When we decided to come to Bali for two months, I knew I wanted to spend much of that time in Ubud. I hadn’t been in seventeen years, but I’d always loved the gentleness and beauty of the slow-paced artists’ centre set amongst the terraced rice fields.
When friends heard we were coming back after such a long time they tried to prepare us. ‘You’ll be lucky to find a rice field these days,’ we were warned. ‘The main street is jammed with traffic.’
And then there was this: ‘Eat, Pray, Love has brought the hordes.’
Ah yes, Eat, Pray, Love. The international bestselling book of 2006 that told of author Elizabeth Gilbert’s travels across three countries in her search for balance, peace, and, well, ‘everything’ according to the subtitle. The book connected with a gazillion women who totally got her quest for pasta and gelato in Italy, the ashram and meditation in India and the serenity she discovered in Bali.
Gilbert’s glowing portrait of Ubud, with its healers and happy ending, put a dazzling great star on the tiny island of Bali for a new wave of travellers – made all the more tempting when the 2010 film starring Julia Roberts and the frangipani-flecked rice fields came out. Suddenly, it seemed Ubud was full of women travellers in search of spiritual nourishment.
Arriving here, it didn’t take long to spot the Eat-Pray-Love-ification of Ubud. There are tour groups dedicated to retracing Gilbert’s steps, queries on Trip Advisor seeking out locations from the film, and businesses cashing in on the name. Painted on the side of the cute green VW van selling hot dogs down the road from us is the slogan: Eat, Pay, Leave. Another shop offers: Eat, Play, Live. And yes, there do seem to be a higher-than-average number of women travelling solo.
I read Eat, Pray, Love several years ago during a trip to India, but hadn’t yet seen the film. So the other night, with the kids tucked up in bed, I stuck the DVD in my laptop, plugged in the earphones and indulged. The Balinese scenery was glorious, as was Julia Roberts’ smile and Javier Bardem. But what really struck me was: Hang on, am I an Eat-Pray-Lover?
Okay, so I’m not travelling solo. With a husband and three kids in tow I’m not your typical EPL-er. But let’s break it down.
Eat. Anyone who knows me will know that there’s pretty much nowhere I go where there isn’t some underlying motivation of food. Pasta and gelato in Italy? Absolutely. Nasi goreng and pawpaw in Bali? Hell yes.
Pray. No, not in your traditional sense. But balance? Serenity? Peace? Yes, that’s exactly what I was looking for on this trip, whatever it took to get them. It was a tough year. I was exhausted. My mind was babbling. I needed to reconnect, regroup, and all those other words that in saner times are a little too New Age for me.
And Love. No, not Javier Bardem. But my husband and my children. I wanted to be with my loved ones. Really be with them. Slow down with them. Enjoy them. Give more of myself to them.
So yes, I do believe I am the cliche. Like so many before me.
Ubud is totally the place for it. Yes, the rice paddies are being swallowed up by the villas and the two-lane main road is ill-equipped to deal with the traffic. But just off the main road, the cobbled side streets and beaten footpaths lead back to the rice fields and the charm. There are yoga and meditation classes galore, massage, ayurveda, gurus, spiritual advisors, retreats, colonics, vegan, raw, organic, fermented, you-name-it, if someone somewhere has said it is good for you, here it is. So here I am. And it has taken a whole month, but finally the babble is beginning to still.