As you may have guessed by now I am not completely in love with cycling in Indonesia. There are a few reasons, including the pollution and the heat, and as a result I felt like I had lost my mojo, not just for cycling, but for anything.
I had spent a few days back in Seminyak, mostly because of necessity – I had to pick up my new bank cards – and a little bit out of lack of motivation.
The card situation was a bit of a long drawn out disaster and I don’t have the energy to go into all of it because it’s really boring, but the end of the story is that the cards arrived two weeks after they were posted from the UK (three weeks after I lost them), and even then I think they only arrived because Hans got cross with the postman – surely not a coincidence that they arrived the next day! But the drama continued when the envelope had clearly been opened with a letter opener and taped back together which wasn’t how they were posted. Great, so now I have to be hyper vigilant because I fear my cards may have been cloned.
The morals of this story are; do not bank with HSBC, and only send post to Bali via DHL.
Anyway. I have money thanks to a second western union transfer from my parents (which of course wasn’t straightforward) and now I have my bank cards, for the time being at least. This meant I had no more reason to stay in Seminyak, other than I really like it at Hans place. It’s like a little oasis, a comfy bed, pool, sun loungers and a nice breakfast cooked for you, the only reason to leave the inner sanctuary is to buy water and snacks from the convenience store right next door. I was enjoying feeling protected from the madness and I was reluctant to leave. Plus I had made friends with a nice Scottish lady, Maree. We bonded after she got her bag snatched in the street by a drive by scooter, so she lost her bank cards too.
I was starting to feel like I had a little family, something I find myself increasingly craving.
There was also the small matter of the volcano. Mt Agung is on the highest alert for a potential eruption. The UK press have behaved appallingly, they have been creating factually inaccurate, sensationalist reports which focus on fear and panic, The Daily Express in particular has been one of the worst, using words like ‘SHOCKING’ and ‘TERRIFYING’ in their headlines . On any given day you can read reports with conflicting facts and lazy journalism. The Independent had a headline which said ’50,000 people evacuated’, then the first sentence of their report said ‘at least 50 people have been evacuated…’ – do they not employ proof readers for online journalism?
I haven’t witness any fear or mass panic, especially not in the tourist heavy areas. In Seminyak you wouldn’t even know there was anything going on if it wasn’t for a few people worried about the status of their flights home.
Between 100,000 and 130,000 people (depending on which report you read) have been evacuated from a 12km exclusion zone (that is one fact that the media seem to agree on) and are in temporary shelters (between 250 and 500). There is no way to tell for certain if Agung will blow of not so these people have no idea how long they have to be there. For the last few weeks now the reports said that it will erupt within a matter of hours, but we were still waiting.
Mt Agung may or may not erupt. If it does erupt it may do so in the next few hours or it may do so in the next few weeks of months. It may be a small explosion, it may be a big explosion. No one, not even the volcanologist, can predict how mother nature will behave.
The only credible reports are coming from a volcanologist in New Zealand @janinekrippner on twitter.
So after much procrastination and deliberating I decided to go to Ubud. It is 50km away from Agung and deemed a safe place to be should the volcano erupt. Ubud is also a very tourist heavy destination and given that I haven’t been that enamoured with the volume of people in Indonesia so far, I can’t pinpoint exactly what was drawing me back to Ubud.
My ride there felt particularly difficult, not because I had been off the bike for a while, but because it was an exceptionally hot day. It was a ride like any other day in Bali, full of scooters, tooting and clouds of burning rubbish and even the back roads were busy. I kept stopping in the tiny patches of shade to wipe the sweat out of my eyes.
The very worst experience of my whole trip so far happened to me on the way. I cycled over a lizard. A big, beautiful lizard that I didn’t see in time to avoid.
I couldn’t bare to look behind me to see the damage.
