Indonesian Company….Ubud & The Yogabarn

Is that the hum of a juice blender I hear or the Om of the latest yoga class finishing up?

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Chances are strong it’s either one. As I sit here in the Yogabarn in the heart of Ubud, Bali, in the middle of monsoon season with the rain pelting down on the bamboo and banana leaf- awning overheard, I can’t help but wonder at myself and at how far I’ve actually come in the past few months. Not just physically and in the ‘other-side-of-the-world’ sense, but mentally, spiritually, metaphysically…I’ll stop before I get too airy fairy altogether.

Up until now my blog has served as a way of keeping track of my journey – my literal journey, starting in Cambodia and continuing on up through Vietnam, all the way back down again and through a painful yet fascinating 30-hour stopover in Singapore as I headed on towards Indonesia. I’ve documented various aspects of places I’ve travelled, aspects of travelling alone, travelling with a group, travelling as someone who never thought she’d be able to and praciticing yoga along the way, whilst also trying to be funny and lighthearted in whatever way I can to keep people at home engaged and informed, instead of merely using the blog as a platform to show-off pictures and stories of faraway lands and living through the medium of social-media ‘likes’.

Since arriving in Bali, however, I haven’t posted a single thing. Zilch. Zero. Less than that. I’ve yet to string a sentence together to sufficiently describe this place; the atmosphere; the people; the food; the attitude and general way of living; the sheer contentedness and ease and peace of mind I’ve felt….even this description falls short. I don’t even know where I’m going with any of this.

Do I have to be going anywhere? Bali has shown me that I don’t. Yoga in Bali has helped me call this into question, and realise that instead of constantly looking forward, aiming to get somewhere, do something, be something and somewhere other than what and where I am right now, I have every right and capability to occupy my current space, to be where and who I am in each moment and to stop wishing otherwise.

I’m here, I’m now, I’m content… that’s all I can be sure of.

After spending a week at Serenity Eco-Guesthouse and Yoga, I genuinely didn’t want or feel the need to leave Canggu and the surrounding areas in any way. The three main beaches and surfing spots I grew to love are easily accessible via various narrow, windy streets that are best navigated by motorbike, which are available to rent from reception at Serenity and also from a huge array of places along the mainstreets. I would happily have stayed there exploring as I did every day after my yoga class, swim, or surf lesson, settling in different chillout spots and cafés for the remaining two weeks of my travels, yet Ubud and the Yogabarn were calling, as so many of my recent new aquaintances and Google Search results had recommended.

Ubud is…the Templebar of Bali. Without the booze. The ‘creative’ and ‘artsy’ centre of the small island is renowned historically for it’s temples, arts and crafts and traditional fare, yet more recently for it’s yoga, holistic, and healing retreat centres, the more expensive of which embody everything you’d imagine from a soul-searching American tourist desperate to follow Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat. Pray. Love. kind of spiritual path in a tendency to lean towards the excessively naff and moneymaking kind of superficiality.

That being said, the Yogabarn is actually the most incredible place I’ve ever stepped foot in. For any yoga practitioner (I still find it difficult to use the word ‘yogi’ without thinking of Star Wars), no visit to Bali would be complete without at least coming to see it. The grounds themselves are enormous, and have a commune-like atmosphere and positive, healthy vibe that is honestly as infectious as the chants and repetitive mantras I encountered in my first Kirtan Yoga session the other day (more on that experience later). This variety in itself is one reason to visit and stop in for at the very least a class or two, the going rate to stay here being slightly overpriced for anyone on a budget such as mine. Again however, I seem to have struck lucky in my choice of accomodation. Despite the lack of wifi in Detri Inn hostel, it’s cheap, cheerful, clean, and more importantly is situated literally twenty metres away from the entrance to the Yogabarn, a happy accident that I still refuse to believe happened by chance.

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The Yogabarn restaurant Garden Kafé is a must to try during any stay here too, every single option packed to the brim of the coconut-bowl servings with nutrients and health foods so fresh you nearly have to clean the organic compost from them yourself. Atman Café located a few minutes walk away too is also an extremely delicious and yet again healthy option, and has totally revolutionized the way I think about porridge for good – something I genuinely never thought could ever happen. I’ll be returning home with a wealth of knowledge on making healthy, raw and vegetarian dishes aswell as new ideas and motivation to make them.

