As with everywhere you go, I arrived at Denpasar Airport in Bali with plenty of preconceptions about what was ahead of me and nearly all of them were proved wrong...but in a good way.
The first thing that hit me when I got out the airport was the crazy moped drivers (although, thankfully, metaphorically rather than literally!!); they were everywhere, fearlessly darting through all the traffic. The other thing was the relentless honking of horns from every vehicle on the road. Although I found by the end of the two weeks, it had become comforting and it sounded weird being driven from the airport in Borneo and no one honking their horn at each other!!
My first couple of nights were spent in Sanur. On the second evening I met the rest of my tour group and our leader, Shane. There were 13 of us in total although some were only doing Bali whilst the majority of us were doing Bali, Lombok and the Gili Islands. We had a real mixture of ages, nationalities and personalties but from the initial meeting they all seemed like a sound bunch. How wrong could I be, hey guys
Our first group
dinner was a sign of things to come when Ralf suddenly pitches back on his chair into the sand after the chair leg snapped off!!
We left for Kintamani first thing the next morning stopping at two temples on the way. At the first temple we had our first proper experience of the local sarong sellers. These ladies are persistent and top-class saleswomen; it didn't matter what excuse you came up with, they had an answer and they were also much more practiced in the art of haggling than most of us. "You want sarong?" became the most commonly heard phrase of the week, closely followed by "you want transport/taxi?"!!
Besakih Temple was more of a temple complex set over 3km and is considered the most holy temple on the island with the breathtaking backdrop of Mount Agung (the highest mountain on the island).The walk up the hill to get to it was our test run for our big climb the following day; if we found this difficult, we would be waving goodbye to climbing Mount Batur (a volcano and the second highest mountain on Bali) the following morning but everyone strolled up without difficulty.
From here we
Me at the sunrise point at Mount Batur
In true English style, I have a tankard of tea in hand!
drove to a beautiful lunch spot with views out over Mount Agung and then on to our home for the night, Kintamani. There wasn't much to do in Kintamani but admire the view out over Mount Batur and the lake below and get an early night in preparation for our 3am wake up call!
We were all up and raring to go, armed with torches, water and bags of enthusiam (well, maybe not!). Thank god for the torches because it was pitch black when we set off at 4am. The first part was a fairly flat walk along a sandy path before it started to ascend more steeply and turn more rocky. We had several local guides with us which meant everyone could go at their own pace. Stania and I made it up there with about half an hour to spare before sunrise, were greeted by the more speedy in the group and were rewarded with a steaming cup of tea which was closely followed by the rest of the group and Shane, bearing our breakfast! Unfortunately we were surrounded by cloud but it was a beautiful sunrise all the same. Next we walked up to the top
of the rim of the biggest crater (the highest point of the climb at 1717m) and then walked around the edge of the crater. We had been told it was narrow at points but I don't think any of us had anticipated just how narrow and with steep drops on either side. To descend this crater was a steep sand path which you sunk in to and the best approach seemed a cross between plodding and jogging although since I was wearing my trek sandals, this method filled them nicely!! After exploring the second crater and getting yet more, amazing panoramic views it was time to climb back down on wobbly legs; i think the climb down was as mentally demanding as the climb up was physically because of the concentration involved to get down without falling over, scraping yourself on the rock or twisitng an ankle! By 9 am we were all down again and ready to head back to the hotel for a well earned breakfast and shower before the 4 hour bus ride to Lovina (ie nap time!).
The first priority for lots of us on arrival in Lovina (after handing in laundry!) was to organise
a Balinese massage to soothe our muscles and minds. Monica, Mel, Stania and I went first; we were led to gazebos right next to the beach so laid down and could listen to the waves while the women worked their magic. I had to apologise to the poor lady about the state of my feet because they were still black from all the volcanic dust even after a good scrub in the shower. It seems that privacy is not an issue in Bali and it soon became clear that our bodies were going to be fairly exposed for all to see! This turned out to be the hot topic of conversation over dinner that night as all the people who'd gone at different times throughtout the day swapped stories!