I found the hostel I booked only to be faced with a very long and very narrow set of stairs. There was no way I would be able to get my bike up there, so I called the hostel to tell them I was outside and ask if there was another way in, and the guy on the end of the phone said that he was busy and to call back in half an hour! When I tried to explain to him that I was outside, he hung up on me. Right, so I wasn’t going to stay there then. I got onto my phone and was trying to find somewhere to stay on booking.com. I was feeling hot and bothered and exceptionally sweaty. An Australian lady came over to speak to me and offered to look after my bike while I looked for somewhere to stay, I thanked her and said I thought I had found somewhere so I cycled off to have a look. She told me to come back and see her if the place was no good and I could stay with her for a night. Well, I went to the other place and it also had a giant staircase. I was starting to feel really unwell now and my ears started to buzz, darkness descended over my eyes and I felt my tongue go weird, I felt shaky and I knew I was about to pass out. That was the last thing I wanted to do and the thought went through my head that it would be an ideal opportunity for people to steal my stuff if I was passed out on the side of the road. So it took all my effort but I managed to roll carefully along the road (thankfully it was downhill) and find the cafe Charmaine was sitting in without keeling over.
I joined her table with her partner David and some of their friends where they bought me lunch and a juice and made sure I was ok. They are both from Adelaide and are living here in Ubud for a year, a bit like a gap year but more grown up. They took me back to their place and I was amazed at how nice it was. I could live here!
I have been a bit negative about Indonesia so far, and I have decided that, unfortunately, the only way to enjoy Bali properly is if you have a lot of money. Money gets you that instagrammable paradise most people think of when they think of Bali. Long time followers of my adventures will know that I am not adverse to being dirty, unwashed and roughing it, but I do object to living amongst filth, and it is so dirty here.
Anyway, their place is gorgeous. It has an outside living space, a perfect size pool and beautifully landscaped garden. They have the main bedroom upstairs which has an enviable 4 poster bed and a copper bath tub, but I think the crowning glory of the house is my bathroom which is outside!
So here is where I go all Eat Pray Love and do some yoga, which is what Ubud is all about really. I feel increasing like my body is breaking down, it really needs some looking after and a good stretch. So after a lot of online research I decided to get an unlimited week pass to Radiantly Alive. I chose this studio over the more popular Yoga Barn because of the variety and number of classes they offered.
In summary I had an absolutely wonderful week. I tried some new things, I got taken out of my comfort zone, I was made to look at myself externally and internally. The studio is beautiful, the staff are friendly and the instructors are welcoming and knowledgeable. I went on quite a big personal journey in a short space of time. I realised how much damage I have done to my body. It felt great to stretch it out and really give it some nourishment and love.
You can read a more in depth account of my week of yoga here: Radiantly Alive, The Best Yoga Studio In Ubud?
Charmaine and David were so nice to me and they let me stay with them for the whole week, which was perfect because the yoga studio was at the end of their street. We went out for a walk at 6:30am most mornings, we walked up on the ridge, around pretty little villages and through the rice paddies. I learnt so much about Balinese culture and history from them. It rained a lot and really heavy at times, that didn’t stop us going out walking though. We did a couple of bike rides, one through the rice paddies which was a little scary. I can safely say that mountain biking is not my sport.
When I first came to Ubud I felt like there were temples everywhere, and there are quite a few, but mostly they are compounds. Compoud isn’t a very nice word in my culture, but here it just means a large walled house which contains a family. Some of them are so ornately decorated they are easily mistaken for a temple. One of the giveaways is that the homes have a card the outside stating the number of people living there. These compounds are walled and gated to keep out spirits and demons, and that is why the entrance is flanked by statue guards and generally raised up by a few steps. The decoration and embellishment is a sign of status or wealth. The little birds they like to keep in little cages are also a symbol of status.
It always feels like there is a Hindu festival happening and that’s because there is! They celebrate everything, the usual hatches matched and dispatches, but also the new moon, the full moon, the first 500 days of life, 1000 days of life and various other things. They are currently preparing to celebrate Balinese New Year which happens every 210 days. As well as that they have increased the offerings to appease the gods who are restless, in the hope that Mt Agung won’t erupt.
They were also preparing for a funeral of three men from the royal family (I think). I missed the procession but I saw them preparing the coffins, which are the most elaborate coffins I have ever seen, and they have to be carried by about 30 men.
