Bali – The Idiocy of Three Days

By Chamil Chandrathilake

‘All passengers on board please fasten your seat belts and prepare for landing!’ The demanding voice of the captain echoed through the speakers as the Boeing 737 aircraft of Batik Air descended towards the grounds of Ngurah Rai International Airport in the city of Denpasar, the capital of the most charming island of Indonesia – Bali. The growling noise of the rotors stopped in a minute and in between the greetings of two pretty Indonesian air hostesses, me, Asanka and Hiran climbed down from the aircraft, starting a memorable journey to an amazing island, described in the entrance of the airport as, ‘Bali – the last paradise in the world’!

Occupying less than a mere 5% of Indonesia, Bali hosts some of the most appealing tourist destinations of the world. Located quite close to the equator in southern hemisphere, Bali has a typical tropical climate. Blessed by the very fact, the nature of the island provides some top class natural beauties including some gorgeous waterfalls, sensational beaches, giant volcanoes and many more. Let alone its nature, the culture of Bali takes care of anyone who visits there have a profound travel experience. Despites Indonesia being the largest Islamic state in the world, about 80% of the people of Bali follow Hinduism. And if you have a short walk along the streets, you surely would witness the unique, Hinduism-based architectural style of Bali, showcased in all the temples, old ruins and even residential buildings.

It was in mid-February that the three of us chose Bali as the destination for our trip abroad in March. One primary reason for this decision was that as Sri Lankans, you don’t need Visa to visit Indonesia. On top of that, the cost of living in Bali was said to be cheaper. And most of all, everyone who has visited Bali has rated there as one of their best destinations ever. Asked by Hiran, I prepared a rough plan for our three-day stay in Bali, and I named the three days as ‘The culture day’, ‘The nature day’ and ‘The city day’. Each of us had different priorities for the three days, and for me, the order was the nature, the culture and the city.

The place we stayed for all three days was located in Ubud, the cultural hub of Bali. The town was ideal to start the culture day, and the entire tour for that matter. Having arrived in the hotel late the previous night, an early start was out of the cards. So it was about 10 ‘o clock in the morning when we finished our breakfast, hired two scooters for 75,000 rupiah and set out to the roads. Yes, you heard me right. The cost of the scooters we took for rent were 75,000 Indonesian rupiah each, just for a day!

And as soon as we hit the streets, we realized that it was not only us who were on scooters. Tourists from all parts of the world, and locals of all ages, both men and women, were happily riding scooters everywhere. The ‘motor’ as they call it, has become their travelling partner, in the absence of any sort of public transportation options. And that I guess might be a reason for the roads in Bali to be a lot safer and risk free to drive. In fact, the only risk for the people in Ubud were us, as the speedometers read mid 80s every time we were riding. Driving without helmets not being illegal alone suggests the less risk in driving in Bali. Wagons occupied the roads for the most of the part except for the scooters and the only sign of mass transportation seemed to be some luxury busses, labeled ‘Pariwisata’ in the windscreen, meaning ‘tourism’ in Indonesian language.

Thus started the culture day and the first place we visited was the Ubud Rice Terrace. Being Sri Lankan, a paddy field is no wonder for us, except for the terrain of the land, which was stepped. What’s new was that to visit certain parts of the terrace, we had to give ‘donations’ to some people. We soon realized that this was their way of informally charging from the tourists. There was no specific amount that they requested but we had to donate some amount if we were to proceed. This was the case in many more places that we visited thereafter. For a fun fact, whenever we donated big, we mentioned that we were from Sri Lanka and in other times, we let them think we were Indians, the default impression they got when they saw us.

The next place we visited was a temple called ‘Tirta Empul’, which is probably the most famous temple near Ubud. It was a couple of miles away from the city center, and it took about a half an hour for us to reach there with our scooters. Asanka, who was in the back seat of Hiran’s scooter had his Google maps open and was giving the directions, and I was following them all the way along. The roads and the surroundings were a little bit similar to Sri Lanka, and one noticeable thing was that the roads were cleaner, and not polluted. It appeared that the suburbs we passed were built upon a proper plan, and more importantly, people have adhered to it with proper attitude.

Bali, the last paradise in the world

The millionaire in me awakened

The Tirta Empul temple appeared to be one of the largest in the island. There were plenty of old structures around the premises and all of them shared the same architecture and the same set of colors – shades of orange and brown. To enter the temple premises, you need to wear a cloth which covers your body entirely, and as expected, we needed to donate some money in order to burrow such a cloth from the temple. The temple was well-known for its holy waters and there was a pond in which people got themselves a holy bath. We excluded this activity from our plan due to the prototypes we had on such ponds but surprisingly, the water in the pond was crystal clear!

