I am currently waiting for my bus to take me from Ubud to Kuta, marking the 500th time I will take a shuttle somewhere. Or maybe it just feels like that. Needing to wait for a shuttle is also because I decided to take a shared bus instead of a private car, saving myself $15 for the effort. “Figuring out how to get form Point A to Point B” and “waiting for transportation” will not be on the list of things I miss after this trip is over. Neither will “packing up all my shit ever 4-6 days and making sure I didn’t miss anything.”
Speaking of missing things, for the first time in 3 months I finally had something: Mexican food. There had been a few Mexican food spots during my travels, but none seemed appealing enough to treat myself to the burrito I had been craving for months. Luckily, the Mexican place in Ubud had a pretty tasty burrito with actual guacamole- a rarity in this part of the world. The burrito itself wasn’t that big, but it was delicious. I wouldn’t travel halfway around the world for another one from the same restaurant, but it was enough to satisfy my burrito craving for another month. Mexican food, real coffee, and an IPA all top the list of items I cannot wait to have when I get back home. Mexican food, as mentioned, barely exists in Asia. Most of the coffee tastes like shit. And the beer all tastes the same- like a generic pilsner.
The last 5 days of my life have been spent in Ubud, in the middle of Bali away from the beaches. Ubud is where Julia Roberts made love to Javier Bardem during the “Love” portion of Eating, Praying and Loving. Something like that. Besides being away from the coast, the area is higher up from sea level, meaning the temperatures are cooler and clouds are more common. “Cooler” is a very relative term. It simply means that it is not earth scorchingly hot 100% of the time, which is an acceptable change. I do miss being close to the beach, even if that doesn’t mean I am swimming in the ocean every day. The final 10 days of my stay in Indonesia will areas very close to the beach.
Overall, Ubud was nice and quiet, filled with all sorts of temples and an area that could double as the pre-pre-prequel to Planet of the Apes called the Monkey Forest. It unfortunately rained a good amount of the time, which makes it less enjoyable to do any outdoor activities. One day I rented a scooter and went on a decent tour of the Ubud area to visit a large temple. If I am staying in the area featuring a bunch of old temples then I need to visit at least one of them. It was cloudy and drizzling, which made me experience something for only the second time in 3 months- the feeling of being cold. At that moment when I had goose bumps, riding in a light rain on the scooter I wished that the hoodie which has been packed away at the bottom of my big backpack for several months was around my shoulders. Thankfully, I found the temple without getting soaked. In Indonesia, street signs are barely existent, and finding anything without street signs is about as difficult as it sounds. Usually I just drive until I get tired, hungry, or find something interesting.
On the way, I came across a beautiful rice paddy terrace cut into the hillside. This was clearly a popular tourist stop, since there were restaurants and T-shirt stalls lining the street. Green, perfectly terraced rice fields going down a steep hillside are always amazing to see. Partly, I think, because there is no such thing (that I am aware of) back home in the States.
Once I parked the scooter and before getting to the temple itself, I had to run the gauntlet of tourist stalls. You can always tell how close you are to a given local attraction by counting “Tourist Stalls Per Square Foot.” The TSPSF here was quite high. I got to enjoy a ruse the proprietors of these stalls attempt to pull on any unsuspecting MR TOURIST MAN that happens to pass by. The temple requires anyone visiting to have covered legs, or to wear a sarong if you are wearing shorts. I am always, 100% of the time wearing shorts here because it is too damn hot for pants. Also I didn’t bring any pants. So what the kiosk operators try and convince passerbys like me to do is buy a sarong from them. MISTER! YOU NEED SARONG! TEMPLE! These sarongs were already impressively cheap at $2, and quickly got discounted to $1 in the blink of an eye once I was 3 feet past their shop. I saw through this ploy to separate me from $1 and continued walking, laughing as each of them played the same game and dropping the price in half instantly. I was confident that the temple would provide free sarongs (as other temples have done on this trip). More importantly, I was 100% positive that I did not want to own a sarong, no matter how cheap the price.
