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 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 debries 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 if 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.


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.

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.