01.07.2014 - 13.07.2014 30 °C
Bali is best known (at least in the UK) as beach holiday resort for sun-tanned, surfing Aussies, which holds true given the number of long-haired, tanned Aussies with surfboards we saw at the airport. However, this really only describes the southern beaches of Bali, we didn’t visit those parts, instead seeking experiences different from what we’ve had elsewhere (and we have done laid-back partying by the beach already, both in Thailand and the Philippines). Instead we headed to Ubud, known as the cultural heart of Bali. It is a spiritual town set amidst gorgeous green surroundings and has for a long time now been home to artists of various types. It is therefore filled with temples, art-galleries, craft shops, music and dance performances, plus a swathe of yoga retreats, health-food shops, cafes and the like.
Arriving in Bali late-ish we spoke to a few unofficial ‘taxi’ drivers (i.e. guys with cars who will drive you around for a negotiable fee) in the airport and managed to agree a reasonable price with driver who lives near Ubud anyway, after the official pre-pay taxi stand in airport quoted us almost double the listed price for the area (apparently we were going to the ‘other side’ of Ubud, further than the listed fee takes you, but we knew it was only around the corner from the centre!) Other than the annoyance with the taxi stand though we were soon v happy with Bali, even in the dark the drive was lovely with many beautiful buildings, temples and impressive statues on roundabouts.
We’d booked a place to stay since we were arriving late, and were again pleased with our Bali experience thus far. The bungalows we had booked into were set back from the road amidst a family home with lovely gardens, statues, ponds (plus many frogs and a nightly froggy chorus, ace!) and a v clean and pretty swimming pool. We happier still the next morning when we had our (included) breakfast, it was delicious, including a choice of 9 or so ‘main’ dishes from local spicy ‘porridge’ with egg and chilli, to sweet black rice pudding to a really well made eggs Florentine, along with fresh squeezed juices and delish Indonesian coffee, good stuff. Compared to Borneo where we just came from this was amazing value, it is probably the best value room we have had in our entire travels (along with Charming Hotel in Hanoi to be fair, this one is called Gurung Merta Bungalows, if anyone is going to Ubud).
Morning one we woke up to unexpected weather, grey skies and drizzle, for hours, we could be in Manchester! This went on for 3 days, this in what is supposed to be dry season in these parts (having left the southwest monsoon behind, further north in the Philippines, Thailand etc); still, this being an island nation, the weather can of course be unpredictable so, what can you do… Despite this we really enjoyed our time there, relaxing at our bungalow, swimming in the pool (why would rain stop that activity?!), reading, visiting ancient temples and galleries of local art, eating delicious salads and healthy juices and generally enjoying the Balinese culture and architecture.
One activity we enjoyed more than expected was a cycle (3km uphill on old, clunky bicycles, this bit was not quite so enjoyable!) to the nearby village of Petulu, where, every afternoon before sunset, thousands of egrets (known as the ‘White Herons of Petulu’) fly home to roost after spending their day feeding in other parts of the island. This sounded an interesting thing to see and we were so glad, when we finally had a pleasant evening with no rain (on our last night there!) that we made it. We sat outside a small warung (café) by a rice field, nibbling peanuts and drinking coffee made from beans grown right there in the village and watched for about an hour as flocks of the white birds came home and found themselves perches in the surrounding trees. The experience was enhanced since the local villagers were preparing for a festival the following day so we also saw them parading, in traditional dress, with music, as they rehearsed for that. It was quite a simple thing to do, but one of our favourite experiences. We also enjoyed the downhill cycle all the way back!
After much research and thought about what to do next, referring many times to a calendar (we have only a 30 day visa for Indonesia and in any case have only 6 weeks left until we fly back to Europe from Kuala Lumpur so we now have to plan our schedule carefully to fit everything in), we decided to book another flight to take us to Ende on the island of Flores. This was the only way we could fit in going so far south and east, to fly down then make the return journey over land and sea, which would take us over a week. So off we flew on a small propeller plane, we spent a night in Ende which had nothing much to see but was a good example of a real town. We liked seeing regular life there, market stalls and all, and it was a better insight into Indonesian life than touristy Bali. From there it was a couple of hours in a squishy local bus to the village of Moni, a small place in the mountains at the foot of Kelimutu volcano.
Arriving in Moni, we had to, as usual, find a place to stay, so we split up and enquired at a few places separately before finally settling on a cheap bungalow style room with a communal terrace with nice views over the hills and town (which was really just one road). After finding a bed for the night we ‘explored’ Moni, which meant a walk up its quiet main road, 5 minutes off which is a pleasant waterfall, then had a spot of lunch and headed back to read on our terrace and have an early night as there was not much else to see and we’d have a very early get-up next day. The main reason people come to Moni is to visit Kelimutu volcano – actually a volcanic landscape with three craters of different coloured water right next to each other. The exciting thing about these different coloured lakes is that they change colour at unpredictable times due to the different proportions of minerals dissolved in the water at any one time. Photographs on posters there show the colours changing over just a matter weeks. This sounded like something special to see and sure enough, it was well worth the 4am get up to get up to the lakes for sunrise (T moaned quite a bit when the alarm went off, especially as coming here was all Rachel’s idea).
