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.

Ujung Water Palace Gardens

Steps, more steps and water gardens

Getting the Instagram photo
Getting the Instagram photo

Public transport is limited in Bali so the following day, I had arranged for Kadek, my driver from the airport, to take me to Pura Lempuyan and one or two other places along the east coast. I had read about this temple, or rather complex of temples, and wanted to climb the 1,700 steps to the top one.

We drove up a busy, windy road out of Candidasa which afforded a beautiful view over the rice fields to Mt Agung. Kadek then took a country road after Bugbug so I could get a glimpse of village life. At one point, an official diverted traffic along an even smaller road as the main road was closed for a ceremony at the village temple. There were temples everywhere I looked. Aside from the village temples, each family has their own and there were also the important ones which everyone visited on special days.

Pura Lempuyan was up a steep, zigzag road. At the top were many cars, scooters and tourists. I hadn’t appreciated that a photo of this temple on Instagram when Mt Agung was erupting had made it so popular. The photographer had captured the eruption through the gates to the first temple. Now, every social media selfie addict came here to take the same photo (albeit without the eruption). There were queues and queues. Few visitors went further than the second temple. I didn’t join the queue.

I wasn’t intending to get a guide to walk up the steps, particularly when I saw the price. This ranged from 100,000 IRD to 400,000 IRD depending how far up you went. I succumbed and paid the equivalent of $40NZ to walk to the top with Kadek, a 22-year-old young woman. The Balinese have five commonly used names that show their order of birth in the family. This can be confusing to the foreigner (me) when they meet many Wayans, Kadeks or Komangs!

Queues for photos below
Queues for photos below

As we walked, or rather struggled in my case, up the 1,700 steps, I learned a lot about Kadek and her life. She had 2 children and was still breast-feeding the 2-year-old. Her husband didn’t work. She had to get up, cook for the day, if she wasn’t starting at 5am as she had that day, feed the children, clean the house, fetch firewood and shop for food. Her husband seemed unreliable about looking after and feeding the children whilst she was at work so she was constantly worrying. Recently, her husband had installed a toilet at their house, using the cash she had saved and stored in the bamboo of her bed. The squat toilet had a dirt floor and a bucket of water for flushing. It was not luxurious by my Western standards but she was delighted as she no longer had to go to the river.

She also told me about the temples and had bought rice, flowers and offerings for the prayers at the top temple. It was a ritualized prayer which they do 3 times a day either at the shrines in their homes or at the temple. Her family temple was at Pura Lempuyan and was one of the seven temples on the mountain.

I was lucky today. The cloud around Mt Agung cleared, so I had a beautiful view of that and Mt Batur. Not everyone is so fortunate. By the time I returned to the car I was extremely tired. The round trip had taken about 4 hours. I don’t know how the lady worker we chatted to near the top had already gone up and down ten times from the 2nd temple that day. One of the aggressive monkeys had bitten her several months ago, and she showed me the large bite mark which had taken 3 months to heal. It is a hard life for some women.

Mt Agung from the sixth temple
Mt Agung from the sixth temple

Kadek, my driver, next took me to Tirta Ganga, a water garden built by the last king in 1946. A volcanic eruption in 1963 destroyed it and it has since been re-built. Here, the selfie brigade was out in force and occupied most of the paving stones in the first pool. I walked in the opposite direction and stopped to admire the enormous golden carp in one pool and the somewhat grotesque statues depicting mythical characters that abound everywhere. There is no doubt it is a beautiful garden but there were too many people for me.

Tirta Ganga
Tirta Ganga

Our last stop of the day was Ujung Water Palace near Amlapura. I left Kadek waiting in the car once again and wandered around the tranquil gardens at a gentle pace, up and down yet more steps and along the edges of the pools. It was a perfect time of day to visit with the sun setting in the west and views of the mountains in the distance. Soothing Balinese music emanated from one of the buildings. If I hadn’t been so tired and conscious of the time, I would have sat and mused for a while. However, it was back to the car and home, where I arrived about 5.30pm after a wonderful if exhausting day.

