I have had a revelation. My clumsiness is inherited.
Ubud is full of holes. Holes in the pavement, exposing the drain below; holes in the road where the tarmac is uneven. It is one big trip hazard.
And for anyone who has ever travelled/lived/spent any time whatsoever with me, you will realise how much of a potential problem this posed for me.
I am one of the clumsiest people I know. I trip over things when there is no visible obstacle. I bump into anything that is at placed shin level. I need to invest in sturdy shoes or risk being murdered by my companions as I constantly get them caught and stumble across the pavement/road/sewage ditch. I have been known to fully fall over in the middle of a road and be trapped there, turtle-like, by the weight of my backpack, until being rescued by a friend.
But it turns out that I get this from my mum.
I would like to issue a public apology for anyone who has ever felt personally victimised by my inability to remain upright.
As we trudged up Mount Batur at 2 in the morning, shoes filling up with volcanic sand, torches illuminating our rocky route, I reflected that the stress I was currently feeling must be what other people feel whenever they travel with me.
It didn’t matter where mum was walking; in front or behind me, or to the back of the group. All I could hear was slips and trips; the grating noise of sand sliding over stone, the little ‘whoops’ as she sent forth a cascade of scree down the mountainside.
I think I now understand what it must be like to be a mum worried for her child, except that I was a child worried for her mum.
Hiking the volcano was my idea. I had wanted to do it on the morning of my birthday (yes I am weird and getting up at 1am to climb a giant natural disaster waiting to happen is my idea of fun), but because of the exclusion zone for Mount Agung we weren’t able to do it from Amed.
I think mum was secretly relieved, but I kept dropping it into conversation as though doing the trip was a given:
“When we hike mount Batur…”
“It depends when we want to do Mount Batur…”
“Maybe we should wait until after we’ve walked up Mount Batur…”
Whether this tactic was effective or not, I don’t know, but we did eventually book the trip, through a slightly batty tour agent down the end of our road.
Wayan was a character.
(FYI, probably one third of the people in Bali are called Wayan. Names are largely decided by your birth order, and Wayan is the name of the first-born child.)
His hair was bright white and his glasses were mismatched. He ran a tour agency/guesthouse/self-proclaimed “hangout place”, which rarely if ever had anyone “hanging out” there. Yet he was often nowhere to be found when you wanted to avail yourself of his tour service/hangout facility/shop.
He was usually mooching around somewhere nearby, but it struck me as a business model that would only work in Bali.
So we booked the hike there, after a circuitous discussion about what we would do if the weather was bad. He assured us, not in as many words (in far more of course), that it never rained at the top of the mountain.
Of course! You are above the clouds! No rain up there!
He demonstrated with much hand waving how it would work:
“We are here (hand wave), the clouds are here (hand wave slightly higher up), the top of the volcano is here (higher hand wave). No problem!”
We were not convinced, but booked it anyway, thinking that a bit of rain never hurt anyone.
Over the next few days we wavered over whether to go or not. I have a slightly obsessive tendency to check the weather, and the forecast was not particularly inspiring.
Rain was not just on the cards, it was the whole deck.
I also realised that I hadn’t really considered whether mum actually wanted to climb up a small mountain in the early hours of the morning. Though I was still keen to go whatever the weather, I repeatedly assured her that if she didn’t want to go, I was OK with that. Indonesia is one of the most volcanic countries in the world: there are 139 to choose from.
There would be other volcanoes for me to hike up.
We had a few days to make the decision, anyway. Ubud is full of things to do. There are almost too many options to choose from.
I had to resist my natural tendency to compile a list of everything that sounded interesting, figure out a sensible order to do them in, and go round ticking them all off, probably sweaty and probably rushed.
But we are on holiday.
And mum is in charge.
It’s nice, once in a while, to throw the budget backpacker thing out the window and allow myself to get a coffee in a cafe sometimes.
We expended a lot (a LOT) of energy on shopping in our time in Ubud, and have consequently ended up with much less room in our bags and in my case, some difficult decisions to make about which of my possessions won’t make the cut when I head back to the backpacker life.
I do not like to carry excess weight.
We soon got around to visiting the infamous Monkey Forest, which is conveniently located next to a lot of market stalls, and were fairly glad not to have to visit it again. Don’t get me wrong, I do love a cute little baby monkey sitting innocently on the ground eating a banana.
What I don’t love is a full grown monkey (with very much full-grown fangs) leaping from a tree onto my shoulder, and sinking said fangs into my precious bottle of water.
Needless to say, I let the monkey have the water bottle.
The monkey forest is itself a very beautiful place, made all the more appealing by the “forest” part: forest means shade, means happy little Western tourists. I just think I could have done without the monkeys…
Monkey forest aside, there were a couple of other main sites that we wanted to take a look at while we were in Ubud. We decided to dodge the expense of a tour (500,000 rupiah), and hire bikes instead (60,000 rupiah). This turned out to be one of our better decisions.
However, the traffic in Ubud (and I guess Bali in general) is not very conducive to stress-free road use.
I don’t doubt the competence of all of the drivers on the road – there seems to be a system, I just don’t know what it is – but what I do doubt is the competence of drivers when hapless British tourists on rickety old mountain bikes are added into the mix.
But the cycling went surprisingly smoothly. The route we took only had us on the busier roads for the first little section, from our hotel to Goa Gajah – the confusingly named “elephant cave”. Once we had established that the bikes had gears and that when people honked their horns they weren’t expressing rage or frustration with us in particular, but rather letting the world at large know that they were coming through, we relaxed into it a bit. And it was actually pretty enjoyable.
