In the strange and beautiful way connections work, my cs host in Rijeka, Croatia left his job and has been travelling around South-East Asia for the last few months. He was heading southwards so we matched up our plans and he came to join me in Bali. Ivan got right into the chilled out vibes of Ubud and left me to my yoga, but after my classes we hit the road on our blue semi-automatic scooter and spent a few days – and many, long, bum aching hours – driving around the island.
Our first expedition was south from Ubud to the Bukit Peninsula, with the single aim of finding a sweet spot on a beautiful beach and chilling out. Easy right? Not so for us. Having no map but feeling confident that we could wing it with our basic tourist map and road signs along the way we started off by heading in the completely opposite direction. We went north. Not south. For quite a long time. We drove down some small roads that turned into no roads. We got lost. A lot. But we did drive through the rich greenness of rice paddie country and happen by a village as a cremation procession was passing through. Those are the kind of things you don’t see if you know where you’re going.
We saved the drive south for the next day and organised ourselves a little better. Ivan bought a real road map and planned our route to make sure we started out by heading in he right direction. We (meaning Ivan since all I did was map read from the back seat) braved the crazy traffic in Denpasar, Bali’s capital, and the awfulness of Kuta further south to see the beaches and famed surf spots along the Bukit Peninsula. A note on Bali’s beaches: they are not the white sand, calm turquoise water beaches you think of when you imagine a tropical island. Most of them are black sand stretches with waves that are the stuff of any surfer’s wet dream. Yay for the surfers, but Ivan and I weren’t thrilled. Still, we took a dip in the surf and admired the sun set over the ocean. Oh, and we visited a cliff top temple. The temple was average, but the view from the cliff- and for Ivan, being from Europe, a chance to see monkeys up close – were worth the entrance fee.
Our next road trip was north to Candikuning and Pura Ulun Danu Bratan, a Hindu-Buddhist temple built on small islands in the lake. This time we only got lost a little bit, but became pros at asking for directions (in Bahasa Indonesia nogal). The road took us higher up into the mountains, the peaks of the surrounding volcanoes casting their misty shadows on us. As with most journeys I find, the getting there is the fun part rather than the thing you’re travelling to see. Again the temple was okay and we only have photos of it because we snuck in a side entrance. But the drive through the countryside and past villages was awesome.
By this stage our bums had taking a beating- you try sitting on a scooter for an eight hour stretch and see how your thighs, hamstrings, knees, hips and bum muscles feel – but we weren’t quite done. Our last, and most epic, drive took us north east past Gunung Agung, the biggest volcano on the island, and its smaller companion, Gunung Seraya, to Amed on the coast. After all our driving and getting lost we knew our way around and made quick work of the coastal road. After Amlapura things got interesting. We took a small road that hugs the cliffs along the most eastern jutting out bit of the island. Here we could only drive at 20km/h, but the winding pathway led us through lush forest and blink-and-they’re-gone villages and spat us out on curves with views across the hills and down to small beach coves. Now, that is what going for a drive is all all about!