Unlike the party beach towns of Kuta, Legian and even high-end Seminyak, Ubud tucked amid the rolling padi terraces of Bali, is comparably cooler, especially when dusk falls. Even the main shopping streets are quieter, idyllic even, for the storekeepers are less aggressive and let you browse, and the absence of beaches means the absence of touts pushing you batik sarongs, eagle carvings, and advertising hairbraiding and massage services.
This trip was full of hidden finds, full of serendipity and soft winds. The biggest serendipity was the villa we stayed at, called Barong Resort and Spa.
This was not the typical brand spanking-new resort with piped in music, remote-controlled curtains and key cards. Instead, algae stained the walls of the terraced villa, lichen carpeted the steps to the sunken garden below, and everywhere, there were bugs. Flora and fauna, in all its Balinese glory, encroached where shine and polish feared to tread.
The move of time had aged the place with a rusticity as authentic as the dogeared pages of a favourite book, or the faded hues of a wellworn blanket.
The lack of fumigation, a hallmark of modern war against pests, meant an insect could be found on every leaf, in every flower. There were bees, wasps, spiders, moths, butterflies, dragonflies, garden snails in lemon-coloured shells, a toad in a grotto. Here was life, buzzing and chirping and twittering (not tweeting) in all its organic glory.
Here, organic did not refer to organic cereal or decaf coffee. Instead, organic here is synonymous with water pooling in craters in the cracked stone paving, a sudden chorus of crickets, a trespassing cat, ants on the breakfast table.
The same move of time had made the coconut trees five-storeys tall, allowed creepers to green the walls, and the leaves of a staghorn parasite plant fall Rapunzel-like from its host, the erythrina glauca (also known as the red-flower tree).
It is in this garden that clumps of heliconia, maidenhair fern, and spider lily fight for space amongst crotons, flowering ginger plants, pandanus and all manner of palms, hibiscus and the ubiquitous frangipani tree.
It’s the kind of place the soul unwittingly feeds upon, where the riotous plants let the imagination run wild. And memory, thus freed, reaches back into the distant past to juxtapose school holidays spent exploring gardens of childhood with the present tableau.
It’s the kind of place where one notices that the dew, diamond-like in the rays of the sun, is like the mercies of God; new every morning.
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