Day three on Bali had me in a sort of disbelief that I was still here in this villa staring out into its rice terraces. Was it all a dream a few days before? Quickly I snapped out of it and head down to their infinity pool for a dip and of course a coffee. Here the mornings are rather cool and quiet, picture perfect. The sun has barely reached a quarter of its way into the morning sky and the remnants of the chaos that is Ubud center kilometres away.
Mornings like this when you’re up before the world enjoying a little slice of peace makes the constant traveling worth it. The remaining few days I had on the island were going to be full gas in the best sense. Any moment of stillness before the storm was welcomed. Who knows when I will get another good night’s rest, ha. You can always sleep when you die right?
if you missed part one check it out now!
I hopped out of the pool, got dressed and made way to my scooter ready to head north of for the adventures that await!
I headed north to one of the sites on the island I couldn’t wait to visit on this trip: Tirta Empul Temple. Located only ten kilometres north of where I stayed making it my first stop of the day was a no-brainer. The ride out wasn’t entirely terrible on the tiny roads considering by now I am scooter pro by Asian standards, but amateurs do be wary.
Home to a Hindu Balinese temple with a bathing area containing holy spring water for ritual purification Tirta Empul was eerily quiet that morning. I am not entirely spiritual in a big sense, but I do believe in universal energy, things happening for a specific reason and putting you right place at the right time. This purification ritual was something I really wanted to partake in while still here so I rolled up quarter past eight ready to go.
The temple first and foremost is beautiful like all the other temples in Bali, but this one had a vibe that you can’t really put a finger on. Birds chirping, flying from tree to tree, a groundskeeper keeping a keen eye on things, the water rushing from the springs higher up in the mountains, collecting into pools here. Serene was the word.
I befriended a local guide who educated me about the whole ritual process and what one can expect. This was clutch because I had no idea what I was doing! His English was superb as his explanations informative. You start by stripping naked in the changing room and adorning only a sarong which seemed fitting for such a ritual. Up next you gather an offering, for mine it was a small tray of assorted floral indigenous to the region. There are two pools in which the ritual would start and you go to the first pool with your offering. Here you say a prayer verse as incense is lit and state your reasoning for wanting such a purification.
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Before you enter the pool you are explained the multitude of spouts and what each means. You make your way through each one wishing for something good to happen to you or for people in your life. Once the last word escapes your lips you splash your face three times with the cool mountain water and dunk your head into the stream. The idea is to wash away anything that might hold your wish back from happening. Rinse and repeat for each spout in succession.
After you finish the first pool you move onto the second pool and repeat the process. Here is where it gets a little tricky and my memory isn’t so keen. There is ONE spout meant to be untouched by anyone, at the very least tourists, for it is incredibly sacred and not to be used without proper conditions.
When finished I made my way back to the shrine of the first pool to say one final prayer and bowed my head. Congratulations, you have taken part in the water purification ritual!
I can remember how cool the water felt as it rushed through my hair and down my back. Under the spout, you can’t hear anything but just your thoughts and what you have just asked for. Liberation was something overcoming me with each step in that pool. That or the goosebumps from the early morning water. I was grateful for such an experience on that quiet summer morning. My guide was impeccable in his and I thanked him wholeheartedly for teaching me the meaning behind the temple.
As I put my clothes on I notice a flock of other travelers coming through via tour vans about to partake in the same ritual I had just. I wonder what they’ll ask for, who they’ll ask it for, and if they could figure out how to wear that freaking sarong.
Half-past nine we made our exit and headed back towards in the direction of Ubud center for Bali Pulina. There’s no shortage of coffee tours on the island, but this place just made sense as its location was perfect for the day. My last cup of coffee was a distant memory and I was in need of a tune-up. Balinese coffee, all of Indonesia for that matter, is sublime, to say the least. Also,they’re famous for their Kopi Luwak coffee. You know, the coffee where it’s made from beans that have passed through the digestive tract of Asian Palm Civet. In other words: poop coffee.
