Lombok – waterfalls, mountain monkeys, coffee and tempeh! 

We rose early to our first full day on Lombok. Naturally excited after the magic of our arrival night about what the day would bring. We ate fresh, homegrown bananas and drank fresh, homegrown, home roasted black coffee (absolutely delicious) followed by a hot meal of rice, tomatoes and fish and then we set off for the day with our host and his posse to hunt waterfalls.

Having already seen Git Git waterfall in Bali I think our expectations were set at a reasonable level. We thought maybe we’d find something beautiful, probably another lone giant perpetually falling amidst a tropical landscape. But as is so often the case in Asia – our expectations fell so very short of reality.
Pulling up in a nearly empty parking lot just before mid day we disembarked our hosts small car and were lead to an office where tickets were sold to us at a very reasonable price to enter the falls area – and although the whole process was very informal it was not at all complex. Everyone wants to make some money from tourists in South East Asia and evidently Lombok, despite its lack of touristic infrastructure, was no exception. So with the help of our host, who was able to explain to us what was actually going on when we were hustled away from the entrance to the park and ushered into the plain, make-shift office in the first place, we were able to discern which tickets we wanted and that scooter hire was in fact not by any means necessary. Then we paid the small fee (maybe $5AUD each), pocketed our flimsy tickets, dodged the guides waiting around the entrance gate and began our trek – a short and tiresome trek of muddy hills and troughs. And a mere 30 minutes or so later we arrived at one of the most eden-like sites I have ever seen. Benang Kelambu waterfall. Our troubles were immediately worth it.

This wasn’t just one colum of plunging water as we had found in Bali. It was a whole wall of glimmering water that fell from a long, lush stretch of rock. A living breathing wall of water. A perfect contrast of still green and falling silver. And at the base was no muddy pool full of tourists, but a crystal clear, gently rippling pond through which a universe of coloured pebbles were clearly visible below the surface. And this perfect pond fed into another small fall, which fed into another small fall… it was a terrace! An eden-like terrace of gentle giants. So pure and natural and untouched and empty.

We gladly bathed beneath the two lower terraces with great leisure and hobbled and skipped across the pebbles between the ponds as we pleased, bathing not only in the cold mountain water but also in the serenity of this far away and foreign place. And only after an hour or so of this peaceful exploration did we allow our host to lead us off the basic paths that led alongside the terraces to find yet more hidden falls amongst the trees. We showered then with thin, sparkling falls that disappeared over rock faces several stories above us. And finally, urged away only by the knowledge that there was more of this island to see, we eventually returned to our muddy mountain path and re-ascended and re-descended back towards the car. We stopped in at 2 more falls along the way – standing testament to the continued beauty of this place.

And we even found an idyllic, hidden jumping-off point where we stopped for a few minutes to watch some braver tourists and one of our hosts friends jump over a rocky ledge into a natural pool several meters below. And after some time and convincing Sam decided it was ‘now or never’ and too flung himself to the depths. So we were both exhilarated and happily satisfied as we exited the area, piled back into the car and made our way slowly up the side of one of Lombok’s many mountains.

Soon we arrived at a concrete platform set hundreds of meters above sea level, at the top of a mountain, overlooking all of the wild beauty of Lombok below. Although I am disappointed to be unable to provide the specific name of this mountain, access was very easy by a sealed road which was lined with little fluffy monkeys lazing and grazing all along the way. And as we stepped out onto the viewing platform these timid monkeys were there to greet us, watching quizzically from a safe distance, happy to have their photos taken as they nursed their young and picked dirt and debris from one another’s coats. They were gorgeous.

But the view was even better. Thick green rainforest stretched beneath us as far as the eye could see. Over mountainscape and deep into valleys. And right there, right in the middle of it all, a small town was set into the greenery. No smoke, no smog, no noticeable traffic, no high rise apartment buildings, no sign of life as we city-dwellers know it. Only the presence of the little town in itself – comprised of a handful of small white buildings – gave any indication that people might be there.

