Rob & I arrived back on Sumbawa island (2 islands east of Bali and the one closest to Kenawa where we traveled and visted during our first 30 days in the country) today after 15 hours of hassle-free, smooth traveling. The day began by leaving our hotel in Bali at 4:30am and included over 7 hours of ferries and 2 separate 2 hour rides across two separate islands. Why did we leave Bali after only 4 days? Well, we never actually intended to stay there that long, but we enjoyed the island more than expected, as you will read below. Over the next 2 days we will travel east across Sumbawa towards Mt. Tambora so that we can spend 3 days hiking the volcano with a guide. A couple days relaxing at a southern surf area to follow and then we head to the island of Flores (the next island to the east) which we have heard has almost no tourists and is stunning. We tried to leave 9 days for this island, and we may get to half of the it, but it already seems like it may not be enough time. I wish we had this bike for 6 weeks, but we are making the most of our 3 week tour.
Lacy: I had reservations about going to Bali to get the bike after our Sengigi experience. Being in a tourist area with all the locals constantly approaching you to buy a bracelet, take a boat ride, or try their restaurant was a huge turn off for me. I made the best of it, naturally, but did not enjoy that experience near as much as being in a village or other local area that wasn’t geared entirely to tourists. I began to get excited about Bali on the boat ride over as I watched it approach from my perch on the deck. I instantly saw what a mountainous, lush and beautiful island it is. Not unlike the others we have been on. Truthfully, Indonesia, as a country, from what I have seen, is absolutely stunning with its tropical clear beaches, jungle landscape and enormous mountains. The combination of mountains and beach is my favorite, which is why I love Northen California so much. Our first night in Bali we stayed at a hotel near the motorcycle shop we knew we would be at in the morning. This was specifically planned to avoid the tourist area and be in a local environment. The street food scene CAME ALIVE as Rob and I walked around the neighborhood about 6pm. Lights came on, boards were taken off the food carts and the fires on the grill started to burn. We walked right through it all and loved it. Of course we had our fair share. Bali being predominantly Hindu, in contrast to nearly every other island in the country that’s predominantly Muslim, pork is readily available and we tried the local Babi Guling Warung that serves a pork plate with every single part of the animal done a different way.
Rob was in heaven. I love seeing him so happy and it happens often when he eats! Bali is far more modern than where we have been in neighboring Lombok and Sumbawa. They only have taxis here – no horse carts or bemos, the micro buses. Fast food chains and large strip malls are in the city center. Multi-lane paved roads and an insane amount of traffic move you through the southern part of the island. The next morning we could not have been more excited to pick up our motorcycle for the next 3 weeks – a 250CC Kawasaki Versys with saddlebags and a trunk. This is a big bike for Indonesia because anything above this size gets taxed 3 times it’s original cost and is really expensive. We went through 3 islands just trying to find a 250 and had to come to Bali because nothing we could find anywhere else would fit both of us and our gear.
Huge shoutout to Chris who owns the bike shop and could not have been nicer and more helpful. Made it a wonderful experience. With massive grins on our faces we loaded up the bike and drive an hour away to the town of Ubud. Touristy, yes, but Rob wanted to see a Balinese dance and why not?! We noticed pretty immediately that we were getting a lot of looks while riding because the bike we have is unlike almost any other you see on the road here in terms of size and the fact that it has saddlebags and a trunk. No one bats an eye if you’re carrying a 20 ft bamboo pole, a family of four or 20 chickens on your bike, but we are again the attraction. Doesn’t bother us at all. We are having an amazing time. The dance was nice and afterwards we ate at a touristy restaurant where Rob devoured a grilled duck. Seriously, this man has a self professed duck problem.
I was happy we finally found a place where you could sit low at the table and take your shoes off, Asian style, even if it was touristy. Since alcohol is so available in Bali and they advertise Happy Hour everywhere to try to get tourists in, we might as well enjoy a cocktail or 2 with dinner. Once we go back to Sumbawa, alcohol, along with the Babi Guling, will nearly disappear. We decided to get out of the area first thing the next morning and head north where, honestly, there might be less white people and we could see the real Bali. We immediately noticed here that we had anonymity again, just blending in as any other tourist. No one was saying, “Hello Mister” or “Bule.” Our first full day with the “the beast,” our new nickname for the bike, was excellent. It was a Balinese dream.
From Ubud we drove North the next morning through the backroads. Rice fields are nothing new for us to see, but the terracing in Bali seems to be taken more seriously and makes for drop dead gorgeous scenery when riding through the countryside. There is a huge rice terrace area where you can walk through them all. The thing about Bali is that it really is beautiful, and they have turned everything into something that can be catered to tourists. So you will often find yourself admiring a view that also has a couple Western restaurants nearby with several huge air conditioned buses parked and crowds of tourists. Even so, you’re in awe of the beautiful terraced rice fields in front of you and the mountains behind. So picturesque.
