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The original world nomad "Real knowledge is to know the extent of one's ignorance." - Confucius.

Exploring a volcanic island by motorbike

INDONESIA | Saturday, 1 August 2009 | Views [1903] | Comments [1]

In our younger days one of the great joys of travel was to just wander, to have no real plan except to get lost and see what eventuated. Sometimes it really didn't work and we'd end up in some tricky situations, more often than not it was a pleasing way to feel the flavours of everyday life wherever we were, and occasionally, just occasionally, an experience would discover you that no guidebook nor any amount of planning could have engineered.  

Then came children and such random wandering became somewhere between difficult and impossible. Now Riu is 6 and Kai is 4 we have for the first time in years re-discovered some of this travel magic.

For the last week we've been exploring Bali's truly remarkable landscape on the slopes of the volcano by motorbike: family-on-a-bike Asian style. It's been a hoot. More than one group of tourists have taken our photo as we putt-putt-putt past but the Balinese think it's all quite normal in fact. Our only real concession to safety however, was on day one to head straight off to the helmet shop for the boys, and we've been unable to get Kai to take his off since - in the bath, at diner in cafes, in temples, in the market, at breakfast, in the pool.

If you asked me specifically where we'd been I'd be hard pressed to say, just around and around, picking all the small back roads up through quite villages with nothing obvious on the tourist circuit. We have found exploring across the island quite difficult since all the roads head up and down the volcano with deep valleys between and few, very few, connecting roads. The Balinese don't seem to be big bridge builders.

Today we passed through many villages, all in the middle of some common ceremony or other. There was one temple we arrived at where obviously a procession had been and gone that morning as the temple was fully decorated with offerings in the way that only they can on Bali. Except for the fact that the forecourt was full of motorbikes and the temple was utterly deserted of people. We got off our bike, and wandered around a bit, and then a bit more, and then down the side ... to discover a small terrace packed with local men all gambling on a series of cock fights. We glimpsed one white Cock with short knives glinting in the midday sun that were strapped to its legs while another black Cock lay motionless, just occasionally having enough life left for one last desperate flap ... and just received a kick from one of the men by way of compassion.

It's hard to comprehend the shear effort the women of Bali go to for their culture while the men seem to laze around and gossip and gamble it all away. Not such an uncommon scenario across Asia.

Two days ago we parked the Bike at the end of a track and decided to go for a short wander across some rice terraces, again, something we have wanted to do for years but had been constrained by practicality with the boys. This was pretty gentle stuff, or at least it was until we got lost on coming back down on the way back to the bike. By 2pm with without sunscreen or my World Nomads hat (which I'd lost) I was decidedly sunburnt. It looked simple enough, we were just a few hundred meters from the road, but as the rice terraces head down towards the valleys, the streams and tributaries that they feed the terraces with get suddenly vastly deeper: like from say 2 metres deep to say 30 metres deep within a horizontal distance of no more than 20 metres. And since the Balinese don't seem big on building bridges across these gullies, we had to keep retracing steps up and back and around, such that our 'short wander' turned into a 5 hour sunburnt epic.

This evening we left the boys playing alone in the garden ("Don't go out on the veranda or near the pool, and Kai, do as Riu tells you.") and headed off on the motorbike to do some more exploring, this time heading West of Ubud where our intended target was the ridge to the West of the Sayan valley. Because all the valleys channel down from the volcano, north to south, getting between valleys can require some considerable effort, and we didn't pass another tourist on or off the road for more than two hours. As we climbed and climbed through quite friendly villages, great late afternoon views East out to the volcanoes on the horizon unfolded across the rice terraces. To judge from local people's reactions to us, they don't get too much tourist traffic up this way ... and it feels like you could throw a stone to Ubud it's so close!

As the sun was low, we eventually we had to turn South towards home, and we passed a large stand of trees that was way higher than anything else we'd seen on the island, looking like something from The Lord of the Rings.

Getting lost on the way up was one thing, but finding our way home again once the sun had disappeared was quite another: I didn't realise how far we'd come and how chill if could get this high up the slopes. We had to stop at almost every junction we came upon and ask "Ubud? Ubud?" and point. We eventually managed to find our way home via Campuan (somehow) and to two tired boys waiting patiently for us to return - something that wouldn't have been possible only last year.

Bali provides so well for the people who live here that it's easy to forget how poor many/most are, at least financially. I don't know what the average annual earning are, but a few thousand dollars a year tops. While they aren't wealthy by any means, their rich culture and traditions and extended family connections make them very rich indeed in other ways. 

Coming here over the last few years, we have perhaps been unusually fortunate. In the wake of the Bali bombings the place was decidedly quiet and the local people particularly warm and friendly. Now things are largely back to normal, the place is busy as ever it was with throngs of tourists on all the streets and in all the shops, which is surely good for local business ... but comes at a price since it is distinctly less friendly (or perhaps more tired) than it has been before.

Tags: bali, beauty, island, volcano




That's awesome! I might wait a few years before trying that with my twins though!

  stowaway Aug 4, 2009 2:44 PM

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