Today I am writing from the porch of my rented villa here in Ubud. I woke up at 6 am head swimming in champagne and made my way across the street to a yoga shala where I had my morning practice. This should have been torturous given the lack of sleep and copious amount of bubbly – however it ended up being amazing and about halfway through I realized that I would not be hung over today, that I had sweat all the evil (and yet, oh so yummy), vino out of my system – hallelujah!
After practicing I walked back through the rice fields and the farmers were harvesting one of the paddies –I stood and watched them work for a while, snapped a few photos and continued on my path. I got back to my flat and my houseboy, Wayan, was there laying out breakfast for me, I had no idea that my $300/month villa came with daily breakfast - I love this place! So here I am writing, eating an omelet and fresh papaya, sipping coffee listening to the wind in the bamboo and the waterfall/fountain from my porch.
I am happy, I am blessed and I am the best ME I have been in years.
Yoga school was all-encompassing and so I really still have yet to see anything of Ubud let alone Bali on the whole. Today I decided to explore the town, at around 11am I started walking. My villa is just over 1 km from Ubud proper and it takes me about 20 minutes to walk to town as that 1km is down and then up the river canyon.
Ubud has a monkey forest that I have heard about so I chose it as my destination. It was a long walk, but took me through a big part of town I had yet to see. Entrance to the park costs 15,000rp or about $1.50, for another 4,000rp (40 cents) I got a bag of bananas to feed the monkeys. This was a bad idea.
Monkeys are smart and these particular monkeys know the tourist routine and can smell a banana a mile away. I wasn’t 40 feet inside the preserve when I found myself in a standoff with a monkey. I threw him a banana and figured he’d be appeased, but moments later he had my whole purse and we were playing tug of war, I did some rapid-fire cost benefit analysis… wallet, camera, iPhone or give the monkey the bananas? Right, buddy the bananas are all yours.
In the middle of the preserve is a temple, the Monkey Forest Temple to be precise. It is stunning and I sat in it for almost an hour, watching monkeys stroll along the walls, shrines and sculptures and tourists float in and out.
A nice Japanese girl offered to take my picture next to one of the monkeys, which seemed safe enough since I was banana free, but no sooner did I take my place than I had a monkey on my back for real! He was surprisingly light for his size and had amazingly soft hands, this however did not stop me from shrieking and literally trying to shake him off of my back. Not a very yogi moment, but it is hard to be calm and steady when you have a deranged, banana stealing, primate on your person.
I decided to take a less worn path out of the forest and this led me to a house with a man sitting on his porch carving monkeys out of wood. I sat and chatted with him for a while and he showed me his workshop where he had dozens of truly beautiful carvings. I decided to buy a statue of Shiva, my first art purchase of the trip. Afterwards, I continued along the path until I came upon a small resort. I wandered up to the front desk and asked if I could get a taxi as I was tired from walking all day and had no idea where I was.
Sure enough a minute later I was in a taxi and headed back home. We made it about four blocks and I was looking around in sort of a trance state, it had been such an amazing day and the street we were driving on was still decorated from the Galungan holiday. My trance was suddenly broken as my driver slammed on his brakes. There was this very large shirtless man on a scooter in front of us who had stopped his bike in the middle of the road and was now screaming at us.
Did I mention he was really big, like professional wrestler big and shirtless. He was getting louder and coming nearer and my driver started rolling up windows and locking doors. I was really confused. The shirtless man arrived at the van and started hitting it with his firsts – so hard it shook the whole car and from the sound of crunching metal I could tell he had caused damage. He moved up the car and started hitting the windshield so hard that I was pretty sure it was going to break and all the while he is screaming in Balinese things I cannot understand and my driver looked completely stunned.
My instincts are saying “dude, run the friggin bike over… get us outta here, right now!” Instead he stars reversing but we only make it about 100’ before there are other cars in our way. Shirtless man catches up to us and again with the hitting and the screaming, after a minute my driver starts driving forward again and shirtless man starts screaming at the car behind us. We reach his motorbike and my driver gets out of the car to push the bike away, all the while I am fixated on shirtless man who is menacing the other car now.
