Ubud: Temples & Rice Fields & Climbing Mount Batur

Days 91-93 in Southeast Asia (April 25-27, 2016)

Motorbiking From Ubud

After sleeping in until close to noon and finally feeling like we had recovered from our long journey to Bali, Maddie and I decided to head down the street to find a motorbike to rent. We had originally planned on renting a car/jeep in Bali for something new and fun to try, but after getting into Ubud, we realized that the traffic here is pretty terrible, and not in the fun way that it can be on a motorbike sometimes weaving around cars, but in a sit-still-in-a-taxi-for-20-minutes and then slowly crawl through traffic and narrow streets kind of way… plus, they drive on the left side of the road here, which is something we’re not particularly used to.

We decided that we would start with a motorbike in Ubud to get used to the driving here, and that maybe later on in the week when we went South we’d re-evaluate and consider getting a car. We rented a bike for the following 24hrs from just around the corner from our hostel for 50,000IDR ($5), and headed North about 45km for our first bike ride through Bali on our way to Pura Ulun Danu Bratan (a beautiful temple by lake Danau up in the mountains). The driving here is gorgeous, lush bright green rice fields on either side of the road for most of the drive, and towering trees filled with massive leaves and vines hanging down over the streets.

On our way headed North, a Balinese man drove up beside us on his motorbike and started waving and smiling at us. We smiled and waved back, and he saw that I had a GoPro and signalled for me to take a photo of him from the back of the bike, I did and he smiled and gave thumbs up, and then proceeded to take a photo of us giving thumbs up as well as we drove by. He asked us where we were going, and I yelled over the name of the temple. He waved for us to follow him, so we did.

As we climbed higher up the mountain, the sky began to cloud over and get quite dark. Soon enough, we could feel a bit of rain. We pulled over at a lookout point that the man stopped at, and got some photos of the view from up on the mountain, not completely sure if we should continue since the rain was picking up and didn’t look like it’d be getting better anytime soon. The man took us to a small stand near the top where he sat with us, bought us each a cup of hot tea and took some photos with us. He even added me on facebook and had uploaded the photos within a few minutes of us sitting down, smiling and laughing the whole time (he spoke extremely limited English).

One of the gentlemen running the stand came out and began speaking to us in English, translating a bit for us as we talked to him and the other gentleman about where we were from and how we were liking Bali so far. We sat for about half an hour and asked him if he thought that the rain would let up anytime soon, to which he replied that it might be a better idea to come back tomorrow… we were disappointed after driving so far (it took us close to an hour and a half to get there) to hear that we might have to turn back. We decided to sit and wait a few minutes, and sure enough the rain started to slow down a bit. We decided we had gotten so close that we might as well try to make it to the temple today, and even if we still had to turn back because it was raining it wouldn’t have cost us much more time than we’d already lost.

Pura Ulun Danu Bratan (Temple)

By the time we got to the temple, the sun was peeking out and the rain had stopped. We paid 25,000IDR ($2.50) to get in, and it did not disappoint. The beautiful temple sat on the water perfectly peacefully, surrounded by mountains in the distance around the calm lake, with incredible gardens and trees leading up to the temple that were fit for a palace, perfectly maintained and trimmed with astounding symmetry and attention to detail.

The entire area felt peaceful and beautiful… up until the paparazzi found us. As we took photos of the temple, we were interrupted by groups of young male tourists from Indonesia wanting to take photos with us and ask us where we were from. One of them even asked for Maddie’s name on Facebook, which resulted in about 15 friend requests for each of us the following day… We didn’t mind much though and found it more funny/flattering than anything, though I will still never understand fully why this is a thing around Asia.

As the sun began to set, we decided we’d better hurry back to the bike so we wouldn’t be biking back too long in the dark. It was a chilly ride back without the warmth of the sun, in our shorts and tank tops that were still damp from the ride there. By the time we got back to the main road in Ubud, we rushed to drop our bike off at the hostel and went straight out for a nice dinner and hot tea.

A Night Out In Ubud With New Friends

Afterwards, we sat and had a few beers back at our hostel bar, where we met Ryan (from England) and Christian (from Romania), who had both been travelling for a while (separately) and recently became friends on the road. The four of us decided to walk to Chillout Bar, a 20 minute walk down the road and around the corner, where we had heard they played great music and had decent drinks (and a free shot with every cocktail purchase). We sat and chatted for several hours about travel, life, home and friends. It was a pretty awesome night, and we told the guys about our plan to hike up the mountain in a couple of days, and they said they planned on doing the same, and would hopefully be joining us.