Looking down on the water gardens
Looking down on the water gardens
Ujung Water Palace
Ujung Water Palace

That evening I tried a different warung for dinner. I had had nothing to eat since my potato omelette breakfast and a lurid orange sweet bread that Kadek (my guide) had shared with me at the top of Pura Lempuyan. I was starving! This warung had crisp white table cloths, comfortable chairs and good service. It was one or two steps up from the previous evening! A basket of delicious crisps accompanied by beer and I tried not to devour them all before my satay arrived. This was served still sizzling on a small charcoal burner. It was all delicious!

Beach by my accommodation

A relaxing day in Candidasa

I emerged from the arrivals hall at Denpasar airport in Bali. A sea of faces, all holding signs with names on them, greeted me. I scanned the line in search of my driver but couldn’t spot him. After doing a loop around and still not seeing him, I reluctantly checked my phone messages. He was there holding the black and white chequered Balinese flag. I had missed him amongst the masses.

We were soon out of the airport and battling the dense traffic through Denpasar before continuing up the east coast to Candidasa. I had booked an Airbnb hoping to be away from the tourist crowds around Kuta. It was slow progress, with scores of scooters zipping in between the cars and trucks. At last, rice fields and banana trees appeared instead of buildings. Two hours after landing, I arrived at my home for the next 5 days. Komang showed me my room, which was a typical Balinese style ‘villa’ in the family compound. By then it was 7pm local time but my body clock indicated it was 4 hours later. It was an early night.

The lotus pond
The lotus pond
Entrance to a large house
Entrance to a large house

The next day I explored Candidasa, having eaten my first breakfast banana pancake and sampled Balinese style coffee, which is not coffee as I know it. I went for a stroll around the large lotus pond situated between the busy main highway and the sea. It was a tranquil haven away from the constant roar of traffic.

Afterwards I ventured into the village area at the east end of town. Areas of very large houses were close to poorer ones in which small dwellings nestled amongst the banana and coconut trees beneath which pigs and cows grazed. Everyone nodded or smiled a ‘hello’ and several scooter riders stopped to ask if I needed a taxi.

Returning to the main road, I ambled to the other end of town, passing souvenir and clothes shops, cafes and restaurants along the way. On my return I went in search of lunch which I found at the bar on the beach in the form of an omelette and Bintang (local beer). My table was under a woven bamboo roof and shaded and had a view of the turquoise sea and a jetty, at the end of which was a covered area where a massage was in progress.

Lunchtime view
Lunchtime view

At ‘home’ I spent the next hour reading on a wooden bench above the beach having had a dip in the warm sea. In front of my lodging, the water almost reached the concrete wall. The coral hurt my feet and the current was strong, so I had walked further along to a small sandy area, shielded by a concrete pier. Once upon a time Candidasa had had a beautiful white sand beach which attracted tourists; that is until locals broke up a reef to use the coral for building. Erosion annihilated the beach which all but disappeared. They then built concrete barriers into the sea to protect what remained. Hopefully, they also learned a lesson!

Beach by my accommodation
Beach by my accommodation

I rounded off the afternoon with a pedicure and a massage by Wayan, reputedly one of the best masseurs in Bali. Having no comparison, I wouldn’t know but she was excellent (if firm!) and well worth the $15NZ.

For dinner I wandered down to the night markets at the end of town. The amount of activity in the road bemused me. People lined the street, either sitting on the edge of the pavement or on plastic chairs they had brought with them. There was a lot of music and noise. Groups of men were marching along in front of vehicles full of people dancing. Music blared from boom boxes on the backs of the trucks. I discovered the next day that this was one of the many events for Independence Day which is on 17 August. The groups were marching a distance of 45kms to Amlapura, the capital of Karangasem district, where the main events of the day would take place. The atmosphere was vibrant, and I continued to watch from my plastic stool at the warung whilst I enjoyed a cheap but non-descript chicken curry. I think they had forgotten the flavouring!

Independence Day flags outside police station
Independence Day flags outside police station