And after an hour or so of gazing out and taking photos we joined our host and his friends in a local coffee. We sat down under a small concrete awning on woven mats on the mountainside and sipped more home grown, home roasted coffee from a cheeky young vendor who seemed to lure in all the boys with her beauty and banter. And we even took some time to climb a near by tree and get properly in touch with our wild monkey roots.
And then, after stopping to collect some freshly picked strawberries at the base of the mountain (unfortunately we arrived out of season and couldn’t partake in an ‘all you can eat’ deal) it was already time to start heading home. The days are never long enough.

We settled back into our comfy Lombok dwelling for one final night. We showered, like the locals – with a bucket at a well. We ate, like the locals – a meal of rice, tempeh (holy damn I LOVE tempeh!) and spicy tomato. We lazed, like the locals – quietly watching the evening descend. And we slept, like the locals – surrounded by the night time sounds of clicking insects, cooing chickens and rustling branches.


Arriving to the magical countryside of Lombok

I was sure from the outset that one week in Indoneisia was never going to be enough time, but am surprised to find myself now believing that we did manage to get a pretty decent taste of Bali (where we spent 4 days) and the Gilli Islands (where we spent 2 days). If anything, given another chance, I’d maybe add just one more day to Bali so that I could see the national reserve at the far West of the island. But I am surprisingly satisfied. Despite the fact that generally I’m the type of traveler who always wants ‘one more day’.

In Lombok however our time was definitely, definitely not enough. Although, then again.. perhaps it was the lack of time we had  (only really one full day and 2 nights) that preserved and embelished everything in such a magical haze. Lombok was amazing.

We arrived in the late afternoon having caught a very local longboat from Gilli Air to Lombok (it seriously felt like we were the only Western, non-muslim people on the boat) and then a private taxi to our AirBnB accomodation in the rural countryside of Nusa Tenggara Barat. We had very little trouble finding our accomodation thanks to the help of one of Gilli Airs lovely locals – who prearranged our boat and taxi and was on the phone during our travels to help our driver find his way. And when we did arrive it was to an amazing reception!

We disembarked our taxi, stepping out onto a gravel and dirt road lined on one side by continuous rice fields and on the other by a little local housing complex that would soon become our home. And really my use of the words ‘housing complex’ in this instance are only loosely fitting. What this really was, was a collection of simple houses or rooms that squatted together around a central, open sided eating hut (like a permanent marquee) that served, it seemed, as an all round meeting spot and place to gather for the people who resided here.

So we carried our few belongings down a short, steep driveway and dumped them in the small quarters that we had been delegated and sat for a while in our wee living room making small talk with our host. While outside our door, crowding the small, central hut were a bunch of curious onlookers. Here to see the strange Western giants.

And before long my curiosity got the best of me. Upon seeing some of the smaller members of our fan-group plucking chickens from their pecking about the grounds and holding and petting them in an impossibly domesticated manner, I ventured outside to find out whether or not the small hens would be so calm with me. And surely enough as soon as we showed some curiosity everyone was excited to participate. Before long the four of us stood swamped with chickens – with everyone picking them up and thrusting them towards us so that they could take pictures and laugh at how amused we were by the novelty of holding a hen.

It was gorgeous.

And soon we were directed to the back of a small ute for an evening tour that would take our breath away. In the open tray of the truck Martyna, Sam, Casey, Agung (our host) and I nestled in awed silence. We drove through rice fields and county roads, passed waving locals who would double take and stare at our pale skin in disbelief. We drove by small children on scooters making their way home for the night and a mosque of people in prayer – from which two cheeky ladies were momentarily distracted as we drove passed in our Western garb. And we paused beneath the silent mass of mountains that dominate the centre of this small Island as the sun set. We stood on the tray of our island ute with a heavy peace settling over our shoulders, while our host smoked and chatted quietly with a group of onlookers that we had collected along the way. And upon asking what was growing by the roadside we were inundated with handfuls on long string beans, that I happily munched as we continued on our way.

