56. In search of the real Bali. Denpasar-Ubud-Munduk

I’ve never seen such an airport before. As one of the most popular places in Asia, Bali welcomed us properly from the very beginning. The airport wasn’t big and boring like usual, it was colourful, vibrant and its traditional architecture echoed the style of the whole island. After a short sleep on a comfy airport’s floor we just couldn’t wait till we got to our host’s place. It wasn’t as easy as we thought, though. As we finally found out after an hour of wandering around, the public transportation on the island practically doesn’t exist. We had to get a taxi. Rudi, our host in Denpasar, welcomed us in a house of his friends where he stayed for a few nights (sharing space with 5 of his friends and 2 Russian girls), giving us his whole flat to ourselves. Incredible guy. We quickly followed his advice and rented a motorbike that was probably the only reliable form of transportation.

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On the way to Denpasar airport!
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A typical Balinese architecture.

The first impression of Bali was awful. Denpasar was nothing more but hell- noisy, crowded and full of traffic so that you couldn’t escape it even if you wanted. We tried it once, driving to Bukit peninsula, risking our lives on the road among crazy Indonesian drivers. The whole southern coast was decorated with high cliffs and white sandy beaches hidden between them. Blue Point beach was one of the closest and it was really impressive. The path led through cracks in the cliff that you could easily slip under to get to the beach. Hiding from tourists, Callum found his hideout in a little cave and I, as always, went exploring surrounding coral. Bali was a true capital of surfing- anywhere you went you saw the shops filled with surfing equipment and golden haired surfers conquering the waves. Padang Padang beach was cool as well but it was much more crowded and with a very shallow sea that made it difficult to swim. We decided to watch the sunset from a cliff instead but the bloody rain was faster. It wasn’t just normal rain- it was a down pour washing off everything that stood on its way. Waiting for a good few hours in some local “warungs” (restaurants) we finally got home at 10 pm, looking like two drowned rats.

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Beautiful Blue Point beach
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Surfing only in Bali!
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“Eat, pray, love” beach. Padang Padang 🙂

Another time we went for a day trip to the centre of the island. But although this time the weather was great, the bad luck still chased us. As we got closer to Ubud area, all of sudden, we got a flat tire. After a while of desperate Callum’s search I started to loose hope waiting like an idiot on the side of the road. Is there anyone to help us in this village forgotten by the rest of the world?? But then, there he was, Callum with a smile on his face, presenting a new shiny tire! In the same village we found an interesting place- Luwak agrotourism. Have you heard about the most expensive coffee in the world, the beans that digested by a little civet cat (luwak) give an extraordinary flavour? Ye, that’s Luwak coffee. In the park there was only a couple of luwaks that could “produce” only a few kilo of coffee per year. I don’t wanna discuss here the conditions and the whole process that luwaks are used for but they definitely didn’t look like happy animals… After tasting a cup of luwak coffee we were served a couple of local drinks to try. Obviously, no one asked us if we wished to have ten spoons of sugar in it but I understood why when I saw a shop full of sweetened tea bags ready to be sold. Sugar or nothing, sorry my friend! Tegallang rice terraces were beautiful although much smaller than I imagined. Located in front of a busy road full of souvenir shops, it looked like a typical tourist trap. But even if tourism destroyed a charm of this place, local people made the most of it, barricading the paths and asking for “donations”. Gunung Kawi was one of “off beaten track” temples that truly stole my heart. Hidden in a lush jungle it contained tombs dedicated to king’s Arak Wungsu concubines. As there was a river between them, without thinking too much we jumped to the water, cooling ourselves in a tropical heat. The Balinese architecture was truly unique. All the houses looked more like hindu temples (main religion in Bali), decorated with beautiful gates and carvings. While meeting a nice gentleman in Sukawati we had a chance to see his property from the inside. Beside a living area and a couple of birds kept in cages (the norm in Indonesia) the house contained 2 small temples and other buildings for different ceremonies. One of the main celebrations in Indonesian culture is the funeral, that we luckily had a chance to see on the way back from Ubud. A crowd of smartly dressed Indonesians was surrounding a little pile of flowers and freshly cooked, plucked chickens. “Who died?”, I asked a young boy who looked like he could speak some Enlish. It was a teenager died in a motorbike accident and that day his soul was supposed to enter a holy temple after days of roaming on the Earth. It was only one of a few ceremonies that traditional Indonesian funeral contains and, I must admit, I’ve never seen anything like it.

