Surviving in Ubud- Bali

It seems that everyone who has recently travelled to Bali has explored the charms of the island my means of a beaten up moped. Attracted to the freedom, cost and practically of two wheels it seems like an obvious choice, especially when you learn how unreliable and terrifying the taxi’s there can be. I grabbed a lift across the island from the east coast in a taxi organised by the dive school I was staying at, a feat much appreciated after unsuccessfully bartering on uber. It wasn’t appreciated for long. Half way through my journey the car rolled to a stop at a set of traffic lights, the driver jumped out and swapped places with his brother in the passenger seat. Unconcerned, it just seemed like they were doing shifts behind the wheel and that the journey would continue in the typical kamikaze style of driving that the whole island had adopted. Then, in untranslatable Indonesian, the initial driver began pointing at various essential parts of the car, seemingly explaining what they were to the new driver. The lights turned green and the traffic began to move. But our car didn’t. Driver number 2 remained unmoved, staring blankly at the alien dashboard and controls infront of him. A snapping order from his brother burst him into brief action before stalling. Not one of those close calls when the car creeps’ forwards and then precedes to slowly cough to undernourished stop, it was more an atrocious attempt displaying the aptitude of a man who has never seen a car other than the foot powered one of the Flintstones. Another similarly shocking attempt followed to the soundtrack of blaring horns. Somehow, on the fourth of fifth attempt the driver learnt what the accelerator pedal is for and slammed it down, drowning out the angry honking behind with a fierce buzz of a one litre engine as we crawled through the intersection. At the next stop it transpired that what was going on was in fact a driving lesson. An incredible utilisation of a vehicle by the taxi driver come driving instructor making multiple uses in this trip but also a terrifying usage as we cut up lorries and swerved uncontrollably across roads. In a country where a woman was thrown in prison for chopping down a tree in her garden it seemed ludicrous that a person who had never driven a car before could effectively work as a taxi driver. Avoiding oncoming traffic, signposts and clucks of chickens we somehow spluttered into Ubud and began the search for the aptly named secret garden hostel. And what a well-kept secret it was as no one had heard of it. Elongating the death trap driving we continued our pursuit of the fabled hostel until I was finally freed onto the middle of the road, not the side because that’s where the car stopped. Still having no clue of where I was meant to be going I simply celebrated surviving the hair-raising journey.

To calm myself after the traumatic taxi ride, I decided to take a wander through Ubud.  Widely regarded as the cultural centre of Bali there are countless historical sites and wonders to take in as well as the outstanding natural beauty of the surrounding mountains and farmlands. Palaces, temples and shrines are the top of most people’s agenda, but I set out carrying a back pack of dirty clothes in search of a laundrette. All of my clothes, and now probably the pants I was wearing in the taxi, needed good clean so I had a mosey through the bustling streets, with no idea where I was heading. Signs for the famous monkey sanctuary stole my interest and I lazily followed them, completely forgetting the original intent of my trek through the town. The simian swamped sanctuary is one of Bali’s most popular tourist destinations as people from all over the world flock to view the overrun temples and get selfies with sly monkeys.

Darting around the temples and through the trees the wily inhabitants of the attraction utilise its popularity for their own gain. After pouncing onto the shoulders of a coaxing selfie taker, occasionally the cunning monkey would have a rummage through a bag or steal a loose scarf. Some sightseers don’t even desire the close companionship of a shoulder bouncing monkey but are ambushed into victimization, accompanied usually by a loud scream and in some more serious cases, a sprint to safety. Whilst observing the opportunistic residents in action, I sat down for a refreshing sip of water, unaware of the perils that would pursue such an action. A nice space opened up after a scared, shrieking cluster of girls vacated, being pursued by a bounding monkey, and I sat down to take a drink. The sound of a bottle cracking open must be some sort of irresistible mating call to the entire population of the sanctuary as every monkey turned to the promising sight of myself sat stupidly unaware by my open backpack. Approaching from all angles, they zoned in on their easy prey. The first seemed like a friendly, cute, playful soul standing adoringly infront of me, distracting me as his friends closed in from behind. Taking exceptional interest to my backpack the monkeys planned to steal it for themselves in a surprise gam of tug-of-war. Lined up as a small team holding on to the strap they heaved against the battling pull of my panic. Quickly overwhelmed I grabbed it back in defiance. But not before one snatched a piece of clothing from the side pocket. The intent of getting my laundry done had taken a primitive turn as the smart simian tried to escape, before dropping what was an unwashed pair of pants declared as too bad for even a monkey. Quickly shoving the water and undergarments back into my bag, I vacated my spot in a similar fashion to those before me and quickly sought refuge on a quieter bench. The employee broke the news to me about the ban on food and drink inside the sanctuary, which I had just worked out for myself, his intervention would’ve been much more appreciated a few minutes sooner.

Deciding to walk back to the deceptively difficult location of the secret garden hostel rather than risking hitching a lift on another driving lesson, I wandered back though Ubud, past all the closed launderettes. With the realisation that the closest I would come to getting my laundry done was by a fiendish monkey, I gave up on my original mission and headed for the hostel bar.

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