Bali is one of those mythic destinations to a North American like me. Friends had weddings in Bali, others went on honeymoon. When I first moved to Singapore everyone kept mentioning “you will be so close to Bali!” There was really never any question then that I would go to Bali, just a question of when.
Since my mother and cousin were on their way out to visit me in early 2016, I put Bali on the list as one of our top choice destinations. I mean, we should all get to mark that off the list, don’t you think? I didn’t want to be selfish about Bali.
It’s beautiful of course. It would have to be to draw so many special events and desires so far from home. I understand why it’s so popular. And Bali is very used to tourists – which of course is both good and bad. We split our time between Seminyak (beach town) and Ubud (mountains.) Ubud was by far our favorite, though the beach scenes in Seminyak and the shopping were wonderful. But there was something about the quieter, leafy, and even mysterious Ubud that really drew us in. It helped to stay in the gorgeous Uma by Como hotel.
One afternoon, after wandering about with my cousin, we headed deep into the Monkey forest. You’ve probably heard that the monkeys can be aggressive and you should be careful. We thought we were fine… until one made an aggressive grab for my cousin’s shopping bag. This guy climbed all over her until he had it! I mean, when they say “aggressive,” there isn’t anything lost in translation. She flung herself away from him and this guy just kept coming at her until he had that darn bag. He won, by the way. But it was a hollow victory when he discovered shorts were his only prize. He lost interest immediately. We ended dangling off the edge of the boardwalk to retrieve her shorts. I think we got off easy.
Of course, that was a foreshadowing of what was to come. Hours later I would find myself thinking that my aunt and uncle would never let my cousin visit or travel with me again. We were ready to leave the monkeys, and exited the Monkey forest from a different entrance than we entered. I thought every exit would end us in a populated area where we could grab motor-taxis back to town, or at least back to our hotel.
Not only that, it was the middle of the afternoon and appeared to be nap time and there were very few people about. So we walked nearly a mile, maybe a bit more, stopping at least half a dozen times for me to ask about a taxi. This is what happens when you travel spontaneously: things definitely do not always work out. A good number of people gave us incomprehensible responses or directions to another hut. Others had their taxis and motorbikes already out and about. And one quoted us an exorbitantly high price and then when I tried to negotiate, told us they didn’t have time and couldn’t take us after all. It’s one of the things I hate about popular tourist destinations. It tends to create opportunists and people who approach things from a very mercenary perspective. Since my cousin was with me and I was particularly protective of her, I decided not to press the point. We kept looking.
So how did we get back? I made one last request. A calculated one. We stopped at a small laundry hut where a few women were chatting out front and I asked them for help. I sent all the “women helping women” good vibes I could into the universe. And one woman agreed to take us, two foreign women, back to our hotel even though she wasn’t entirely sure where it was. Technically, she didn’t even have a taxi sign marked anywhere. It was a bit of instinct, and a bit of luck. And boy did we need it, because it turned out we were more than 25 minutes by motorbike from our hotel.
All three of us, our driver, then me, then my cousin piled onto one motorbike and rode through all these back roads to the hotel. We’re spun through roads and down hills while I held onto my cousin’s legs behind me and prayed she didn’t fall off. In the middle I’m forced into this strange posture that’s a mix of yoga and Hindu statue, like one of those postures in the Kamasutra which you know is described as fun but you can’t really comprehend how. My thoughts flitted between “thank goodness for yoga” and “if I lose her off the back of a motorbike in Indonesia I will never forgive myself for this.” Of course at the same time I’m hoping she’s finding this as crazy and wonderful a journey as I am. Or maybe that was shot of adrenaline speaking. These kind of unexpected adventures should come with shot glasses.
There were one or two wrong turns but we made it. As we pulled in to the hotel the staff and a few locals walking by all started chattering loudly with amusement. I don’t know that they often saw foreigners piled onto a motorbike like locals. There were three grown adults on that bike, though my cousin and our local driver were much more petite than me. But it worked, and I confess I was rather proud of us. This was experiential travel! A few minutes later we piled into my mother’s room crowing in relief and adrenaline and giddiness.
As a side note, I paid the woman (our local driver) a good deal more than that one guy who had quoted such a high price. Sometimes it’s worth materially showing your gratitude for a safe journey home.