

Jungle view from my balcony
Jungle view from my balcony

After meditation, which I still find elusive, and yoga, it was time for breakfast. The food was all vegan and wonderful and despite thinking at each meal I would only have one serving, I often returned for ‘seconds’. All the produce came from the garden so was fresh and imaginatively cooked. If I wanted a hot drink, I made it yourself from herbs, ginger, turmeric and/or limes. There was not a tea bag in sight!

Each morning an activity was scheduled. During these I was permitted to talk and as I participated each morning I cheated somewhat on the silence rule! The first morning, we visited Luhur Batugaru Temple. Our transport was an old Beemo which, once upon a time, had been used for public transport. It had definitely seen better days! It was the day of the Full Moon, so the temple was full of Balinese bringing their offerings and saying their prayers, it being one of their special temple days. Family groups gathered for photos all dressed in their temple clothes which were white, yellow and/or red. Most carried colourful woven baskets containing their offerings, which comprised a woven container, flowers, money and food at the very least.

Part of the vegetable gardens at the Silent Retreat
Part of the vegetable gardens at the Silent Retreat
Rice planting at Bali Silent Retreat
Rice planting at Bali Silent Retreat
Post rice planting legs!
Post rice planting legs!

On the second day, I did a garden tour, with the head gardener. He guided us through the extensive retreat gardens where they made their own compost and kept cows solely for their manure. We also met Simon, whose garden was adjacent and who had started as the chef at the Silent Retreat. He was now the advisory chef at Zest in Ubud and had started the New Earth Cooking School which he had set up in an old chicken shed across the rice paddies from the Silent Retreat. During the trip across the fields to show us his kitchen, he stopped to chat to a family planting rice. We duly found ourselves knee deep in squelchy mud and assisting with the planting!

Simon demonstrating at the Cooking School
Simon demonstrating at the Cooking School

The following day was most enjoyable. Along with several others, I attended the cooking class in which Simon showed us how to cook whatever was in his garden. The fruit and vegetables were nothing like the vegetables and fruit that would grow at home so there would have to be some adapting to re-create the recipes. We had a delicious lunch together at the end of the class in which we ate what we had produced (although Simon and his team of kitchen staff had done most of the work!)

New Earth Cooking School in an old chicken shed
New Earth Cooking School in an old chicken shed

After lunch, yoga and meditation was scheduled, but I was far too lazy for that and lounged in my room instead, reading and enjoying the sounds. There was a Fire Ceremony on the night of the Full Moon. This required a small fire made from cow dung and ghee. It involved much repetitive chanting whilst we all made an offering and privately thought of a change we required in our lives. In theory, the ceremony assists in the fulfillment of this desire. Time will tell!

Offering at a statue at my Airbnb
Offering at a statue at my Airbnb

After four days, I was not ready to leave but my time was up. However, I still had time to take the trip to the nearby Hot Pools where I had a warm soak in an almost empty pool before returning to Ubud for the last two nights. I arrived in torrential rain. My Airbnb had no car access, and I didn’t recognise the place my driver had stopped. Luckily, he phoned my host and a scooter duly arrived that took first my suitcase and then me on the back – another stylish arrival, this time draped in a bright yellow plastic cape kindly provided by my host. My room was large, my bathroom luxurious, and I had a huge verandah that accommodated a comfy settee, table and chairs, and a kitchen. It was the best accommodation to date. There was an abundance of warungs and assorted cafes within easy walking distance so I had a comfortable end to my stay.

I caught the Perama shuttle bus to the airport on my leaving day. This meant a long wait at the airport because of the timing. I wanted to catch a later bus but when booking I was advised to take the earlier one. Traffic was so dense and unreliable in Denpasar that it was difficult to know how long the journey would take and the later one might not have arrived in time. I played it safe and did a lot of reading before joining the long queues at security and immigration.

Fountain at Ananda Cottages

Yoga, massages and food

Headstand!
Headstand!

I spent the following week with a group of ladies from Taupo at a retreat in Ubud organised by our yoga teacher. I caught the bus from Candidasa and arrived two hours later in Ubud. It was not as I expected, being much busier and more touristy. When the bus parked at the terminal, a man with a lovely smile asked if I needed a taxi. I did, and he had one – a scooter! I was dubious and couldn’t see how my heavy suitcase would fit on it. No problem! He propped it on his lap and could just see over the top. I hopped on behind and arrived in style at Ananda Cottages, a rather more upmarket resort than my normal standard of accommodation. I suspect their guests rarely arrive on the back of a scooter. The ride was fun, cheap and a much easier way to navigate around the congestion of Ubud town centre. I’m glad I wasn’t driving though.

