On Sunday I hired Wayan, the driver, to tour me around some bits of Bali. Specifically I wanted to see a non-touristy beach, a lovely waterfall, and some temples.
Wayan suggested Bias Tugel. I looked it up and it looked perfect, relatively small and secluded without all the hustle and hype of the popular resort areas like Kuta and Seminyak. It’s about an hour east of Ubud, and I was a little nervous to be going ANY closer to Mount Agung aka the active volcano that almost made me cancel my trip. But it’s still a healthy distance from the evacuation zone, and the mountain has just been humming along quietly lately, and people in this area really aren’t that worried about it, so I basically just told myself to chill out about it.
What I didn’t realize is that the freakin’ mountain is so much bigger than everything else on the island that I’d actually be able to see it from the highway on the drive. So there’s that…
That’s a little steam puff coming out of the top, which it has been quietly venting for a while now. I watched it with awe and respect, and mentally asked it to stay calm please. I loved volcanoes as a kid – I was fascinated by Mt. St. Helen’s – but I don’t really want to get mixed up with one. The volcano did nothing, so I am pleased that I did not anger it on this day.
First stop was Goa Lawah, better known as the bat cave temple. Because it is a temple in a bat cave. With bats hanging upside-down from the ceiling, occasionally swirling and circling over the ceremony below. Which I happen to think is pretty cool. The dark areas of the cave in the video below? That is ALL BATS.
As a Westerner I couldn’t go too close, which I was fine with since it was still close enough to learn that bats don’t smell too good. I guess bats must enjoy incense, because that temple has been there since the 11th century and they haven’t been smoked out yet.
Across the street locals were preparing for a procession leading from the sea to the temple, dressed in white lace and bright yellow.
We continued on to Bias Tugel, which is definitely off the beaten tourist track and around some pretty narrow winding roads. You end up at a little ticket booth (oh yeah, everything has a small admission fee, this is a tourism industry island) and go for a mild hike and then ta-da, you’re on the beach.
It’s splendid. Such a lovely white sand beach, so idyllic that I had to come to terms with the fact that I was even there. It’s been years since I was on a genuine tropical beach and part of me was just, how is this my life right now?
I waded in to my knees but the waves were coming in pretty strong, and though I was hankering for a swim I wasn’t sure enough of my swimming strength to go in without a friend around. I rented a sun chair and umbrella, did a little reading and dozing, and watched people wandering by. There was a handful of local boys roughhousing and tumbling with the water and a handful of tourist couples with Go-Pros getting themselves wiped out by the bigger waves and coming up sputtering and hooting. There was an older Italian-looking guy with a Speedo, potbelly, and man-bun parading sternly up and down the shore, back and forth, back and forth. Grim-looking ferries and colourful tourist boats drifted past. There were a few hawkers trying to sell drawings or coconuts or whatever, but Balinese hawkers are very mild and gentle once you’ve dealt with them in India; here, a friendly but firm “no thank you” is plenty.
I spent about an hour here and then headed off for a bite of lunch at Padangbai, one of the main hubs for snorkeling and diving, more busy and touristy. Then it was back towards Ubud, and Tegenungan Waterfall. Here you head down a steep concrete staircase to the base of the river. You can swim if you like, but the waterfall itself is roped off. The water didn’t appeal to me here, but the mist felt wonderful in the heat.
I wanted to check out the wood carvings in Mas Village, and Wayan picked a large shop with a few guys carving out front, and several rooms of all sorts of wood carvings to browse there. There’s some lovely detailed stuff. Nothing jumped off the shelf at me, I’m not in souvenir- or art-collecting mode yet (and would have to figure out what to do with them anyway, what with not having a home to decorate at the moment) but it was nice stuff, wider range than the usual tourist fare.
Last stop of the day was Goa Gajah, or Elephant Cave (though sadly there were no elephants perched over this temple). Also from around the 11th century, this temple sprawls over a wider area than Goa Lawah, including paths through lush greenery, streams, and ponds. Sarongs are required and you can rent them at the entrance, so all the tourists are marked in pink and blue and they wander the grounds. You can enter the cave through a gaping carved mouth, and you’ll find some idols including Ganesh and Shiva linga. Along the trail, an elderly Balinese woman offers a blessing ceremony; she’ll sprinkle you with holy water, place some rice on your forehead, and put a flower behind your ear. (Pro tip: don’t decorate your nightstand with the flower unless you’d like to see a highway of ants leading to and from it the next day.)
Monday turned out to be a bit of a write-off. My plan was to go horseback riding in the morning and then go to the “office” and get stuff done in the afternoon. I’d booked a two-hour ride and was very excited about it. But when I woke up this morning, I had a looming sense of UH OH in my guts and was feeling nauseous and weak, not just indigestion. I tried to rally, but decided that it was not a good time to be on a horse for two hours in the heat, and had to postpone. I wasn’t sure if this was the start of something that could shut me down for a few days, but by the end of the morning I was mostly feeling okay again, if a little tender.
Then I tried to carry on with my plan for the afternoon, packed up and went to Hubud, and realized I’d left my laptop charger back in my room, so that put a limit on the amount of work I could actually get done there. After that I pretty much called today a mental day and wandered and rested and read. I took in a lot this weekend – I think my body and brain needed me to knock it off for a day! It’s occurred to me that I haven’t done a lot of focused meditation lately – I’ve been in motion, or writing about being in motion, rather a lot. I think things will slow down during the week anyway as I focus on work and go to a few little events here and there around town. But I’m glad I got out of town on the weekend though. I feel like I’ve seen a little bit more of what makes Bali Bali.