We reached Bali late in the evening and after avoiding the typical taxi scams got one for a fifth of the price that the first guy wanted. We’d opted for a couple of nights in nearby Legian for no other reason than to plan our time in Bali. For that time we pretty much holed-up in the hotel and battened down the hatches as a tropical cyclone hit the island. The one notable event involved a genial chap called Augustine, some scratch cards & the promise of a $50 bonus in his pocket if we accompanied him to a viewing of a new hotel.
We had nothing pressing on so agreed. We acquired 2 awful t-shirts that we left behind and won the choice of free accommodation in Bali [1 week], Phuket [1 week] or Goa [2 weeks]. The catch was we needed to book 2 months in advance. I believe we’ve now disposed of the prize in a bin somewhere in Australia.
I saw the fella the next day and found out they’d exploited a loophole and he’d been denied his bonus. It appears corporate B.S. is alive and well in Indonesia.
On the flight over an in-flight magazine article had alerted us to the fact that we’d be in Bali over Nyepi – their New Year. This manifests itself most prominently in two ways – a New Years Eve parade of Ogoh Ogoh [large, often explicit, effigies of demons carried by many men around the village / town streets] and a total island lockdown on the day itself. No-one is allowed out save for police and specially selected wardens. You can’t have lights on. You can’t even watch TV. Awesome!
We decided Ubud, oft-cited cultural capital of the island, would be the best place to stay for the duration of the festival. We opted for a reasonably priced guesthouse a couple of kilometres out of town.
We’d also heard that two more of Da Lat’s magnificent seven were on the island and planning to be in Ubud over the same period. We made arrangements to meet on New Year’s Eve for the festivities.
We transferred to Ubud the day before them and set about settling in and preparing for lock-down. Our guesthouse [Guesthouse Kudos] was gorgeous and the proprietors lovely. They also had a 1 year old black Labrador who liked nothing more than leaping up at you and attempting to chew any limb or item of clothing within reach. We were surrounded by rice paddies and the whole locale was very green in general.
On the day of the festivities we rocked over to where our long lost companions were to be staying for the duration. En route we had our first taste of Ogoh Ogoh – a wild boar the size of a bus. It was jaw-dropping and for all the wondrous, diverse and imaginative examples that followed I don’t think it was topped for me.
Anthony & Katie arrived after a few transfer hiccups and we instantly picked up where we left off on that single night in Da Lat. Not entirely sure of the mechanics of the day’s events we wandered around Ubud for the afternoon dining, sampling some lovely ales from the local Storm brewery and hoping to stumble across more Ogoh Ogoh. As the evening set in we stumbled across around 50 demon effigies in a courtyard awaiting the start of the parade. From then on we took photos and watched the parade from a few different spots. On several occasions we were almost clattered by an overzealous Ogoh Ogoh carrying crew but we pulled through and rounded off the night with a few more bevies. We paid a couple of opportunistic lads about a quid to whisk us back to our guesthouse on the back of their mopeds after saying our farewells to Anthony and Katie and hit the sack.
Oddly enough Nyepi was quiet. We read, caught up on this and that, plundered our groceries and refrained from turning on our lights when darkness fell. It was nice to do nothing as it often is these days.
Feeling suitably refreshed we wandered into town the next day to once again meet with Anthony and Katie and attempt to organise a day trip tour of the surrounding area. After a quick look around we realised it would make more sense to hire a driver and define our own tour. We met a chap, agreed a price and set off to see a little more of Bali.
First up was an old Hindu temple with fountains and a bathing area. The forest surrounding the place was dotted with trees sporting the gnarliest, wildest most intricate roots you could imagine. The highlight of the place was obviously Anthony in a sarong though.
It was on to another Hindu temple next down a long winding path covered on each side with stalls selling a variety of tat – sorry, authentic Balinese goods – at random prices depending on how interested you appeared to be.
I’m jaded – temples are a tough sell these days. I’m well aware how this makes me sound and you’re probably right but I’ve visited a lot of temples now and they’ve gotta be pretty outlandish / unique to make an impact. This place was alright but pretty barren and lacking in intricacy. The surrounding rice terraces however were stunning in construction and vibrant in colour with crops in full flow.
Coffee time next. We visited a locally run plantation surrounded by a garden containing pretty much every kind of coffee, fruit, vegetable or flower they could conceivably grow and our guide was keen to point out each and every one of them.
The admission to this spot was free and we were treated to a selection of different coffees and teas at a spot overlooking the surrounding rainforest. As always the sucker in me felt obligated to pick up something from the shop so we took a bag of Balinese coffee that served us well right across Australia.
Next up was a double header – lunch and a view over a volcano. The weather had been dodgy all day and as we ascended we found ourselves entering thick white cloud. Our driver had chosen an expensive and poor buffet lunch restaurant. The one redeeming factor was the view of the volcano tip and its surrounding caldera lake – at least that would have been the case had visibility not been down to about a meter. It was like someone had built the place inside a cloud.
Miraculously as we stuffed ourselves with as much food as we could the view cleared almost completely giving us chance to drink in the surrounding landscape. By the time we rolled out of there it had once again been enveloped.
The final notable event of the day saw us dropped at some mammoth rice terraces that made the earlier impressive examples look like a locals back garden. A few of the workers tending the crops were only too happy to pose for a photo – so long as the price was right. What a job – part cultivator, part model.
On our return to Ubud we settled into a restaurant with some great food, great chat and great beer before parting company ahead of our transfer back to the coast. A great end to our time in Ubud and there’s always a chance we’ll cross paths in Melbourne…