Motorbike Magical Mystery Tour

My brain felt cobwebby. What to do? Force it into submission and write? Sometimes that works. Or…

I chose the ‘or’ and plotted an escape. There is a vast mountain area of Bali that I haven’t explored. I got out the map. When Ketut brought breakfast, I ran the idea past him. A few days earlier I’d asked him what he liked best about his job. “Petualangan,” he said. Petualangan, translated, means adventure.

So yesterday, at 6:30 a.m., we left Ubud behind and headed for Mt. Batukaru. I packed bottled water, grabbed a couple of pears, and slipped on my raincoat. It would serve as a windbreaker in the early morning cool, and I had no doubt we would encounter rain at some point in the cloud-covered mountains.

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Bali has just completed another three day Galungan celebration so graceful penjors bowed over the streets of the villages we passed through. The elaborate designs, each one different, are a testimony to the unlimited creativity of the Balinese. Snapping photos over the top of Ketut’s helmet, I captured the road ahead.

P1040889P1040890There are many benefits to getting an early start. Traffic is minimal, and the tour buses aren’t yet on the road. But the morning markets are bustling. There isn’t a more typical Balinese scene than this, a group of vendors selling fruits and vegetables to the local people at sunrise.

Weaving between baskets of produce and the men and women collecting their provisions for the day, we continued on our way.

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The countryside sped by with vast stretches of rice fields meeting the horizon on either side. The cobwebs began to blow away. I sucked my lungs full of fresh air and closed my eyes. The wind, the sun, the freedom to be here…what bliss. What blessing.

We were climbing. Every road going north from Ubud ascends toward the mountains. A little to the east, Mt. Agung boasts the highest elevation at 3,142 meters. Mt. Batur, directly north, stands at 1,717 meters, and northwest of Ubud, Batukaru, our destination this morning, is the second highest reaching 2,276 meters.

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A picturesque village in the shadow of Batukaru

One of the things I love about Bali is the changing landscape. There are flat rice fields, terraced paddies, timbered mountainsides, tranquil lakes, ocean beaches, black sand, white sand, bumpy lava coasts and rocky cliffs.

As we entered the switchbacks for the serious climb upward, Ketut said, “You want see botanic garden?” I’ve learned that when Ketut says, “You want see,” or “You want go,” the answer should always be an unqualified, “Yes!” No matter what image my mind conjures up, it is bound to be so far off the mark that it’s better not to even imagine. Just say yes and go.

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Ketut chats with the vendor while I snap their picture

A few minutes later we pulled into an empty parking lot at the Botanical Garden of Bedugul and dismounted. Ketut ordered two cups of Nescafe. I’ve said it before, but I repeat, nothing tastes better after biking in the chill mountain air, than a cup of hot, super sweet, Balinese Nescafe!

At 8:00 a.m. we walked through the deserted area, past a sleeping guard, up to the ticket window. Sure enough, the happy face behind the glass was awake and welcomed us to the gardens. I paid the 18,000 rph, roughly $1.75 U.S., and we strolled into botanical paradise.

The park is huge and we were it’s first visitors. We rambled through the glades and glens, along avenues of towering palms, through medicinal gardens, a ceremonial plant collection, giant ferns, orchids, and a patch of blood-red amaryllis blooms. Two pachyderm topiaries stood guard at the entrance of the Begonia House.

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Topiary elephants stand guard at the Begonia House

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Grotto in the Begonia House

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Domed screens provide the necessary shade for hundreds of begonia species

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The first glimpse of Lake Bratan is a welcome reward for the ever-upward hike through the park

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The carpet of green rolls unbroken under a shady canopy

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Another peek through the trees of the distant lake

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Finally, at the top, Lake Bratan spreads out below in sapphire glory

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It was hard to pull ourselves away from that enchanted hilltop, but another surprise awaited: Cactus House!

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After the dry heat preferred by the cacti, Orchid House was a shadowy retreat

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A sea of Amaryllis

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This avenue of palms could be the approach to a mansion, but it leads instead to the Herbarium, Laboratory, and Library housed in the park.

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Pools, bridges, resting places, are interspersed here and there, around the next bend in the path

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A collection of medicinal herbs in manicured beds have signs designating their latin names

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Two deer create a heart shape on one of the boulevards

A little way in, rock music blasted from somewhere in the distance. Through the trees we saw a crew setting up for an event that would be taking place later in the day. Farther on, another crew was preparing a venue for a crowd complete with sound system and tented shelters. By the time we left, hundreds of Balinese and Javanese people had arrived. Twelve tour buses, countless rows of mini-vans, and an area of motorbikes packed in like sardines, filled the parking lot. I was thrilled that we had gotten there first.

Ketut rescued his bike from the crowd, and we made our way to the next stop, Ulun Danu Bratan, the famous temple in the water.

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Ulun Danu Temple in Lake Bratan

I took this photo, but it looks just like thousands of others I’ve seen. What this picture doesn’t reveal, are the hoards of tourists everywhere, all struggling for a shot of the epic Hindu temple.