On our first night in Lombok – a night of absolute, deep, dark peace – we made a silent trail through the scrub. Listening and feeling and breathing and watching as the island passed around us. Opened itself to us. Rice fields lying in muted wisdom. Trees reaching out to brush our sides and determine our wills. Nature screaming, but stiffled. The chirps of night time. The whispers of dusk. A heavy beauty. A perfect night.

Our time in Lombok had just begun.

Gilli Air – A tiny tropical paradise

Catching a “fast boat” from Bali to Gilli Air was easy. At the cost of only $25(USD) per ticket – which included the taxi to the small port town of Padangbai – we were sorted. We even managed to purchase tickets from our AirBnB host, saving us the hassle of having to ‘shop around’.

We departed Denpasar early (waking around 6am) and made it to Padangbai within 2 hours – a wee maritime town which in itself was a pretty cute little spot, with a small selection of food and coffee vendors and the crow of roosters filling the early morning air. And having arrived early, we sat beneath a tree for an hour or so with some snacks (sweet potato chips, peanut flavoured biscuits, fresh bananas) that we purchased from a cheeky little old lady called Mama San and watched the port come alive around us.

And soon there were tourists crowding the pier-side as our boat pulled in. So we were shuffled along with the crowd, lugged our bags through the tiny doorway of a reasonably sized speed boat and leapt into seats at the hurried instruction of crew members still awaking from a morning haze. And from the outset it was clear that these crew members, despite rushing all of the oncoming guests to seats, were super friendly and up-beat. And they even treated us to un-improvised song and dance as they threw the larger bags about the boat. Bringing immediate colour and flare into our day.

A smooth ride and less than an hour later we pulled into Gilli T – the largest and most touristic of the Gilli Islands. Which I’m proud to say was not our stop. Some guests jumped off, some guest jumped on, and then we continued on to Gilli Air. And here, we did disembark. To our little island paradise for the next 2 days.

It is possible, we found out, to walk from one side of Gilli A to the other in about 30 minutes. All the while along sand and gravel roads, to the sound of the ringing carriage bells of the horse drawn transport there.

Gilli Street.jpg

We spent our first day meandering about beneath tropical fauna, indulging in a quick snorkeling dip, lying at a beach-front bar with beer and milkshakes and beautiful food. Relaxing. Chatting with the oh-so-friendly island locals. Sussing out a snorkeling trip for tomorrow. Dozing.

Gilli Island Bay.jpg

Gilli Air is beautiful. The locals are some of the loveliest people you will ever meet. And despite its small size and general lack of activities, I am so, so glad we stayed there.

But on our second day we did pick up the pace a little – we headed out for a day long snorkeling trip. Awaking at our leisure we ate a light breakfast and then met the long boat which would take us snorkeling on the beach front at around 10am. We were supplied with snorkels and masks and fins (which we all later rejected) and sailed off into the open ocean.

Snorkeling boat.jpg

For only 100,000 Rupiah (about $10AUD) we were taken to four different snorkeling spots around the Gilli Islands – starting just off the beach of Gilli T and spending most of the day closer to Gilli M. And we decided that Gilli M (Gilli Meno) had the best waters – gracing us with turtles, hoards of fish and even some multi-coloured coral. The latter of which was sadly omitted from the oceans surrounding the Gilli Islands due to chronic bleaching.. A fact which deeply depressed and also fascinated me during our swims. To find so much life and also so much death coexisting in these waters set mixed emotions swirling in my mind. I know too little about the death and bleaching of coral in international waters. But what I do know is devastating. And to think too long about it, as with any great issue facing humanity today (because there are so many), would have been to ruin an otherwise brilliant day.. So I swam on.. Noting in my mind another injustice done by the human species to the very earth that allows us life.. aware so starkly of how my physical motion of swimming past the destruction so matter of factly metaphored rather perfectly humanities continued negligence towards the earth..

Why is it that the world over I find tragedy?

… None the less.. the snorkeling trip was great. Definitely I would recommend it to any visitors to the Gilli Islands. The sheer variety and number of fish life found in the clear waters here was dazzling. Every colour of the rainbow could be found, if not in the coral, then in the multitude of alien fish forms hiding beneath the surface of the sea.

