In Ubud: not a lot to eat, plenty of prayer, no love

UBUD, Indonesia — My first go to to Ubud, in 2006, coincided with the launch of “Eat, Pray, Love,” the bestselling memoir of an American traveler, Elizabeth Gilbert, who finds interior peace and love on this idyllic temple city set within the river valleys of central Bali. A spot of moss-grown Hindu temples, winding alleys, lush inexperienced rice paddies and hidden waterfalls, Ubud was as enchanting because the ebook advised.

Coupled with a Hollywood blockbuster (“Eat Pray Love,” 2010), the story helped flip Ubud, lengthy identified to locals because the religious capital of Bali, into one of many world’s wellness journey capitals. Backpackers, yogis, hippies, foodies, journey writers, billionaires, film stars, rock stars, presidents — all of them got here to Ubud.

By 2018, customer numbers had reached 3 million a yr and Ubud had change into a metropolis. Boutiques and inns popped up like mushrooms, accompanied by a fine-dining scene on a par with Jakarta’s. There have been meals festivals, ebook festivals, a reside music scene, an artwork scene, a thriving neighborhood of digital nomads and Balinese tradition and colour all over the place.

However there have been issues, too. The site visitors was horrible. Each afternoon, the principle roads turned gridlocked, and town by no means found out what to do with all of the plastic trash.

Fifteen months into the COVID-19 pandemic, and 15 years after my first go to, I returned to Ubud to see how the vacationer city has fared.

Earlier than the pandemic, the Ubud Arts Market was a hive of exercise. Right this moment, solely a dozen-odd stallholders nonetheless commerce. Amongst them is Made. “I have not offered something in two weeks,” he stated. “No vacationers, no meals,” stated the stallholder alongside him.


The meals and beverage trade has additionally been hit onerous. Bali’s Gianyar Resort and Restaurant Affiliation reported in March that 90% of eating places in Ubud have closed.

“I might say that quantity is about proper,” stated Janet DeNeefe, an Australia-born restaurateur who has lived in Ubud for the reason that Eighties. As soon as the pinnacle of a thriving occasion and hospitality enterprise, she now sells baked items to outlive. “Strategically, the best factor to do when commerce is dangerous is to shut,” she stated. “However I refuse to. It is essential that we generate some form of wage for our employees.”


The Monkey Forest, a sanctuary and pure habitat for greater than 1,000 Balinese long-tailed macaques run by the area people, was the most well-liked attraction in Ubud earlier than the pandemic, attracting as much as 3,000 guests each day. It was closed for many of 2020 and reopened in November, however customer numbers stay low. “About 50 folks now come every day,” stated Lilit, one in every of 75 workers working for half pay. “As a result of there are so few vacationers, the monkeys are bored and depart this place. However they all the time come again at feeding time.”


The Campuhan Ridge Stroll, a picturesque foot path that rolls up and down a forested ridge, had change into more and more common earlier than the pandemic. At sundown, the trail was typically crowded with tons of of Instagrammers making an attempt to take the right shot. Now the ridge is silent once more, aside from birdcalls within the jungle, chirping bugs, and water dashing within the valley under. A couple of Instagrammers stay, like these vacationers from Jakarta recognizing snapping photographs with their telephones. An artist village on the peak of the ridge can be almost empty.


Ubud is residence to 12,000 folks going about their each day lives. One other 1,000 foreigners reside within the space, and some dozen vacationers float via every week. However for anybody who remembers the heaving crowds of the previous, it may really feel like a ghost city. “We now have been to Ubud earlier than and now it is scary, nearly like a useless city, prefer it’s haunted,” stated Natasha Situmorang, a customer from Jakarta. “All of the retailers are closed. That is the saddest half for the folks.”


Within the Central Market is a billboard that includes {a photograph} of an impoverished Balinese sporting a masks, surrounded by greater than 100 footage of foreigners with out masks. A plaque close by claims that 95% of Balinese put on masks in public, as required by regulation, whereas many foreigners don’t. Mockingly, the billboard, which goals to disgrace transgressors into compliance, was made by a overseas artist.

Balinese are famously tolerant, and only some vacationers have been deported through the pandemic. However there’s a rising need among the many island’s locals for a pivot away from mass-tourism methods towards extra sustainable, gentler tourism fashions.


In 2019 Bali welcomed 16.2 million home and worldwide guests, almost 4 instances the native inhabitants. However the island by no means misplaced its authenticity or attraction. That’s as a result of the Balinese reside, eat and sleep their Hindu tradition and faith. There’s all the time a ceremony, marriage ceremony or funeral occurring, and these occasions have continued, albeit scaled-down, through the pandemic.

Many locals imagine that Bali has escaped the worst of the pandemic due to prayer, and that worshipping their ancestors and gods will assist carry good luck to revive the economic system. It’s a poignant illustration of the deep spirituality of the Balinese that has made their island such a drawcard for these looking for therapeutic. So is their perception in how religion can offset adversity. Or, as Gilbert put it in her ebook, “God by no means slams a door in your face with out opening a field of Woman Scout Cookies.”


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