“Stuff your eyes with wonder, he said, live as if you’d drop dead in ten seconds. See the world. It’s more fantastic than any dream made or paid for in factories.”
It’s been only a few days since Genny and Andy arrived and began helping me explore topside Bali, but we’ve seen and done so much that it’s hard to believe it’s only been that long. On Saturday our driver, Eka, and I picked them up from the airport and we headed to Kuta, where we would spend two nights to let them get acclimated to the time zone and new surroundings before heading off to Ubud. I hadn’t been to Kuta yet, but it was basically what I’d expected from what I’d read–the classic hustle and bustle of a touristy beach town. As soon as we set foot on the beach, we were swarmed with vendors offering to braid our hair or sell us any variety of goods. Still, we were glad to have a full day there, as we made the most of our time in the spa and relaxing at the hotel. We also made our way over to the beach to watch the sunset. But one day was more than adequate and we were ready to escape the commotion and explore the rest of what Bali had to offer.
Early Monday morning Eka picked us up and we set off to Ubud, where we would spend the next three nights. We started off with a bike tour through the countryside surrounding Ubud, and all of us agreed it was one of our favorite days. It was almost entirely downhill (the only way I’d actually agree to get on a bike in hilly Bali). We were picked up at the hotel and dropped at the owner’s home, where we were treated to Balinese banana pancakes and tea before starting off on the tour. Our driver then took us to one of the many coffee tasting venues in the surrounding hills, where they would show us how the famous Luwak coffee–which is made from beans that have been eaten by a mongoose, digested, and pooped out. The nickname is “catpoochino” and it was apparently featured as such in the movie “Bucket List.” It was interesting to see how the coffee was made, and although we didn’t taste it (yet), we enjoyed trying the different coffees and teas.
We were then taking further uphill where we would begin our biking tour. Our first stop was a local “compound”–a family home into which we were invited to see how local people lived. Our guide explained that traditional families live all together and continue to build homes on the compound to fit the growing families. He explained that he lived with 35 family members in his compound in a nearby village. He told us that as the oldest, he would eventually get married and go off to buy his own land, while his younger brother would stay in the compound (joined by his wife whenever he got married) and take care of their parents. He explained that Balinese boys can never leave home because they are expected to stay and care for their families. He also told us that all of the compounds have a temple in the northeast corner of the property, pointing toward the highest mountain in Bali.
We then continued on our bikes (which admittedly had seen better days) through the rice patties, and eventually we stopped to watch the rice being planted. The rice patties are full of calf-deep water, and the seedlings are placed quickly into rows. It was quite impressive how quickly the workers moved through the murky water.
Our next stop was a local school, where we were invited to come in, say hello to the children, and take pictures. The children were quite eager to pose and wave for the cameras. It always interests me to see that wherever you go in the world, kids are pretty much the same–happy, goofy, and playful. We also heard singing from other schools as we passed by, and during our time here, we’ve seen several groups of children marching in groups through the streets. Eka explained to us that they are preparing for the annual independence day celebration on August 17.
We ventured on and stopped eventually at another rice patty–this time observing many people were busy cutting the rice stalks. Our guide explained that only a few of these people were associated with the land. The rest would come help cut the rice stalks (which are not useful), and in exchange, they could take them to feed their cattle. After a busy day of biking through the rice patties, we were taken once again to the owner’s house, where we were treated to a delicious buffet lunch full of scrumptious local foods–although we were told the guides had a separate meal to eat that was spicier and therefore more to their liking! We then returned to our hotel, where we relaxed for the rest of the evening and had an early night to get ready for an early morning to follow.
The next day was our much-anticipated hike of Mount Batur. We were collected at 2 AM and taken to a small restaurant up the mountain, where we were treated to the usual welcome breakfast of banana pancakes and tea. We were then taken to the base of Mount Batur where we’d begin our climb, with the goal to get to the top by sunrise. It was a pretty steep climb in light of the guides’ speed, so none of us made it to the “tip top,” but we all found beautiful vantage points from which to watch the sunrise. While the fog the whole way up made me very nervous the climb would be for naught, the clouds parted long enough to give a breathtaking view of Lake Batur and the surrounding mountains.
