Day 10: The Road to Ubud

Day 10: The Road to Ubud

Yeaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah! That’s the shout of happiness that I let out because I remembered that we’d finally left Kuta, not before confirming that the only bad part of our marvellous hotel was the impossibility of moving around without a wheeled motor vehicle, as we checked on going to the cash machine that morning. We went calmly walking by the pavement (or the available equivalent, that wasflagstones heaped up but never placed…) when we noticed that this also wasn’t a safe space given that motorbikes, little cars and big cars used it for overtaking traffic on the roundabout. Like overtaking on the right, but on the pavement… how little this city loves pedestrians…

One last thing and then I might stop complaining about the traffic (but I don’t promise anything): the taxi that we asked for that morning in the hotel to go to Ubud was hours late in coming to pick us up because apparently the traffic was a little worse than normal (I can’t imagine that) and, besides, having done nothing more than leave the hotel we saw a body on the pavement next to a motorbike… summary and conclusion: the traffic in Kuta is bad news. The worst. Maybe a little below that.

Before going to Ubud we scoffed down a breakfast fit for a King… I said a King, more like an Egyptian Pharaoh, confirming that we were definitely the posh ones here. And I wasn’t wearing pearls or a Gucci bag… although the truth is that I didn’t need them to wolf down a baguette (French) with poached eggs (British) covered with sauce (Hollandaise – Translator’s Note: Although in English we somehow use the word Hollandaise for the sauce and Dutch for the people, in Spanish the same word is used for both. For some reason they didn’t feel the need to create special proper nouns for sauce nationalities) and beef bacon (Balinese) with coffee, fresh fruit, pastries, juice… you’d still be hungry after that breakfast. It wasn’t bad because we had time to digest it while we waited for the taxi driver.

The amount of people in Bali that live off tourism is overwhelming, but nevertheless the increase in freelance taxi drivers means it isn’t easy for them to get work every day. Therefore the drivers use ‘little tricks’ (if they were less pleasant I’d call them swindles) and they’re based on the idea that a journey between point A and point B (whose price was agreed earlier) includes a series of stops (commissions) relatively optional at points of interest. The tourist sees interesting things and the driver gets a little extra and everybody wins… apart from the people travelling in a hurry. Can you imagine hiring a taxi to take you from Granada to Malaga (Translator’s Note: Around an hour and a half by car) and it stopping so you can see the caves of Nerja and the San Miguel factory? Well, that. Which is very nice, but it’s strange. But nice. But very strange. I’ve gotten into a loop, my brain sometimes gets itself into a twist after writing 17,000 words of mental notes in the form of a blog.

Returning to what passes for the tale, the driver (whose name I should have noted down insterad of thinking, “Yes, of course I’ll remember it”) told us about the artistic character of Ubud. In Ubud artesans flourish, grouped in streets or neighbourhoods that belond to modern-day guilds: streets of jewellers, of sculptors, of painters, etc, converting the centre of the city into a little market of artisanal shops and galleries showing the delicacy and quality of Balinese art. In fact, at the entrance to Ubud our driver took us to meet one of those artesan jewellers (that had absolutely no relation to him and was chosen totally at random, wink wink). So totally without hope of personal gain he gave us a micro-tour where we could guess how they converted the silver into those beautiful and intricate designs showed off in the shop, that for some reason was where he stopped and explained the tour. Cynicism aside, I’m glad that he took us there because I’d never seen a silversmith work and less still a family run one, it was worth seeing it and associating it with the beauty of the results.

