So after not giving Ubud a raving review, we had some pretty fantastic and delicious experiences in the town. On the advice of our friends Charles and Kate (who came over from Colorado to hike with us in Nepal) as well as another couple we met in Laos (who we ran into again on the streets of Ubud – craziness!), we signed up to do a bike tour. After starting the day with breakfast overlooking one of Bali’s volcanoes and the ocean in the distance, we spent the rest of the day cruising on our bikes (downhill) through the Balinese countryside. Our guide, Wayan (what nearly every first child in Bali is named – boy or girl – so he called himself Joe) was a hilarious little man who learned to speak English from a British woman and had the most amazing British/Balinese accent. He took us into small villages where we witnessed festival preparations (the Balinese have a LOT of festivals and celebrations), and we stopped in family compounds where he introduced us to locals. He walked us through the rice planting and harvesting processes, and put some of our group members to work. He led the way on his bicycle through picturesque terraced rice fields down little paths surrounded by palm trees. And at the end of it all, we were rewarded with a fantastic buffet lunch that blew us away. After getting the feeling that Bali was crowded and that Ubud lacked character, a quick trip out into the countryside reaffirmed that the real Bali is still out there and thriving, and it’s not far outside the tourist bubble if you want to find it.
Our other memorable activity from Ubud was an evening cultural show. Sure it was pretty touristy, however, the one we saw was the work of an entire village. Everyone had a role in the show and everyone benefited from the proceeds. The men and boys had a majority of the roles as they chanted, danced and acted out a traditional story. I was impressed with the camaraderie amongst the group as I could not imagine anything comparable in our culture. The Balinese are a very tight-knit group and without the support of or role in your family unit, you’d essentially be a social outcast. The show was incredibly entertaining and stimulating. Unrelated to the story that had just been enacted, the night concluded with one gentleman performing a fire dance, walking over and kicking through hot coals. It was quite the sight to see his black, ashen feet at the end of the performance – proof of the coals’ burning temperatures. We ended our fun evening back at a Balinese tapas restaurant we discovered and loved, and left Ubud the next day feeling happy we went but ready to move on.