Don’t (not) look down: walking in Bali

We’ve been living in Ubud for 7 weeks now (one week to go before we move to the US). We opted not to get a scooter for the duration of our stay and walking most places has been transport, sight-seeing and exercise. For longer journeys, we’ve grabbed taxis, but according to my FitBit, we’ve clocked up hundreds of thousands of steps in the last two months.

The trickiest thing, though, is that walking here is a precarious endeavour. Obstacles include:

  • no footpath – you’re essentially walking on the road a lot of the time
  • stray dogs and dog excrement – even the dogs with owners wander here
  • offerings to the gods – to be respectful, we must avoid stepping on these
  • scooters and motorcycles – MANY of them, both driving and parked
  • giant tour buses, trucks, cars, and taxis – all driving within inches of you as you make your way down the road that doesn’t have a footpath – eeek!
  • broken footpaths – giant holes, missing tiles, broken bricks, and cracked pavement
  • streams of unidentifiable water – hopefully it is just water, but you never know 😉
  • stalls and shops that spill out onto the street
  • rooster in baskets – they’re fighting roosters 😦 – and random roaming chickens
  • giant piles of dirt/gravel/bricks used for building – when people are building a home or business or even a wall, often the materials will be dumped by the truckload on the road and footpath – everyone just has to go around it until it’s all used up
  • random debris/detritus/rubbish
  • uneven, patch-work paths – including the (running) track along Campuhan Ridge and the pedestrian-only paths

So, here’s my photo series called: Don’t (not) look down!

 

The new normal

When you’re living abroad, there are things that were initially obvious to you – or even jarring – that over time become your new normal.

Here are some from living in Bali over the past couple of weeks.

Where there’s a wool…

I have turned into a sheep. I have naturally curly hair; it’s fine and I have a lot of it. In Bali, where the humidity creeps down to 80% but typically sits in the 90s, my hair has turned into what I can only describe as ‘wool’. I can slick it back, pin it back, put a shot-glass full of product on it, and half-way through the day, I look like a sheep. Yesterday, I decided not to fight it. I loaded up the hair product and let it dry naturally. The result: thick spiral curls. I was okay with the curls until I went for a massage and she massaged my head. Goodbye curls, hello wool. When I sat up I looked like Shirley Temple after she’d been electrocuted. It’s my new normal.

Baaaaaaa.

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That’s rubbish

Quite simply, in Bali, there is garbage nearly everywhere. While visiting friends on the north coast over the weekend, we were admiring the water views and watched a local woman simply sweep a pile of garbage – mostly plastic – into the ocean. In fact, there is so much garbage in the water off Singaraja and Lovina Beach, no one but the locals swim there. Every dot in the water in this photo is a piece of plastic and there are hundreds of pieces in amongst the rocks. It’s sad to see in this otherwise idyllic scene.

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And here are some local kids playing amongst the detritus, oblivious.

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Kamikaze drivers

Apparently, the speed limit across most of Bali is 40km/hr. From our road experiences to date, there will often be long stretches of driving where we won’t crack 20 and then suddenly, we’ll be flying down the road on the wrong side doing 80 and overtaking a scooter piled high with reeds or baskets.

There seem to be no road rules, and even a red light is merely a suggestion. Overtaking is the only way to get anywhere and there are no roads with more than one lane in either direction. On many occasions, I’ve had to place a lot of trust in the driver that they don’t want to die either, and that we will not have a head-on collision with that huge bus coming straight at us. My new normal is to take these journeys in stride (Valium sold separately).

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I’ve also stopped being baffled by the westerners who wear helmets while riding a scooter, and strap their helmet-less baby to their front, or let their helmet-less toddler ride standing up between their arms. No, your parental powers will not prevent your child from getting a serious head injury if you have a collision.

Taxi!

The last time I was in Bali in 2015 and the time before that in 2003, the cry from vendors as you walked down the street was, ‘You buy? You buy?’ In 2018, I have yet to hear ‘You buy?’, but even a short walk will elicit cries of ‘Taxi?’ from all directions. Men – I have yet to hear this from a woman – watch for tourists who look lost, hot or tired – or all three –  and ask if they want a taxi ride.  They will then ‘phone a friend’ who shows up in a car to whisk you away to wherever you want to go.

Taxis here are reasonably cheap, most are newer model cars, and as the Balinese take pride in their vehicles, they are immaculate. That said, we’re more than happy to walk – especially when it’s for exercise – so our new normal is to say, ‘no thank you’ a dozen times any time we decide to walk somewhere.

(Not) wining and dining

Wine is expensive in Bali – even the bad stuff, like Yellow Tail. Sorry, Yellow Tail, but even though I miss wine, I will not pay $30 Australian for you. There are some Balinese wines, but as they pick 3 vintages a year here, the grapes – and the wine – are apparently flavourless. Our new normal is to drink Bintang beer (that is, Ben drinks Bintang) and spirits. Spirits are not cost prohibitive, and it’s nice to have a gin and tonic with fresh lime (Mmm, lime) as a sun-downer. I am, howeverlooking forward to our stint in Seattle in May when we can hit some of our fave Washington wineries!

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Also, my new normal is co-living, but that’s another blog post…

Living La Vida Local

Part of being a digital nomad, rather than being on a year-long vacation, is actually living in the places we are visiting.

We are currently based in Ubud, Bali, staying at ROAM, a co-living space where we have our own room and bathroom and share all living and working spaces with other digital nomads.

When people ask us where we live, we say, “For now, we live here.”

ROAM is about 2kms from central Ubud and the pace here is both peaceful and frantic, depending on what we’re doing and where exactly we are. Last week, on day one, we made the 15 minute walk to the supermarket to stock up our pantry and fridge. Most of the walk looked like this:

And the last part looked more like this:

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Both have their merits – the scenery and many of the Balinese structures are just beautiful – and we are becoming very agile having to side-step precarious footpath hazards, stray dogs, scooters, and chickens as we make our way around the town and its surrounds.

The trip to the supermarket was fantastic. Yes, it is a large store with a good selection, but I am one of those people who finds it fascinating to trawl around a supermarket in a new place, particularly a new country. We spent well over an hour walking the aisles figuring out how to feed ourselves up to three meals a day in a (reasonably) healthy, affordable, somewhat local way.

Living here also means working here.

And this year, ‘work’ means both writing (like this blog post) and working for clients. I am currently mid-project for a US-based client, which will wrap up by the end of the week. Then I will return to writing Book 2 of the Someone series – Chapter 5 awaits!

There are quite a few options for working at ROAM, as the robust WiFi is accessible everywhere. There is an undercover rooftop work space, but for editing work I prefer the quiet and coolness of the little conference room tucked at the back of the property. (Ben likes it too.)

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It’s still early days yet for me to figure out my favourite place for writing. Perhaps on our little front porch, on a sun lounger by the pool, in the little conference room, or maybe on the rooftop with the other digital nomads.

Living here also means getting out to see what there is to see.

We started today with a stunning walk along the Campuchan Ridge with two of our fellow Roamies, Yuliana from Ukraine and Nana from Denmark. The walk rises away from a riverside temple and meanders along a ridge with views on either side.

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It leads to a little village where there are several resorts and even a little coffee shop, where the coffee was excellent – and cheap!

Living here also means the day-to-day stuff of life, like doing laundry and cooking meals.

But it also means that I can have my morning cup of tea and read my emails with this aspect on our little porch.

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We have plans to keep getting out and about – both here in Ubud and further afield in Bali – so we can soak up as much of Bali life as possible. But for now, I feel right at home, and am loving living la vida local.