Bali Dispatch #2: Eat, Pray, Spasm, Pray Some More, Move

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It’s 10:20 on a gorgeous Bali morning, our second real day here…as I write this dispatch from my bed.

Not because I want to. But, because I can’t move…

See, here’s the thing. I love my new Ogio Epic pack. It’s got a billion compartments that allowed me to jam it with nearly 25 pounds of technology to record and share my Hong Kong-Bali adventure.

But, it should come with a disclaimer that reads…

“Attention Over-40 Dumb-Asses: Just because this pack can take 25 pounds of gear doesn’t mean your back can, too!”

Turns out a week of traveling with a mobile TV studio on my back took a wee bit more out of my body than anticipated. Yes, my rational brain should’ve realized it ain’t the smartest thing in the world to strap a 25 pound spinal compression machine onto my 44-year old body, then add in long-haul flying and erratic (read, minimal) sleep.

Oy.

At least the rest of the Fields clan is enjoying a lovely morning at Ja Juice Café while I lie hear waiting for my back to uncoil. So, with the gift of time, let me share more of our travels.

Bali first impression – interesting…

I’m realizing more and more that an important part of traveling to very different parts of the world is the ability to let go of preconceived notions. Because, the more you walk in with a vision of exactly what a place is or isn’t going to be, the more inclined you are to end up spending the first few days morning the loss of your idyllic fantasy.

And, that’s not a bad thing, because once you move past the dream, you become a lot more open to learning from the actual experience. In fact, it may well be the single biggest reason to stay in any one place longer than the time it takes for the walls of your fantasy to fall.

In Bali, we’re basing out of Ubud, also known as the country’s cultural and arts center. The world better knows it as the sleepy little, deeply spiritual town brought to life in Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray Love (her healer’s shop is #30 on the tourist map now).

I had visions of a quiet place where life moved at a gentle pace, fueled by ritual and conversation and a main street traveled by bike and lined with cafes, local artists and temples.

And, while it’s still a fascinating town, that Ubud no longer exists.

According to our driver, Ubud has undergone a fairly substantial transition over the last 5 or 10 years into a busy hub with a complex mix of locals, expats and tourists and shops ranging from Dolce & Gabana to hand-carved Buddha purveyors, roadside food stands and galleries.

From the café in the front our hotel on Monkey Forest Road, the main thoroughfare, the sound of our voices is largely drowned out by the tide-like prattle of motorbikes. I’m told that for many years, locals relied on buses to get around, but public transportation has been abandoned by many in favor or affordable automatic transmission motorbikes and scooters.

That’s led to a serious increase in the ambient volume on streets with a slight uphill bent, which Monkey Forest Road has, as riders throttle their way up the slope. And, the dozen or so streets that define central Ubud are lined with thousands of parked and moving two-wheeled vehicles.

There are also no traffic lights or stop signs (and very few street signs), so driving there is a harrowing experience I plan not to endure or put anyone else though. And crossing any given street is a bit like playing a video game. Except you’ve only got one life.

In light of all this, as I mentioned earlier, you’ve often got to look past the surface to see, then meld into the deeper cultural and spiritual energy that underlies anywhere new. And, that energy is abundant throughout Ubud, in both the people, the offerings and the pace of life.

Every morning, you’ll find small flower and incense filled coconut leave boxes lining the fronts of every store and home, infusing the early-morning town with a bit of an ethereal feel, as sinews of scented smoke filled the air.

I loved waking early to sit on a step in the middle of town and watch shop-keepers lay out the boxes, lighting their incense then gently sprinkling water, while making smoke-wafting circles with their hands in a ritualistic motion ingrained over decades and generations. On certain days, offerings were also placed on newly washed motorbikes as blessings to keep them safe. Not the riders, the bikes.

Shortly after, the occasional food vendor would amble down, carrying crates of rice flats, small portions of cooked rice with spices in folded banana leaves and other fare for the shopkeepers on their heads. I marveled at the strength they had to have built in their necks and their ability to balance the crates as they walked along jagged, undulating sidewalks barely wider than their strides.

Passing each shop, they’d look in to see if the keeper needed breakfast, stopping often to prepare a package and exchange it for what amounted often to less than $1 US. Visits to shops shortly after often found the employees sitting toward the back eating together on the floor or on a counter, the aroma of Indonesian spiced fare filling the shop.

