The touristic side of Bali

On our fourth day in Bali, joined by a fourth member of our group, we once again hired a private driver for a day to take us about central Bali and see some sights. This time we paid a bargain price of $45USD for our driver for the day. And choosing to hold off on breakfast until later, we departed Denpasar early – set first for a return visit to a near by waterfall called Tegenungan.

As our first visit to Tegenungan had been at dusk we had had only a few minutes to swim under the falls before the “lifeguard” blew his whistle and expected everyone to get out, and there had been only a small handful of other tourists there with us. But arriving in the early afternoon on this day gave us a different experience. For one, this time we were able to swim beneath the powerful falls with leisure. With no lifeguard enforcing a curfew we were able to attempt again and again to reach and bathe beneath the falling water of the falls – swimming hard against the powerful currents, desperately attempting to find foot-holds in the rough sand and push forward into a downpour that came with such force, that our very aim – to bathe beneath the masses of falling water- was questionable. Failing and re-attempting. Laughing and screaming. Flailing our limbs in ecstasy. Loving every moment in the cool water on a hot day.
Secondly, this trip differed in that we were joined by a much larger group of tourists than on our dusk visit. But none the less not enough to ruin the lure of the place. We enjoyed our return to the falls greatly.

Tenungun Falls.jpg

And we even took the time to stop for lunch here at a beautiful hilltop restaurant, where we sat out on a large balcony overlooking the falls below. We enjoyed another Indonesian meal of noodles and rice at prices that took advantage of the view but which none the less were extraordinarily affordable – ranging between $4 – $5(AUD) per plate. And we sampled charcoaled corn on the cob before returning to our van and heading off to the next spot –  Goa Gajah (The Elephant Cave).

Goa Gajah was a complex that was beautiful more for its gardens than for the cave which it seems to be renowned for – which despite featuring a beautifully carved exterior (or mouth), was plain and short on the inside and was filled with such thick, hot air that staying inside for any extended period of time became quite gruelling.. The gardens on the other hand were filled with fresh air, they were extensive, lush, wild looking and full of hidden water features and wide-trunked trees. And we enjoyed strolling through them over the course of an hour or so, taking in their rainforest-like beauty.

Elephant cave gardens.jpg

And only after a refreshing coke and a bottle of water (sold at even the remotest of destinations in Bali by random individuals at make-shift stalls with giant chilli bins) it was on to the Tegalalanga rice fields.

And it is here where the number of tourists present in Bali really became clear to us. Upon arriving at Tegalalanga the tourist masses were immediately evident. Swarming through the paddies, posing at every opportunity for selfies, chattering incessantly and crowding the streets with traffic. I know now how crazy it must sound to say this.. But somehow I truly truly didn’t expect that there were this many tourists on Bali after our first 3 secluded days on the island. And while it meant that this stop, for us, was not nearly as scenic as we might have hoped, it largely acted only to make more precious our first few days on this beautiful island – when we avoided the tourist masses with unintentional ease. It was fascinating to compare how exclusive our holiday had been up until this point to how generic and crowded it must be for most visitors. And it was quite satisfying to find a solid confirmation of how well we travel.

 

Tegalalanga Rice Fields.JPG

But regardless of the personal satisfaction that I may have been experiencing, the tourist hoards were too much. We spent little of our time at this stop, instead opting to collect some snacks from a nearby convenience store and depart toward our final spot for the day – Tanah Lot.

Tanah Lot is a small temple that rests atop a large rock which, at high tide, is detached from the rocky coast of Southern Bali – giving it an austere and forbidden air. And before I go any further I will admit that it all is, at the very least, a really beautiful idea. However for the most part, unfortunately, the reality of the place is that it is an overpopulated tourist depot. It’s a gorgeous artistic concept that’s been exploited to develop an overrated tourist marketplace. A destination that is swamped with mindless visitors and their selfie sticks, which has little significant spiritual value and which, honestly, could have been skipped. It was as if our day of site seeing at these more touristic spots of Central and Southern Bali had been gaining momentum from the outset, finally reaching it’s climax at this dried-up, rock-top temple.

Tanah Lot.JPG

We sat with heavy disappointment on the rocky mainland, stared for a while at Tanah Lot. Walked about the grounds of the nearby ‘cultural park’ briefly. And left.