Bike pushed aside, our escape route is clear so my driver high-tails it to the next street and banks a right. He pulls over to call the cops and collect himself as he was really rattled. He is fidgeting with the mobile phone, rolling the windows back down and opening his door for some air when I look back and holy crap, shirtless man is barreling towards us on his bike and he is even more pissed this time. I scream at the driver “DRIVE!!!!” Apparently this means the same thing universally or something about the tone of my voice conveyed it's meaning. In any event, he obliges, hits the gas and we are now in a car chase.
I just spent three weeks in yoga school, only leaving the serenity of our resort for short trips to the Internet café or the grocery store. Aside from the rogue chicken or two scaring me on my nightly walk home from dinner I have not had a worry. Mary and I never locked our room, we slept with the door wide open to let in the breeze in – I feel completely safe here. Everyone in Bali is friendly, seriously… not exaggerating – every single person will smile at you and talk to you all day if that’s your cup of tea.
Now here I am on day one of being truly alone, I am almost exactly half-way around the world from my friends and family and I am in a car chase with a possessed Balinese muscle man on a scooter and my best line of defense is my tiny little driver who speaks no English and probably has to go through a full Hindu cleansing ceremony if he so much as steps on an ant.
And then apparently shirtless man got bored with us, or we crossed over some invisible line that marked the end of his turf, he turns around and drives off. For the first time since encountering shirtless man I begin to take in my surroundings, rice fields, farmers, no stores, no houses, no hotels… and now it hits me… I have NO idea where I am. I was lost when I got in to the cab and now I have absolutely no since of direction or distance.
I ask my driver where we are and he says something in Indonesian or Balinese or maybe English, but I am unable to decipher it and I start getting scared. I don’t know if he has some beef with shirtless man and has promised him one blonde virgin to make amends, and possibly mistaken me for such. Or if my driver is so rattled that he is just blindly driving or what.
This goes on for about ten minutes with me getting steadily more uncomfortable with the whole deal. Then he turns a corner and I start seeing some familiar stores and a few minutes later I am home again. When he drops me off we assess the damage to the van, which is considerable. Shirtless man must have broken his hand, I don’t know how a normal mortal could taco the hood of a car without breaking something.
I spend the next hour or so trying to find a yogic way to come to grips with the day’s events, because frankly I am freaked out at this point and it would have been pretty easy to start questioning my decision to travel the world alone. But a yogini realizes that she is responsible for all of her actions. She accepts this reality and then dismisses that which has passed.
I chose to buy bananas so I could try to get close to a monkey, which was really dumb because you don’t need bananas to get close to the monkeys there and if I had waited 30 seconds I would have learned that avoiding the first of my day’s standoffs. I chose to not bring my guidebook/map today and to not go out the normal tourist exit from the Monkey Forest. I chose to walk alone through rice fields when I was already lost, rather than retrace my steps and I chose to take a cab from the midst of my disorientation.
So bottom line, my choices led me to be on that street at that moment with perhaps the only unhappy Balinese person in the world who looked remarkably like a monkey, beating his chest and the hood of our car. And now I am choosing to chalk this up as one really random and isolated event and not give it any more weight than that. I will sleep soundly tonight.
Keeping with the monkey theme… This evening I met up with one of the girls from yoga school who is still in Ubud. Analisa is from San Francisco and is spending a couple more days here. She and I had made plan to go see a traditional show tonight and it ended up being the Monkey Dance, lots of guys dressed up like… you guessed it, monkeys. The show was absolutely amazing and featured about 100 men chanting together and lighting things on fire.
After the show I started strolling up the street to find a taxi when one of the performers offered to give me a ride. This is pretty standard around here, there are official taxi drivers, but really anyone with a mode of transportation will give you a ride. The monkey chanter delivered me safely to my villa thanked me for coming to his show and said “ride free, you have fun time in Bali nice lady.” And I realized I was 100% responsible for that taxi ride too.
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