Many shopkeepers leave their shoes at the door and remain barefoot inside the store. A lead I loved taking, since I’m genetically disenchanted with shoes and will take any and every opportunity not to have to wear them (just one of the perks of having owned a yoga studio for so many years).

And, with the exception of the newspaper kid who conned my wife out of $10 for a paper on the first morning, the people are generally warm, honest and they tend to gravitate toward kids. It wasn’t unusual for a shopkeeper to cup my daughter’s face and comment on how long her lashes were, something that would lead to an abrupt hand-swatting or intimations of inappropriate behavior back on the streets of Gotham.

One of the things my wife and I have come to learn, too, is that while we love learning about other places and cultures, we tend not to be all that experimentally-inclined when it comes to food (which is funny, since she worked in the restaurant biz in NYC for nearly 10 years). We’ll try a bit of local fare, but tend to play it safer in our gastronomic adventures. This is especially true in a place still known for the way it’s water wars with the typical Westerner’s intestinal flora. There’s a reason the term Bali Belly exists.

So, as we eased into the local restaurant scene, we were really psyched to find a few fantastic cafés, like Bali Spirit Kafe and Ja Juice Café on quieter side-streets with lush menus of organic, locally-farmed eats, reverse-osmosis filtered water…and free wifi.

And, with the wifi at our hotel being nearly non-existent, I was pretty inclined to make these my makeshift office for as long as they’d have me…or until we found a house to move into.

As our first day unfolded, we visited The Green School, which is the brainchild of expat jeweler, John Hardy and his wife. It’s stunning campus built on the dream of providing an extraordinary, alternative education with a strong emphasis on sustainability. In fact, the entire school is built almost entirely out of bamboo and boasts what is purported to be the largest bamboo “building” in the world. To stand in it is nothing less than mindblowing.

The technology to build these structures literally had to be invented as they were built. The Hardys ended up having to found their own bamboo growing and fabrication company, PT Bamboo, in order to satisfy the needs of the school. And, together with the school, they’ve started a bamboo seedling buyback program. They’ll cultivate bamboo plants, then give them to locals with the promise of buying them back at fair market value once they’re large enough to harvest for use in building.

And, though the 23-acre campus, which lies in the middle of a jungle, boasts end-to-end wifi and modern amenities, it’s electric use is minimal and it draws a substantial chunk of it’s power from a hydro-electric vortex that generates electricity by shunting water from the nearby river, swirling it into a whirlpool that turns a turbine, then pouring it back into the river. It also apparently provides a mini fun-park for the monitor lizards that line the banks.

Back in Ubud, we’ve begun looking for a house to move into for the balance of July.

Turns out trying to work from sporadic internet connections and cafes isn’t the easiest thing to do. Especially because part of the way I earn my living is by consulting. While it’s relatively easy to coordinate schedules, when folks are paying you serious money to help them grow their businesses, it’s important not to be dropping calls and skype video left and right. Plus, I need a place that I can go to both connect and write without always having to go “somewhere else.”

Note to others looking to explore a location independent lifestyle – think seriously about generating as much of your income as possible not through direct access to your expertise, but by commoditizing and distributing your knowledge on a more automated basis online. Or, if you’re building an organization, think more about building it around product, instead of service.

In any event, we anticipated this potential workflow challenge before leaving so, much to the muted horror of friends and family, we only made hotel reservations for a few nights, during the peak season in Ubud. Figured we’d wing it from there, and either rent a house or continue on in the first or another hotel.

So, this morning was spent checking out a few houses (siiiiick!). For better or worse, the only houses left tended to be much larger than what we needed, but since I plan to film a bunch of footage for some upcoming trainings and products wherever we land, I’m sure I’ll end up putting the space we have to good use. And, we’ll all be able to settle into more of a rhythm.

I hope to be able to share video from our new abode with my next dispatch.

Until then, here are a few pics from around town (click on each for full-sized image)…

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29 responses

29 responses to “Bali Dispatch #2: Eat, Pray, Spasm, Pray Some More, Move”

  1. Andy Hayes says:

    Wow – looks and sounds fabulous (apart from the Bali Belly thing). Can’t wait to pop over there for a visit 🙂

  2. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Chris Garrett and others. Chris Garrett said: RT @jonathanfields Bali Dispatch #2: Eat, Pray, Spasm, Pray Some More, Move http://bit.ly/ccSsHC […]

  3. Amazing Jonathan – these pictures are great. Can’t wait for videos.

    It’d be cool to hear a bit of a report on Cost of Living, once you guys are set up and get a feel for it…. just for those of us who might want to go on similar adventures.

