It felt great to have our current villa booked for all of May, and it gave us time to relax into our days. But, we didn’t want to leave things til the end of the month to search for whatever would follow. Several people warned us about the crowded months of July and August (and December) in Ubud, and we wanted to beat the rush on alternative Summer opportunities. We didn’t want to leave Ubud as much as find a neighboring village that would be close by while offering a quieter locale. And, rather than stay in one place for a year or so, we began to think instead about living in different places for shorter stints of time; 3 months there; 3 months somewhere else.

One neighboring village that we liked was Penestanan, to the west, situated between 2 river valleys. A sharp, steep turn off the main East-West road winds up to it. It’s a split of hilly jungle and narrow passageways north of its main road, and flat, open rice fields to the south. We liked that both contrasts occur there. The village also has a nice, light sprinkling of western- influenced restaurants, cafes, and expats, but with real Balinese life throughout. The small main road continues on and plunges down the other side though another lush river gorge, through neighborhoods that might resemble Ubud from 70 years ago.

One of the popular expat hang-outs is called Alchemy. It’s a vegan place, with comfortable seating inside or out on the covered front terrace. A guitar rests on a stand, free for anyone to play. Gigantic and delicious salads go for $3.50. (expensive by Bali standards, but still…) I want to really like this place, and I do look forward to strumming that guitar and eating salads there all Summer. But the world’s most stunning and cool expats frequent this place, and they act like the worlds most stunning and cool expats. Fortunately, there are other comfortable and interesting places within a 6 minute walk, AND we did indeed meet some warm and friendly people at Alchemy. Another great alternative is the Yellow Flower cafe, situated along the ridge. It’s notoriously slooooow, but a relaxing, friendly, and inviting spot nonetheless.

We were both drawn to different parts of Penestanan. I preferred the hilly side, winding paths, distant vistas, and small village feel to the north, while Jennifer preferred the flatter, more remote homes and open rice fields to the south. We scoured both sides for days. The homes were all different, and the prices varied considerably. Some were in compounds, or up against other buildings. Others were more private. Some were older, while others almost new. Some had pools, or terraces, or air conditioning. I shared Jennifer’s love for the beauty of the surrounding rice fields. But my main opposition to the southern homes was that the access road was narrow and used by motorbikes. I didn’t feel comfortable scooting on this road, even in the daylight, especially when other motorbikes came from the other direction and needed space to pass. I was still learning to use the scooter, and found that driving very slowly -while going straight- was surprisingly difficult. By contrast, the northern trail is a walking path which excludes motorbikes.

There was one house in particular that stood out to us in the north. A comfortable and charming 2-story house set next to a rice field, that was available for June, July and August while the owner, Nancy, would be visiting family in Novato, California. I was sold right away, but Jennifer had found one last place in the South for us to look at, so scooter there we did. Admittedly, the view from its upstairs terrace was superb. May we some day have another opportunity to look out over gorgeous rice fields that go on forever in 3 directions. And that sky! And yes the pool looked refreshing too. But the house itself had some issues, including how the upstairs bedroom connected to the downstairs only via an exposed outdoor staircase. We enjoyed the view as long as we could, but it would be getting dark soon.

The people who showed the house to us were typically sweet, and walked us to our scooter parked outside their wall, as we explained that we needed to think things over. They smiled and waved goodbye as we began to slowly scoot off down the narrow, elevated path alongside their tall, deep-green rice plants. I wish I could say that a pair of threatening Komodo dragons suddenly appeared in front of me, or that a coconut fell onto my lap, or that Jennifer accidentally knocked into my elbow, but I have no excuse for what happened next. As I watched with my very own eyes, the scooter drifted to the left towards the edge of the elevated path. I had a full slow-motion second in which to change the course of this event, but failed miserably to do so, and could only watch in utter surprise and hopelessness as we plunged over the edge, into the rice field, crushing everything in our way, landing smack onto the soggy mud below, on our side.

Our hosts gasped as loud as we did, and rushed to help get us out of the muck, which took some effort. Lifting the scooter out was the hardest part. We were both perfectly alright -except for my broken ego. Here’s a helpful tip: if you ever need to crash your scooter, do so into a muddy, soft, pillow-like rice field, with friendly people nearby who will help get you out, wash and dry you off, and clean your scooter too.

We (I) completely flattened a swath of their rice plants large enough to park a VW bug onto. Set against the other tall, surrounding rice stalks, that parking space looked like a small crop circle. Our hosts were as gracious as could be, and weren’t concerned in the least about the damage to their crop. They handled the situation with such grace and class and kindness, and I will always be grateful to them for it. Since then, we’ve talked to others about what happened, hoping to return and offer a present or some token of our appreciation. But we’ve been advised against doing so. The Hindu Balinese believe deeply in karma. They relish opportunities to help others whenever possible. Not only do they value the human kindness of such a gesture, but helping others also builds up their personal karma stash, which is very important for their afterlife’s destiny. Rewarding them for their actions would take away from the genuine selfless act that it was. I can appreciate this way of thinking, but it’s still hard to not cave in and offer them something other than the heartfelt thanks already expressed.

This incident did serve to settle the debate about which side of the main road to live on. And Nancy was happy to hear back from us.



2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Matt & Rita
    May 23, 2013 @ 14:15:38

    So sorry to hear of your scooter accident! We’re so glad you both emerged from the rice patties relatively unscathed. Glad that you have found a nice home for the summer.


  2. Liz
    May 23, 2013 @ 15:50:14

    Remember you can always go to Calistoga for an enjoyable mud bath. I hear that broken egos heal much more quickly than a bone. Glad you are both okay. Perhaps you might give your scooter a name and make her feel more a part of the family?


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