Chapter 5: Traveling Alone Again. Ubud and Mt. Batur

Sept 25
We jump into a SUV we arranged with a local to take us to Mataram, the main city of Lombok and the location of the airport. The driver speaks no English and Kara has trouble communicating in Bahasa, but we make our way to the inn where we had made reservations then onto the airport to drop off Kim. Kara and Kim have an emotional goodbye, then Kara and I head off to explore Mataram; which by the way seems to have nothing really to offer.

Sept 26
Kara wakes up and leaves by five a.m.; I groggily give her a goodbye hug and she is gone and I return to sleep. I wake up on my own around seven. One of the benefits of going to bed around nine or ten every night for two weeks is I start waking up at six and seven on my own.

I eat my “breakfast” of a piece of toast already spread with orange jam waiting outside my door and find an ojek, motorbike transport, to take me to the gathering point for bemos, the local van transports, heading to the Lembar harbor where I will catch the ferry back to Bali. I had agreed on a price with a certain driver the night before and after strapping my backpack to the roof, get in expecting to go soon. An elderly woman already inside looks like she’s been waiting for some time. I sit and journal until I realize we’re still not going anywhere, and its been an hour and half and the bemo is completely full. I am not sure what the driver is expecting. Finally, the doors close and the engine roars and we take off, stopping to cram even more locals in and drop others along the way.

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Squeezing my way between motorbikes and busses already parked on the ferry – not an easy task with my two overstuffed backpacks – I get to the main deck to find it teeming with people and boys trying to sell me the right to sit on a mattress for the journey. I elect to ignore them and head to the top deck to find it also, packed. I pick a section of wall and set up for the five-hour journey, brushing off the vendors trying to sell me peanuts and water for the journey. A cute girl with her two obviously Muslim friends wearing head coverings starts up a conversation that lasts most the way through the trip. She is traveling for two days by bus and boat to get to her university. The smoke stack blowing black exhaust next to us eventually torments us enough we relocate to the side of the deck.

I get in a junky old bemo, the driver agreeing to take me to Ubud in central Bali, for an agreed upon price and I will buy the man lunch. He takes me to a small warung some ways into our journey and we get our nasi goreng and drinks for 15,000 ($1.50). He says the fried rice and chicken is only 5,000. $0.50. I am definitely ok with that. It’s the cheapest meal I get in Indonesia.

The main road in Ubud is blocked because of construction, so the driver tells me he won’t go any further. I get out and walk making my way to Monkey Forest Rd where I have a room reserved for 60,000 a night. My humble room with two beds looks out to a courtyard with a large Hindu shrine in the middle, everything designed with a definite Balinese flavor.

Ubud is extremely commercialized, the streets lined with shops like Dolce and Gabana and restaurants with exquisite design and lighting offering wonderful dining experiences. Squeezed between storefronts are a multitude of Hindu temples and large Balinese courtyards used to showcase traditional dance and music. On every street corner locals try to sell tickets to these dances, ranging from $7 to $8. I, not liking to pay to enter anything, prefer to watch the dances standing on my tiptoes looking through the gates on the street.

Sept 27
I rent a motorbike in the morning electing to escape the commercialized Ubud and find refuge in Mt. Batur, a semi active volcano 30 or 40 kilometers away. I ask for a manual bike, but the owner says the only manual is very old; an automatic will be good. Once outside of the proper Ubud, terraced hillsides beautifully green with rice patties fill the views on both sides of the road.

Coming into another village I get behind a slow moving truck and accelerate to pass him, but I miss calculate my speed and the upcoming turn. I squeeze both brakes, freezing up both tires and I slide into the curb, which throws me from the bike onto the sidewalk. I immediately get up, cursing my stupidity, checking my bag full of photo equipment I had held between my legs. There’s pain coming from both my palms as I pick out loose rocks from the wounds. A local boy stops to ask if I am alright and points out my bleeding forearm, which I had not felt or noticed yet. There’s pain in my shoulder, but I can’t roll up my sleeve to see the damage. I look at my left foot and there is a deep gash above my big toe that remains a ghostly white color for sometime before bleeding profusely. My left Chaco sandal has a chunk taken out of the strap and somehow another wound I find underneath the ankle strap that rubs when I walk. Orange from my waterproof bag inside the second pocket is strangely visible from the front of my backpack, holes now ripped through.

I make sure my helmet is still on my head and jump back on the bike, flinching from the pain in my foot and forearm. The wind stings the new wounds as I’m still stunned and trying to clear my thoughts about what happened. After sometime I decide the pain is too much, I need to get the wounds cleaned so I ask for a doctor and a woman leads me a few blocks down the road.

He speaks very little English but understands the motorbike accident. He brings me into a small blue room lined with medicine and some surgical utensils. He checks to make sure nothing is broken, only flesh wounds. He cuts off pealed skin and applies a red substance that burns when it touches my wounded flesh. He gives me some amoxicillin to combat infection and something else I don’t take that he says is for sickness. He gives me a bottle of the red substance and some extra bandages for my foot, which is still bleeding. For all this he charges me the grand some of 50,000 rupiah, only $5. Take that America with your “best health care in the world” where I could not afford to go to the doctor for a similar incident.

