I wake up feeling tired. I didn’t get a good sleep last night. I woke up a couple of times. The huge bed turned out to be two singles pushed together and one is higher than the other. But no matter. I’ve got a list of things I want to do today. I get my breakfast delivered to me on the terrace, which I can now see is facing tall, green bamboo trees and really does look and feel like a jungle. It’s raining a little and it’s very cool and fresh. It’s a relief after the temperatures and humidity of the last couple of weeks.
The waitress had a ‘Two Soups moment’ when delivering my Balinese coffee.
I’ve been to Ubud twice before: once in 2006 and again in 2015. On those occasions it was part of a day tour of the island, so we had a couple of hours to look around the market area mainly. I’ve never stayed here before and I’ve never seen the monkey forest, and to be honest I’ve never really felt inclined to. Seeing the monkeys at the cliff-side temple in Uluwatu was enough. I’m not sure whether such a tourist trap appeals, but I decide I’ll go along anyway since I’m here and it’s not far to get there.
It’s raining quite hard as I walk along the main street, so I wear my rain jacket. The sky looks like it’s brightening though. Once I get past the palace it stops and the sun comes out. It’s fairly hot, but nothing like the weather we had in Singapore. It feels fresh and cool, and I’m definitely not sweating.
I turn right onto Monkey Forest Road. Spoiler: It leads down to the monkey forest. It’s a long road that goes past lots of shops and cafes and temples, and almost every twenty seconds I’m approached or yelled at from across the street about whether I want a taxi. Scores of men are sitting or lurking on street corners holding laminated signs that say taxi. I politely decline and keep walking. There are several people laying out the hindu offerings that you see everywhere in Bali, and I see a few women walking around with baskets of them on their heads.
I see I’ve arrived when a gaggle of tourists are gathered around a monkey that has come of of the gate and is in the street outside the sanctuary. I pay my entrance fee and walk in. There are a couple of monkeys on the balustrades and people taking photos of them.
As I continue further in, there are a couple more monkeys entertaining a Korean tour group. I pass them by and then I soon come to the main temple courtyard. Here there are women selling bananas (“Buy banana, give monkey,” they chorus). Some tourists have done so and are holding the bananas above their heads to attract the monkeys to them and pose for photos with them on their shoulders. Monkeys of all ages and sizes roam around. Some fight each other for food. Some are mothers with babies hanging on to them. It’s entertaining to hang around in the complex for a bit.
The sanctuary is large and goes down a steep hillside. I don’t bother going down – I just wanted to see a few monkeys and I decide to exit and make my way back up to the town. Instead of going straight back up the road I came down, I follow the turn to the right at the sanctuary’s gates. I have a vague feeling this is the road that I went along a couple of years ago that had some interesting stores and galleries along it, but it turns out it isn’t. I turn left at the next road and walk up parallel to the street I came down.
More stores, shops, cafes, taxi scouts, women with baskets on their heads, offerings on the streets and hindu statues and temples. I’m sure I’m heading towards the market, which is where I want to go next, but I don’t find it. Halfway along I stop for an iced coffee in a cafe that overlooks a rice field. I ask the waitress where the market is. Top of the road, turn left, she says.
I make my way there. The main street is packed and crowded with people, traffic, scooters and women walking with baskets on their heads. When I get to the market I see that the woman are all heading there and they are lining up to enter the temple at the entrance to the market. A crowd of tourists gathers round taking photos.
I make my way along the market street that runs down past the market building itself. Two years ago I bought some coasters here, but I could only get three of the ones that I liked. For a year I never even got them out, but when I moved into my new apartment last summer I began to use them on my coffee table. I always wished I could have got four or six, as I prefer even numbers of things. I also got some screen printed bhudda paintings – one in red, one in purple and one in blue – and since I framed them when I moved I have always kind of wished I got the green one. My plan is to get the green bhudda and more coasters. I see the shop that I bought them from, but like the time two years ago I want to wander the street and take photos of the things one sale first.
It’s not as fun and interesting as I remember it being a couple of years ago, but I take some photos and head back to the coaster shop. She has one of the coasters I need. I ask if she she has more. I tell her I came her two years ago and I want to complete my set. She says ‘Oh, thank you for coming back’ but doesn’t sound all that bothered. I get the coaster anyway, and I look for a green bhudda but she only has white. She tries to sell me other things, but I’m not interested. I show her a picture I have on my phone of the paintings I have framed and have on the wall in my spare room/office. She’s vaguely interested.
I shop around at other stores for the coaster, but no one has one. They tell me it’s the old model and they are selling newer versions now. Never mind – at least I now have four.
I have lunch, and I would like to see Ubud palace as I’ve never been there before. I head to what I think is the palace but it turns out to be a temple. I’ll try later, I think. The next thing I want to do is get to the Tegalalang rice fields. They’re a little way out of town, but I’ve read online that you could bike there. None of the bike rental shops have any bikes though. I try several. I ask in the tourist information centre. Not one push bike anywhere. The other option is to get a car.
