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Steve and Emma's Travel Tales

Bali High! More Gunung Bagging and Beach Chilling

INDONESIA | Monday, 6 October 2008 | Views [1019]

You may be surprised to hear that this was our first proper trip to Bali as previously we’d only used the island as a jumping off point for Lombok and Flores.  We were looking forward to exploring the island more as we’d thoroughly enjoyed the days we’d spent there in the past.  Unfortunately the best flight we could catch meant that we didn’t land until 10pm and that resulted in us having to spend the night in the district of Kuta.  Bali’s answer to Blackpool is not our idea of a good holiday destination but with it being a busy spot there was a good chance of us getting something to eat so late.  Or so we thought.  It was already gone 11 pm by the time we’d checked into our cheap but adequate room and it took longer than anticipated to find somewhere with their kitchen still open.  Hate to confess that we ended up in the German restaurant where the food was okay but at least they had reasonably priced ice-cold beer.  Anyway let’s move on to real reason we were on Bali.

Many years ago we’d paid the man for a brief tour of the eastern side of the island and that included having a look at Bali’s highest peak Gunung Agung.  You guessed it we had to get to the top and tick another gunung off our list.  There are 3 routes to choose from and we decided to base ourselves in Tirtagangga a lovely little place not too far inland and on the edge of rice terraces.  We’d read that you could arrange guides from Good Karma Café and that they had rooms too.  The rooms were very good and the view from our balcony of the padi fields was fantastic – all for only £8 a night B&B.  The guide was out guiding and wouldn’t be back until later in the evening so we decided to explore the local area.

Tirtagangga itself is very small but it gets more than its fair share of tourists due to the Water Palace.  Basically a well-maintained, very attractive garden based around ponds, fountains and small lakes.  It is quite small but well worth the visit and we could definitely afford the 10-bob entry fee.  The morning’s entertainment nicely took us to lunchtime so we retired to a café over-looking the rice fields and situated away from the car park and palace.  Following a tasty snack we decided to head 8km up the road to find a temple we’d read about.  The road was surprisingly busy and so walking along it wasn’t as much fun as we’d hoped even though we went through some lovely countryside.  We eventually came to the turning off for the temple only to find that the sign declared it to be yet another 8kms and up a steep hill.  We worked out that we didn’t have enough time to walk the whole distance if we were going to be climbing the mountain that night.  So we jumped on the back of a couple of motorbikes having negotiated what we thought was a fair price.  It turned out the temple was only a couple of kms up the road although it did look like there was another less interesting one further up the hill.  Anyway we got there and in the end it was all worth while.  Despite it being a holiday and we’d seen many people taking offerings to temples on our journey earlier in the day the place was very quiet.  It was nice wandering around admiring the architecture, clear blue skies and views back down the valley including a view of Agung, our challenge for the morning!  We walked back to the main road and felt it was good waking up our downhill leg muscles.  Time was still in danger of running out for us so we caught a bemo (small mini van) back to the village.

Luckily the guide had returned so it was time to organise the trek for that night.  Or so we hoped but with it being quite late by this point it was looking like we’d have to postpone a night. It turned out that getting a guide last minute wasn’t the problem more the fact it was a religious holiday and the Balinese regard the mountain as holy.  They believe that the spirits of their ancestors dwell on Gunung Agung and since both the walks start in a temple it’s pretty much impossible to sneak through.  A phone call later and the original guide had found a friend of his who’d be willing to take us up but using the much less popular and shorter Pasar Agung route.  This was fine by us so long as we got to the top.  It also meant we could get a bit more kip as that trek would start at midnight as opposed to 10pm.  It sounded like an early start but we weren’t sure how long it would take to drive to the beginning of the walk.

As soon as it was dark, 7 bells, we got our heads down and caught a couple of hours sleep.  At midnight we were duly summoned to a waiting van and off we set.  It only took just over an hour to get to the temple and we just hoped we weren’t going to get to the top too soon and freeze waiting for sunrise.  Our fitness levels are way down since climbing Kilimanjaro, as we’ve basically done nothing since then other than relax and eat and drink too much.  So maybe setting off at 1.30am was the right timing.  Not surprisingly the temple was deserted at that time so we skipped through without being spotted however the guide was keen to set a fast pace and get away from the temple.  In fact he kept up this pace for some time and of course we duly followed.  Only 30 mins into the walk he declared that at the pace we were obviously capable of we’d be at the top way too early.  So we sat and chatted for a while and he asked us if we’d climbed any other peaks.  Ha Ha!  He quickly realised that the owner of guesthouse had failed to establish our credentials and had incorrectly judged a book by its cover.  So we had set off too soon after all!

