Nearly every day of our first 100 days backpacking throughout Southeast Asia have been jam-packed with all kinds of activities. We'd wake up at the crack of dawn each morning and eagerly get moving about to check off the growing list of 'to-do's' and 'must-see's.' We'd hurry over to a spot, do some sightseeing, snap a couple photos, and then run off to the next location.
While we managed to cover a great deal of land doing in this way, it didn't do much for us internally. Not fully present during these experiences, we sort of rushed through them and, although we saw them, we didn't really see them. We had to ask ourselves a question.
Is this what we came all this way for - to mindlessly rush through our daily escapades, paying no attention to the present moment?
Language barriers, unfamiliar cultural traditions, strange foods, currency exchanges, and transportation are some examples of areas we've grown accustomed to navigating during our travels. We've learned to take each new challenge with stride, and although we're no experts by any stretch of the imagination, we've kind of gotten used to the way of life here. Crossing the busy streets or going through immigration checkpoints are part of the routine, and don't require too much brainpower anymore. Yet, over time, all of this adds up and takes it toll on you.
Needless to say, we were ready to hang our hats for awhile in Bali.
Ubud: Our Utopia
Everyone has their own vision of what an ideal lifestyle would look like.
Environmental, communal, and societal equanimity are what we'd jot down when brainstorming our utopian city (and, let’s be honest, great food and a cheap cost of living are ideal, too!)
Walking from the shuttle to our guesthouse, we noticed shops filled with yoga clothing, organic vegan restaurants, coffee shops, and other niches like crystal healing and chakra aligning. For some reason, it felt comfortable and we knew we'd come to the right place.
We ended up settling into the Vanara Sugriwa hostel, which was located just off the main road. We dropped off our bags and went for a walk around town, grabbing a bite to eat and browsing through the endless selection of sarongs, hand-carved wooden penises, and dragonfruit at the local Ubud market. For those that have been to Ubud - you know.
The town had no shortage of tourist activities, but for once we didn't feel like we had to do anything.
A taxi driver hollered at us on the street and regurgitated his typical sales pitch, offering to take us to see the points of interest nearby for a “cheap price”.
Reluctantly, we took him up on his offer and spent the next day visiting Goa Gajah, Pura Tirta Empul, the infamous rice terraces, a coffee plantation, and a woodworking shop (where everything from small bracelets to enormous statues were on display.)
It provided little value to us, but we did get the chance to to see a little more of the island. We learned afterward that we were ripped off quite nicely (so much for a cheap price!) , but we just shrugged it off and went about our business.
That night, a group of fellow travelers from our hostel wanted to hike Mt. Batur for sunrise. We decided to join them and after a brief nap we were picked up bright and early at our hostel at 2 AM. We zoomed down the quiet streets along with other vans chock full of tourists, until we made an abrupt stop for "breakfast." A banana pancake was served, along with coffee and tea. After this quick snack we drove to the base of Mt. Batur, where we were handed flashlights, shown our guide, and sent off on our merry way.
One of the first groups on the trail, we led the way for others as we climbed over the hardened igneous rock. As we stopped and waited for others in our group to catch up, we looked behind us and saw the sky lit up with hundreds of flashlights. Soon, others began to pass us, and the trail became crowded. All the groups merged together and we all slowly ascended to the summit.
Reaching the top, we could slowly start to see the sun emerge from the darkness before it became enveloped in the clouds. A couple hard-boiled eggs and smashed banana sandwiches were presented to us, and we all looked at each other and laughed. Was this the lovely breakfast the tour company had advertised?
Either way, we scarfed it down and chilled at the top for a while, gazing at the lake down below. Eventually we made our way back down the mountain and drove off to another coffee plantation. There, we were given an assortment of teas and coffees - exactly like the tour we had done the day before. The Balinese sure do have pride in their luwak ("cat poop") coffee!
Beyond these activities in the first few days, we didn't really "do" too much else. Our fast-paced travels and days of go-go-go had taken a backseat as we settled into Ubud and the now.
Home Sweet Home
Our time in Ubud was the longest we'd stayed in one particular location, and things felt different - in a good way.
It felt like home.
Now, home is kind of tricky word for us to define. We've been virtually nomadic for over four years now, and have gone from sleeping on a warship to crashing in hostels, with no real space to call "ours." Yet, a certain feeling that quite can't be described in words was present. Call it atmosphere, vibes, energy, whatever - Ubud had it, and we felt it.
As we began to settle into town, we became acquainted with the local shop owners we saw every day. We developed our ideal routine, found our favorite restaurants and cafés, and got to know every nook and cranny of the streets we temporarily lived on.
We immersed ourselves in a daily yoga practice after learning that Ubud was a yoga hotspot, and sampled all kinds of styles with different teachers. Each teacher would have their own philosophy of what yoga meant to them, and it was great to hear all of their perspectives. Regardless of the style of yoga we did, we felt great during and after our practice. The Yoga Barn, Radiantly Alive, and Yoga Saraswati, were the studios we visited, which were exceptional studios for both beginner and advanced yogis.
During our time in Ubud, we bounced between Gusti's Backpackers' House, Puri Padi Hostel, and Wayan's Family House , which were all great in their own way. Most hostels here were like homestays and located within a family's temple complex, giving you a peek into the traditional Balinese way of life.
Each hostel we did stay at, we watched the steady rotation of eager travelers come and go. They'd rent motorbikes and cruise to the waterfalls, book sightseeing tours to nearby attractions, and jot down their itinerary, packing it full of activities. We couldn't help but smile because we were just like them at one point.
We thought back to one of our first few days on the road when we met some guys at a hostel in Japan that were finishing up their eight-month tour around Asia. They were hanging around the kitchen making sandwiches, and we wondered why they weren't out and about seeing all the area had to offer. Looking back, it seems that after their eight months of travel, they learned how to be.
It all came full circle.