I stumbled upon an old photo taken me back in October 2014. It was the time when I travelled to Ubud and stayed there for a month. Since then, I have always been looking forward to coming back to this tiny village in Central Bali for many good reasons. But why do I, and also for many other travellers, keep coming back to this little village?
When the car ran through windy, narrow roads, lush green terraces of paddy fields with cool tropical breezes, it was warm welcoming. I found myself fall in love with Ubud at first sight. The following morning, soon I got my rented scooter, I made a little trip to many temples around the village. One of them was Gunung Kawi temple. So, following the GPS from apple maps and was relying upon the technology, I got lost on my motorbike in search of one of the oldest temples in Bali, Gunung Kawi temple. Thanks, Apple maps.
But I didn't mind at all, sitting on my motorbike on a dusted offroad, right before my eyes, the morning golden sun was shining on vast green rice fields with canopies of coconut trees in the horizon. Some local farmers were working on the brown, watery fields wondering if I were really lost. Yes, I was lost. Where the bloody hell the temple is? But one man politely approached me, and he said I took the wrong turn, but he later offered me the shortcut to the temple.
‘As long as you don't mind walking on the mud and ricefields, I’ll take you down to the temple,’ He said.
Then he introduced himself. His name is Wayan.
‘I can only take you to the back gate. I’m not allowed to enter the temple,’ He continued.
‘Why is that?’ I asked, curious.
Then he explained that one of his family members recently passed away, so under such condition, he couldn't enter any temples in a certain period of time — I couldn't recall how many days or weeks exactly. So he left me at the back gate. We went down so many terraces of rice fields, walked across many coconut tree bridges, and climbed up the cliff. Lost In Ubud. The photo was taken by Wayan (Photo supplied by the author). He handed out a sarong for me before I stepped into the Gunung Kawi complex. The temple is carved into a rock cliff. There is a river running through the main site of the temple. The temple overlooks the valley carpeted with green rice fields.
Ubud is such an ideal place to inspire artists and writers and no doubt. It’s the right place to celebrate their works as well. No wonder International artists of the twentieth century, such as Antonio Blanco and Walter Spies had made Ubud their homes. They continued to become prominent artists in their era.
So a century later, Ubud, once again, inspired Elizabeth Gilbert in her best selling, phenomenal travel memoir Eat Pray Love. Ubud Writers & Readers Festival
The Airbnb host where I stayed, a friendly Australian lady from Adelaide, her name was Jen, invited me to the opening night of a writers festival.
‘Have you heard of the Ubud Writers & Readers Festival?’ She asked. Of course, I had never heard of it, you silly Jen.
‘Then you’re coming with me tonight. It’s going to be fun!’ She continued.
And yes, she was right. I had so much fun that night. I met many people from different countries. I met Phil who works for a community Radio in Queensland that until now we remain good friends. Photo Courtesy Of Ubud Writers & Readers Festival. Photo Credit: Anggara Mahendra. For those of you who haven’t heard of it, UWRF is a four-day annual literary event festival in Ubud, Central Bali that showcases talents of emerging and established Indonesian and International writers and artists.
The theme of the festival is different every year. Last year it was its sixteenth year, the branding tag was karma, inviting 180 writers, artists and activists from thirty countries. There were over 170 events across Ubud and Bali, jam-packed with panel discussions, performances, workshops, film screenings, book launches, long table lunches and many others for 4 days.
It was 12 October 2002, two bombs exploded in Kuta, 202 dead. It’s a long road to recovery for Bali tourism bouncing back to normal condition. From a humble beginning to bring tourists back to Bali after the devastating effect on the bombing, Janet De Neef, a Melbournian woman, along with her husband Ketut Suardana founded the Ubud Writers Festival as a healing project for the island tourism. The cultural diversity of Indonesia is the strength to show the world that a little, unknown village of Ubud could host a unique, International event.
It was 2003 when the Ubud Writers & Readers Festival (UWRF) held set its first-year aim to bring Indonesian and international writers together on one festival. But it took me eleven years to find out UWRF only by chance. The festival attracted 25,000 tourists from around the world.
The Telegraph named URWF among the top five literary events for 2019. In 2014, when I travelled to Bali and stayed in Ubud for a month, it was the start of my journey to the festival. I wasn’t quite sure whether it was the right decision for me to stay a month in a little village of Ubud. Many friends who lived in the tourist spot of the coastal town of Seminyak disapproved my decision as they said Ubud was no more than a tiny village with nothing to see.
‘One month in Ubud is too long,’ they said.
I found myself sitting among other festival-goers in the open-air venue overlooking the ridge. I browsed the festival program booklet while digging in lunch at the local cafe with other festival-goers. I spent an afternoon on a book launch, sipping a cocktail at Bridges restaurant overlooking river running in between rocks and the smell of moss. At nights, I entertained myself at their poetry slams, and I went to see the local and international film screenings. UWRF is a tourism event like no other in the world.
Reading a book on a day bed at Jen’s open-air tropical house in Junjungan village, I saw Jen walk in the door with full of excitement. She got a pair of black shoes that looked like those ballerina shoes, and I thought. Oh damn, this lady is a kick-ass ballerina. She landed me a smile, showing off a pair of shiny, black shoes. ‘I’ve been waiting for these babies for weeks. They’re salsa shoes!’ Salsa Night in Ubud Circa 2014 (Photo supplied by the author). That day she successfully convinced me to take a two-hour salsa lesson so we could dance together. Then that night it was to my surprise that the laughing Buddha restaurant turned into a salsa dance floor packed with local and ex-pat salsa enthusiasts. They were all spectacular dancers. Some even won Salsa completion. I was the only one with the awkward steps. But who cares? You’re a traveller, and no one knows you, anyway.
A year later, Phil & I came back to Bali, and since then it has become our October pilgrimage. It coincided with the 50th anniversary of the Indonesian’ s1965 massacre of an estimated 500,000 suspected communists and their sympathisers. Many events cancelled in the last minutes because of the controversies surrounding many related events, but still, I enjoyed the festival.
But unfortunately, just like other tourism destinations in the world, COVID19 hit Bali hard. But UWRF proved, with sustainability as their business model, they could deal with the impacts of COVID19 by quickly responding to the effect through its risk management plan.
So under the branding tag KEMBALI20, its plan to rebuild Bali Festival from 29 October to 8 November 2020. On their website, it states that KEMBALI20 features over 100 storytellers and culinary figures who will join intimate discussions and powerful performances in a digital Festival. Janet De Neef, you’re such a fighter!
I will always remember that golden year of 2014. Thank you, Ubud for the memories of travelling that through my travel experiences, you made me a person what I am now. You’d gotten through the devastating event, and you’ll get through this pandemic.
Till I see you again.