As you will soon learn from my forthcoming overview post, I was—as Chris put it—in “hippie heaven” in Bali. Chris was out of commission for a week with his super disease during our stay in the town of Ubud, the mecca of all things natural and organic. And from yoga, to massages, to organic food, and without the usual buffalo wings and beer counterbalance of my husband, I totally immersed myself in the Ubud culture.
Perhaps the highlight of the entire Ubud experience was a natural beauty workshop I participated in. I heard about Angelo Store from a random blog post Chris found while searching for things to do in Ubud. Believe it or not, you can’t even find this place on TripAdvisor.
Angelo’s Store is located on a lane behind one of the main streets in Ubud. You walk in to find a store completely filled with bottles, potions, pills, and teas. All the packaging looks very rudimentary (they do everything in house) and prices are steeply discounted compared to what you’d find at the upscale aromatherapy stores that dot the main drags. In short, this place is the real deal.
I stopped by to take their 2.5-hour afternoon session on making natural beauty products at home and found I was the only person to sign up that day. A lovely young woman who would be my guide into the world of natural beauty and medicine offered me some of the store’s special tea, which was a blend of ginger, lemongrass, licorice, cardamom, cinnamon, and other delicious things. Then she started to bring out the bounty of nature that we would be working with that day.
Our first task was to make what they called an “internal healing” drink. I learned about the three different kinds of turmeric used in Indonesia—orange (the most common), yellow, and white—and the various health benefits claimed for each kind. Usually only thought of when making Indian curries, turmeric has also been held up for centuries by Indian and Asian cultures for its health benefits. There is a long list of things that turmeric is claimed to help: inflammation, digestion, cancer, cardiovascular disease, osteoarthritis, Alzheimer’s disease, and depression. I’m not a doctor and haven’t looked deeply into any medical studies supporting these claims, but I’m generally a fan of natural remedies and was impressed by how deeply regarded this root was among the Indonesian people. So I dove in and got my hands dirty—or more like dyed—with turmeric.
The rest of our session would shift from natural medicine to natural beauty products. First, we made a body exfoliant. We started by cutting up ginger and galangal (an Indonesian cousin of ginger) in tiny pieces, soaking grains of rice, adding big pieces of cloves, and then cutting up full nutmeg seeds by hand. Having only seen nutmeg in its ground, McCormick spice form, this was especially eye opening. Out came the mortar and pestle, and a lot of elbow grease later, we made a paste. Add a little water, and you have a wonderful, all-natural scrub.
Next, we made infused oil, with more ginger and galangal, that is good for sore backs and achy feet. We added some of the yellow, fragrant Balinese flowers that grow on trees everywhere in Bali and aromatic leaves that gave it a bright green color. Finally, some coconut oil that they distill straight from the coconut tree right on site. A few minutes simmering on the stove, a run through the strainer, and voilà: naturally-infused oil!
The next project, a refreshing face and body mask, brought me face to face with the largest aloe vera leaf I’ve ever seen in my life. I learned how to peel this succulent plant and chop up the gel found inside. We added cucumber and avocado, gave it a whirl with the blender, and produced a wonderful, soothing mask that is especially great for sunburns.
Finally, we made natural hair oil. This process started with us roasting some macadamia nuts over the fire. After chopping them up, adding some spices, and copious amounts of coconut oil, we had an amazing smelling hair oil (and not in a scented candle way, in a “we just roasted this over an open fire” kind of way), perfect for taming the tropical-humidity frizz or protecting your hair from the ocean salt or pool chlorine.
In the end, I left with some new knowledge of healing herbs, enhanced culinary skills, and a bag full of natural beauty products. All for under $20.
But the best part of the entire experience was yet to come. My instructor told me that the workshop ended with a healing massage and left to retrieve her uncle who performs them. I was expecting a nice relaxing shoulder rub, which sounded especially good after all that mortar and pestle work. Gentle and relaxing it would not be, but enlightening, yes.
Apparently the uncle is a regarded healer in the community, and local people come to him to assess their ailments and offer advice on how to fix them. Attendees of the workshop also get the benefits of his wisdom. He spoke almost no English, so the assessment and my instructions were translated by my instructor. After finding key pressure points in my shoulders, neck, head, and arms, he told me overall my health was very good, especially compared to other visitors that come (woo hoo!).
According to the healer, my legs were strong (which my FitBit miles can attest to), but my arms were weak and need more opening up. I was instructed to do clockwise and counter clockwise arms circles each day, slowly while clearing the mind (because he also diagnosed that I have a tendency to be stressed). His analysis of my slumped shoulders and strain in the left side of my neck matched all the time spent at my desk in my old job, craning my neck to the left to see my monitor that was positioned off center.
Somehow by feeling my head and back he was able to tell me that my digestive system was also very good, but I should drink more water, a little less alcohol, and take turmeric (the Indonesian cure all). His last piece of advice was to watch my lower back, which he sensed could give me problems in the future. He recommended applying warming treatments (like the oil I made) or something like Bengay each night before I went to bed. He applied some pressure point therapy that aimed to open up my arms and shoulders more and increase circulation, and I felt quite sleepy afterwards. A short nap and a hot shower were the remedies, and after I felt better than ever.
Don’t worry, I’m not going to run off and abandon Western medicine anytime soon, but in our modern day culture of antibacterial this and x-ray that, I found this intuitive medicine an appealing complement to my overall wellbeing.
After having such a wonderful experience, I tried to add their listing to TripAdvisor and write a glowing review. For whatever reason, the powers that be at TripAdvisor denied the listing. It’s probably for the best though since the simplicity of the experience would undoubtedly be diminished by a hoard of tourists. If you happen to find Angelo’s Store, I hope you have a private lesson as I did.