About a week before I headed off, Lydia played backpack weight manager and whittled me down to two novels, a journal and a guidebook â€“ still about 1.5 kilos of paper. As I passed WHSmith in Heathrowâ€™s Terminal 4 departure lounge the â€œBuy one, get one half priceâ€ sign hooked and reeled me like a helpless fish. I barely even wriggled. Iâ€™ve wanted Ian McEwan’s Solar for ages and the new Lisa Jewell would be a quick and absorbing read – perfect for long haul. No matter how good I get at travelling light, I canâ€™t seem to stop carrying too many books. Iâ€™m long overdue a switch to e-reader and this trip has forced the issue.
As we descended into Denpasar airport I turned the last page of Lisa Jewellâ€™s latest, relieved that I could dump it on the plane and leave one book lighter. I struck up a conversation with the girl in the next seat, who was headed to the beach at Seminyak, and found it the perfect new home.
Flicking through my guidebook, I debated the relative merits of Baliâ€™s beaches with my neighbour and excess book owner. I decided upon Legian. Itâ€™s a hop, skip and jump from the airport. It has a beach I can relax on to work out where I go next and while Iâ€™m unlikely to love it, at least itâ€™s not Kuta.
I left the air conditioned arrival hall at Denpasar airport to a chorus of, â€œTaxi, you need taxi?â€. But Iâ€™d read my (heavy) guidebook. I knew these were the rip off merchants. So I walked past them to the window for fixed price prepaid airport taxis and congratulated myself for avoiding rip off on arrival. Later, when I realised that the fixed price taxi driver had actually taken me to Legian Road in Kuta, I laughed and cursed the cheeky git.
Kuta is sort of like Magaluf, if you live in Australia. Itâ€™s a bit nicer than Magaluf and I did have a lovely day there – lunch, hit the beach, planned the next stop of my trip, watched the sunset, made some new friends, walked for hours and booked my bus to Ubud next morning. Kutaâ€™s just not very me.
Next morning I headed to Ubud, Baliâ€™s artistic and cultural centre. I found a gorgeous little guesthouse on Monkey Forest Road and this was where I acclimatised to Bali and found my travelling groove. I wandered through art galleries and temples, saw dance shows, browsed unique shops and lingered in cosmopolitan cafes. The highlight of my time in Ubud was a cycling eco tour. We were driven up a volcano, put on bikes and hurled downhill for 25km through villages, paddy fields, coffee plantations and stunning scenery. My favourite stop was at the coffee plantation where we watched them make â€œcat shit coffeeâ€. A strange creature called a Luwak roams the forest eating coffee beans and pooping them out intact. They are collected from the forest floor as, having been through the Luwakâ€™s digestive tract, they have a unique flavour. Each animal generates only 300g a year so itâ€™s expensive shit. A cup of Luwak coffee in London will set you back about Â£40. The Luwaks are delighted. They used to get killed and eaten. Now everyone treats their poo like gold.
We wheeled downhill for 25km and then a few of us tackled the optional 10km uphill to our lunch stop. I didnâ€™t expect to make it in the heat but was reassured as our bus was coming behind to pick up casualties. I was the only girl to make it all 10km uphill, racing in just behind the boys with a huge smile on my face and thirsty for a decent cup of cat shit coffee.
After cycling, I went to the (cheeky) Monkey Forest Sanctuary, home to 300 Macaques who taunt paying tourists daily. There’s a link in the comments below to a video of a woman being relieved of her hair clip – her husband is more concerned about getting a photo than getting the monkey off her head. Despite their unpredictability and cheek, they are adorable. Iâ€™m glad I took Kirsty and Ianâ€™s advice and didnâ€™t go in waving food. Food-less tourists are dull. Itâ€™s the ones with bags of bananas who get molested.
There were some things in Ubud that didnâ€™t really work for me. Outside Bali Buddha a wall of posters peddle a multitude of ways to achieve happiness, personal fulfilment and get rid of all the bad things in your life. I read through them and my west of Scotland bullshit detectors were in overdrive. â€œSo, if I pay Â£x, youâ€™ll remove all the bad things in my life with your psychic crystal quantum energy theta healing tarot reading while you do a barefoot ecstasy dance around my wallet?â€ Harumph. Iâ€™m not averse to a bit of spiritual exploration. Iâ€™ve done quite a lot of it and think it has real value. However, being presented with a wall of people proclaiming to have the â€œanswerâ€ pissed me off. No one has â€œthe answerâ€. I think we all find our own versions of our own answers that serve us at whatever point in life weâ€™re at. I read a booklet given out by tourist information that was packed with ex-pat westernersâ€™ advertising copy for their alternative businesses in Ubud. Iâ€™m sure people do find answers in Ubud. I just found it all a bit much.
It really served me though. It served me to find my own travelling groove. I was in Ubud, a place of real beauty, that is universally loved, and it wasnâ€™t resonating with me. So I tried harder, I tried to give myself a shake and appreciate it. And there were some things that I loved. In the end, I realised that Ubud just doesnâ€™t resonate with me and remembered that the way I love to travel is to find what I love, not what everyone else loves, or thinks I should love. To quote a card Adrian gave me when I took off last time, to dance to the beat of my own drum.
So thatâ€™s what I did. I beat my own drum and headed for Gili Trawangan and diving and I found a little slice of paradise.
JacDaly’s photostream on Flickr.