Bali Pulina proved to be a great stop because they give you a free guided tour of their plantation that was both fun and educational, as far as coffee went. You get to see the different types of coffee beans that can grow in this climate along with the processing of said beans. Also, they do have some Asian Palm Civet on the grounds that produce the ever expensive Kopi Luwak. I wasn’t really prepared for this part because to me they looked like oversize rodents who’s droppings were prized coffee beans. No, I did not try a cup, ha.
Once the tour is finished you’re brought to the cafe section on their plantation. It peered deep into the lush green jungle that honestly took my breath away. The green richness was amazing for the eyes to feast on. There were very few people here which allowed the sounds of nature to ring through the valley.
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We took our seats and were quickly overwhelmed with the coffee selection they had on hand. Anything you could have wanted be it coffee (coconut, vanilla, ginseng, or even ginger) or tea (flavored with real lemon, ginger, or turmeric) were listed in their menu. I will admit the turmeric tea and ginger coffee took my taste buds for a wild ride. Little snacks of sweets weren’t ever too far away either.
The best part is the coffee tasting was on the house! I knew coming here was a great idea.
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Feeling an extra burst of energy coming on, mainly due to the caffeine overload I just had, I left for the infamous rice terraces of Bali. What trip would be complete without a visit to THE rice terraces of all terraces? None, that is what. Also, there are tons of rice terraces around Bali so you have the pick of the litter.
By the time we made it down to the busy street that Tegallalang Rice Terrace resided, it seemed the entire island was up! Scooters amassed both sides of the tiny road while locals hawk at you to park at their spot. Tons of cafe shops, souvenir storefronts, and even a few vegan joints lined this bustling road heading back into Ubud. I rolled the scooter into the tiniest of spots, paid the local a few thousand rupiahs to watch over it and I was off!
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There are no fees to gain access to the rice terraces, but there are locals asking for donations. What to do here? Donate a few bucks of course. Just because there are tons of tourists gallivanting about just like you doesn’t mean it’s not a livelihood for the local people. It’s an actual rice field that gets worked on and not just one where you can pose for photos.
Tegallalang Rice Terrace is large and spans both sides of a valley that connects in the middle via walk bridges over a creek. You start from the top one one side and zig-zag your way through a maze of tiered levels. Parts of the paths are narrow while others lead out to nice vantage points that overlook the depth of the terraces. Of course, swings aplenty and locals more than happy to charge you a few bucks in exchange of a few minutes through the air. Also, there’s a grass turnip looking seat you can sit in and take photos from? I don’t get it, but hey I am not here to get, just to enjoy.
During our trek through the terraces (there are plenty of others throughout Bali) we bumped into quite a few people. Given the time of day, it meant elbow to elbow in some spots. I would suggest going super early in the morning, making it your first stop, or very late in the evening to avoid crowds. My photography friends out there you already know the deal. This place makes for amazing photo opportunities in the morning or golden light hours.
Before calling it a wrap on day three I headed back towards base camp for a very unassuming activity: sense deprivation chamber. You read right. For the last few days I kept riding by this resort, Ubud Float Garden Sensory Deprivation Center, never having tried it I said WHY NOT?! Plus I needed all the energy of Hindu goddess Shakti for what we’re about to do on day four.
If you come across opportunities like this on your travels I highly suggest you do it because it will be VERY affordable. I paid around $45 for a two-person 90-minute experience. In comparison a single float session here in the states is $75 for one person!
I am all for a bargain, but don’t think the experience is bargain quality either, far from it. The setting underneath a blanket of stars without light pollution and only the sounds of chirping from the neighboring crickets was impeccable. Each person had their own shower room, which was decorated with good taste I might add, adjacent to the float tank. I was warned beforehand that if you had any cuts to use the provided Vaseline to seal them up. I should have listened.
Down to my birthday suit I quickly remembered the instructions: go in, lay down, lock the chamber, and shut off the light. I barely got in before I notice my entire body lighting up in a fire reminiscent of red ant bites. When you’re floating in water with four times the salinity of the ocean the most minimal of cut will feel like a gaping wound. I immediately hopped out like a smoldering cat, tried to shower off the liquid, which had the viscous texture of crude oil, applied the Vaseline like I was told to, and jumped back in. Didn’t help, the damage was done.