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Civet cat (luwak) in his (un)natural environment…
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100% of flavour of… sugar 😉
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Ubud rice terraces
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Gunung Kawi temple
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Traditional Indonesian funeral
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Balinese men playing on a funeral ceremony

If you ask me what not to see in Bali it would be definitely Tanah Lot. A temple carved in a rock is impressive but the crowd of tourists not necessarily. After taking a few pictures I preffered to escape to a nearby beach and bury myself in a volcanic sand. Although I really hoped I could learn some surfing I left it for another place as we really enjoyed our time with the guys at home. Rudi and his friends happened to be the coolest people we met in Indonesia and they were great musicians, too. We spent hours chilling on their porch, singing some old hits, playing cards and drinking arak. One night when we were all enjoying my homemade Polish potato pancakes all of a sudden Rudi shouted: “Shhhh! Did you feel that?”. Yes, it was an earthquake. Fortunately, it was a really small one so we barely felt it but it gave us enough image of what could happen next. Listening to Roby’s horrible tsunami experience (2004, Banda Aceh) showed us how merciless the nature can be and what some of the people must have gone through… Our stay in Bali wouldn’t be fulfilled without a trip to Kuta, a party and Aussie capital of the island. Legian area was crazy, full of clubs, deafening music and skimpy Indonesian girls dancing on huge stilts. There wasn’t much people, though (low season) so Rudi took us to the Sand bar instead and that’s where all the party was. The bar was located on rocks facing the sea so you could literally dance in the waves. The bar and the music were great, the alcohol cheap and for a second I couldn’t believe it was still Indonesia! Although my Russian friend would gladly keep me there dancing for the whole night at 2am it was a time to go home and get ready for hitching some cars the next day.

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Tanah Lot temple…
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…and its crowd of tourists.
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Our crazy hosts in Denpasar 😀
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Welcome to Kuta.

We hid in a little village of Munduk, located in the mountains on the north of the island where we could escape the Indonesian oven for a while. Finding a cheap homestay (85 000 rp- cheap for Indonesian standard) was easy but like everything that’s cheap, it had a little catch. This time in a form of cocks who, beside cockfighting, loved to wake us up with their morning (3am) singing. Although I seriously considered having a little barbecue I decided to listen to Callum’s advice and sleep with ear plugs. Still better than nothing. Comparing to Denpasar, the whole north of the island was like a different world, full of green hills and hidden waterfalls. There was two near our place so after an hour trek through cocoa and jack fruit trees we found the first one- Laangan waterfall. As we were the only people in front of this giant mass of water, the impression was fantastic. The other one, Coral fall was similar but it was more remote and covered with green ivy that made everything look even more fairy.

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The views from Munduk village
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Typical Indonesian entertainment – chickens ready for cockfighting
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Green Laangan waterfall 🙂
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Cocoa trees growing everywhere

2 years? It feels a lot longer… 🙂 Yep, our next, 2 years anniversary has come and although we didn’t spend it like an ordinary couple (cinema, wine and roses…) we tried to make it as romantic as we could. Renting a bike we drove through nearby lakes to Pura Ulun Danu Beratan temple that was a truly peaceful and charming place. Although there was a lot of waterfalls around, finding them was a different thing. As many local people live in the jungle, fortunately we could drive on little paths, designed for motorbikes. Lemukih was a twin fall with a little pool so we spent there a while splashing ourselves like little kids before the first tourists came. Sekumpul was even bigger and contained three falls so the power of the water was incredible. I don’t think I’ve ever seen more beautiful and impressive waterfall than this one, it was magical. Lovina beach wasn’t the cleanest nor the most exciting beach in the world so we skipped it visiting Brahma Arama Vihara Buddhist temple instead where we could calm our minds and meditate a little. What is a perfect end of a romantic anniversary day, you’d ask? Hot springs, of course! The ones in Banjar were pretty cool and after an hour of soaking our asses in warm pools we felt like after a session in SPA that we needed after all day driving.

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Peaceful Pura Ulun Danu Beratan temple
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The beauty of northern Bali!
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Lemukih waterfall
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This is what you call a paradise. 🙂

After 10 days in Bali I can say it was definitely much better than I thought. And although many people kept telling us it was a one big tourist trap it doesn’t take much to escape it, does it? Cuz if you only make a little effort and leave your comfort Denpasar or Ubud zone, you’ll see a true beauty of Bali: the unspoiled nature, beautiful architecture and amazing people who will amaze you with their enthusiasm and generosity.

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