Saturday, 9 January 2010


How impressive the rolling hills were: each one seemed to be competing to be the highest, or the greenest. A virtually untouched paradise awaited us and we were certainly not disappointed! Most significant of all was the active volcano, Mount Agung, standing high in pride with its blend of luscious forest working up to the barren peak. It was incredible to know that this volcano erupted fairly recently in 1963, killing thousands of Indonesian nationals, and that the powerful force of the eruption blew 126 metres off the top of Agung.

These days, the soil evidently remains extremely fertile and accommodates for a huge species diversity of both flora and fauna. We mostly gazed over stretches of rice paddies, terraces and banana plantations when travelling in between villages, and the small and tranquil roads were almost like tunnels of intense greenery. It is not only a case of every cloud has a silver lining here, but it is more common to see that every road has a green lining!
Our first impression of the Island of Bali was just magical. Balinese women greeted us on either side of the pier whilst throwing colourful petals over our heads, and to really put the icing on the cake, a traditional Balinese Gamelan orchestra created unique masterpieces of music, involving the crashing of huge gongs and metallophones. Behind all this was the everyday life of the locals who hassle tourists to buy sarongs, watches or sunglasses (usually), or alternatively many are swarming around sightseers and offering transport at a “good price”.

We noticed small homemade baskets, which were about the size of ashtrays, dotted every now and then in front of some doors and in the middle of pavements. These were filled with leaves, petals as well as a few rice grains and we quickly learned that these are offerings to their Hindu gods, namely Shiva, Krishna and Vishnu.
As we continued to stroll down the winding streets and alleyways of Padangbai, we could get a feel for the real street life, complete with happy children at play and wandering stray dogs. Down a narrow alleyway a boat builder was working on a thin tree trunk which he was fashioning into a hollowed-out outrigger boat, just like the hundreds we found on the beach at Padang Bai. He greeted us cheerily before we moved onwards.
Taking a hike out of town led us up a hill on the main road up into the mountains, where we found an old man struggling with his cart, laden with banana tree trunks to be used as pig-fodder. We decided it would be only polite to help him with his heavy load upwards to his animal enclosure. Boy, was he strong: his ancient frame still clad with the muscles from a generation of hard labour. We left him bemused by our efforts!

On several corners and alongside many walls were cockerels imprisoned in basket-like cages made of palm leaves. We discussed and concluded that a lot of the locals would be eating well that night. How wrong we were! A voice behind us shouted, “Cockfighting!”
We looked at him and asked what this was about, and he said that at 3:00pm there was to be a fight between the cockerels, where the locals bet money on which ones will win. The cockerels are provoked into fighting one another as the people hit their feet with sticks; the reasoning is probably to make the cockerel think that it was the other who pecked him, thus initiating an aggressive response. Although this may sound inhumane, it’s an integral part of their lifestyle; fortunately, rain stopped play.

The cockfighting wasn’t on our schedule anyway. Finding a traditional Balinese village was priority, and that we did. Entering the tucked-away village of Tenganang was like stepping back in time. Cobbled streets with enclosures up both sides and thatched barns in the middle, with the village meeting-place at the head of the ascending street. We came with sleeping bags intending to stay the night, but the meeting-place wasn’t the most hospitable of floors to doss down upon, and the animal life of the village was already showing and unhealthy curiosity in our presence. The chickens were friendly enough; the geese slightly territorial; the herd of sacred cows had no intention of budging; the dogs were already sniffing around our ankles. Let’s look at the traditional weaving, take in the temples in the compound with each building bedecked with an elaborate roof, chat to the calligraphers, then head for the coast!

We managed to blag a ride to Candi Dasa, another nearby village, which was little more than a road running parallel to the coastline, housing a selective array of restaurants, small hotels and bars down either side. We remained alert when we noticed that the gentleman who gave us a ride down to this village was completely blind in one eye. Nevertheless his driving could not be faulted. After all, he didn’t hit anything.
The general atmosphere appealed to us as this was what the locals described as real Bali, as opposed to having gone towards the western side of the Island. We asked our driver to help us arrange accommodation in a homestay, which he agreed to do. He pulled up at the side of the road and shouted to one of his mates on the street and was pointed in the direction of a homestay possibility. This however was full so he told us “You will find something…”
Was this his way of saying that he could no longer be arsed searching for an unforgettable all-Balinese experience? Yeah. It was. So we were dropped off in the street and left to our own devices. And what great devices we have! We stumbled upon a hotel that did not offer rooms, but even better, whole cottages! Each dwelling had comfortable beds with shower rooms down a few steps. I bet people pay £56.93 per night for this kind of thing when arranging it through a travel agent, whereas we got it for £8.50 or so.
Once we had settled in, we took our packed lunch (extra sandwiches that we had made earlier on the ship and wrapped up during breakfast) and explored. We made a beeline for the beach and walking past all the cottages, it felt like being in the jungle, what with the high humidity level and the richness of plant species. This WAS the Balinese paradise you can imagine when you close your eyes, and for now it was ours! Upon hitting the shore we talked to some locals for an hour or so whilst marvelling at the beautiful shoreline fringed with coconut palms. There is no beach left: some years ago the government exploded the coral reef to make cement for the hotel building programme, decimating the foreshore and leaving just volcanic pebbles. But it’s still a marvellous place. With a great bar and its own live band, tasty food and locals willing to open up to us the delights of East Bali, our watering hole for the night really got the party started. Ketut Surya, the talented guitarist from the band led us all in a unique version of “Bamboleo” and told us about his fantastic bike rides down the side of the volcano:
A pre-breakfast walk past the large temple in Candidasa to the lilypond with its lotus blossom set us up for a tasty snack accompanied by Kopi Bali, a rich coffee with plenty of sediment but lots of taste. The “Bemo” ride to Padang Bai was all set to be superlative value and an exciting journey: until a guy got on, together with three massive barrels of petrol. Have YOU ever travelled on a motorised incendiary bomb? Well, take it from us, it’s no great shakes… And then who would have guessed it, we find the Buddha Bar in Padang Bai, with its inviting blue lagoon-style swimming pool and swim-up bar. On this trip, some things just HAVE to be done: no negotiation. So we take a dip and some liquid refreshment, before preparing ourselves mentally for the next leg of this exploration of Indonesia: Komodo. Here be dragons!

1 comment:

  1. Sounding great boys. Just wait until you're really on your own!