After a trio of bad luck at the end of my time in the Philippines, I was glad to be moving on. Even more so as I’d be starting afresh in a country I feel a close connection to, and I’d be meeting a friend from Australia for my first few days so it would be a chance to recoup amongst familiar faces and familiar places.
In the early hours of the morning, I landed in Denpasar and breezed through immigration to find my hostel pick up waiting for me. Ricky and the other driver (I never learnt his name) were chatty and kind, welcoming me “home” when they heard of my Indonesian heritage. When I arrived at the hostel I found my bed was covered in what I assumed was gecko shit, but it was late and I was tired, so I brushed it off and fell asleep, with a bandana over my face to prevent any droppings during the night.
I awoke early despite little sleep and sponged off a Javanese boy’s wifi hotspot as I waited for my friend Alex and her boyfriend Rodrigo to wake up. After ginger and lemon tea and banana pancakes, we headed to the market – them on a motorbike and me in the hostel shuttle behind. I realised it would be super hard to find transport in Bali without my costs soaring so quietly made finding someone to share costs with a priority. The market was the usual tourist tat – elephant trousers and wooden carvings – and you could see the influence of th Australian lads weekends in the copious amount of decorated wooden penises unashamedly placed at eye level on every stall. At every turn there was another gelato store and the strong Western influence of Bali’s “cultural capital” made me wince as we strolled past Ralph Lauren and Pandora stores on the Main Street. When we tired of window shopping, we stopped for my first taste of much awaited Indonesian food at a cheap but unnoteworthy restaurant. By this point my injured foot was beginning to feel the strain but I was determined to make the most of my day with Alex so we headed of to some rice paddies, splitting a taxi to help keep my costs down.
The trail through the rice paddies was almost continuously up or down steps, and with my sprained foot and the midday sun beating down, it was a very sweaty ordeal. However, it was completely worth it as the views from within the paddies were much more magical and atmospheric than from stood at the roadside. The forested bamboo border transported me to some archaic jungle, and the gentle trickling of the irrigation systems soothed my growing worries about meeting people here, where hostels are much smaller and everybody bikes.
After saying my goodbyes to Alex, I set off to the Sacred Monkey Forest to meet a German girl from a Facebook backpackers group (oh the wonders of modern technology!). She was joined by two Dutch guys from her hostel and the four of us had agreed to spend the day together, sharing car costs. As I waited for them to arrive, I laughed at the gaggles of tourists having their snacks stolen by the mischievous macaques – only to have my water bottle snatched as I tried to take a picture. We entered the forest (with my backpack securely padlocked) and instantly came across a swarm of monkeys, at the centre of which stood a woman selling bananas. A monkey sat placidly on Ronald’s (Dutch guy) lap, and as I bent to take a picture, another climbed onto my backpack to investigate (and groom my unrushed hair). After a few scared but smiling pictures we moved on, and continued exploring the forest. It was lush and towering, a beautiful jungle escape from the commercialised Ubud, and the monkeys were fascinating – I could easily have watched them for hours! The temples were beautiful but not in pristine condition and definitely undermined, in my opinion, by the beauty of the forest surrounding it. Watching the juvenile macaques throw themselves into a shallow pond and scurry up trees playfully with their sopping wet fur, whilst the older matriarchs huddled in a corner, seemingly grumbling and watching over the little ones was enchanting. However, the highlight for me was a beautiful stone bridge by the water temple, surrounded by a lattice of woody pines hanging from the towering trees into the river below – with macaques nimbly finding their way into every crevice.
We made our plans for our route with a driver over lunch, trying to fit in as much of the Ubud outskirts as possible into the afternoon. Our first stop was the Elephant cave, a Holy site containing both Buddhist and Hindu temples. We were shown the seven statues which poured holy water for washing in, alternating male and female (demonstrated by our guide pointing out big boobies and small boobies), with the centre piece broken by an earthquake a few years ago. Next we were shown a Buddhist temple that had also crumbled to pieces in the earthquake. It had not been rebuilt as there was no longer a Buddhist presence in the area, so the stones had been piled into little towers in neat little rows, creating an effect almost like an art monument. Next, it was the elephant cave itself, an ornate exterior into the hillside. Inside the cave was a small statue and shrine but really the most prominent feature was the space for meditation – dark alcoves lined along the walls where a Hindu would sit and meditate through the night.
Then, we headed off to a waterfall, which was absolutely heaving with tourists and signs saying “don’t worry be sexy” – the polar opposite of authentic Balinese culture. We didn’t stay long, and soon moved on to the coffee plantation: a quick tour around the garden showing vanilla and coffee plants, followed by a free taster plate of maybe 15 types of coffee, tea and cocoa. The infamous Luwak coffee was an additional price but I passed on tasting it after seeing the creatures cooped up in concrete pens – I stand by my decision to be as ecologically responsible as I can out here.
Finally, we headed to another rice terraces. This one was far bigger and the walk looked more scenic, but with my foot still not feeling 100%, the others trekked on whilst I sat and admired the view, chatting to a couple of Saudi Arabians.
I arrived back at my hostel to find that my bike lock combination had been figured out, and they’d moved all my belongings to different beds, even unplugging my charger to tuck it under my bag. Everything was tidy and nothing was taken but I was horrified to find that someone had gone to the effort of breaking into my padlock, and even more horrified to find that everyone refused to own up to it. To make matters worse, a dorm mate spotted rats – evidence of my growing suspicions of the nature of the shit on the bed on the first night.
I had to wait for my laundry before I could change hostels, so I whiled away the morning chatting to another lovely spiritual type. Although the discussions are sometimes a little too “out there” for my hard-wired scientist brain which can’t function without logic, evidence and analysis, they’re always fascinating, and I always leave with my eyes and mind opened a little further.