And by the time our long day was over and our short two days in the tropical Gilli Islands were done, we were taken. Collectively in love with the slow pace and gentle nature of the place. As always it was with reluctance that we departed. Heading onwards, again by boat, to the much larger neighbouring island of Lombok.

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.

White water rafting in Bali

On our third day in Bali, after one day spent with a private driver hopping from spot to spot and one day spent on scooters out in the tropical elements we decided we were ready to slow down a little bit and enjoy some idle time.

..So we booked white water rafting tickets. Which may sound like a bit of a joke but which actually did signal a slower day for us, as we planned to do only this one activity.

So we were collected by a private taxi at around 8am and driven to the headquarters of a large white water rafting company which our Airbnb host had arranged tickets for us with. We handed over some cash, signed a waiver, locked away our belongings, collected life jackets and helmets and then we’re hurriedly shuffled off into a second taxi with an Asian couple (who would be joining us on our down-river journey) and were off again – this time headed for the rapids!

Only a short ride later we pulled up to a beautiful, quiet little rice field where we were handed yet more gear – this time oars – and then marched off through rice fields towards our start point. We descended some 400 stairs from the edge of the rice paddies down a ravine towards the river, growing steadily tired in the thick, tropical heat with all of our gear. But as far as I was concerned, after having seen locals much smaller and older than ourselves carrying rafts about on their heads, we had no right to complain. However by the time we made it to the river side we none the less were all dripping with sweat and happy to rest and wait a moment while our guide sorted out which vessel would be ours.

And as we stood waiting I made sure to drill Sam and Casey – who had both been white water rafting before – on how best to stay aboard and what to do if I fell out of the raft. And although I don’t think that at any point I felt anxious about the upcoming experience, I did wonder whether or not our guide would find it appropriate before we left to give us some form of safety briefing.. Which fortunately he did.

Once on board we were given a short list of simple commands – ‘forward’, ‘backward’ and ‘stop’ for rowing. ‘Left’ and ‘right’ for leaning directions and ‘bang bang’ for when it was time to brace. We were told not to attempt standing up if we fell out, and we were ready to go!

We sailed downstream over some decent rapids and some more mild. We were shoved over huge rocks, bumped into cliffs and splashed and flooded. We rowed hard and braced hard and sometimes were almost tossed to the water. But we had an awesome time! And in between rapids we drifted beneath a beautiful, wild canopy of trees and hanging lianas. We spotted monkeys, bright blue kingfishers and large lizards, we stopped at a small waterfall to bathe and we enjoyed cheeky chat with our guide.

It was an experience which exceeded my expectations – especially in regards to how well it was all organised and how professionally the whole thing came off. And when we reached the end of our journey I was very reluctant to climb back ashore. But alas, our ascent back up the 400 steps was inevitable.

And once we were back at headquarters we were pleasantly surprised with towels, showers and a buffet lunch! – which was delicious.

And then, with no plans for the rest of the day we asked the taxi driver who had bought us here to drop us off at the Ubud tourist markets instead of back to our Airbnb, which he was very happy to accomodate. And we spent the rest of the afternoon strolling the busy marketplace and bartering lightly with locals over the few items that caught our eye. I must say though, after 2 days travelling through rice fields staying in a local village and visiting beautiful locations too far afield for the average tourist, being in the Ubud markets, for us, was quite a shock. Of course we had made trips into Ubud for dinner and dance previously, but in the light of day it was clear that Ubud was a town completely overtaken by tourism. It lacked a lot of the sincerity and beauty of the the Bali that we had experienced up to this point. And while most tourists base their stays in Southern Bali, in towns like Kuta and consider Ubud to be an ‘off the beaten track’ experience, I was glad that we had based our stay further afield and we’re able to see Ubud for the true touristic hive that it is.

And beyond the markets we achieved nothing but relaxation. With some victories won in the market place and a small collection of new items to take home we hailed a taxi and returned to our room to lie beneath the fan and overlook the rice fields one final time. Tonight we would move to Denpasar to meet with another friend (Martyna). And from there we would really experience the tourism trap.

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.