Absolute first impression from the air was that this place is a lot bigger than I expected. The coastal plain is broad and the cities of Denpasar and Kuta are a dense sprawl. The ride from the airport into Ubud was well over an hour, more like 90 minutes.
Leaving the city and heading inland, the road narrows to two-lanes, paved with virtually no shoulder. No sidewalks, curbs or drainage. Trees line parts of the road, making any swerve to avoid oncoming traffic a dangerous proposition. There is no parking, though in some areas motorbikes are parked so close to the road, or even on it, that getting by is a series of harrowing misses. There is just enough space for two of these Asian-made mini-compacts to pass with a whisker of clearance. God forbid a parked driver should open his door without checking traffic.
At 8pm, we are delayed by a large procession passing across the road, dispersing after one of the ubiquitous religious ceremonies integral to this culture. As we move again, we must navigate through hundreds of participants walking up the road on the (non-existent) shoulder while also avoiding opposing traffic.
My accommodation is a Balinese-style separate suite made of hardwood on a concrete pad, well appointed with a large outdoor connecting bath with separate tub and shower, a giant four-poster bed with mosquito netting, a desk and armour. The porch, with a large couch, table and two chairs, overlooks a stone and concrete retaining wall built against the thickly jungled down sloping hill with the sound of a river below. I am led down into this space by the host. The steps, the table on the porch, the bed, the desk and even the bathroom are festooned with plumeria blossoms as a gesture of welcome.
The grounds are full of mature plants, heliconia, alpinia, croton, banana, papaya, an avocado tree laden with fruit, durian. Statuary adorned with ornaments and flowing water occupy the niches.
This is not entirely an idyll of silent solitude. Well, ok, there is solitude, separate as I am from the main house. But overnight, there was downpour, there were the loud clawed feet of local critters chasing each other across the roof. And the geckos must be the loudest in all creation. In the very early morning, multiple roosters and birds are active. I wish I could simply embed an audio tape of the birds alone…with the river, editing out the roosters. Bernie Krause would be proud.
Breakfast is served. A plate of noodles and vegetables served on a banana leaf, cut papaya, mango and pineapple, coffee and juice. I eat on the porch, settling into a tableau that simply is itself, an accidental universe of deep serenity, mostly divorced from the complexity of the man-made, an invitation to detach from the personality and to listen with the inner ear. I will head into town soon enough to deal with commerce and communications. But for now, silence and simplicity.
Downtown Ubud is reminiscent of the Tamel district of Kathmandu or parts of the walled city of Chiang Mai: all densely populated with tourists, very close quarters between pedestrians, motorbikes and cars, the variety of shops and various services. But Ubud is a cut above. The quality (and price) of the artistry, handicrafts, clothing, jewelry, religious artefacts, antiques and everything else is a bit, (or a lot) higher here.
Temples are everywhere.
This morning, my hostess left an offering on my motorbike, blessing my journeys for the day.