Returning to the island of Bali from Nusa Penida was logistically easy albeit a little bittersweet as we had such a great time on the tiny island. The eight days and nights we spent there were magical and I would return in a heartbeat and stay at the exact same Homestay. Enveloped by the constant sound of the sea, we bid the island farewell and hopped aboard the fast boat that would ferry us across the Bali Sea. As soon as we retrieved our backpacks from the boat we sat down to second breakfast of Nasi Jingo on the beach. We booked a room for our last night in Indonesia at the same hotel we spent our first evening so that we could leave our large backpacks with them; thereby, having a much lighter load for the following week. With just our tiny daypack we conveniently had our new Yamaha 155cc bike (the Yamahopper) delivered to the hotel, packed a few things under the seat and took off towards Ubud. It is HOT in South Bali. And Ubud is scorching in the middle of the day. We had over an hour ride to the center of Ubud during which I was excitedly making up silly songs on the bike and singing them to Rob. Our first stop was lunch at a Babi Guling warung we frequented last year.
It was delicious, but so much food and between the heat and the full bellies I began to fade fast. I felt like I wanted to immediately lie down and sleep, but we still needed to find a hotel. Looking for something under $20, I told Rob I was barely holding on and was moments away from laying on the sidewalk from pure exhaustion. The hot ride on the Yamahopper had zapped all my energy. He knows this look. It’s not our first time dealing with extreme temperatures together and he lovingly took the reigns and got us settled into a hotel with AC and a pool before I had a complete meltdown on the streets of Bali. Teammates. That’s how we began referring to ourselves when we hiked 800 miles on the Pacific Crest Trail together in 2017 and it has stuck. When one is down the other pulls the slack.
I experienced a bit of whiplash from the change of quiet beach life in Nusa Penida to the hustle and bustle of traffic, infinite stores and restaurants geared towards tourists and masses of people in Ubud. Given that, the following day we opted to take a long ride northeast to the Balinese Mother Temple we didn’t have a chance to visit last year. We both drank plenty of water to avoid ‘overheating’ again and hit the road. Since it’s all about the journey just as much as the destination, I opened google maps and took us off the main roads and north through local villages. These areas are incredibly peaceful and beautiful. Infinite family and village temples around each bend highlight the high level of Balinese artistry and craftsmanship. It’s not necessary to be in Ubud or Kuta or any of the other main tourist destinations to experience how naturally beautiful Bali is. It’s pervasive everywhere you turn. Hibiscus, wild orchids, coconut palms, bougainvillea, lush vegetation, manicured rice paddies and so much more follow you wherever you may wander. It’s impossible not to fall in love with this island.
As we traveled to the temple off the beaten path we waved to all the kids on the street, returned high fives, dodged a few chickens and eventually arrived Besakih Temple. We were both craving a bit more cultural knowledge to fill in some gaps and we paired up with Ketut, a volunteer, at the temple entrance. He spoke English and made our visit to this holy place something we will always hold dear. Ketut explained that we were visiting on a special day and that evening would commence the New Moon ceremony when families would flock to the temple to pray. Before entering the temple we purchased offerings and Ketut said that he would take us to the very top of the temple, 1,000 meters above sea level, where we could pray and mediate together. Nearly 1,300 years old, the oldest on the entire island, the temple is a magnificent piece of architecture. As we climbed the steps to the top Rob and I asked many questions and Ketut explained the meaning behind the different colors of umbrellas (representing the natural elements of wind, water and fire), the black and white checkered cloth used to wrap holy trees and statues (symbolizing yin and yang), why temples have different heights (family and villages temples vs those that are larger) and so much more. We were trying to learn as much as possible. At the very top we removed our shoes and Ketut lead us through the traditional prayer ceremony using the flowers and incense we had. We meditated shortly before winding our way back down the steps, taking a few photos and showing our gratitude to Ketut.
After two days in Ubud we were ready to get back to the sea. Having missed the west coast of the island last year that was our new target for the day. Not knowing where we would spend was nice since we could explore the relaxed surfer side of the island and pick a spot that called out to us. When we need a break from crowds traveling we often gravitate towards surfer areas though neither one of us currently surf. Rob surfed in California as a kid and I have zero experience but love the vibe. Balian Beach was a score for the first night back in the coast. We slept with the doors to our room open so we could hear the pounding surf nearby. The following morning we enjoyed the waves and breakfast before exploring further north to find a place that suited us. We made a pit stop at Medewi Surf Beach and watched the cows walk the beach before we discovered an amazing little hotel, Bali Taman Sari, tucked inside a local village and 50 meters from a near deserted black sand beach. Being so quiet and local with the sound of the waves floating around us as we swam in the pool outside our room, we kept extending our stay there another night. We spent theee days enjoying walks on the beach, delicious meals on the side of the road and sunset cruises in the hills. This is why we don’t plan our trips out and choose to just see where the wind blows us. We found serenity and perfection on Bali’s Northwest Coast exactly when we needed it.
