We decided to return to Bali because we found a great direct flight from Brisbane, it's on the way to South-East Asia, and we love Ubud.
Originally, we thought we might visit some new places in Bali or Indonesia, but after spending a few days relaxing in Ubud, we decided to stay in Ubud longer to research and plan our trip and get up-to-date on our posts. We don't normally plan much in advance, but with uncertainty around covid restrictions, visa constraints, and having specific tour/friend&family meetup dates to manage, we needed to be a bit more prepared for this trip.
Despite spending a lot of time in Ubud researching and planning, we still had a great time and wanted to highlight some of it here.
We again stayed at Green Field Hotel (one of our 2 usual/favourite spots in Ubud). It has a really quiet setting, 2 relaxing and well-kept pools, a wonderful breakfast next to the rice fields.. we could not ask for more.
We are creatures of habit and although we tried a few different restaurants, we really frequented a select few:
D’Gamma Warung: A super small local place (3 tables) in a small alley that serves delicious food at a really low price. We could order 1 appetizer, 2 vegetarian meals, and 2 fruit juices for about $12 CAD
Kakiang bakery: Really nice desserts - we liked the Milles-crepes, the Hokkaido Cheesetart, and Jamu Juice (tamarind+tumeric medicine drink)
Cinema Paradiso: Small Movie Theatre where you can use part of the movie ticket price towards food. The food is ordered and served in the theatre and is really good. We ended up seeing Amsterdam, The Women King and Triangle of Sadness.
Twist Ubud: A slightly pricier restaurant that serves really delicious curries, burgers, and drinks.
We also (finally) tried the Balinese Snake Fruit (yum!) and some local gelato.
Walking around town
Although our resort is quiet, relaxing, and has one of the best views of the rice fields, we did venture out on a few explorations around Ubud to see how much has changed since we were last here. Walking along the streets of Ubud is still very noisy and nerve wracking with crazy scooter & car traffic, narrow roads, and little to no sidewalks. That being said, if you manage to find your way to the smaller streets or go a bit outside of the city center, you can find some interesting and nice things to see.
We saw one monkey drinking water out of a dripping tap. We thought it was pretty clever... until another monkey came along and actually knew how to turn the tap on (full blast)!
Campuhan Ridge Walk
We had done this walk on out previous trips, however, this time the path was paved and the village at the end now has a new resort with awesome lounge chairs, chill music, and an amazing infinity pool with a beautiful Instagram view 😂.
That ends the list of the fun, sunny experiences we had.
Unlike our past trips, we actually experienced a LOT of very rainy days in Bali this time. We normally don't post about the rainy days or when we are stuck inside sick (mainly because pictures of that wouldn't be very interesting/fun 😂), but it is inevitably part of travelling and we usually make the best of it getting a massage, trip-planning, tidying pictures, catching up on our blog posts and movies.
One night, it actually rained so much that some of the other resorts flooded and lost power so the guests had to move over to our hotel.
On the next evening following the rain, we had a crazy new experience... We first noticed that there were some unusually large (huge!) geckos out hunting on the walls of the open-air restaurant that we were eating dinner at. We assumed that particular restaurant just happened to have big geckos - we thought little of it and headed back to our hotel. We saw a few more geckos than usual on our way through the resort - they are such fascinating critters to watch!
Each evening, the hotel turns on all of the balcony lights so that guests can safely walk through the resort, to their rooms. This evening, as we turned the corner to our room, we both froze at the sight of thousands.. felt like millions.. of 2 cm-long flying insects swarming the front balconies and stairwell of our entire building.. there were SOOO many of them - we've never seen anything like it. It was shocking.. it reminded us of the bug-filled tunnel from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom! Even though it's not something we will easily forget, we do wish that we had taken a video or pictures of the experience as it's hard to really describe what it was like to see, not to mention the chills/goosebumps you get from such an unexpected encounter 😂.
