Ubud overwhelms me. It feels crowded. There are too many people swarming the tiny sidewalks, there are too many colors, there are too many smells and there are way too many people invading my space; “You want a taxi?” “You want a taxi?”, “You want a taxi?”…Every fifty paces, “You want a taxi?”
Every inch of the long streets are crammed with humanity: A shop, a temple, a guesthouse, an atm machine, a shop, another shop, a restaurant…for blocks and blocks and blocks. Trees and plant life fight for every possible gap of space with their branches and fronds reaching towards the street and towards the sky. Parked motorcycles squeeze into every available nook between the buildings, spilling out onto the sidewalks. Handmade prayer boxes by the hundreds litter the sidewalks in front of all the small shops.
Monkeys hang from the tree branches; they maneuver between the buildings jumping from balcony to roof, roof to balcony and precariously scramble across the overhead wires above the street. One male jumps to a lower branch that dips under his weight until his back legs reach the street. He briefly stands on his hind legs and puffs out his chest, challenging the cars screeching to a halt to hit him. The standoff lasts barely a moment before he drops his front legs down and struts across the road.
Sound follows me constantly. From the yells of the taxi drivers, the whistles of the police, the beeping of traffic vehicles, the laughter of uniformed school children, the clatter of plates in the restaurants and the chatter of tourists, speaking every imaginable language. Everywhere there is sound. Even back at my little hotel, there is no silence. The air conditioners hum, the din of distant conversations waft over the walls, traffic is a constant yet softer drone, the fountain in the courtyard is perpetual dance of water play and there’s music that is always playing somewhere. And then there is the rain, with downpours so violent that it sounds like you are in a tunnel filled with passing locomotive trains.
Walking along the streets so many different scents assault my nose. Fragrant, earthy, pleasurable, sour, heady, rotting. There is a familiarity to them and yet I can’t seem to identify them. Sometimes a smell catches me off guard with it’s such an enveloping and enticing aroma that I stop and breath in deeper.
I’ve had to relearn walking. The sidewalks and paths are mazes of uneven paving, potholes, broken tiles and sudden level changes. Gigantic puddles form from the daily rain storms, creating impassable abysses where the choice becomes: step into the never ending chaos of traffic or wade through the water not knowing if one of those hidden dangers lie beneath the water’s surface. Even when your footing seems secure, there’s no guarantee. My sandals slide over a thin glaze of mud left by the last torrential downpour. My sandals slide over the slime of new mossy growth on rough stones. My sandals slide over the perpetual accumulation of fallen leaves and flowers.
Every inch of Ubud is vibrating. I look to my right and see an empty field of reeds. There’s a solitary path running through it, dotted with beautifully lit lanterns, leading to a restaurant. A wide-open space. My Canadian heart breathes a sigh of relief.