Ubud ng Sarap – My Best Birthday Ever

My family loves surprises.

Every trip out of the house is a not-to-be-missed chance for one of us to spring a surprise – and this may come in the form of a new, untried dish in some hole-in-the-wall carinderia… an unscheduled stop at a flea market selling old vinyl records… or, a flight out of the country – with itinerary unknown.

it is no surprise that people tend to use “BALI” as a point of reference when talking about paradise

Latest surprise victim was me.

My housemates hatched a plan 4 months ago to “gift” me with a trip – timed a week before my birthday. The destination was “supposed” to be Jakarta, a family favorite alongside Kuala Lumpur, Guam and Honolulu.

the "plotters" who are joined by the (partially seen) intended "surprise" victim
the “plotters” who are joined by the (partially seen) intended “surprise” victim

Why four months? Because we don’t have the resources of M’am Jenny Napoles… and my wife and the kids needed that much time to earn, scrimp and save. (Angela had to triple her Deal Grocer clients; Paolo had to accept more music gigs; and poor Isa had to double-up on her Creative Writing classes. Four months mean no major Mac purchases at A-Shop, no Mamou steaks, no Bohol or Boracay excursions, no concert tickets, among others. )

Jakarta turned out to be… a detour to… surprise – Bali.

But I wasn’t complaining.

Just some back story: Bali to us is not Kuta – the island’s main tourist drag populated by Australians, Europeans and lots of drunk local surfer cowboys.

Bali to my family has always been Ubud… one and a half hours from the airport and a town oozing with art and Michelin-starred restos and luxurious villas and centuries-old temples… made even more famous by the movie “Eat. Pray. Love.”.

More surprises unraveled… I was stunned and mesmerized by our lodging facilities: my family decided it had to be first class for my birthday blowout.

Not the Bulgari Villas (at $6,000 per night, we would have had to mortgage our modest house or be hauled to jail for failure to settle villa bills).

The humbler alternative was just as good – the new Komaneka Bisma Villas, away from it all but just 5 minutes from Ubud’s town center.

our home for 5 days: nestled between a rainforest and a rice terrace
our home for 5 days: nestled between a rainforest and a rice terrace 
the villa was a virtual art gallery
the villa was a virtual art gallery
striking sculptural pieces crafted from wire (dennis' photo)
striking sculptural pieces crafted from wire
pitaceiling
even ceilings that people hardly look at… are crafted with much care and passion 
the ubiquitous bali door (dennis' photo)
the ubiquitous bali door
a private pool all to ourselves
a private pool all to ourselves

The scheming gang booked the grandest villa in the property – gated, with three separate bedrooms/structures, a private pool and golf carts to drive us to reality… este, to the front desk or the coffee shop.

