It’s 5am and there is an absolute raucous outside. Over the sound of the torrential rain, a symphony of frogs and crickets are bringing the rice terraces to life. When the alarm rings at 7am, it’s all I can do to roll over and cuddle back into bed. The early morning work will have to wait! When I do finally make it out of bed, we sit on the veranda as our breakfast is freshly made for us. Today we have banana pancakes, a tropical fruit platter and fresh Balinese coffee. The air is warm but overcast, the humidity high. The first day in a new place usually means lots of walking and getting our bearings. We decided to head out to see Ubud palace and some other temples within the town.
The palace itself is having renovation work, so unfortunately we couldn’t see all of it. But the entrance was beautiful. A large walkway is surrounded by a pond brimming with pink lotus flowers. The buildings and doors, all in typical Balinese architecture, were so intricately carved with images from mythology, many covered in gold. I was lucky enough to be standing by an offering basket as a woman came up to replace it, lighting incense and saying a small prayer as she did. All over Bali, including at supermarkets and banks in the busiest areas, you’ll find small baskets made of banana leaves, filled with a range of flowers, herbs and other offerings. You’ll see them on the pavement, on doorsteps, on shrines and on shelves. They are the one element of Balinese culture that even the most Westernised parts of Kuta can’t get rid of. And I love seeing them. Pops of fuchsia, purples and oranges brighten the grey concrete, and they take on even more importance in places like Ubud palace.
After we’d admired the buildings and surrounding pathways, we enjoyed a light lunch overlooking the lotus pond, sitting on bamboo mats and cooling down in the humid heat.
We took a stroll with the intention of heading back to the villa, but two very dubious signs lured us in, and we found some pretty cool places. The first one looked from the outside like a shrine, with a statue, offerings and carved stonework. But behind it we noticed some stairs leading down to a stream. So we followed them. At the bottom was a little narrow gorge, where a large shrine was tucked away. I don’t know who or what this was a shrine to, but it had been carved into the rock and was covered in garlands. There was no one else here and it felt so atmospheric. I love this shit.
Next was a quick dive into an alleyway, which had a sign for the Ubud Rice Fields. We followed this dodgy looking walkway for a while, until it opened up into a panorama of, you guessed it, rice fields! It was beautiful. So much green stretching as far as you can see, surrounded by palm trees and dotted with guard huts. Apparently the huts are where villagers watch to scare off any birds that might come and eat the rice. You just get a glimpse of how important rice is to both the culture and the landscape here. It defines the economy, the way people live, how they interact with nature. It’s a magnificent thing to see.