Monsoon adventures in Ubud

View from Ketut's gallery

Monsoon view from Ketut’s gallery

The monsoon in Bali is a great re-creator. Water falls in buckets from the sky, filling up rivers, irrigation systems, springs and rice fields. What were once yellowing, drooping vegetation – suffering after months of heat – rise again, vibrant with green. And for people, especially busy ones with lots of things to do, the monsoon is the great re-creator… of plans and expectations.

I’ve learnt more than once during the monsoon that it pays to be patient, and fully embrace, as the Italians like to put it ‘Dolce far niente’ – the art of doing nothing. The rains come, and wherever you happen to find yourself is wherever you stay, for hours.

Yesterday I was on my way with Kriszta, Adam and Zsuzsi – all Hungarians – to the bamboo villages of Belega and Bona. The plan was to check out the handicrafts, and perhaps, find a teacher who could educate me in bamboo materials and construction.

Kriszta and Zsuzsi chat in the gallery while the monsoon rains continue outside

Kriszta and Zsuzsi chat in the gallery while the monsoon rains continue outside

Halfway through the rains started, and we pulled into Amaly Gallery – an antique store on the road to Mas – to wait out the shower. It soon became clear that the rains weren’t going to stop. It poured and poured and poured till the road flashed with brown water, and it seemed more appropriate to use motorboats instead of motorbikes on the tributary outside. There was no going to the villages – I’d have to find my bamboo master another day.

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Monkeying around with Zsuzsi and Adam

Monkey selfie

Monkey selfie

When we were searching for a house, we consciously sought out a place with at least two bedrooms so that we could have guests come share the magic of Bali with us. We’re very pleased to say that we have our first overseas guests: Zsuzsi and Adam who came all the way from Hungary! Mesi met them in India a few years ago, and back then they connected immediately and we’ve kept in touch since.

They only spent a couple of days here before heading off down to Canggu for a wedding. But we still had plenty of time to catch up, share stories and explore new areas of Ubud. We even went on an excursion to check up on their friends’ pet monkey – Kiki, while the owners were away (getting married). Mesi and I have quite a strong fear of monkeys, and it’s not completely unfounded. We’ve both been ‘mugged’ by them in India and more recently in Ulawatu in Bali. We’ve been in Ubud for almost a month and we haven’t even thought about going to the Monkey Forest.

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Tuesday morning at Seniman’s Cafe

Best Coffee in Ubud at Senimans

Best Coffee in Ubud at Senimans

Seniman's Cafe

Seniman’s Cafe

“Look I can do it, I can do it!”

A girl, no older than seven, spins a glass top on the communal table. She’s trying to outdo her dad, John a middle aged Englishman – sporting relaxed grey singlet, and relaxed grey goatee. They’re competing for the important title of being the best spinner of the glass tops. The girl, Mabel, is adorably competitive. The way John interacts with her is inspiring. They laugh and flip through magazines, talk, play at the communal coffee table. A father-daughter excursion to the best coffee in Ubud. Mabel moves back and forth in the specially designed rocking chairs that dot the cafe.

One of John’s friend, Tegan, comes into the cafe. She’s in her early 40s, by herself, Australian, friendly. They exchange greetings. It’s soon clear they are both part of the expat scene here in Ubud.

“I was speaking to Diego last night and he’s joined some transcendental club”.

I’m not sure what a transcendental club is, but it seems exclusive.

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Navigating the Bali Rental Market

Typical DIY rental advertising in Bali

Typical DIY rental advertising in Bali

We arrived in Bali not as tourists, but as potential future residents. It meant travelling the island with a different eye. We spent our days scooting around soaking in the vibe of neighbourhoods rather than sight seeing. The important questions: Can we see ourselves being part of this community? What are our neighbours and landlords like? Does it feel safe here? How long will it take to get to yoga? Is there decent coffee in ‘roll-out-bed’ distance? Finding a house in Bali is one for the explorers. We used two methods with limited success: real estate agents and Facebook groups. However, the most effective was simply getting on a scooter and jetting around neighbourhoods, looking out for “FOR RENT” signs that landlords placed outside their empty houses. Whenever we saw one and the house looked good from the outside, it was usually a matter of calling the accompanying number and waiting 5 to 10 min to be shown the house. No appointments, no missed connections, simple and efficient.

I get the feeling that Bali, at least now is slightly tipped in favour of the renters. There’s so much construction going on and enough vacant houses that we felt we could hold out to find the house that was perfect for us. We saw a lot of houses in Bali over four weeks. I lost count but I wouldn’t be surprised if it was around 30. The thing about looking for a home of course, is that basically every single inspection is on some level, disappointment, until you find the right one. Every time we jumped on the scooter we felt the excitement of hope – that maybe this time, this house, would be the home we’d been searching for. And every time, except the last, we left empty handed.

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Papa Nyoman, the reflexologist

Papa Nyoman works his reflexology magic

Papa Nyoman works his reflexology magic on Mesi

When you first see Papa Nyoman, he doesn’t strike you as an extraordinary healer. In fact, he looks very ‘ordinary’ – he’s diminutive, thin and sports a pair of unremarkable glasses. Cigarette poking under his 80s-era moustache, with loose blue singlet and long fisherman pants, he could be an accountant on vacation.

The only thing that gives him away is the line of people waiting to have his treatment. People from all around Bali, indeed the world, come to Papa Nyoman for his reflexology, a craft he has practiced for 20 years. In the two days Mesi visits him, he treats a Russian couple, a young Chilean, a woman from Botswana, a slightly unadjusted Singaporean and me, while she is there.

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We’re moving to Bali!

We're moving to Bali!

We’re moving to Bali!

Ubud's famous rice paddies

Ubud’s famous rice paddies

Mesi and I had the crazy idea from a long time ago that we’d move to Bali. Back then it was clearly a dream – an ideal for some unspecified time in the future when circumstances – work, relationship, finances – would magically coalesce and we’d end up in some paradise of our imagination. This ideal was even more fuzzy given that neither of us, up until four weeks ago, had ever been to Bali. It was a half-plan based on a romantic daydream. Elizabeth Gilbert would be proud.

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