On our third day in Bali, after one day spent with a private driver hopping from spot to spot and one day spent on scooters out in the tropical elements we decided we were ready to slow down a little bit and enjoy some idle time.
..So we booked white water rafting tickets. Which may sound like a bit of a joke but which actually did signal a slower day for us, as we planned to do only this one activity.
So we were collected by a private taxi at around 8am and driven to the headquarters of a large white water rafting company which our Airbnb host had arranged tickets for us with. We handed over some cash, signed a waiver, locked away our belongings, collected life jackets and helmets and then we’re hurriedly shuffled off into a second taxi with an Asian couple (who would be joining us on our down-river journey) and were off again – this time headed for the rapids!
Only a short ride later we pulled up to a beautiful, quiet little rice field where we were handed yet more gear – this time oars – and then marched off through rice fields towards our start point. We descended some 400 stairs from the edge of the rice paddies down a ravine towards the river, growing steadily tired in the thick, tropical heat with all of our gear. But as far as I was concerned, after having seen locals much smaller and older than ourselves carrying rafts about on their heads, we had no right to complain. However by the time we made it to the river side we none the less were all dripping with sweat and happy to rest and wait a moment while our guide sorted out which vessel would be ours.
And as we stood waiting I made sure to drill Sam and Casey – who had both been white water rafting before – on how best to stay aboard and what to do if I fell out of the raft. And although I don’t think that at any point I felt anxious about the upcoming experience, I did wonder whether or not our guide would find it appropriate before we left to give us some form of safety briefing.. Which fortunately he did.
Once on board we were given a short list of simple commands – ‘forward’, ‘backward’ and ‘stop’ for rowing. ‘Left’ and ‘right’ for leaning directions and ‘bang bang’ for when it was time to brace. We were told not to attempt standing up if we fell out, and we were ready to go!
We sailed downstream over some decent rapids and some more mild. We were shoved over huge rocks, bumped into cliffs and splashed and flooded. We rowed hard and braced hard and sometimes were almost tossed to the water. But we had an awesome time! And in between rapids we drifted beneath a beautiful, wild canopy of trees and hanging lianas. We spotted monkeys, bright blue kingfishers and large lizards, we stopped at a small waterfall to bathe and we enjoyed cheeky chat with our guide.
It was an experience which exceeded my expectations – especially in regards to how well it was all organised and how professionally the whole thing came off. And when we reached the end of our journey I was very reluctant to climb back ashore. But alas, our ascent back up the 400 steps was inevitable.
And once we were back at headquarters we were pleasantly surprised with towels, showers and a buffet lunch! – which was delicious.
And then, with no plans for the rest of the day we asked the taxi driver who had bought us here to drop us off at the Ubud tourist markets instead of back to our Airbnb, which he was very happy to accomodate. And we spent the rest of the afternoon strolling the busy marketplace and bartering lightly with locals over the few items that caught our eye. I must say though, after 2 days travelling through rice fields staying in a local village and visiting beautiful locations too far afield for the average tourist, being in the Ubud markets, for us, was quite a shock. Of course we had made trips into Ubud for dinner and dance previously, but in the light of day it was clear that Ubud was a town completely overtaken by tourism. It lacked a lot of the sincerity and beauty of the the Bali that we had experienced up to this point. And while most tourists base their stays in Southern Bali, in towns like Kuta and consider Ubud to be an ‘off the beaten track’ experience, I was glad that we had based our stay further afield and we’re able to see Ubud for the true touristic hive that it is.
And beyond the markets we achieved nothing but relaxation. With some victories won in the market place and a small collection of new items to take home we hailed a taxi and returned to our room to lie beneath the fan and overlook the rice fields one final time. Tonight we would move to Denpasar to meet with another friend (Martyna). And from there we would really experience the tourism trap.