Although time may be elastic in Indonesia, it cannot stretch endlessly and at one point or another you spring back to reality. And that is exactly where I stand now – a mere 2 days away from the end of the first leg of this adventure.
There is no lack of things to do and see here, so I decided to add themes to my days to focus more on what I found important and not to get too sidetracked by all the colours and sounds all around. Nature, nurture and art became the flexible “lignes directrices” of my last few days in Indonesia.
For the past two days, I have been focussing on nature and art and today decided to hike along the Ayung River, heading north and away from Ubud.
Getting to the trekking point can be tricky and I blissfully got lost in the side streets of little villages on the way. For about 50 cents, I got several bananas and a papaya in Sayan – all fresh and a great hiking snack.
Little children called me over to take pictures of them, then ran excitedly towards me, grabbing the camera to see their own smiling faces reflected on the screen. Kind merchants pointed me to the direction of the river and before I knew it, a couple of hours had flown by and I was at the top of an immense hill, staring down at the forest which was cut sinuously by the grayish Ayung.
The descent to the river was intense and my Adidas walking shoes definitely were not up to the part, but somehow, with a little skip here and a little hop there, I managed to get down in one piece.
An old and toothless matriarch stood at the makeshift gate before the trail. She offered me a side smile and spoke vigorously and at length in Indonesian, gesturing to the left and to the right, up and down, making all kinds of signs and expressions, twisting her dark features in an attempt to convey something to me. Suddenly she stopped her monologue and, in perfect English, said “one hundred and fifty thousand rupiah”. Crossed her arms tightly and looked at me intently – her old, watery eyes ready for the battle.
Now, 150,000 Rupiah is about 15 dollars and is the amount I pay daily for my room – in other words, waaaaaaay too high.
Having come this far and down that treacherous descent, there was no way I would (or could) go back up… the old lady knew it and we both stared at each other, contemplating our next move. I wasn’t about to capitulate that easily. I love little old ladies to bits, but this was not a battle granny would win!
During my initial attempts to bring the price down, a French couple approached. Perfect pawns in the bargaining duel! I used our increased number to try and get the price down. She turned to her side, stiffened her jaw and neck and crosses her arms even more tightly – all the while side-glancing at me in defiance. The French couple were visibly appalled by the price and started slowly heading back. Granny knew she was on the verge of losing big.
And then, just like that, 2 “guides” appeared… They would help us on our walk and could negotiate a price with the river doorman… Turns out little old lady had more than one trick under her tired sleeve. Of course, they all knew each other and were in on the deal. “We have to pay off the rice farmers for you to cross” (nonsense), “the land is now owned by others, and this is the only way through” (mmmmhhhhhhmmmmm…), “you need someone to show you the way” (erm, walking up river along a path should be fine, thanks…), “we’ll give you a good price” (….).
In the end, for the three of us, I managed to bargain down to 100,000 and thus we went, along the rushing river, with our 18 yr old guide Adi, hiking our way North.
I call this one a stalemate, but somehow, I have a feeling that granny’s tired eyes are currently glistening with delight.