Regretting about our choice, we had a walk around the temple and headed to the exit, where we faced another common trick in Bali. In simple words, you can’t walk out through the same gates you came in. You have to pass a mini market of various cultural items, souvenirs clothes and whatnot! The singing voices of Balinese women trying to attract us to their shops reminded me of the flower sellers on the way to the Kiri wehera temple in Kataragama. The price tags of even a hairpin was in thousands of rupiahs and you can easily get fooled while assessing the real value of those items. Knowing this, they try to jumble all your efforts to convert and compare the prices. But if you are good at it, you can bargain and reduce the price to less than half of its original price, like Asanka and Hiran did, and unlike me who paid an amount equivalent to 1000 Sri Lankan rupees for just two key tags.

It was about 11 ‘O clock in the morning when we finally left the temple for one of the most anticipated places – the ‘Segara Windhu’ coffee factory. Indonesia is world famous for its high grade coffee and tasting few cups was one of our primary targets of the journey. The world famous ‘Luwac coffee’ is the finest coffee you could find in Bali, and one should definitely know how it is made before tasting it. The coffee has got its name because it is made out of the stool of the animal called Luwac, a creature that looked like a koala. There were number of them caged in the factory area and their job was to eat coffee beans and you know the other part! The subject substance is then cleaned and the cover of the bean is removed for further processing. The final part is to heat the cleaned coffee beans and grind them to either powder or chips. You can directly make a cup of coffee with the powder but if you have chips, you need a special distillation device in which coffee chips and water are placed in two vertically connected containers, the former on top of the latter, and the water is vaporized through the coffee chips container to get the liquid coffee made.

The process itself was quite interesting to watch, and the three cups of Luwac coffee that we ordered were prepared right on our table, with the above process. There are two types of Luwac coffee, male and female, and the male version is tastier than the other and obviously more expensive. For you can be curious, the version is not decided based on the gender of the animal that delivers stool, but on the type of coffee beans that are fed to them. The best coffee fans in the world are said to taste it without sugar, and so did we, but only I could handle it without sugar. And yes, it’s different and it’s addictive. Kudos to the Luwac animal!

We purchased a few coffee packets from the factory and left the place for just another factory, chocolate this time! The quality of cocoa products in Indonesia might be overshadowed by coffee but the three of us had little trouble allocating time for both. Yet again, we travelled about 10-15 miles in our scooters, enjoying the calmness of the suburbs of Bali. Polythene free roads, poster free walls, noise free villeges all added up to give a really pleasant and calm feeling, and riding on scooters at will took that calmness to a feeling of ultimate freedom. There were no police to stop us, the air was fresh, the sights were green and in the destination, waiting for us was chocolate!

Once we reached the chocolate factory, we learned that the process of making chocolate was only showcased through a couple of glassed walls. But what mattered was that in the lobby area, there were about 25 types of chocolate, and you could try a piece of each of them. And yes, as you would have already guessed, we tried all of them. The taste of each type significantly differed from each other, as some tasted mint, some were spicy and so on. My favorites were the dark chocolates, and I bought a bunch of bars which were marked 80% dark, a choice that I could never explain to my mother since the moment I asked her to try a piece back home.

Holy waters at Tirta Empul

Shades of coffee and tea

The Luwac animal

3kg of happiness!

By the time we left the chocolate factory, all three of us were so contended about the culture day. But it wasn’t the end. We have booked tickets for the open air cultural show at the Ubud Palace, which was to start at 7.00 pm. As we had few hours left, we visited a waterfall which was on the way, and reached the palace by 6.30 in the evening. Since we had skipped the lunch and only fed ourselves with chocolate and coffee, we decided to have the dinner before we visit the show. The menus in Bali always had options of rice and noodles, and it seemed that the most popular types were ‘Nasi Goreng’ and ‘Mie Goreng’, a version of rice and a version of noodles. The food was always delicious in Bali so we could finish the dinner without much trouble, and then it was the time for the final event of the day – the show.

Rua Bineda – ‘Everything has two sides, any world is knitted together with opposing two elements” was the message conveyed in the first act, and it was followed by three other acts consisting of different mimes and dances. The colorful and glittering clothes were not what attracted the audience most but the facial and eye expressions which expressed strong emotions. The Barong dance which featured a monster and a monkey was fearful to watch with the cultural Balinese music in the background, and the two dances that followed were to entertain the king.

