After a smooth two and a half hour flight from Singapore, we landed at Denpasar International Airport at 7pm on the 2nd of January. The VOA (Visa On Arrival) service was quick and easy, no questions asked, please pay cash in any currency you choose. We handed over US$50.00 for the two of us, allowing us to stay for up to 30 days. Next was immigration and by the time we were done with that our one checked bag was on the carousel ready for collection. Going through customs was a slow experience as they scan all the luggage even if you have nothing to declare.
The taxi driver we'd arranged through our airbnb host was waiting for us, hopefully holding up a handwritten sign that said "DENNIS & KAREN". We sighed in relief - our flight had been delayed by half an hour and processing had taken just over another hour. Turned out he'd been waiting for us for two hours - we were impressed that he'd stuck around! We had about a 2-hour drive ahead of us, inland to Ubud. The traffic was horrendous getting out of the airport and through Denpasar; stop and go a few feet, stop and go a few feet - cars and scooters vying for position and passing within a hair of each other. We were very thankful that our driver was both skilful and cheerful!
It was dark so we couldn't see any of the scenery we passed. It felt like there was never an end to Denpasar and a start to Ubud, other than the roads narrowed and deteriorated. Our driver brought us directly to the studio and we paid him IDR350,000 - the equivalent of about US$29, for almost six hours of his time and a ride 2-hours long! The studio had a musty smell and for a while we weren't sure we'd made the right choice. Instead of thinking about it we dropped our bags and went across the street for a late dinner. We shared a potato and smoked cheese pizza and not having eaten anything for hours, it was one of the best pizzas we'd had in ages!
In the morning we made our tea and coffee and sat outside on the patio. Quietly pondering our new surroundings we had the strange feeling we'd been transported to another world. Our little studio (# 4) consists of a bedroom that includes a desk and more storage space than we need. The bathroom is behind the bedroom, perhaps a third the size of the bedroom. But the toilet is different in that it doesn't have a flush mechanism. One has to manually scoop water from a bucket to 'flush' the toilet. Also in the bathroom is our drinking water supply, which has been blessed, as well as crockery and cutlery. The shared kitchen (with the studio next door) is outside on the patio, consisting of one gas hotplate, a large fridge and pots and pans of varying sizes.
Our kind neighbours soon appeared and offered us maps, information, bananas and eggs. All very welcome! Then later, when they overheard us asking our host for matches, promptly appeared with an extra box. Incense had been provided so we immediately lit a stick and that took care of the musty smell. After all, it is the rainy season and we had come to realize that the pervasive damp smell infuses almost everything - our towels and bed linens smelled fresh. We also arranged a scooter rental; we're still reeling from the price - IDR300,000 for a week. That's the equivalent of about US$25 ... for a whole week!!! Dennis assured me he knows how to ride a motorbike, though in the whole time I've known him (more than 16 years) I've never seen him on one. I let him have a few go-rounds on his own first before we hit the road together.
It's a little unnerving being on the back of a scooter, i.e. not in control, riding on unfamiliar narrow and potholed roads. We joined several other scooters, often riding pack-like to get to the heart of town. Sometimes I thought we were on a one-way street, then seconds later we'd all weave back to the right side (which is the left side here) to make way for an oncoming car! Scooters outnumber cars at least ten to one, perhaps more ... probably more. But renting it was really a no-brainer; we discovered we're a good 10-minute drive from the center of town and it's going to take us to a lot of other places. You just can't beat the daily rental of about US$3.50!
I deliberately left my camera behind when we went out today. I wanted to absorb the feel of this new place without the distraction of taking photos. Our initial impression of Ubud: it's amazing! So different to anything we've seen before; a mix of old and new, Balinese and western, busy and vibrant on the main street but only a few minutes walk away rice paddies surrounded us, derelict buildings overgrown with lush vegetation, incredibly beautiful homes made of rich wood and stone, ornate temples and shrines abound, intricate stone carvings covered in moss ... I could go on and on but I'm sure you'd like to see some photos! The camera will come with me next time!
Note on current exchange rate: US$1.00 is about Indonesian Rupiah IDR12,160 is about ZAR10.60