I woke up 15 minutes before my alarm was set to go off. Excitement overcame me when I remembered that today was the day we would be traveling to Ubud. Months ago before I got on a plane to the other side of the world, my aunt had told me about her travels abroad. We flipped through my grandparents yellowed “1,000 Places to Visit Before You Die” book and she told me numerous stories about her solo trip to Asia many years ago. I mentioned that I wanted to find time to visit Bali but that Kacy and I had decided on going to Thailand at the end of our program instead. She told me that if I did go to Bali, I needed to visit Ubud. Today I was going to do just that.
We quickly got our things together and began our long walk to Taylor, Jeremy, and Elle’s place. The shop keepers were just beginning to unload their merchandise and the streets were slowly filling with cars and motor bikes. We walked as fast as our legs allowed and made it to our meeting spot- a little cafe at the end of the drive into our friends’ hotel. They finished their food and we walked down the street a little ways to a mini-mart, where we bought snacks for the day. Shortly after, we were loading into BongBong’s (a friend of Jeremy’s who owns a taxi business) SUV and headed into the stop and go traffic of Bali.
An hour and a half of crazy traffic later, we arrived at our first stop in Ubud; the Monkey Forest. BongBong let us out at the entrance to the forest and went to go find parking. A row of parking spaces revealed that the forest was already full of visitors and that it would be a while before BongBong found somewhere to settle in while we explored. Across the street from the main entrance monkeys swung through the trees above the shops. Thrilled from seeing my first wild monkey, we exchanged our money for a ticket and headed through a large moss covered stone arch and into the forest.
Walking down a narrow pebble paved path led us directly to an open area in the jungle with statues and man made pools scattered all around. The monkeys were everywhere! Workers carried around bunches of bananas that could be purchased and fed to the monkeys. Others came around with brooms and dust pans to sweep up the mess once the monkeys were done eating their sweet snacks.
The forest was huge! Paths like the one pictured above weaved in and out of the more dense jungle area, along a small river, and through more open spaces. Monkeys could be seen and heard in every direction. People used their bananas like bate to get the monkeys to hop on their shoulders for a good picture. Sometimes, bananas weren’t even needed for the little fur balls to hop on to your back!
The little creatures were smart. Twice I ended up with monkeys on my back! The only way to get them off was to give them something else that they desired, or to spin around and fling them off. Touching them or taking something from them was not an option. I saw many people almost get bitten by the monkeys and I had a few of them hiss at me when I refused to give them my water. There were a few little baby monkeys like the one below living in the forest. They clung to their mothers stomachs for easy transportation and wrestled around with their friends, oblivious to the human visitors watching in awe.
We spend a couple of hours in the forest, walking along and taking hundreds of pictures. We were soaked in sweat by then end of our time there. The humidity and heat made the forest almost unbearable and standing in the sun felt like a punishment. We left the forest and met up with BongBong- thankful to be in an air conditioned vehicle once again.
Our next stop was at Puri Saren- Ubud Royal Palace. Located at the intersection of two busy streets, BongBong had to drop us off at the palaces door step and drive around until we were done looking. The palace itself was crafted almost completely from stone that had been carved with traditional balinese design. Some garden spaces and green trees with bright flowers were scattered throughout the structure. We weren’t able to actually go into the inner parts of the palace, but the courtyards were beautiful.
We left the palace and waited across the street near a restaurant (with free wifi!) while BongBong headed back to pick up our group of travelers. Up next we went somewhere that I wasn’t too sure I wanted to visit originally; the Luwak coffee plantation. We were immediately greeted by one of the tour guides who led us along a path that edged along a sloping hill. The plants lining the paths had little wooden labels telling us what they were. The guide pointed out the different types of coffee trees they grow, as well as cocoa, vanilla, cinnamon, ginger, tobacco and more. Finally we reached an area with two large chicken wire cages on one side and a women sitting and stirring an large pan of coffee beans over a fire on the other. Our guide brought us close to the cages, where two civets slept on a raised platform. They are nocturnal animals who eat the coffee plants and poop out the beans. Those beans are then collected by workers, cleaned off, dried in the hot sun for three days, and hand roasted for over an hour. After that, the beans had to be ground up, strained, then ground some more until all that was left is a very fine powder.
After we’d each tried to grind the coffee and looked at the civets, we were ushered down the path once again to a coffee stand where a man was brewing some luwak coffee. He told us about the brewing process and then led us to a large wooden table underneath a palm shelter and left to go get us samples of the coffees and teas.
We tried mango rose tea, ginseng tea, ginger tea, lemongrass tea, vanilla coffee, chocolate coffee, ginseng coffee, plain coffee, and more. After the cups had been passed around once for everyone to try, we each picked a favorite flavor to finish ourselves. I stuck with the fruity tea because my caffeine sensitivity would ruin my day if had anymore. Kacy, Claire, and Taylor each ordered a cup of the Luwak coffee- when else would we have the opportunity? Elle told us that single cups of the stuff can reach up to $100 USD in places like France, where they import it. Here, they were able to enjoy a cup for about $5. I sipped on some and I must admit, it tasted pretty damn good! Maybe it was so great because good coffee has been hard to find in Australia, or just because I hadn’t had caffeine in so long. We then explored the gift shop for a while, choosing what to take home to enjoy later. I got some of the chocolate coffee for my caffeine addicted mother, and some cigars for my classy father (don’t worry, he only smokes them at family reunions with his brothers once a year). Prizes in hand and stomachs demanding food, we left the plantation and headed to the Tegallalang rice fields.
This cafe sits atop a the same sloping landscape. The land had been carved out to make room for rice patties years and years ago. We got a little table at the bottom of the three-tiered cafe and sat on pillows around a low table.
We ordered our traditional balinese lunches (fried rice for me!) and enjoyed the view while we ate. After putting all of our money together to cover the dinner bill (restaurants never split checks and always required cash) we headed over to the a steep, seemingly endless staircase to the bottom of the terraces. My knees were aching by the time we reached the start of the hike, but I was eager to keep going. For the next few hours we explored the vast man-made area.
At the top of the trail there was a sign pointing to the right that said “freshwater spring” and one to the right saying “rice terraces”. Jeremy, Taylor and Elle went to the right, ahead of Nicole and I. We stopped to take pictures and the three of them came back and said “you don’t want to go there. It wasn’t that great. Plus there’s a bunch of naked old guys swimming.” So, Nicole and I turned around and headed for the rice terraces! For the next few hours we explored and enjoyed the beautiful views. Throughout the hike we could hear flute music. We arrived near the top of a hill and could hear the lovely sound getting louder. A little ways off of the main trail was a wooden shack with a palm roof and an old Indonesian man inside. He called us over and offered us a fresh coconut, which we happily accepted. I felt like I had sweated out all of the water I’d had that day.
He showed us pictures of his family and the travelers that he’s met over the years of living there. We learned that he’d been working the rice fields for several years and when it’s off season, he does other agricultural work and sells items too. It was getting dark by this time, so we decided to head back.
By the time we got back in the car and headed back to Jeremy, Taylor and Elle’s, we were totally exhausted and hungry again. We showered off our sweat, sunscreen, and bug spray and got changed. Soon, our friends picked us up and took us to Potato Head, a fancy restaurant right on the beach. We ordered drinks, shared a variety of delicious food, talked, laughed, and enjoyed the warm evening.
We were all silent on the way home, totally taken over by exhaustion. We got in our pajamas and then collapsed into our beds and fell asleep listening to the sound of the frogs and crickets outside our windows.