A Visit to Michael Franti’s Soulshine Retreat Center

I’m terrible with names. It comes naturally. So when J.J. mentioned that there was an open house at Michael Franti’s Soulshine Retreat Center, just outside of Ubud I did one of those, “UmmHmm,” comments that translated means, “I think I should know who you’re talking about but I don’t have a clue.” She wasn’t fooled. “You know, the singer?” she was trying to help. “Ahhh, maybe?” The thing is, I know SONGS. I don’t know SINGERS. Anyway, it sounded like a nice outing for the morning so we set out on foot. Well, it may be five minutes from Ubud by car, but it was a full hour hoofing it. First we had the rippling sidewalks of Ubud proper. Those turned into narrow dirt paths by the side of narrow roads with traffic whizzing by. And then even the narrow paths disappeared. Mix that with blazing sun beating down and you have a perfect recipe for heatstroke! When we saw the Soulshine landmark, five yellow flags by the side of the road, we hoped we weren’t hallucinating. Turning right off the street we were immediately drenched in Bali beauty.

We followed the path along this lovely little stream and it turned into a rushing torrent splashing through holes in volcanic rock formations.

Then it became a waterfall.

Finally we reached the Center itself, an oasis of serenity.

We were greeted by smiling, friendly staff who told us they knew nothing about an open house. There was a retreat in progress and they were so sorry…. Well, J.J. wasn’t about to roll over and play dead. “It says in the Bali Spirit guide that during the Festival the Soulshine Retreat Center will have open house 11 – 4 every day.” The smiling staff looked confused. One of the young men asked us to “Please wait,” and he disappeared. After only a few minutes a woman appeared at the top of a long stairway and motioned us to ascend. We did. The woman was Carla Swanson, co-founder and Michael Franti’s partner. She personally took us on a tour of the center. The photo below is the third floor yoga studio with gleaming wood floors and a panoramic view of the surrounding rice paddies and jungle.

The accommodations are sublime, and the carrot juice drink we were served, compliments of Carla, was unparalleled. My photos do not do justice to the tranquil beauty, the exquisite detail of the architecture itself, and the serene aesthetic that permeates the environment.

This is a view of the grounds from an area by the pool and restaurant. It is luscious. Everywhere you look is a feast for the eyes. We rested, soaking in the restorative energy, sipping our cool drinks, imagining hosting workshops here. It is the stuff of future dreams that have a way of manifesting if you see them clearly enough.

Our tour completed, J.J. and I parted ways. About half -way back to Ubud the sky was threatening to dump its afternoon deluge so I sought cover at the Nuriani Cafe. It was a splendid choice. After a refreshing glass of watermelon juice I feasted on this plate of Ayam Pedas Sambal Matah, which loosely translated means grilled chicken, vegetables and rice. The prawn chips are crisp and delicious but you have to eat them immediately. If they have a chance to sit even briefly they soak up the humid air and become like fishy tasting leather.

I lingered here, enjoying every morsel and resting my eyes on the green of the paddies from my elevated perch. This particular view has special memories. The buildings just across the field belong to Tegal Sari where my daughter and I stayed two years ago. Then the rain came and lasted once again for about 4  1/2 minutes.


Thoroughly satisfied, happy and hot, I trekked the rest of the way back to my room with single minded focus: TAKE A SHOWER. Now, sitting on my balcony refreshed and revived I am convinced it doesn’t get better than this.

What a day!

It’s 6:30 a.m. Light rain is falling as I head down a deserted Hanoman Street. For days now I have allowed the morning rain to deter me from walking to the Yoga Barn for the 7 a.m. Early Bird Yoga class. It is one of the few Level 1 classes offered and my body is happiest at Level 1. I am the third to arrive. I take a mat, blocks, and a blanket and make my way to the far side of the room settling into a seated, meditative state. When I again open my eyes, the room is filled. There are, at quick glance, at least 20 people on their mats, waiting. The class is perfect, flowing from one pose to the next, fluidly, slowly, with the breath. I leave, calmed and energized.