Temple after temple line the road, most with identical dimensions. I know they have something like 300,000 gods but do they really need hundreds of temples just on this stretch of road?

A man is yelling at me as I drive past on the continuous uphill slope leading up to Mt. Batur, “The police are checking everyone that way!” I stop and turn the bike around. The man tells me to follow him on another road. He leads me up a skinny back road the curves its way up the mountain, coming out on the road that encircles the crater riding the rim with views of the new volcano and the blue lake. The man motions for me to keep following him around the rim and leads me to a restaurant with a superb view of what lies before it. He tries to convince me to take a trek up to the lowest mouth of the volcano to see special crystals and wonders beyond my imagination all for a low low cost of $25 USD. I tell him thank you, but I am currently in pain and not wanting to trek.

“Then at least take lunch at this restaurant. It’s my mother’s. A great buffet for only 50,000 rupiah.” I only want to sit, relax, take in the view and nurse my wounds while thanking God I’m alive. I take a seat overlooking the spectacular scene before me and order some tea. (I have taken to drinking tea, though still with a lot of sugar. I’m 24; I should act at least halfway grown up, right?) I sit reviewing the day so far, considering what caused me to wreck and how my body now pained me once again.

The map on the wall of the tourism office showed a road going the entire way around Mt. Batur so I determined the best way to see the volcano was to drive all around it. I take off along the rim going steadily uphill to a point where three peaks lined up like Russian stacking dolls, each fits neatly into the next one. In the distance the cartoon-like mountain with perfectly sloping sides, Mt. Agung, dominates the horizon. Between the new peak of Mt. Batur and the far Agung lies a middle height peak rising steeply out of the blue lake. Following the road I find myself descending away from the mountain, so I turn around and take a smaller road the continues along the rim. Again I find myself descending, this time at a very steep angle with no place to turn around.

When it starts to level out I see myself looking out over a small village with a large black temple perched over the azure sea below. Deciding I made a good wrong turn I go and explore the deserted temple. With so many temples in this land it’s amazing they can put so much detail into each one. This complex seems to be separated into three or four sections, each with walls separating it from the others. I walk around each corner expecting to find someone, a worshipper, a priest, but no one greets me or seems to see me.

I retrace my path and find another smaller road that continues along the rim. The road cannot decide if it wants to be paved or dirt, constantly switching between the two. The road steepens and levels out. Girls on scooters blow past me over confident in their ability to manage the loose roads. I again start descending away from the mountain and ask a passing couple how to get to the lake using hand signals. They point back the way I came. Back up I find a dirt road roughly going the right direction. Ah, why not? All roads lead somewhere, right? I enter a mazelike multitude of dirt roads, picking my way by intuition alone. This goes too far down to the right, turn around and try the other. The motorbike bumps along, utilizing its poor excuse for shocks. After too many steeps and hairpin turn I come to a paved road. This HAS to lead somewhere! A shop at an intersection must know the way. The girls inside speak zero English and do not try to understand me. I continue along and enter a small village, half looking for a warung for a quick lunch. People stare at me wondering what a Bule is doing on this side of the mountain. I bounce through town and come to another intersection and choose to go straight – it’s headed toward the lake. After sometime the road steepens and the pavement loosens. I cannot stop. The bike, despite the brakes being fully pressed, continues down the decline, my feet sliding beside the bike keeping it upright. This better be the way, going up that will be nearly impossible. I go around a bend and into a cornfield. The road ends. All roads lead somewhere, right? This one leads to a cornfield, apparently. I can see the lake, but it’s over two or three valleys. I take up the task of conquering the hill behind me, the bike struggling to make it around the bend. Because of the bend I have no speed to approach the steepest of steeps and the bike, fully floored and roaring, does not move. The tires are not spinning; the bike simply cannot lift its own weight and mine up this incline. I start walking the bike up hill, still with the engine at full capacity, waddling awkwardly uphill. When I finally reach the top I find two men entertained by my awkward spectacle.

Back in the village I ask for a warung. They point me to a shop that informs me they have no food. On the supposed right path I come to a construction crew of mostly women and some young men paving the road. Three large black barrels burn while the women scatter small black stones carried on their heads in baskets before the burning barrels. An older man spreads the stones and mixes them with tar, hopefully to hold them in place through inclimate weather and fast moving motorbikes.

Beyond the newly paved road the dirt road steeply winds among the hillsides leading to the lake. I cautiously slide down another incredibly steep section, crawling at a few kilometers an hour. A bike carrying three young girls flies past me spitting gravel off the sides of the road. Finally I reach what could be called flat land. On one side the hill winds around, the other a sheer cliff hovers overhead. I follow the road along the cliff’s base till I enter another small village that reaches to the lakes edge.

