Liz Gilbert Made Me Do It: Bali
In third (fourth?) grade, I did a report on Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia, because the words themselves sounded so mysterious and the culture seemed as foreign and opposite as could get from my suburban-raised self. And then Liz Gilbert happened. And then that damned movie with Julia Roberts and Javier Bardem happened, and, well, Bali.
Cultural immersion begins on the plane; as we board, a strange kind of peppy, foreign interpretation of western music is blaring and I feel like any minute the flight attendants are going to come around with shots. Ok, so we going to party. And then, during the announcements, the flight attendant says, in a super chipper voice, “the import of any illegal drugs into Indonesia is a very serious crime subject to the death penalty.” Oh, so, no party then.
Customs goes off without a hitch, and I smile kinda dumb-like when the agent slams the immigration stamp down on my passport, making that wonderful ka-thud. Side note: As I am checking in for my flight in Singapore, the gate agent asks me if I had American dollars ($35) for the visa into Indonesia. “No, I don’t,” I say. “Oh, well, you need. You can go get cash out of the machine, and change into dollars,” he says. “Ok,” I smile, “thank you.” I intend to do no such thing. I had researched tourist visas for Bali well and knew the drill. I arrive in Bali and they don’t even look at this scrawny, pasty white girl twice.
It’s about an hour by car to Ubud and within minutes I know two things. I am never renting or riding a scooter. The traffic lanes seem to serve as gentle suggestions, rather than steadfast rules, and there seem to be very few traffic lights. Traffic is a kind of every-man-for himself whirlwind, and more than a few times I see families of 3 or 4 chugging along the highway with young children sandwiched in between the adults, helmets totally optional, as are shoes, it seems. And the really lucky kids who are small enough get to stand up on the scooter/motor bike, right behind the steering wheel in front of mom or dad, having the time of their life as we cruise a cool 40 miles an hour.
Finally, in the middle of the afternoon downpour (because I am a genius and came during the rainy season), I’m safely ensconced in my home stay. By the time I settle, wash my face, and pour a cup of hot tea provided by the host, the rain has stopped, and I sit under the covered balcony, gentle thunder rolling perfectly in the background as the sky brightens.
After dinner (where I go local all the way – Nasi Campur (chicken and rice) and a Bintang beer – $11 with tax/tip), I start to walk around the three main streets of Ubud, which form a kind of town square and have an amazing variety of restaurants and shops. Merchants are hawking their wares; taxi drivers are looking for fares. On a street corner, a lady thrust a brochure at me.
“You like see Balinese dancing? At palace,” she nods and smiles. Actually, I really do. Fifteen minutes later, I’m sitting in the courtyard of Ubud Palace as the show is starting, thoroughly gobsmacked at how the entire evening has unraveled so organically to perfection.
Welp, I’m on a scooter zipping through traffic holding on for dear life. Oh, and I’m in flip flops.
This is how it went down. I had, until now, been walking everywhere, but a few places I want to go are going to require a taxi. Having been informed about the taxi mafia (a.k.a. drivers that jack up fares for us unsuspecting out-of-towners), I enlist the help of a friendly policeman, who waves a waiting driver over. After I negotiate the price slightly, the driver, a kind-eyed Balinese man somewhere in his thirties, nods and hands me a helmet. Turns out taxis come in either two or four wheel varieties.
I blanche. “Oh,” I stutter like the naive idiot I am, “I wanted a car.”
He smiles and shrugs apologetically, gesturing to the thick traffic that clogs the main streets of Ubud. “Is better, the bike. You there faster much.”
He is right. The roads are barely a car and a half wide in many places, especially the central part of town, so a motorbike is, I’m learning, a much quicker way to get around. Since I’ll be damned if I’m missing the yoga class with the hot Venezuelan teacher named Carlos I’ve been cyber stalking since last night, I gulp, summon my inner Liz Gilbert, and slap on the helmet.
As soon as I find myself at Yoga Barn, I quickly start to mentally rearrange the rest of my stay, knowing that one class here is not going to be enough. Carlos plays soft reggae during class. By the time he plays guitar and sings during savasana, the resting period at the end of class, I’m a goner.
Lunch in the cafe afterwards finds me chatting with a woman from California. Maria, who clues me into a few local tricks, the best of which is an Uber-type app that will (among other things) summon a taxi for way cheap, effectively cutting transportation costs, such as the 1 hour haul back to the airport, in half. And no more worrying about the taxi mafia. The app also delivers food.
“Maria,” I say, “you are my new best friend.”
To Be Continued: that time in Bali where Aimee gets a Chakra balance