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Motorbikes make my hair stand on end

If this is what Bali is like now, Vietnam is going to be truly frightening

sunny 30 °C
View Get Out The Map on The Rymans's travel map.

After four leisurely days in Legian recovering from the taxing journey over from Canada, we moved on to Ubud, the so-called cultural heart of Bali, a few days ago. Twelve years ago, Ubud offered a respite from the nerve-jangling traffic and aggressive touts of Legian and Kuta--I mainly remember placid rice fields, comparatively fresh air, plentiful art galleries and those wonderful thermoses of tea brought to our patio at the crack of dawn every morning. All of those perks are still here, but the fresh air is much harder to find and all of the others are harder to appreciate with the constant roar of motorbikes whizzing by. Maybe part of my different perspective comes from travelling with kids. Last time I was here, I only had to save myself from being run over. Now I have to keep two kids from being mowed down, and it's a constant challenge on the narrow sidewalks where the tiny amount of space that was there to begin with is increasingly occupied by taxi drivers hawking their services and shopkeepers trying to entice people into their stores. The motorbikes are like massive colonies of giant wasps bearing down on pedestrians at all times from every direction at once. I think that's the biggest change we've noticed since we were here last. We've started choosing our restaurants based on the volume of traffic, because in some places it's nearly impossible to hear each other speaking.

Of course, it's not all negative. The scenery is still spectacular, the people are still warm and friendly, the massages are still $7 an hour--we can't really complain. But something about the presence of a giant Crocs store on the main street (not to mention two D&G shops nearby) just doesn't sit right. I'd hate to see Ubud become a victim of its own success.

But enough about that, and more about us: the kids are still having a great time. Ciaran finally mentioned today that he misses his friends, but he didn't dwell on it for very long. Always a creature of habit, he's simply transferred his ways to Bali, and is now living on banana shakes and mei goreng nearly exclusively. We're getting a bit of a daily structure established, aiming for an hour or so of "road school" in English (taught by me) and another hour in French (taught by Mark) each day. I'm not sure how seriously the kids take us as teachers, or how resourceful we'll be as time goes by. I'm just trying to work a little bit of reading and math into the day in a way that makes the learning relevant to our trip--like keeping journals, writing postcards, calculating costs and so on. Today both kids had a lesson in Balinese music at the local library, learning the basics of how to play a gamelan xylophone. Over the next few days we'll sign them up for painting and dancing classes as well. The money for the classes benefits the local library, which has a tiny children's section and no librarian yet, due to lack of funds--so local kids can read books in the library, but can't check them out. The children's section is about 7 x 7 and many of the books have seen better days. Yet apparently this is the only library in Bali. At $7.50/hour, the music lessons are a bargain and it's nice to know the money is supporting a good cause.

Our visit to the Monkey Forest yesterday was a big hit, of course. Maybe it's just my imagination, but I think even the monkeys have become more aggressive since we were last here. Mark bought a few bunches of bananas to feed them, and hid them away in his shoulder bag. Every time he took one out, he was stormed by half a dozen squabbling, determined macaques who made it clear they would stop at nothing in order to get one. From time to time we found them stalking us, which was a bit alarming. In the end Mark was forced to grab the last remaining bunch out of his bag and fling them to the little marauders to prevent a confrontation that was probably not going to end well for him.

At the end of our time in the forest we decided to take a detour and walk home the long way, through some rice fields, despite the fact that we'd forgotten the guide book that had the maps of the various walking routes around Ubud. We discovered a narrow stone path that took us alongside a rice field, with tall cement fences and gates to homes lining the other side. It was a much more pleasant and peaceful walk than we would have had if we'd gone home the conventional way, dodging motorbikes, but it was punctuated about every three minutes by the sudden sound of guard dogs barking and snarling at us as they hurled themselves up against the gates. The soporific effect of the rice fields and occasional colorful bamboo-and-flower-petal offerings was offset by regular dramatic bursts of adrenalin every time we passed a pack of these guard dogs, since we were never sure if they could get loose or not. In the end, we emerged in a neighbouring village called Nyuh Kuning, and a dirt road led us back into the Monkey Forest--so we went home the usual way after all.

We'll be here for another week or so, then off to Munduk, reportedly a much, much smaller village in the mountains north of here. I'm still going to try to update this blog regularly, but internet connection speeds are shockingly slow here and uploading photos is an exercise in frustration--so you may have to wait a bit for pictures!

Posted by The Rymans 06:49 Archived in Indonesia Tagged family_travel

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Mark's experience with the aggressive monkeys in Ubud recall Thara and my experience at the Red Fort near the Taj Mahal. I had purchased a roll of biscuits to blythely munch while walking through the palace. All of a sudden, an army of monkeys (which earlier had seemed a quaint addition to the architecture) surrounded us and menacingly moved towards us as if choreographed by the Thriller video dance teacher. At the last moment as one huge monkey lunged, I ran one way and "non-instinctively" threw the cookies in the opposite direction. The moral of the story: I should throw cookies away more often.

by Taren Kidd

Gosh Patti,
Brings back memories of our time there together. Not surprised by the changes you describe but it does make me nostalgic. Ubud was one of my favourite spots from our time in Bali. Hopefully your next stop will be more relaxing. Have fun and looking forward to reading your future posts.


by Sujata

I followed your link from the Lonely Planet forum, and have loved reading about your expedition so far!

Keep writing, and keep on enjoying the adventure :)

by Alix

Great to hear you've arrived safe and sound and really enjoying your blog updates - keep them coming! Rosie, Sean, Gavin & Emery :)

by RosieMac

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