Bali – A Road Trip

This guy had a car tyre around his stomach, while riding a motor scooter!

We were on a three day road trip around Bali; we being my wife and I, our son, and his wife and two children. They live here so Kristian was driving and I was beside him staring in amazement.

We followed the bike for a while, then passed it, then let it pass us, then passed it again. The rider probably thought we were nuts, but I got it all on video.

A few miles later we saw a better one. This scooter was so covered in plastic toys and stuff we couldn’t see the rider at all until we passed him.

This was our second day of our trip around Bali. We have been to the island lots of times, but only to the south, part of the west coast, and the middle.

Kristian hadn’t traveled to the north and east either. He brought a Periplus Bali Street Atlas, and I had a Lonely Planet guide book. In fact the most useful maps are in the Lonely Planet book. Besides, Kristian’s wife is Indonesian, so if we were to get lost she could ask directions.

As we started driving I noticed that the biggest problem was that neither the book nor the map showed all the streets and roads, and of the ones they did show, not all were named. It probably didn’t matter too much as many of the streets had no street signs anyway.

Oh well, we wanted to go north, so we just kept the sun on our right.

In 1993 we had driven up the west coast as far as the surfing beach at Medewi. Beyond that the west coast is apparently pretty boring. Most people only travel that way to catch the ferry to Java, although on the far NW of Bali the snorkeling and diving is supposed to be pretty good.

We headed due north along the main road which starts as Jalan Legian, and then becomes Jalan Seminyak, then Jalan Raya Kerobokan, then Jalan Raya Padang Luwih, then Jalan Dalung-Sading, then Jalan Sempidi. You are better off looking for signs saying Sempidi, or Mengwi, or best of all Singaraja and following the arrows. These are towns and cities, and Singaraja is on the north coast so it is the best one to follow.

Early in the day we were still driving past lots of houses, shops, and stalls in the built up areas. The traffic was normal which means the locals drove wherever they pleased, and overtake wherever they pleased. Might is right so scooters give way to cars which give way to busses and trucks. On the skinny roads with indistinct centre lines it all looks like chaos with lots of horn blowing. At least here the horn just means, “I can see you and I won’t hit you so please don’t hit me.”

In Australia the horn is usually accompanied by rude gestures and foul language.

The majority of road rules don’t apply to scooters. Well at first glance it appears that way. On most roads, even the skinny ones, there is enough room for a couple of cars side by side. But then you will also get as many scooters as will fit on the bitumen and one or two off it as well. The interesting bit is watching how they all dodge whatever is doing the same thing but coming the other way. And for all, traffic lights appear to be advisory only.

Surprisingly it all works, although if you have ever been at an intersection during peak hour traffic you probably wish like I do that you were driving a Toyota Landcruiser with bars and checker plate all round like a stock car. Regardless, the riders of scooters seem to believe that if they don’t look at you, you won’t hit them!

Eventually we left the back to back villages with stalls selling wood, stone, and bamboo furniture and artifacts, and got out into the semi rural areas. We even passed a cattle market at Mengwi.

Our grandkids are 7 and 5 years old so we tried to plan something of interest for them each day. Today was a fishing day. About half way between the south and the north are several lakes. After driving through some mountain twisties we got to our first volcanic crater lake, Lake Bratan.

Like any place of interest on Bali the first things we saw were the souvenir stalls. However the hawkers were very restrained and we had a pleasant few hours watching the boats on the water while the grandkids went fishing. Just about anything edible in rivers and lakes on Bali has already been caught and eaten, but a man put something that looked like a bit of mushy worm on their hooks and helped them cast out. In an hour they caught about a dozen fish about the size of a large coin. With their time up they tipped them all back into the lake. I don’t think the locals were too happy about that. I think they usually sold these fish to aquariums.

Between Lake Bratan and Lake Buyan it is a really good idea to stay on the road. If you don’t it’s about a kilometer straight down off the edge.

By now we were looking for somewhere to stop for lunch. Eventually the switchback road with a rock and mud wall on one side and nothing on the other gave way to more harmonious scenery and a village called Git Git. There was an excellent little restaurant there where we had some typical Balinese food before heading down the mountain the last 10 km to Singaraja. When we got there we turned left and drove another few kilometers to Lovina Beach, our actual destination for day one.

From the Lonely Planet book I had selected three possible hotels or losmen for the night. The north of Bali is much more laid back than the south, but there is still plenty of accommodation here. It’s just more low key, and cheaper.

Despite my Lonely Planet book being only twelve months old my first choice resort was closed for reconstruction. My second choice was full up as all three bungalows were occupied. The third had a vacancy, but it was a bit musty and our grandson can get asthma.

When we first drove into Lovina a guy on a scooter had ridden up to the driver’s side window and passed Kristian a business card with the details of a resort. We decided to try it. We were back to the situation of indiscriminate street signs that didn’t compare with the actual streets, so we flagged down a bikie and gave him Rp50,000 (about $5) to take us to the Suma Hotel.

