Crazy Rich Gringos

This guy Chris Salans has ridden the Ubud tourism wave to some significant successes. This picture is his cookbook for sale at the airport gift shop.

Chuck’s ex’s daughter went to school with Chris at Tufts. We ate at his second restaurant, called Spice, hoping to say hello. But he doesn’t actually show up much any more apparently.

The food was fine, with creative combinations, on a par with good resort town restaurants in the States,,, and US prices to match.

Tegalalang rice paddies

After lunch we gambled that the rain would stop and headed to the World Heritage Site Tegalalang rice paddies.

The rain did stop and held off while I walked rim to rim to rim. Impossibly steep, intricately engineered waterways, lots and lots of tourists.

It was interesting to see different people navigate the muddy paths. I saw a Chinese girl in white ballet flats and a flowy pleated skirt do the whole walk without a drop of mud on her, and a European in sturdy REI travel clothes who was utterly covered in goop.

Warung de Koi

We were hungry after all that coffee, and so we followed Kadek’s recommendation to lunch at the Warung de Koi. As a professional driver, he seemed to know the spots that would take care of us and also take care of him. Win win.

We sat in a little raised pavilion, open to the sides under a thick thatched roof and watched the rain fall into the koi pond. We enjoyed both the Western and Indonesian food. I couldn’t tell one Mie Goreng (fried noodles which I ate at least once each day) from the next, but they were all pretty good.

Have another cup

Lee hadn’t seen a coffee plantation, and Chuck and I were both willing to do it again, so Kadek took us to one. See, said the guy who showed us around, like the Hollywood sign!!

The tour was pretty similar to the previous one, but a little better overall. Here’s some specimen plants, here’s the coffee processing, interactive this time…

Hot work and a hard life. I would not want to bet which of us is older.

Then on to the tasting, including a cup of the Kopi Luwak, the famous civet cat poop beans. For the record, it was a good cup of coffee, but I’m not gonna be shelling out the $50+ per pound on a regular basis.

We got to pet a sleepy (probably drugged, now I think of it) civet, and then exited through the gift shop.

Woulda bought a poo hunter t-shirt, but all they had was an Asian medium size… which I definitely am not.

Tirta Empul

On our final full day in Ubud, our Airbnb host Kadek took us on a sightseeing tour. We originally planned to do a bike tour, but seeing the amount of traffic on the roads convinced us otherwise.

Luckily, Kadek is also a driver, so he knew just where to take us.

First stop, the ATM for another couple million rupiah. Second stop, the Tirta Empul holy water purification temple. Real Balinese Hindus come here to pray and wash away sins. The Eat, Pray, Love set (who constituted the majority of people we saw in the baths) do the same, although if anything they take it even more seriously. And tourists like us come to take pictures.

The temple grounds are really beautiful. I find the Balinese carvings and sculptures to be really evocative… their mythological creatures somehow seem just exactly mythological enough.

Everyone has to wear a sarong, which they give you on the way in.

The Balinese Hindu calendar seems to be neither lunar nor solar according to the explanations we got. There are ceremonies and rituals at odd intervals, and then more that happen for births, deaths, marriages, and so on. There’s a good time to start a business, a good time to get engaged, and so on. So with all that complexity, we had no idea what the big procession we witnessed was all about… but it was pretty impressive!

After all the offerings were put on a table, many of the marchers got to take a break in the shade. Out comes the phone, and snacks.

Then more parading of fancy and apparently weighty icons, and the big shaggy dragon brought up the rear.

It was all in all a really special place, mystifying but benignly so. Kadek did us a solid on the way out by getting the door guard to let us skip the enormous handicraft bazaar they funnel you through on the way out.


The internet is awash in pictures of overloaded scooters in various places. We were impressed with this guy’s ingenuity and patience as he lashed this scaffolding to his trusty steed.

A few minutes later he came back for some long sections of pipe. He hoisted them on his shoulder and drove away one-handed. What could possibly go wrong?