Much to my dismay the guide kept walking a bit and then stopping and I hate that when I know I have to go up and up until reaching the top.  At 3100m Gunung Agung is almost 3 times higher than anything Britain can offer the world so it wasn’t going to be a stroll in the park.  We compromised and the guide slowed the pace right down so at least we kept progressing.  Unfortunately this plan didn’t work quite as effectively as we’d hoped and we ended up having to bed down behind a rock at 4am trying to keep warm.  Even though we’d brought plenty of gear with us lying on cold, uncomfortable rocks at 3000m trying to get some sleep to pass the time wasn’t much fun.  It was mighty chilly too!

The waiting was over slightly quicker than anticipated (did we actually drop off?) and it was good to get moving again so we could warm up.  We were approaching the top and spotted another couple so we weren’t the only ones breaking the rules.  We got to the crater rim and settled down just in time to see the sky starting to brighten and change colour.  It was a very clear night so we were hopeful of a good sunrise – we weren’t disappointed.  The colours were vivid and watching the sun come up behind Gunung Rinjani on the neighbouring island of Lombok was spectacular.  For those of you with long memories you may remember that many years ago we camped on the crater rim on Gunung Rinjani.  I think that was the start of our love of climbing volcanoes and other high bits of land.  By 7am the sun was up but it was still chilly up there.

It turned out the guides are uncle and nephew and they explained that at this time of year it is very difficult to get business so they never pass up an opportunity.  Lucky for us, but to settle their consciences they’d brought some offerings to make to the spirits.  It was interesting watching them sitting on the crater rim going through their traditional rituals.  Although we’re not religious ourselves we enjoy learning more about other people’s beliefs.  The Balinese religion is very ancient and based on a mixture of ancestor worship, Hinduism and some Buddhism making it one we find easy to have empathy with and an understanding of.  In fact earlier on in the walk we’d been discussing religion, as we wanted to find out more about the importance of the mountain.  We told the guide that we had an interest in all the world’s religions and that Ganesh was one of our favourites.  Once they finished their rituals and chants he told us that he’d had a special word with Ganesh for us.  Good to know we’d appeased the mountain and it was unlikely to suddenly and unexpectedly erupt like it did in 1963.

As always getting to the top is only half the story and the down hill part is much more demanding – or at least that’s what I think.  I wish I could have more confidence and just place one foot in front of the other like you do when going up.  However with the lose stones there is always the fear that you’ll slip and get down the mountain the quick way!  Sure enough I took more than my fair share of tumbles and landing on my recently broken (but fully healed) wrist didn’t help to boost my confidence.  Once again we realised that going up in the dark isn’t just so you can take in the wonderful sunrise but because if you’d seen the slopes in daylight there’s a strong chance you’d be happy to simply admire the hill from afar.  I’m sure many of feel that looking at mountains is more entertaining than getting to the top of them anyway! 

We could see the temple looming and were looking forward to walking normally through the grounds and down the steps.  Oh no!  We had to skirt around the temple and the impromptu jungle trek at the end of the walk we could have quite happily left out.  However the guides were nervous of bumping into the priest and 4 westerners in trekking gear weren’t exactly going to blend in with all the worshippers dressed in their beautiful traditional gear.  So we kept our moans to ourselves and respected their wishes.  A couple more spectacular bottom bounces for me and there was the road – heaven walking without the fear of tripping or slipping.  The drive back to the guesthouse took us through some fabulous countryside and it was great to see even more of that part of Bali. 

Once we were showered, breakfasted and packed we jumped in a bemo to take us to the coastal region of Amed.  We very quickly left the lush rice terraces behind and the land became much drier than anything we expected to see on Bali.  This far eastern coastal stretch goes on for about 12kms from Amed to Aas with villages dotted between the two where people rely on fishing and salt production to earn a living.  We decided to get down in Congkang as according to our guidebook there was more choice of accommodation and restaurants there than most of the rest of the strip.  Turned out to be an inspired bit of gut instinct.  We only looked at one guesthouse and decided to stay almost immediately.  The first room they showed us was lovely, obviously quite new and less than half what we thought we might end up paying in the area to get something decent.  The second room they showed us was right on the beach and was in fact an individual chalet built in the style of a traditional Balinese house.  With an open air bathroom including lovely garden, huge balcony with our own lounger and a private lotus pond how could we turn it down at £10 a night including breakfast.  Our chalet was also the one closest to their rather lovely infinity splash pool with great views of Gunung Agung.  Fantastic and with the ocean on our doorstep it how could we go wrong.

Having been up since midnight and successfully conquered another peak we decided to chill for the afternoon and take advantage of the pool and lounging around facilities.  On getting up to go for happy hour beers later in the afternoon we realised that our legs had seized up and we were once again hobbling around like grannies!  So far only Kilimanjaro has left us with fully functional legs by the end of the walk.  It may be a long walk and a particularly high peak but you never ascend or more importantly descend 2000m so quickly and steeply.  Luckily the bar and restaurant was only next door so we struggled round there, enjoyed and few well earned Bintangs, had our dinner, got chatting to a great couple who were on their 2 month honeymoon and stumbled into bed by about 11pm.

