This week’s installment sees me on one of the most famous tourist spots on earth, the island of Bali where I check out some Hindu temples, something that I hope to be doing a lot more of in a couple of weeks’ time when I head off to India, (Yippee!! Can’t wait!). However, in the meantime I thought I’d let you lot know just what I’ve got planned for UTM over the coming months. I hope to finish publishing ‘Dirty Magazine’ by the time I jet off to India (11th Feb) and then after that I’ll be posting travel updates until I return at the start of March. Then I am intending to put up my travelogue ‘Across Asia With a Lowlander’ which covers my greatest ever trip, an epic overlander from Japan to Moscow. Then following that the plan is to post ‘The Missing Link’, a travelogue that I am currently writing detailing my travels last summer through Ukraine, Moldova, Transdniestria and Romania in which I completed that epic overlander and linked up my European and Asian adventures. So… lots to look forward to, promise!
Uncle Travelling Matt
Links to all the parts of this travelogue
Most people who go to Bali have at least one or two weeks to explore the island. I realistically had a day, as time was getting short and getting to my next destination, Malang would take a whole day at least. Thus I was faced with the question of how to see as much of the island as I could in the shortest time possible. Digging into the depths of my memory, an answer soon availed itself.
Several years ago I lived and worked for a few months on the Greek island of Corfu. Before that I went on holiday there. Faced with a similar challenge of how to see as much of the island as possible, I tried out several options. Firstly, there was the local bus, but this proved to be a far from satisfactory course of action, as there were only a limited number of routes and an even scarcer number of buses on those routes. Next, I’d booked myself upon a ‘For Your Eyes Only’, (named after the Bond film that was shot there), bus tour which took us around the island’s highlights for a mere twenty quid. That was better but hardly perfect. I’ve never been a bus tour kinda guy with good reason. For a start being sat on a coach for hours isn’t the biggest laugh ever, but more than that it’s the places that they end up taking you to. Yes, they do go to the highlights of the locality, but then straight after they take you to the souvenir palaces of those highlights. Local potteries, silk-weaving, papyrus factories (Egypt only), jewelry workshops. You name any craft and they’ll dump you at its place of manufacture. Not that I’m anti-souvenirs of course, actually I quite like them, particularly the crappy, tacky ones, but I don’t want dumping at the shops for an hour or two when I could be looking at, well, err, at other stuff.
Nor do I want to have my dinner at the bus driver’s mate’s restaurant, famed for it’s isolated location, (cheap land), and average food, (guaranteed custom by the coach load). No, a coach trip was not in order.
Thus it was that I hired a moped, and spent many a day whizzing up and down the green hills of Ionia’s greenest isle. And what with Bali being a green isle full of tourists too, I figured that acquiring a similar steed may not be too difficult, and so after showering and supping complimentary tea I sort out Agoom who I found near to the entrance looking very smart in his uniform. And after a few dealings with a mate of a mate, (which surely resulted in a few thousand rupiyah being placed into the Head of Security’s back pocket, I set off on a 100cc Honda with a mile-o-meter (or was it a kilometre-o-meter?) that didn’t work.
After consulting the guidebook, I decided to head first for the tourist trap and then for the hills. Bali is of course a course an island famed for it’s temples and the most famous of them all is one perched on a tiny island called Tanah Lot. It looked nice in the picture anyway, so I revved my Honda up and set off for there. Whizzing along the island roads, with their chaotic traffic and broken traffic lights, the cool breeze a welcome break from the hot equatorial sun, I remembered well the times back in 1997 when I lived for those few short months in Sidari, Corfu. Riding mopeds is such good fun, and truly the best way to see any island, that is until you fall of them of course, which inevitably happens, but thankfully I’d only done that twice and on both occasions was unhurt. Let’s hope that today was the same!
Upon arrival it became very clear that it was one of the most popular. Not only was there a large car park full of coaches, but also a whole complex of souvenir establishments. Not being on a coach tour however, I did not have to stay here for an allotted time so I steadily charged through the T-shirts and woodcarvings to the temple itself.
