Step Right Up

Ubud’s main road is referred to as Jalan Raya. The few other busy streets run up to meet it from the south. They immediately get smaller and quieter to the north, and continue their gradual slope towards the central island volcanoes. Head West from the heart of ubud and Jalan Raya begins a long, shaded, and noticeable slide towards the enchanting C(h)ampuan bridge(s) (there are 2, side by side. One for traffic, the other for sandles).  The Cerik and Wos rivers converge here, far below. Their energy powers are the stuff of Balinese history and legend, as the center of spiritual Bali. Kings made this site their base, and the Pura Gunung Lebah temple still remains down there, under renovation.

After crossing the river, Jalan Raya bends sharply to the right and begins a long climb to the north. But not far past the bridges, a steep road snakes down from the left side. Its a tight turn for all concerned, and took some practice to master on the motorbike (now it’s a lot of fun). It winds up to the village of Penestanan, and is its only traffic road to and  from Ubud. There is no designated space to walk, and though quite narrow, some brave souls do anyway, practically rubbing shoulders with the cars. Fortunately, there’s a safer and charming passage for pedestrians a little further up Jalan Raya.

Blink and you might miss the portal called the Campuan steps. But once you see it you’ll remember it. Tucked into the shaded hillside, and pushed back from Jalan Raya a bit, this wide, darkened, cool, stairway rises 100 steps, past carved stone figures, impressive banyan trunks and hundreds of dangling jungle vines. Towards the top, the first cross path leads to some of the rice fields that covered this region 10 years ago. And it affords a look at one of Ubud’s more interesting, mysterious -and overlooked homes. It features large rose petals and dragon heads that rise prominently into the sky. Turn around and take that same cross path in the other direction and you’ll come to another artsy compound, the first home built in Penestanan, Its’ tall tower and other unique, large, thatched-roof buildings and pool were quite run down when we arrived, but are being remodeled now. These two old homes -and a few others nearby- speak of the artistic influences that have long symbolized this village, including German-born artist Walter Spies and music scholar Colin McPhee from the 1930’s, Dutch-born Han Snel, and artist Arlie Smit, who founded the still-influential Young Artists School of Painting in the 1960’s

Climb the few remaining steps to the apex, and the 4-way pedestrian intersection which we affectionately refer to as The Crossroads, and highways 49 and 61. Local men like to hang out there and pitch their rumahs for rent, or to watch the women walk by with water jugs, gas canisters or bricks on their heads  -and smiles on their faces. Take a left and the narrow paved path heads along the ridge line. In between the banana, mango, and coconut trees you look over the sunken landscape, and across to other distant green verdant ridges. To  your right are walled compounds, small rice paddy’s, and other paved trails that lead terrace down to more of the same, and villas for rent -one of which we lived in for June, July and August. This main path zigs and zags on for 5 minutes before it ends at that vehicle road that winds back down to the Campuan bridge. Smack across this street (look both ways twice, those motorbikes come around that corner fast!) is a notorious yoga hip raw food eatery called Alchemy. It’s grouped together with a handful of Cafe’s and restaurants in Ubud that are either praised or scorned by many, depending perhaps on how beautiful, envious, or lithe one feels. Other eateries, shops, spas and services line the road in both directions, which then winds and plunges and crosses different rivers. To walk these paths routinely is to encounter cobwebs, large skinks, chickens, large toads, bats, large snails (with amazing shells), and on occasion, snakes (3-4 feet long, right at your feet -the squeals we’ve made!!). It can get wiggy, especially at night (and then especially after it’s rained), where shadows play not-so-funny tricks under the flashlight, so that every vine, crack and twig comes to life. We remind each other often that “its a jungle out there”.

Back at the Crossroads, head in the opposite direction along the ridge line, and it’s similar but better. On clear days, varied volcanoes can be seen out ahead on both sides of the path. The foliage gets more dense, and beautiful rice fields appear just below through the few open spaces. At your feet, the tributary flows and diverts, and dances with the shifting sidewalk. Its all serene and beautiful, but one needs to watch their step, as there’s no railing, and its a long drop in some areas. Past the popular yoga center, and Yellow Flower Cafe, the trail ends in 5 minutes, where it sneaks around the back and up against the notorious ex-pat grocery store Bintang, on Jalan Raya. The same sort of joining paths terrace down to rentals and local-owned homes, one of which is where we just moved to, and will live for at least 4 months while the Australian leaseholder looks for a buyer. Its a fabulous, 1 story home, with a large open design and an impressive rattan ceiling that is at least 30 feet tall. 2 BR. 2 BA. Open shower, and a nice long wooden porch that overlooks a ginormous, blue-walled yard, looking west. Neighboring chickens like to sneak through the bushes from the rice fields next door and frolic in our yard. And at about 5:50 each night, large clusters of white herons often fly straight overhead on their nightly ritual of returning to the village of Petulu, where tourists are waiting, 10 kilometers away. Its beautiful: the darkening sky; the clouds; all the birds -and often, the sounds from the other part of Penestanan.

The Campuan steps come up from Jalan Raya, pass The Crossroads and continue straight down the other side -as smooth paved path, past LaLa LiLi’s and Made’s beloved warungs (restaurants), and past a sprinkling of galleries, spas, assorted villas and cross paths that lead to great nooks and crannies in all directions. This shaded, sloping jungle trail bends and meanders and crosses a ubiquitous river far below and then rises up into an entirely different part of town -the original village. Older. More authentic. Walled compounds side by side by side by side. Men sit on the corner bale (gazebo-like structure) and watch their village go by, or play chess. We’ve been here many times. The Cafe Vespa and Desa Kopi are among my favorites for coffee and studying Indonesian. But now, women are dressed in their formal lace wear, carrying fruit and baskets, and the men are dressed up as well. In both directions, the street is lined with golden ceremonial banners and ribbons, and tall arching canes of bamboo and wicker that dangle reed ornaments over the street. We’ve heard drums and gongs and meditations coming from this neighborhood for days and nights.

Something is going on.


(photos to be added once the Bali internet Gods allow…)

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2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Matt & Rita
    Sep 11, 2013 @ 15:28:50

    Wow . . . what an intriguing description of your neighborhood! Can’t wait to see it (and you)!


  2. Patrick J. Wardell
    Sep 13, 2013 @ 08:36:24

    I enjoy your blogs and copy them for Frank. You write very well and I appreciate the detailed descriptions that you provide.



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