The next morning the weather was glorious once again so we decided to try the snorkelling.  We’d read that it was great right along the coast and plenty of people seemed to be paddling about with snorkels and masks so it was time to join in the fun.  Ideal snorkelling territory for me as I didn’t have to worry about how I’m going to get in and out of the boat and I never had to go out of my depth.  At times I did venture further out but it was a quick swim back to shore once I’d lost my nerve.  There was an amazing variety of fish right in the shallows and the corals were beautiful – mainly hard corals but a few soft ones and loads of different colours.  The fish were in abundance and it was great to see some new species.  Now I wasn’t very good at identifying the birds in our Tanzania tale but believe me this land lover has got no chance of filling you in on names of fish and corals.  Think of a colour, size, shape and pattern then change it as many ways as your imagination allows and you’ve got an idea of what we saw!

Steve would have spent all day going in and out of the sea but we set off to explore the local area and see if we could track down some bikes with which to explore the coastline.  No bikes were to be found which was disappointing but we are pleased to report that we didn’t see another guesthouse to rival the one we’d plumped for.  We did spot a couple of different restaurants to try that evening so we just had to decide how to spend the afternoon.  Yep water baby Steve got his way and we wallowed in the pool and read a novel each.  Does this sound more like your idea of a relaxing holiday on a beautiful island?!!

It was my turn to choose the activity the next morning so, as we couldn’t hire bikes we decided to walk down the coast and over the headland to the next bay.  Glad we did as from the top of the headland looking back up the coast we could see fishing catamarans lined up on the beach, beautiful blue sees, coral reefs and all back-dropped by Gunung Agung.  The next bay was even quieter than ours if that is possible yet there were a fair number of guesthouses.  I reckon if all the tourists had chosen a guesthouse each someone would still fail to get any business – it’s a shame as Bali is such a lovely place and the people we met along the way were great.  This next bay was where all the more upmarket places were to be found and the sort that Steve had been looking at on the internet.  To be fair they were lovely but we’re not sure we’d have been quite so comfortable and happy for 3 times the price.  Three Brothers Guesthouse was still the winner in our book.

Having walked back and cooled off in the pool we decided to go for another snorkel.  As Steve was hiring some gear a bloke asked if we’d like to take a catamaran trip along the coast and out to the small Japanese ship wreck.  I love boat trips and I’d been hoping to have a go in one of these traditional fishing vessels so off we set.  We finally got to see the section of the coastline we’d hoped to cycle to and Steve got to do his first ever wreck snorkel.  Of course the sea was way too deep for my liking and the water was too choppy round the headland so I stayed in the boat on dolphin watch.  I didn’t see any but the anticipation kept me occupied.  Steve said it was mainly soft corals that had inhabited the wreck and so it was great to see something different.  It was almost enough to tempt me in as I could have held on to a rope but I couldn’t make myself jump in off the boat.  A pity and yet again a fear I need to conquer.

Once we’d got into quieter waters the boatman asked us if we wanted to snorkel while being pulled along behind the catamaran.  Sounded like good fun as you’d be holding onto a rope but on finding out that this was going to be for about 4kms guess who stayed dry?!  Steve went for it and had a great time but I definitely made the right choice, as at times the sea got really deep.  Plus by the time Steve had had a cursory glance at the next reef on the trip he was back in the boat looking very cold.  Even in the shallows the sea was chilly.  How come we keep finding cold places and activities while the rest of the world is worrying itself silly about global warming?! 

Got back to the guesthouse in time for sunset beer in the pool but we could only manage a couple of sips before we had to get out to warm up.  It was as this point we realised the only thing our chalet was missing was warm water.  However this slight lack of luxury was far outweighed by being able to look up and see a sky full of stars.  That evening we met up again with the couple we’d met the first night and again had a smashing time in their company.  Obviously e-mail addresses were exchanged and we hope they keep in touch.  They are very rare people on this planet – Americans that aren’t loud and feel everyone should listen to them and put their needs first.  In fact we pretty much shared the same outlook on life and of course they have the shared interest of travel and learning more about the world by getting out there and seeing it.  Amazing isn’t it – American’s with passports!

Unfortunately our short holiday was rapidly drawing to its conclusion but we had time to try one last snorkel.  I was brave enough to venture in first only to find the tide was out and that visibility wasn’t good.  Oh well at least I had the courage to go in again and hope I’ve increased my confidence levels for the next time we have a coastal trip.  We found it very difficult to drag ourselves out of the pool but it was time to pack our bags and head to the airport.  We had a fantastic trip and in fact filled in our time in the airport looking in the guidebook at the west and northern areas of Bali that we’ve not ventured into at all – YET!

Travel Tips

In Tirtaganga we stayed at the Good Karma guesthouse which was great.

Three Brothers in Congkang on the Amed coast is a fantastic value for moey place with lovely villas and a nice pool.




















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