The second stop on the walk was more interesting yet because it’s not every day in your life that you have the pleasure to drink coffee that has been shat out. No, it’s not a mistake, shitty coffee is exactly what I wanted to say. You haven’t heard talk of Kopie Luwak that is the most expensive coffee in the world because a beast has shat it out? Well that. (Translator’s Note: I think the rarity of the creatures doing the shitting also has a part to play in the price. That and for some reason people would never pay for shat out coffee if it was cheap but make it super expensive and suddenly everybody wants a try). I’m going to explain myself a little and see if it sounds less disgusting, and brag about everything I learnt in the tour that I very attentively went on:

Kopie means coffee and Luwak is the name of the creature implicated, that is apparently called a civet in English. That name doesn’t say anything to me either, but it’s a mammal that inhabits the forests of Bali, Java and their surroundings and it seems to be a mix between a cat, a cat, a lemur and a weasel. Approximately. Genetic analysis by wild guess is something of an inexact science. It seems the beastie is a sybarite and only eats the best coffee beans, and not if they’ve ever been touched by a human, hence and in theory the idea of keeping them in captivity to feed them berries and recover the shat out fruits wouldn’t work. Or that was what the guy that gave us the tour told us, since then I’ve read that given the excessive price that they sell the coffee at, the farms in Kopi Luwak are multiplying uncontrollably based on keeping the civets in captivity and force-feeding them. But I prefer to assume that our guide wasn’t a liar and that the animal he showed us was there temporarily and not captured to eat and shit (that isn’t such a terrible plan when said like that).

Luwak
This is the beastie with the world’s most valuable shit.
Desak nyoman diah kusuma [CC BY-SA 4.0], from Wikimedia Commons

Well, I return to my coffee growing process, I’m taking longer to tell it than it takes to do it… restart: the beastie eats the berries and defecates them (I’ve become cultured again) in the forest, where the workers take them and bring them back to the farm. There they wash them well, toast them by hand (by which I mean stirring them in a pan) and peel them. The Luwak must eat the bean whole but they make the coffee with the bean peeled. So that’s already a little less disgusting. According to our guide the workers take turns, so he works as a guide one week, another week recovers little shits and another he has free. He explained to us that the working day of recovering shit is long and very hard and that his salary for those days depends on the quantity obtained. He told us all of that with much sorrow on his face and we felt very bad for paying four euros for a coffee that he said he couldn’t have because it was something like 5/6 of his daily salary. I did the calculations later and the price of a Kopi Luwak in the UK is also 5/6 of my daily salary. I’m not implying at all that their working conditions are optimal and beyond improvement but they’re not as horrible as your head imagines when they tell you they can’t even pay for a coffee… that said, I’d say that a union would be a good idea because the farm makes much, much more money than the owner pays the employees… that became clear to us when we passed by the shop (yep, end of the tour; seven euros for 200 grams of instant vanilla coffee).

During the while that we were chatting with the guide apart from drinking the coffee Luwak that we’d paid for, they also brought us a tray with fifteen glasses of teas, coffees and chocolates (and the size of the glasses was more like a water glass than a shot…) of exotic and delicious flavours (vanilla coffee, hazelnut, ginger, durian, mangosteen tea, rose tea, etc) and a bowl of fried banana. All free. Free so that you love it and buy it, but free. So we left there filled up once again… of course that diet of eating and drinking all day non stop and without measure made me lose two kilos (don’t suffer, they returned when we did safe and sound, I didn’t have time to miss them).

I have here a mangosteen (I just learnt that in English it’s called a mangosteen…of course, that well-known fruit the mangosteen). Basile Morin [CC BY-SA 4.0], from Wikimedia Commons

We continued on the route to Ubud (that in theory was an hour and ten minutes by car but had taken us all morning…) watching a litre falling from the sky every kilometre, until we arrived to the city in time to see that universal flooding start (and now started it’d be with us until the end…).