Doors locked behind me. Lights off above me. A naked body floating in a tube seven foot by four foot wide. It felt like I was floating in a vast pool of nothingness, the sounds of the cricket’s collective chirping drowned out by the darkness in the tube. They got the sense deprivation part correct alright. My mind kept racing as I laid there in the tank. Like your smartphone killing your battery looking for a signal I was searching for something to latch onto. I was truly alone with my thoughts.
For some, this could have been bliss, but for me, the epitome of torture.
Did I come to some deep-seated revelation that only can arise out of years of back and forth with a therapist in under 45 minutes in that float tank? Yea I did and that this wasn’t for me! My realization is that my mind fires off in such a succession of thoughts that anything short of stimuli, however minuscule, can throw the whole thing off balance. I left that float tank knowing what I had to work on: slowing my mind down.
In the end, it wasn’t a bad experience, minus the stinging cuts, fuck that. Oh, and I definitely didn’t rest up as much as I wanted to. Day four will be a long one.
The alarm on my phone went off at a scathing 12:30 AM, surely this was some cruel joke and I had misplaced PM for AM. Alas, the realization was that I had to pull myself out of bed and get ready for a long night ahead. After getting myself together, barely, I made way to the lobby of the villa where a gentleman with an SUV was waiting for me.
What laid ahead was a hike in the twilight hour up to the summit of Mount Batur (1,717 meters) to witness a sunrise on an active volcano. The latter had my giddy with anticipation.
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A few things I want to note before I dive into my experience with this hike:
- You can do it solo, just show up – but a guide makes it more fun
- All the resorts/hotels/hostel can arrange a tour for you
- It’s warm at base camp but FREEZING as you make your way up
- The volcano is ACTIVE
- Motorbike taxi available
- Trails are medium to high difficulty. High because THEY CAN BE STEEP
- Makeshift cafes exist at the top
- Eat a boiled egg cooked via volcanic steam (or so they tell you)
Before my guide set us off for what would be about a two to three hour hike up (depending on fitness) I noticed a few locals renting out large jackets. I surmise that even though it was about 80 degrees at the bottom it must be cold at the top. Thankful that I packed a puffer jacket, but my shorts I was wearing didn’t give me that warm encouragement I sought. Armed with a headlamp and walking stick we were off!
There were groups of guides hikers armed with headlamps all following each other in little light pockets. You couldn’t see much of the night sky while still hiking from the bottom because of all the light pollution from Kintamani. Though we ventured on trading stories with our guide who spoke decent enough English for the anecdotes being passed back and forth. Those first 30 minutes flew by and I was in a frenzy sweat for still having the puffer on. Surely it couldn’t be any colder than this at the top!
Trails went from a slight hill to a steep incline fast. Plenty of locals on motorbikes offering a taxi to anyone who couldn’t make the journey up. I, a penchant for earning things the hard way, opted out of such laziness and forged a path onward with battered knees. Should you need to employ their services it’s there. In hindsight I should have packed that knee brace, ha.
After we passed the halfway point (where the motorbike stops because it becomes too steep) the light pollution fell away rather quickly. The skies opened up and the stars form an immense collection over me the likes I have never seen before. Darkness illuminated only by specks of light from suns that died out millions of years ago was enchanting. The wind blew a sweet howl among the treetops, bristling them back and forth in its wake. This moment was both serene and sublime and everything in between.
The cold was coming on fast as we approached the summit of Batur, or the least what our guide was telling me. All the sweat that beaded down the back of my neck was now slowly turning into goosebumps, that uncomfortable in-between feeling. Quickly I put back on the puffer that was wrapped around my waist, disregarded the pain messages my knee was trying to tell my brain and believed every word my guide told me that it’s just up around this bend. Guides, they’re great for anecdotes, but not so much when it comes to time and distance measuring.
After almost a three hour hike the summit was finally in sight! Not because you could see it, the time was still 4:30 AM, but the people that have amassed in a small vicinity was a dead giveaway. Benches lined the ridge so finding a seat wasn’t an issue, but finding the right seat for the sunrise view proved to be a game of chance. A seat in any form was a welcomed sight after that hike so I hunkered down and waited with bated breath.