At about 9.30 pm we were back in the hotel, talking about the fascinating and memorable day we had. A quick look at the photographs taken throughout the day took another few minutes and then we were in our beds. And that was the end for the culture day!

One of the souvenirs I bought

Coffee for us!

The Ubud palace

The Sisya dance

Delicious Mie Goreng

“Triiiiing”! I was in a deep sleep when a loud noise filled up my ears and almost threw me out of the bed. It was after few seconds that I saw both Asanka and Hiran, frowning at the telephone sitting on their beds. The clock read 2 am and it was the reminder call for us from the hotel crew to start yet another exciting day. Mount Batur – the second highest volcano in Bali was waiting for us, to unveil the Sun to start the much awaited nature day! We packed our stuff in a hurry, the driver had already arrived, and thus started the Nature day in freezing cold.

The sun rise trekking at mount Batur is a popular activity among most of the tourists who visit Bali. The two-and-a-half-hour climb which starts at around 4.30 am would take you to the summit with just enough time to see the sun, rising besides the giant mount Agung volcano – the largest in Bali. It was a two hour ride from the hotel to the starting point. And we, who were in flip flops and light clothes, never knew that the temperatures we were to face were around 10 °C until we reached there. Both Hiran and Asanka got off the taxi to see if they can find a jacket from around, and I was searching for the raincoat in my bag when I suddenly heard a sweet voice from outside, calling ‘good morning Chami, are you ready for the hike?’

‘Sintya Devi’, a 22-year-old Balinese girl was our guide for the trek, and Hiran had already introduced three of us to her. It took a few seconds for me to interpret the event just occurred, but soon we were friends and ready to start the hike as she introduced herself to us and provided three torches. Sintya was a talkative girl and had a typical Indonesian look. She didn’t look like a girl of 22 at first sight, perhaps because she was a bit chubby despites climbing the mountain 3-4 days per week. She spoke good English, and was a very helpful and informative guide. By 4.40 am we were on the way to the mountain, led by Sintya and surrounded by many travelers from around the world.

It was a narrow road full of rubble that we had to walk in, but the three of us were busy talking with Sintya asking many questions about her country, her lifestyle and many more. The girls in Bali are generally pretty until they open their mouth. The Chinese like volume variations of their speaking makes you think they are yelling at you. With Sintya it was the other way around. She may not be the prettiest girl we saw but her voice was so sweet. And it wasn’t because she was speaking English as the little bit of chats she had in her local language didn’t sound different either. She was kind enough to teach us how to say ‘welcome’ in both the native languages she spoke, the easy to learn Indonesian and the hard to learn Balinese. Nonetheless, we couldn’t pronounce either of them properly for her much amusement, probably the exact same we got when she tried to say ‘Ayubowan’ in Sinhalese.

By the halfway mark, Sintya had educated us a lot about Balinese lifestyle, and one of the highlights was that unlike in Sri Lanka, their childhood goals are not limited to become either a doctor or an engineer. She was proud of her job, her life was simple, and she was a happy woman. Her life goals were simple, just like those of our taxi driver, whose life goal was to buy his own vehicle one day, and continue the same job without ‘having a boss’. In the next 45 minutes or so, where the climb was steeper, I was comparing my lifestyle with theirs, and was drowned in an ocean of thoughts.

It was about 6.30 in the morning when we reached the summit and waited for the sun to come out, just like we do in Sri Lanka when we climb the Sripada. Through a load of clouds, the sun did come out, unveiling some gorgeous sceneries. To our left was a huge lake, and beyond it were the suburbs in which the people of Sintya lived. In the right side, there was a huge black patch of lava, remainder of the volcano’s last major eruption in 1963. And in front of us was the gigantic mount Agung, a probable future destination for me, being a big fan of mountaineering.

We stayed at the top for quite a while enjoying the great sceneries and then started to descend at about 7.30 am. The rubble path through which we had climbed consisted of black colored magma rocks according to my guesses, and I couldn’t resist grabbing a handful of rocks to keep as souvenirs, betraying my own principles to leave whatever I didn’t bring and not to leave anything I brought. While descending, we stopped at a couple of places which had breathtaking views. One of them was a huge drop from the bottom of which rose hot streams of smoke, reminding us of the fact that mount Batur is still an active volcano. It was near another drop that we stopped to take some photographs when one of the monkeys living by the trees of the mount decided to jump to Asanka’s shoulders, open his bag and take our pack of medicine away. This monkey, which must be living a healthy life by now, was remembered by Hiran a number of times for the next few days as he had a hard time caught up with flue.

