A Perfect Beginning and a Sickly End in Ubud

Sharp pain and a slew of cramps shock me awake. It’s dark and the usually noisy street below our window is silent. It must be at least 4 or 5 in the morning. J is sleeping soundly, sprawled out without the sheet.

The last time I fell asleep, 2 or 3 hours ago, I was burning up and drenched with sweat. I had thrown off the covers and stripped down to a tank top and shorts – the aircon on full blast. Now, I’m shivering, like I have my own personal snow cloud. I pull on my airplane outfit – long sleeved tee, comfy pants and a synthetic down jacket… zipped up all the way, hood over my head. Even though I know J will wake up in a matter of hours fuming at the heat, I cut off the AC. I can’t help it… it’s probably 88 degrees outside but I can’t stop shaking. I’m able to use the bathroom to gain a semblance of relief from the pain, before pulling on a pair of wool socks and grabbing J’s jacket to put on as a final layer. Back in bed I burrito myself in the single sheet used as bedding in the hot, humid climate and try to fall back asleep.

An hour or two later, and I’m awake again. Same pain. Same cramps. But my body has switched gears. Now I’m a heat factory and can’t shed the layers fast enough. I click the aircon back on – at least J won’t realize I turned it off – and return to the bathroom, hoping to flush out whatever foodbourne illness is causing me so much strife.

Three Days Earlier.

Offering Ubud Market

Ubud was exactly how I imagined Bali to be. The narrow streets, the little stalls selling “local” crafts, open air cafes filled with young green coconuts. After a day of sightseeing and landing in Ubud, finally our time in Bali was settling into what it was supposed to be.

Well rested and ready to explore, our first morning in Ubud we anxiously waited for our pick up outside a restaurant around the corner from our accommodation. We were off on a culinary adventure – one of my favorite kinds. The third of three couples being picked up by our driver, we crammed into the little SUV and sped off in the direction of the market. It was a quiet car ride, except for the whispered conversation of another couple, speaking French. We would later find out we were in the midst of quite the international group – French, German, American, Spanish and Australian.

Market Tour.

Our driver dropped us off and we were met by the remainder of the group, as well as our leader, Made. In Balinese culture, everyone is given a name that signifies their birth order. Made is the name of the second born. Wayan is the eldest, Nyoman or Komang is the third born. But my favorite, Ketut, is the fourth born. There are a few other choices for birth order names for the first and second born, but the aforementioned are the most popular. I kind of love that there is only one option for the fourth. Fourth babies rule. Once you pass four, the cycle just starts over… so a fifth child is given a name from the choices of a first. Pretty cool.

Ubud Market Tour

Made was a phenomenal guide through the morning market. We were the only non-locals around and were able to see a real glimpse of day to day Balinese life. Everywhere I looked, color exploded before me. Hot chilies, floral offerings, banana stems heavy with bright green bunches – a visual feast. At one stall, Made handed out what looked like little dragon’s eggs – brown and rough and scaled. Urging us to peel and it eat, we did as we were told and were surprised by a mildly sweet and tart flavor. Snakeskin fruit, as it is known in English, is rarely eaten by the Balinese, but is used primarily for offerings. In fact, most of the fruit sold at the market has the same fate.

Ubud Market Tour

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Ubud Market Tour

We followed Made through the narrow paths between stalls brimming with nearly anything you could think of – produce, dried fish, bamboo cones for steaming rice. After getting a glimpse of all the ingredients we’d be using in our lesson, we headed back to the cars.

Cooking Class.

We arrived at a traditional Balinese home, passing through the stone doorway and walking down the steps into the complex. Greeted with tea and pisang goreng (banana fritters), we were given some time to enjoy our surroundings before diving into the kitchen.

Ubud Cooking Class

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Ubud Cooking Class

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Ubud Cooking Class

First, we began the hour long process of steaming the rice. It would need to be checked about every twenty minutes, and by the time it finished we’d be just about done with the rest of the meal. We chopped, we ground, we sautéed and seared. It was an overall pleasant experience, but the best part, by far, was the meal at the end. By late afternoon, we were full and happy and heading back to the guesthouse.

Ubud Cooking Class

Gamelan.

