Mentom - Singapore 2012

© Mentom – May 2012

Taxi, tomorrow? - Bali in 7 days - Part 2

Friday 21 January 2011, by Mentom

All the versions of this article:

  • English

Ricefields around Ubud - Pejeng

Yes, again the Lonely Planet. This time he catched us with the promise of nature walks and trekking in the rice fields. Several trails were proposed in the book, and we settled on a nice 10km route to Pejeng, west of Ubud; via the so-called Elephant cave and back to home. In my mind, I already pictured the green fields as far as one can see, gentle landscapes, friendly villagers...

The next day, it quickly became clear that no one here seems to walk, especially along the roadside. The first kilometres out of town were to be shared with a never ending motorbike flow in both directions, with all the noise, honking and exhaust fumes. Then, one of those motorbikes suddenly separated from the rest of the herd: the driver stopped and asked as where we are heading. Unsuspecting me (I remembered the friendly villagers), I gave him the plan for the day... Immediately he transformed himself into a "local guide" and started with his indications: the track we are planning to take does not exist anymore, there is a resort built blocking the access to the rice fields, it is very difficult to get around it etc. etc. Obviously, HE and only HE knew the one and only shortcut. And then, for the next three hours impossible to get rid of him.

As a result, he slashed the original 10km down to possibly 6km. However, I must admit; the route he showed us was very pleasant to walk : indeed it went across the rice paddies and passed by a river and a spring, where we could observe the kids from the nearby village swimming and playing.

At the Elephant cave, the guide finally dropped us (payment received) and turned back. The site (Goa Gajah) is not very impressive, its main value is certainly that it is quite old (about the 11th century). The big attraction was a carved face of some sort of demon in the rock, where you could enter a cave through the mouth. Inside the cave there was however not much to see and the rest of the site consists of some scattered temples and temple ruins.

Ricefields around Ubud - Sayan

The next day, learning from my mistakes, I was determined to get rid of the omnipresent "local guide" and just to walk on my own somewhere in the greenery. I sometimes wonder about these huge perception differences between, say a Balinese and maybe someone from Europe. Whereas it is perfectly understandable to go for a walk in the nature, it seems not to be so trivial in Bali. Why would one be walking, if the same can be done by car? Or, if there is no purpose, why not rather stay at your place? Based on this reasoning, I believe, the "local guides" place themselves strategically on the way of the unsuspecting tourist and turn the pleasant nature walk into a very different experience. It is like I would turn up in the Bois de Boulogne near Paris, and would propose to Japanese tourists to show them around the area, pretexting it is not safe, not allowed or not worth walking on the way they are walking right now.

In any case, this time I put more research to find the path as described in the travel guide and indeed found it relatively quickly. Only trouble, another "local guide" turned up, but this time I told him firmly that his services are not required. He shrugged and decided just to simply walk behind us : a very powerful tactic. It turned out that he had a plan in mind, because when we finally managed to descend the break-neck path down to the river Ayung, we stumbled into some sort of a gate. Our friendly guide reactivated himself and told this time the tale of the angry locals which were waiting with knives and sickles behind the gate, upset with the foreigners trampling their land. HE and only HE was able to protect us from the angry mob, against a small fee of cause, which he would surely distribute amongst them to settle the trouble (to the grass?) we are causing.

So... here we went again for a guided visit. Again, the nature was beautiful, I enjoyed the walk along the rice paddies and the Ayung river. The guide was quite good, he knew almost everything from land prices to local medecines and which celebrity stayed in which resort in the past years. So I learned where Julia Roberts stayed last time when she made the famous Bali movie; and that David Copperfield & Co. did whitewater rafting here.

Another good point in the story was, since our friendly guides cut into our budget and this was not planned, we decided to save money elsewhere and did some serious research for cheap and good local food. Balinese cuisine is really excellent and I can recommend some local dishes, especially vegeterian ones such as Gado-Gado, fern leaves or eggplants with peanut sauce.

Interesting fact, out of curiosity I ventured into Takashimaya and checked on the latest Bali edition of the Lonely Planet. Seems we were not the only cash-cows as the closed gates are mentioned now, and the recommendation to "tip" the locals is included. Still, there was a huge discrepancy between the recommended "tip" amount in the guide compared to what I experienced. Not sure what conclusions to draw out of this on my perception of reality or negotiation skills, I prefer peace of mind and will move on to the next chapter of the travel.


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