Our guide left us for a while and came back with piping hot coffee. How he does his magic I will never know. Actually, there’s a cafe at the top, but I still want to believe he boiled water over the volcanic steam, magic. With hot drinks in hand, I began to warm up to the surrounding both in body heat and in my soul. It was quiet minus the chatter from everyone, the stillness in the air you could feel. Crisp, refreshing, and every breathe somehow gave me new life. Nature was at her best that morning and I was here to soak it all in.
When my coffee was done our guide appeared with a spread that ruled all midnight hike spreads. On the big platter were a few meat sandwiches, mixed fruits and of course the hard boiled eggs that were cooked in volcanic steam. Having not eaten since after the float tank fiasco I scarfed everything down like Tom Hanks in Castaway at the first sight of food.
In the distance you start to see a little light bow peak over the horizon, a sliver of red and pink breaking up the dark sky. The moment was happening and you can hear gasps all around you myself included. People frantically searching for cell phones, manning their drones, setting up tripods for long exposures. I simply sat with hands on my lap waiting for the show to unfold, and what a show it was.
From red and pink hues its light led the way into filling up the lower quarter of the sky, bleeding the colors across. The sun was just BARELY over the horizon while its presence illuminated everything the dark had hidden. Outlines of surrounding Mount Gede, Madeg and Abang became more prominent. In between those mountains and Batur laid Danau Batur, the lake formed from a crater in the volcano. The light glistened off of the pristine water, bouncing higher into the sky.
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By now all the oohs and ahs were coming in full force from the audience with whom I had a pleasure of sharing that morning. The sun, now taking on more of its circular form, was midway into the backdrop, dripping all of its orange and yellow tones over the canvas that is the sky. Thick clouds laid just below the summit, a reminder of how high up you actually were. On this clear morning, you could see all the way over to Lombok Island which I was sure had patrons on Mount Rinjani watching the same spectacular show.
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Morning, in full swing now even at 7 AM, people were walking around the summit and its ridge doing some exploring. Just imagine hundreds of people on the summit with paths wide enough for maybe a semi and steep drops on either side. Elbow to elbow jousting ensued. Worth to note the views from other angles of the mountain were spectacular in their own right.
Do they really boiled the eggs with it is a question I never asked but like to believe, ha.
Don’t miss out on feeling some of that volcanic steam emanating from the mountain, just don’t get burnt!
Heading back to the car was much quicker affair than traversing up it, as with all trips it seems. The thought of sitting in the backseat of the SUV kept me going as I set foot in front of foot down those steep mountainside trails. I tipped my guide farewell, made way to my hired car and sat in the back seat properly exhausted at this point. Ten hours have passed since my alarm went off that morning and I felt every bit of it.
Driving away from Batur something inside resonated with me. I have seen sunrises before, plenty at that, but hiking up an unknown mountainside, to sit with hundreds of other adventure seeking souls, watching the most spectacular show playing that morning hits different.
It leaves you felling more filled than you can ever imagine.
I arrived back at my villa around lunch time and proceeded to hibernate for the rest of that afternoon. Anything past the moment I laid my head on that sweet pillow was a blur, that whole night could’ve been my imagination.
In the end I got what I wanted from my early morning: my soul was filled to its brim. For now.
Hours passed by that felt like days as I woke up to the sun starting its setting procedures. There was one last venture for day four and that was back into Ubud city center to enjoy a bit more of shopping, sending out large parcels back home, and a nice relaxing massage for all that strenuous exercise (mainly walking!) from earlier. Dinner with some drinks at Spice (I would recommend) was a nice way to end things for the evening.
Sometimes you just need to relax, and this was it!
I awoke to yet another morning of Balinese coffee delivered to my door after a nice swim in the infinity pool. Waking up in the same bed a few mornings in succession made the place feel that much more homey. I’d forgotten entirely how that felt to not wander every couple of days, makes you a bit homesick. Not one to revel in any sentimental feeling about a bed for too long I started the morning rather late and hopped onto the scoot for some adventure.
