Wander Woman, Marie Javins, goes in search of an apartment in Ubud – with wifi and, preferably, rice paddy views
My first morning in Ubud, Bali! I’d flown in last night from Borneo, tired from my round-the world journey and looking forward to a month of sitting in one pace.
But one annoying task lay ahead of me first. I had to go look at a half-dozen apartments and bungalows for my four-week stay.
I'd only given myself a single day to find a place. I couldn't afford the hotels here – I'd been shocked at the low vacancy rates and high prices in Ubud compared to a decade ago.
I'd done all the research I could ahead of time and was armed with a list of prospective flats. What I'd discover over the next month is that there are loads of really inexpensive bungalows in family compounds within the confines of the Penestanan rice fields. If you walk around the paths away from the road, you'll be approached every few days by a landlord looking to fill a bungalow.
Unfortunately, their bungalows don't usually have wifi, aside from USB sticks and phone data. So the family compound wasn't an option for me. Part of stopping for a month during my trip around the world was catching up on my job, which is done via the internet, with the head office being in Kuwait.
I needed a real connection, because I upload and download huge Photoshop files. Though looking ahead to when I planned to camp in Western Australia, I'd be reduced to the mobile network. But I could deal with searching for McDonald’s and coffee shops when that time came. For now, I needed a pleasant, decent, private set-up in Ubud. One that came with a strong internet connection.
Which left me with, mostly, tourist-geared spots and expat sublets.
I'd scrolled past a number of way-too-pricey places online. I figured that once the monthly rate crept up to around $1,200, I might as well just stay in a hotel. So that eliminated most of the high-end bungalows and left me with a few small places out of the centre, some unpleasant spots IN the centre, and some cheaper hotels.
The receptionist at the hotel I’d stayed in last night handed me a map. I marked the places I wanted to see and set off in the hot sun.
Ugh, the humidity. I was sweating and burning up in no time.
And the sidewalks! They're appalling in Ubud. I knew to keep my eyes down from my earlier visits. You could sprain your ankle in your first hour in town if you're not careful. Maybe I should just sprain it now and get it over with, I thought. Also, I didn't want to kick anyone's offerings off the sidewalk. Little bits of flower, incense, and rice sit in banana leaves in front of shops and homes in Bali. I have kicked them off the sidewalk by accident before – everyone who spends any time in Bali manages to do this sooner or later. But it's embarrassing when it happens and not something anyone cares to repeat.
I checked some uninspiring spots near the Monkey Forest, then headed up Jalan Hanuman and off to the right.
Yuck. The cheapest flat I'd found online was gross.
I headed back to Monkey Forest Road, where 11 different young women handed me flyers for their spas. I know what ear candling is, but what is belly candling?
I stopped in midday for some gazpacho, spinach salad, and lemonade. Ubud has some yummy food.
And lots of tourists. Wow, I thought.This place is crawling with them. I'm one too. I mustn't fuss. As a tourist, I had no right to complain about tourists. But yes, we were many.
Of course, too many tourists also means income for the Balinese. So it's good to have so many tourists.
In late afternoon, after repeated disappointments in the main part of town, I walked up a steep hill to the little suburb of Penestanan. This is frequently called an artisan's village. It seemed like a lot of rice paddies were being turned into bungalows for tourists – I worried about my place in the impact of tourism on this town. But Penestanan was still adorable out there among the green fields.
I had a positive feeling about one place based on... well, nothing really. Just an email exchange with the owner, Kadek. I turned down a path away from the road, alongside a gurgling stream, and found Kadek at the front desk of Gerebig Bungalows.
"You didn't email back," she said. I hadn't. I'd gotten distracted with chasing monkeys and frogs in Borneo and forgotten to tell her when I was coming in.
She showed me a few older places, which were cheap enough. And then she showed me a brand-new bungalow, with two apartments, one upstairs and one downstairs. The bungalow was so new the Balinese new house ceremony hadn't even happened yet. And I could have the top floor, complete with kitchen, for 7,500,000 a month.
That's not cheap, but neither is it expensive. It's about $827 a month. Her other units were much cheaper but they shared kitchens and were not stunningly brand-new.
I told her I'd think about it, and wandered off to see other bungalows. The ones that were as nice as hers all cost more and the others were not too inspiring in comparison.
Plus, she offered to put me on the top floor so the wifi signal would be stronger.
At 5:30, I had the shuttle from the hotel I'd stayed last night drop me off.
"Kadek?" She was staring at her computer when I returned, answering emails at the front desk.
"I'll take it."