Interesting to know…
Bali is the only Hindu island in Indonesia. When the Islam came in 15-th century all the aristocracy and the priesthood of Java came here and established their Hindu bastion. The religion has remained unchanged for 500 years but the differences to Hinduism in India are obvious. Here the religion is mixed with local animistic beliefs and rituals and thus has been formed a specific, local form of Hinduism. For example people are not vegetarians and they even eat veal. People don’t put the typical red dot on their foreheads (sindur) except when they visit the temple and stick rice beans between their brows. Only one god, who represents the infinity, is acknowledged (Achintya) and the other: Vishnu, Shiva and the rest are just his manifestations.
The moment we set our feet at the port we immerse in a totally new world. Two Hindu temples greet the newcomers with exquisitely engraved stone arches. The village Gilimanuk is very small. Our driver leaves us 2-3 km away from the port at the fork to the north coast, which we plan to explore first. We are in the National Park West Bali so all is in forests, there are no houses, people or dust. Cars are just a few. We are ecstatic. Finally we reach the paradise we dreamed of!
Arriving at Bali
A car of some Swiss bosses of a resort in the park takes us. The driver, a Balinese boy who is very nice, take us 15 km away from the hotel where he will later go to work. We don’t wait at all and a small truck traveling to Singaraja (80 km away) takes us. We pass by the luxury resort Pemuteran where hundreds of westerns walk around beautiful bars and restaurants: the exotic dream of every tourist.
The driver leaves us in Gondol, a town with a beach, except in the next town, where there is none. It is already dark so we decide to sleep at any place we find. We walk a kilometer to the sea where we set our bivouac on a glade among a dozen of fishermen’s boats left on the black sand. There are two or three houses in the vicinity but no people. And this is our first night on Bali…
First bivouac in Bali
Hitchhiking goes very smoothly: no waiting and no dust. In the daylight we see how beautiful the island is. Every house has its own unique stone arch, temple and engraved wooden windows and doors. The yards and the boardwalks are filled with many different exotic flowers and plants. We notice that the roofs are ornamented and there are altars with offerings in front of every shop and restaurant. It is no coincidence that the island attracts thousand of tourists from around the world. We never felt such an exotic vibes on Sumatra or Java so far.
There are frangipani and palms planted on all the streets. Stone statues of deities and home guardians with various engravings make us feel like in a fairy tale. In front of every door on the sidewalk there is a gift to the gods: flower basket or rice, that is being changed every morning. The temples are of thousands. Every village has at least three temples and every family has it own, each more beautiful than the other, all amid flower gardens. We are bedazzled. Balinese people smile at us wholeheartedly. They seem even more friendly and joyous than the other Indonesian. Everyone greets us on the street.
Stone guardian of the home
A truck takes us to the fork to Banjar where we walk 4 km on foot to the biggest Buddhist temple of the island: Vihara Brahma Arama. It is a beautiful place situated high in the mountain.
Vihara Brahma Arama
Replica of Brobodur inside the temple
We go back on foot to the main road admiring the unique architecture of every house on the way. We spend an hour at an Internet cafe and it gets dark so we head to the sea, which is a kilometer away from the main road. We encounter a strange place with a pavilion. It looks like kind of ceremonial place. People here tell us it is OK to pitch our tent. There are dogs running around, something not typical for any Muslim country. (In Islam it is considered that touching a dog is dirty and nobody has one at home, respectively there are very few on the streets).
In the morning a woman appears, rushes into the sea with her clothes on and starts a ceremony putting flowers on her head. Here locals believe that the sea is full of ghosts so nobody enters to just swim. People come inside the water only to perform ceremonies or to fish.
We pack our bags and head to the biggest city of the north, the former Dutch colonial capital Singaraja. The Dutch capture Bali in the beginning of 20-th century when it is already not so popular to colonize other countries. The brave local Balinese people fight fiercely and because of that later they manage to gain lots of freedoms and relative independence.
A couple takes us. After the month we have spent in the Muslim parts of Indonesia women without veils and wearing make-up seem to us shockingly “immodest” 🙂 Both are very amiable. We pass by Singaraja and they take us to the Hindu temple where we actually want to go: Pura Meduwe Karang. The temple is very beautiful with many towers that are multi-roofed. These roofs are made of a special lyko that it is forbidden to be used for other things. We enter one person at a time as in every temple in Bali one has to wear sarong and we have only one.
