It was a struggle finding a ride to Ubud. We leaned against the railing of an outdoor coffee shop, trying to make way for other people on the side walk, squinting at our phones and waiting. Our backpacks and bags spread around us like unruly children that wouldn’t stay where we needed them to. The sweat pooled unforgivably on our backs and foreheads. It was too hot to think. Instead of clinging to my stuff, I half wished someone would steal my pack in one of those run-by robberies my mom warned me about. At least my load would be lighter. I came to peace with the idea that I would not chase after anybody if they did; they could have my dirty laundry and bottle of shampoo and conditioner I couldn’t read. Maybe I would thank them for it.
The driver we had planned to take us the 34 kilometers from Kuta to Ubud wanted 400k IDR (about $30), but the hostel owner declared that was much too steep. The drivers on Grab, a ride app very similar to Uber, were asking around 113k IDR, ($8) which was an awesome deal, except two cancelled because of traffic and we missed two more because we were either inside getting a cold drink or on the wrong side of the road.
No one, whether online or in person, seemed to know exactly how much time it would take to get there. When we finally got into a Grab driver’s car, who had agreed on a price of 113k, he said anywhere from 1 to 2 hours depending on traffic. And, judging by how we didn’t get in a car until rush hour and barely moved an inch the first 10 minutes, it was obviously going to be longer.
I let Lindsey and Danielle guide the small talk as I focused on my thighs sticking to the leather seat.
When the conversation turned to coffee, though, I was all ears. Apparently Danielle had heard about a type of coffee bean that a certain animal eats and passes through it’s digestive track. The bean is then collected, sanitized, dried and roasted. Its a hundreds of dollars delicacy in the US and other places, but indigenous to the Balinese.
Our driver confirmed what Danielle had heard, and explained in broken English that the animal was called a ‘Luwak,’ and he also knew where to get some. I figured we could stop for a quick cup and continue to our hostel. But by the time we got to Ubud and took a detour down a long dirt road, it was clear we were in it for a full experience. We drove past little shops with signs selling the coffee, and continued down to a remote plantation with tours and tastings, which looked more like a resort than a place to get a coffee. As we were greeted by beautiful Balinese women beaconing, ‘welcome, welcome, let me show you the arabica beans and cocoa leaves,’ all I could think of was ‘how much is this going to cost?’
I had heard about things like this from online forums and backpackers in other countries. Drivers take you to a place to earn commission or help their friends out, pressure you to buy things, or show you something and then at the end expect payment. All I wanted was a cup of coffee.
The place was overpoweringly beautiful, though. And I got distracted from worries about price as she told us about the coffee bean processing, showed us coconut and ginger plants, and led us through a lush green jungle to a tasting room. There, we tried 15 different teas and coffees, flavored chocolates, and finally, the Luwak coffee. The whole time, we were catered to like queens, being offered rice wine, refills, and having any questions answered. Our driver offered to take pictures for us and waited patiently, laughing shyly when we insisted he join us. After about an hour, we were ready to go. We were waved goodbye with genuine smiles and ‘please enjoy your time in Bali!’ from all the employees, and were never pressured to buy anything from the gift shop (though coffee and some lemon tea were still purchased anyway).
Oh, and the price of the tastings and tours? Free. We only had to pay for the Luwak coffee we had split, which was 50k IDR a cup. That’s about 3.5 US dollars. So, we had this entire experience for the price of a tall Starbucks (that would undoubtedly be shitty in a different type of way).
When we finally made it to our homestay in Ubud, much later than expected, our driver smiled and told us thank you, and still only charged us the original price of 113k. The same price. Even though he drove out of his way, waited for us for an hour trying coffee, and the traffic had been horrendous.
Being here for a couple of days now, we have been greeted with nothing but absolute kindness and warmth, more than anywhere I’ve been. Drivers, storekeepers, hosts at home stays, servers: Everyone always seems to be smiling, gentle, and in good spirits. There’s very much the atmosphere that you’re just wanted to relax and have a good time, and worry about all that other ‘stuff’ later. We’ve done two different tours, one to the rice terraces and the other to hike a volcano, and both times our driver stayed with us all day, bringing us to the grocery store when we were hungry and answering ‘it’s all up to you’ when we asked if we could explore other places. Both times we didn’t have to pay a penny until we were back safely at our homestay.
But, watch your back in Bali. You’ll hear all kinds of stories about pickpockets and danger, all about how everything is just a scam to get more money from tourists. Sometimes, the people will have tricks up their sleeves and hidden motives, like wanting you to have the time of your life and enjoy their beautiful country.