Anyhow, we managed to sneak close enough to turn off the balcony light and went to reception to let them know what was happening at our building. They said they would send someone over to clean up the bugs, so we just had to wait for a while before returning to our room and all was good. Apparently these termite swarms happen every year after really big rain falls - they all take flight and swarm toward the lights to mate, then they all shed their wings and crawl out to the soil to start their colony. The whole thing lasts a couple of hours and then just suddenly ends. The only evidence that it ever happened is the huge mess of shed wings scattered all over the ground!
Regretfully we didn't take any videos or pictures of this (we were too much in shock?), but while waiting for it to end we did try to google to try to understand what was happening, and found this article about the Laron (aka Flying Termite) Swarms.
Normally we shop around for tours, but this time we decided to go with our hotel's recommendation for a downhill-cycling tour from Mount Batur. Without knowing the details, we showed up at 8am and were taken by minivan to a mix of stops along the way to Mount Batur. Our first quick stop was at Tegallalang rice terraces, where we snapped a few pictures and hopped back in the van.
We then stopped at a local plantation where we saw various coffee, tea, and spice plants, and learned about how Kopi Luwak is "made". We also got to sample a whole bunch of different teas and coffees that they produce. They were all delicious but our 2 favourites were the ginger tea and mangosteen tea.
On our way back to the van, we also saw a Mimosa Pudica - a fern that closes when you lightly touch it!
We then drove up to a restaurant on the Mount Batur caldera, where we had breakfast while enjoying the view.
After breakfast, we picked out our biking equipment and went on a 26km ride back down toward Ubud. The ride was mostly downhill on paved village roads, so we barely needed to pedal (other than 3 very steep hills).
Along the way down, we also stopped at a few key area of interest where our guide gave us some information about Balinese life and culture. A couple of interesting facts that we learned:
- Balinese normally have 4 children and they are always named the same based on birth order, regardless of if they are male or female. The first born is named Wayan, 2nd born is Putu, 3rd is Made, and 4th is Ketut. Since everyone is named the same, people often go by nicknames or their second names to help distringuish between each other.
- Located at the North side, Balinese villages always have a main temple and public area + school, where major ceremonies, events, and meetings are held for the village. The more senior / important the family, the more North (closer to the village temple) they live.
- Each family home within the village has a family temple, located on the East side of the property, and multiple buildings where the family sleeps. Blessings and offerings are performed at the family home and temple every morning, and the most senior family members sleep in the buildings that are Northernmost.
- Family homes are handed down to the children. Typically, after marriage, sons remain at the family home and daughters can choose to either move to their husbands home or stay at their family home to care for the older generations (ie. in the case where the family only has daughters or maybe the sons live far away for work).
- In Bali, both men and women work in the rice fields (on other Indonesian islands, it is usually just the men who work the rice fields).
The trip ended at the Bali Breeze Tours' home of operations for a buffet lunch, before being driven back to our hotel.
During one of our walks around town, we met Shaya (Patricia). She was promoting her new business idea that had just launched - a course on foraging and cooking food in Ubud. Jen was always interested in trying a foraging course somewhere, so we decided to book it. A few days later, we took an early morning car to her place ~30 min North of Ubud.
Our day started with a nice breakfast consisting of bread, local fruits, and some homemade kombucha and teas from local plants that all had really distinctive tastes and colours.
After breakfast, Wayan performed a local blessing for us and we went out on our foraging walk/hike. Since the course was brand new, we were the only ones in the group so we had a lot of flexibility to customize the day to our liking. Our guides, Wayan and Ram, gave us lots of options for difficulty, pace, and location of the foraging hike. We wanted to take the longer journey through the forests of Bali, so our hike lasted around 3 hours through various rice fields, village roads, and jungles.
Along the way, we learned about different types of rice, how it is grown/harvested, and how the different trees/herbs/plants are used locally for food, health, and various ailments. We collected and tasted wild fruits (bananas with huge seeds, cacao pods, cashew fruits, wild strawberries, and snake fruit) and a bunch of veggies and herbs including hibiscus, elderflower, banana flower, pennywort, pakis (edible fiddlehead ferns), lemongrass, water spinach, daluman, and a bunch of other plants (that we forgot the names of).
