“If you see the police waving you over, don’t stop. Just keep going.”
Contrary to appearances, this wasn’t the getaway plan for a bank heist, but rather a normal Friday morning. I was looking into renting a scooter.
“Hide your notes,” the rental agent continued.
“There’s a police crackdown just around the corner. All they want is your money, so the best thing to do if you get stopped is speak anything other than English. If they can’t understand you, they’ll give up.”
I’d never considered scooters to be in the brotherhood of badassery, but I was starting to reconsider. Then again, the rules of the road are a little different in Bali. (I never ended up renting that scooter.)
To say Kuta’s roads are hectic is an understatement.
Lanes lose meaning. Cars and motorbikes fill the road, and then the sidewalks, too. Learning to cross the street as a pedestrian is a bit like entering The Matrix: time slows, until you begin to see openings you thought didn’t exist.
Ever see George Costanza in the Frogger episode? That was Warren and me on our first day — forward, back, left, right, all just to get to the other side. It’s no wonder many people give up and hail a cab.
Which brings us to taxis…
My “welcome to Bali” moment: stepping out of the airport and immediately being confronted by two dozen prospective cab drivers, all swearing they’ll offer the best price.
There’s one taxi company in Bali that operates on metres — the entire fleet of cars is a bright metallic blue. Hard to miss, right? The trouble is, every other taxi has mimicked the same exterior and logo, minus a few details. Learning to tell the real from fake is an initiation rite, of sorts. By day, they’re easy to spot; by night, it’s a different story. We learned the hard way on our first night and paid nearly triple for a ride to our hostel.
Welcome to Bali, indeed.
Tales from the road:
1. “You’re the guy with the really bad t-shirt tan!” That’s how a group of backpackers recognized me earlier in our trip, back in Australia. Apparently — and much to Warren’s enjoyment, and my dismay — I’ve developed a bit of a reputation. Try as I might, I can’t seem to shake it. A month and a half in Australia couldn’t do the trick. A week in Fiji made little progress. My last hope lies in these final two months in Southeast Asia. (One thing in my favour: our new travel companion, Warren’s girlfriend Sara, is even paler than me.)
2. A word on Sara: she joined us in Kuta, and I swear she has something packed in her bag for every possible scenario. She also takes better photos than I do, so you can expect to see some every now and then on the blog.
3. What do you do with a nine-hour layover at an airport? If you’re Warren and me, you go for one last (but probably not really the last) hurrah at a certain fast food chain. Thankfully, kids are an endless source of entertainment — we watched one kid throw his three-quarters-full pop bottle at the ground, presumably because he could and wanted to, and then saw him pick it up and start drinking from it again as if nothing had happened. Kids, man.
4. I’ve had a crappy cup of coffee before, but never quite like this. Warren, Sara, and I tried kopi luwak — the “world’s most expensive coffee,” famed for its process of coming from beans passed through the digestive system of the Asian palm civet. A small cup will set you back 120,000 IDR, or about $12 CAD. The verdict? Pretty much like regular coffee.
5. After two and a half months spent pinching pennies in Australia and New Zealand, food is refreshingly cheap. A dinner portion of nasi goreng (chicken fried rice) often comes out to no more than $2.50 CAD. I haven’t cooked yet.
6. I also now know what it’s like to hold a million Indonesian rupees in my hands. Check that one off the list.
Things I’ve seen:
1. Ubud’s Sacred Monkey Forest.
Monkeys are all over the place in Bali. They fill the trees; they fill the temple grounds; they fill parking lots. They’re a bit like squirrels in Southern Ontario, only craftier: they seem to take a liking to any personal belongings they can grab, which is a problem when they can run, jump, climb, and go just about anywhere you can go. I witnessed one poor girl stand helplessly with a monkey on her back, rummaging through her knapsack — which, it struck me, really helped to nail home the whole “monkey off your back” metaphor, but probably wasn’t of much help to her in the moment.
I started this trip in love with monkeys. Then, I began to fear them. Now, I think I’m back to loving them — albeit at a distance. The babies in the monkey forest are just too cute to hold a grudge against.
2. Rice fields.
A true sight to behold. A guide took us through the rice terraces just outside of Ubud, explaining the growing seasons for different varieties of Indonesian rice and their cooking purposes. Mostly, you notice the sheer abundance of green everywhere — it’s amazing.
3. Seminyak sunsets.
We’ve seen some stunning sunsets in the past few months, but I’d put this one up against just about any of them. Seminyak faces west on Bali’s southern peninsula, looking out onto the Bali Sea and beyond. With another hot and humid day in the forecast, we gladly spent the afternoon and early evening at the pool, sipping Bintang and savouring the temporary escape from the heat. The view was a nice bonus.
What I’ve been reading/listening to:
Lee Child – The Hard Way
Kaytranada – 99.9%
Ta-ku – Median EP
Ab-Soul – Do What Thou Wilt
(Header photo by Warren Jones)