A 12km ride on the back of moped ride beneath an amazing star-scape followed by a 1km uphill walk still in darkness brought us to the viewpoints, the walk was made all the more interesting by the sharp, acrid, stinging smell of acid and sulphur from the volcanic water, which made everyone cough and need to blow their noses, this made it feel rather other-worldly. From the wonderful viewpoint at the top we could see, as the sun started to rise, all 3 lakes, one a bright, chalky turquoise, one reddish/brown and the other dark blue. In the distance, various other volcanic mountains could be seen, from behind which the sun was coming up. We spent over 2 hours here, sat looking out over the scene of changing colours and light as the sun came up, warm coffees in hand from the local sellers, enjoying the peace and tranquillity of such a strange landscape. Eventually, we decided it was time to head back down, this time on foot rather than moped, which we had paid just one-way for.
The walk back to Moni proved quite tough, despite being all downhill, which sounded easy on paper! 10km of constant downhill is actually quite hard on the old legs and our quads and glutes could really feel the strain after a while, becoming quite wobbly by the end. Combined with the rising temperatures as the sun continued to rise to its peak, it was somewhat of a challenge. What did make it very enjoyable though was the lovely view from part way down of the surrounding countryside, distant volcanic peaks and the sea in the background. This was followed by the two lovely villages that we walked through, both of which had lots of pigs running around, making T forget the pain in her legs for a good while (NB the island of Flores is 90% Catholic, despite Indonesia being the world’s most populous Muslim country, so they eat, and hence keep, pigs here…) We also prolonged the walk by about 2km by somehow missing a path which we should have taken, which made us both slightly grumpy, especially Tess (!). But as soon as we hit the main road we saw that the local market was in full swing in Moni and that cheered us up as we approached it (being back in some sort of civilisation that is), as well as knowing that we’d finally made it back to our guesthouse - time for a well-earned nap!
After our siesta, we treated ourselves to some liquid refreshments, sampling out first Bintang, (the Indonesian beer brand) on our terrace. We stretched our legs a little in the afternoon visiting the local church which is all of 50m down a path from our place and wandering the stalls of the market as the last few merchants packed up. R also made friends with the local pig in the field next to the church, which made T happy. In the evening we had a couple more beers and some arak (local rice wine) which rounded off the day nicely.
The following morning, with aching limbs from the long walk downhill, we set off in a share-taxi on the 6 hour drive to our next destination – the town of Bajawa. Moni was the furthest south we would go on our trip and the closest we’d come to Australia, this drive was therefore the start of our journey back west and north through Flores and slowly, slowly towards Kuala Lumpur, our final port of call in Asia.
We arrived in Bajawa and as has become custom, we were dropped off quite a distance outside the town, at a random junction. Not really knowing where we were and shaking off the annoying ojek driver (moto-taxi) who was trying to overcharge for taking both of us plus all bags on one little moped into the town, we started walking in the direction of town. Luckily, since it was 5km away, after only a few hundred metres a car stopped and offered us a lift (for a small fee, about 50p) to a guesthouse we’d read about. Said place turned out to be a bit of a dump so we walked a little back on ourselves and checked into a much better place called Edelweiss, though still very expensive for what it was, but seems there is little option here. Happy to finally come to a standstill, we arranged the following day’s activities of visiting tribal villages, hot springs and waterfalls with a friendly, dreadlocked, guitar-playing guy from across the road.
So off we went with him and his chum the next day on the back of their mopeds to visit some native villages that are the main draw to this town. These are living villages of tribal people set in a beautiful landscape of green jungle and volcanoes, very special indeed. The photos show how amazing the villages are better than we can describe here so take a look. After the villages we went to some hot-springs that were included in the cost of hiring the boys and their bikes for the day. It sounded like a nice way to round off the day but wow, it was unlike any we have ever seen before. The first pool is what we expected to find, a pool into which the (very!) hot water spouts up, but from there it flows off down a stream and then forms a small but powerful hot waterfall at the foot of which a regular (cold water) stream meets it forming lovely pockets of different temperatures. The waterfall provided our first hot shower in quite a while and was most enjoyable, though its force did almost take Rachel’s bikini top off!
After the hot spring experience we were very relaxed ahead of leaving Bajawa the next day, in another share-taxi to the town of Ruteng, where there is not much to see for tourists but it was a good point to break the journey rather than travel 10 hours on a windy road to Labuan Bajo, where we were headed. Like Ende, this was not an interesting place but good to spend time in a regular town, and again we enjoyed seeing it, there were very friendly people, delicious, cheap local food (goat sate) and very cheap and basic lodgings (with a rather grim bathroom, we were glad of the bath in the hot springs the previous day as we were not washing here! See photo…). We did an early morning walk up a nearby hill from where there were great views back down to town and even better views of rice terraces and the surrounding mountains, which are the tallest peaks on the island.
From there we were on to our final stop on Flores, Labuan Bajo at the western tip and the most touristy place on Flores. We managed to get a free ride there as the extremely friendly owner of a nice hotel in Ruteng (out of our price range but we went there for dinner to use the wifi as had to make phonecalls over the net), let us go into a car that one of his regular customers had hired out to take him to LB, think he felt sorry for us when we told him we were staying in the cheapy-cheap place down the road! Once in Labuan Bajo we checked around for an available and affordable boat trip to the island of Lombok, via Rinca and Komodo, (famous for the dragons). We found one and prepared for our 3 days at sea, and that tale we will leave for another day!