Fruits of the cashew plant
Eating hibiscus flower
After returning to the house, we prepared the foraged plants for cooking.
The most interesting thing we made was a local drink called "Es Daluman". It involved making coconut milk from scratch, by grating fresh coconut flesh and squeezing it with fresh water, and adding a chlorophyll-rich grass-jelly made simply by squishing Daluman leaves with fresh water until it turns dark green. We then stirred in some palm sugar syrup to taste. It was so interesting to see how simple it was to make fresh grass-jelly and coconut milk, and it was really neat the way the Daluman slime set itself into such a strange/interestingly textured jelly.
We made several simple yet delicious dishes, and then it was time to all sit together to eat! All of the dishes were really delicious - it was impossible to pick a favourite. Full, satisfied, and tired, it was time to head home. Overall, we had a really excellent and memorable experience - it was such a fun day!
While we were in Tulamben Diving, Dom’s mom and aunt went to check out the Gili Islands to sweat under the blazing sun.
Here Jen’s mom rented a small villa with our own private pool in the centre of Seminyak, so we all reconvened there for a few days.
Like everywhere in Bali, we took it easy socializing and enjoying life. One day, we rented a car & driver to visit the surrounding attractions. We started at Turtle Island which is mostly a tourist trap, but we made the best of it and enjoyed our close encounters with the various animals.
We then went to Uluwatu Beach which is supposed to be one of the best surf beaches in the world. At the time that we were there, the waves weren't that high, but the beach was really pretty.
We finished our day tour with a stop at the Uluwatu temple.
We had such a great time doing our own interpretation of "Eat, Pray, Love" in Bali last year, that we decided to return for another month… this time with a little extra Love as we were joined by some family members!
Dom's mom and aunt flew in from Montreal to spend nearly 3 weeks with us. We met up in Ubud and had a wonderful time sharing our small part of paradise here, with them :) We took them on some rice field walks, did a bit of shopping, drank coffee (Cat Poo Coffee), introduced them to Yoga, and of course.. the SPAAAA… when in Ubud, relaxation is a must!
As always, the food was amazing, yoga was fun, and the pool and spa were relaxing and fun.
Not actual Cat Poo, but in Ubud we had a chance to taste one of the most expensive coffees in the world: Kopi Luwak.
The peculiarity of this "Kopi" (the Indonesian word for "coffee") is that it comes from coffee beans that have been digested by a Luwak (an Asian civet cat). To summarize the process:
Civets eat coffee berries
Civets digest coffee berries
Civets poo the indigestible coffee bean remains (in little clumps)
Humans pick up the poo
Humans roast and grind the partially digested coffee beans
Humans make coffee and drink it.
For some reason, this is a prize delicacy… so we had to try it. In Canada, Kopi Luwak Coffee costs around $100 per 100 grams (but it can also be much higher based on some unknown criteria)….ichhh. Since Indonesia is one of the places where Kopi Luwak is produced, a cup costs only $6.
Dom doesn't really drink coffee (4 cups in his entire life), so Jen was the one to taste it. Her comment: "mmmm coffee…with an after taste of ass"… just kidding... actually it tasted a lot like any other coffee but it did have a rather unique semi-sweet aftertaste.. worth $100 for 100g? Our tastebuds aren't advanced enough to think so, but we'd consider drinking a cup of it again when we return.. :)
Here's what the beans look like when you buy them.
And here is an image of a civet with some coffee berries.
Before leaving Bali, we decided to spend a few days on the beach on a tiny island called Gili Air. The Gilis are 3 small islands an hour away from Bali, by boat. There's pretty much nothing to but relax on the beach and play in the shallow aquamarine sea. Motorized vehicles aren't even allowed on the island, so if you want a ride to/from your hotel you have to take a horse & carriage :).
