70. River Deep, Mountain High

from “The Innocents”, Erasure, 1988.

So, enough of this indulgent relaxation and general pampering and time to get out and see a little more of the real Bali (pronounced bah-lee). We looked at several tour options but the majority of the operators did much the same thing and – as we’ve never been fans of guided or fixed agenda tours, which also usually involve going to places for shopping where the guide gets commission – we decided to try and organise something a little more personal. With a little help from the internet we found Wind.

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Wind runs his own tour company in Bali and was happy to drive us around the island to visit the various sights that we particularly wanted to see in our own itinerary and at our own pace. With water, sunglasses, hats, and most importantly a fully charged camera, we set off to explore.

Tegenungan is a village that is set beside a waterfall near the Balinese artistic centre of Ubud. With roughly 80% of Bali’s income generated through tourism it is not surprising that Tegenungan has grown to exploit this natural attraction. As Wind told us, many of the shops and eateries we saw didn’t exist a short time ago and we also saw several new buildings being constructed down in the valley beneath the village.

We could hear the roar of the waterfall before we saw it and as we started our descent of the steep series of nearly 200 steps to get down to the river we could already appreciate the splendour of the waterfall.

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As can be seen, the waterfall was not only popular attraction to see but also one to physically enjoy as we saw many people indulging in a cooling splash around in the waterfall’s plunge pool. We hadn’t brought our swimwear with us so everyone missed out on seeing our Adonis-like forms, but we did enjoy standing close to the waterfall and feel the cooling spray from the plunging water.

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There was of course the arduous and very hot climb back up to the village and so we felt we rightly deserved a gelato. With numerous gelateria to choose from, and all with identical prices, we plumped for the one with the smiliest staff and added incentive of free use of their toilet – as we discovered in Bali you always need to pay to use a toilet.

Back in the car and we headed off towards Ubud to see the rice terraces at Tegallalang. These rice paddies use the subak system, which is a traditional Balinese cooperative irrigation method of growing rice that has been in use since the 8th century. The terraces provide beautifully dramatic views as they descend the sides of the valley, and you can freely climb down and explore them.

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Philip had a minor misstep when he apparently tried to plant himself in one of the watery terraces – silly boy! There are no real steps and you do need to clamber and climb your way up and down, which is fun though felt a little perilous at times. We did see one or two ruined flip-flops left behind from previous explorers – seriously, who goes climbing in flip-flops?

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Hordes of eager hawkers and sellers on the road above await your return from seeing the rice terraces. Among them are some children, and while it seems harsh to say ‘no’ to the children who try to sell you stuff there is a good reason to. As we had already learned from our trip to Siem Reap in Cambodia in 2012, these children are used by their families to pull on your heartstrings in order to earn money but they are actually missing from school in order to do so. So really it is better not to buy from them and try to lessen their effectiveness in the – probably vain – hope that they will get their schooling. Anyway, onwards again.

One thing we had not seen in any of our travels was a volcano, so we definitely wanted to see Mount Batur, which is an active volcano in the northeast of Bali. The first documented eruption of Mount Batur was in 1804 and the most recent being in 2000. So while it probably wasn’t going to quite look like Mount Doom from Lord of the Rings (shame!), it was definitely very high on the must-see list for us.

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The peak above is actually several vents in the larger stratovolcano and the landscape along with Lake Batur to the east of these lie withing the volcano’s huge caldera. So as it turned out we were actually on the caldera’s southern rim.

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Mount Batur – the vents in the central peak.
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Mount Batur – Lake Batur lies on the eastern side of the volcano caldera.

We stopped for lunch and enjoyed great views watching the clouds and sky change over the landscape as we dined. We ate in the only non-buffet restaurant, which turned out to be very quiet as the masses of other visitors ate in the other nearby buffet ‘fill-yourself-stupid-on-average-lukewarm-food’ restaurants. Hmm, sounds like we don’t like buffets doesn’t it? 😛

Wind told us how a lot of the volcanic soil and rock is excavated and used for various constructions and works around the island and on the roads we saw a lot of trucks transporting the black earth away. Apparently some of the excavations are not exactly legal; we hope they don’t dig too deep and hit magma and trigger Mount Batur!

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Mount Batur – it all looks a bit like Erebor and the Long Lake from The Hobbit. Does that mean we’re in Mirkwood? Eek, spiders!

So with a volcano now ticked off on our bucket list it was time to see some Balinese temples; but that’s for next time.

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