It was delightful. The room, the pool, the restaurant were all just perfect. Well perfect by Balinese standards. Sometimes it’s hard to tell if they are building something or tearing it down. But what we got to use was perfect. Very ‘local’.

I went for a walk to the beach. It was nothing to write about. Just a typical northern Balinese black volcanic sand beach. Once again the few hawkers were restrained. I watched some fishing boats at sea with a setting sun in the background, and a young man sitting cross legged making his prayer offering.

Next morning we woke to the sounds of chickens and goats, dispersed with a few rumblings of thunder. After an excellent breakfast we headed east back to Singaraja, the second largest city on Bali, and on to the east coast. Most of this time we just kept the sea on our left and followed signs that said Amlapura. The map had shown Amlapura to be near where I had planned to spend our second night, so like the signs for Singaraja yesterday, we followed any sign that said Amlapura.

It was along this road that we saw our scooter rider with the car tyre around his tummy and the one with the mobile toy store. We had a pretty easy trip as we just followed a road sweeper. This was a fairly new looking truck, and as he wasn’t sweeping any roads he was moving along at a comfortable speed.

Everything coming the other way got out of his way and we just followed him.

I had intended to stop near the town of Tulamben to have a look at the wreck of a WW2 US cargo ship that was only about 30m offshore. Unfortunately it was also about 30m under water. There were plenty of offers to hire us diving and snorkeling gear but we decided to give it a miss and head for tonight’s accommodation. To keep the kids amused Eileen started a game of “I Spy”.

From the town of Culik we headed towards Amed. I had selected another three hotels or losmen from the Lonely Planet book for here too. Same result too. My first choice was a collection of bungalows called Meditasi. They offered meditation and yoga and general relaxation. Our daughter-in-law wouldn’t have relaxed though. Their room had a balcony bed for the kids with a rail no higher than the bed and a 30m drop through the bougainvilleas to the rocks on the beach below. Mind you if Eileen and I ever go back that way on our own I would happily spend a night or two there.

My second and third choices also met with disapproval and we eventually settled on staying at the Apa Kabar. Bahasa Indonesia is an interesting language. To ask someone, “Apa Kabar?” means, “How are you?”, but it literally means, “What news?”

Our bungalow had no fridge or TV, but the AC worked well and we had a nice tree in our outdoor bathroom courtyard. Off the beach just passed my depth, I could see the coral clearly without a facemask and just a short free dive.

The food, drinks, and conversation with locals and international visitors made for another pleasant evening.

For the third and final day we headed back to Culik and on to Pura Besakih, the holiest of Bali’s temples. Right beside it is Mt Agung, the highest and most revered mountain on Bali. We took the back road short cut which could have been a mistake. The black volcanic stone of Mt Agung is crushed to make walls, or blocks and bricks. The crushings are taken back to Denpasar by trucks; old slow trucks. So on a windy, narrow, mountain, potholed road that used to be bitumen but was now washed out mud and bitumen, we followed lots of old slow trucks for about 30km.

The Lonely Planet book recommended traveling along the Sidemen Road from south to north to appreciate a wonderful view of Mt Agung. As we passed the northern T intersection with Sidemen Road we thought we may as well go a few kilometers south, turn around, and come back and appreciate the view. All would have been well except there was so much rain and fog on the mountain we couldn’t see it at all. Also Kristian was now worried we might run out of fuel.

You can buy fuel in one litre bottles all over Bali, but you can never be sure exactly what you are getting. It could be petrol. It could be kerosene. Or it could be a mixture of both plus maybe a bit of water. We turned left to head to Denpasar instead of right to Pura Besakih and found a proper petrol station.

Then we went back to Menanga and made our way up the side of Mt Agung.

The main entrance to the temple is 2km south of it. 200m past the ticket office is a fork in the road with two signs; one to Besakih and one to Kintamani. Go left to Kintamani. Going to the right puts you in a car park about 300m downhill of the temple. It’s then an unpleasant uphill walk past lots of hawkers.

Going left puts you in another car park, but only about 20m from the temple. Once at the temple there will be lots of people asking for money to be your guide. You don’t have to have a guide! We paid one anyway. It wasn’t much and we did learn a lot of interesting things. The temple is multi religious. Hindu is the main one, but there are places to worship for any religion.

Even on the side of Mt Agung we couldn’t see it. The rain had eased but the fog and mist still blocked our view.

We took another short cut to get us home, and this was a goodie. We kept going south through Klungkung and Samarapura until we met the Jalan Profeser Doktor Ida Bagus Mantra. This is the best motorway on Bali and we followed it all the way to Denpasar. We were home in time for sunset drinks.

Indonesia Outdoor Furniture by John Brinkley

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