Pura Meduwa Karang
The central part of the temple
Temples and gardens
We continue to our next destination: the Pura Batur Temple. In fact temples are everywhere in Bali as there is one in each house. We head to find a good place to hitchhike and walk among narrow streets with beautiful houses, exotic roofs and gardens.
It starts getting dark. In a while an empty tourist bus stops and the young driver agrees to take us for free. Later he even deviates a few kilometers form the village and leaves us at the entrance of the temple. There are almost no people. It is dark. The many towers of the complex are illuminated by mystic light. We walk in the narrow streets and find a hill with orange plants where we pitch our tent.
Bivouac inside the orange plantation
In the morning we see the volcano Batur and the giant crater lake in its foot. We enter the temple with tens of weird statues and towers with hidden murti (dolls) of Hindu deities. The difference between the Hinduism in India and those in Bali is so big that we would have never guessed these are Hindu temples if didn’t know.
The yard of Pura Batur
Towers with murti inside
Puja – a ceremony
The roofs are made of special lyko used only for these roofs and nothing else
We continue to the volcano Agung, which is 3200 m. (10 500 feet) and is respectively the highest in Bali. In its foot is the biggest and most important temple of the island. We embark on many short hitchhikes with many trucks. The last one takes us 2-3 km away from Pura Besaki, the terraced temple in the foot of the volcano (Pura means temple).
As it is the tradition we walk the last few kilometers. On the road a band of crooks sell us fake tickets 15 000 Rp. (1 Euro) each, that results are not necessary. The crooks are so good and are dressed in uniforms resembling these of the police.
The main entrance to Pura Bekasi
The temple complex is giant. It is full of pilgrims and tourists. It consists of many temples that are beautiful and is considered to be the most important in Bali and is function is to appease the volcano Agung.
The entrance to one of the many temples
The main entrance
The Balinese temples are open, without a roof and the pujas (prayers) are performed in front of the towers
Tower with drums
The temple from above
Endless row of towers
Upon leaving an SUV stops by. The family inside seem to be somewhat afraid of us and not sure if they really want to take us. Then they insist on taking us to Amlapura 40 km away. We get there in more than an hour as the road has many bends. It will take them another hour to get to their home, which we passed by on the road to here.
We wait in the dark at a fork near a gas-station when a tourist car stops, the bold head of a German guy appears out of the window and asks us where we are headed. He tells us he is coming back from the islands Gili, that have become very popular as of recently. He says he is depressed because he wanted to stay more there.
He leaves us to the fork to Amed, a small tourist village we wanted to visit in order to meet an old friend. The driver tell us it is around the corner, 15 minutes away, but doesn’t say this is if you are with a car 🙂
We head to there on foot and immerse in another Bali, the one plagued by tourism. All the time motor-bikes and taxis offer us a ride and ask us if we have rented a room. All prices are very high. We see the price on an Internet cafe: 13 000 Rp. (0.80 Euro) that is five times higher than the other places here.
We walk 4-5 kilometers and are tired so we decide to not go to the beach but deviate. We find a nice coco-nut garden, set the bivouac and fall asleep immediately as we are exhausted.
In the morning smiling people from the village are surprised by our knowledge in Indonesian. They have never seen such a thing – western people sleeping in a tent and cooking by themselves. It turns out we are very close to the sea.
View towards the volcano Agung where we slept
We start to look for an Internet cafe. Magy stays with the luggage in a tourist information point and I walk for 3 km. asking at least 15 people if I can use their Internet and all refuse. This has happened to us only at the mercantile-materialistic Singapore where we couldn’t charge our camera because everyone refused till at the end an Indian construction worker did us the favor.
Finally a boy takes mercy and gives me his phone. Like this we finally find the address of Svami Ji, the bright man we got to know in Rishikesh, India and is now visiting his friend, the Spanish girl Patricia. Soon we are in front of their two bungalows near the see and start looking around. Suddenly Svami Ji jumps out, dressed in orange. His eyes sparkle wit joy. We are immensely overjoyed too. He is not just a very good yogi but a very nice man too. It is great to be able to communicate again with this spiritual and conscious person…
With Svami Ji and Patricia
Later we grab a mask, a snorkel and fins and immerse in the underwater world of Amed. This is the most wonderful water we have ever been in up to now. There are tens of kinds of corals and many fish in wonderful colors and forms. We dive for hours.
