About a week before I headed off, Lydia played backpack weight manager and whittled me down to two novels, a journal and a guidebook – still about 1.5 kilos of paper. As I passed WHSmith in Heathrow’s Terminal 4 departure lounge the “Buy one, get one half price” sign hooked and reeled me like a helpless fish. I barely even wriggled. I’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 can’t seem to stop carrying too many books. I’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 Jewell’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 Bali’s beaches with my neighbour and excess book owner. I decided upon Legian. It’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 I’m unlikely to love it, at least it’s not Kuta.
I left the air conditioned arrival hall at Denpasar airport to a chorus of, “Taxi, you need taxi?”. But I’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. It’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. Kuta’s just not very me.
Next morning I headed to Ubud, Bali’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 “cat shit coffee”. 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 Luwak’s digestive tract, they have a unique flavour. Each animal generates only 300g a year so it’s expensive shit. A cup of Luwak coffee in London will set you back about £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 didn’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. I’m glad I took Kirsty and Ian’s advice and didn’t go in waving food. Food-less tourists are dull. It’s the ones with bags of bananas who get molested.
There were some things in Ubud that didn’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. “So, if I pay £x, you’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?” Harumph. I’m not averse to a bit of spiritual exploration. I’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 “answer” pissed me off. No one has “the answer”. I think we all find our own versions of our own answers that serve us at whatever point in life we’re at. I read a booklet given out by tourist information that was packed with ex-pat westerners’ advertising copy for their alternative businesses in Ubud. I’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 wasn’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 doesn’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 that’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.