Where the wild things are: Ubud

Gateway to heaven: Villa Alamanda
The forest is absolutely roaring tonight. Frogs croaking, crickets creeping, there's a bird that screams like it's on a rotisserie. Well, it could be a bird. Our driver, Gusti, describes it as a 'little animal'. It could be the small child in our party.

This is Ubud: fertile, fecund and slightly wild. And that's just the people. With my unerring sense of bad timing, I've just missed the Ubud Writer's Festival, where John Pilger was one of the headline acts, and again, I have failed to get to one of Ubud's legendary yoga classes. Surely, however, nothing can top the inspirational class I did with Danny Paradise, years ago, for a mere $20 at one of the neighbourhood yoga hangs. The memory sustains me.

We've stayed in two places in Ubud this time, the first being a private villa, Villa Alamanda, and I've returned to the lodge at Taro Elephant Park for the second time this year.

The four-bedroom villa is set in a small village just outside Ubud, though you wouldn't know it. It overlooks a river ensnared in wild jungle, and the grounds include a vast infinity pool that spills down the hillside, and breakfast each morning looks out onto the wilderness.

Yet at night, I can hear plenty of chatter and the chime and clang of gamelan. This past weekend was one of the two most auspicious dates in the Balinese calender, popular for religious ceremonies including weddings, so the streets are lined with decorations and occasionally, we'll drive through a village where the locals are dressed in their Sunday best.

The village school took the opportunity to have its new classrooms blessed, and we wandered in to witness the ceremony conducted by our villa's head chef. The very well behaved kids, lined up watching the ceremony, had a little riot at the appearance of the curly-haired babe, but unlike my strict Mass ceremonies as a child, nobody was waiting to whack them with a cane. Perhaps that's why Hinduism has remained so strong in Bali... 

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