Fishing boats in Amed
It is too beautiful to leave as was our plan. We need some rest as we haven’t taken a brake since we left Jakarta. The place is calm and the company of Svami Ji is excellent. In the morning we make asanas (yoga poses) on the black, volcanic beach, meet the sunrise and the sunset, go to different restaurants, dive in the coral world full of colorful fish, meet new people and old students of Swami Atma… The world is marvelous.
Two days pass by and we feel it is time to leave. Besides the tourist world of Amed with the endless procession of westerners is not of our taste.
We pack our bags and cook some french bread for breakfast. Suddenly the Spanish girl Patricia shows up and starts behaving hysterically. Her hostess has told her that she is not happy by the fact that we sit in front of the bungalow all day and use the toilets (though we asked beforehand and she allowed us to stay there). The cousins of Patricia also get jealous we haven’t paid anything, totally forgetting we are guests of Swami Atma, and that there are most important things than if you have or haven’t paid 5 Euro. So Patricia starts shouting and telling us to go away which shockesus and Swami Atma – especially as he is a spiritual person living among roaming Sadhu in Rishikesh.
He comes and says peacefully that the conflict must be resolved harmonically and that he will pay for our stay as we are his guests. This makes things worse and Patricia starts shouting we must pay for ourselves (have in mind we have used the toilet maybe two times in total :)) Swami Atma orders us to not pay anything and while Patricia is fizzing around he blesses us with a mantra and gives us money, that we fail to refuse. Our meeting with him gives us positive energy regardless of the outbursts of Spanish super ego-centrism.
But we already know that when we meet westerners, and especially if we depend on them, most of the times things end like this. This sense of self importance and money is reflected in maybe 70 % of the European people and shows itself in the form of stress and losing sense of life, caused by the breaking of the connection to Nature and infinity, interchanged instead with over-identification to a small, “self sufficient” ego.
The beauty of Bali, family temple with towers resembling mushrooms.
A truck takes us to the main road, far from the madness of the resort. We immerse once again in the real Balinese world. We will probably not go again at such a tourist beach. Another truck takes us directly to Ubud, our next destination. We get off some kilometers before the town, known as the cultural center of Bali, in order to visit the temple-cave Goa Gaja (the Elephant Cave), which is really impressive with a small Ganesh, ancient pools and jungle around it. The entrance fee is 15 000 Rp. (1 Euro).
The entrance to the Elephant Cave
Inside the cave
Into the jungle
Roots of a giant tree
Mr. Shushtari with some friends 🙂
Later we stop at an Internet cafe and after it gets dark we go on foot to the ancient stone engraving Yeh Pulu at the end of the village. Small lamps illuminate the mystic place. Only the sound of the river is heard. We climb on the terraced rice fields under the wall and find a small, hidden glade where we set the bivouac.
The stone engraved wall Yeh Pulu
Behind the door
Bivouac in the rice fields
In the morning we encounter an ancient, traditional baths with stone engravings. After a shower and some laundry we head hitchhiking to the town Tampak Siring, 15 km away.
As usually a small truck takes us. There are two important temples and one palace in the region. Sadly visitors are not allowed inside the palace. We pass on a secondary road and manage to enter the temple Tira Empul. We are impressed by the many pilgrims who come here to take a ritual bath in the sacred springs of the temple. Some people meditate on stone platforms, others put flowers on their heads and pray in front of the stone faucets.
Man meditating at the temple
Woman placing offerings
The sacred pools
We pour some holy water on our heads and go around the temple. We encounter a very beautiful spring surrounded by a wall next to the main altar where only pilgrims are allowed to enter.
The magical spring
We head on foot to the other important temple situated at two kilometers. Gunung Kawi is an ancient cliff complex situated on the river bank. We pay the entrance fee, they give us sarongs and we start walking on the steep staircase. The place is very mystical
We walk around for an hour or two, enjoying every temple. In some of them women are not allowed to enter and in each one women in cycle or with loose hair can’t go inside.
Rice fields near the temple
The most sacred tower where only men are allowed
Gigantic Banyan tree
All the temple is carved in the rocks
Baskets with offerings
Sunset above the temple
We go back on the road around 6 p.m. – the equatorial sunset time. We deviate off the road, enter a small pathway in the forest and lie on a glade. People pass on the pathway from time to time. No one seems to care that we have the tent pitched. All smile warmly at us.
