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Ubud: A Wheel into Balinese Mountain Paradise

Scott packed up the last of our belongings inside the pleasant confines of our cottage at Prima Cottages while I haggled through the interpretation of the fellow at the front desk on the rate for a cab to Ubud. We had all intention of taking the tourist bus, but it seems it had been canceled. This, we later found may also have been a ploy by the cab company to secure our business. Regardless, the price was reasonable, and a fellow arrived just as Scott and I were finishing folding up the Speed TRs.

The drive to Ubud was beautiful and the driver allowed us to indulge in his curious collection of compilation CDs. It all seemed to be Euro-Techno remixes of B-pop tunes from the U.S. Fine by us.

We asked to be dropped off at the beginning of Monkey Forest Road in Ubud, and so we were. We paid the fellow and began to unfold the cycles. All around us were stone temples and giant arching jungle trees. The place was aptly named, as monkeys were to be found everywhere, picking through rubbish, begging from humans, and bounding out of the way of oncoming traffic. With a tip of the Panama hat to the prolific little monkeys, we were off on a somewhat savage uphill, fully loaded with gear. At one point, I actually had to dismount and hike it up the well-maintained but rather steep road.

At the top of one of the many hills that lay ahead (Ubud is by far the hilliest place yet visited on AsiaWheeling), our first choice for a hotel proved full, but we were waved across the street to a location that proved very affordable and quite spacious. For about 15 U.S. dollars per night, we were given the entire top floor of a bamboo and concrete bungalow, with our own private balcony, and a delightful view of the city in one direction and the pool, the jungle, and distant mountains in another. We indulged in just a moment of relaxing and ukulele playing before taking to the streets, but not before applying sunscreen.

We headed north, climbing in elevation, past Hindu temples, and endless stands selling all kinds of souvenirs. We also passed many restaurants, which labeled themselves “Warung” but were decidedly different compared to the Warung we had seen in Java.

These were handsome sit-down joints with much more westernized menus, English signs all over, and significantly inflated prices. We hung a left onto a larger and cobbled street, which took us past more of the same, though the urban zone was thinning and more scraps of jungle and rice paddy were appearing on both sides.

We zoomed down a hill, thanking the kind Jogjakarta tailor for our newly modified Panama hats, and part way through the ascent we called an unscheduled waypoint at a local print shop.

Now dear reader, as very few of you know, there has been a recent development in the trip that required not only this stop, but a revision of the itinerary going forward. David Miller, the AsiaWheeling Dive Master, was to be joining us for the next leg of the trip, and the three of us will be scuba diving in Borneo.

This of course would, among other things, necessitate a set of business cards for Mr. Miller, and of course a revision of the Malaysian itinerary to include the easternmost islands of Borneo.

The fellow at the print shop was affordable and professional. He could tell that we had made a few business cards in our day, and quickly cut through the fat, launching his copy of Adobe Illustrator. He manipulated his yellowed Compaq with such finesse, and patiently waited while his machine responded lethargically to his commands. We selected a paper and a printing style, and after he confirmed that our PDF would open on his machine, we were back on the road. Once again, getting things done in Indonesia proved a painless and swift endeavor.

As the city began to dissolve into a lush rural landscape, we caught sight of another cue which required an impromptu waypoint. It was the fading painted corrugated asbestos roof of Naughty Nuri’s Warung. This was another of those Warung which are so by name and roadside location only. Rather pricey by Indonesian standards and filled with foreigners, it had recently been mentioned in the New York Times and for that reason we decided we might as well sample what it had to offer.

Immediately upon entry, we were flagged over by a table full of sun-baked white men, sipping noontime beers. “Do you speak English?” they asked. When we answered in the affirmative, they encouraged us to join them. “You know this place was in the New York Times?” “Hell yes, we do!” they replied, deeply unbuttoned Acapulco shirts fluttering in the wind.

This later turned out to be no surprise, as this group proved to be a kind of court held by the owners of the place (at least the male half) and a group of his friends. “No one should leave Ubud without having a Naughty Nuri’s Martini, they explained. And you must get the ribs.”

