It’s been awhile since my last venture – I’ve been on the travel news desk in London covering plane crashes and food poisoning epidemics and wildlife photographers etc.
But over December I took flight for Bali, where I first spent a few days revisiting Ubud.
Ubud – undeniably beautiful – is nestled in the heart of Bali. It is famous for its terraced rice fields, and is a magnet for people seeking to find themselves. I wrote about it in full when I went in January – here.
My overall view having been twice now is that I don’t really like it very much. I know. I’m weird.
From what I’ve seen, the locals are very friendly to humans, and very cruel to animals. The humidity clings to you like a hot, wet bath robe you can’t shrug off. The air hangs defeated under the weight of pollution. The roads are a shit show.
For a rural area, not a city, all this feels unusual.
And as the following photos prove, none of it comes through in photos.
Luckily, I was there with people I really like. Friends who had been living in Ubud for two months; in a beautiful villa, working remotely, flopping in and out of the pool and generally having a great time, as far as I could tell.
By way of introduction, we have Ruda (American, entrepreneur) Taylor (Canadian, entrepreneur), Natasha (Hungarian, model), Kris (South African, art director) and Jo (also South African, also an art director).
They had procured a cosy, open-plan wooden villa strewn with cushions, hugging an ink-blue infinity pool, overlooking a secluded green rice field.
Each night, the gnarled trees shrouding the courtyard lit up with an array of flashing Christmas lights, and enormous lizards slithered out of the crevices to feast on moths.
For the purposes of feasting once a day, we zoomed into town on scooters (death traps).
Last time I was in Ubud, accompanied by my friend Mr B, I flatly refused to mount a death trap, on account of them being outrageously dangerous. Instead, I made the poor man walk with me everywhere.
This time, unless I wanted to fester alone and hungry in the villa every night, I had to acquiesce.
Obviously I didn’t drive one myself. That really would have been fatal. I rode on the back of Taylor’s death trap, on account of him being a trustworthy sort of human who doesn’t take vehicular risks.
The rides were quite nice actually. Apart from the flying insects kamikaze-splatting into our faces as we hurtled along, the views were pleasant and the breeze was most welcome.
The most eventful thing that happened over those two days didn’t happen to me, it happened to Taylor. And that thing was Kambo.
Kambo is the poison of a tree frog, which some humans willingly consume for (debatable) medicinal purposes.
It is administered by a shaman, who burns the willing human’s skin with a series of dots and then dabs the toxin over the burns.
Within minutes, this causes a swollen face, a fever, and several bouts of projectile vomiting over the course of a few hours.
BUT WHY? I hear you scream.
Theoretically, it replenishes you, boosts your immune system and sorts your head out. Amazonians have been doing it forever, I’m told. And there is decent evidence, I’m told, that it’s very good for people with depression or issues with addiction.
So much so that scientists have started picking their way through its components to single out and synthesise the useful bits. Par example, potent opioids including dermorphin and deltorphin.
Personally, while I find that bit interesting, I find the whole concept of inducing a violent vomity reaction to a poisonous substance to be barking mad.
Shamans call it ‘purging’. And humans do love a good purge.
It harks back to the medieval ages when people would slice open their veins to purge their bodies of their own blood. And when Europe was in the throes of the great plague and desperate crowds would march through towns self-flagellating in the hope that it might cure them.
I reckon you probably feel pretty good after all that purely because it’s such a relief to come through the other end.
But don’t listen to me, I’m a cynical shrew who is suspicious of almost everything, and – most crucially – has never tried Kambo. Taylor is an emotionally-balanced, serene, highly intelligent success story, who has done plenty of Kambo.
Anyway, I bore witness to this quite fascinating ceremony, during which a British shaman came to the villa and burned toxic holes into my poor friend’s back as he yacked into a bucket.
Afterwards, he was understandably tired. I’m not what else he gained from it. You’d have to ask him that, but apparently it was a great success.
Next? The tiny Gili islands, a two-hour boat ride away, to dive with sea turtles and cycle merrily along beaches.