When I walked out of the air-conditioned airport, the stifling, sticky heat almost took my breath away. Maybe it was a shock because I had just come from the South African winter, but I think it may be the most humid climate I've ever experienced. The temperature wasn't terribly hot, but I was sweating from pores that I don't think have ever sweated before. My task was to find a taxi. I walked past the endless gauntlet of hawkers asking me if I needed transport – taxis directly outside airports are always expensive. I continued past the parking lot and into the street. I haggled with a few taxi drivers, but the price was still too much. I finally chose a minibus packed with school children. It wasn't the most comfortable-looking vehicle, but it was the cheapest ride I could find – about half the price of the taxis in front of the airport terminal. The open windows (and door!) of the minibus let in a breeze, which alleviated the sweltering humidity. As we made stop after stop through Kuta and the main city of Denpasar, children hopped on and off the vehicle, some hanging out of the open door as we rode through the crowded streets. An old woman in a traditional conical hat stepped onto the bus, and she placed a large basket of fruit on the floor. An older boy started a conversation with me, but his English was very basic, and we both ended up repeating the same things over and over, trying to forge a basic human bond by smiling and nodding. I don't think he ever understood my answers to his questions; I felt like we were having two totally different conversations. Still, it was much more interesting to travel with the locals than in an air-conditioned private taxi.
We passed through manic streets lined with narrow canals, ornate Hindu temples, a rainbow of colorful hole-in-the-wall restaurants, and countless small shops. The road was packed with thousands of loud motorbikes, taxis, and schoolgirls on bicycles. Some of the ubiquitous motorbikes were even driven by boys and girls not more than twelve years old. The smell of exhaust, incense, and Indonesian noodle dishes swirled through the air. The passengers departed the minibus one by one, and soon I was the only one left. I was traveling all the way to the town of Ubud, an hour and a half away. The frantic streets of Denpasar slowly thinned out, and I began to see glimpses of rice terraces between the ever-sparser buildings lining the road. Soon, there were larger rice terraces punctuated by patches of jungle.
I relaxed the rest of the afternoon until dinnertime, when I ventured out onto the main street in front of my guesthouse to browse the numerous restaurants. I decided on a restaurant and sat down at a table on the street-front patio. As motorbikes whizzed past, I dined on a generous portion of excellent chicken curry that was only $2. The spicy meal made me sweat even more in the sweltering night, but a banana dessert with honey and ice cream cooled me down. Not having slept for well over 30 hours – since Sunday night in Johannesburg – I crashed for a dreamless 12 hours in my nice, soft bed. The tiny ants that infested the room tickled my arms and legs, but I was so tired that I couldn't care less.
I've been updating my blog from a nearby internet café that has cheap wi-fi. One evening, I walked into the place after dinner, and the wi-fi was not working. I asked the girl at the counter if there was another internet café nearby. She smiled and nodded, but she didn't elaborate. I asked her where the other internet café was located, and she just shrugged, smiling politely the entire time. As in Africa, people here in Indonesia don't like to give a negative answer to any question, so they usually reply "yes" even if they don't understand the question.
I had enough of the sneaky monkeys, so I walked out to the main street of Ubud, where I started browsing around a market. It started pouring down rain – as it has been periodically since I've been in Bali – so I ducked underneath a covered portion of the market and was stranded there for a while before the rain let up a bit. It was still raining, though, and luckily I was prepared to walk in the downpour – a lesson I learned the hard way in Africa.
Friday night, I awoke to a scratching sound about two o'clock in the morning. I scoured the room trying to identify the source of the noise, leery of what I might find. I finally discovered that the sound was coming from behind the rattan wardrobe, so I carefully pulled it away from the wall, stepped back, and waited for something to crawl out. Nothing did, so I pulled it out some more and waited again. Nothing. I leaned my head against the wall to look behind the piece of furniture, and a huge rat poked its head out from a ledge on the back of the wardrobe. All of a sudden, the rodent jumped down and ran towards me along the wall. Startled, I screamed, probably waking my neighbors. By this point, I was wide awake. I turned on all the lights and searched the room for the rat. I saw it scurry along the wall once again, but I couldn't find it under any of the furniture after a thorough search, so I assumed that it must have left the room through a crack. I soon gave up the search and tried to sleep, hoping that the rodent wouldn't find its way onto my bed if it was still in the room.
The next morning, I checked out of Jati Home Stay. Not because of the rat – I think camping in Africa must have hardened me to vermin – but because they were booked solid. I had been extending my stay day-to-day because I didn't know how long I wanted to remain in Ubud. I walked a block down the street, found another guesthouse, and booked a room within 10 minutes – for a cheaper rate than Jati. It's so easy to find a cheap place to stay in Bali that there is really no reason to book ahead. This new place was $12 per night. It had a few geckos crawling on the walls, but they eat mosquitoes and other insects, so I don't mind the cute lizards. There was also some loud construction work right outside the room, but earplugs solved that problem.
Tomorrow, I'm leaving Ubud and heading down to Kuta, Bali's main tourist hub, to see some friends that traveled with me on the Oasis trip in Africa. Although I've enjoyed the tranquil setting of Ubud, I suppose it's time for me to explore another corner of Bali.