On to the next stage of our Balinese adventure, renting a villa in Penestanan, where we can cut our daily restaurant visits down from 3+ to a more palatable 1.5. Other than not moving around as much, really our only other goal here is to do a lot of walking to prepare our feet and legs for the obscene amount of hiking we expect to be taking on in New Zealand next month. Penestanan is more or less a suburb of the ever-growing and sprawling city of Ubud (pop. 30,000). Ubud is famously known as the cultural and artistic heart of Bali – filled with temples, art galleries, craft shops, yoga centres, organic cafes and meditation spas (with hour-long massages for just $10 – real massages, I assume, the kind where you are not at risk of contracting chlamydia). There are also loads of what appear to be middle-aged divorcees who have flocked here to rent villas over the past couple years in hopes that constructing their own personal approximation of Eat Pray Love will inevitably lead to a long list of epiphanies, personal enlightenment, lips just like those of Julia Roberts and, eventually, a steamy love affair with Hollywood’s version of the perfect man (i.e. quirky sense of humour, good-looking in a non-conventional way, would never dream of messing around on the love of his life, but good news, she’s dead, so game on). Although from what I’ve seen so far the reality is mostly just sitting in trendy cafes drinking expensive juice smoothies and eating gluten-free chocolate cake while surfing the internet on a Macbook Air. But at least here they can do that in a sundress.
Anyway, despite it being basically the polar opposite of a place you’d go to find sports bars or the like, I still found it mildly shocking to discover that I could walk around Ubud for literally two straight hours without finding a single place showing the Super Bowl. And as if that wasn’t hard enough to fathom, where the hell are the Irish pubs? There is no way this is the only tourist enclave in the civilized world without at least one bar brandishing a sign featuring cloverleaves and a Guiness banner with no further Irish connection to speak of. Is there? I’ll research this further and get back to you. Either way, those were two very frustrating hours spent in the hot sun, not to mention two hours of constantly disappointing the hundreds of local guys loitering on sidewalks eagerly asking every person who walks past if they would like a taxi. Even though some of them actually prepare for work ahead of time by preparing a single laminated sheet of paper stating simply “taxi”, just in case there remained any niggling doubts, I still continuously opted to pass. Despite the crowds, the traffic issues, the taxi boys, etc. Ubud still feels more, well, “Balinese”, I suppose, compared with the more hectic beach areas like Kuta, for example. And Penestanan, where we are staying, is basically a small village about half an hour walk from the centre of Ubud, boasting all the wonderful ease and tranquility that such separation suggests.
For our stay here Laynni talked me into a relative splurge, and we ended up booking a month in a fairly luxurious villa by our standards. It is a two bedroom, since Laynni’s parents will be joining us for the last part of our stay, and the master bedroom has a/c, two closets, views of the pool, rice fields and volcano in the distance, and a master bath featuring two sinks (one on either side of the room), two showers (one inside, one outside), a decoratively-carved stone path, and even a couple carvings of ducks, one of which is painted red and white with a plaque that says “I Am Canadian” (the owners are from Quebec). As for the rest of the house, there is the aforementioned pool, also known as our first stop every single time we return from a sweaty walk, a lounging area, nice terrace, outside dining area, enough different chairs and benches to seat the entire cast of Modern Family (not that any of them are even remotely comfortable, but still, the variety), and even a traditional Balinese balé, a covered wooden platform raised a few feet off the ground that is perfect for relaxation, meditation, or a handy place to while away the long daylight hours if you happen to be one of the local village men mysteriously unoccupied between 8 am and 10 pm. I suppose it gets pretty dull when all the women are off working in the fields.
The final coup de grace, though, is the small ornamental moat that runs all the way around the house, filled with eager fish that simply can’t get enough of our stale bread crusts, and a defensive fortification that presumably will serve as vital protection in the event we find ourselves suddenly under siege by a motley group of Anglo-Saxon knights (as long as their armour is too constrictive for them to leap across a 3-foot wide moat with any real certainty). The kitchen, however, while functionally satisfactory, strangely doesn’t fit the rest of the place at all, as though it had been completely overlooked and then just tacked on at the end, like fruit for dessert, or a completely unnecessary second simile. Nevertheless, despite that one minor detail, we couldn’t be happier with our little slice of paradise among the rice fields. We have been able to watch the Balinese women harvesting, sorting, flaying, and hauling the crops, all by hand, just outside our backyard, and literally 50 metres out our front gate we can be wandering quiet paths among the fields, a perfect place for late afternoon walks, or surreptitious duck-watching. We are also only about a 15 minute walk to a large grocery store, a 10 minute walk to a small selection of restaurants, and a 5 minute walk to a 24-hour laundry where we can get an entire load done – washed, dried, folded – for about $2. I can finally start eating spaghetti with my hands again.
No matter how you look at it, though, we are finding this to be an extremely relaxing stopover on our Balinese tour, an absolutely ideal place to come for a long-term escape from Canadian winter, or for an exotic cultural experience, or to get caught up on your travel blog. For example.