Day 426 – 30 April, 2016
Ubud was my favorite place in all of Bali. Period. It was characterized by sprawling rice plantations that exuded a vibrant green. Dreadlock-laden hippies walked around in yoga pants, drinking green juice and trying their hand at the didgeridoo, or some other obscure musical instrument, to earn some pocket change to buy one more day in this bohemian utopia. At the same time, the traffic was horrendous as it is in other parts of Bali. The rice plantations are being squeezed out by haphazard development. And, of course, inflation runs rampant. For me, though, the atmosphere was the right combination of lazy and athletic, laid back and animated.
I had a few arrangements to make toward future travel, but otherwise, I was a free agent to enjoy Ubud in whichever direction the breeze might blow. Little did I know, my “few” arrangements would have me driving my head into a brick wall. Web sites were crashing. My brand new phone had a mind of its own. My credit card was being rejected. Apps weren’t responding on simple tasks. Needing to book two flights and a hotel was leaving me in an absolute puddle of frustration and incredulity that it could possibly be so difficult, yet I kept trying. And then I realized…..
About three or four times a year Mercury Retrograde occurs where the planet appears to be moving backwards. It’s happening even right now! I used to think it was a myth or an old wives’ tale, but try dealing with new travel arrangements or any other technology-heavy applications during this phase and you will be getting the fits as well. As it was explained to me, it has to do with the fact that Mercury is moving faster than Earth as it orbits the sun and in turn, kicks up a cosmic cloud of dust as it goes by, throwing all kinds of things out of whack. Truth or perhaps just bad luck, the timing of this nuisance was the worst. I spent way too much time in Ubud (almost three days!) trying to straighten out all the kinks, although I was in a mellow enough locale that it softened the edges.
To clear my head and take some deep breaths, I explored a nice casual walk along Campuhan Ridge. It would be impossible to actually call it a trek or a hike. It was paved and relatively flat. But it was lovely to be away from the speeding motorbikes and the taxi hawkers near the main road. The picturesque rice fields hid the occasional temple in the distance. That afternoon I saw a glimpse of what brings expats to Ubud and why they stay.
Another excursion brought me face to face (quite literally) with the non-astrological troublemakers at the Sacred Monkey Forest. Officially, it’s part sanctuary within a Hindu temple complex. Unofficially, it’s an opportunity to be frisked and molested by long-tailed macaques. Five separate families of monkeys live within the preserve and due to their ballooning population, conflicts over territory between the families are common. Park rangers feed them sweet potatoes three times per day, but bananas are sold to the tourists for the same purpose. This culture of monkey-feeding has bred quite aggressive little creatures. Nothing is safe. Carrying food inside your pocket or in a bag? Consider it gone (along with the bag and everything else in it. If you even pretend to have food, you could be a victim. I witnessed a monkey steal a small plastic toy that was tied to the outside of a woman’s purse, as well as several that climbed hand over fist up human legs and torsos to reach a banana that was held at shoulder height. It was quite a sight to see, although I can’t agree with the whole practice. The high number of obese monkeys and the high incidence of humans receiving bites tell me this is not a sustainable match.
Three days of fighting technology and seemingl nonsense travel disruptions, I was mentally depleted, but that surely left room for me to wear out my body as well. The sheer isolation of being far away from wifi made a climb up Mt Batur to be the ideal solution. At 2:00am, I waited on the curb with two athletic-looking German trekkers. It wasn’t cool, but it was a comfortable temperature compared to the heat of the afternoon. All of us carried small backpacks with several layers of clothes, gloves, hats, waterproof paraphernalia, the essentials for a hike up a volcano in the dead of night. When our van arrived, three other would-be trekkers were already inside. Two were from somewhere in northern England, although they were dressed straight out of the Jersey shore – muscle shirts, shorts, sandals. The last was my favorite – a young Canadian girl with a full face of makeup, jean shorts, and a crop top covering up a bikini top that barely covered what was underneath. When asked where she was from, she would answer “Australia” because she had been traveling there for a year so she’s not really from Canada anymore. Obviously.
These three musketeers mocked the rest of us for carrying backpacks with cold weather gear until we pulled into the parking lot full of hundreds of other trekkers, who all, of course, were carrying backpacks. Jersey Shore subtly began to regret their decision and were seen purchasing light jackets from an entrepreneur in the parking lot. In the end, five hikers and one bikini babe set off for a reasonably challenging summit of Mt Batur for the sunrise. For three hours, we climbed higher and higher as the temperatures dipped, but we arrived at the top just as the sun rose above the horizon and directly behind the clouds. It felt good and rewarding to be among the clouds again. Australia remained stubborn and was only slightly turning blue when we were served breakfast of banana sandwiches and hard boiled eggs overlooking the filtered sunrise. As we made the return journey back to the van, I was surprised to encounter another family of monkeys. Surprised because we would have walked past them earlier in the dark and we were none the wiser. These monkeys were indiscriminate as to whether we carried food – they were equal opportunity climbers. One climbed up my leg and perched on my shoulder before I could think how to react and once he was there, I’m not sure either of us knew how to undo it. It crossed my mind to put a banana in Australia’s pocket, but she beat me to it and my monkey gladly relieved her of what was left.
After I stubbornly persevered to accomplish booking both round trip flights to neighboring Indonesian islands, I exhaled a sigh of victory over Mercury’s mercurious ways. And I kept exhaling my way right onto a Balinese massage table. After all, Balinese massage is different from a Thai massage or a Lao massage. It is my duty to try them all. Now that’s a discipline where Mercury can’t interfere – it was heavenly.