An Ascent into Darkness – Climbing Mt. Batur

One of the must do activities, or so I’ve heard, in Bali is to climb one of the few volcanoes.  And when you do this climb is quite different than any other hike you have done before. 

You begin your ascent at 4 AM in the morning.  Yes, you are in complete darkness, with no promise of light until you are at the top.  This is no easy feat.

Especially since I haven’t worked out in almost a year (thank you Southeast Asia!).

My friend Stephanie and I began our trip to Mount Batur (there are also a few other volcanoes, but this one seems to be the more popular one, I think its because its an “easier” climb and its shorter than the others) at 2 AM from Kuta Beach.  We attempted to nap on the way up to the volcano, but struggled to gain some extra shut eye before our adventure up the mountain.

We arrived at the base and met our guide, Pon, who ended up being the best guide ever, but more on that later.  For awhile, it was pretty flat.  We had no idea what the terrain looked like around us or ahead of us. 

And then we hit the mountain…

We made it!

I felt like I was going straight up…all the time…with no end.  Holding the extremely small flashlight I was given, I carefully maneuvered the rocks and hoped that I didn’t fall, which I didn’t, but definitely came close once or twice!  It felt so great to be breaking a sweat (well, Southeast Asia makes me sweat all the time, but this sweat wasn’t from heat!), but I had to put the hood up on my sweatshirt because the breeze was making me cold.  I had to take many breaks and after a great deal of huffing and puffing, we made it to the top and we were the first ones there! 

With our awesome guide

We felt extremely accomplished and it had only taken us a little over an hour when it is supposed to take an hour and a half or so.  We soon were freezing because our completely sweat drenched bodies were now feeling the cold of the mountain top and we were eager for the sun to rise.  Our adrenaline must have kicked in as well because we were soon laughing and making jokes and might have been “those girls” at the top, but we didn’t care, we just climbed a volcano!

The beautiful sunrise

Soon enough, the sun peeked out from behind the mountains, and although it was quite cloudy, it was still definitely worth it.  We enjoyed the sunrise and then took a quick walk around the crater, but didn’t get too close because a Swedish man had fallen in only a few days earlier.  I’m not exactly sure how he fell in, he had to have been doing something pretty stupid to lose his balance, but who knows (the Grand Canyon has roughly 10 photography related deaths a year so I’m not entirely surprised)!

The peaceful scenery

On the way down (which sometimes is harder than the way up!), it was really fun to actually see what we missed in the morning!  The mountainside was covered in black lava rocks from previous eruptions, (oh and by the way this volcano is still active, yeah it could have blown at any second) and the views were amazing!

Our guide apparently loved us as well and gave us our very own Mt. Batur Trekking Guide shirts!!  You can’t buy those!  We were ecstatic!!

Climbing Mt. Batur at night has been one of my favorite activities yet on my travels! 

The amazing view!

Riding Giants – Learning How to Surf in Bali

 I’m from California.  Meaning its pretty much implied that I know how to surf.

Well I don’t.

The surfboard looks like its going to knock me over, which it did, multiple times...

I’ve tried to learn multiple times, but my stubbornness and fear of being underwater stood in my way.  Plus the water in California is freezing and the waves are slightly out of my range.

Thus, I made it my mission to finally stand up on a surfboard in Bali.

My friend Stephanie, who was only a little bit more experienced than I, and I rented a board for the day on Kuta Beach.  She set out first because my nerves were getting the best of me and came back twenty minutes later after being ruled by the small waves, which didn’t give me much confidence.

Paddling out only to get rocked moments later

I paddled out, trying to remember what I had been taught six years earlier.  Well, it didn’t work because I completely wiped out over and over and over again.  Discouraged, I waded out of the water only to find that one of the fins had come off!  There is no way that it should have fallen off that fast!

I grabbed the guy that had sold us the board and brought him over to see the damage.  I told him that it should not have fallen off after twenty minutes in the water and he just kept saying, “I see you.  I see you.  You in the water.  You cannot stand up.  You just fall.  You cannot stand up!”  I told him that I was aware I could not stand up, but he still repeated, “You in the water!  You cannot stand up!  You need lessons!  I show you!”

I'm almost standing! I'm pretty sure I got there and then plummetted promptly

I ignored him, he eventually walked away, and we were stuck with a board with only one fin, which didn’t really bother us because we couldn’t stand up anyways.

But we pressed on.

And later that day, after an incident of my shoulder sublexing yet again, I am pleased to say I stood up…for about 2 seconds.  But nonetheless, I stood up and a couple days later when we rented a board again, it became a little bit easier.  And by a little bit, I mean I still wiped out 75% of the time. 