From the rice fields we went to a Hindu temple on a lake that also had crowds of buses and tourists, but couldn’t take away from just how beautiful the scenery was. One of things that makes this island so enchanting are the Balinese temples, architecture, statues and offerings found EVERYWHERE. The other islands we have been to are not like this at all and it makes Bali really aesthetically pleasing.
As the day was growing late and we wanted to get to a hotel before dark, we chose one on Agoda while sitting on a bench and enjoying the view before taking off on the 20 minute ride around 2 more lakes. We had no idea that this would be our best view of the day, riding on a ridge with the lakes on one side and mountains on the other. And of course a few monkeys on the road along the way! Our hotel was tucked up in the mountains on the ridge with a neighboring hydrangea farm. We felt as if we were in a dream as we enjoyed our “welcome tea” on the deck of the reception area and marveled at the mountains and lake before us.
Rob enjoying the view and his tea…
As we walked back to see our room we could feel the mountain air begin to get cooler and I can’t explain how nice that felt. The first time we have felt cool mountain air in 6 weeks. Our “room” turned out to be a villa all on its own nestled on this ridge with a deck, fireplace, and living area. Pleasantly shocked, we sat on the patio and discussed how amazing it is what $26 will get you in Bali! We began to refer to our room as the 4 seasons Bali. In “our previous life” when we took really expensive weekend vacations we often went to the 4S Vail and loved it there! Our evening was magnificent.
We enjoyed dinner in the restaurant while looking over our 2 big Bali and Flores maps. Over a pitcher of Balinese sangria we made plans for island hopping the next 3 weeks. Back in the room we lit a fire and left the doors and windows open to enjoy the cool breeze. I realized I could see the Milky Way from our porch because of the altitude and how dark it was and I could not have been happier. We both stepped outside marveling at the stars and knowing what a great day we shared. The 4S Bali did not disappoint the next morning as they served us a beautiful breakfast on the porch of our villa. We leisurely enjoyed our coffee, fresh juice, delicious warm croissants and omelette before packing up the beast and hoping to return one day soon.
Rob: We started our ride along a mountainous ridge road that took us by a very picturesque area that turned into a mini photo session for Lacy. We were high up in the cool misty mountain air above 3 beautiful lakes below. The natural beauty of subject and setting made for some great pics.
Our couples date today was a long walk in the Botanical Garden above the Hindu Temple we visited the day before. With schoolchildren singing and playing games near the opening gate and fountains, we made our way up the mountain further into the main part of the gardens. The huge statues that looked like they were made of gold and white porcelain lead the way. Just like my hike on Moyo Island, our eyes were quickly drawn to the trees. There were so many different kinds and each of them supporting 10+ types of secondary plants that grew symbolically along the trunk, branches and in the canopy. Ferns, mosses, lichens and flowers all climbing everywhere up and down the tallest trees. Every inch of the supporting tree seemed alive and creating its own little ecosystem. We strolled around in the orchid gardens which were a display of Balinese architecture as much as they were of the flowers themselves. The higher up in the park ground we ventured, the more we found things just to ourselves. It was quiet and peaceful. Tranquility was what I needed before getting back out on the roads today. More on that shortly.
About half way down our 3 hour ride from the mountains to the beach it was time for a break. Like a message from the heavens, a bright green building had a big blue banner proclaiming “Warung Babi Guling”. Signs like this just can’t be ignored. My calling was a steaming plate of rice topped with cooked greens, chilis and roast sucking pig to the 8th degree. 8 variants of preparations of the little guy from the milk only feed meat, sausage, stewed offals and several kinds of cracklings. Our second leg of the ride landed us near Amed Beach. Paradise Palm was a $17 gem right on the ocean. This area is directly under the Agung Volcano that spewed ash for 4 days last fall evacuating the residents and resorts for 6 months. It is a very popular SCUBA diving area still struggling to come back to life. While Lacy lounged in the pool, I relaxed with an $11 massage on the deck just 10 feet from the ocean lapping up against the rocky beach. That evening, we found great warung food just a block or so away from the resort area for dinner. Coconut husk wood grilled chicken in a spicy peanut sauce has made its way into my soul. Lacy’s Mie Gorang was beautiful and tasty too. We truly are eating our way across Bali.
