How I found peace in Bali after a lifetime of solo travel
In the last thirty years Rosita Boland has visited some of the most remote parts of the globe, carrying little more than a battered rucksack and a diary. She kept a written record of her thoughts and has now published a book, documenting nine journeys from nine different moments in her life. 'Elsewhere' shows how exploring the world and those she met along the way dramatically shaped the course of her life. From death-defying bus journeys through Pakistan to witnessing the majestic icescapes of Antarctica and putting herself back together in Bali, Rosita experiences moments of profound joy and endures deep personal loss.
On New Year's Day, 2016, a minibus from the port of Padangbai dropped me at the Coco Supermarket at the south end of the gloriously named Monkey Forest Road, in Ubud, Bali. I started walking, rucksack on my back, sweating profusely. It was late afternoon and the humidity was higher than any I'd ever experienced. I was in search of a guesthouse called Narasoma, at the far end of the road.
The pavements were the usual mosaic of broken tiles, open sewers and uneven paving stones, some of which had already split neatly in half. That was when I was able to walk on the pavement. Long stretches were occupied by parked motorbikes, or 'motos', as everyone called them.
Their drivers sat alongside, chanting what I soon came to know was the Ubud mantra: 'Taxi? Taxi? You want taxi?' Some drivers who were fed up saying 'taxi' a thousand times a day simply held up laminated signs instead, which proclaimed in capital letters, 'TAXI'. The noise of the traffic, and the motos and the tourist buses that poured into Ubud every day, was almost physical, it occupied such a large space in the narrow street.
January is usually the start of the wet season in Bali. It was late this year and the humidity and heat were exceptional. My little rucksack was not heavy, at just under 10 kilos, but in that solid heat, it felt like a sack of bricks.
I had come that morning from the Gili Islands that lie east of Bali. The boat from Gili Meno had stopped at Gili Trawangan for an hour, and I had used the time to search for a guesthouse in inland Ubud, where I had never been before. I googled 'Ubud', 'guesthouse' and 'pool'. One of the many places that had come up was a guesthouse called Narasoma. I tried to find an image of its pool, but then realised it was almost time for the ferry to depart.
The entrance to Narasoma was at the far end of the Monkey Forest Road, opposite a football field, its surface pitted and rough; this didn't deter the children gleefully playing there. There were signs for it and other guesthouses at the start of Beji Lane; a pedestrian lane it shared with motos, but nothing bigger.
I stepped into the little open-air reception area, with its beautiful carved wooden arches.
"You have a reservation?" Desak, the woman behind the desk, asked me.
She consulted a ledger. "We have a room," she declared. "I will show it to you. How long will you stay?"
"Three days?" I offered.
She took a key and indicated that I was to follow.
"Excuse me," I said. "Could I see the pool first?"
We walked through a large jungly courtyard and along a twisting path that ran between two high walls. Suddenly, the space opened out. I was looking down into a vast hollow, an immense green space, where coconut trees rose high into the sky like the masts of verdant ships. There was a bridge, and a river running through the space. There were banana trees, frangipani trees with lemon-coloured blossoms, and a tree I later discovered was a very old durian.
In the middle of all this impossibly tumbling lush greenness was an empty infinity pool, fringed with pink hibiscus at one end. From above, I could see the steps that led into the blue water. It was the kind of pool you usually only see in a five-star hotel, but this was not even a hotel, it was a guesthouse, where my room cost the equivalent of €25 (US$28) a night. It was a perfect pool in a perfect environment; a pool that I had been longing to swim in all my life. I stared down at it, and my heart lurched with joy.
I did not document my travels via any social media when on the road, but every now and then I wrote a long group email to family and friends. The one I sent some time after arriving in Ubud was headed, 'My Bali Coma in Narasoma, aka Paradise'. It was only half a joke, after my three days were up, I had gone back to Desak at reception, booked in for a further six weeks and set about extending my Indonesian visa. For once, I didn't want to go anywhere else. The road was not calling me ever onwards. I had found what for me felt like the perfect place.
So many people had told me Bali had long since been ruined, and that Ubud was a rubbish-strewn noisy traffic hell hole that had once been lovely, but was now also ruined. It was true that if you came only for a day trip, as many tourists did, your impression would be almost wholly of the traffic nightmare of Monkey Forest Road, and over-eager hawkers in the markets, but Ubud was different when you were staying there.
I loved its temples, and markets and galleries, and cafes and water palace and textile shops: but what I loved most of all about it was my base at Narasoma. It was an improbably rural idyll right in the middle of an urban centre.
Extracted from 'Elsewhere, One Woman, One Rucksack, One Lifetime of Travel' by Rosita Boland.