How I Found Inner Peace (and Beer) Without Getting Belly-Candled on Monkey Forest Road
By Dave Fox
Ubud, Bali, Indonesia
There comes a point in a man’s life when he needs to stop slogging through the jungles of Borneo with his nature-crazed wife, and insist on going where he can engage in normal “guy holiday” activities, such as drinking beer on beaches.
“We should go to Bali,” I said to Kattina. “I hear Ubud’s nice.”
I did not realize at the time that Ubud was inland, far from Bali’s beaches. I also did not realize Ubud is where parts of Elizabeth Gilbert’s bestselling book, Eat, Pray, Love, are set.
Female friends have cautioned me against reading Eat, Pray, Love. “It’s ‘chick lit,’” they’ve warned. “You’ll hate it.”
But one should not be so presumptuous about my reading habits. It’s not fair to assume I’ll hate a book because I can’t handle a story whose target audience is female. On the contrary, I hate “Eat Pray Love” for more legitimate reasons.
I hate the book because a few years ago, my own book, Globejotting: How to Write Extraordinary Travel Journals, hit the number two spot on Amazon’s Top 100 Travel Reference Books list. My book never reached number one because Eat, Pray, Love would not budge.
But is Eat, Pray, Love a reference book? I don’t think so.
I make this assumption having read the first sentence of chapter one, which states, “I wish Giovanni would kiss me.”
I didn’t get any further than that sentence. I got distracted by my belly button. So I can’t state with certainty that Eat, Pray, Love is not a reference book, but seriously, how many reference books do you know that begin with an American woman’s lust for a hot, hot man sporting a stereotypically Italian name?
In any case, because Eat, Pray, Love kept me from becoming a number-one-selling travel reference author, I have, for several years, harbored a burning scorn for the bestseller I have not read. So when I discovered I was about to plunge headlong into one of the story’s inner-peace-inspiring locales, it made me cranky.
On our first morning in Ubud, Kattina asked if I would like to join her for a relaxing experience at a place called the Yoga Barn.
“Does the Yoga Barn serve beer?” I asked.
“I don’t think so,” she said.
So I declined her offer. I hung back at our hotel to write, inspired by the soothing sounds of a breeze rustling through the palm fronds and an electric buzz rustling through the minibar. Later in the day, however, I decided to check out the town.
If you are considering a trip to Ubud in search of inner peace or a Balinese cultural experience, here are some important things you should know:
- Ubud is a big city with ancient stone houses, streets adorned with floral offerings to Hindu deities, and the most white people I’ve seen anywhere since my last trip to America.
- While most of the restaurants in Ubud serve traditional Indonesian fare, it is virtually impossible to find a menu that does not also include Chicken Cordon Bleu and Wienerschnitzel.
- Thanks to tourism, Ubud is one of the Indonesia’s wealthiest towns. Little of this wealth, however, is spent on sidewalk repairs. If you don’t watch where you’re going, you will fall through a large hole in the ground. There are many of these holes. They are probably good places to meditate, but do not expect to find any beer down there.
- Downtown Ubud has a bustling craft market where you can purchase batik shirts, Bintang Beer cozies, and traditional Balinese “Angry Birds” mosaics.
- Throughout the town, you will also find low-priced spas offering services such as full-body coffee scrubs and “belly candling.”
I discovered belly candling in a spa brochure Kattina grabbed on a street called Monkey Forest Road. A belly candling session cost 50,000 Indonesian rupiah – about five US dollars.
I’ll admit, I was curious. I had heard of ear candling before, in which the non-burning end of a candle is poked into one’s ear – supposedly to summon out excessive earwax. Was belly candling similar?
While I waited in a restaurant for some coconut chicken curry, I did a Google search and found an article entitled, “What is Malay (Indonesian) Naval Candling & Abdomen Detox Massage Therapy?” on a site with the easy-to-remember domain name, www.zentranquilityholisticbeautytraining.co.uk. Among other things, the article explained that “naval candling” (as this website called it) “helps rid the body of excess ‘onion’ or wind helping to release negative energy.”
Upon further research, I confirmed that, yes, belly candling is similar to ear candling. A belly candling therapist (you can get your certification from zentranquilityholisticbeautytraining.co.uk) pokes a hollow, lit candle into your belly button as if your stomach is a birthday cake.
The procedure, according to isisdoc.com, is “thought to have a psychic, emotional and spiritual impact on a person as it draws out negative toxins and revives the energy flows throughout the body.”
Fascinated by the concept, and needing to release a little negative energy, I decided that on our last day in Ubud, I’d go check it out – if for no other reason than so I could buy an “I got belly candled on Monkey Forest Road” T-shirt.
Alas, travels do not always go as planned. After lunch, on our final day in Ubud, Kattina and I started wandering. We wandered for a long time, along a long road, that led into a residential neighborhood. We continued out of town, away from the spas and yoga studios. We walked for several kilometers, until downtown Ubud’s crumbling Sidewalks of Death gave way to shimmering green, terraced rice paddies.
Images of these farmlands adorn many a tourist brochure, yet we encountered virtually no foreigners on what became a four-hour trek – perhaps because we also did not encounter any restaurants serving Chicken Cordon Bleu. Scorching sun reflected off the earth. I sweated out all my negative energy. I felt hot and tired, dirty and alive.
Escaping Ubud’s tourist-choked center, I found inner peace on that spontaneous hike – moreso than I suspect I would have attained with a burning candle poking into my tummy. I decided Ubud is a pretty cool place, as long as you flee the salespeople hawking “Angry Birds” mosaics.
So I recommend visiting Ubud, but I also recommend that you leave the town center. Take a long walk. Seek inner peace in nature rather than in a barn.
Also, before you go, I recommend you change your name, if your name happens to be Giovanni – because a man can only handle so much inner peace before he begins thirsting for another beer. And it’s difficult to chug when bestselling faux-reference authors keep trying to kiss you.