With a savage wheel ahead of us, and no interest in paying for $6 ribs, and a $10 martini in a country where lunch usually costs $2.50 including a beverage, we settled for two cups of coffee, some delightfully spiced BBQ’d chicken, a similarly spiced sausage, and some French fried potatoes.  The owner warned us, “I’m worried about the coffee.”  But we were sure as dawn and downed them with smiles.

It was all incredible, decently affordable (at least by western standards), and well worth the cost simply for the interesting conversation that we enjoyed as guests at court. Though the fellows continued to encourage us to hang around, have a cocktail, and continue our discourse (since after all it was going to rain any minute now, they said), we could not keep from wheeling when the sun was shining and the road so inviting.  We had also developed a bit of a sixth sense for Indonesian precipitation patterns by this time, and had reason to believe their forecasting was simply to keep us longer. So we remounted the cycles and kept wheeling.

One of the gentlemen of the court had suggested to us (in the unlikely event that the sun kept shining) that we might take the current road a little bit farther north and then take a side road up into the mountains. This we did, and it proved to be a truly stunning wheel, with gnarly ascents, and tearing downhills. Eventually we reached something of a demi-summit, and decided to hang a Rausch at a sign for the sunset lookout.

The road to the sunset lookout began to peter out into an ever more crumbling pathway, until eventually it just turned into grass-covered brick, which we were finding was a common building material in Indonesia. This surface was something like a honeycomb of concrete with soil placed in the interior of the combs, and grass planted in the soil. The stretch of the material that we surveyed currently was bisecting a large temple complex that appeared to be closed for business.
Past the temple, we could see a meandering and inviting stone walkway, and we could not resist locking up the bikes at the temple and venturing forth. The walk proved to be one of the most enjoyable of my life. Perhaps I should just let the images speak for themselves.
We had promised to stop in once again at Nuri’s on our way back, and so we did. Though the same fellow was holding court, it seemed there was an entirely new subset of the Ubud expatriate community in attendance.
We spent some time conversing with a fascinating British fellow by the name of Victor, who shared with us a book he had written on Balinese butterfly species.  Previous to multiple authorships of entomological, lepidopterological, and zoological works, Victor was a “Swire man” and entrepreneurial liquor importer to Southeast Asia based in Hong Kong.
The entire book was filled with very articulate original illustrations by a local artist under what I must assume was a pseudonym “Pink.”
The owner of Nuri’s disclosed to us, upon learning that I was from Iowa, that in addition to the $10  martini’s he also had a bottle of Templeton Rye. For those of you who do not already know, Templeton is a delightful Rye Whisky made in the town of Templeton, Iowa. To find a bottle here in Ubud, Indonesia was certainly a bizarre rarity. It was likely the only bottle in all of Indonesia, maybe even South East Asia (any evidence to the contrary is encouraged in the comments).
Intrigued by the notion of fine rye, we had no sooner engaged in a furious session of bargaining over the cost of two Manhattans made with the Templeton Rye when the owner disclosed to us that he had no bitters, and than further disclosed that he had no vermouth! These martinis he was selling, it turns out, were also without vermouth. Shocked and appalled, we halted the negotiations and settled for a Bintang and some pleasant conversation. As we chatted, a rotating crowd of Balinese ex-patriots joined the table, or stopped over to say hi. It was obvious the head of the court was some sort of a local wise man, and we attempted to glean what wisdom we could before mounting the cycles once again to return to the city of Ubud.
After a short stop at the market for some juice and snacks, we returned to the jungle lookout outside our room to read, play the Ukulele, and unwind.  This wonderful porch space, a fixture of fine Indonesian hotels, we have dubbed the “Condor’s Nest,” no matter which city or hotel we happen to be staying in.  Below, a sunset view from the Ubud Condor’s Nest.


  1. Mark/Dad | February 6th, 2010 | 5:41 am

    Your sunset picture looks like a painting! Fabulous.

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