Today we were saying goodbye to Ubud and heading north to the small village of Les on the coast. We had a driver scheduled to pick us up at 9.30 and headed out to the road to meet him. We were greeted by tens of barking dogs, none of whom seemed very happy to have us waiting in the shade of a nearby house. After a few minutes, Kome, who had been our host the past few nights, came out with a phone and offered to call our driver, which we were more than happy to have her do. She then ushered us back inside, no doubt to get us away from the dogs so they would stop barking.
While we waited we learned about Balinese life from Kome and her husband Wayan. They were very friendly and we continued our talk for the better part of 45 minutes learning about Hinduism in Bali, their ambitions for expanding their guesthouse, and the growing tourism in Bali which it sounds like not everyone is happy about. Our driver eventually showed up and we wished our new friends farewell, a little sad that we hadn’t gotten to know them a little sooner.
We climbed into the van and what followed was a rollercoaster ride of a drive as we bombed down hills, and careened past slower cars and motorbikes all on a two lane road that barely qualified as one lane by US standards. The hairpin turns in the road weren’t even worth slowing down for and we often used them as opportunity to pass other cars around the blind corners. At least we weren’t driving because it looked like this is how everyone in Bali drives and that would be a near certain head on collision for us. I closed my eyes so I didn’t have to watch and Lynn just flat out fell asleep. It seems she was less worried than I was. The whole time I thought of Lynn’s Dad who asked us the night before why we rented motorbikes instead of a car. This right here was the reason. Our driver was very casual about the whole thing, occasionally checking his phone, messing with something on the floor of the passenger side, and once even stopped to point out fruit trees and have us help ourselves to some guava right off the plant.
After about an hour we mercifully pulled into a parking lot and gave our nerves a break while we checked out the view of Mount Batur which is an active stratovolcano in the middle of two concentric caldera’s from previous eruptions. The view was very lovely and you could see past lava flows from an eruption in the 60’s as well as Batur lake in the distance. The whole caldera seemed to be populated right up to the active volcano cone, which I think is just asking for trouble. The view furthered our belief that Bali is a better Hawaii, with this as their version of Volcano National Park. You can even take a sunrise hike up to the summit of the volcano and bike down a la Maui if you are so inclined.
After a few minutes we loaded back up in the car and had our most harrowing drive yet for the next hour as we came down the mountain along steep ridge lines. We both noticed that at this altitude the tropical jungle had given way to tall pine forests which surprised us both. We eventually reached the ocean side highway below and Lynn and I were both relieved to have survived with only a little carsickness to show for it. As we pulled into the guesthouse where we would be staying for the next three nights, we both suddenly felt like the drive had been worth it.
Les was not at all like touristy Ubud. It was a small fishing village on the black sand beaches of north Bali that it seems the difficult journey kept people away from. Our guesthouse was four whitewashed bungalows overlooking a garden and the ocean with hammocks and a lovely patio to enjoy the views from. A cool breeze swept inland and was a pleasant change from hot and humid Ubud. Soon after arriving we had a lunch of grilled whole fish, tofu stir fry, and fried tempeh. The fish was amazing, covered in locally harvested sea salt and grilled to perfection. We also met the only other guest at the Segara Lestari Villa, a freelance graphic designer from Amsterdam who is travelling around Bali for a month with her one and half year old daughter. Lynn and I both were inspired by her willingness to not let having small children keep her from exploring the world.
After lunch we both decided a nap was in order and retired to our bungalow for the next few hours. I woke up before Lynn and was reading a friend’s blog about their trip to New Zealand when I suddenly saw a worrying piece of information. It seems you need a visa granted ahead of time to enter Australia. We had both wrongly assumed that if Indonesia, Thailand, and Cambodia gave Americans a visa on arrival surely Australia would too. Turns out that’s wrong. I woke Lynn and after reading some very cryptic information on Australia’s immigration website determined that we could apply for an eVisa since we were from the US and it would likely be approved almost instantly. Phew. Just as I started the application process our internet went out. I guess the visa would have to wait, so we threw on our bathing suits and decided to go for a walk along the beach in the meantime. Also a big thanks to John and Lauren for now, not only being our travel inspirations, but also helping us realize that we do in fact need an Australia visa.
Our walk along the beach was quite pleasant. We passed a number of sea salt evaporation ponds and even a few people harvesting some of the salt. We stopped for a taste and it was in fact sea salt. We walked to the end of the sidewalk along the ocean and passed a number of fishing boats preparing to head out after dark and a lot of children playing in the ocean nearby. Everyone was very friendly and keen to practice their “Hello” on us. We walked back to the other end of the sidewalk, maybe a half mile total, and saw more small fishing huts and friendly folks on motorbikes before going back to try our luck again with the visas. We decided that this is what old time Bali probably was before it was overtaken by tourists (we know, like us) and we enjoyed the opportunity to experience it still. Everyone was a salt farmer or fishermen and they all seemed very friendly and carefree. Not even once did anyone try to hawk us postcards or saris or yell “taxi” as we passed. Bali was quickly becoming our favorite place we have been thus far.
This time success! Within ten minutes we both had our visas and were ready for Australia. As long as the volcano cooperates and our flight actually happens on Friday, which is definitely still up in the air (just like the volcano ash…get it?)
We decided to celebrate our visa procurement by going for a snorkel in the water just off shore. I grabbed my mask and snorkel I had brought and Lynn procured one from our earlier driver, who it turns out is also our host. He also gave us both some flippers to use and we waddled out into the ocean. Immediately we saw little electric blue fish darting in and out of the rocks close to shore. As the water got deeper we saw crabs and bigger fish until the rocks gave way to a surprising amount of colored coral and bright fish as well as some very beautiful blue starfish. This was some of the best snorkeling I had seen in a long time, and definitely the best of our trip so far.
After 30 minutes or so we headed back in, rinsed and sat in some hammocks and talked to our host for a while. It turns out he is a part of a reef restoration project taking place just offshore. Bali fisherman, we learned, used to use potassium to fish, which killed a lot of the coral and ornamental fish. Gede (our host) is working to change the fishing to net fishing and rebuild the coral reef by hand. That actually is where most of their guest house stays come from, eco-tourists who have signed on to help rebuild the reef by planting coral.
Feeling a little bit inspired we headed off to shower before making our way back to the dining patio for dinner. This time we were treated to corn fritters, a vegetable stir fry, and pan fried chicken thighs in a delicious orange sauce. We talked with out Dutch friend (we seem to make a lot of those and happily this one doesn’t smoke) about her travels and got some tips for South America before heading back to our bungalow to enjoy the night air on our patio.
Daily Walking Miles : 2.8
- Balinese believe that children are reincarnations of past family members. Kome and Wayan’s son is the reincarnation of Wayan’s grandfather.
- Many generations of families tend to live together in large compounds. When I asked Wayan how many people lived with him he said his aunts and uncles and cousins but honestly did not know how many there were.
- A nest of ants seems to have made a home in our bathroom. After discovering them during a shower, Lynn called for backup from Gede who sprayed the whole place down for us.