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Lake Tamblingan

The best time to visit any special site in Bali is early morning. Often the sky is clearest, and the tourists and vendors who will later flock to the area, are still waking up.

After Ulun Danu, we followed a ridge that skirted the three lakes in the Mt. Batukaru caldera, Lake Bratan, Lake Buyan, and Lake Tamblingan. There were no tourists along that ridge. In fact we encountered very few people at all, just immense peace.

P1050048The morning pears and coffee had worn off. A roadside warung offered lunch to go. Ketut found a serene lakeside area for a picnic and we unwrapped our brown paper parcels. I haven’t perfected the Balinese finger style, but managed to eat the whole, spicy delicious thing.

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“Road broken…a little massage!” Ketut shouts happily as my knuckles grow ever whiter.

Full and happy, I was eager to get going. I’d heard about Lovina, a small town on the coast, and Ketut said he knew the way.

Of course, Ketut knew the way, the back way, the adventurous way of razor-sharp turns and perpendicular plunges with no side rails to block the crashing descent to a bottomless somewhere should a tire slip. Add to that a road that had been chewed up by sluicing rivers of rainwater plummeting down from the mountains, and you have a very exciting ride!

I was certain we would have to turn around and retrace our way as the washed-out ruts became deeper and patches of pavement more scarce. But, wonder of wonders, we rounded a bend and the road became whole. In a few moments we were tooling into Lovina. He teased me later, “Want to go home same way?” Thanks, Ketut. I’d rather walk!

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Dry terraces as we approach Lovina with the ocean in the distance

The landscape coming into Lovina was parched. The town itself skirted the coast for several miles. We followed the main road, clogged with cars, trucks, and motorbikes. Ketut turned in at a beach area where the boats leave early in the morning filled with tourists who want to watch the dolphins. The attendant apologized to me that I had come too late and would have to come back in the morning. I didn’t bother to explain, just thanked him and headed for black sand and rolling breakers.

Wading knee-deep I let the vibrations of the motorbike melt out of my body and flow into the tugging waves. The ocean was beautiful, but Lovina cast no spell.

The way home took us back into the mountains through the rain I had anticipated. Warm drops pelted my face as the pavement slipped along under the wheels. The cooling moisture felt good on my skin. “You okay?” Ketut shouted back at me, always happy to pull in for another cup of Nescafe.

I wanted to say, “This has been the perfect day. I feel alive. My brain has been de-fuzzed. My soul has been refreshed. Life doesn’t get any better than this!” But neither his English, nor my Indonesian, were up to that task. “Bagus!” I hollered over the engine’s grinding effort. It’s a word that can’t be misunderstood. Translated it simply means good. And between friends, good is good enough.

Volcanoes and Snakes and Bears, Oh My!

As a girl I loved to listen to Johnny Cash sing Ring of Fire in his scratchy voice. The lyrics produced Faustian images in my adolescent imagination. Here in the South Pacific I am becoming acquainted with another Ring of Fire. Indonesia is uncomfortably cradled between the Alpide Belt and the Pacific Ring of Fire. The two together account for about 96% of the world’s earthquakes. The Pacific Ring of Fire is also home to 75% of the world’s active and dormant volcanoes. Bali boasts four of her own, Batur, Agung, Bratan, and Merbuk. Of the four, Batur is the most active erupting every few years. And that is the one that has all the hiking/trekking packages! Even if I had the proper gear, shoes, and stamina I don’t think I would even be tempted. The words from that Johnny Cash song, “I fell into a burning ring of fire, I went down, down down and the flames went higher.” kind of spoil it for me.

Photo of Mt. Batur copied from Bing Search Engine

Then there is Mt. Agung. This volcano is a little more stable. Only a few eruptions dating back to the early 19th century have been recorded from Agung. However the eruptions in 1963 were among the world’s largest and killed 2000 people. In spite of the ominous history there are daily tours to both of these sites and villages dot the mountainsides.

Photo of Mt. Agung copied from Bing Search Engine

Why do people want to do dangerous things and live in dangerous places? Two of my daughters (and millions of others) have chosen to reside in San Francisco at times in their lives. Those people experience regular earth tremors and yet they remain. And my other daughter lives in the jungle called New York City. Why?  The levels of adrenaline needed just to navigate the subway from point A to point B are probably off the charts.

Then there are the folks in rural Texas who encounter poisonous snakes coiled in unexpected places. Yet they walk through tall grasses and don’t bat an eyelash. A Texan friend and I were conversing one day in the 80’s. I was living in Texas then, and my friend had invited me to walk with her to see something at the other side of the meadow. “But, Karen,” my voice quivered. I  think I was trembling. “What about the snakes?”  She looked at me in disbelief. “But you’re from Minnesota,” she exclaimed and in her mind that seemed to settle the issue. I was confused, “And what’s your point?” I asked indignantly. She gave me the “Well Duh” look and putting her hands on her hips said, “The BEARS!” I guess its a matter of perspective. In spite of my superb resilience at being able to survive Minnesota bears, I did not join her on the hike across the meadow!

Photo copied from Bing Search Engine

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