On November 8, the last day of my 30th year, I woke up not really knowing what to do. Rachel and Izzy were still exhausted from a hike the previous day (that started at 2am), so I snuck out of our little villa and wandered into the bar area of the hostel. I ran into Delvin who was looking for something to do.
“Wanna head to the rice field terraces with me?”
I was already planning on going another day with Rachel and Izzy, but didn’t want to waste my morning lounging around (like I had for the past few days already), so I agreed to go. We found a taxi driver on the street, which isn’t difficult because every man, woman and child in Ubud seems to be a taxi driver. A chorus of “Taxi? Taxi?” follows you throughout the town. If you reply, “No, thank you.” They’ll fire back, “Taxi tomorrow?”
After negotiating the price of 200,000 rupiah (I wanted to haggle more, but Delvin – or Kansas as we call him – wasn’t a fan of it), we jumped in the cab and were winding through the streets of Ubud. When we pulled over and parked in a gravel lot after about 15 minutes of driving I was surprised. “Are we here?” This seemed like a proper town with shops and restaurants. I thought we were going out in the sticks. It became apparent that the build up happened around the rice fields, a very popular tourist attraction.
But when I finally caught a glimpse of the terraced rice fields I was stopped dead in my tracks. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen anything so lovely. Every shade of green you can imagine was splashed across the landscape like thick, oily paint on a canvas. Palm trees and the tall grass of the rice waved in the hot breeze, and red blooms provided sporadic bright pops of colors. It’s the closest thing I can imagine to the Garden of Eden.
We walked down some steep, makeshift stairs to where we could start hiking up, down, across and back through the maze-like fields on leveled off footpaths, just wide enough for one person. We went over a spring-fed stream and through a tiny hut where a woman asked, “Donation?” I’m not sure the Balinese understand the concept of a donation, because paying is not optional, only the denomination is.
Once at the top, looking back at the shops and restaurants that gazed over the fields, we could walk further back where there were no people and no noise except for the sound of the bamboo wind chimes. We ran into a nice couple from Minnesota (Midwest represent!) – Andy and Laura. Much to Delvin’s excitement, Andy was flying a drone and taking ariel pictures, which was unspeakably cool. He even snapped a few of us. Afterwards we shared some fresh coconut water together, talked about travel and home, and chatted with the “coconut man” who told us about the rice and played music for us. It was magical.
We’d made our driver wait longer than we’d promised, so after an hour or so Delvin and I hurried back to the car. While on the way home I saw an open-air pavilion (that looked like a temple) crowded with around a hundred people.
“Are they praying?” I asked our driver.
“No. Cockfight,” he replied.
“TURN AROUND!” shouted, Delvin.
And that’s how I found myself at a Balinese gambling ring for a cockfight. We paid 20,000 rupiah for the entrance (about $2) and shyly slinked in. Not only were we the only two white people there, I was the only woman in sight. The ring in the center was lined with cages housing the next fighters and in the center were two roosters who were being felt, weighed and inspected to be sure they were evenly matched. On the back of one leg, each rooster had a two to three inch long razor-sharp blade attached. Our driver explained to me that roosters bred for fighting were born with these talons, but these were your average, run-of-the-mill roosters so they had to attach “prosthetic” talons so that they would cut each other when they fought. Gross.
After some back and forth and men waving their money, shouting and placing their bets it was time for the fight to start. The two men holding the birds poked, prodded and pulled feathers in a effort to rile them up and then they were let loose on each other. I watched for a bit, but it was quite gruesome (they were covered in blood and their bodies were mangled) and eventually hid behind a pole and covered my ears. I’m not sorry I went – it was an experience – but it’s not something I would care to do again.
After the fight I needed to get my zen on, so we hurried back to town to meet Rachel and Izzy for a yoga class at The Yoga Barn, a fantastic yoga compound with a variety of classes, a beautiful, serene environment and a KICKASS cafe with delicious, healthy food. We ended the day with some chill out time at the hostel pool/bar (where we mercilessly leased Erwin for his hilarious attempt to write in English), and a farewell dinner with my international squad for Rose’s last evening. After dinner we drank on the porch of our villa back at the hostel until midnight when they sang Happy Birthday to me. If this was what 31 was like, it was just fine by me.