As expected, the temple provided a sarong free of charge after I paid my $1.50 entry fee. The temple itself was pretty impressive, covering an area that spanned a river and featured large carvings into the rock face of several rock hills. Built 1,000 years ago, I wandered around marveling at the construction and trying to picture what it was like back when the thing was built. Thinking of people/ monks/ workers walking around, living their much simpler lives. The main concerns must have been pleasing the gods, having food, making babies, carving more statues, and doing some more praying to the gods. No bills to pay or taxes to worry about. Although they didn’t have sweet iPhones to play tunes into their ear holes while exploring 1,000 year old temples either. Their lives were also completely confined to the immediate area in which they lived. No one ever hopped on a cross ocean flight or sailing vessel to visit far off lands. They were born, lived, and died within a few miles of the same place.
Which isn’t that different than a lot of locals I have met during my trip either. Almost zero of the local Indonesian, Thai or Malaysian people have ever left their main island. Going to another country is nearly unheard of. Mostly it is because of money. When you make $200 a month, spending $1,000 to fly half way across the world is pretty much out of the question. It definitely makes me feel lucky that I was born in a country that allows me to earn enough money to explore these parts of the earth.
Besides trying to picture what life was like so long ago, the other thing I think about when visiting 1,000 year old temples is what it becomes over time. I am sure there were centuries when the temple was looted, frequented by squatters, or left abandoned. And now, in 2014, it is visited on a daily basis by foreign tourists all snapping photos and avoiding the aggressive kiosk workers out front before heading off to visit another relic of the past. It is interesting what things become. Built 1,000 years ago as a monument to the gods, it is now a place where visitors snap 1,000 pictures a day and run off to the next site.
The other local site in Ubud that I visited was the Monkey Forest. This was walking distance from my hotel, so after walking a few hundred yards and paying $3, I was inside the Land of the Monkeys. I am admittedly terrified of the monkeys, especially after seeing a girl get bit bad enough to break her skin way back in Ko Phi Phi. The monkeys are fast as fuck and very unpredictable. I was thankful that most of the tourists in the park were not mindlessly feeding the monkeys Doritos and Popcorn, which would only make them more aggressive. Mini bananas seemed to be a sanctioned food to give the monkey residents, and a lot of monkies were climbing on the humans to get an aforementioned banana. I enjoyed watching both the monkeys and the humans observing the monkeys. It also wasn’t clear to me how the monkeys knew how to stay IN the Monkey Forest area. Right outside are roads, cars, motorbikes, restaurants and stores. The monkeys know to stay out of these more populated areas- How?
The baby monkeys were the best. They would wrestle with other monkeys, mostly babies, and try to run around. Often they didn’t get too far because their moms were holding onto their tails. Several dozen, or maybe even a hundred, monkeys ran, jumped and climbed all over the forest. My head was on a swivel, not wanting to get attacked by a rogue. Anytime a monkey ran by my feet from behind it scared the crap out of me. I didn’t see anyone actually get attacked, but there were monkeys that went into peoples bags/ purses and I opted to not have the same fate.
One of my favorite moments, apart from watching the mini-monkeys wobble around like they were drunk, was when one of them opened a coconut. After peeling away all of the husk, one monkey tried biting and peeling open the main part with the edible coconut. That monkey gave up, leaving the de-husked coconut for someone else to try. Instantly, a second monkey jumped to the coconut and started picking it up and dropping it. After fifteen or so drops, the coconut cracked enough for the monkey to pry it open. They didn’t seem to know that the coconut water is delicious, letting that spill out onto the ground. Once the Coconut Opener had enough, he abandoned the broken open coconut and other monkeys instantly jumped on to enjoy a taste of something other than banana.
A final aspect of the Monkey Forest that was fascinating to me was all of the other tourists watching the monkeys. The Monkey Forest is basically a zoo without fences or cages. Because of that, there will be very different ways in which the animals and people interact with each other. Most of the people were watching and taking photos (myself included). Others were trying to feed them while not getting attacked or stuff stolen from them. Seeing humans marvel at animals and take millions of photos is always an interesting thing to observe.
Since starting this post and finishing it, I have arrived safely in Seminyak. It took a shuttle bus and a taxi, but only cost $10 instead of the $25 for a private car. Money well saved. My hotel is one of the nicest I have ever stayed in, all for a whopping $35 a night. It isn’t a monster resort, but compared to most of the places I have stayed on this trip it is a 12 star resort. Impressing me isn’t terribly difficult after 3 months on the road, but it is still nice to be impressed all the same. The next 5 days will be spent relaxing, reading, writing, sleeping, and eating in Seminyak. Almost as good as spending that same amount of time in a cubicle staring at a computer. Almost.