    Enjoy the adventure!

  4. Amy Harrison says:

    Sounds beautiful, and taking on board your tip about automating and relying less on direct access as I am itching to get out and explore the world again and this time take my work with me.

    Eagerly watching how you get on!

  5. Hugh says:

    Great pics, Jonathan. I visited the Sacred Monkey Forest while in Bali in 2002. Your monkey pic brings back fun memories! Have a great trip…

  6. John Soares says:

    Jonathan, thanks for bringing us into the world of Ubud. I haven’t been to Bali yet, but both I and my partner are approaching the ability to travel where we want and still make a decent living.

    And I love the pics.

  7. Joel says:

    Good to see you’re acclimating well. I always find I have the best trips when I just accept the place for what it is, instead of trying to force it into my preconceptions.

    Good luck with your back!

  8. Debbie Ferm says:

    Hi Jonathan,

    I love the descriptions of the shopkeepers getting organized in the morning. I can picture the scene.

    I can also picture the scene of you thinking you can haul all manner of equipment across the globe. I hate to laugh, because I know you’re in pain, but being over 40 myself (and with an over 40 husband) it is kind of funny:)

    While you’ve been galavanting in Bali, my purse was stolen while I was visiting your home town. I got to spend an afternoon with the NYPD. Although I was not happy that my purse was stolen, I can that New York’s finest run a good ship:)

  9. Jon Strocel says:

    Great pictures! Letting go of preconcieved notions is a good idea not only for travel, but for most experiences in life. Not that I find it that easy.

    Good luck with the house hunt, and hope your back holds up!

  10. Sarah Bray says:

    At first, I thought your backpack actually came with that warning. I got excited for a minute.

    Living vicariously through you gives me so much pleasure. Tell the monkey I said hello. 🙂

  11. Jarkko says:

    Hey Jonathan, sorry to hear about your back… I hope you get well soon!

    I love your description of Bali so far. Sounds like a great experience so far! Enjoy!

  12. Naomi Niles says:

    That is so very true about getting rid of your preconceived notions. When I moved to Spain (without visiting it first), I had to throw a lot of ideas right out the window in about, oh, 10 minutes.

    I also learned to enjoy foods I never thought I would ever touch. For example tripe, pig’s ear, weird sea creatures, snails, baby eels…are you feeling nauseous now? LOL

    Hope your back gets better so that you can enjoy your new adventure asap!

  13. Maria says:

    Selamat pagi Jonathan,

    Shift to the outskirts of Ubud. We stayed at Gerebig Bungalows – affordable accommodation positioned around the family rice field and a swimming pool, but within walking distance of town. Just down the street is Cantika – wonderful massage for 2 “bluies” – 100,000 rupiah (about $10.) Stroll to some good warongs – particularly Bayu, up the road. Don’t forget to learn some language, the locals are so responsive.

    There’s a secret life around Ubud that few tourists explore – the footpaths. These concrete walkways connect all the homes and businesses, webbing out from the town into the rural landscapes, along aqueducts and through rice fields.

    Don’t miss the north coast… Permuteran and the Ahmed coast… and Nusa Lembongan… and oh I can’t wait to return!

    Semoga Beruntung! Maria

  14. Mike says:

    Very nice article and it seems like you are settling in well to Bali. As Maria says, take the time to visit other parts of Bali, as well as the north coast. I have been here over a year now and I love it!

  15. Mark Levy says:

    A beautifully-written evocative post, Jonathan. I feel like I’m in Bali walking next to you.

    In particular the image of a shopkeeper cupping your daughter’s face and commenting on her lashes is one I’ll never forget.

    Thanks for your generosity in keeping such a vivid travelogue.

  16. reese says:

    This was so rich with detail. And I loved seeing Bali through your eyes.

    The motorbikes, both in Bali and elsewhere in SE Asia, were one of the most difficult adjustments for me, both noise wise and, uh, (God help me) driving wise.

    It is indeed the people of Bali that make me go back 2-3 times a year. they are gentle, and pretty unassuming. Of course, in places like Kuta, there are touts who get annoying, but the Balinese people as a culture, particularly outside the significant tourist areas, are wonderful.