the huge room, with a wrap-around view of the rainforest, is - hands down - honeymooners' dream come true
the huge bedroom, with a wrap-around view of the rainforest, is – hands down – honeymooners’ dream come true
the bathroom had space - lots of it
the bathroom had space – lots of it
lucky paolo had a room just a step away from the pool
lucky paolo had a room just a step away from the pool
spoiled like crazy - breakfast was served by our pool... choosing or mix-matching entries from 5 breakfast offerings
spoiled like crazy – breakfast was served by our pool… choosing or mix-matching entrees from 5 breakfast offerings
breakfast was always 'delived'... abundant, free-flowing... and free. since it was the villa's first time to encounter pinoys, they must have thought that bacon IS our national food - endless refills were ordered. the smiles on the faces of the wonderful staff never ever disappeared or faded (anj's photo)
breakfast was always ‘delivered’… abundant, free-flowing… and free. since it was the villa’s first time to encounter pinoys, they must have thought that bacon IS our national food – from the endless refills ordered. happily, the smiles on the faces of the wonderful staff never ever disappeared or faded
after breakfast, it was off to imbibe ubud's art - at the Art Market
after breakfast, it was off to imbibe ubud’s art – at the Art Market
carvings, painting by local artists, sarongs - at very affordable prices
carvings, painting by local artists, sarongs – at very affordable prices
paolo decides to jam with the vendors of ethnic musical instruments
paolo decides to jam with the vendors of ethnic musical instruments
the robust flow of commerce never gets in the way of the overpowering spirituality of bali
the robust flow of commerce never gets in the way of the overpowering spirituality of bali
among the western tourists, a bike was the vehicle of choice. but being exercise-deprived pinoys, we settled for a van with a driver - for less than P4,000 a day (gas, parking, driver's meals all included)
among the western tourists, a bike is the vehicle of choice. but being exercise-allergic pinoys, we settled for a van with a driver – for less than P4,000 a day… gas, parking, driver’s meals all included!
"i see white people everywhere..." the huge impact of "eat.pray. love." is bringing white people to ubud in troves.
“i see white people everywhere…” the huge impact of “eat.pray. love.” is amazingly obvious with the presence of white people who come to ubud in troves.
rice fileds - commone to us pinoys - drive westerners crazy. that's why smart resto owners build theirs by some rice paddy
rice fields – common to us pinoys – drive westerners crazy. that’s why smart resto owners build theirs adjacent to a rice paddy – this one at joni’s 
being part of indonesia, everything that touches your mouth is so delicious. the famous bebek goreng (crispy fried duck) at laka leke
being part of indonesia, just about everything that touches your mouth in ubud is guaranteed delicious. here’s the famous bebek goreng (crispy fried duck) at laka leke 
nothing invigorates like an afternoon swim
nothing invigorates like an afternoon swim
komaneka's pride: a spa by the river kampuhan
komaneka’s pride: a spa by the river kampuhan
then, it's off to the dining area for some high tea - or in tagalog, merienda teh
then, it’s off again for some high tea – or in tagalog, merienda teh
so inspiring to watch balinese artists at work. notice that he is using his hand as a palette
so inspiring to watch balinese artists at work. notice that he is using his hand as a palette
every afternoon, the villa staff would lay out bean bags for guests who want to watch the sunset (anj's photo)
every afternoon, the villa staff would lay out bean bags for guests who want to watch the sunset
with hundreds and hundreds of temples, we chose to visit uluwatu which was quite a distance from the villa... but worth it.
with hundreds and hundreds of temples, we chose to visit uluwatu which was quite a distance from the villa… but worth it
Kecak Dance
the highlight to watching the sunset in uluwatu is the hypnotic kecak dance
the toughest part of a trip to ubud is... choosing where to dine. dozens and dozens of excellent restaurants and bars. but, my family wanted me to experience the best - Mosaic
the toughest part of a trip to ubud is… choosing where to dine. dozens and dozens of excellent restaurants and bars. but, my family wanted me to experience the best – Mozaic… Michelin-starred, with its world famous 3-hour, 8-course dinners
for starters, crispy seared foie gras... a treat we can only have every few years. but as my brother greg (and his pal louie morales) intones: "do it for the spirit" (anj's photo
for starters, crispy seared foie gras… one among several treats we know we can only have every few years. but as my brother greg (and his pal louie morales) always intone: “go for it… do it for the spirit”
at another dinner at lake leke, an amazing thing happened: isa fell in love... with the dessert - Fried ice cream in an orange shell and topped with meringue )pam's photo)
at another dinner (at laka leke), an amazing thing happened: isa fell in love… with the dessert – fried ice cream in an orange shell and topped with meringue
this intricate carving adorns the villa reception area (dennis' photo)
this intricate carving adorns the villa reception area
the hardest part about visiting bali is... saying goodbye (anj's photo)
the hardest part about visiting bali is… saying goodbye
not even all the free alcohol and spirits at the airline lounge can alleviate your sadness about leaving paradise (dennis' photo)
not even all the free alcohol and spirits at the airline lounge can alleviate your sadness about leaving paradise

We made a vow that we will again find time to earn, scrimp and save for our next Bali trip… and though it will take us a bit of time to do so…

We’ll make sure we will again go for it… go first class all the way… just for the spirit.

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