A Hasty Trip to Town

Despite the relief of the oppressive heat, three straight days of afternoon rain makes for an extremely restless Devin. Thus, around 4:30 I was fully ready for a trip into Ubud, despite having already made a journey there during my now regular morning walk. I reasoned that I needed cash as an excuse and decided that maybe I would do some shopping or grab a beer at one of the restaurants while I was there.

I started off in the growing twilight (it becomes pitch by 6:30PM) down the still wet road toward Monkey Forest – my gateway to Ubud. My expedition began jollily enough. I passed children in the street celebrating Galungan: a troupe of boys playing a variety of percussion instruments others paraded under a large cow (I think. It could also have been a pig head with horns?) costume, forming it’s movements with their bodies, the head and body bobbing up and down a drunken camel. Around them, sat other neighborhood adults chatting and enjoying the show. It reminded me of the July 4th holiday and immediately made me long for home.

As I continued my trek down the small road through Nyuh Kuning in my black Reef flip flops, navy blue cargo shorts and a black short sleeved shirt, I suddenly felt a light splatter on my arm. To my displeasure, I discovered that the wet road, which in places in only dirt, was producing mud that splattered from my flip flops onto my arms and legs as I walked. This was a disappointing reality, since I had already showered twice that day and was looking forward to finally going somewhere sans sweat and dirt. Besides, in honor of my foray into town to socialize, I had actually put on a small amount of makeup, which now only looked ridiculous next to my muddy body. My frustration only grew as I continued on, as the road only becomes more dirt and less pavement as it approaches Monkey Forest, thus making the splatters more frequent and increasingly unmanageable.

By the time I got through the forest into Ubud, I was sweaty, dirty and thoroughly annoyed. So, after getting Rupiah (Indonesian currency), I decided to do some shopping.

I began by searching for a new bag. I foolishly brought my leather Coach handbag that not only looks jarring in it’s conservative early twentieth century English style (think Mary Poppins), but it is wholly impractical in construction with short handles that can only be grasped by hand or rested in the crook of the arm. Besides that, I have come to realize that the only bag that really makes sense here is a shoulder bag or backpack made of a material much more absorbent than leather.

I walked into a few shops at random just to get a feel for what is available here. There’s a vast selection of shops but most of them sell very similar things, so I wanted to determine what my range of options were before I purchased. After all, one cannot find what is classic and timeless without seeing all that is trendy and overproduced (perhaps those two are one and the same?).

One of the things anyone who shops in Bali will notice immediately is the rather annoying shopkeepers and sellers. The instant you even look toward their merchandise, they call you over and suggest items you might like. If you dare to venture inside a store, the shopkeepers lurk behind you the entire time, waiting for you to look at something, at which point they begin suggesting other items to go along with it. As someone who enjoys the process of shopping and loves to take my time contemplating each item, this is thoroughly irksome. By the third store, I had taken to practically running through it, glancing quickly at the selection then dashing out, rudely avoiding eye contact or saying thank you.

Finally, I gave up shopping and began to search for a bar to duck into for a quick refreshment before going back home. As I walked along, I began to take note of the tourists: many people of indistinguishable origin looking around with cameras round their necks pointing at the children’s parade (the same type as I saw in Nyuh Kuning) snapping photos, laughing, smiling, excited to see an authentic Balinese sight.

About halfway down Monkey Forest Road I was shaken out of observation by an annoying tourist couple walking towards me holding hands that clearly didn’t notice me and threatened to run me off the sidewalk. Unwilling to accommodate, I continued walking in the middle of the extremely narrow sidewalk, stared directly at them and did not move out of the way. Finally, the man noticed me and ushered his girlfriend (or wife, whatever), behind him (which also bothered me – ladies first!) and allowed me room to pass. (Afterwards, I proceeded to ruminate on the annoying fact that for some reason unattractive men seem to get good looking woman, but it hardly ever goes the other way around.)

Passing by some restaurants now, I noticed another rather discouraging fact: most of the tourists here are couples. No groups of travelers hanging out talking about the days adventures or their plans for tomorrow. Nope. Just a bunch of couples having dinner. My socialization was going to be more difficult than I thought.

To be fair, it makes sense. This tropical heaven possesses never ending beauty and potential for relaxation. Even in the quiet village of Nyuh Kuning, there are boutique spa hotels around every corner, yoga retreat houses, remote bungalows, etc. There is exotic romance teeming from every crevice of this place – the perfect aesthetic for seasoned couples looking to reinvigorate their spark.

None of this helps a lonely traveler looking for some socialization in a place where I struggle to communicate with my friends living just next door. Not to mention that the only other group of people I noticed in town were a strange congregation of dirty hippies trolling around with their mangled, dreadlocked hair, dirty feet, overly tattooed skin and distant looks. Perhaps I am stereotyping a bit, but they looked like the weirdo bums sitting on the side of the road in Boston heckling for money.

Discouraged, I hurried out of Ubud back toward the village, running at one point, trying to get through the forest before it got dark. When I got back to the house, Jacinta was on her computer and called to me warmly. I was starving by now, having not eaten dinner, so I made a quick salad of tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers and red onion and heated up some chili that Jacinta had made the night before. Then I sat lazily on the veranda eating dinner and enjoying a cocktail of Jamaican run and pineapple juice as I chatted with Jacinta about my experience in town.

I was glad I went into town, even though it didn’t turn out as I had hoped, because I shook off the cabin fever I was feeling after days of rain. But now that I was home, cozy in my yoga pants and t-shirt, chatting with Jacinta, I realized that perhaps the socialization I was looking for in town wasn’t to be found in the strangers that resided there. Instead, it was at home and at the clinic where, despite the fact that I cannot communicate as I would like, there are always friendly, smiling faces to welcome me – the best second home I could ask for, so far from my own.

Photo: Trufflefig @ Flickr

Bali Day One

My first full day in Bali was positively overwhelming. Jacinta, my housemate and a volunteer midwife from Australia, has been here for 8 months, so she took me for a tour of the clinic, and then rode into Ubud on her motorbike to get lunch and do some shopping.

The first thing I noticed was that I don’t know a lick of Indonesian. Despite studying for weeks before I arrived, it is nearly impossible to understand complete conversation.

The second thing I noticed is that the only way to get around is on a motorbike, which I find terrifying. The roads here are tiny with sharp turns and people ride on the opposite side than the U.S. I actually woke up in the middle of the night last night wondering how I was going to get around, because I was sure there was no way I could ride a motorbike here. However, after a brief pep talk from Jacinta, I am encouraged and will give it a shot.

Aside from that, Bali is the most rich and densely beautiful places I have ever seen. I have been to several tropical islands, but Bali is the least Americanized place I have yet to visit. Instead of houses along the road, there are family compounds, so all you see are these ornately carved stone entryways. Inside are individual living quarters for the family members with shared common areas, like the kitchen.

In Ubud, Jacinta and I got an early lunch at a Warung (small cafe). I ordered a pineapple juice and was delighted to find that their version is actually the juice of a pineapple: a chopped pineapple, blended it and served. We don’t know how to live in the U.S.

After lunch we did some shopping – groceries (so we can cook in our outdoor kitchen with no oven), a fan and a flashlight (no light on the outside of our house and the stairs to get down from my room are outside).

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At about 6PM I went up to my room to study my language cards and fell asleep about 15 minutes later. I slept with a light breeze from my fan in a light wrap with the sound of bugs and chirping in the background singing me to sleep. I slept for 14 hours, and it was magnificent.

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