I must admit, when it did come into view I was more than a little disappointed. The picture had shown a beautiful temple with pagoda-like towers perched on an ivy-clad rock out to sea. Well, Tanah Lot certainly was all of that but what shocked me was that it was, well, err, a bit smaller than I expected. A lot smaller in fact, it was indeed very small indeed and the towers shown in the photos could have been little more than five metres high if that. Hmm, an optical illusion. Nonetheless, I got some random tourist to snap my grinning mug in front of the holy place, and then walked down the steps and across the beach to actually visit the Holy Place itself.
Purah Tanah Lot
Disappointment Number Two: Although the tide was out visiting was not allowed and two sarong-clad guru-type guys were there to enforce the rules. Good for erosions and tourism management maybe, but not for me. Oh well, never mind, back to tacky touristdom I went and after downing a cup of tea, I mounted my metal steed once more and headed for the hills.
Bali is a largely mountainous island and the weather was getting hotter which meant only one thing, heading inland for some cooler temperatures, fine scenery and of course, temples. I knew nothing about Balinese temples, nor their religion for that matter, and so I had nothing to go on. Where was hot and where not, I did not know, so I picked up the map and selected a temple to head for. The one I picked was Pura Luhur; almost at the dead centre of the island and easily accessible from Tanah Lot. Or so I thought. Unfortunately my map was not the best and I soon got lost. Chugging through some unknown ricefields I came across another fine temple, (name forgotten I’m sorry), in a woodland grove and with a cascading waterfall. Delighted I drove on, by sheer luck rejoining the route that I was meant to be on, and heading ever onwards and upwards.
After some time I noticed the clouds above getting blacker and grimmer. My experience on Sumbawa with Mr. Aki had taught me that tropical rain comes suddenly and falls heavily. Hurriedly I looked for shelter and luckily located an open garage that I dived into. I was not a moment too late, the heavens opened and within a minute the huge drains by the roadside were overflowing.
Tropical rain however finishes as abruptly as it starts and after about twenty minutes in the garage I was once more on the road, driving through the now-sodden hills. The scenery now was quite spectacular, lush palms and rice fields. I passed over a small bridge which crossed a beautiful boulder-strewn stream which I stopped to photograph. Just past the bridge there were some hot springs advertised. Being an onsen fanatic in Japan I decided to halt awhile and take the waters. The place was beautiful, in a secluded palm grove by the riverside, with a beautiful waterfall crashing down a cliffside. The price however was not; “Twenty-five US dollars!” I repeated incredulously. I couldn’t believe it, even in Japan, a good hot spring with all the best facilities would not cost that. Talk about milking the tourists. Without a dip in the thermally goodness, I drove on.
I soon discovered that I’d made the right choice of temple with Pura Luhur. Whether it’s the best temple on the island I know not of course, but on that particular day I couldn’t have gone to a better place. I had chanced upon the Full Moon festival and the place was jam-packed with literally thousands of colourfully dressed pilgrims making their way to and from the temple itself which was located at the top of a long walk uphill. The location of the complex was spectacular with the majestic, cloud-covered Gunung Batukau, (one of the island’s highest peaks), behind and lush trees all around. I went to the entrance and was given the obligatory sarong to cover bare-legs, and entered amongst the pilgrims, who milled around and sat in large pavilions in the outer limits of the temple eating lunchboxes of rice and fish which I assumed were provided by the temple authorities free of charge and were made from the thousands of food donations that all the visitors were offering to the deities. Upwards I went towards the temple’s inner sanctum with its thatched pagoda’s but there I was stopped. Prayers were being held and I was obviously not a believer.
The drive back was fine, along winding mountain roads, past terraced rice fields and tiny villages with decorations lining the streets due to the moon festival. At times it was hard going, the road surface would disappear and then unexpectedly start once more with alarming regularity. Eventually however, I hit the main road to Denpasar and headed back down the hills towards Kuta. Nearing the resort I heard voices singing and so I stopped to witness another aspect of the island’s spiritual life. There, newly built yet in a traditional Balinese style was a Catholic Church which, (the day being Good Friday), was packed to the rafters with believers. I stood at the back for a while whilst the native priest intoned the words of the Bible in a Latinesque chant-like Indonesian. The congregation crossed themselves faithfully and I moved on.
