Monday, June 7, 2010

Column #7: Footloose in Ubud

Sometimes a girl just has to take time out to put her feet up and recharge her batteries.
Ubud, in Bali’s central highlands, was a good choice for a week’s recovery from the stresses of packing up my life in Oz and preparing to go on the road.
Spas abound, with prices to suit all pockets. I could wax lyrical about the all-over pampering I enjoyed for two-and-a-half hours at Skin on Jalan Gootama, and about the even more bargain-priced foot massage and pedicure I had at Fresh on Jl. Dewi Sita.
Sang Spa, on Jl. Jembawan, comes very highly recommended by my new friend Di, a graphic designer and writer from Perth who has spent many years sampling the massages and beauty treatments on offer in Ubud.
I met Di early on the morning of my second day in Bali. I was walking to the local warung for breakfast from my villa that overlooks the rice paddies, just south of town. Di was running along the roadside. I introduced myself and asked if she would mind if I joined her the next morning for a run.
I think fate intended for us to meet. We got on like a villa on fire.
During a recent visit to Vietnam, Di ran regularly around Hanoi’s Hoan Kiem Lake and recognised "Mr Chin" from my description of him in my column titled "The Quiet Australian"!
"He’s there every morning," she said.
Di and I caught up a number of times over the next few days, for runs and for meals. One morning we spent some time with a long-term Ubud resident, Canadian Cat Wheeler. Her book Dragons in the Bath: Tales from Rural Bali (available at Ganesha Books, is a must-read for visitors to Ubud. Cat is a catalyst for good works in the areas of literacy, dog welfare, and many other local social issues. She is also a hoot. In addition to three dogs, two turtles and a reticulated python, she has a parrot that calls out, "I love you!"
Di and I have offered to organise a dog-themed art exhibition in Ubud next year as a fundraiser for BAWA (Bali Animal Welfare Association), which is doing amazing work (
I couldn’t leave Ubud without joining in the weekly Hash House Harriers run. It had rained for the previous three days, and clambering up and down muddy embankments and wading through knee-high irrigation ditches in the rice paddies wasn’t a lot of fun. But it was even less fun for the young American mum and her 19-month-old son who I stayed with at the back of the pack. This was Tara’s first-ever hash "run", but there was no running to be had. It was difficult just to walk. Tara showed she had the true Hash spirit, though, when she said: "If I knew there was a short cut to the finish I’d take it and start drinking."
My villa was located in a small village a 20-minute walk from the centre of Ubud. I enjoyed living in that community, having breakfast at the warung and my clothes (and running shoes) washed by the local laundry. I very happily walked into town twice a day, past paddy fields and family compounds complete with their own temple. But after dark I would take some form of transport — a taxi or, usually, a motorbike.
A lift on his motorcycle with young Made (pronounced "Marday", and meaning "second child"), who told me he had done some jogging, led to an invitation from him to go for a run in the countryside the next day. I accepted the offer, but the 30-year-old Balinese boy with the long ponytail proved to be no match for this 57-year-old Albury girl.
After leaving the bike with a friend near the Agung River, we proceeded to run straight uphill. I wondered why Made had chosen this particular route when, very soon after we had started, he stopped running, clutched at his chest and gasped, "Smo … king!"
After a number of start-stops, my well-meaning friend had to pull the pin. While he returned to our starting point to get the bike, I ran on through the luscious green landscape.
Back in Ubud, over breakfast at Kafe, Made told me he had lost three significant people in his life: two brothers to strokes, and a friend who had been a bartender at the bombed Sari Club in Kuta in 2002. He has vowed to quit smoking and start training so that we can have a proper run together when I’m back in Ubud in December.
Many Australians think of Bali as just an offshore playground. It’s a wonderful, unique place that needs both to preserve its culture and to cope with the problems of modernisation. A few dollars can go a very long way. If you would like to help in some way, contact Sue Winski, a longtime resident, the owner of the villa where I stayed, and the incoming president of Rotary, at for some suggestions. I donated the security deposit I’d paid for the villa to buy books for a mobile library that will visit elementary schools in the Ubud area, and Di is donating her graphic design skills to help raise awareness of the work done by BAWA.
DON’T MISS: Evening legong and gamelan performance (tickets are readily available on Ubud’s main street, Jl. Raya Ubud); salsa dancing by wait staff and salsa dance lessons at Café Havana (; organic produce at Nomad (; The Yoga Barn ( for all things spiritual and alternative; and Bali Buddha ( and Kafe ( for the chilled-out vibe.

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