We did a snorkelling tour that brought us to a few sites around the 3 islands, and saw a lot of fish and a few turtles. The sun was scorching so Jen got a very nice sunburn on her back :(
The next day, we strolled around the island and hung out in the water. The rest of the time, we pretty much just relaxed and read.
Relaxing got boring a lot faster than we thought, so we decided to go back to Ubud a couple of days early... here's our taxi back to the pier ;)
Surprisingly, on the ferry back to Bali, we passed a submarine…!!!
Yup, you read correctly: we took just one breath of air and dove underwater to 20 meters deep…. We're not crazy, we just took a freediving course.
According to Wikipedia: Freediving is a form of underwater diving that does not involve the use of scuba gear or other external breathing devices, but rather relies on a diver's ability to hold his or her breath until resurfacing.
And before we go any further, here are some equivalents to help visualize how high/deep 20 meters is:
66 feet (for those of you still using imperial)
a 6.5 story building
14 VW Jettas stacked on top of each other (1.43m)
4 male giraffes (5.5m)
6.5 basketball hoop heights
24 baseball bats
7491 tennis balls (2.67cm)
10 Darth Vaders
the length of a 10-pin bowling lane
2857 common household ants joined head to tail
Ok, back to the beginning... While researching things to do in Bali, we noticed a place that offered "Freediving" courses. We had heard of Freediving before but thought it was just a recreational activity, rather than an actual competitive sport with certified courses! Seeing that it was a recommended thing to do here, it peaked our curiosity... but it was on a different island (Gili Trawangan)... and was.. a little too expensive for our budget.
Weeks later, in Tulamben… We met Guy and Lucy, a French-Canadian couple who are both scuba dive masters and have been coming to Tulamben to scuba dive for several years. By chance, Guy had recently run into a Freediving instructor who recently opened a school in Tulamben called Apnea Bali... and what do you know, Guy was also interested in doing the class too!! Guy negotiated a small group discount... it all seemed like such luck, so we jumped at the opportunity to register as well.
1 Breath... 12 meters On the first day, we met up with our instructor, Lukas in the Tulamben office. He explained the history, equipment, what freediving was all about, and showed us videos of the sport and competitions. We then learned and practiced some breathing techniques and a bunch of other theory necessary before hitting the water.
In the afternoon, we drove to Amed (where the sea is a bit calmer) and proceeded to our dive spot. Lukas set up a buoy and 12 meter rope with a tennis ball attached to the bottom. Despite the water being pretty clear, you could not see the tennis ball from the surface... the rope just looked endless as it disappeared into the deep blue darkness below.
We started out with a few practice dives to work on our duck-dive and fin-kick techniques. Jen immediately had trouble equalizing her right ear, so it became apparent that she wouldn't be able to dive using fins (since this descent is faster than her ears could equalize). Jen removed her fins and Lukas showed her a different diving technique using the guide rope to go down (allowing for a much slower descent and more frequent equalizing).
We took this course to challenge ourselves and were initially both quite apprehensive about it. We were super pleased that the course was really focussed on having fun, and at no point did we ever feel any sort of pressure to reach the tennis ball. Lukas made the experience super reassuring and relaxing - on each dive, he followed us down and back up to ensure that everything was safe, that we were having fun and not panicking, and that we were well within our limits of not passing out. He worked with us on techniques for movement efficiency, and staying calm & relaxed in order to conserve as much oxygen as possible during each dive.
After only a few attempts, we all surprised ourselves and each reached the 12 meter mark several times!!
1 Breath… 20 meters Reaching the 12 meter mark was not exactly easy... so for Day 2, we were wondering how we would possibly reach 20 meters. We started the day learning and practicing more breathing techniques, then learned the steps for rescuing free divers who pass out during a dive (not that it would happen to us today... but better safe than sorry). Lukas set up the buoy and 20 meter rope. As with the previous day, we took turns diving down the line, one after the other, as far as we could/wanted to go. Dom finally reached the 20 meter mark using both "Constant Weight" and "Free Immersion" techniques. Jen, still having problems equalizing, reached around 17 meters, which was really good since her rate of descent had to be really slow so she had to hold her breath longer.
