I was super excited about this leg of the trip as I was going to meet up with Bex, an old friend I hadn’t seen in toooo long! She’s been living in Melbourne for the last three years and apart from one evening two Christmases ago we haven’t seen each other, so I was so excited to meet up with her! We decided to do a two-week volunteering placement through Workaway, and we found an organic farming project based in Ubud. the work itself was a bit patchy as there were so many ceremonies going on (more on that in a minute), but we did have some fun getting stuck into weeding rice fields, building using bamboo, and painting the rooftop garden!
Nyepi and Ogoh-ogohs
We didn’t realise until after we’d booked our flights that we would be in Bali for the new year. We had no idea what to expect, and man were we in for an experience! Bali has it’s own calendar separate to the solar and lunar calendars used in other countries in the region. Based on rice growing cycles and it’s own unique form of Hinduism, the new year actually occurs less than once a year (of the Gregorian calendar that we use in the West), so we were very lucky indeed to catch it. The night before was a celebration involving Ogoh-ogohs, which are huge hand-crafted statues of demons. They are carried and paraded throughout the village where they were made, and then afterwards they are often burned or destroyed to symbolise letting go of bad spirits in time for the new year. Seeing the procession is quite a spectacle in itself, but as we were volunteering we actually got roped into carrying one… and it wasn’t small, to put it lightly…
So there we were, roughly ten European volunteers dressed up in sarongs, sweating profusely and trying not to fall over, carrying this monster around! Needless to say the locals found the whole debacle hilarious, and with the spooky soundtrack of gongs and drums, the whole experience was extremely surreal. We had a lot of fun despite being exhausted, and with a few sly shots of rice whisky me and Bex eventually left the village of Pengosekan to head into Ubud centre to see the rest of the festivities (at that point our ogoh-ogoh’s head had started to fall off, so we couldn’t carry it too much more anyway. More’s the pity.)
The following day, Nyepi, is a day of silence and quiet contemplation (and usually nursing a hangover I think!) Nobody is allowed outside, no traffic except for emergency service vehicles are allowed on the road, and not even flights will leave or enter Bali. At home you’re not supposed to cook, switch on the lights or even light candles! Of course the police don’t check inside people’s homes, but the no going outside rule is pretty strictly enforced. We spent the day with Dave at his guesthouse watching movies and chilling out (we’d stocked up on snacks the day before as we knew we wouldn’t be able to go out) and seeing the stars that night so brightly was definitely an experience!
Other highlights in Ubud included the wonderful cat cafe, cuddling puppies at BARC (please please check it out and donate if you go to Ubud – they need all the help they can get and they’re doing some great work!), doing a free class at the yoga barn, and eating lots of gado-gado and drinking yummy smoothies 🙂 We found Ubud a bit strange in some ways – a lot of very fancy shops and yoga studios – but the appeal was easy to see, with all the beautiful flowers everywhere, smiling people, and stunning temples. We also did a cooking course at the lovely 9 Angels warung, and Dave and I did the touristy bit and went to the Monkey Forest – and thoroughly enjoyed it 🙂
Me and Bex were also lucky enough to see the Jatiluwih UNESCO heritage rice paddies with our volunteering group. Lush, verdant and quiet, the views are incredible and were what I had imagined Bali to be like before I arrived. It was quite a long drive by scooter from Ubud, but if you are touring around the island it is definitely impressive and worth a look!