I'm so excited that I stood up for the first time!

Actually, make that 85%, but I was ok with that.

I conquered the waves of Bali!  Now onto the icy waters of the Pacific.

First Impressions: Kuta

The last popular beach I’ve been to was Patong Beach on Phuket.  It was jam packed with crazy backpackers, expensive lounge chairs, and barely any beach space.    I have always tried to avoid “the place to be” on an island.  I like to get off the beaten path and find a nice quiet place to just chill out and enjoy the beach.

But I get a different feel from Kuta.  Yes, there are tons of people.  Yes, its crowded and yes, it has a McDonalds.  But its not as crowded as I expected.  The beach is long and spread out and I don’t feel claustrophobic while soaking up the sun in the sand.

Although, its quite hard to take a quick cat nap.  “Sarong, Sarong,” “Ice Cream,” and “Anana, Mango, Cold Drink” are heard every other minute and their sellers like to linger, just in case you change your mind.

There are plenty of restaurants to choose from, with a hawker center right on the beach that is delicious and has nasi goreng to pizza to falafel, surfboards line the sand, the sun is always shining (well almost always, I got stuck in a juice bar for an hour trying to wait out a freak storm) and a Bintang beer is always easily attainable.

The streets of Kuta - A far cry from the streets of Ko Tao or Ko Jum!

Lazy Lovina

The beautiful black sand beaches of Lovina

After thouroughly exploring Ubud, we headed up to the quiet beach town of Lovina.  And when I say quiet, I definitely mean quiet.  There was barely anyone there.  We seemed to be one of maybe four or five people staying in our hotel, which was off of the main street of town, but still it was a pretty nice place.  I went for a walk on the beach when we arrived and pretty much had the place to myself!  It reminded me of the good ole’ days on Ko Jum.  I could walk for miles and barely see one person. The sand was also black, which I had never seen before, and although I didn’t go into the water (it was extremely murky and definitely uninviting) it was an absolutely beautiful sight.  There were beautiful clouds, boats speckled the water, and the beach seemed to stretch on forever. 

One of the statues at the temple near our hotel

At night, we walked down to the main stretch of town and it literally felt deserted.  We asked where all the people were and the answer we received was that June and July were Lovina’s busy season, definitely not April.  There were rows of cute little restaurants, each with one or two people in them, and shops full of sarongs and trinkets, but that’s about it.  We ate at a great little Italian restaurant and then decided to head back since the nightlife wasn’t too hopping. 

The Banjar Hot Springs near Lovina

Our last day in Lovina was unfortunately cloudy for the most part, which discouraged me because I of course wanted to work on my tan!  It was a lazy morning and then we rented motorbikes (with drivers of course) to the Banjar Hot Springs.  I was expecting this grandiose and intricate collection of pools, but what I got was one big pool with a couple on the side and the smell of eggs filling the air.  The hot spring was nice and warm and I spent some time in the water, but it honestly wasn’t anything too special.  I was hoping to hike around in the hills surrounding the hot springs, but there was no direct access from the area.  Supposedly there are some trails around, but we were unable to find them.  

I can see that Lovina is an up in coming place.  Construction sites for nice hotels, bungalows, and apartment buildings line the quiet beach and people will be filling the sand and water in no time.  I’m glad I got to see it when it was quiet and relaxing and free of drunk travelers doing stupid things!

Exploring Ubud and Beyond

Ubud is full of artistic culture and creativity, but its also surrounded by some beautiful scenery.  Lonely Planet provides some wonderful walking tours around the town and we decided to embark on a couple of them on different days.

That monkey is sticking his tongue out at me!

On our first full day in Ubud, we followed the “Monkey Forest & Penestanan Walking Tour” through the rice terraces behind Ubud.  The tour began with a walk through the monkey forest, which is infested with conniving and mischievous monkeys ready to pounce at your first wrong move.  They seemed to be interested in cameras, although I was successful in keeping mine hidden somehow, and I saw countless people with monkeys clinging to their shorts or trying to climb on their backs (I was extremely lucky to not have had to experience this, although one made a lunge for Matt’s shorts , which he skillfully eluded).  The Monkey Forest was peaceful, green and I could barely see the sky it was so lush.

The rice fields directly around Ubud

After thoroughly exploring the forest, we exited the opposite side and made our way through the small towns of Ubud suburbia, finally making it to the rice terraces.  The Lonely Planet guided us through the rice terraces where we were supposed to exit on to the main road.  Well after some wandering around in the mud and the muck of the rice paddies, we finally heard the road, but weren’t exactly sure how to get there.  I made a comment how I bet we’ll end up in someone’s backyard (because we practically were already in one walking through the rice fields) and sure enough, a few minutes later, we happened across an extremely surprised lady doing housework.  She kindly led us through her yard and pointed us to the street, which led us back to the main town.