Eager to take advantage of our newfound ability to easily walk to places of interest, we set out that evening to partake in a traditional Gamelan performance. Gamelan is a musical ensemble made up primarily of percussive instruments and can be accompanied by a dance performance. Gamelan Semara Ratih, a troupe that performs in Ubud regularly and has toured internationally, was our objective.

Ubud Gamelan

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Ubud Gamelan

The performance hall was a bit off the main drag. Walking down the empty road, we were unsure if we had taken a wrong turn until a ticket scalper began to harass us. Unsure if these tickets would be usable at the door, we told her “No, thank you,” and continued walking. She barked some terrifying Indonesian and began following us, but by the time the dance hall was in sight she had backed off.

With a couple of Bintangs bought from a vendor just inside the door we settled in for an hour of live music and dance. The speed with which the percussionists performed was mesmerizing, and yet, the most enchanting aspect of the performance were the dancer’s eyes. Never before have I experienced a theatrical or dance performance were the artist’s eyes played such a pivotal role in expression. I was soon lost in the eyes of the dancer’s.

Ubud Gamelan

The next day.

We’d had a nice little breakfast at our guesthouse, some fresh cut papaya and watermelon, Thai pancakes with coconut and black tea to drink. We were staying right in the heart of the town, and began a lovely stroll to the Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary. This nature reserve is set within the ruins of a Hindu temple complex right on the outskirts of Ubud. Filled with Balinese Long-Tailed Monkeys (or Crab-Eating Macaques), this is one of the most popular tourists spots on the entire island.

Ubud Sacred Monkey Sanctuary

Walking past stone statues and into a verdant jungle, it is easy to see why the monkeys love it here… all the local women selling treats for tourists to feed them. Not one for feeding wild animals, we passed on the banana stand, but spent the morning wandering. We’d walk from one area dense with tourists and banana-crazed monkeys to a moment later when we’d be alone in the forest, standing still and quietly watching the monkeys go about their day.

Ubud Sacred Monkey Sanctuary

These monkeys, as so many are, are incredibly curious. At one point, while J and I had stopped on a bridge to watch a few playing in the trees, one monkey began examining J’s backpack. He got his hands on the zippers and was trying to get into it. J was able to get him off, but another passerby was not so lucky. A monkey unzipped their pack and pulled out packs of wet wipes before running off into the trees. Disappointed that it’s haul was not food, the monkey began ripping out the wipes and throwing them throughout the forest. They clearly are very accustomed to getting food from humans.

Ubud Sacred Monkey Sanctuary

A bit later I had my own close encounter when an infant monkey walked right up to me on a railing, reached out and grabbed my breast. Whoops – not your mom, monkey! I immediately bolted back, in shock from my monkey molestation, but that didn’t stop momma monkey from charging at me, fangs bared. Luckily she backed down once she got her infant back, but it was a few of the most terrifying seconds of my life.

Day Three.

I woke up this morning in blissful ignorance of the horrors that would come. We enjoyed our breakfast at the guesthouse, just as we had done the day before. After packing up all our gear, we headed off to a wi-fi cafe to edit photos and get in some writing. I ordered some kombucha and got to work. Not long after arriving I started having stomach cramps. I will gloss over the dirty details, but by early afternoon, I was bedridden and already oscillating between burning up and freezing almost hourly. Assuming it was a bad case of food poisoning, I braced myself for a bad 24 hours… 48 tops.

After two days in bed and having to change guesthouses, we called the English speaking clinic and were able to get a house call. Turns out it wasn’t just food poisoning. WARNING: GROSS MEDICAL DIAGNOSIS AHEAD. I was diagnosed with not only a bacterial infection in my gut, but also a parasite. I was given three prescriptions that would last 10 days and was no longer allowed to drink alcohol. Bummer. I spent another day and half in bed, but slowly began to feel better, and by about 6 days into the meds I felt normal. I had read numerous times before arriving in Bali not to consume pre-cut fruit in third world countries, and after my doctor pinpointed my morning papaya as the likely culprit, I will be taking that recommendation much more seriously in the future… and I did for the rest of the trip.

 


 

If you are in Ubud and find yourself in need of medical attention, I highly recommend Ubud Health Care Clinic. They were very nice and went above and beyond to get me feeling better.

 

 

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