The next morning saw Stania, Mel and I hiring a driver to take us to SingSing Falls and then the local hotsprings. We were slightly dubious after our driver phoned a friend to check there was water at the waterfall but all the same arrived at this house and "our guide" came out to take us to the falls. When asked if there was much climbing etc because we were
all in flip flops, he informed us it was only 10 minutes away. He showed us lots of local plants on the way and after about 5 minutes we got to these big stone steps which led on to a rockface we had to scale and then a bridge made from 3 bamboo poles and a bit of string. This brought us out to the "waterfall" which has been renamed tricklefall as it really was quite pathetic. The guide was very enthusiastic and kept asking if we wanted to take pictures so we got a couple whilst stifling giggles and then headed back to the car. Next stop was the holy hotsprings which were more as we'd expected and we spent a good couple of hours just chilling in the 3 pools of varying temperatures. The water was a murky pale green colour but we didn't think much of it until we noticed our fingernails were all stained orange. Later when we got back we also realised it had stained our swimwear and our skin; laying by the hotel pool drying off after a swim, I suddenly realised my towel was turning orange!! We concluded this must be the "holiness"
We had our dinner at a local ladies house who had prepared lots of traditional balinese dishes for us and put on a feast. The food was amazing and the lady lovely. They love their acoustic music in Lovina and on both nights were treated to lots of examples. Phuong even got to play bongos at one!
Next destination was Ubud. On the way we stopped at Pura Ulun Danu Braton Temple (a temple with another stunning backdrop set at the edge of a lake with a volcano behind) and Senang Hati (Happy Hearts foundation) which helps disabled people get an education and learn skills so that they can reintergrate into society. The kids there were all very pleased to see us and eager to show us their work. Our first afternoon in Ubud saw some of us just chilling by the pool and checking out some of the local shops (including an amazing gelato shop) before meeting the rest of the group for dinner. Ubud was also memorable as Stania and I got our very own open air bathroom; it had 3 normal walls and then nothing at the back until it reached the wall
of the next building and we could see the sky!!As soon as everyone found this out at dinner, there was a mass visit to check it out after dinner. As far as we know, it wasn't overlooked!!
Stania, Mel and I were booked in for white water rafting the next morning and headed of early to meet our guide, Bugis, and get kitted up. We then descended about 500 steps to get to the river before choosing our raft and setting off. We were the first people on the river that morning which was cool. The next two hours unfolded with much hilarity; seeing some beautiful carvings in the rocks, us all being dunked under waterfalls by Bugis, a leisurely, current assisted swim down a small portion of the river, me ending up in the river after coming out the raft, Bugis ending up in the river after Stania pushed him out...I have not laughed so much in a very long time. Having descended 500 steps at the beginning however, we also had to ascend 500 at the end!!
The afternoon saw us venturing up to the padi fields for a walk through and general nosy about, with
a long,lazy refuelling stop at Sari Organik for juice and an early dinner before heading back to see a traditional Barong performance. The heavens opened on our walk to the palace theatre and on this occasion we were very pleased to hear the words "you want transport?"! As we sheltered at the theatre, some of the others turned up in various states of bedraggledness before the performance. It was lovely to watch and the costumes were amazing but it was a little hard to follow at times and there were some heavy lids at points!
On our final morning as the original group, we boarded the bus and set of for our first temple of the day but ended up reaching it by foot when the bus 'conked out' about 30mins our destination. So we walked to the temple, explored and chilled there until our new bus and a very hot and sweaty Shane turned up! Next, we headed to Tanah Lot Temple which is the most photographed temple in Bali and is carved out of rock out in the sea. It was a very atmospheric place but the hoards of tourists kind of took away from that a
Suddenly we were back in Sanur and saying farewell to four of the group and welcoming in four new recruits. We all went out for a final dinner and everyone celebrated with a cocktail/Bintang or two.
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