I went for lunch with Marlies, although it took so long that I missed my class at the renowned Yoga Barn. With time to myself, the negativity crept back in and I ended up crying down the phone to Sean. The bike crash had really knocked my confidence in all aspects of travel, and I was doubting my competency and safety at every turn. He managed to calm me down, but really highlighted how much my fears were affecting my attitude. An elderly Hindu lady curiously interrupted with, “Why you cry?” and although I’m sure she didn’t understand my explanation, she patted my shoulder and handed me a biscuit and a sympathetic look before heading off to worship. Marlies also walked by, and gave me a hug and some words of comfort and encouragement.
I used the same tactic as I’d used in Sydney, and splashed out on booking something special and exciting – a silversmith class. After walking the back streets of Ubud (and being pleasantly surprised at the increase in authenticity), I booked onto the class for the next morning, and headed home to sketch out my designs.
After a delicious dinner in a backstreet alley, I headed to a vegan cinema, Paradiso, for a film screening I’d been invited to by my cousin’s friend, who’d recently moved to Ubud. The cinema was a great little place tucked away where no one but the locals would go, and the extensive vegan menu was available as part of the ticket price. The documentary, The True Cost, examined the impact of the fashion industry on developing countries, and in particular, the environment. It was fascinating, and really nice to do something different to the usual sightseeing backpacker thing. After the film, I met my cousin’s friend, Suzanne, and we went to a nearby cafe to chat, along with her friend, the event organiser. It was interesting seeing the perspective of people living here, as opposed to travelling, and I walked back to my hostel (with Suzanne driving next to me to keep me safe) pretty satisfied.
After a much more relaxed start than usual, I made my way to the silversmith workshop. The master silversmith, Wayan, helped me with finalising my design and approximated costs, and before I knew it I was sat at a desk cutting out a bear. I’d chosen to make two rings, one each for myself and Sean. The first one (Sean’s) went surprisingly well, and I was really excited when I saw it in its circular shape. My second attempt was appalling but with a little help, it was fixed to something passable. I waited whilst they cut it into its oval shape, and when I came back realised they’d just done a whole new one for me! Now mine looked better than Sean’s, but at least I could still say I’d made his. I bent the wire for the band, and after lots of magic and soldering and chemicals on their part, I was handed two rings! I smoothed, polished and washed them to within an inch of their life (by this time my group had gone, and most of the next group were almost finished) and left with two gleaming pieces of jewellery and a beaming smile.
I’d missed Yoga Barn again, and chose a dodgy place for lunch, but I’d had a good day, and I was so excited to share what I’d made. I was supposed to be going back to Paradiso for another documentary, but as soon as I hit my dorm bed, I was exhausted, and my mood dipped again. I decided to give it a miss and have a night in, some vital time of doing nothing. In two months I would have had so many of those nights at home, and yet I’ve had so few here, so it’s no wonder that I’m feeling exhausted. I ate at the nearest restaurant, splurging on fish and chips for comfort food, and made a beeline for the comfort of my bed, my friends and my family. (Not posting pictures of the finished rings as they’re a surprise for Sean).
After an early morning dash for some cash, I was on the bus to Sanur, to catch a ferry to Nusa Lembongan. The journey was uneventful, chatting to a couple from Yorkshire about nothing in particular. We boarded the boat, between shouts to run forward or stay back due to the high tide, via steps right next to three raised propellers. This resulted in me being soaking wet by the time I sat down, and the boat being over capacity, with four passengers sat along makeshift seats at the back. The ride was rocky so I put my head down, closed my eyes and breathed my way through until we arrived and disembarked in a similar chaotic fashion.
I sat on the beach until my stomach settled, then set off for what I thought was a short walk to my homestay. It turned out to be over three km, but I was still too scared of motorbikes and decided to walk. Less than twenty minutes later, I realised this was ridiculous, and I would never make it carrying all my stuff. I sat on my things on the roadside, on the verge of tears, trying to figure out another option, angrily batting away offers of a motorbike ride.
Eventually I gave up, and instructed the driver to go very carefull and slowly (which, in fairness, he did). The ten minute drive terrified me, I tried to blink back the tears and focus my breathing, but every corner and oncoming vehicle caused me to tense up. To make things worse, most of the way were behind a hotel van, with Chinese tourists filming my back ride from the back. I was so embarrassed to have my terrified face caught on camera. I wasn’t wearing a helmet or long trousers, and every second of that bike ride was filled with fear, anxiety and shame that I was so afraid of something so normal. When I arrived at the homestay, my nerves were shot, and I was so upset with the situation that I fell into hysteria. I desperately wanted to overcome my fear, but it was so traumatic, I knew I wouldn’t be able to bluff my way through with other travellers. It took two and a half hours of sobbing and writing to mum and Sean, a blog post, and a question to backpacker groups on Facebook for me to calm down enough to leave my room. I wandered along the main road of the town trying to find some yoga and munching on apple cake, eventually turning onto the beach. The beach front was undoubtedly stunning, but completely white washed with package tourists. I decided I needed a few days alone to centre myself and grabbed some perkadel jagung at a local wearing before heading home – my first solo meal since Australia.
I realised over my time in Ubud that I’d slipped into a destructive mentality, where I’d become afraid of being alone again. I resolved to use my time on the quiet Nusa Lembongan to regain the attitude I’d had in Australia – where some of my best days had been solo. The city was one I felt I would have loved if I’d have lived there, and been able to know all the places to go, but as a visitor, was hostile, superficial and full of tourists. The quiet escape of Nusa Lembongan was exactly what I needed.