Today was a no plans type of day, the kind where you just set about on any adventure you damn near willing to do. Today was the day I wanted to go chase waterfalls. Yes, plural, as Bali is home to many rather astonishing ones. On my hit-lit were:
- Air Terjun Bertingkat
- Gitgit Waterfall
- Banyumala Twin Waterfalls
- Jembong Waterfall, Ambengan
- Aling-Aling Waterfall
All of these were about an hour and 45 minute scooter ride away towards the north which wasn’t so bad from home base. Although, sad to report that during the ride the north side of the island I started getting pummeled with rain. You can plan a pretty picnic, but you should’ve checked the goddamn weather maps, Jason. Without end in sight, or what it felt like because of the pellet raindrops shooting at me in rapid fire, I decided it best to head back into town.
This wasn’t like me as I’m always down to chase adventure no matter the weather, but I didn’t want to become another tourist statistic. By this I mean wiping out on the scoot on my way to some fun-filled location. I’ve seen far too many bandaged up hands, arms and legs in hostel communal areas for my liking.
Instead I decided a food adventure was on tall order, because who doesn’t love a roasted pig breakfast? After getting back into Ubud center and making some cross sections through side streets the Warung Babi Guling Ibu Oka 3 was in sight. I parked the scoot on some sketchy road and walked down a rather menacing little alley, even if it were before lunch time.
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I heard about it through the grapevine that Bourdain ate here and said it was fantastic so naturally I had to try it out. I have already eaten at the Cowboy hat lady stall in Chiang Mai and the bun cha place he and Obama visited in Hanoi, and I am not one to break the streak. With bated breath I found the entrance and promptly was seated at the edge of the restaurant looking out into some jungle bush in the distance. The smell was so enticing that my stomach began growling in no time flat. Menu in hand I looked it over and my mouth salivated to no end, but I came here for one thing and one thing only: roasted suckling pig!
On hand was an order of roasted pig over rice and a side of lechon skin, a rather big side at that. I spent the next few minutes listening to the doldrums of everyday life, peeping around the dining room, noticing a mix of locals and tourist alike, while sipping on my fruit juice. Days like today when plans don’t go exactly the way you want them to can be salvaged easily with a good meal. The service was fast as my waitress came back with some rather hefty looking plates!
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You can imagine the thud sound it made when she placed them before me, like a boat anchor. I took in the sights, golden brown delicious with juices oozing out, and the smells, aromatic spices mixed in with the all too familiar scent of a pit roaster. They say you cant buy happiness, but three baskets full of this suckling pig will do just fine.
I started off with the meat that was still piping hot over rice, steam rolling off of it like your breath in winter time. A quick blow to cool it down and I plopped that juicy morsel into my mouth with a spoonful of rice that followed. Each bite was soft, melting away between my teeth and tongue. My taste buds were firing off happy messages to my brain that wasn’t fast enough to register. This was good. Damn good. Best part was how juicy each piece was. I couldn’t get over it. Throw in some pork sausages and it was a wrap!
Next up: that skin. It looked insanely crispy, and after my test, banging a spoon on the topside, proved my theory right. The smack against my spoon when struck produced meat music to my ears. The skin was brown and crispy visually with just enough fat on the bottom to make it smooth and savory. I took my first bite and chewed away unceremoniously for my mouth was alive. Crunch after crunch, bite after bite, I was a happy human.
This was me in a candy store if candy were hogs over a fire pit.
I sipped the rest of my fruit juice, paid my tally, and left to enjoy the rest of my afternoon with a smile on my face.
Oh, I should mention that after stuffing my face I went back into Ubud center and proceeded to treat myself afternoon coffee and cake. Because why not? If I haven’t boded enough about the coffee before I will surely bode about the desserts that flourish through the island. Here you can satisfy any tooth of any sweet form, and if you’re vegan then it is perfect for you, too!
