It was with much sorrow that we left our villa home on Thursday afternoon. Check-out wasn’t until noon, which gave us plenty of time to open our last bottle of Prosecco and sip mimosas poolside before a driver picked us up to convey us to Ubud, a relaxing one-hour drive away from the beach and into the mountains and rice terraces.
Where Canggu was blue and sandy and salty-breezed, Ubud was lush and green, with overgrown temples and streets shaded by drooping trees.
Our hotel, Warwick Ibah, was breathtaking from the outset. A hotel-temple hybrid, the place is mostly moss-covered stone with rooms built into walls that looked ancient. We were welcomed into an open-air lobby with a fragrant dome of frangipani in a bowl. They gave us cold towels to pat down our sweaty faces, and welcome drinks of turmeric and orange juice in martini glasses.
We were shown to our room, a spacious suite with a bathroom – and tub! – overlooking the hillside, a balcony that was large and open and overlooking the ridge walk, and then our bedroom, with a wide canopy bed in the center.
This was nothing, though, compared to the pool, which was cool and deep and surrounded by winding temple walls. In one wall, two archways were carved into the stone deep enough for a sun bed, and Mel and I relaxed inside the wall with cocktails and the deep sighs that signify total relaxation.
We slotted in a massage after, and then met Kristen and Andrew in the lobby to head to dinner at Indus, an Indonesian restaurant nearby that boasted green views of hills and a mountain in the background.
Kristen and Andrew were headed to the airport straight from dinner, so we enjoyed our last bit of catch-up with them as they told us about their volcano excursion that day.
“Our guide told us so much. Did you know that everybody gets cremated when they die here? But unless you’re rich and can afford it, you have to cremate your dead relatives in a public cremation, which only happens once every three years,” Andrew told us. “So if someone dies, you bury them, and then you dig them back up for the cremation.”
Over appetizers, he told us about how their guide’s aunt had died of cancer, and when he dug her back up for her cremation, her body had actually been preserved because of the chemicals used in cancer treatment. The ultimate irony.
“Usually the body is decomposed, but hers wasn’t completely,” Andrew said. “And you have to get all of the bones. They lay the skeletons out and put them together, because if you forget a bone, it means they’re going to suffer in the afterlife.”
“Well yeah, because they’ll be missing a bone and that’s painful,” Melanie agreed.
The next day, while driving back from a yoga class, my driver would point out that traffic was especially congested because there was a cremation happening. It didn’t seem so out of the ordinary to me, thanks to Andrew’s info.
Melanie visited the monkey forest while I did yoga. She loves monkeys, and sees them as kindred spirits (or at least I do, on her behalf) because they’re both playful, enjoy jumping on things, and are generally happy in life, I think.
I believe, with all of my heart, that if I had stepped foot in the monkey forest, they would have descended on me like their winged Wizard of Oz cousins and devoured me alive.
Okay, maybe not devoured alive, but definitely pickpocketed.
I left Melanie to her furry friends and I took a vinyasa class at the Yoga Barn, which was recommended to me by all of my yoga-loving friends. It was definitely a cool experience, and with a spot in the front by the open windows overlooking a verdant mountain exterior, I felt rejuvenated.
From there, I headed to Bridges to meet Melanie, Jenny, and Andrea for lunch. We sat down at a semi-outdoor area overlooking an old pedestrian bridge that spanned a green ravine. A few glasses of white wine and some good food later, we all left feeling pretty at ease with the world.
Maybe a little too at ease. Back at the hotel, Mel and I decided we’d try to rent a moped to visit the rice terraces, but all I could think about was napping. Even after a shower, I felt superbly tired, and negotiating a moped was not fun.
We’d found a rental place across the street, but they’d didn’t have helmets and would have to venture out to find us two. As Mel tested out the bike, she noted that there was no gas.
“Ah, gas is broken,” the man told us.
“But how can we see how much gas is in it?” she asked, wisely. The last thing we wanted to was to run out of gas in the middle of a rice field at night.
“One liter,” he said. “All of these have one liter.”
“But how far will that get us?”
“About 3 kilometers.”
“How much time is that? How long?”
“Maybe 20 minutes,” he said. “But you can get gas.”
He then tried to give us directions to a gas station, which didn’t seem on our way. The man still hadn’t returned with our helmets, so we got our money back and hailed a taxi instead.
Despite the hassle, it was worth it. The rice terraces were more touristy than I’d have liked, but they were beautiful nonetheless. Once we got passed the initial descent that featured a swing, some nests you could sit in for photographs, and drinks shops, we were greeted with quiet, windy stone paths through fluffy green rice fields.
Of course, about halfway through, someone started swinging on one of the swings and shouting each time he found himself suspended over the rice ravine, which was not the peaceful walk we’d imagined, but what can you do?
We ended our walk at a small shop overlooking the terraces, where Mel ordered a tasty gelato and I tried to find energy in a Diet Coke.
We caught the sunset on the way back to the hotel, where we showered and changed to meet Jenny and Andrea at The Elephant, a vegetarian restaurant with rave reviews online. It did not disappoint. The cocktails were okay, and apart from poor Andrea leaving early because she didn’t feel well, the night was perfect.
We ended it next door at the sister restaurant, aptly named Dumbo, where we ordered cocktails. The highlight of the evening was Jenny ordering a Gin Rickey, which I’d never heard of. Mel and I were served first and it seemed as if Jenny had been forgotten.
“Oh, no. It is being prepared,” said the waiter, gesturing to the upstairs area.
Eventually, the bartender returned with an assortment of items including a lemon, a bottle of gin, and a blowtorch.
What followed was a display of drink-making that reached circus proportions of epic-ness. The lemon was paved with a mixture of brown and white sugar, topped with thyme, and then roasted by the blowtorch and covered with an upturned glass. The drink itself was mixed right in front of us, and then the glass was removed from the lemon and the burnt-sugar top scraped neatly off in a perfect, crisp disc. It was dropped into the drink with finesse and our applause.
I thought it was the perfect end to the trip: a little flair, good taste, and ending on a high note.
At 4:50am, Mel and I woke up and headed to the airport, where we sipped mimosas in a little cafe overlooking the runway.
Even as I write this, sitting in the Shang in Manila, watching people pass beneath the scorching sun with their umbrellas open wide, I still feel the fizz of the ocean foam and the restorative vibes of a good vacation. This will last approximately 12 more hours, before I return to work tomorrow, but the respite is so worth it and welcome.
And, it should be said, I am super grateful to have Mel to travel with. Her company was perfection, and the fact that we met up with so many friends outside of work was also a joy. I am a stressed out, shell of a human when I am here in Manila. I am more myself on vacation, as I think we all are, and it’s nice to see people and have adventures when you are all free from the stress and manic atmosphere of work.
Until next time, Bali.