31st July2006 – Part II
The drive to the Sungai Agung river was up and up through coconut palms, banana trees, banyan trees, acacias, rice paddies and small villages all advertising the Ubud Festival: ‘Ubud the centre of culture and art for the world!’ In one village I saw a group of men sitting in a circle each one caressing the crest of his prized cockerel. I spun round in my seat and asked the girls: “Did you see the men on the corner stroking their cocks?” Estrella blinked at me, turned to Kim and said: “That’s why I teach kids to say rooster." Rooster, cockerel, le coq qui chant, anyway, cockfighting is a big thing here.
At the top of the Sungai Agung we were met by a guide who told us a bit about out descent: 9km, two hours and lunch when we get out at the other end. The other END! Two hours away! We were starving NOW. OK we were probably nowhere near starving, but we were ready for lunch now, it was lunch time after all. The guide ignored our long startled faces and pointed us in the direction of our rafting guides Yoga and his trusty sidekick (whose name was no doubt Wayan, Made, Nyoman or Ketut, but we never picked it up). We were kitted up and pointed in the direction of the rafts and not one of us thought to ask where the raft was. Well, maybe after the first hundred steps when we were still thinking about the benefits of stairs for your bum. By the next hundred steps we were definitely asking, and after the next hundred any energy expenditure other than stepping down could have tipped the balance towards complete collapse. Which is practically what I did as soon as they dumped the raft in the water; straight into the front seat because it was the nearest. Estrella who has collapsed next to me scooted over to the back when she realised the repercussions of sitting at the front and so Kim was my brave front seat partner. Yoga taught us the important rafting terminology: paddle forwards, paddle backwards, stop, boom boom and jiggle jiggle. Mostly Kim and I didn’t need the stop and boom boom signals because we could see perfectly well where the rapids suddenly dropped away or the solid walls of rock we were being directed towards while the guides cackled boom boom behind us. Another of their favourite jokes was to count so that we could paddle in time and then speed up! Oh and then there was ‘Look at the waterfall’ which we would do just as we went under it. Some were like showers, but the biggest with its spray rainbow at the bottom was like a massage we hadn’t booked.
The scenery around us was fantastic verdant forest (maybe rain) with little birds the size of large butterflies zooming across our path in a crazy zigzag way. Sometimes in the trees with gigantic leaves we would catch a flash of bright blue. These were Kingfishers. When still, you could see their bright blue breasts and vivid red beaks, but when they took flight and the sun caught their feathers, what I had mistaken for black wings and back transformed into flashes of blue.
Luxury hotels nestled in the hills above the gorge for the ‘honeymoon couples’ and below the sculptors who were working on a complex scene from the Ramayan dozed on the scaffolding.
Finally Yoga informed us that we were coming up to our last ‘boom boom’ and lunch. Suddenly we all remembered how hungry we were and perhaps rushed towards that last rapid ignoring the raft that had sprung a leak and was looking for a less exciting route.
In remembering our hunger we obviously forgot something else; the steep descent. The way up was equal if not worse and for the first time this holiday I recognised that this could be a near death experience. Would my lungs survive the whole way up? The only thing that buoyed me on was the thought of food at the top.
When we got there it was to be greeted by cheesy out of focus photos of us in the raft and a rather disappointing buffet affair that was being cleared away as we ate. Before we knew it we were back in the car fighting to keep our eyes open and our mouths closed, but after our forced halt behind the marching schoolgirls I could fight it no longer and the next time I was aware we were outside Ketut’s place.
To make up for lunch and Estrella’s altogether different near death experience (the whole rafting affair), she found us a restaurant in the grounds of the Pura Taman Suraswati (
Erratum: In the previous post it was indicated to me by an irate reader that I may have lied to get them to go rafting. If I did do this I a) don’t remember and strongly deny lying and b) wasn’t going to let Estrella back out of rafing.