The next morning’s drive was another W.K.S.T. (explanation soon) ride back up into the mountains from the coast. We arrived at the brow of a mountain which was the base of an age old walking path that would take us up through 6 Hindu Temples to arrive at the 7th, Lempuyang Luhur, at the top of the mountain. It took a little over 2 hours and 2700 stairs up to reach the top. Along the way, we were mixed in with kids, families and groups of men, all dressed in bright white shirts and colorful sarongs. As the faithful climbed, they stopped for prayers and to receive blessings at several of the Temples along the way. Everyone was full of smiles and greetings, colorful flowers tucked in everyone’s hair and in the men’s hats. The air was cool but humid so it was a difficult and steep trek for everyone. Your visual rewards were constant and as breathtaking as the feeling of spirituality surrounding you along the way. Offerings of food and flowers were carefully carried by the worshippers up along with water that would be blessed and returned back down the mountain. On our way back down from the top, what are the odds that an enterprising Bakso cart Lady had 2 Bintangs hidden in her orange juice and water bottles? Rejuvenated and refreshed we returned our borrowed sarongs and headed off on the bike with happy hearts.
This evening, we planned to spend the night near the port of Pading Bai on the east coast of Bali in preparation for an early morning ferry to take the motorcycle back over to Lombok and Sumbawa. Nasi Jinggo, a Balinese rice dish served to-go style packaged in palm leaves and sold on street corners, along with potato fritters was for dinner. Like most rice dishes here, it is 80-90% rice topped with 4 or 5 little servings of spicy mackerel, shredded chicken and different veggies. The very aromatic spice in Nasi Jinggo is a unique blend of chilis, cloves, mint, cinnamon and salt. So jingging good!
W.K.S.T. defined: Driving, especially on a motorcycle, in Indonesia is a thrilling, challenging and terrifying experience for pilot and pillion. The roads themselves need constant alert level attention to navigate humps made by tree roots, holes of every size, dirt/gravel patches and so on. The 90 degree, S and U turns are typically unmarked and can be off camber creating some interesting turning angles. The living, breathing obstacles are the next level of challenge. Chickens and monkeys are the fastest moving, second to dogs, children and goats. More predictable but larger horses, cows and water buffalo fill out the tier. Goats thin as you get away from villages and toward more populated areas but they are replaced with swarms of scooters, horse carriages and motorized carts. Cars, small trucks, Bemos and large trucks barrel along at full speed, pass on blind corners and will squeeze up to 4 wide on a 2 lane road. Merging is the general rule here while on guard for being merged into, being merged over constantly and being aware that you may need to yield to someone merging without even looking when they pull in front of you or anyone from either side of the road. Stop lights, when they exist, are just suggestions. Some intersections are designed like a traffic circle, but without the same rules, but most are just an X where you slow dow just enough to avoid a collision. Traffic lines on the road? Perfunctory suggestions at best or a false sense of security if you dare to pay attention to them. Passing is done as a very dangerous ritual of mutual trust. On a 2 lane road, a car can pass a truck into your lane from the opposite direction. If they can’t make it around the truck in time, it is oncoming traffic’s job to slow down to let things continue to flow. A motorcycle can pass a car that is passing a truck. Once again it’s the oncoming traffic that yields or gets run off your own side of the road. Cars or motorcycles can pass anything else if there are solely motorbikes in the oncoming traffic. They do their best to leave you that paint stripe next to the edge of the road. You have to be careful to not slow unexpectedly but be ready to hammer the brakes at any moment. One of the few ways to pass where you feel the most safe and protected is to follow a truck passing another truck. This method is so popular that trains of trucks and cars will fall in line using the power of sheer mass to make their way down the center of any road. The power of mass is also a great way to use the better roads to speed along quickly. I’ve found that tucking behind an SUV cruising about as fast as the road will let them is the only way I can use 5th or 6th gear. I don’t know how, but it seems to work the vast majority of the time. We have covered a lot of ground in the last 5 days and only seen one minor fender bender. When we rented the motorcycle, Chris, the owner of Bali Adventure Motorcycles made sure we had new tires and brand new brake pads. I’m using every bit of them! Lacy has been amazing as our Navigator. I couldn’t get through the endless Kilometers of country roads without her calling out; “90 degree right in 200M”, “2 hairpins starting left ahead”, “Y to the right in 2 Klicks” or simply just “Cow!” So have you guessed that W.K.S.T. stands for White Knuckle Sphincter Tightness? There is even a strong residual sphincter tightness factor that can last long after the ride is over. Oh… I almost forgot. You drive on the left side of the road so you have to reverse all of your natural instincts on the road, too.
Fingers & Toes crossed that all continues to go well as the views from the places we can go anytime we want with the bike gets us further off the tourist track and is making it possible to go to more remote areas that that we just couldn’t access without our bike, the Beast from Bali. All motorcycles should have a name, you know.
Thanks for bearing with us on some of these longer posts with a minion photos. We would like to eventually print all these out in color and make a travel journal for ourselves. You’re along for the ride…😉