Our first day on the island of Bali did not, by any measure, disappoint. We snorkeled, we strolled peaceful temple water gardens, we bathed beneath a waterfall and we peered out over lushious rice field after lushious rice field after lushious rice field. We dined on traditional Indonesian noodle and rice dishes, we drank dragonfruit smoothies and banana milkshakes and we gently soaked in a culture that I can tell already is quite different from the rest of South East Asia.
And the magnificence started at dawn.
Awaking in our Airbnb accomodation in Ubud at around 7am we parted the curtains to a view that immediately pressed upon us the weight of beauty that Bali is renowned for. And it is such a thick, weighty kind of beauty.. So lush, so coloured, so natural, so warm and yet so cultivated, so necessary to human survival and requiring so many hours of hard, hot labour. A beauty forged. But also, a beauty that feels wild.
And this view is surprisingly typical of the landscape of Bali (or at least East Bali). Throughout our first day this is the kind of scene that we drove through almost continuously on our way about the Eastern edge of the island. And yet somehow Bali only produces enough rice to feed it’s own people.. They export nothing. Which means that all of this vast expanse of work feeds only an islands worth of people. But, of course, I’m glad that the fields are as expansive as they are because they are so damn gorgeous to drive through.
And so we drove through these beautiful fields for a full day with a driver we managed to hire for a mere $70 (AUD), stopping off at various sites along the way. Our first stop was a secluded bay in Amed where we hired snorkeling gear and spent a good hour gazing into the depths of the ocean.
And although the coral here lacked colour in comparison to many of the spots I have snorkeled in Thailand and the Pacific Islands it was none the less a beautiful place to explore. We swam with the friendliest fish I have ever encountered! – completely unafraid to come right up to our bellies and swim alongside and beneath us. We swam with fish larger than my head, smaller than a finger, fish that were rainbow coloured, yellow and white angel fish and almost luminescent blue fish. We swam with long thin fish thay looked like sea snakes and swam vertically in search for food. We swam with a whole school of silver fish who could dislocated their jaws to catch floating debris as they swam. We saw huge blue star fish, brain coral and a sunken pagoda, and yet only a handful of other swimmers the whole time.
And when we eventually tired of the pressure of our snorkles pressing into our faces, we swam ashore to a beautiful little beach side restaurant and ate Indonesian food at a table on the sand.
It was perfect.
And then we re-boarded our hired van and headed for Tirta Gangga Water Palace – an absolutely beautiful water garden comprised of mossy grey stone, intricate white statues, lush green plants and clear, still ponds full of Koi Carp. Here, we could skip along stones in the middle of a giant pond and quietly contimplate in a still surrounding. It was beautiful. And we took our time strolling about the grounds as the afternoon passed by.
But soon it was time to continue our journey. Next stop: Besakih temple – Balis’ largest temple and another place of absolute beauty. Here we spent at least an hour walking the grounds of a massive temple complex that sits at the base Mount Agung. And with our entrance fee came a guide – who walked with us and explained to us some of the basic beliefs and worship rituals that pertain to the temple. He walked us up through winding stair ways to a look out at the top of the complex that provided a spectacular view of black, thatched temple rooftops bowing to the mass of Mount Agung in the near distance.
The whole place had a very ‘King-Kong-Island’ or ‘Jurassic-Park’ kind of feel, for lack of better words. With a thick, wild green backdrop and low-hanging mist presenting to us the blackened, stone and wood temples with moss covered tiered, thatched roofs. And with a jangle of Indonesian instruments clanging in worship in the background, drifting out over the mountain side, laying down a sacred air.
And to add to the mystical beauty of the place all visitors are required to wear long, ankle length sarongs – men and women alike. Which could be purchased at a marketplace at the bottom of the mountain at a very reasonable price. And all that were available were brightly coloured and boldly patterned so that all people passing through these grounds stood out in stark, beautiful contrast to the otherwise dark and sacred backdrop, adding bursts of colour and activity here and there. Seperating us mortals from the plain, dark colours of the mountain. Highlighting our insignificance as small beings in a great world.
And then, all too soon the sun was preparing to retire for the day. So we hurried on, arriving at our final destination with the light quickly fading from the sky and ran down a steep staircase to a small but powerful waterfall called Tegenungan. Here we were able to bathe briefly in the fresh water before the falls “closed” for the day – which simply meant that a lifeguard stationed here blew his whistle and went home.. so we hurriedly stumbled in over dangerously loose stones and attempted to creep up to the powerful waterfall and touch it’s mass before it stilled and quieted in the small lake below. But the power was significant and the falls pushed back at all trespassers who dared to approach with a kingly riteousness. So I floated at a safe distance in awe of the strength of something that I could so easily move through under any normal circumstances while Sam and Casey tried to push closer, battering their way towards the beast. And then the whistle blew. So we retreated to shore and stood for the few final moments of dusk and admired the power of the falling water from a safe distance. Entranced in this hidden place. Small bats flitted over head, the falls roared, the sun set and a small group of other tourists and peace-seekers chattered and prayed.
And then we ascended back up the hill side, reboarded our van and headed homeward.
Our night ended with a heavy meal in Ubuds’ centre and a deep sleep above the rice fields.