Our day did, however, end with a highlight.  We spent the remainder of our evening enjoying a heavy Mexican meal in the largest and most impressive Mexican themed restaurant that I have ever seen (and Melbourne thinks it has a foodie scene..). Where delicious food was served to multi coloured tables set out on a verandah that looked onto an impressive cacti garden. It far exceeded my expectations and left us all full and satisfied and ready for bed.

And with this, our last day in Bali drew to a close. Our short four day trip was already over. In the morning we would leave early for the Gilli Islands.

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Bali by scooter

On day two of our bali trip we gave in to the lure of scooter hire – a notoriously cheap backpackers mode of transport on the island. And for a price of only $12 (AUD) we were able to hire 2 scooters and spent a whole day exploring Bali with complete freedom to choose where we wanted to go and where we wanted to stop.

I have no regrets.

We started early to make the most of the day. Our Airbnb host being kind enough to arrange the hire for us and ride me into the centre of Ubud, while Sam rode double with Casey on a seperate family scooter to collect our rentals. Once there, we signed a single receipt, handed over some cash, selected helmets, photographed the scooters and were off! Almost… We just had one slight hiccup to correct. That would end up turning into quite a panic..

Just as we were discussing how to get to our first destination we realised that none of us had bought our drivers licenses to the hire office… A simple enough problem to solve one would think. All we had to do was return to our accomodation and collect a drivers license (at least one of us would be covered if we ran into police) before departing for the day.. But this simple solution quickly went wrong..

Our plan was to follow our host back to her home on the scooters we had just hired so that we could set off immediately from there.. We departed with me on one scooter and Sam and Casey doubling on a second (as Sam is the most experienced rider of the three of us). But it quickly became apparent that our Scootering skills were a little rusty.. And although we weren’t struggling to balance and we weren’t crashing into strangers.. we were having some trouble keeping up with our host! Who SPED off ahead of us, eager, obviously, to be done with us for the day and have us on our way. And although at first she seemed to be stopping at intersections and pulling aside to wait for at least me to catch up with her, her patience didn’t last long. And in my panic to keep up with our host I lost track of Casey and San in my rear view mirror.. And suddenly, I  couldn’t see either party as I found myself rolling down an entirely unfamiliar street.

Panic set in as I continued to follow the road for a few more minutes sure, at first, that our host must still be ahead of me. Then, doubt sunk through me, as my racing ahead through traffic yielded no results to my search. Finally, fear hit, as I came to the realisation that I must have taken a wrong turn at some point and was now lost in a foreign country, where I didn’t speak the local language, alone, with a scooter that I had no documentation for (Sam had the hire reciept for both scooters with him).

But surely? I reasoned, Sam and Casey must be coming up behind me at any moment. Even if I had lost our host, they should have been following me, as I was the one in the middle of our chain?!

So I pulled over.

I waited.

Traffic passed. More traffic passed.

From this far back in the queue there was no way that they could have seen me and been following me..

They weren’t coming. Was it possible that they had overtaken me without my noticing? Questions like this rushed through my mind as I perched roadside with my scooter trying to call into action my logical mind instead of my panicked one.

I had to at least try asking for help. So I scootered forward a few meters towards a couple of men manning a roadside refreshment stand and letting out a big breath to calm myself asked “Mas Ubud?”. And my fear must have been written all over my face because the younger of the two men didn’t just explain to me that I was indeed going in the wrong direction and needed to turn back, but took a moment to calm me, distracting me from my stress by asking me where I was from, telling me to be careful and telling me I was going to be OK. And it was this one moment of kindness that was all it took to calm me back into a sane mind. Knowing that there were indeed kind locals on this island and not just tour operators out to milk me of my money was all the relief I needed. So I thanked the kind men, turned my scooter back into the traffic and returned up the treelined hill I had just descended in search of a “white statue” at which I now knew I had to turn left. And surely enough this white statue was an excellent marker and soon I was back on the right path. And although I had many doubtful moments along my way, convincing myself at times that I needed to ask for more directions or had missed a second turn off, a familiar store or landmark would always present itself just as I was beginning to loose hope and would urge me to keep on going.

After the longest 15 or 20 minutes of my life I made it back to our accomodation. To the screaming of Sam and Casey and our host. Feeling proud and capable and alive.

