This paradise is a curious place. I rocket from distaste to delight in the space of a 5 minute walk. Bali has the world’s most luxurious resorts, with rubbish piled next door. When you speak to the Balinese about their temples and their community, there is great respect and love in their eyes. Yet next door to the beloved temple are piles of dumped masonry and plastic rubbish scattering as far as the eye can see. Footpaths are covered drains which let out foul stenches as you walk along browsing at boutiques in Seminyak’s Jalan Legian or Ubud’s Monkey Forest Road. To take your eyes off your feet is to risk a broken ankle. As I walked, I saw a man unblocking a drain, neck deep in raw sewage, outside a shop selling swathes of traditional Batik in radiant colours.
Along the urban coastal strip of Kuta, Legian and Seminyak, motorbikes are everywhere. It’s a common sight to see families of three or four riding pillion, with baby strapped to mum with a sarong. Drivers overtake on narrow lanes, motorbikes ride against the traffic flow, cars park on blind corners. And the traffic is unrelenting – so many motorbikes and scooters – with the constant pitch of motors and horns throughout the night, unregulated by police who sit in booths advertising Coca Cola, or running taxi ranks outside tourist spots.
There are dogs everywhere. They roam the streets or sleep in doorways. In the rural areas chickens scratch the dust at the roadsides. Cattle are tethered in bare fields, or held by old men with sticks.
Traffic stops for chickens, goats, dogs, and celebrations. Suddenly a group of Balinese, in traditional dress, the men in white shirts, black and white sarongs, the women carrying offerings on their heads, will round a corner, bringing the traffic to a halt until the short pageant enters the temple.
The road from Denpassar to Ubud is lined with woodcarvers and stone masons. We took the drive at night; the buddahs and demons in the artisans’ yards seemed to move in the flickering shadows of roadside fires where their creators burnt the debris of the day.
Our taxi turned off the main highway (a narrow two lane road which traverses the mountain ridge) to a dusty village, Payogan, on the outskirts of Ubud in the mountains. Chickens scattered in the headlights of the car as we pulled through high gates where security guards checked the car for hidden bombs with mirrors on sticks. This was a different world; our resort was a palace of pavilions with polished marble, lush botanic gardens surrounding pools overlooking a mountain valley lined with tall palms swaying in the breeze.
Our holiday had begun.