Denpasar Catholic Church
On the way to Tanah Lot that morning, I had driven straight out of the resort and onto the main Denpasar road. Returning however, I took a different route, all the way through Kuta. I was amazed at the size of the place, I’d assumed that it was big but not that big! Mile after mile after mile of hotels, souvenir shops, rent-a-car agencies, moneychangers and restaurants. Sod’s Law however decreed that Hotel Santika Beach be at the far end and that trying to move through that surging mass of twenty-first century tourism was not easy. I brought the bike back late but the man didn’t mind, and so nor did I.
The next day I was up early once more, ready to set off on my journey back to Java. I looked for Agoom to say goodbye, but he was nowhere to be seen. I soon found out why. “He’s sick today,” informed the security guard at the gate. Oh well, never mind, perhaps he’ll e-mail one day?
The workings of the buses at Denpasar bus station confused me I must admit. I was informed beforehand that a bus would not be leaving for Malang or Surabaya before four that afternoon, yet upon arrival a man tried to sell me a ticket for his bus which would be departing at two ‘at the very latest, mister’. Puzzled I bought the ticket anyway, if only to wait on an air-conditioned vehicle rather than in the sun, and sat down and read. Sure enough, at half past one, the bus revved up and chugged out of the terminal. Good stuff, thought I and settled down to gaze at the passing scenery. Not that it was particularly brilliant, Bali’s far south-west does not contain the gems of the island’s scenic charms, but I wasn’t bothered, after all, I’d seen them the day before. The ferry ride this time was much shorter than that between Lombok and Bali and to my surprise, all the passengers preferred to sit inside the super-cold air-conditioned bus rather than breath in the sea air on deck. No I though, who promptly departed through the bus’s rear door and weaved my way between revving lorries and coaches towards the grimy staircase that took me up to where the action was.
Not that that was altogether great too, but it was pleasant nonetheless. I sipped mango juice and gazed at the disappearing Bali and Java that grew ever larger. At one point a Dutch lady came to talk to me for a few minutes. Or at least she said that she was Dutch, although her ethnicity and accent betrayed her Javan origins. Her husband however was undoubtedly a Netherlander and I suppose that is what she meant.
Back on dry land it was a long drive once again to reach Surabaya and then Malang, my destination of choice. The first part of that journey was through the spectacular Baluran National Park. Or at least I assume that it was spectacular, since that was what the guidebook said. The failing light however meant that I was not to view it’s beauties and so instead I settled down and read William Boyd’s extremely average ‘An Ice Cream War’ which I’d pinched from the Toyama YMCA library before I’d left, (naughty boy!).
The bus stopped once for dinner which, (I was pleased to discover), was included in the price of the ticket. The fayre was average fish and rice, and the tea too sweet, but it filled a gap. Afterwards I wandered around the transport café a little. On the opposite side of the road I was surprised to discover that underneath the weeds and grass were a pair of railway lines. Later, sat in the coach I found that these lines followed us all the way to the next city, Probolinggo, where they disappeared, I assume to join the main railway line marked on the map. Quite where this line went or why it was abandoned I suppose I will never know.
We eventually arrived in Malang, (after a stop in Surabaya), at about ten minutes to midnight and I hired a cab to the hotel of my choice, the Pelangi. The town seemed a pleasant place and the main square had character with its large mosque and ornate Catholic Cathedral that I was surprised to see full to bursting. Then I realised why, it was of course Easter Sunday, starting that very minute, and the Faithful were looking towards God.