As I’ve said already (I think), Ubud is a city a little Bohemian, artistic and, according to Julia Roberts, good for the soul. If you’ve seen the film “Eat, pray, love” you’ll remember that it’s set in Ubud, unless you slept through three quarters of that bore like I did… to be precise it’s in Ubud where there’s that scene where a quack spits on Julia Roberts to “cure her”. I’d say it’s one of the few salvagable parts of the film but its a great romantic drama of the sort that give me stomach cramps so my opinion is a little biased…

Well, in the wake of Julia Roberts a good number of “yogis” have arrived to Ubud to find themselves (Translator’s Note: This seems appropriate as Ubud is indeed where they are) and Ubud offers all types of massages, yoga courses and other forms of connecting with your inner self. Personally I couldn’t care less about all this because my inner self is a little bastard so I wouldn’t care to connect more than necessary… reducing the level of spirituality a little, the streets alternate between art galleries and yoga centres with shops selling Havaianas and French Connection. Although there’s also a little market and many artesanal shops where it’s worth the effort looking for presents, along with restaurants, temples and a sacred forest – the monkey sanctuary. So you see, that’s how we entered Ubud and it’s already thrashing Kuta in all respects, except for that silly, ridiculous detail, of the torrential rain that had decided to discharge itself right in the middle of the dry season…

Returning to the main story (I do it sometimes), the driver left us at the door of the Ubud Terrace hotel, that seemed to consist of a series of disparate buildings, with ours slap bang in the middle of the jungle… from reception to our building was some ten minutes walk, ascending and descending steps taken from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. And when I say steps, what I really want to say are little murderous waterfalls, that is what they became with what was falling. On the bright side, we could see a whole heap of little wandering frogs, which is surprising because at those depths I’d have expected to see fish and not amphibians…

A toad. But a Balinese toad, so cooler.

You’re thinking that this is an example of the classic Andalucian exaggeration, but you wouldn’t think it if you’d been there soaked up to the bone marrow and looking for signs of Noah’s ark… (Translator’s Note: Speaking as somebody that grew up in Glasgow, where a morning swim is how you do you supermarket shopping, it really was quite wet).

Once we’d completed the phase of rafting to our room we started to go crazy because the hotel was at coolness level infinity plus one (Mathematician Translator’s Note: Aleph-1?). Apart from being in the middle of the jungle, that was already worth a lot of points, it was absolutely spectacular: a little rustic, a little modern, all right in the middle of those surroundings, with an enchanting design and a little covered terrace from which you could see the rain fall. In that terrace we spent a little while savouring our welcome drinks, appreciating the beauty of the place, and praying to my (inefficient) flying spaghetti monster for it to stop raining. When we accepted that the prayers of an atheist and an agnostic weren’t working too well, we donned all the warm clothing we had (little) because it was a little chilly and we went out to eat. And a little involuntarily we also dived up a waterfall up the stairs of the hotel. I don’t want to make myself out to be cool but I’ll simply tell you that when we passed in front of other rooms the people applauded our bravery (also known as idiocy or hunger).

It was spitting when we arrived in Ubud…

We passed that evening as I’ve mentioned before: walking through the streets of Ubud soaked to the bones. At some point we bought one of those cagoules / rubbish bags that are only legally allowed if you’re a tourist. Thanks to Fergus’ haggling abilities they only cost us three pounds each.. yes, three bloody pounds for a bit of plastic, it happens, the learning is slow but steady…

We returned to the hotel and changed, divesting ourselves of some shapes of damp fabric that wouldn’t be dry again for the rest of the holiday (the same applied to my only trainers…). They tell the legend of a jacket that still walks there stinking of humidity. The worst thing is that in that so stupid way we ended up without our only half warm clothes… why would you expect to be cold in a tropical paradise? And that’s when you regret not having packed more ‘just in-cases’ and fewer bikinis…

After having dinner (I really don’t remember what – it’s been a while and I’ve eaten a lot since, more than my belt would have liked) we sat in our covered terrace to enjoy nature, smell the damp earth, listen to the incessant rain, the sounds of the insects in the night, the Despacito of Luis Fonsi… Whaaaaaaaat? Yes, friends. To our adorable remote little hotel in the middle of the bloody jungle there arrived the salsa music of an Ubud club with disastrous soundproofing that mucked up all of my chakras… fortunately the room had anti-reggaeton protection and we slept like little angels awaiting another day full of adventures…

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