Wednesday, June 08, 2011

No sleep 'til Ubud

Goodbye Sydney.

I knew things were going to be different when we flew to Bali – renowned travel destination for bogans and the primates who love them. Not that I could talk – I’m sure I’d hugged and fist pumped the sky with half the people on the plane at that Metallica concert I went to last year. However, when the flight attendant’s first safety instruction for the flight is “do not open your duty free alcohol until the plane has landed”, you know you’re in the company of a whole other league of traveller.

We flew Virgin which was ok. They had food by Luke Manghan, some guy from Masterchef I’d never heard of which meant they could charge you $9 for a ham and cheese wrap. That was to be expected…

…but apparently the traveller before me was less impressed.

The weird thing about flying to Bali is that it takes six and a half hours, most of which you’re still in Australia airspace. This picture is the west coast of Australia at about 4pm, we set off at 11am.

I have a weird problem with authority in that even though I’m an upstanding citizen (HA!), I fear that they’ll find something on me and throw me in jail. Flying into Denpasar, with the images of Corby and the Bali 9 looming large in my imagination, I was worried that my stash of cold and flu tablets for a nasty head cold would be seen as contraband. Even worse, Ruth had some vegemite on her – that shit should be illegal in Australia so who knows how Indonesia would handle it.

As we entered the baggage lounge, I grabbed our bags and men in blue uniforms immediately surrounded us. They snatched our bags from us and promptly marched us through the terminal. With my cold being exacerbated by the flight, my head was already swimming a unique stroke but now it was going into overdrive – images of anal drug searches and Balinese jails flooded my mind as Ruth and I walked silently behind the authorities. Did they know about the vegemite?

As they whisked us through customs, I thought we were being taken to a table so they could pull apart our bags with crowbars and hammers. Instead, they led us to a money changer and demanded a tip. Turns out the boys in blue were porters who saw a couple of rubes walking through the airport and thought, there’s a nice little earner. So we paid them a bunch of money for carrying our bags about 20 metres and we’d been scammed literally within 5 minutes of setting foot in the country. Welcome back to Asia Jon, we missed you and your incredible gullibility.

Sadly, this is where we said goodbye to our bogan friends as they headed to the lechery and drunkenness of Kuta while we made our way north to the cultural and spiritual hub of Bali, Ubud. But being back in Asia strikes you straight away – the heat doesn’t so much as envelop you as devour you. The air is heavy with smoke – an amazing cocktail of incense, mosquito coils and trash which is intoxicating as it is stifling. Driving to Ubud, surrounded by a billion scooters barging their way past, we drove along miles and miles of road sided by sculpture businesses. Through the hazy shafts of sunset light you could make out the calm presence of monolithic Buddhas smiling humourlessly as you drove by. We made it to Ubud, a hillside paradise and went to our guesthouse.

This is the view from our room – nice pool, looking out over rice paddies that go for miles in either direction. We are slightly out of the Ubud township, up a hill which has rice paddies on our side of the street and a sheer drop into a valley on the other.

It is impossible to photograph a valley so wide so here’s a photo of my mojito and Ruth’s mango daiquiri with the valley in the background. It’s really hard to photograph.

The wildlife here is quite amazing too. I thought I heard someone with a whipper snipper outside but it was, in fact, these fist-sized bumblebees pollinating the flowers out the front of our room. I’m exaggerating here - maybe they’re not a big as fists unless you’ve got a really small hand – a small person’s fist perhaps.

Anyhow, today we went to Monkey forest. Monkeys are pretty old hat to most people but I never get tired of watching them attack hapless tourists who didn’t read rule number 7: Do not hide any food, the monkeys will find it even if it is in your pocket or bag. Oh they find it all right, they fucking find it. Here are some random monkey photos:

Cute little buggers, their eyes just look straight through you as to say “who’s the real monkey here, you with your endless lifestyle of consumption taking photos like sheep, like so many mindless tourists before you?” Buddy, you’re eating bananas off the ground and picking fleas of your mate’s bum – score: Jon 1, Monkey 0.

We had lunch at some hippie café that made me realise that Ubud has become on of those places that hippies come to die. Disclosure: I was a hippie in the 90’s so I have a lot of understanding and tolerance for this culture. Being the worst Buddhist in the world, seeking healing and calmness through enlightenment and meditation is not foreign to me. But these people were the extremes of that culture. Here’s some real life conversations overheard:

- I, totally, had the most, like, powerful yoga session this morning that I think I made, like, a break through.

- Once you break through to the fourth dimension that’s when you can bend light.

- Remember Ken Kesey who wrote One flew over a Cuckoos Nest? During the sixties he took a busload of people across the states on an LSD tour and I was one of those people.

- I was a fruitarian for 3 years. I ate nothing but juice and fruit.

Bonkers. These things were really said in my presence and even the guy sitting next to us was reading Mind Power: Change your mind to change your life. Dude, just harden the fuck up and stop reading that shit.

It is lucky that Ubud is so unrelentingly beautiful though. Within hours of being here Ruth and I were looking at adverts saying “$150,000 for a villa – we could do that. Let’s go back to Australia and save money – we could totally afford to live here.” I think I may have fallen in love. Ubud is a paradise.



Katie said...

Beautiful beautiful beautiful!!!

We're actually going to Bali with some friends in October- I'd always been reluctant because of the bogan factor you mentioned. But we're going to Seminyak not Kuta and now you've inspired a side trip to Ubud. I've always wanted to have a cocktail with a monkey.

Keep the photos and stories coming!

x K

spiderandlamb said...

Hey Jon

Thanks for writing. Keep it coming.
John E.

wendy said...

have been debating a photography tour to Bali in October and keep changing my mind.... but it's based in Ubud and you may just have swayed my decision.

Sounds like a great spot.

Happy travels!