I feel Serenity Guesthouse in Canggu was also a gold mine of a find accomodation-wise, as it included everything and more that the Yogabarn in Ubud has to offer, at a fraction of the price, whilst also providing a balanced choice of nightlife versus retreat and holistic medicinal pracitices, classes, and information all within walking and biking distance of a beautiful beach. Honestly, the only reason I left Canggu was to experience Ubud, and I’m already looking into ways to get back there…

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I leave Ubud in the morning to meet a family member down in Seminyak, and while I’ll be sad to leave the soothing and medatitive environment that is my current proximity to the Yogabarn, I’ll be sure to take with me the lessons and experiences I’ve had there and around the Monkey-laden streets and lively centre of Ubud. Until then….

Useful Links
Serenity Eco Guesthouse & Yoga
The Yogabarn Ubud
Yogabarn Garden Kafé
Atman Kafé Ubud Facebook

Making Banana Matoke in Uganda

Matoke, or ‘banana-mush’ as I christened it during our short trip there in October 2013, is one of Uganda’s staple dishes. The consistency of mashed potato with a distinct flavour of banana, this complex carbohydrate serves as the main source of sustenance for many poverty-stricken families in Kayunga, Uganda, and is regularly eaten straight from the leaves in which it is cooked.
As we carried the newly chopped branch of banana-tree back through the shanty village of rusting huts and makeshift washing lines sporting colorful arrays of materials, a gathering a of local semi-naked children gathered pied-piper like behind us. Jumping and hollering and swatting one another out of the way to allow themselves a better view to stand briefly in front of the giant metal contraption they somehow knew was recording them, the din of their excitement and swarm-like congestion around us almost caused me to drop the 2-metre long waxy leaves of the banana tree I had been entrusted with. My charge, a 17-year-old girl named Jan, looked back over her shoulder and laughed heartily at my struggle, as she had only minutes earlier when I had failed to muster the strength required to chop through the 2-foot width of trunk, even after repeated hacking and several grumbles of frustration. She had simply taken the machet from my hand, tipped the spot on the tree where she planned to chop, and in one large swooping motion far more powerful than any of us could have anticipated from her, amputated the thick branch from it’s bark.
“Like that!” she proclaimed proudly.
The brief respite from shame which followed my failure was broken as I tried to move the large bunch of bananas that had fallen with the branch. A sensation akin to taking that extra step in the dark at the top of the stairs when there is none, I found I had severely underestimated the weight of the cluster of 30 or 40 bananas. It wouldn’t budge.
Again Jan chuckled happily to herself and, having fashioned a circular crown-like base for herself out of the thick leaves on the ground, hoisted the bunch of almost-yellow fruit atop her head, and proceeded to walk steadily back through the trees the way we’d come. I was left, cheeks burning, to wrap several long waxy leaves in strips and bind them securely together, following my guide like a lost puppy as I struggled with the substantially lighter option of the leaves of the tree upon my head.
Once we’d made it back through the herd of local children, we set to work on the front porch of the shed-sized dwelling where Jan lived and supported her widowed mother, and 5 younger siblings. Skinning each banana, and placing it inside a pot-shaped weave formed from several of the branch-leaves, the process itself was fairly straightforward, yet it was the pace at which Jan worked which shocked me. I had barely finished skinning my third banana, and she had already moved on to her second bunch.
When all had been successfully added to the pot, I was put on clean-up duty while Jan skillfully lit a small fire inside the doorway of the homestead, and placed the ball of leaves containing the raw bananas upon it. Straightening herself up and casting a pitying glance as I scrambled to collect all the stray banana-skins, she announced with a sigh;
‘And now we wait’.

48 Hours in Bratislava

 

This day last week I was in the middle of a 48-hour stay in the city of Bratislava, a pitt-stop on the way to Sziget music festival in Budapest (more on that in the next post!).
As a ginger who hasn’t been on a proper sun holiday since the cringy days of family package deals to Majorca where any hotel without a kids’ club wasn’t worth batting my glitter-glued eyelashes together at, I’ll admit I may have slightly underestimated the European heat – this was only the beginning of my knowledge of Slovakia proving itself to be extremely limited. The heat struck like a wall of dead, sweaty air when you walk into a heavily populated gym, and I immediately thanked myself for having left my warm jacket at home.