There is a big expat community here are we went to a quiz night (and won!), and Charmaine and David enjoy different activities almost every day. People seem to have a good way of life here. I spoke to Barry who has been retired here for 5 years, here they are rich people, back in California they would be poor people. It makes sense.
No week of being a Yogi would be complete without a trip to Bali Buda. It is one of those places where you take your own bottles and fill them up with soap, everything you buy is raw and organic and their bags are made of newspaper. You know I love my chocolate and I haven’t eaten any since I’ve been in Indonesia, but I treated myself to some raw cacao with mint and goji berry, and it was really nice!
I am really drawn to Ubud, and I could see myself staying here for an extended period of time. I am trying to pinpoint what it is that I love about it because it still has too many tourists – but there is a difference between people living here and the tourists – there is still too much tourist tat, and there are still areas where there are piles of rubbish that is getting burnt. But, it is a place where anyone can fit in, there is such an eclectic mix of people here that no one stands out. There is a hippie culture so it really doesn’t matter how weird you are. If you are a vegetarian / vegan / gluten free / raw / clean eating freak then this is definitely the place for you, you will be well catered for. I think it has a good blend of difference and familiarity. There is stacks of culture, history and tradition, but there are also places where you can feel a little closer to home. It doesn’t take long to get out of the centre of Ubud and into the villages where they are still living a traditional life away from all the tourists!
I can’t thank Charmaine and David enough for their incredible hospitality and a wonderful week. They treated me to meals, tea and croissants, great conversation and really made me feel at home.
I had a pretty full on week, after lots of walking, cycling and 16 yoga classes I was feeling tired so I decided to take another day in Ubud to relax before continue to cycle. Charmaine and David had their daughter coming to stay so I moved to the Sunshine hostel. Really difficult to find, but it is only a month old so there aren’t any signs up yet. It’s in the back of one of the family compounds.
It’s a bit different than all of the other hostels in the area. Modern and fresh. There has been a lot of attention to detail and the owners were so nice. Their sons name means sunshine in Indonesian so the hostel is named after him, with yellow accents and windows in the roof to ‘let the sunshine in’.
I’m glad I stayed another day because I found Hongalia, although sad that I didn’t find this restaurant on day 1 because I would have eaten here every day. They served the best noodles I have had. Finally something with some flavour! Indonesian noodles, if you don’t like them spicy, can be a bit flavourless. These noodles are rice noodles which I prefer, and you get a huge portion loaded with shrimp, chicken and fish ball (not fish balls), and there would have been pork in there too but I didn’t want the pork. Plus I had the most wonderful strawberry juice to go with it. I wish I could have tried their dumplings too, they are highly rated.
I think I will dream about these noodles tonight.
An unexpected treat at the end of the day was being invited by the owner of the hostel to a celebration at the temple. They dressed me up in traditional dress, put flowers in my hair, and I almost blended in with the rest of the Indonesians! We went to see what I thought was going to be dancing but it turned out to be a comedy performance which I didn’t understand at all!
Before the performance started I got chatting to an American couple who had two children. There were lots of Indonesian children there all running around and playing a bizarre game where one child grabs onto a pillar and the rest of them form a chain, with their arms linked around each others waist. They then pull as hard as they can to try and remove the child clinging to the pillar, often ending in a pile of children on the ground.
The American child (maybe around 6 years old, but I’m not very good at ageing children) was staring at them from behind her mothers legs, too shy to join in but longing to be a part of the game. She reminded me of myself, I would have been too shy to get involved, but unlike me who wouldn’t have joined in, this little girl gained the courage and soon she was in a pile on the floor too. It was so nice to see them all playing together.
Not only did I not understand what was going on, it seems that the comedy acts weren’t very good because people left early! After about an hour we went back too. A quite bizarre end to a lovely week!
Let’s get social
Just A Drop
I continue to raise money for Just A Drop – they bring sustainable clean water, sanitation and hygiene projects to communities around the world.
663 million people across the globe are living without access to clean, safe water. That’s 1 in 10 people. A child dies every 90 seconds from a water related disease. One third of the worlds population – 2.4 billion people – don’t have access to adequate sanitation.
If you have enjoyed this blog, please consider donating a few…pounds / dollars / euros / yen… and together we can change lives.