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I found this quaint little cafe shop, Caramel Patisserie & Cafe, by this boutique after doing some souvenir hunting that quelled said sweet tooth all too well. It was cramped where one placed the order, looking through a cooled display of cakes for offer, until you ventured upstairs to a balcony overlooking Jl. Hanoman. A hefty order later I found myself having the pick of the place when it came to seating options. Each cake chosen was different and delectable to the palette. The coffee and tea refreshing and cooling in the heat. One of the best ways to enjoy a leisurely afternoon on the island and of course indulge yourself in treats and people watching.
A good way to work off all that I ate was to head over to Campuhan Ridge Walk which I felt is totally underrated! Featuring rolling lush hills, some very easy trails and views the rivals any hike back in the states, it was worth it. The surrounding was quiet and peaceful and you wouldn’t have expected that with it being so close to Ubud center. An oasis away from the chaos of the every day. There are a couple of food stalls on the trail as well as some rope swings, because Bali isn’t Bali without rope swings.
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I came during the golden hour that bathe the surrounding in a magnificent hue of orange and yellow. With only the local chatter and the never ending chirps that has become ubiquitous with SE Asia a walk like this is needed to decompress. I have’t spent so much of my time in one particular place, let alone an island, that the serenity I found here help cleared my head.
I saddled up on the trusty steed that has not let me down these last few days and blasted my way through the busy streets. The ride home to base camp has been something I look forward to more than I realized. Dimly lit roads, tightly packed together with rice fields on either side only ever broken up by the occasional out-there resorts seem all familiar now. When the street lamps fade and light from the stars and moon took over you could feel this calm coming over you.
I started to really enjoy Bali and was gutted tomorrow would be the last day.
Sleeping in is a luxury I haven’t afforded myself much in the last four months so I took it upon myself to forgo the usual coffee and awoke no earlier than noon. My last day spent on the island figuring out what to do became a little tough. Torn between getting my laundry finished, cramming in that last minute scoot-venture, securing transport to the airport or just say fuck-all and sit poolside all day long. Choices were tough but alas being a responsible adult was on tall order: scoot-venture it is!
I revisited a few of the locations I went throughout the last few days, the rice terrace, a couple of the same cafes, back to haggling with the store patrons for no particular reason. It was as charming as the first go around, but I felt maybe more and more of this daily the luster and magic would be lost. To be honest I came to the island with the utmost disdain for what it seemed to be: perfection with a side of tropical trees. Revisiting some of these places reaffirm those first feelings of excitement.
Before I knew it the day got away from me. What was a late start turned into an early evening. With a few things to mull over about my experiences here I headed to Hujan Locale for dinner, mainly to try their fried crab dish I heard so much about. A drink in hand, a view to look out onto, patrons all around, I thought to myself: this place isn’t so bad.
During dinner, the fried crabs are FANTASTIC by the way, I came to a rather important realization. I banked too much on what I had seen on social media and formed a baseless impression of a place I haven’t even gone to. This was all destroyed once I set foot on the island. It was and it wasn’t everything I thought it would be. Was it paradise? Yes, of course. Was it the epitome of the ultimate destination? This would be a hard no from the noodle.
Don’t get me wrong I overly enjoyed my time on the island from the things I was able to do, places and moments I had to the locals I spoke to. But it felt like there was no soul, or at the very least what soul it had left was being sold out to over tourism and the bottom line. Makes me think Bali is now the new Koh Phi Phi.
Sure I didn’t go to Kuta, or Nusa Penida, or spent nights partying it up in Denpasar, but did I really have to? The island is a fucking GEM, but the overt luxury of it, which is insanely affordable, muddles the water of what is real and what is catered to the tourist crowd. Irregardless of this fact if you’re in the area then you should experience Bali, all of it, however you can!
I lost my days hiking volcanoes and chasing waterfalls and I wouldn’t change a damn thing.
When the last minute souvenirs and tidbits were picked up, laundry finished and folder, car service for the airport secured, luggage all packed I was ready leaving the island started to hit. The last day of my vacation within a vacation came far too quickly for my liking. I wasn’t sure if I was ready to leave just yet, with few things left untouched, but there was an entire island to explore next: Java. I was ready to sink my teeth in!