God however was perhaps not looking towards me however, since when I got to the Pelangi, I found that it was full. ‘C’est la vie!’ as a Frenchman would say, and I picked another from the book, the Margosuko. That also turned out to be rather full, but they could do me a pricey room with air-con. This being Indonesia, a pricey room was not altogether that pricey anyway so I took it, and made my way up to my abode for the night. With a colour TV, aircon and complementary water, you had to say that the Margosuko was trying it’s best to be a classy establishment, but somehow it wasn’t quite making it. Still, thumbs up for the effort and after a cold shower, (no hot water, as I said, not quite making it), I climbed into bed and slept till morning came.
My main reason for coming to Malang of course was to meet up with my Stoke compatriot, Clayton Archer. However, I had a big problem, that being that I didn’t have a clue as to where to find him. He hadn’t answered the e-mail that I had sent him from Bali yet, so he would not know that I was here. Hmm, what to do. Getting up, the first thing that I did was fill up on food at the local KFC, (sorry, but I was plainly sick of Indonesian cuisine by now, which is hardly world beating at the best of times). Then I decided to find where he worked, a language school belonging to a famous international corporation. That shouldn’t be difficult thought I as I mentioned it to my rickshaw driver. He obviously felt the same way, nodding enthusiastically before taking me way out into the suburbs and depositing me in front of a large white building. I paid him and went to the door, but what’s this? No English, no language teacher. A lot of books mind. The place turned out to be the library. Hmm, well not too bad for a first attempt, thought I, at least he didn’t direct me to his mate’s Batik Emporium or his uncle’s restaurant. That’s what normally happens.
Not too bad at all considering that by chance, the only museum in town of any interest to me happened to be exactly opposite this library, the Army Museum. I paid the entrance fee to the guard and wandered round a collection of exhibits all proclaiming to the visitor of the merits of the Indonesian Army, surely the bravest and most able on God’s earth, (or at least that’s what you’d believe from wandering around here). There were pictures of the people, armed with their upside-down Polish flag bravely resisting the Dutch during the revolution and diagrams showing all the foreign theatres of war where the Army of Indonesia had won glory for themselves. Nationalism aside, it was rather good. Bigger exhibits included a tank, some field guns, a railway waggon that I assume carried troops or guns or something, and an antiquated staff car. And thus having taken my fill of Indonesian military glory, I decided to continue on my quest to locate the elusive language school that employed Mr. Archer.
I showed my paper to another rickshaw driver who shrugged his shoulders in ignorance. A passing pedestrian was far more helpful, she directed me through some leafy suburbs, (you’d never believe that this was supposedly a third world country from that part of town), to a white house that proudly proclaimed that a language school and clinic were also to be found under it’s roof. Encouraged, I entered but alas foiled once more. ‘Yes, this is a school where you can be learning the English, mister,” I was informed by the secretary, but alas not the one that I sought. This establishment was the preserve of the local Indian doctor who surprise, surprise, ran the surgery too. No white teachers here, I’m afraid.
Well, sod you then I thought. It was Sunday and it was looking increasingly unlikely that I would manage to liaise with old Clayton. Better to cut my losses and get out of town, and head for Yogyakarta, next stop on the Tour de Indonesie. I got a rickshaw to the railway station and booked myself onto the half past three train to Yogyakarta, (alas, Eksekutif once more). That gave me a little over two hours to kill, so I took a rickshaw back to the hotel, packed my stuff and then did what I always do in a cheap country: went and got a haircut.
In Japan the average price for a simple trim is 3,500 yen, (that’s about eighteen quid). In Indonesia it’s about fifty pence. That to me spells economy, so I sauntered down the road and popped into the nearest barbers. The place was scruffy, with ancient decrepit furniture and two men armed with scissors who obviously knew their stuff. We had not a common language, but a cut is a cut. They chopped away and I admired the advertisements for a new housing development, (the dwellings were well out of the price range of the average Indonesian, but the picture was nice), and the calendar produced by the local primary school. And when they finished I admired their work, (a little short, but hey, that meant that I wouldn’t need another haircut for a while), and we had our photo taken together. Thus freshly shaven I picked up my luggage and headed to the railway station, ready to board the chariot of the iron road that would bear me onwards towards the ancient Javan city of Yogyakarta.