His crazy fingers!

Later that night, we attended a Traditional Balinese dance at the Ubud Palace.  It was absolutely incredible and completely different than anything else.  The way their fingers and hands gracefully twitched to the music and the way their eyes moved side to side with the beat made it one of the most unique dances I have ever seen.  The costumes were gorgeous and I never wanted it to end!  I’m hoping that they have something like this in the Los Angeles area so that I can go again when I get home!

The rice terraces by the river

Our next adventure was what Lonely Planet liked to call the Penestanan & Sayan Walking Tour.  It was quoted to take about six hours so we definitely had to mentally prepare for this one.  We found ourselves wandering around a small town looking for the “small road” that would bring us to the rice terraces and then on to the jungle/river.  We walked around aimlessly for a short while when a cute old man approached us stating he knew the way (it reminded me a little bit of Jafar when he dressed up as an old man and told Aladdin about the Cave of Wonders, yeah I’m a dork, I know).  As soon as he led us down the path, he was talking about the compensation he was going to receive for this valiant task.  I went from saying this was a cute little old man to what the heck jerk!  We found our way past the rice terraces and to the river, after once again receiving help from a tip-wanting “friendly” Indonesian.

The beautiful river banks

We trudged along the beautiful banks of the river watching river rafters brave the rapids and scaling rocks and foliage.  At the end of the trail, we found ourselves faced with a gate blocking the path.  There were drops on either side of this gate and all the rope and chicken wire made it clear that the resident was through with travelers meandering through his yard. Yet, there was no way we were going to turn around and walk all the way back (it had taken us a good hour and half at least to get to this point).  I figured out how to open the gate and we sneaked on through, gladly not running into the fellow and a little nervous that he was going to pull out a shotgun of some sort. About forty minutes and an incredibly exorbitant amount of stairs later, we made it back to the street and after a delicious lunch, we stumbled back into Ubud.

The amazing Jatileuwih rice terraces

The next day we hired a car to take us up to the rice terraces of Jatileuwih.  They have been nominated for UNESCO status and there’s a very good reason for that.  I have never seen more green in my life.  My eyes were on complete green overload.  I’m used to beautiful beaches and forests, but I’ve never seen anything like this: Rows and rows of rice terraces with a backdrop of a volcano-like mountain surrounded by blue sky and fluffy clouds.  We took a good two hours or so to make our way through the terraces successfully reaching the bottom and witnessing phenomenal views.  Although my feet were completely under water at times making me slip all over the place, it was one of the best and most unique hikes I’ve ever done.   Our driver also followed us on our trek and explained the rice growing process to us, which we had been wondering about ever since we saw our first rice terrace in Ubud.  It was an amazing day and definitely worth the two hour drive north.

Ubud was absolutely unbelievable.  I know I could have spent weeks there just exploring all the shops and art galleries!  What a perfect place for me!

First Impressions: Ubud

I have never heard someone say they didn’t like Bali.  I’ve heard people rave and rave about how amazing it is.  And when I ask them specific places to see, they immediately without fail shout out Ubud.  You must see Ubud.  It is the cultural capital of Bali, known for its artistic flair and creative spirit.  Its the hub for famous photographers, writers, painters, musicians, and dancers.  There was no question that I wanted to go there! So Ubud it is!

I arrived in Bali around noontime and my friend Matt, from Nomadic Matt’s Travel Site, met me at the airport and we were on our way to Ubud in no time.  He whipped out his guidebook and started showing me all the places we were going to go and all the things we were going to see.  He traced our future route through the island telling me interesting tidbits about each place and why we’re going to go there.  It was so amazing not having to plan a trip for once!

A couple hours we made our way into Ubud.  The streets were lined with paintings of rice terraces, Balinese dancers, and beautiful beaches.  Photography galleries could be found on every street.  Balinese women were furiously beading away in their shops.  Wood carvings were strewn about the roads.  I was surrounded by art and being that photography is pretty much my life these days, I was in heaven. 

Walking through each shop, we talked about everything we wished we could by for homes that we don’t even have.  Paintings that we wanted to buy.  Statues that belonged in a front yard somewhere.  Vases that belonged in a future foyer one day.  We were surrounded  by so much beauty and talent.

What a wonderful place to become inspired!

A view from our dinner spot - I'd say that's pretty nice