In the afternoon, we returned to Tulamben for some play time. We practiced recreational freediving around the USS Liberty, whose shallowest point is only 7 meters deep. The main difference from our practice dives, is that we didn't have a guide rope to show us the most direct path down. Who would have thought that the rope made such a difference! The rope made a big difference with helping Jen go down slowly to equalize, and also really helped Dom to not panic during the dive. What was easily attainable while following a rope, suddenly seemed so out of reach when diving freely.
Since Jen's ear was still blocked, she just snorkelled around a bit and then called it a day and relaxed by the pool. Dom managed to go down to 12 meters to see a turtle hanging around, and then dared to dive under one of the ship's trusses (this was a big swim-through hole, but just knowing there's an obstacle between you and the surface really makes you panic!).
Day 3... Ok there wasn't a day 3... but for Dom, there was definitely a night 2. In the night after our second day, Dom kept waking up in a panic thinking that he was drowning - he was repeatedly having dreams/nightmares of drowning while freediving :).
Conclusion This was a great experience, and we are hooked. Even though it was scary at times, we had lots of fun and definitely enjoyed it. Unfortunately, for us, it'll be a little tough to practice back home… though maybe not impossible.
Additional Reading: For those of you who are keen to read more, we decided to include our personal accounts of the experience (mainly for our own future interest), and some cool freediving video links that they showed in the class :).
Dominic "I am not the most comfortable person in the water. I can't really swim for very long and I probably can't normally hold my breath for more 40 seconds. Regardless, traveling is about putting yourself in different situations and experiencing new things: Let's say that this was definitely outside my comfort zone. The first day went pretty well, I managed to reach 12 meters in Constant Weight diving and about 9 meters in Free Immersion diving. I felt good about myself and this gave me a bit of confidence. The next day, was a totally different experience: 20 meters. It was only 8 more meters than the previous day, but the things that I experienced impressed me: The human body is well done. Here is what I mean: When I reached 20 meters for the first time. I did my duck dive, and started paddling down with my eyes closed, trying to relax. Eventually, I started feeling like I am running out of air, but, since this is suppose to happen, I continued going down. When I felt that I could not take it anymore, I looked up (or down) and saw the tennis ball just 2 to 3 meters away… so I relax again and pushed for it. By that time, I needed to breath hard, the only problem was that I was still 20 meters under the water. So I turned around and made my way up. On the way, my body spasmed and tried to take a breath of air (which did not happened, since my body forced my airways shut). At that point, I panicked and started to kick wildly, trying to go as fast as I can (BTW, this is retarded, because I was not going faster but I was definitely burning more oxygen). I then saw Lukas calmly beside me telling me to slowdown. Remembering what he told us before, I calmed down and made my way slowly up to the surface and what do you know….I made it. It was incredible and the best part was, I was to do it again and each time it was a bit easier (and mainly without panicking). Once you understand how your body works and that you will make it, it's a lot easier to do it again….I think I may be hooked……..This was pretty cool."
Jennifer "Before this course, if someone had asked me how long I thought I could hold my breath, i'd probably have guessed 30-45s (without physical exertion). I'm pretty sure I even remember trying to figure it out with friends before.. these "who can hold their breath the longest" contests always ended with me bursting out in a giggle fit within 20s …apparently holding my laughter is far more difficult than holding my breath. Diving into the deep blue darkness is no laughing matter… so (fortunately for me) the apprehension and undertones of fear did a good job of keeping the giggles at bay (well.. most of the time).
I had surface-dived many times before while snorkelling and always ran out of breath within 2-3m of the surface, so... I had a pretty good idea of my limits. My goal: I certainly didn't have any grandeur ideas of actually reaching the 12/20m maximum depths! I just hoped to pick up some tips to improve my depth a little. My game plan: I'm a fairly strong swimmer (or at least I used to be). Not believing that i'd be able to hold my breath for very long, I figured my best chance of reaching a decent depth would be to use strong swimming strokes to race to my max depth before my short breath-hold ran out. My demise: Our initial warmup dives were only a couple of meters deep and sadly revealed that my right ear was too plugged to equalize quickly. My game plan was thwarted before it began. Lukas told me to take off my fins... I was feeling pretty defeated, despite his promise that there were other techniques to dive to depth.
