Finally, Bali. After 3 hours of sleep from Paul and I’s recent excursion to Singapore, we landed in Denpasar, the capital of this small, lush Indonesian island. My uncle flew with us on the flight from Malaysia, and after clearing customs and immigration, we entered out cab for a 2.5 hour to my uncle’s house.
Most tourists experience Bali through the wild bloodshot eyes of a buzzed Westerner dancing to Euro beats with sweaty Australians around them. However, my uncle and aunt have a home in the state of Karangasem on the far north-east side of the island. The provincial capital, Amlapura, is relatively close, making it “the city.” Out here, there are no tourists. The irregular Westerner that passes by on a motor scooter is someone that you want to talk to, the adventurous type. Out here, there is no English. There isn’t even Indonesian, only Balinese (which is really hard, because it is written with some crazy script that looks sort of like Thai while Indonesian is written with the Latin script). Out here, there is only…unspoiled tropical Eden…Bali.
There is no road to my uncle’s house – you have to walk among rice paddies to reach the entrance. From the airy covered rooftop, one can see the cerulean seas and the foggy peak island peak of Lombok in the east and hear the whistle of carrier pigeons framed against a dormant volcano in the west.
Paul and I spent our five days in Bali hiking, exploring, swimming, and of course, eating. With my uncle as a guide (who speaks the language), we trekked for hours among old Hindu temples and shrines. Of course there were no paths – we merely walked through rice fields and gentle streams. One day we climbed a 3,000 foot peak, one of the most sacred Hindu temples in Bali. We had to wear the sarong, the traditional Hindu kilt, while scaling this mountain (the mountain was hidden in a cloud, so the path was very slick). Women in sandals carried at least 50 lbs. of water and crackers on their heads while they used their hands to balance against the wet reeds growing alongside the stairs. On the way down, we each got on the back of a crazy Balinese motorcycle driver as they attempted to race the 5 km or so down the slope. Too…fast…too…many…turns!
Another day we went to a variety of pools. Tirta Gangga, literally meaning the “holy pool of the Ganges,” is a fresh water pool complex that used to be used by the medieval king. Surrounded by intricate statues and fountains, a koi pond, and Javanese bridges, we swam with large fish (that weren’t afraid of people) in the pool. Another one, just called Tirta (“holy pool”), could easily be at Angelina Jolie’s house in Maui. There are no signs to it – in fact, my uncle only discovered it a month ago by just jalan-jalan (Indonesian for “walking around”). As you are walking in a flat rice paddy, suddenly the ground gives way to a deep and incredibly tropical aquarium. This is Tirta. It really was like swimming in an aquarium. There are huge fish that scuttle among the pebble bottom as children and adults alike play in the literally crystal-clear water. Paul and I went back our final day, too.
Of course, we went to the beach. While the water isn’t as blue as the Caribbean, the atmosphere might make up the difference. Palm trees grow right up the edge, almost dangling their verdant arms into the persistent sea. Scores of narrow boats lined the shore; here, Balinese fishermen return in the morning and evening will a fresh catch of fish.
Our time in Bali was incredibly relaxing. I have never been somewhere where the people are so genuinely nice. It is possible some of these people have never seen a Westerner before. If you think about, if your job was to haul saw grass on your back all day and you have done that for decades and suddenly you see 3 Westerners walking down the street, you scream. And yes, they did. Several people screamed in joy when they saw us, so excited to shout “Allo!” at their rare guests. Rural Bali, not the Aussie/Euro crowd in Denpasar where 99% of all tourists hang, really was an experience unlike any other in the world.
To the west from my uncle's open-air second floor, the dormant volcano
To the east, rice paddies and the great blue Java sea
The Java Sea from the 2nd story
The closest road to my uncle's house in rural northeast Bali. From here you have walk 100m through rice fields. Very very very few tourists come here.
From the road. The red-roofed house on the right is my uncle's house from afar. Paul and I climbed one of those peaks in the distance, the site of one of the holiest Hindu temples in Bali
Tirta Gangga, the massive fresh water pool complex that used to be used by the medieval kings on the island
Descing into the pool complex. We swam all throughout here with fish. And yes, that's pretty much the only Westerner we saw.
Graceful statues line the pools
Medieval bridges fit for a king
Silly pig fountain
The main swimming pool. The water was nice and cool and there were small fish swimming inside. As shown, no tourists in what you would think would have many.
Paul and I in Tirta Gangga
A lot of our trails were like this, narrow strips of walkon-on earth next to old walls and rice fields.
A rare semi-paved path and a small dog. He was not nice.
Old buildings + someone's laundry out to dry set among pristine, perhaps the best in the world, tropical scenery
A nice home that my uncle and aunt used in their design of their current home. Great palms, too!
We were just jalan-jalan, an Indonesian term for "walking around." My uncle has explored these paths many, many times. We were on our way up to a good hilltop vantage point of the area. This was the typical path.
So much rice!
We saw hundreds of women carrying huge sacks of rice or containers filled with bottles of water of their heads.
Hello, little dog.
Hiking up a dry streambed
Another tropical view on our hike
Someone's home among the jungle brush
Entrance to the Hindu temple on the hill
Part of the Hindu temple, presumably to hold offerings
The view from the top of the hill
Me on the stairs going down
Ducks! Several hundred of them quacked as they watched us ambulate around their pen.
Returning to freshwater pool complex, Tirta Gangga, after an afternoon hike
Women washing clothes in a small channel
Traditional Balinese instruments
Me in front of tropical paradise
Coconut husks are used for fuel in rural Bali
Paul and I were able to attend a local Balinese festival courtesy of my aunt
The Hindu offerings. Lonely Planet is awesome, but those guys can't tell you how to get invited to a rural Hindu ceremony!
Walking around the offerings, throwing holy water as they pass
Crazy little kid didn't want to be part of the ceremony
Another shot of the offering. Yes, there is rice in the pig's butt.
Cock fighting is popular here. Here, razors are wrapped around the legs of the chickens.
Another of the Hindu ceremony
Leaving the Hindu ceremony, we explored nearby temples on our way to the shore
Ah, the beach. My uncle calls it "the secret beach," as there are very few people here, including the Balinese.
It reminds me of the Virgin Islands in the Caribbean
The length of "the secret beach"
Just walking about, jalan-jalan, in a rice field...
...and then suddenly the land gives way to a tropical pool, Tirta.
The water was literally crystal clear. In here, large fish swim among the bathers.
Paul and I were quite the attraction here at Tirta. Some of these people may have never seen a Westerner, so everyone was excited
Another view of little, but absolutely amazing, Tirta
Our final day, my uncle led Paul and I up 3,000 feet to one of Bali's most sacred Hindu shrines. Wearing the sarong on the mountain was required.
Built hundreds of years ago, the statues still show their intricate details
Balinese (in the fancy script) and Indonesian below it (in the Latin script). The sign says to leave donations here.
Much of the hike was like this...slippery stairs hidden in fog
Some construction work, apparently
The smoke from an offering and the fog mix lazily on the mountainside
I love this picture. A Balinese prayer flag at one of the offerings near the summit. At the top of this sacred mountain, people carry jugs in an effort to collect the holy water, one of the only places on the island where it can be found.
The path leading to the summit. On either side there are cliffs.
He was chasing me because I was eating rice in a banana leaf. Bad monkey!
Mysterious volcano + clouds
Another mysterious temple shot
Balinese ladders consists of narrow bands of bamboo barely wide enough for one foot!