Rain, rain, go away

It rained every day if our visit, but not for long. We only got caught outside once, forcing us to buy unneeded plastic ponchos. Otherwise, we got to watch from cover of one sort or another. The short bursts were truly impressive.

Once we were sitting at home, the last photo, and a thunderclap was so close that it set off a car alarm. But we were impressed that the power never even flickered.

Allez, alley!

The main roads around Ubud are two narrow lanes in width. From there, neighborhoods are accessed by driveway-width paths. And from there, you access most of the houses by these narrow sidewalks, which are just about the right size for two people or three motor scooters loaded with construction materials. And since all the houses have high walls and there are stray dogs everywhere, it’s sometimes a challenge to see all this as charming. I mean, it is charming, but you do have to remind yourself from time to time.

Maybe someday development will progress to the point of a grid system like we’re used to. But for now, it’s all built on top of ex-rice paddies, so the land is terraced and transacted by canals. And there’s no money for infrastructure anyway, so it will probably be alleys and improvisation for a while longer.

Let’s take it from the top

After the coffee plantation, we continued driving uphill to the start point of our tour.

The group was just five… me on the left, then Camilla and Thomas from Sweden, Ronald from the Netherlands, and Chuck from my old neighborhood in Vermont. It was a very convivial group… I would happily travel with all these people, and it makes appreciate one value of a group tour… if you have any luck at all you’ll meet some nice people. Chuck and Ronald, for example, were thrilled to speak Dutch to each other.

Anyway, that’s Mt. Batur in the distance, an impressively big volcano. One popular tourist attraction is to get up at 2AM (for some I suppose it’s stay up till 2AM) and ascend Mt. Batur in time for sunrise. Too energetic for us.

We adjusted the seats on our rattletrap mountain bikes, so they were less too short, checked the brakes (1out of 2 ain’t bad) and took off.

True to the brochure, the tour was entirely downhill. I think I pedaled about 10 revolutions in total, coming off stop signs, and on a bike with less friction wouldn’t have had to do even that.

There wasn’t as much explanation as I would have liked, but I guess the land we were on was formed by a big slow volcanic flow, so it made a very long and gentle slope. Really fun to cruise down.

We stopped at a little school and looked around.

The faded Say No To Drugs sign was somehow sad… if ‘man-splaining’ is a problem, this English-language message felt like its global cousin ‘America-splaining.’

Next stop, a Hindu temple we couldn’t go in. Then on to a ‘real’ family compound to see how the country people live. It was uncomfortable for me, being paraded into these people’s home while they basically ignored us and we basically ignored them. The children were cute, but their artificial smiles enlisted to sell us crocheted bags made me squirm.

But it was interesting to peek in the house compound. Several separate buildings, two for sleeping, separate kitchen, separate bathroom. One just for ceremonies and rituals. There is electricity and running water, but not much of either. They don’t have a flush toilet, but they do have cell phones.

Our guide Ago.

Then we veered off the road and into the terraced rice paddies. We wound our way along a concrete wall with the flowing water channels snaking in and out along the contour lines of the hillside. It’s an impressive feat of engineering… from above it must look like a printed circuit board.

From there we cruised through some more villages, traffic increasing steadily as we got closer to town. We finished up with lunch of fried rice and Bintang beer at a little cafe.

I wouldn’t have minded a better bike and maybe a little more of a workout, but it was a really fun tour and we met nice people.

Coffee plantation

Yesterday Chuck and I went on a “downhill bike tour”, more about that in the next few posts.

The tour included a stop at a coffee plantation, where we got a perfunctory tour of some plants,

a peek into the traditional methods of producing coffee,

a viewing of the beans in various stages (including freshly pooped out by a luwak or civet),

and a tasting of all the things we might choose to buy on the way out.

It was fine, in a cruise ship attraction kind of way.


We did not actually eat Wayan’s Raw Balls for breakfast with our fresh papaya-lime juice and Balinese coffee. But the picture was too good to pass up.

Gas station

Most of the vehicles are scooters, and nobody has any spare coin, so most gas purchases are for like 1or 2 liters.

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