4 Rounded Corners

The month of March brought a break to our Indonesian language classes, and offered some free time until family and friends were to arrive in early April. We were feeling the itch to go somewhere. Vietnam, Laos, and Sri Lanka were tops on our list, but each of those visits begs for more time than we had. Then we watched an amazing 5 part documentary made in the 1970’s called Ring Of Fire. It chronicles a pair of brothers’ decade worth of adventures through the far reaches of Indonesia. We highly recommend watching it. The result was a new found desire to explore Indonesia just as much as those other neighboring countries. And then it occurred to us to start with our own island first, because with the exception of 2 visits to the small fishing village of Padang Bai, we hadn’t been anywhere else in Bali during our 11 months here. And so it was settled: we loosely planned a clockwise journey around Bali, so as to be nearest the coast while driving on the left side of the road. And we’d mostly make things up as we went along.

Within our first hour, while passing through an especially busy village, our back tire went flat. The Gods were watching however, because this trouble occurred across the street from a repair shop. A new tire was in order, and an opportunity to speak Bahasa Indonesia to strangers. An hour later we were on the road again, feeling good. We headed due west until colliding with the Indian Ocean that slants northwest. We body-surfed and walked along the nearly deserted-yet-beautiful Balian shoreline and rented a raised thatched hut in which to call home for the night-and enjoyed a midnight downpour. We found dinner at a traditional parking lot-turned-evening food market, at which we drew many smiles and curious stares.

The next day we left the ocean and took what was probably our favorite drive of the trip (of many): a northern route that connects the southern coast to the northern one, via the central mountains. The road was well paved, with varied scenes of beauty and interesting small villages, usually centered around enormous, decorated Banyan trees. We stopped to watch rock carvers, and to visit a lovely waterfall that required a thick jungle hike through dense coffee, banana, and mango trees. But our hopes of exploring the mountainous 3 lakes area were dashed by heavy rains, so we moved on after 2 nights. But it struck us as a fantastic region to come back to during dry season. Our brief visit included seeing monkeys, bats, mist-covered lakes, hot springs, and a ceremony of hundreds of men and boys, walking through the streets of a small village.

From there we descended to the north coast, which we’d hug for most of the rest of the trip. Heading west at first, we could tell by the increasing number of mosques and Muslim dress that we were nearing the ferries to Java. We went as far as Pemuteran, in the Northwest corner of the island, where we spent 2 days snorkeling, before turning around and heading East. In a small harbor, Jennifer was pleased to find 2 distinctive Bugis boats from the island of Sulawesi (and where the phrase Boogie Man comes from). We snorkeled in several places, and most of them were typically otherworldly, stunningly beautiful experiences. (I’ll just say, that good snorkeling is such an easy way to have a profoundly beautiful experience). Along this stretch we also met several people whom we hope to meet again, especially Ibu Putu, who sells fruit, and her husband Gede who sells his hand-made jewelry in the relaxed fishing village of Lovina -where we liked swimming in the warm ocean waters at sunset.

We saw several memorable temples. Pura Dalem in Jagaraga was almost as interesting as our delightful, wrinkled, toothless, informative and excitable guide Ketut. And ancient Pura Maduwe Kewang intrigued us with it’s century-old homage to the first bicycle brought to the island (by the Dutch). And not to be outdone, we stumbled upon the Art Zoo, a sprawling, out-of-place studio-residence-garden of homo-erotic pop art overlooking the sea. Feeling like trespassers -and voyeurs-there wasn’t a soul in sight while we explored the fascinating grounds and artsy compound all alone. It’s owned by an American artist named Symon, who also runs a notable but less-spectacular sister studio back in our home neighborhood of Penestanan.

Mountainous inland roads offered Jennifer a chance to practice her motorbike skills, and gave me the welcomed opportunity to sit back and enjoy the beauty. We happened upon a small motorbike repair shop up there once, and had our 2 burned out headlights replaced. The group of young men were surprised and happy to see, oblige, and talk to us, and we all took photos of one another.

Most of our rooms were cheap and nice, and close to the water, and we only had trouble finding a room on one occasion. That was quite a search, almost worthy of its own blog post, and a bit nerve-racking into the night. But in the end, it landed us on a scenic spot right on the warm water, and the search included a sight that was among our favorite of the entire trip: the lights of a dozen small, late night-fishing boats clustered across a small, calm bay. In the morning, we enjoyed a warm dip in the sea before heading off.

Onward and Southeastward we curved, eventually down to Amed, which was busier than expected -hardly boring and barren as described by many. It was an easy place to relax, with rooms up in the hills, overlooking the sea. The snorkeling was best there, and one of our favorite spots was around a Japanese ship, sunk during WWII. Hovering over it was fascinating and eerie, but the fish and coral were spectacular. We also enjoyed some live music and dancing in Amed, and a shell museum. After 4 nights, we needed to go, but hated to leave the coast. It reaffirmed my sense that although Ubud has the most to offer us, I miss being close(r) to the ocean.

Our last 2 nights were spent in Tirtanangga, a short and beautiful drive inland from Amed, situated between the gorgeous coastal peaks and Bali’s mother volcano. Our favorite temple was there, situated high up in the mountains. Pura Lempuyang had a powerful presence and sense of profound worship. There are 7 temples there in total, 1700 steep steps apart, through a wild monkeyed forest. The rain kept us from seeing all but the first temple, but we shall return. On our final full day, we were lead on a long, hot, varied hike by elder Bapak Ketut, who could out walk us both. Afterwards, Jennifer and I made happy fools of ourselves by inner-tubing in the impressive, beautiful water palace pool just across the street from our room. The next morning, before we drove off, Bapak Ketut sold Jennifer one of his hand-made flutes, and gave her a lesson, and also gave us both a lesson in Bali sanskrit.

On the beautiful, winding ride home, we continued to see decorated streets and over-sized, monstrous, Ogoh-Ogoh’s being built within each village in preparation for Bali’s annual Nyepi event a week later. Sidemen village, in the heart of famously beautiful Sidemen road, was especially electric and all dressed up. It was an easy 3 hour ride home, and the end to an excellent adventure -one of our favorites. It greatly helped us understand our host island better, and to note several places worth returning to again -especially knowing that the motorbike is a viable way to get around the island. In the end, we drove 900 kilometers, or about 560 miles.

-matt

 

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2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Matt Colonell
    Apr 01, 2014 @ 15:19:05

    Great post, Matt!!! What a wonderful tour of the island, and just the kind of spontaneous adventure you (and Jen) love . . .

    Reply

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