After stumbling our way through the barrier of sweat, hastily-applied suncream, and unhelpful Slovakian bus drivers, we eventually made it to the tram station which would take us in the direction of our hostel. What I hadn’t anticipated was the large amount of dodgy-looking characters who roamed the streets – drunks, cripples, barely-clothed scrawny faces who revelled in approaching young unaccompanied travellers at the stations. I’m not saying it was extremely dangerous, just slightly less civilised and more suburban than many of the other European cities I’ve visited – and this was only in the first few hours or so. Still, we had to avert our gaze as a man covered in dried blood boarded the tram and sat staring at us, making no obvious inclination or cry for help, and seemingly oblivious to the extremity of his unknown injuries.

On finding our hostel (Patio Hostel, Bratislava), a wave of relief swept over me at being briefly removed from the sun’s preying rays, and also at finally being able to remove our backpacks. Shoulders aching, we attended a welcome BBQ downstairs in the garden, accompanied by several hen and stag parties, complete with inflatable and edible items of memorabilia…apparantly Bratislava is a serious hotspot for European pre-nuptial celebrations, who knew!

After locating the local Tesco and stocking up on some essentials, we went wandering in search of ‘Rock OK’ , a lively and dimly-lit underground bar, advertised as the starting point of a nightly pub crawl aimed at integrating the many socially-awkward and party-seeking backpackers who pass through the city during the Summer months. (Rock OK)

Considering it was a Saturday night, the streets were fairly quiet and we found ourselves wondering did such a pub crawl even exist. The streets were buckled under roadworks, with cones, railings, and upturned earth blocking off the streets which Google Maps had set out ahead of us. I got the impression that the entire city was very much a work-in-progress, as the roadworks were central to much of the scenery and background of the busiest areas we encountered.

After a rather sexist drink allowance of ‘Free glasses of beer, or wine for the women’, we got talking to our fellow travellers in the Rock Bar, and did our best to mingle – I’ve found that in situations such as these it is one of the best things you can do to be open, friendly and inviting – we were all in the same boat, after all, and so there was no point in being shy.
Many of the other travellers, some from Spain, New Zealand, England, and Italy, to name but a few, were also stopping off in Bratislava on their way down to Sziget, so a common topic of conversation was easily established.
Making friends with a group of Australians proved to be one of the highlights of the night, as well as typically rejoicing together as we realised there were two other Irish lads on the crawl – although unfortunately they lived up to the ‘drunken Irish’ label the other nationalities muttered to one another. We didn’t stay for the entire crawl however, as after the third ‘pub’ proved to be more of a nightclub than anything else, we decided it was time to navigate our way back through the dilapidated streets, sleeping JCBs and makeshift gravel footpaths.

After wonderful cold showers and a brief annoying realisation that someone in the hostel downstairs had stolen and eaten the bread we’d bought, we set out for a day of exploration in the city. We decided to decline the appeal of a walking-tour of the city purely because of the heat, our timeframe, and also because we much preferred the idea of discovering things independent of tour guides and plans.

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Using some of the roadworks as points of reference, we meandered down the main streets which proved a lot busier during the daytime, a large quarter of the city around the church and fountain being pedestrianised to accommodate travellers. The Old Town proved to be extremely inviting, the ‘Alstadt’ area full of great picture opportunities, innumerable bars, cafes and restaurants that looked good enough to stay in all day. The former Palace of the Hungarian Estates surrounded by the many little cobbled streets proved extremely enjoyable to wander about, despite the midday heat!

We voted in favour of a Pad Thai style lunch instead of sampling some of the local cuisine, and were thoroughly impressed by the service and food of The Green Buddha, close to the main square.

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After impulse-buying another pair of ‘Uganda-pants’, as I call them, (my first ever pair having been purchased in Uganda) in one of the many little craft shops along the street, we took the 83 bus to the end of the line, and got off at Temantínska, and followed the beach-ready stream of locals and tourists alike down a short distance to Drazdiak Lake. This freshwater lake was the first experience I’ve had of an inland lake in Europe, and it didn’t disappoint! Although there were hoards of overly-exposed sun-worshippers and naked children throwing rocks at the (extremely patient) swans, the atmosphere and simplicity of the place really appealed to me. We secured ourselves a beer after hopping the language barrier of the bar, and for the first time since the trip had started we felt really at ease as we chilled in the sun (or in my case, the shade and beneath a light throw cardigan).

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That evening we wandered back through the city and had an early night, as the prospect of a busy day navigating our way to Budapest loomed ahead of us.

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