I keep walking down the main street, away from the market and the centre of town. I must surely be able to get a taxi or a car down there. The traffic is at a standstill. I thread through parked scooters, weaving into the road and back onto the path. I get to a hill leading down out of the town and where the buildings end. Time to turn back.
There is a road on the right, which I take, just to see what’s up there. It leads up to galleries, cafes and more tourist information shops. A rice field opens up on the right of me. I go a fair while before turning back. I see a group of tourists cycling along and wonder where they got their bikes from.
Yes it is… if you can get hold of a bloody bike, that is
I see a sign outside a tourist information place for a shuttle bus to Padang Bai. This is the ferry port I need to take the boat from tomorrow. I had read online it would cost around 250,000 IDR for a car to get there but the bus ticket is only 60,000. I stop in a place next door and ask about a car to the rice fields. She quotes 500,000 which I know is a scam. A couple of doors away is another place and there are several people inside. I nose inside and the woman beckons me in. I ask her about a car to go to the rice fields. She says it will be about 300,000. I say okay, thinking that’s better than 500,000. I’ve given up hope of finding a taxi on the street or a bike by now. It’s about 3 pm, so time is running out. She calls a driver but he can’t come for an hour. I decide to leave it then. I head back down to the main road. It’s chocka still. Traffic is not moving at all. No taxi people, no bikes. I realise I really quite wanted to see the rice fields as I trudge back to the centre of the the town.
As I’m walking back I see a guy standing outside a temple. He’s talking to someone else but he’s holding a taxi sign so I approach him. He jumps to attention and starts ushering me to his car parked across the street. We haven’t discussed money yet. He asks for 300,000. I say okay, since it is the same as what the other place offered. “Maybe we can go to the coffee plantation too” he says. I say no, I’ve been to them before.
We get in the car. As we pull out into the traffic I think about the money. I realise first of all that I never even bothered to negotiate. I’ve also been thinking of the money as Vietnamese money. There, 10,000 dong was about 35p; 30,000 was a pound. Here 10,000 is a dollar. I thought I was going to pay about 10 dollars and then realise that it will cost 30. I feel a bit silly, but then just think screw it. I live by the mantra that you can always earn more money.
We drive out of town. I decide that we can go to the coffee plantation, because I had forgotten that I wanted to get a cup of luwak coffee while I was here. We get into the countryside and I ask about the women with baskets on their heads. He tells me that it’s a special ceremony that happens once every six months. He can’t recall the name in English, though.
We pass rice fields and climb hills and swoop down hillsides. I think it’s a good job I didn’t try it on a bike, actually, cos it would have been a bit of a ride.
At the coffee plantation I am quickly swept away by a staff member and given a guided tour of the site. The girl shows me the beans, explains what varieties they have, tells me about the coffee farming industry in Bali. I am a little disinterested as I’ve been to plantations in Bali before. Other groups are being given the same spiel at various points along the way. She shows me the luwaks in cages. They are nocturnal and they are all sleeping but she prods one awake. It looks startled and turns back round and goes back to sleep. I’m shown the process of drying the beans and washing them and grinding them. I’m just waiting to get to the point where I can order a cup.
I’m taken to a table and presented with an array of teas and coffees that are, of course, available for purchase at the shop next door. I dutifully take a sip from every cup before my luwak coffee arrives. I kind of want it to try it again and for a photo opportunity. The guides from other groups are standing dutifully at the end of the tables interacting with their groups, and when they are done they are escorted to the cashier in the conveniently located gift shop. My girl is nowhere to be seen.
I get up and head down to the cashier and a panicked group guide chases after me and explains I have to go to the cashier. I tell him I’m heading there and he tags along, pretty much linking his arm in mine to make sure I get there. I pay but decline the offer to browse the shop and the guide ushers me out of the site.
It’s a 30-second drive to the car park for the rice terraces. The driver shows me down the hill to a street. It is lined with markets and cafes and galleries. I am entirely unsure that I am even in the right place as it looks like just a street. I turn left and wander along. Between the buildings and shops there are glimpses of the fields. I’m expecting a ticket booth so I can pay my entrance fee, but nothing appears. There are some steps down to balconies outside cafes and galleries and I go down one to take a look at the view before wandering back up and long the street.
A few buildings over I see people descending steps by a cafe. It turns out you can get down to the terraces from there, so I wait in line with all the other people doing the same while others clamber up the steps. The concrete steps soon give way to muddy and rocky steps. A local farmer is posing for tourists. Apparently you’re supposed to give them money if you get a photo of them. A young girl selling postcards “for my school” tugs at my elbow. I politely decline. She asks people behind me. I hear her plaintive “for my school” a few more times.
I go down further. After the rain this morning the steps are muddy and they are quite thin. It’s quite fun to go down them. I’m not sure if I’m going to go the whole hog and cross the valley and climb up the other side, but I keep going down.
There’s a small bridge across the valley and a man sits with a collection cup asking for a donation for the upkeep of the bridge. It’s basically just some metal pipes jammed into the mud so I can’t think what they’re spending the money on.
