Rainy season in Bali
When you come from somewhere like the Lake District you think you know everything about rain. However, compared to the tropics, it’s a bit like saying you know about spiders.
Remember those spindly little four-legged things that used to scare the bejesus out of you when you found them under the bed? Well, imagine finding this under your bed!
Now, English Rain, meet Tropical Rain.
Expressions like “raining cats and dogs”, “torrential downpour” or “bucketing down” just don’t cover it.
Tropical rain is like standing under a waterfall, but without the romanticism. This is rain that would laugh in the face of an umbrella. Nothing less than fisherman-style, waist-high waders and a poncho is going to keep you dry in this.
The other difference with back home is that (and I thought brits were pretty hardy in this respect), because it happens every day for a couple of months, people don’t change their normal habits. Life goes on and people simply don their poncho, get on their motorbike and happily set off through rain that would have you sandbagging your front doorstep back home.
So, for the past few days it’s been clear that rainy season is here. Without fail, somewhere around the afternoon, the sky darkens, thunder cracks and somebody dumps the contents of a small lake all over Ubud. It takes a while to get used to the fact that, despite the beautiful sunshine that you’ve been enjoying all morning, that you are going to get pissed on once again in the afternoon. You’ve optimistically left your clothes – still soaking from yesterday – out on the terrace to dry. You head out on your errands, thinking you probably have enough time until the rains hit. Checking the sky you even think “maybe not today”. But like clockwork, you get caught out again.
Everything’s damp and soggy.
All of the time.
A Trip to Amed
So, eventually, fearful that I’m going to develop webbed feet and gills, I decide that it’s a good idea to escape to drier climes and so decamp to Amed for the weekend. Although the whole of Bali gets rainy season, it’s much worse in some places than others and whilst Ubud seems to get the lion’s share, on the coast it’s much less severe, maybe only an hour in the afternoon, so I decided to go on a little road trip.
It’s about a 3-hour drive and I choose to go by bike, enjoying the opportunity to get out on the open road and to drive past some spectacular spots, stopping for lunch at Refresh Restaurant in Candidasa about half-way there.
The weather is great all the way and the approach affords beautiful views of the east coast and the mighty Agung.
In Amed, temperatures are in the 30s and we have beautiful sunshine and clear skies all day. We snorkel, laze on the beach, all without fear of getting drenched. The wrinkles in my skin start to disappear, I’ve never been so thankful for dryness!
Virgin Beach – Candidasa
On the way home I decide to break up the journey with a trip to the beach. I’m headed to White Sands in Padangbai, one of my favourites and about halfway home. On the way into Candidasa though, I pass a sign for another White Sands beach – also known as Virgin Beach – and on a whim decide to stop there.
I follow the signs up a gravelly hill with views of Mount Agung and all the way to Amed over lush green rice fields.
As I approach the top of the hill, I get a glimpse of the beach, way below and I feel quite excited. It looks like an absolute gem. From the top of the hill I also get views over the other side, to a deep blue ocean and green-topped cliffs.
After paying the 10,000 Rp entrance fee and heading down a hill, I arrive at the beach. At first I’m confused as it’s deserted. Did I go to the wrong place? I park up and wander the few metres, through the fisherman’s boats, out onto the pristine white sand and to the shore. The sea is crystal clear and sparkling turquoise. I walk in up to my ankles and look to the left and to the right. There’s a young couple taking selfies on the shore but apart from that, it’s deserted. It’s one of the most perfect beaches I’ve ever seen.
I decide to head to the right, where there’s a little warung with sun beds and a bit of shade to sit in, and I dump my stuff and get right into the sea. Only about 3 metres in I start to see tropical fish, and as I swim out a bit further, huge swathes of coral and a deep ridge with all kids of sea life. The sea is so clear, you can see everything everywhere.