    We enjoy Nusa Dua when we go. It’s quieter. and thankfully, the place we stay there has internet. Otherwise, it’s a significant challenge getting online. I don’t envy you that, and know how frustrating it is to work out of a house or hotel e for any longer than a couple of days.

    Too bad you won’t still be there in October…:)

  17. Christopher says:

    Jonathan,

    Bali is a place that is definitely on my bucket list after reading “Eat, Love, Pray.” You make me want to visit even more than I already had.

    As far as your back, if you can find the time to get some help, there is a doctor there that uses Active Release Technique (gold standard with soft tissue type injuries). You may want to check it out.

    http://www.activerelease.com/providerSearch.asp?strGeocode=%28-8.4973881%2C+115.2658424%29&strAddress=Ubud%2C+Indonesia

    Stay well! Christopher

  18. Jaimie Field says:

    Jonathan:

    Sorry to hear about your back. Bali has some lovely spas and acupuncturists who can help you out 😉

    I am truly enjoying your travels.

    Thanks,

    Jaimie Field (no relation)

  19. Matt says:

    I feel for you and your back. I just completed a 2 day, 900 mile drive with kids and a ruptured disc complete with sciatica. Not fun so I know what you may be going through.

    Your description of Ubud makes me think that it has changed even in the 5 years since I was last there. It was my favorite place in Bali. Such a magical place to be. Hope you really enjoy your time there. Take care of that back!

  20. Janet says:

    Good thing you have that yoga expertise in your background! I hope that your back heals quickly and well.

    Point taken about relying less on offering direct access to consulting expertise. I do wish I had realized this myself ten years ago instead of relatively recently.

  21. Michael says:

    very cool, Jonathan. And how’s your daughter doing so far?

  22. Marie says:

    “…once you move past the dream, you become a lot more open to learning from the actual experience” — Isn’t that rather true of life, as well?

    Speaking for myself, it took me a long time to let go of some fantasy life I envisioned living (in fact, still working on that) instead of dealing with what was before me. If I had let go of the “dream” earlier, I could have found better ways to work around roadblocks rather than give up in disappointment. Giving up the “dream,” has led to greater satisfaction than I imagined.

  23. Thanks for a lovely description of your travels so far, it really took me to the place. I loved Ubud when I was there–in particular, getting up at the crack of dawn and wandering the trails through the rice paddies just outside of town. Even there, there were little offerings–mini sheafs of rice tied together with flowers and such, a bit of incense–such a lovely tradition. Can’t wait to hear more. Enjoy!

  24. EM says:

    You should visit Lombok island, its next to Bali, you wont find DnG there lol, only great view and amazing beaches!

  25. Judy Martin says:

    Enjoy! Loving vicariously through your adventure. Looking forward to video! Peace!

  26. Jonathan,
    An Indonesian woman introduced me to the power of fresh grated ginger. Not only does it break the spell of a stubborn cold and infection, but ginger compresses work miracles on the spine and surrounding muscles. Grate a large quantity of fresh ginger into cheese-cloth (or some porous material) and tie. Place in a big vat of hot water until the water turns yellow. Lay on your back and have someone place the compress where your muscles ache. When it cools, place back in hot water etc. (When suffering from a cold, pour the entire vat into the tub, add hot water, and soak with compress on your face.

  27. Its good to hear your enjoying Bali – 3 monkeys cafe is a fave of mine on monkey forest road .. and to pretty much ensure I have wireless wherever I am if Im not in our villa – I use a portable wifi usb from xl – I use prepaid and just keep it topped up so it doesnt expire, and in our area I get a pretty good connection in most places and I ve been able to use my skype phone with it.

  28. Tom Bentley says:

    Jonathan, after your back stops barking, I second Naomi’s notions of walking the footpaths that lead out of Ubud proper—lots of lovely sights through the rice fields and the interesting homes on the outskirts. And a seconding (with a cherry) on going to Amed as well—such a different feeling than Ubud—warm waters, nice snorkeling, starker than Ubud but lovely in a different way.

    And if you do go to Amed, might as well go to the Tirtagangga Water Palace too, which is everything a Water Palace should be…

  29. sarena says:

    awesome to follow along. Enjoy!! Love the yoga class description for the “tight white guy beginner” class!!