A love letter to Kuta and Ubud

Dear Kuta,

When I first stepped off the plane I was a bit overwhelmed. It was 2am, I was dehydrated and I’d just woken up having gone through all the sleeping positions possible on a budget airline seat. When we’d found our bags, we went in search of a taxi driver. We didn’t have to go far. They were lined up in matching Hawaiian shirts waiting for us. Our first one gave us an insane quote. The second one was slightly better… But not much. But we were tired. We followed him even as he offered rides to other bewildered westerners, and boasted to his friends how much he had got out of us.

The taxi was alarming. There was little in the way of street lights and it felt like another world. There was no sense of give way, just everyone everywhere. The dark alleyway where we found our hostel scared me. We waded through puddles with our huge backpacks on and tried not to look at the snarling dogs. But then we saw the security man waving to us…
Our room was great. Elsewhere we’d paid on average £40-60 a night for a double room. We hadn’t had an ensuite for the entire trip. Kuta, you were £9 a night. You had air con! You had a double bed and an ensuite!! We passed out. We woke to the sounds of dogs barking and cockerels going crazy.

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We tried the hostels breakfast, and looked at the huge Hindu shrine in the centre of the courtyard. Incredible. Breakfast was £1.30 each for a toasty, fresh fruit and orange juice, an omelette and coffee.. Kuta I started to like you. Everyone had told us “get out of Kuta straight away” but we decided to explore you instead.

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We walked your winding streets, leaping out of the way of the millions of scooters, saying “no thank you” to the offer of “taxi!” Or “massage!” and headed to the markets. We haggled and came out with a new top for Tom and an embroidered handbag for me.

We wandered the streets, jumping over the Hindu offerings full of flowers, food and burning incense. On the beach, bananas had been left out. We tried our first Indonesian meal for lunch – chicken satay with rice and Bali fried rice, fresh juice and cold water, for about £6.00. The novelty will never wear off! I fed the stray cats, even though I wasn’t supposed to.

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I’ll never forget my piña colada made with fresh pineapple juice. It tasted like alcoholic smoothie heaven. I’d like to forget the huge cockroach that joined me in the bathroom and keep the memory of Tom coming to save me in his boxers and walking boots.

Dear Ubud,

The shuttle bus we took to you scared me. It drove down alleyways that I’m certain aren’t made for minibuses. When people on scooters squeezed in between the bus and the alley walls, I had to close my eyes and dig my nails into my palms. My eyes stayed firmly closed whilst we reversed around blind corners into the path of oncoming motorbikes. But once we were out of Kuta I couldn’t keep my eyes off the world outside.

Artists lined the streets, stone maker after stone maker creating huge Hindu statues. Rice paddies. Crazy smells. Scaffolding made out of bamboo. Entire families on scooters where only the adults are wearing helmets. Two hours later, I was relived to reach you.

We found our homestay, walking through an alleyway full of scooters and then through a tiny door, past families sat on the floor and naked toddlers dancing around eating rice from a Tupperware. Another child was crouched on the floor, chopping up a tree branch using a huge machete. Then we found it! Another diamond in the rough, this time with a balcony. What luxury. We had coffee with the owner, who had an amazing smile but not much English.

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Once hydrated we went to visit the monkey forest. I loved those guys. I now understand where the expression “cheeky monkey” comes from.

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They are so playful. And agile. I loved walking around a corner and coming across a monkey sat in a huge pile of sweet potatoes, holding one with his feet and feeding himself another from his hands. I loved the mummies with babies hanging from their bellies.

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The big ones had gigantic teeth which made me keep my distance… then I felt a little hand pulling on my shorts and the next thing I knew, I had a visitor. He felt warm and cuddly like a baby and refused to be put down, whilst I calmly walked him around and prayed he didn’t need the toilet anytime soon. I was left covered in muddy hand prints but no poo thank goodness. The same one jumped on Toms lap… He was a bit scared!

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I’ll never forget watching a monkey walk up to a woman in a maxi dress and pick up the hem so he could peer under her skirt. Cheeky monkeys.

We wandered and ate and ate and wandered. At one point I forgot to look up. A man who was chopping down a tree dropped a huge branch that missed my head by inches. There’s no sense of the pedestrian getting priority here. It got dark. Getting back to the homestay required the light of our phones because the pavements are littered with huge holes, hills and stacks of bricks. If you look ahead for a moment you’ll break an ankle.
I’ve come to terms with the fact that insect repellant doesn’t work on me. Neither does sting cream to relieve the bite. I’m pretty sure years and years of living with eczema has been leading up to this point. Oh well. At least I’ve got a bag full of malaria tablets, so it won’t kill me.

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Back at the homestay we could hear loud loud gamelan music. The owner rushed out and apologised profusely for the noise. We just smiled and said “no problem” and went to look for the source of the sound. Down the adjacent alleyway we stumbled across about 100 people rehearsing for the Bali new year celebrations. The men were sat in a horseshoe playing gamelan and huge drums and cymbals, chain smoking and laughing and the women danced. It was hypnotic.
We couldn’t sleep for a few hours. But what better thing to keep you awake? It certainly beats the snorer in the dorm room.

The following day was a fun menagerie of all the cashpoints in the town before realising the credit card had gone overdrawn. Australia, I love you, but you have made me poor. And FAT!!!!!! We are back on the straight and narrow, eating lots of fresh food and cutting down on the beer. And the credit card is all sorted. When I was stood on the balcony on the phone to Halifax, a cock fight broke out in the courtyard and one cockerel started noisily charging at a stray dog… I think this helped the operator to believe that I was in fact in Bali and not pulling his leg.
We headed to the market. I’ve been perfecting my haggling skills on this trip. I was one woman’s first sale of the day. She was delighted, and told me that I’d brought her and her business luck and then proceeded to use the cash is I’d given her to smack me and Tom around the face shouting “LUCK” and then used the money to hit all of her goods for sale.
We then went for a yoga class.

I have never sweated so much in my life. At one point I nearly passed out and looked down and saw that my ankles were sweating. We did very well in that we only got the giggles a few times. One instance of which was when I was holding a pose so difficult that my entire body was shaking with the effort and then I felt toms foot slowly going up my bum. We both felt amazing afterwards. We went for a cocktail looking out at the rice fields whilst we sat on cushions on the floor and I got bitten to death again.

The following day was a big wander. We sweated. It’s so humid that your entire body is drenched in minutes. We walked out of town, until the roads got too small and I got scared of the cars and scooters. Back in town, I had a green juice! Despite being the only customers in the shop it was a thirty minute wait. The Balinese have no sense of hurry. I like that. That’s something I want to bring home with me.
In the evening we watched traditional Indonesian kecak dancing. A group of dancers in stunning costumes told the tale of Rama, Sita, and the golden deer whilst accompanied by a choir of forty men, who sat on the floor using their voices in so many ways and their bodies to dance.
The finale was a fire dance- a barefoot man dressed as a horse jumped over a huge fire, and kicked the burning ashes at the audience. On the front row this kept us on our toes, literally. One huge ember rested next to my flip flop and as I kicked it back it was so hot. This went on until the soles of the dancers’ feet were black.

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We applauded, and stood to leave. Then the local children came and started kicking all the burning embers around. You can tell they had been itching to have a go. One thing that I’ve been fascinated by on this trip is the children. There’s no sense of them being wrapped in cotton wool here. In Fiji, the toddlers play on the beach unaccompanied whilst their parents get on with their day. Here in Bali you’ll see kids who can’t be older than three crouched in the building site outside their parent’s shop, playing with the rubble and a toilet plunger.

It’s just a different way of life I guess.

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