Two days ago I woke up with the roosters (not an unusual occurrence when there are so many around), packed my bags, and hopped in a shuttle bound for the top of one of Bali’s mountains. I was joined by a couple from Canada on their honeymoon (it was their one-week anniversary) and a gang of ladies from Australia out having some girl time. Together we rode, past terraced rice paddies (we stopped for a picture) and various plantations. Breakfast was held overlooking a crater lake and streaks of blackened earth folding over the side of Mount Baktur, Bali’s active volcano that erupted most recently in 2000.
From there, we stopped at a plantation to sample various Balinese coffees and teas and to learn about useful plants as well as the source of the expensive “Lewak coffee.” Lewaks, mongoose-like mammals, are voracious consumers of the finest coffee beans from right off the tree. The beans are digested and passed still whole, coming out looking less like a Snickers and more like salted peanuts. Then they are washed and ground into coffee so good it has to be tasted twice. I did try it and there was nothing unusual as far as the taste is concerned.
From there we finally got a move on with the bike ride. We passed through villages, forests, and rice paddies. All along the way children would call out “Hellooo!” and wave. Our cadre of cyclists responded in turn. The whole ride was mostly downhill, though there were a few groan-worthy ups for this native flat-lander.
Afterwards, I was dropped off at the monkey forest and left to face my fate. Before coming here I saw the Amazing Race episode that took place in Bali and felt compelled to see the place for myself. The Monkey Forest really is a lovely little preserve, where the drone of scooter traffic is greatly reduced by the mossy trees. The monkeys themselves are amusing and seemingly easily amused. I feared for my person (espcially my glasses) but since I carried no food I was of no interest to them. That is, until it started to rain at which point I took shelter under a banyan tree with the critters. What a situation: to be taking shelter with a family of distant relatives. They carried on with their business, though after a bit one of them did come next to me to look and start to unbutton the pockets of my khakis and paw at my bag. I tried to push his hand away, which was met with bared teeth. Friendly as they seem, these are still wild animals. I moved along despite the rain.
That was my great excitement on Monday. That, and the adventure of finding a place to stay. My previous accommodation held my bags after check-out, and I was not able to retrieve them until after dark. Then, bags in tow, I walked in search of a place. In addition to the people that always ask “taxi? Taxi? You need taxi?” now there were people plying me with “room? Room? You need room?” Some offered both. I declined and forged on, knowing that there was a bounty of guesthouses off the main road. I took a quiet alley and came upon an entrance to two places to stay. A person was coming out of the left side, so I chose that way and found a place to my liking.
The interior had rattan walls, which gave the feeling of being in an actual Balinese home. It was a modest room, with touchy lightswitches and a one-speed ceiling fan (slow with no A/C to help it along) but I liked it nonetheless. Especially nice was reclining on the porch outside, listening to the family chatter with the music of a gamelan drifting into the compound from a nearby dance. Add in the sound of crickets and a gentle rainfall and it was perfectly lovely. Mama-san’s banana pancake the next morning sealed the deal.
Alas, I was to stay only one night as I had a ticket booked for Sanur the next day. Sanur is a beach town just east of Denpasar, the capitol, from which ferries run to a number of nearby islands. Another girl in the shuttle was going on to Nusa Lembongan, one of said islands, so on a whim I decided to follow suit.
The ferry was built like a Balinese fishing boat, canoe-like in shape with hollow poles stretching out on both side for stability. This was the slow boat, but the trip was lovely. En route I spoke with another passenger, Sylvie, who is from Argentina but has flawless English and teaches the language (in addition to Spanish) in various locales. We got on well and decided to share accommodations upon landing on the island. Like me, she is traveling alone and following whims and the advice of other travelers. A friend of hers recommended Bunga Bungalows, which is where we are staying now.
Today was spent in search of a nice beach. Lembongan does not have stretches of pristine sand. In fact, much of the sand is quite rough with pieces of rock and coral thrown in for good measure. People spend as much time harvesting seaweed as they do catering to tourists, which is a refreshing change.
During our trek to find a decent beach, we met up with two American girls (one of whom is an English teacher at the end of her contract here in Indonesia) and decided to charter a boat for snorkeling. What a splendid idea! The wonder below the water really makes up for the lack thereof at the edge of it. Little pink fingers swayed in the current. Neon green shapes held their ground. Angelfish hung along the bottom in pairs or threesomes, parrotfish nibbled the coral with audible clicks. At the border of the reef and open water a veritable highway of blue fins streamed north. Yellow trumpet fish came quite near, though not near enough to blow. The colors and numbers of fish were amazing.
So perhaps we didn’t find an island paradise, but what a substitute!
And now the sun has set and I am winding around the shacks near the water. Maybe there will be somewhere with ice cream in my path – fingers crossed on that one!
Tomorrow will be another day on the island. Then Friday I will catch a ferry to the mainland (or main island, depending on how you look at it) to spend a few more days near the water before heading out. I haven’t booked anything yet, but chances are good that I will be flying to Kuala Lumpur for a taste of Malaysia before pressing onward. The amount of time it takes to get a visa for Vietnam will determine how long I will stay on the peninsula.
But that is all in the seemingly distant future. For now, ice cream is a more pressing matter.