Time to climb up. Narrow, muddy steps and wonky bamboo handrails appear. From here I can see back up to the cafes on the other side and all the tourists coming down the steps. It’s a pretty sight, but it’s one of those moments where the awesome pictures online turn out to selling something that it isn’t. I get to the top of the terrace and walk along. I have to make another donation for another crossing point. I only have a 50,000 note. I ask if he can give change. I say I’ll pay 20,000. I receive 20,000 change. Cheeky bastard.
I have been over and around the terraces now, and I follow some middle-aged French people down the steps. Postcard girl is back with us, tugging at their elbows saying “For my school” again. I wonder how many donations she’s made for the upkeep of the bridges.
We walk along a path and across another bridge. There’s another donation point but the woman is busy doling out change to people coming the other way, so I quickly scoot by her and get ready to clamber up the terraces to get out. I take it slow and steady. Someone in flip flops slips down one of the muddy steps. Another local is posing for photos. We get to the concrete steps below a cafe and I turn to take another look at the scene in front of me. Postcard girl skips by happily chatting away and laughing with a woman that I assume is her mother.
Back at the top I wander along the street. I keep going in the opposite direction to the car park as I’m curious about what is around the corner. The shops thin out and there are not as many cars going that way. Just a couple of minutes’ walk from the melee there is another terrace where there are no people, though it doesn’t look as nice.
I go back to the car. We take almost the same route back to the town, but the clouds have been thickening and it looks like it’s going to rain. Scooter riders have put on their ponchos. Rain starts coming in thick, heavy drops. I’m glad I didn’t attempt this on a bike.
As we approach the town the traffic starts backing up. I think I know where I am. The driver suggests I get out and walk from here as it would only take ten minutes but in the car it could take thirty. “You have to go back the other way?” I ask him. “Yes, my home is that way” he replies. I begin to think he is just being lazy, but it turns out he is right. The traffic barely moves at all during the 15 minutes it takes me to get back the centre of town.
I head back to the bungalow. The last thing I want to do is get a massage. My shoulder has been hurting, so a neck and shoulder massage sounds good. All along my street there are several massage places. It’s just before 6 pm. I don’t want to lay on my front on a full stomach, so I want to get one before I eat. I have a shower and go to a place across the street. She tells me to come back at 7 pm. I walk along the street and check at other places. They’re busy. I should come back around 7 pm, or in an hour. Finally a place next to the first place says they can do it now. It’s 6.30 at this point.
I wait for five minutes. She rings someone. Someone hands me a container of water. It has one of those foil tops and she jabs a straw into it. I drink it down. It has not been as hot as Singapore by any margin today and I have barely sweated, but I’ve been drinking just as much water as when I was there. A tiny young girl of about twenty turns up on a motorbike and beckons me into the massage room.
I lay face down. I opt for an hour massage. She gets straight to work. I forgot how they clamber up on your back. I feel bad for her – she must only be about 4ft 11 and she’s got to work on my hulking 6ft 5in frame.
At first it’s just some rubbing along my back and up to my shoulders and I reckon she’s probably never trained. She then gets in front of me and begins to knead and tweak my shoulders. She finds the tight spot and works on that. It’s painful but she seems like she knows what she’s doing. I begin to relax and start to enjoy it, but after maybe thirty minutes I start to feel the need for the toilet. I probably shouldn’t have drunk that water. I try not to think about it.
At the end of the massage I feel woozy and groggy, such is how relaxed I’ve become. I walk along the street in a bit of a daze. My plan is to get dinner and I’ve brought my laptop with me figuring I will go to a cafe or – shudder – the new Starbucks next to the palace and use the Wi-Fi to post an entry here since the internet down in the jungle is really weak. I really need the loo. Starbucks is closest. I go in there and order a coffee. I put my things down. I really need the loo. The toilet is occupied. I go back to my table. I’m still a bit dazed and woozy. They call out my order and I go and pick it up. I always take the lid off my coffee when I get it. The toilet frees up as I’m taking my first sip. I stand with the coffee in my hand and my body just kind of closes down. I drop the cup. The bottom of it bounces off the table and the cup spills all over me. All down my legs. It’s hot and it has soaked me. I’m about to piss myself and it looks like I actually have done.
It hasn’t gone unnoticed. A staff member runs over with a mop. “I’m so sorry” I say. “I’ll clean it up.” Luckily I have my rain jacket in my bag. I go to the bathroom, relieve myself, wrap the jacket around me like an apron and then slip out of the store and back to the bungalow to change.
I head to a place called Grandpa’s which is on the Monkey Forest Road. Here I get a beer and a bite to eat and I sit in the back corner working on my laptop until they close at 10 pm. It’s cool and fresh when I head back to the bungalow. The nights are chillier here. I sit on the terrace and attempt to use the Wi-Fi but it’s so weak it takes forever to load what I’m looking for. Mosquitos and flies buzz around my arms and legs. The lemongrass incense sticks I bought in Hue suddenly come in handy.
I’m looking for information to double check the procedure for getting the boat to Lombok. I see that the fast boats for the Gili islands have been cancelled due to high seas. I hope the crossing tomorrow is okay, cos I’m leaving Bali in the morning and heading across the sea to Lombok.