The short ride to the elephant cave passed amazingly quickly. So quickly, in fact, that we almost sailed straight past it. We wheeled into the entrance and locked up our bikes next to a row of scooters, before being assailed by a crowd of hawkers wanting to know whether we would like a sarong or a cold drink.
We thanked them for their hospitality, but politely declined.
We wandered down past all the stalls towards the ticket office, and were amused to find that sarongs are actually provided as part of the ticket price. We had brought them with us anyway, but wondered how many tourists had fallen victim to the genius business model of the shop holders outside:
- tell tourists sarong is mandatory to enter the temple
- supply sarong at inflated price
- fail to mention provision of free sarong at said temple.
We descended into the complex for a look around, and found more to it than we had expected. Google “elephant cave” and you will see a picture of an intricate, garishly carved cave entrance, decorated with the yellow skirting so ubiquitous to Hindu religious sites in Bali.
What this image doesn’t show you is all the rest: the steps leading down to the shaded walk, the lily pond, the ancient tree in the centre of it all whose roots elegantly splay out, digging into the concrete path.
It was a surprisingly involved first stop, and worth the entrance fee if only so we could tick “visit a temple” off the “things you ought to do in Ubud” list.
Once we’d had our fill of wandering round, back we went to the bikes, and off we went again, for a longer leg of the ride.
This part was when we decided that hiring bikes had to be one of the best decisions we’d made so far.
We turned off the road we had come along, and within seconds found ourselves in another world. This was the Bali from the postcard pictures. This was vibrant green fields, tropical flowers, roadside stalls and people unconcerned by tourists. It was refreshing to find ourselves somewhere where standing out as a foreigner didn’t mean being seen as a source of income, but instead a source of amusement, as we cycled past with our happy, sweaty little faces.
It was bliss. And even more so because it was largely downhill.
We found our next destination with the help of a very cheery traffic director, and a large banner proclaiming “Tegenungen waterfall, this way”.
As we should have realised, site of natural beauty means tourist magnet means plenty of shopping opportunities and money.
We wheeled our bikes down the road and parked them across from a stall with a sign saying, “G’day mate’, and then underneath, offering a ‘bloody cold beer.’
Having just come from Australia, I found this very funny. And had a little twinge of nostalgia too.
And then off we went to find the waterfall.
Unfortunately, because it had just rained, the waterfall wasn’t really swim-worthy that day – not only was it dangerously swollen and powerful, it was also offputtingly muddy. But we trekked down the steps to take a look anyway, and it was a pretty beautiful setting.
As usual there were myriad photo ops – it seems that in Bali if there isn’t a swing then it isn’t worth seeing. It was a bit frustrating walking down all these steps and having to wait every few hundred metres for the photo queue to die down, but I curbed my irritation by reasoning that if I wasn’t with my mum I would no doubt be taking those same daft selfies myself.
Walking back up the steps to the main road was a bit of a trial, but we managed it soon enough, and set off back to the hotel.
This section of the ride was a bit less idyllic, and on reflection it would have been nicer to go back the way we came instead of feeling the need to do a circuit. But I suppose at least we had a fully authentic Bali experience that day. More traffic, more busyness, more tooting horns just letting us know that they were coming past.
One good thing about the route back was that we got to see a bit more of the local area. It was only frustrating that you had to concentrate so hard on the road to watch out for the next pothole, missing drain cover, oblivious person reversing out of their drive way, car parked haphazardly on the roadside. I was so interested in everything that we were cycling past that it resulted in a near-collision with a scooter that had failed to quite get up the curb.
After that I turned my attention away from the fascinating road-side establishments – the gardens full of exotic plants for sale, the shops with huge sculptures crafted from old bike wheels, the ornate wooden carvings that would fill a room. We made it home with no further incidents, thank the lord.
After the success of our bike ride, and several days of deliberation we made the decision to go ahead with the Mount Batur hike. We are British, after all: rain will never faze us.
And so it was that we found ourselves at the top of a volcano at 5am, after two hours of driving and two hours of hiking, having been awake since 1 o’clock in the morning, and running off a lot of grainy Bali coffee.
But we made it to the summit! It was breath-taking, it was awe-inspiring, it was…
The whole thing was actually hilarious. You hike the thing in the dark, with torches to guide you, hoping that when you get to the top you will get to see a magnificent sunrise to make the whole thing worth it.
Except when we made it to the top, we could barely see four feet in front of us. There were a lot of disappointed hikers that day. It was very, very funny.
There was one moment where a finger of sunlight poked its way through a gap in the cloud, and the peak was infused with golden light.
Everyone cheered and whooped and clapped. And then it went away again.
That made me really happy. To think that one little four-second burst of sun could inspire such joy in a group of people, when usually they would probably just be grumbling about the clouds. It makes you realise the importance of context in the way people respond to things.
The hike was totally worth it, for me and mum. We can’t help but love a challenge, and although a thin layer of drizzle descended for the whole way up, and the view was non-existent, and the fog made it hard to see much of anything on the way down, and the climb was sweaty and difficult, and the descent wasn’t kind on the knees, in the end it was just a great thing to have achieved.
How many opportunities will we ever get to ascend a volcano before the sun comes up?
It has really made it hit home, in general, that if you can’t enjoy the journey then you don’t deserve the destination.