We learned that a normal/"good" rate of descent & ascent is about 1m/s. This means that a 20m dive would be done with an approximately 40s breath-hold (with physical exertion). Free Immersion: In this technique, you use the guide rope to slowly pull yourself down to depth and back up to the surface. Inching to Equalize: Using the guide rope allowed my descent to be much slower, but it still took several attempts to equalize. I'd begin descending, stop to try several times to equalize... when it didn't work, I'd have to climb back up a bit to try equalizing there, then proceeding down a little further repeating the process… it was VERY slow and rather frustrating. I'd have to do this every single dive, so my average descent rate was probably something like 0.1-0.2m/s. The Squeeze: The deeper you go, the more water pressure there is on your body - you actually physically get squeezed! Internally, your lungs squish down to half their size by the time you reach a depth of 10m, so you can really start to feel the pressure of your diaphragm being pushed right up into your rib cage.
My Dives I became so focussed on slowly inching down the rope trying to equalize that it surprised me when I actually hit the end of the 12m rope. On the second day, my ear was even more irritated, so equalizing was even slower. I did several dives, following the same super slow process… sometimes i'd get antsy and just want to go back up, but Lukas was always there just floating right in front of me.. patiently watching with such a calm energy... as if to silently say "you're doing great, just take your time, everything is ok…". His calmness was contagious and made me feel/realize that everything really was ok.. I learned to forget my brain's screams to breathe and the weird feeling of being squeezed. I'd refocus on patiently equalizing and inching my way a little further down until I couldn't equalize anymore, and was shocked to find out that I actually made it down to around 17m. I was even more shocked when Lukas told me that all of my dives were nearly 2 minutes long, and that since I reached the surface with plenty of oxygen he was certain I was still capable of much more.
I was super happy that I accomplished leaps and bounds more than I was ever expecting. I learned that our minds really play tricks on us to keep us bound within its lazy limits. This course was a great reminder that we are capable of pushing our limits even further than we think. It was a great challenge, a refreshing and inspiring experience, and addictively fun!!"
Current Freediving World Records:
Constant Weight with Fins Dive Women - 101 meters Men - 126 meters
Free Immersion Dive Women - 88 meters Men - 121 meters
Static (no physical exertion) Breath Hold Women - 8min 23sec Men - 11min 35sec
Cool freediving videos:
Our Apnea Bali Instructors Freediving the USS Liberty:
On our motorbike tour around Bali, we stopped in a tiny town called Tulamben to scuba dive the USS Liberty. The USS Liberty was a US transport ship that was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine in 1942, and beached on the island of Bali. It eventually sank in 1963 after a volcanic eruption, and has become a popular dive site as it's now home to a large variety of marine life. The ship now lays on its side with some sections as shallow as 7 meters below the surface. The best part is that the wreck is easily accessible directly from the shore.
We shopped around for dive prices and surprisingly found the best deal at the resort right next to the wreck: Puri Madha Bungalows. Their dive shop made us an excellent offer - 25$/person/dive including a guide, underwater camera, and all gear rental. Since neither of us had dived recently, they included free time for us to refresh our skills in the pool prior to doing the 2 wreck dives.
After all these years underwater, the USS Liberty is now collapsed in several areas and completely covered in coral. In most areas, you can barely make out that it's a huge ship! Occasionally you still happen upon some distinctive ship-like features jutting out from the sea floor... that was really cool to see.
We aren't exactly avid divers or marine biologists, so we don't know many names of what we saw… but we definitely saw a lot of really cool stuff compared to most of our dives in the past :).
We even saw a black tip reef shark...
and a big school of jack fish..
Whether you've never dived before or are an experienced diver, this is a site that we definitely recommend!