A young tour guide takes us back to Ubud, the cultural capital of Bali. There are hundreds of workshops for souvenirs near the road. In half an hour we are in Ubud. We have raised our expectation before we came. It turns out this is the next tourist black hole. There are no temples and gardens nor beautiful architecture, so typical for the other towns on the island. Streets are filled with shops, western restaurants, hotels, hostels and hungry for shopping tourists. This repulses us. The palace in the central part has only one small yard open for visitors and is full of Chinese tourists making selfies. At least there is no entrance fee.
View towards the inner yard, closed for visitors
We continue to the “Monkey Forest”, old park with tropical forest and a small temple full of macaques. Again it is full of tourists, the entrance is 40 000 Rp. (2,50 Euro) and we have already seen so many macaques, jungles and temples, so we decide to not enter.
We go out on foot of the town and the first car we wave at stops by. A local man with his Swedish friend are headed to the airport in Denpasar and take us with them. Then it turns out Natali is half Bulgarian, half Swedish, but doesn’t speak Bulgarian as she grew up in Sweden. What a coincidence…
They leave us at the resort Sanur where our couchsurfing.org host will come to take us. While we wait for her to finish her work we head to the beach. This is the first white-sand beach that encounter on Bali. There are ones only near Denpasar at the city is relatively far from volcanoes. There are tens of restaurants and many lounge chairs on the beach, thousands of tourists and resorts and on top of all this the water is not clear. It is a total madness and we have heard that this beach is calmer than those of Kuta, which everyone says is terrible. We still don’t get it why you need to pay thousands of dollars to be in such place as there are thousands of heavenly places in the region.
The beach at Sanur
In the evening Anjy, who is from Java and moved to Bali, comes to take us with her car. She lives at a luxury house in a calm neighborhood ten minutes from Sanur. She is a traveler herself so we chat till late and then crash on the bed in the bedroom that looks like taken from a picture in a magazine.
We have to extend our visas in Denpasar. Anjy goes to work and leaves at the end of the city form where we walk an hour to the immigration office. There is almost no public transport in Denpasar. We have heard the city is noisy, but to our surprise it is not that bad. There is heavy traffic but the garbage and dust that are everywhere on Java lack here. There are thick trees everywhere and no tourists because there are no landmarks. The buildings are all low and it is a pleasant city. There are also many administrative buildings and banks but almost no shops and restaurants.
Monument in the center of Denpasar
We take the papers we need to fill and go back on foot to our neighborhood. We are tired and on top of it we get lost while looking for an Internet cafe. Our hostess comes back in the evening and after cooking some Bulgarian meals we go to sleep late at night.
On the next day all repeats itself. Hours of walking. They don’t accept our documents at the immigration office because our sponsor has to come with us, they tell us. This means we have to come back tomorrow, this time with Anjy. Staying in cities and engaging with bureaucracy have always been hard for us. It turns out that the visa will be ready in 10 days so we need to make another plan for Bali.
We manage to apply for visa extension successfully. They tell us to come back in six days to pay and receive the passports. So we decide to travel instead of stay in Denpasar.
Anjy leaves us at the highway. We don’t see any suitable place for hitchhiking so we walk for 2-3 kilometers. Soon a truck stops by and drives us to Padang Bai port form where the ferries to Lombok and the small island Nusa Penida sail. Nusa Penida is Hindu and is under Bali’s administration. It is an hour and a half away from Bali. There is only one ferry going there at 1 p.m. The price is 31 000 Rp. (2 Euro). We come on time to catch it, buy provisions and have lunch.
There are many picturesque places on the island but it will be hard to visit them as there are not much cars on the island. So when we arrive we hire a motorbike. Like this it won’t be necessary to wait for the trucks, which anyway travel only on the main road. A man gave us his motor-bike for 3 Euro per day for four days in total. We head to the village Buyuk where the so called Crystal Bay is located. There are fishermen villages on the road. The water is very blue. Having in mind how many tourists there are on Bali it is strange that here are very few. No hotels or resorts neither.
Map of our travels on Bali
We head down a broken road to the Crystal Bay, which is a thin sand beach with incredible, tropical blue sea. The last tourists are leaving. On the beach there are just some bungalows and a bar.
We notice a stone staircase in the rocks. A boy and a girl coming down on it point us to a secluded beach where there are no people at all. The stairs and the narrow path afterwards take us to an incredible beach with a forest. We have dreamed for so long for such a secluded place where we can be surrounded only by Nature…
First bivouac into the wilderness
Our seclude beach
The beach from above
The adventures in Bali continue in the next blog post…