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February 2017

Yadi

There’s a point in every solo traveller’s life when you start wondering if you’re going to have a nice funeral.

It’s a question you ask yourself a couple of times a day when the enormity of being all alone in a foreign country hits you right between the eyes and you quietly start imagining about five million ways to die.

Run over by speeding motorcycle taxi, mauled by macaque amidst photoshoot in Monkey Forest, eye-watering dehydration death after  imbecilic “yes” to query of “spicy?”

The most likely end of life scenario while I’m agreeing to go on an eight-hour tour of Bali with a taxi driver I just met on the street?

Murder by taxi driver I just met on the street.

The tragedy here is that I always place a solid last at the Back-Pedal Olympics.

In fact, history clearly shows that I’ve eaten entire meals after eating entire meals and bought some stone cold crap for the price of a night’s accommodation because I’ve never quite grasped the concept of “get the hell out of there!”

My mother knows I’m being an idiot.

Sure, I’m miles and even oceans away but as I nod my head at the cabbie’s pick-up time and price, my mom, via travelling ancestors and witchcraft, delivers a furious and familiar “don’t be a fool!” quite clearly into the ear I tend to tug when I’m uncomfortable.

The problem is the man is delighted.

Like many Ubud cabbies and motorcycle taxi men, he’s been sitting out on the sidewalk, smiling hopefully at passersby while gesturing enthusiastically to his vehicle for the umpteenth fruitless time that day.

Me, I’ve paid 50 bucks for what turned out to be a trip around the corner and another which was no more than a cough in the opposite direction so I’m wary.

The niggling fear could be abated a little if I had any friends to go with me.

Instead I’ve spent the first five days of my trip pretending I don’t speak English so I don’t have any to make eight hours of small talk with in between awkward requests for photos.

I don’t mind that as much as being murdered and thrown into some random tangle of Ubud forest so I do what any rational person would do and agree to meet all 130kg of my taxi driver in front of my hotel at 08h00 sharp.

But not without sending his name, number and photograph to my best friend James via WhatsApp with a full itinerary of where I’m going to be.

At first I leave out the part where I cyberstalk the taxi driver and find out that his name isn’t the name he has on his business card because I don’t want him to worry. About five minutes later, however, I tell him the whole troubling thing because I want the authorities to have a snowball’s chance at justice.

At this point, my thoughts are simply: So people lie about their names. Big deal.

Besides, I’ve cyber stalked this man to within an inch of prosecution so to test his honesty, I ask him if he’s married or has any kids.

His answer is a vehement no and I realise that we would have that in common if he wasn’t a flaming and unflinching liar whose wife and kid I could refresh his memory about on Facebook if I was in the mood to piss off the taxi driver I was currently speeding towards a royal temple with on some treacherous forest-edged road.

It’s clearly time to get a grip.

I allow a shudder of fear, decide that he can keep his secrets and smile brightly at him before saying “oh, yeah? Me neither”.

Look, if I die, at least I’ll die delighted.

The man is taking me to a royal temple, a coffee plantation, a volcanic lake, a rice terrace and a sea temple for less money than I spend on a raucous night out. He’s been nothing but kind, friendly, punctual and accommodating since I met him on the street and I’m in beautiful Bali where I didn’t know a soul until one caught my eye and said:

“Do you want to go on a tour?”

The answer was and still is yes and the man’s name is Yadi.

He doesn’t know that I know he lied about having a wife and kid but by the time he drops me off at my hotel eight hours later, he knows a little about me and I know a little about him and I’ve had my best day in Bali.

Him chain-smoking and wolfing down nasi goreng before showing me the way to Tanah Lot. Me lingering at lakes, trying out this thing called faith and thanking Ganesh I didn’t pick a serial killer.

Featured post

Ubud – An Ode to Tranquility

It’s just before 08h00 on a Monday morning and there isn’t a suit in sight. The sullen traffic faces inherent in the hour have been exchanged for smiling motorcycle taxi drivers whizzing towards Monkey Forest; sleepy, awe-struck foreigners brisk in their beeline for Yoga Barn and an assortment of dutiful hawkers offering bright Canang sari as a symbol of gratitude to the gods.

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Canang Sari

For all the activity, Ubud rarely escalates above a hush.

Noise restrictions temper daily Balinese dance performances and Bob Marley-loving live bands a little after 11h00 and the loudest sound you’ll hear all day is a short, sharp whistle sporadically ripping through muted hours as hotel guards usher tourists across the street.

The tourists scrambling past hotel guards and navigating what sometimes passes for sidewalk come from everywhere.

They set out from home to the verdant upland rice paddies of Bali leaving behind smirks citing ‘Eat, Pray, Love’ (2010) to do the very thing.

Eat babi guling, spicy rendang, crispy duck, grilled ikan and eye-watering sambal in unpretentious warungs scattered around town or indulge in the often organic best of both worlds in eateries like Indochine, Manisan, Gelato Secrets, Kafe, Habitat and Café du

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Cafe du Monyet

Monyet.
Pray in large stone temples or in front of Ubud’s many shrines long after the palm leaf baskets of flowers, incense, sweets and a little money is laid gently on the ground, both locals and tourists will step gingerly around for the remainder of the day.

And love. Though mostly in terms of learning to love themselves.

For this, some will seek spiritual healers and wise ones.

Balinese udeng-wearing old men who beckon from within doorways who may soothe your soul or lift your spirit. Others will simply

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Kafe

immerse themselves in yoga at one of the various studios the town has to offer in between solitude, sunning and meditation.

Surrounded by bright green rice paddies, focused on food, yoga and meditation, it comes as no surprise that Ubud is also famed for its art and crafts.

Solitary and centering pursuits sold from roadside stalls, out of various galleries and retrospective in the sprawling Agung Rai Museum of Art and the eccentricity of the Blanco Renaissance Museum.

Amidst all this, there are the wellness centres and spas.

Many introduced every time you walk by in smiling queries of “massage?” as pamphlets are pressed insistently into palms, others down little roads facing newly-sprouting rice fields as in the serenity of Kayma and still more housed in luxurious hotels and sold as cleanses, detoxes and retreats.

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Kayma Spa

To experience it all, the living is easy.

From authentic Balinese homestays to more western style and budget lodging such as Evitel Resort, Ubud has accommodation for every pocket radiating from its centre around the bustling art market and outwards encompassing its 14 villages.

Quaint, quiet and entirely obsessed with Monkey Forest where a kingdom of mischievous long-tailed macaques pose for pictures and portraits at the end of one of the town’s three main streets, Ubud exists as an antidote to much that occasions vacation.

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Monkey Forest

The stifling suits that don’t have a patch on the colourful batiks that ripple in the air as locals rush by on scooters, the fast bland food the town jettisons for fresh, affordable explorations of authentic Indonesian flavours and spices and the personal and spiritual neglect this hub of serenity irons out in gentle yogic movements and meditation in between decadent beauty and healing journeys.

An escape and an adventure set largely in the unchartered waters of the soul, Ubud is where travellers go to discover Bali beyond the ocean. To indulge in song and delight in dance in this enchanting ode to tranquility.

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Hallo, Bali

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