A strange thing happened to me this week and I found myself in Bali.
Well, everything back in London took an age more than I was expecting and by the time I was free once again it was August already. August is such a difficult month for travel. Europe is overpriced, over busy and (this year at least) experiencing a super-heatwave. Central America is in wet season, and so is most of Asia. The Southern Hemisphere is still deep in winter.
I tried a few options in Europe but found them mostly booked out, and expensive for the few remaining places. I briefly considered Colombia but then I suddenly thought of Bali. Indonesia runs to a different rainy season than most of the rest of Asia. After days of dithering I made a sudden decision and booked to travel the next day.
Unbeknown to me, whilst I was making flight decisions and picking through accommodation options, the neighbouring island of Lombok were going through their second earthquake of the week.
On arriving at the airport I headed straight for Ubud in the interior. Ubud is popular for spa breaks, yoga and ‘new age’ therapies. Also Balinese culture and art is a big feature of Ubud. This is more my kind of thing than baking on the beaches of Kuta anyway.
My hotel certainly seems to have seen better days. And those better days were when the photos were taken that appear on its website. It’s ok; I’ve stayed in far worse places.
I was trying to find somewhere to stay on the outskirts of the town; I didn’t want to live amongst the chaos and urban sprawl that is Ubud itself, although on the other hand I didn’t want to be in the middle of nowhere without transport options.
However I misjudged how far out you needed to be to avoid the town, since it has expanded greatly in the intervening years, and ended up pretty much in the thick of it. Ah well. I decided to stick with it anyway; I was too tired to think about packing up and wheeling Albatross my wheelie bag (packed for a long adventure through many temperature zones), through the dusty, unmade pavements of Ubud looking for somewhere else to live.
So this is not my first trip to Bali; I was last here 10.5 years ago. Then I was teaching in a school in Jakarta (an awful job that I was also fundamentally unsuited to) and I went to Bali during school Christmas holidays. It rained solidly and heavily for 6 consecutive days, as is common in December.
I barely recognise Ubud today from the Ubud of ten years ago. However none of my previous photos seem to have survived the tribulations of my life over the past ten years, so it could be just my memory that is failing.
It is certainly a lot busier than I remember it. In part that is because August is peak season, but also a lot of people previously on Lombok or the Gili Islands have ended up back in the relative safety of Bali following the earthquakes.
However I also blame the popularity of the book (and film) Eat Pray Love. I hated that book. A middle class woman who already had a book deal in place decides to go ‘find herself’. So she goes to Italy eats pasta and gains half a kilo, then she goes to India and tries religion, discovering that she is really ‘such a spiritual person’. Finally she comes to Ubud where she meets a man and concludes that the answer to life’s problems after all is to find a boyfriend.
For the record, the reason I love travelling alone has got nothing to do with ‘finding myself’ (I’m not lost and I know exactly where I am) and more to do with ‘finding’ other cultures and different experiences.
Anyway no Javier Bardem waiting here to rescue me. And thank God for that. I suppose instead I’ll have to settle for travelling around the vicinity of Ubud, taking yoga classes, getting foot massages and practising my few sentences of Bahasa on unsuspecting locals.
More on this to follow.