Then, just when I was about to head for shore, I spotted the unmistakeable shape of a turtle. There is was, about 1 metre below the surface, just paddling along inspecting the coral. I manoeuvred myself above him and he didn’t seem to mind me ogling him. I lifted my head up, excitedly wanting to share my find with other snorklers, but there was no-one else in the water. Half-disappointed not to share my excitement, but also half-pleased that I was the only one getting to hang with the turtle, I went back to following him. For about 20 minutes, I expected him to swim off at any minute, but he conveniently paddled around the coral, back-and-forth, bobbing his head up to the surface now and again, and never more than a couple of metres away.
Feeling utterly #privileged, I swam back to shore and finished my coconut, excitedly telling the warung owners I’d just seen a ‘kura-kura’.
A few moments later, the fishermen came by with the catch of the day and the warung owner asked me if I wanted to stay for lunch; red snapper, tuna or mahi-mahi. There was nothing I wanted more, but conscious that on my return to Ubud, I was likely to encounter rains, I knew that the sooner I could set off, the further I was going to get without being hit by the rain, so I reluctantly got back on the road.
Raining Greedy Cats and Dogs
I got about an hour of road time before I saw the the black clouds. These ones looked particularly nasty and I knew I didn’t have long before it was going to hit.
Sure enough, just as I was passing a little warung, the first drops started to fall.
I pulled up at the warung and parked my bike under the awning just as the first drops became an absolute torrent. My helmet, which I’d left on the floor for a moment, was in danger of being washed away!
“You’re not made of sugar”
Still 45 minutes from home and with no sign of things letting up, I decided to keep going. After all – as my friend Vicky always used to say – “You’re not made of sugar”. It took me about 3 minutes to get completely wet through, and the great thing about being wet through is that you really can’t get any wetter.
In order to navigate my way home, I had been using the trusty Google Maps app and had my iphone cautiously stashed in a pocket just below the handlebars – which was protected from the rain – with the Maps instructions coming through my headphones. After a while though, I noticed that – despite my best efforts – water was getting into the pocket.
Now, although I can’t be sure what special materials they use out in Cupertino to manufature the iPhone, sugar could be one of the components, so susceptible it seems to be to a few drops of water.
For a moment, I wondered if I should continue to risk €800 of Apple hardware in the name of getting home quickly and safely.
What was I thinking?
I pulled over and stashed the phone safely under my seat. What the hell, I (roughly) knew the way.
It just got Biblical
With comfort well and truly sacrificed, my next main concern was visibility. With my visor up, the rain bounced into my eyes quite painfully, causing me to blink so much it was like seeing in strobe. With my visor down, I couldn’t see the road surface through the streaked plastic. I opted for half-open, this protected my eyes from the worst of the rain whilst allowing me to see if there was a massive pothole coming with at least a couple of seconds notice!
So, it was some surprise when I suddenly arrived at a bridge which was so submerged that the water immediately covered my wheels and rose up to my ankles. This was biblical flooding, I half expected Noah to sail by in his Ark.
Then I noticed how the other motorcyclists were dealing with it. They were mounting the kerb at the side and crossing on the pavement, so I did the same. This got me safely to the other side without having to swim, but getting back onto the road was another matter.
At the end of the pavement, where I would’ve made my way back onto the road, I saw water gushing into a huge hole!
How was I to continue? It seemed impossible.
I looked behind and saw a growing line of motorcyclists urging me to get on with it. My only choice seemed to be to dismount the kerb from the side, back onto the bridge. But with no idea how deep the water was there, I couldn’t do it. Eventually another motorist dismounted his bike, pushed it gingerly into the flowing river, jumped on and went on his way. I went for the exact spot where he had been and did the same. Fucking hell, that was a close one!
The rest of the way home I studiously followed the path of whoever was in front of me. Unable to see the surface of the road, at least if there was a pothole, they’d go into it first!
So, I made it home safe and sound. Wet, but in one piece. And when I arrived in Ubud to conditions that, when I first got my bike I told myself I would NEVER EVER go out in, now seemed laughably tame, I realised I had just completed my advanced Bali motorbike driving test and could handle the worst that rainy season had to throw at me.
I was just missing one thing though.
The next day I went and bought a proper poncho, more like a tarpaulin that goes down to your ankles, and the height of rainy-season fashion. Now I’m ready for anything.