Rob: There is a place in California called Black Sand Beach, on the Lost Coast Trail, where Lacy and I absolutely love the feeling and sensation of being because it has a certain combination of adventure, privacy and spirituality to it. The black sand beach that we found on the upper west coast of Bali in Indonesia is another one of those types of places. The beach spreads out for several kilometers in each direction from where we are staying. We have it all to ourselves with the exception of a local fishermen or two, thousands of sand crabs, two well fed cows who munch on the coastal grass and loads of morning glory vines that line the beach. The surf rolls in steady and consistently. With the new moon, the tide makes a huge swing here on the equator from splashing up to the stone barriers that protect the palm groves and all the way back out almost 200 meters revealing the finest black sand. The super, super fine volcanic beach is far closer to powder then sand. It has so much mica in it that it sparkles in the sun.
There is a strong steady breeze coming off the ocean which feels great because it is keeping the air dry and cool. Well, much drier than in the jungle anyway. The shade of the big Date Palms, Cempaka and Mangrove trees that we set up underneath today is just enough to keep most of the sun filtered and keep us in just enough shade so as to not warm up my cold Bintang Lacy brought down from the bar.
And then there is Sate Babi. I dream of Sate Babi. I get the smell of grilling Babi in my nose and I can’t think of anything else in the world. We came back toward our awesome little beach hotel from a great ride up into the jungle this afternoon. The sign was in black and white, hand painted of course and about the size of a small yard front real estate sign. The Koki or Chef was hand fanning the coals to give a customers order the final touch. Coconut husk charcoal gets red hot fast and has a nutty aroma. It burns at its peak with very little ash so you can virtually put the skewers of meat right on the coals if you like. There is no grate on Sate grills anyway. One skewer is about 6 inches or 15 cm long. For other meats it holds as much as you care to put on it at once. Babi is special and tradition holds that you get one bubblegum sized cube of about 90% meat and 10% fat and another with the ratio flipped around. Tonight ours was served with Lontong, my favorite rice cooked in woven banana leaf boxes under pressure and served in a pool of spicy sambol on a sheet of brown paper. No silverware, sitting on a bamboo mat with a low table in front of you. Slide the meat from the skewer, take a pinch of the rice block with your right hand, drag it through the sambol, make sure you add one cube of still smoking meat and one cube of smoldering fat and pop it into your mouth discreetly licking the sambol from your fingers as you go. I don’t think Lacy and I spoke much during our meal but we did grunt, smack our lips, nod our heads simultaneously and smile a lot. When we were finished we thanked the Chef. I could have hugged him, really. We left as many of the locals began to line up for their turn knowing we would probably be back again tomorrow on our way out of the village.
Lacy: The last three days here in Pekutatan, nestled between the surf beaches of Balian and Medewi have been splendid. At $30 a night it is a little more than we typically look to spend, but worth every penny. Breakfast and drinking water (as tourists, drinking anything other than filtered water is a sure fire way to screw your stomach up) is a nice bonus. The quiet local scene pulled us in and spit us out just in time to move on to India. We see that they have two large villas here each with a beautiful living room, kitchen and bedroom. Surrounded by their own privacy wall all of the rooms have large glass walls that open to a private pool and lawn. We noted it as a possibility for another time. That would be a real treat! And we would be able to shop in the local markets and cook as we love to do. For our final night here we returned to the beloved sate babi chef Rob mentioned, got our food to go and sat on the beach enjoying it while we watched the kids race their scooters up and down the black sand as the sunset. A perfect romantic evening together.
We said ‘Sampai nanti’ or ‘See you later’ to Indonesia as we walked into the airport to begin our day of travel to New Delhi. The two weeks here felt longer, but also went by very quickly. We already have plans to explore different parts of the country when we return next we are hoping that we can share our love of this place with more people. Thanks for following along our travels thus far. It’s about to get even more interesting…