Back to my homestay for breakfast and a quick change of clothes, then I’m off to the market. The sky is now a brilliant blue with bright sunshine. I gaze upward and can’t resist this shot. Who says you can’t take a picture directly into the sun?!

One must be mentally and physically prepared for a visit to the market. As with markets everywhere (with the possible exception of stoic Budapest) I am accosted every step of the way with, “Miss, a sarong today? A beautiful sarong?” “Miss, silver bracelet for you? Silver jewelry?” “Miss, Miss, good price for you today!” I find that the best answer is to respond in a sing-song voice, “Not today…thank you.” Most often I get a sing-song “Thank you…” in return. Sometimes I hear, “Miss, tomorrow?” I smile and move on.

The air here doesn’t move. There are offerings and incense at every vendor’s stall. I’ve wormed my way deep into the bowels of the marketplace. In the mid-day Bali heat I start feeling slightly woozy. I find my way to a balcony and inhale a deep breath of fresh air.

Yes. All those rooftops house more of the market. I wonder how many of the thousands of sarongs available here are sold on a given day, or how many of the I “heart” Bali T-shirts?

Finally, 200% over-stimulated, I look for an exit and escape. Uh oh! This street isn’t familiar. I go back inside, wend my way in the opposite direction, or as close to that as possible, and emerge somewhere else. Once again outside I recognize a landmark. The Oops Bar. I strike out confidently in the wrong direction. After a short distance I realize my mistake and make the necessary correction. I am heading for the Wayan Cafe, sweet oasis in the midst of sensory overload. It is a fair distance from the market but, dripping with sweat, I am bound and determined that a long, leisurely lunch there is just reward for the trials I have endured.

My persistence pays off. I ask the blue turbaned attendant if there is an available table in the garden. He invites me to go in and choose for myself. As I follow the winding path through rich foliage bursting with blossoms, I hope that I will find the perfect spot, secluded and tranquil. I pass many opportunities for seating but they aren’t quite what I’m hoping for. Then, on my right, is a high platform with a thatched roof overlooking a lovely lotus pond. It sits all by itself as if just waiting for me to find it. I remove my sandals and ascend the platform, sinking gratefully into the cushions.

And now the part my “foodie” friends have been waiting for. You know who you are! The menu is extensive and every dish delectable. I decide on an iced latte to start. The smiling blue turban appears and wallah! Iced coffee.

I’ve decided on an Indonesian dish called Cap Cay (pronounced Chop Chay) for my main course. It is described as “cabbages, carrot, cauliflower, onion, and green vegetables in  a red sweet chili garlic sauce served with plain rice.”
My mouth waters and my stomach rumbles anticipating the flavors.

Oh delight! I am not disappointed. I savor every mouthful and wonder how I will summon the capacity for dessert. Exercising tremendous restraint, I do not lick the bowl. My happy attendant returns to remove the empty dishes and I tell him I must have dessert but I will have to wait a bit. “Take your time,” he says. I’m grateful for that. It is the perfect opportunity to take a few more photos of my idyllic surroundings.

The view to my right…

The view to my left…

And the view straight ahead. I’ve studied the dessert menu and, much against my better judgement, I order two: coconut meringue pie and green tea ice cream. The ice cream comes first. It is every bit as refreshing as it looks.

Yes, I should have stopped there. But Wayan Cafe is also a bakery. One should never leave without tasting at least one of their specialty desserts. Their coconut meringue pie is a pastry lovers dream.

The pie arrives. Gorgeous! I manage to polish off the whole thing. Did you have any doubt?

Reluctantly I know the time has come to leave my little island of calm and head home.

I thank my server again and slowly take myself and my very full belly, down off the platform and back through the serene gardens and home. It has been quite a day and it’s only 3 p.m. I make myself comfortable on the balcony with my laptop and find the place in the Word document where I left my protagonist hanging yesterday. The story starts to unfold in my mind and my fingers follow it, clicking over the keys.

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