The rest of the week comprised yoga in the mornings in a ‘bale’ with a view of the rice paddies, and relaxing by the pool, shopping or eating in the afternoons. I spent one entire afternoon at Candida Zest where I had a massage, a facial (bliss!) and a manicure, all for about half the price of a one hour massage in N.Z. I also had the best massage I have ever had in my room, with Ajung, a tiny lady with a lot of strength!

On another afternoon I visited the Pyramids of Chi. These had been built by an Australian who had had a ‘vision’ when meditating. Inside, a variety of gongs were played for an hour and the sound reverberated around the inside walls of the pyramid. The effect of the sound on the listener varies for each individual with some having dreams, enlightenment and/or healing. I just felt very relaxed and kept nodding off!

Moon above a temple in Ubud
Moon above a temple in Ubud

Some unwelcome excitement arrived in the middle of one night in the form of an earthquake followed by aftershocks. Thankfully for us, the epicentre was in Lombok but the poor people there had already suffered from two big earthquakes in the last few weeks so it must have been very frightening for them. I have never felt such a lengthy, rolling tremor and found it unnerving. There was much reassuring chat on our Messenger group and bags were packed with passports and money just in case we had to evacuate quickly.

In the evenings the group congregated at ‘The Gin Palace’, aka Room 19, at 5pm where much gin was imbibed before we moved on to a restaurant. We were spoiled for choice for places to eat with a large selection and excellent food at a cheap price within walking distance. I can recommend Zest and the Elephant, both of which are especially good for lunch. We had one memorable night at Mozaic, a Michelin star restaurant that had a ‘degustation’ menu. The garden setting was superb, the food outstanding and the company excellent.

We finished the week with a laughing yoga session which was another first experience for me. It is amazing how many ways you can make yourself laugh (and fool the brain into producing more serotonin).

The week went too quickly, and we were soon departing and going our separate ways. In my case, it was to the Bali Silent Retreat.

Decoration on my verandah

Sore muscles and trip to the market

Decorated statue in the house opposite mine
Decorated statue in the house opposite mine

For the next two days I had difficulty walking. I had not factored in the effect 1,700 steps would have on my calf muscles, having focused my concern on the state of my lungs during the hike. It was agony every time I rose from the lounger. I ventured out for lunch and succumbed to a European style cafe with salads and green juice. I needed my veggies! In the evening I tried a middle range warung. This one had checked tablecloths, an atmosphere reminiscent of a Greek taverna and was more to my liking. Unfortunately, the food was mediocre and my meat more than a little chewy. The satay sauce bore no resemblance to that of the previous evening but I suspect it was more typical of the Balinese style than the one adapted for Western tastes. The prices for the meals in the warungs ranged from $3 – $6 NZ with some charging tax and service. There was no obvious reason for which ones would do this or why.

Daily offering on the pavement outside a shop
Daily offering on the pavement outside a shop

On my last day in Candidasa, the weather changed. There was a feeling of impending rain, the sky remained overcast the entire day and it was cool with a brisk sea breeze. I rose at 5am to accompany Komang to the local market she visited every day to buy supplies for the family. On the back of her scooter, it felt cold, and the temperature didn’t impress Komang! The market wasn’t big and several stalls were closed because of Independence Day. There were vendors selling fruit and vegetables, fish and an abundance of the flowers and containers used for offerings. I followed Komang around and at one stall tried various Balinese rice cakes which were served on a banana leaf and topped with shredded coconut and palm sugar. That was my first breakfast of the morning!

On our way home it was getting light and at one point we had a beautiful view of Mt Agung silhouetted beyond the rice paddies. I had a second breakfast and spent the rest of the day lounging and reading. I also joined Komang in her kitchen whilst she cooked corn fritters (bedalung) and had lunch with her family – a delicious tempeh, fried bean sprouts, rice, prawns and the corn fritters, all cooked with copious amounts of garlic but, thankfully, not too much chilli! As I told her, it was the best warung I had been to. I didn’t need dinner that night.