It took a less than an hour more for us to reach the bottom, and we bid adieu to Sintya and left for our next destination – the ‘Sekumpul waterfalls’. It was around 70 kilo meters away and we had enough time to have a little nap as we were sleepy, tired and hungry. The waterfalls were located in a rural area of Bali, and it was not a common tourist attraction due to the distance from the capital. Watching the villages and the people on the way was a pleasing sight, and by the noon we reached the ticket counter of the waterfalls.

The sunrise behind us

The view from the top of Mt Batur

The sick monkey

Lava meets water

With the guide we hired, we walked about two miles into the jungle when the site of an unreal set of waterfalls appeared in front of us. There were about 7 waterfalls in a single view, most of them about 80 meters tall and they defined the meaning of the word ‘breathtaking’! Asanka described it as the most beautiful piece of nature he had ever seen and I couldn’t agree more. My good camera is so clever at capturing the best scenes but this was one big exception where it couldn’t capture anywhere near the real beauty of these waterfalls. Like a magnet that attracts little iron pins, we were dragged by the waterfall’s beauty into its water and it was one of the best waters I have ever got into. But it was less than a half an hour that we spent in the water as a quick rain started to fall, and our guide alarmed us of a possible sudden rise of water level.

We hurried out of the water and started to come out of the jungle, and the only place we stopped at was near a tree of snake fruit, a delicious local fruit which had got its name due to its cover that looked like the skin of a snake. As the rain stopped, we slowed down a bit and finally reached the place where our taxi was. Our guide left us for his afternoon soccer session with friends and we, without delay, started our journey back to the hotel. The scenic Ulan Danu temple being the only destination we stopped at, we arrived in the hotel in Ubud by 5 O’ clock in the evening, concluding an awesome day with memories for life time. And that was supposed to be it for the nature day!

Being on the go since 2 am in the morning, our bodies would have preferred having a rest but having 7 more hours remaining in the day, our minds had different ideas. The original plan was altered within few minutes and in not more than 20 minutes, we were back in our beloved scooters travelling to Kuta – the urban part of Bali, and the city day was under way!

Despites being limited to just a couple of hours, the ride we had from the hotel to the beach area of Kuta became a memory for life time on its own way. The ride was the most reckless piece of driving that I have ever done on a two wheeler. Since the sun faded out quickly, I had to follow the break light of Hiran’s scooter among hundreds of other bicycles and to make things worse, Hiran’s break light did not really lit more than a couple of times. With the absence of any sort of directions with me, I blindly followed Hiran without giving any attention to the mass traffic moving around me, and as usual, the speed was in 80s. When I said traffic, it even included landing airplanes flying above our heads when we were passing the airport arena. At one time, we were mistakenly riding in a highway dedicated to four wheelers and that alone sums up the crazy ride we had that night. We finally reached Kuta without any trouble and the first thing I did when I got off the scooter was to promise myself, never to do such a ride again!

Kuta was the place for party in Bali. The road along the beach consisted of pubs, shopping malls, restaurants and many more colorfully lit buildings. With the amount of exhaustion we had, we decided to cut short the city time after the dinner and started to ride back to Ubud, through a route with less traffic this time. Thus ended the combined nature-city day with loads of memories, and the only sorrow of the day was knowing that we had to leave this lovely island the next day.

The sad feeling had prevailed in me throughout the night, as it was the only thing that was in my mind when I woke up the next day. The departure was scheduled at 4.20 pm in the evening but due to the warnings we got about the traffic in the city of Denpasar, we decided to leave the hotel a bit earlier. The famous monkey forest in Ubud was the only place we visited that day, and by the noon we waved good bye to the friendly crew at the ‘Bakung Ubud’ hotel and travelled back to the Ngurah Rai International Airport in Denpasar, silently thinking about the valor of the past three days.

The Sekumpul waterfalls

The Sekumpul waterfalls

The three of us

At the gate number 6 of Terminal 1 waited the Batik air ID 6516 which would carry us to Jakarta – our destination for the next two days. We got on board in few minutes and yet again, the captain demanded all the passengers to fasten their seat belts. And he hadn’t have known how sad three of the passengers were, as he piloted the aircraft upwards inch by inch, and had the memories had a physical weight, he would have been unable to do it due to the heaviness of three of us. And if you wondered why I named it ‘The idiocy of three days’, here’s the answer. Only idiots limit a trip to Bali to three days!

Checkout the short video of the trip