It was my third morning in Ubud, and I realised that the novelty of waking up in the midst of tranquil green rice paddies and a shining sun would never wear off. I made my way down to the eating area where the lovely Ayu served breakfast. Whilst I tucked into another helping of her famously delicious green banana pancakes drizzled in honey, I got chatting to another girl staying at the homestay, who I shall name Bee. We sat talking for a while and I disocvered that Bee was a fellow solo female traveller – it being my first experience of solo trave howeverl, she was far more intrepid and worldy than I. She had spent some time living and working in South Korea and for many months now had been slowly making her way across Asia, stopping wherever her heart desired and making plans as she went. We exchanged thoughts on our experiences of living abroad, and what it was like being a girl travelling alone. After a long chat over fruit and pancakes, we decided to meet later for dinner.
Smiley Ayu came to take my (demolished) plate away and asked me what my plans were for the day.
‘Hmm, I haven’t decided on anything yet,’ I replied.
‘Want to go rafting? There is good rafting here,’ she said.
Rafting?! The word hung in the air and tempted me as much as Ayu’s banana pancakes had. I mulled it over for the grand total of ten seconds, and blurted out almost immediately, ‘Yes!’
An hour later, I jumped into Made’s car and half an hour later we were surrounded by four-foot tall grass. Gangga Rapids Rafting’s base sat in the middle of the grassy expanse and I made my way in. A tall man accompanied by four or five tourists were inside the office. Wet and bedraggled, but all smiling they were removing their helmets and gathering their belongings together. It transpired that I had just missed the rafting rush of the day, so I’d be rafting all on my lonesome. However, because of this, the guys at Gangga Rapids assigned me not one, but two rafting instructors. Cue two skinny, but simultaneously strapping, twenty-two year old Balinese guys named Chiku and Bagu (who I was later to learn were the jokers of the group at Gangga Rapids).
Behind Gangga Rapid’s base were a gazillion treacherous stone steps that led down through the jungle to the river. We descended the many many steps (so many it could have been part of a M.C. Escher print) and soon heard the splashing sounds of a rushing river. It slowly revealed itself amongst the numerous tall trees – we had made it. While Chiku and Bagus prepared the raft, I donned my bright orange helmet and life jacket ready for our jungle expedition. Chiku and I jumped in with our oars and Bagus pushed us off from the side before leaping onto the side of the raft.
We were all in and with every arm muscle we pushed our oars and rowed along whooshing river and Chiku explained to me the four commands I had to adhere to while rafting:
‘Now, Miss,’ Chiku said, ‘When I call FORWARD, we row forward, yes?’
‘Good. When I call BACKWARDS, we row backwards, yes?’
‘Now listen carefully, if I call STOP, we hold our oars vertical and stop rowing – yes?’
‘Hold it up and stop rowing, got it,’ I said.
‘And if I call BOOM BOOM, it means there are big scary rocks – ok?’
We glided along and I precisely remember a moment where I looked all the way around me; pure, green, dense jungle besieged us from every direction. And in that very moment, a vibrant yellow and blue coloured kingfisher bird zoomed above our heads. Further down the river basking on top of a rock was a long greyish green lizard, about the size of my calf. Chiku pointed at it.
‘Baby Komodo!’ he said gleefully.
I felt like I’d been shrunk and had become a fairy out of Fern Gully. We’ve only been rafting for three minutes and we’ve already seen a baby komodo dragon?! I thought. I wanted to whip out my phone and take as many photos as I could, but thought it was better it stayed in the safety bag, away from all the torrents of water.
As we continued along with our 6km adventure, I soon learnt that Chiku and Bagus were like a double act. Chiku was the cheeky talkative rogue. He told me he was married with a baby, but had a girlfriend on the side. The only reason he had to marry his wife was, as he mysteriously referred to it, because ‘There was an incident, Saira. An incident.’
Bagus was more of the silent type, only making a cowboy-like racket when we met dips in the river or whenever we banged into a rock – ‘Yeee-haaaaw!’ ‘Woohoo!’ ‘Waheeey!’
The two new the river like the back of their hands. They knew every bend, every twist and every rock – and they used this to their full advantage. On many occasion they acted like they had lost control of the raft and we would swerve towards a gushing waterfall and it was only until I was right underneath the waterfall, being completely drenched, water spattering off my helmet, that I realised they had planned it all along!(A true testament to how gullible I can be!) They would deliberately row down the larger dips backwards so I’d scream at the top of my lungs and bang into the smaller rocks so I’d fall into the raft (and surprisingly not into the river) which made it all the more fun especially as all the while they knew exactly what they were doing.
Every few metres there would be a small waterfall trickling down the rocky walls. We spotted a bigger one and decided it’d be an opportune photo moment.
We were now close to finshing and after 6km of rowing, my arms were feeling pretty tired but proud of themselves (I pictured myself waking up the next day with the toned arms of Michelle Obama) but we weren’t finished yet. Those gazillion stone steps we had descended earlier? Yup, now it was time to go all the way back up. Woohoo. Completely soaked and weary, we trudged all the way back up to the top. Made stood waiting at the top. I said thank you to both Chiku and Bagus.
‘Rafting again tomorrow then, Miss?’ Chiku asked.
I laughed, ‘I’d love to but I’m leaving tomorrow.’
‘Next time then, Miss!’ and with that they both high-fived me goodbye and made their way back to the base.
I carefully got into the Made’s car, trying not to get everything as drenched as I was. Made turned the car around and waved to Chiku and Bagus as we passed them. Bagus lifted his helmet and spun it in the air, ‘Yeee-haaaaw!’
* Tune in next time for when prove how graceful I am and fall into a rice paddy field…yup…
Go Go Go!
Where: Ubud in Bali, Indonesia.
Why: Rice paddy fields, culture, art, food, elephants, rafting and monkeys.
How: Direct flights from Jakarta run regularly, numerous times a day with most airline making the route. Fares can differ grealy depending on the time of year, beginning at around 400,000 Rp (approx £20) till around 2000,000 Rp (approx £100) for a return ticket. From Denpasar airport, Ubud is around a 2 hour drive away, dependant on traffic.
Rafting with Gangga Rapids cost around RP 350,000 (approx £18). There are many other rafting organsations available and can be easily booked through your accommodation.