As it turned out Sam and Casey had seen me take my wrong turn, but had only followed me briefly before second guessing my direction and second guessing whether it was me at all that they had seen make the turn. So they too had had to turn back and fluke their way home to our accomodation without our host. And in fact they only made it back moments before I did. They had only to endure a few minutes of terror, calling my cellphone which was in Sam’s backpack and realizing how isolated I was before I sped passed our driveway and jumped with significant relief from my scooters seat.

It was, we all agreed, a truly ‘Bali’ experience. One which tested our abilities to think straight under pressure and left us ultimately feeling giddy with relief, refreshed and more confident.

And we still had a whole day ahead of us… So with all of our affairs finally in order we took off in the direction of Jatiluwih – home to the most beautiful rice paddies in Bali.

And surely enough after a long but exhilarating 2 hours of travel; sweeping between cars, buses, scooters, pedestrians, stray dogs and what ever else the roads of Bali could throw at us we arrived in Jatiluwih. Incident-free.

We stopped here for an hour or so for lunch at a gorgeous outdoor restaurant that served traditional foods and seated guests in small hut-like platforms with low tables and cushion seating, and which had a spectacular view out over the terraced rice fields. The food was delicious, the fields were beautiful and the service was friendly and we were already completely satisfied with day two in Bali.

But there was more to see!

As rain clouds gathered and condensed overhead we sped off towards Baturiti botanical gardens. But unfortunately those rain clouds didn’t hold out for long. Soon a light shower was falling upon us as we fled to our next destination. And unfortunately with all of our morning distraction we were quickly running out of daylight as well. But as is the nature of rain in the tropics the shower didn’t last long and we arrived at the botanical gardens with ease. For a few dollars we gained entry to the largest botanical garden I have ever seen, and spent an hour strolling though what was really more of a park (with trees and hills) than a garden (with flower beds and conservatories). And along the way the rain began to fall again – a little heavier this time. But as we were already wet from our ride we were not deterred and continued through the park quite happily in search of flowers and cacti. And soon we had an additional member to our pack following us loyally about the place – a gorgeous stray dog who we belovedly named ‘Pooch’. He even followed us into a conservatory and frightened some other, less friendly guests. In fact in our hour with Pooch we grew very attached to his quiet and gentle nature. He was by no means a rabid stray and when it came time for us to leave him and return to our scooters we were quite reluctant to say goodbye.

The gardens themselves of course we’re also lovely and with rain coming down they were blissfully empty. The size of the space was the only obstacle, with so much ground to cover to find a flower bed. But we managed to lay eyes upon many cacti and a few orchids in the couple of garden spaces that we did find amongst the park, so we were ultimately pleased with our visit.

And we headed off with the rain halted again, deciding that our next stop would have to be Ubud to return our scooters before our deadline at 6pm.

But half way into our journey… The rain came again.. This time MUCH harder than before.

Soon we were pulled over in a monsoon style downpour with low visibility, dropping temperatures and a deadline approaching. We knew we had to continue.

We quickly transfered everything precious and electronic from our backpack into the under-seat compartment of the scooters, wrapped a sarong around Sam’s shoulders (in a meek attempt to stop his shiverring) and pushed on into the storm.

We continued to weave through traffic, avoiding cars and scooters and potholes as before. Heads low to avoid the rain flying into our faces. And I must say, while I later found out from Sam and Casey that they had found the situation very stressful and we’re panic-stricken for a large part of the ride home.. I personally quite enjoyed the drama of the situation. I enjoyed being so exposed to the elements. So in nature. And surviving. Owning every turn and obstical with relative ease. Wind on my face. Undergoing a true, unadulterated adventure. It was real freedom. It was wild freedom. It was exactly what I seek in Asia.

And we arrived back in Ubud well before 6pm. Mission accomplished.

Our night ended with another delicious Indonesian dinner and a show – a traditional Balinese dance performance that we found in the middle of Ubud which was both entertaining and beautiful. The female dancers were immaculately dressed with beautiful make-up and intricate headwear and performed their subtle, bird-like movements with precision timing. While the males donned huge, heavy costumes that were terrifying and showy. For an entrance fee of only 100,000 Rupiah (about $10AUD) it was a brilliant end to the evening.

And we again made it back to our bed late and ready for a deep sleep.

Beautiful Bali

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.