After sunrise, I was given yet another breakfast (this time a boiled egg and banana sandwich) and taken to visit the volcano crater. I wondered what the loud shrieks and yelling were from, but I soon discovered the predictable source when I arrived–monkeys eager to jump all over tourists for a bite of food. Vendors sold bananas you could use to coax a monkey onto your shoulder, but I declined. After all, monkeys are wild animals with very large teeth (which I think many tourists too often forget). Nonetheless, I was wearing a backpack, and an uninvited monkey made it his perch for a few seconds, hoping he could open it and find some snacks. When he found I had nothing to offer, he hopped off, and sadly I have no photo proof this actually happened. After saying goodbye to the monkeys, I headed down the mountain on the return journey. It had been dark when we ascended, and the gorgeous vistas all along the mountain made the descent much more enjoyable. (Not to mention the fact that I was not huffing and puffing the whole way this time–although my knees seemed to enjoy the ascent much more.)
That afternoon after a bit of a rest, Andy and I headed over to the sacred monkey forest in Ubud. Not being a fan of monkeys, Genny stayed back and had more R&R at the hotel. I hadn’t been entirely certain the monkey forest was a must-see, having seen plenty of monkeys in my life, but I was so glad I went. It really was interesting seeing them all scampering about among the tourists and temples. Plus, the statues alone were worth the visit–it’s always intriguing to see religious sculptures and wonder what they mean. (Particularly a very unusual erotic statute of a woman and a snake.) And while we could not enter the temples, it was fascinating to see the many women in traditional Balinese dress carrying offerings in baskets on their heads to worship. Again, we declined to feed the monkeys. None jumped on me this time, but one did use Andy as a jumping off point from tree to tree. And they provided plenty of entertainment while we watched, including one that splayed out and slid right down a banister. We also watched several grooming displays, which demonstrated that monkeys certainly have no sense of modesty.
As we headed back to the hotel, I noticed the kites flying over Ubud. Kites are ubiquitous in Bali, and it’s amazing how high they often soar. In the skies behind our hotel, there were dozens dotting the sky.
The next day Eka picked us up again for a tour of Ubud and the surrounding area. We first visited a Hindu temple, where we were given sorongs to wear to maintain respect for the temple. We enjoyed being able to go inside and see the beauty of the decorations throughout the temple. Most other temples are closed to visitors. (This one also had some closed areas, but it was mostly open.)
After the temple, we spent most of the day visiting various artisans and learning about the crafts. We saw a silver shop, a batik factory, and wood carvings. We weren’t allowed to take photos inside, but the variety and complexity of all of the art was stunning. We were, however, able to photo the artisans at work, as well as various works-in-progress.
We wrapped up the day with another visit to a coffee tasting–decided we needed to take some luwak coffee home as gifrts. We also decided to finally give it a try. I am not a fan of coffee and I was not a fan of this, but I could tell it was a bit milder than normal Balinese coffee. I’m still glad I tried it, though, so at least I can say I’ve had the famous (or perhaps infamous) “catpoochino.”
The next morning it was time to head out of Ubud and to the Munduk area. We first stopped at another rice patty Eka told us we should visit. Before we arrived, we didn’t know how it would be different than the others we’d seen along various roads, but when we got there, we discovered what must one of the most picturesque valleys in Bali. The terraced hillsides surrounding the jungle valleys made for some truly spectacular views. And although we saw mostly muddy water in the rice patties with no evident growth, we were told rice is still planted there, and they were currently preparing the soil.
Those views continued as we ascended into the central mountains. Although it was a bit foggy, we could still see the terraced hillsides below jungle-cloaked hills. Eventually, we arrived at Pura Ulun Danau Bratan–a temple on lake Bratan, surrounded by the mountains. It was smaller than I imagined, but lovely and surrounded by beautiful flowers. All lakes have temples in Bali, but not all are as accessible as this one, so we appreciated being able to see it without another lengthy trek.
We finally headed back to our hotel, where we sat and watched the sunset while listening to the music from ceremonies at nearby temples in the valley, and prepared for the rest of our explorations.
This is once again just a sampling of photos from this part of the trip. Click here for the full Bali gallery, or click on any image to view the full-size version.