It seems to me that many people come to Ubud, Bali’s cultural hub, looking for something – whether it’s relaxation, spiritual enlightenment or true love (this was, after all, the place where Elizabeth Gilbert famously completed her travel trifecta).
Upon realizing this, I also started thinking that I wasn’t really sure what I came for. I just knew the place was supposed to be beautiful. And it is… beyond words. It’s a place where you immediately notice that the people are as warm as the weather and where around every corner you discover a new piece of architectural eye candy adorned with elaborate floral offerings to appease the Hindu deities. Every home even has its own ornate temple for crying out loud!
Anyways, while the other “women of a certain age” set out to find their spiritual guides and second husbands, I proceeded directly to the Monkey Forest for some bonding of a different sort. My friend Jess has joined Craig and I for this leg of the trip and the two of them convinced me to check my fear of humanoid creatures at the forest entrance and get up close and personal with Ubud’s monkey population.
Residents of the Monkey Forest, an area of jungle in the centre of town, may look cute and shy, but they’re anything but. Turn your back to these macaques for even a second and they’ll steal your earrings, snatch your wallet and peek up your skirt as they’re sliding down your shin. There are also rumours that many of them are rabid…so now you understand my hesitation at the forest gate.
I’ve yet to begin foaming at the mouth, but the trip inside the forest was still quite terrifying. We discovered that monkeys, like humans, all seem to have their own personalities. Some lay about lazily scratching their furry stomachs, while others cower in corners suspiciously sharpening rocks. Some are horny, taking every opportunity to hump a neighbour. Some are industrious, busily picking nits off their friends. And some, the more horrifying ones, run around screaming and biting.
In celebration of making it out of the Monkey Forest alive, Jess and I decided to take a trip to the spa – all of Ubud is basically a health retreat with gourmet vegetarian food and massages on offer at virtually every establishment. We chose a different sort of spa though – the fish spa. Basically you plunk your tootsies in a vat of carnivorous tadpoles (they’re actually apparently a Turkish breed of fish called garra rufa) and let them have at it. They (apparently) chomp away your calluses and give you a natural exfoliation treatment, though I couldn’t really notice the affect they had, if any. After I got over my initial disgust, it was sort of like being submerged in a fizzy bath. Even so, I don’t think I’ll be returning for a follow-up treatment any time soon.
With these novelties out of the way, we’ve spent our past two days exploring Bali’s real treasures – its small country villages, healing yoga retreats and the sorts of spas where more than human flesh is on the menu (in fact, for the same price as getting munched by minnows you can have a massage, exfoliation and rose petal bath!). Yesterday we took part in a “Restorative” yoga class in a jungle pavilion and today we spent the half the day cycling the island’s interior learning about Balinese culture, watching roosters train for careers as cock-fighters, and high-fiving the local kids as we rode through their villages.
I’ve got to say, I didn’t come to Ubud with any real agenda, but I think I’ve managed to inadvertently get just as much out of the place as the Eat, Pray, Love set.
We were discussing this over drinks last night and Jess made a good point: You always make the most poignant discoveries when you go into something with no expectations.