I really want to soak my wounds in the freshwater lake, but when I get to shore I find it highly populated. White and yellow umbrellas cover rows of squatting women watching children perform some ritual along the lakes edge as a band plays somewhere obscured by rows of corn. They are not entirely sure what to do with me, rudely intruding on their Hindu celebration. The men in traditional dress either look annoyed at my presence or offer friendly smiles, motioning for me to take photographs of them. I walk along the shore, mobbed by little boys desperate to make their way in front of my camera wherever it points. In the distance the new volcano and the middle peak dominate the sky overlooking the azure water.

A man who speaks little English directs me to a local warung and climbs on my motorbike behind me to show me the way. The nasi goreng fills me enough and I get back on the road following the edge of the lake, heading towards the peak of Mt. Batur. This side of the volcano is very green with rich soil, but I soon come to an unpopulated area with large, jagged rocks leading up the foot of the mountain. Beyond the jagged rocks I can see the solid black of the cold lava flow that leads directly south. Three separate mouths open up to the volcano, the lowest on the left and the highest to the right. I am told the two on the left still release gasses and occasionally new lava. Entering into a more populated area with resorts for tourists lining the lake I find a vantage point to take photos of the peaks with the lake in the foreground. Raking the soil just on the shoreline and chatting with his reclined friend in a wooden cutout canoe lazily landed, a weathered man introduces himself. “I’m Ugly. My goodname (surname) is Youser, but my mother thought I was an ugly baby,” he jovially explains. I ask if I can take his picture and then sit and talk with him for sometime waiting for the light to wane.

Ugly is a funny man. As his wife approaches carrying a basket of vegetables on her head along the shoreline, Ugly pulls his hat over his face, puts his ears between his knees and says, “Tell her I am not here. I’m tired and need a rest from all this work. She should go and let me be.” Later he tells me, being a Hindu and in relation to the belief in reincarnation, “I’m tired. I do not want to be reborn. I just want to rest from here when I die.”

When the sun reaches a good angle I depart and go back to the same café from earlier that morning. I contemplate finding the start of one of the roads I see far below me leading up through the black lava fields, but its late, and I am tired. I do not feel like driving through Bali’s back roads at night with no real idea where I am going, it’s bad enough doing that in the day light.

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The wind blows against my face as I start the descent back to Ubud, but I take a different road than I came on. I remembered from the map a road that runs parallel. I don’t like to take the same road twice when I am exploring an area. Cautiously watching the needle flirt with the large ‘E’ on gas gauge I continue descending through villages; the road lined with a similar multitude of temples that for sometime I think I might have somehow made it back to the first road. Soon the beautiful terraced rice patties stair-step the hills on either side of the road letting me know I’m closer to Ubud. At intersections along the way I stop and ask locals which way to Ubud. Everyone tells me to continue on down till a woman tells me to turn west and follow the sun. The road narrows, goes steeply down, then I find myself among flat fields of rice. Several times the road turns and splices off. I pick the direction I think I should be going till a road is taking me further south, and a man with ducks tells me to go back the other way. I pass fancy guest houses with “Rice Patty Views, Swimming Pool, & Restaurant & Bar.” I have no idea how much people pay for these luxury rice patty views, but I’m sure my $6 a night room is plenty for me. And it probably has fewer mosquitoes.

Once back in Ubud I want to leave again. I drive the entire main street and decide I need to get out of town to find a local warung to eat dinner for cheap. The town continues west so I turn around to the center and head north as the last light disappears. I fumble with the lights on the motorbike and continue past temples and schools. Asking locals for a good warung they tell me to retrace back just on the other side of the last school.

Two guys sit in front eating at the counter something I don’t recognize. I ask for Mie Goreng? No? Nasi Goreng? No? What do you have? The lady says something I don’t understand, but its some local specialty. Served a plate of rice with some gravy, strange looking pieces of meat I cannot place even after eating, and a cold, semi sweet salad of carrots, cucumber and some other things I don’t recognize. The flavors are much different than I am used to, but it’s not terrible. It at least fills my stomach.

It’s still early when I get back and I plan on finding some designer restaurants to photograph, but when I sit on my bed I wind up falling asleep with all the lights on. I wake up around 1am hungry and wide awake. I venture out into the night to find a quick meal and I slightly remember a sign saying 24 hour internet that I had taken note of while walking around the night before. I go to the Circle K (yes, the same from the States gas stations) around the corner and find some snacks to tide me through the night then walk through the street retracing my steps from the night before looking for the internet. As I walk never fewer than three barking dogs let me know I am not welcome on their streets at night, barking in their strange Indonesian high pitched bark. ~I have observed that it doesn’t matter the size or type of dog, they all have a certain bark that is very different from the low pitched, growly bark of American dogs. Could this mean dogs speak in different languages? ~ Before heading out I had considered the safety of going out in the middle of the night, wary of getting mugged, but I am more in danger of being bitten by bastardly mangy mutts. Alas the fabled all night internet café does not show its glorious self to me so I return and fight with sleep.

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One thought on “Chapter 5: Traveling Alone Again. Ubud and Mt. Batur”

  1. The pics of the temples are really awesome. I never thought of using a flash during the day to bring out the detail. Definitely something I need to try.

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