Pura Tirta Empul (Temple) & Tegallalang Rice Terraces

The following morning, Maddie and I headed out to Pura Tirta Empul (the famous temple in Ubud with the holy fountains for bathing) about half an hour by bike from our hostel. We paid 15,000IDR entry, though we decided not to bathe and just to watch, knowing that we had a lot we wanted to see that day and not a ton of time to do it.

Our second stop was Tegallalang rice terraces, some of the most famous in the area, only about 15 minutes away by motorbike. We drove to the street that my map said the terraces were on, and ended up walking down a little dirt path to try to find them behind some houses. Sure enough, when we came out the other end of the path we could see them, though I think we may have entered through someone’s actual backyard and maybe missed the real entry point. Regardless, we walked into the fields and along the edges of the terraces, enjoying the view and taking photographs.

The terraces here were a much different experience than those in Sa Pa. They were smaller, on hills rather than mountains, and lush green with rice in all stages of growth (whereas Sa Pa wasn’t peak season while we were there, so the rice had either not yet been planted, or only small buds were visible). Also, the terraces here were surrounded by jungle and palm trees, and the sound of cicadas and other wildlife filled the air. This is the Bali from the postcards.

Solo Mission to Pura Taman Ayun (Temple)

After the rice terrace, Maddie was feeling pretty tired, and it was almost time to return our motorbike, but I still really wanted to see some other temples. I renewed the bike on my own for another 24hrs, dropped Maddie off back at our hostel, filled up on gas and zipped off towards Pura Taman Ayun, a temple just under 20km West of Ubud. I was fine to ride the bike on my own, and actually enjoyed having a bit of time to myself, though it got a bit difficult at times when I wasn’t sure where I was going and had to pull over every 5 minutes to check my MAPS.ME app (offline maps… a traveller must-have app that saves my butt on the daily).

I think it probably took me about an hour to get to the temple, much longer than expected, but it was still a beautiful drive and gorgeous weather, so it was hard to be mad about it. The temple cost 20,000IDR entry, and was filled with gorgeous tiered structures throughout the enclosed area. The garden area in front of the temple was full of beautifully set up tables and chairs as hundreds of women dressed in white walked around rehearsing for a ceremony that would be taking place that evening. It was interesting and beautiful to watch the preparations, and had I not been dressed in shorts and a tank top and completely covered in sweat by the time I was leaving, I might have been inclined to stay a while and watch, or even participate in the event if I could.

Almost everyone visiting the temple was accompanied by a guide, including a Canadian couple I met who asked if I’d like a few photos in front of the temple to which I said yes. They were from Toronto, and we chatted for a bit before I went on my way, passing several other tourists and guides along the way.

Several guides stopped and commented as I got on my bike that I was “brave” to be motorbiking by myself through Bali, though I hardly consider it brave so much as something I’ve found essential to travelling if you’re on a budget and want to see as much as possible without paying for a tour guide and transportation. Plus, it allows for flexibility in your plans when you’ve rented your own bike as opposed to hiring a guide/taxi for the day, and I truly believe it to be a much better experience than any other form of transportation as far as sightseeing goes, removing any temptation to fall asleep in a comfy air conditioned van between destinations.

After leaving Taman Ayun, I realized that it was already about 4:30pm, and that I had told Maddie I would aim to be back between 6-6:30 for dinner. I told her not to worry and to just go without me if I wasn’t back in time, knowing how much longer drives take around here than you’d expect, with traffic and winding roads up and down seep hills for much of the drive, not to mention my stopping time to check my map. I had to decide at that time whether I wanted to continue West another 20km or so to see the other temple I was dying to check out, knowing I’d be later than 6:30, or if I wanted to go back to the hostel. I chose the former.

Continuing My Solo Mission to Tanah Lot For Sunset

At nearly 5:30pm I arrived at Tanah Lot (on the West coast, 35km or so from Ubud) as the sun was beginning to set, knowing already that it would be dark by the time I was back. Still, I planned on getting to the temple, taking some photos quickly, and hopefully getting back not too much later than I had originally anticipated. After paying the 30,000IDR entry fee and walking through the main entryway, however, I realized that it wasn’t gong to happen.

The temple was beautiful, parked up on a cliff on the West coast of Bali, surrounded by rocks, both low and high with waves crashing up along the shore, and hundreds of people standing on different dry spots or rocks enjoying the view as the sun lowered in the sky, painting the clouds and the water with light pinks and oranges and blues… taking a few quick photos and running out of there simply wasn’t an option. I accepted that my ride back would be a painfully long and dark one, and I began walking around the temple.

The temple itself is not for entry, but the area surrounding the temple is the main attraction, and visitors may line up beneath the temple to be blessed with holy water and receive a small flower and some rice (I think) pressed onto their forehead if they wish. I had been chatting with a couple of young German travellers by the water and we decided to join the line, originally thinking it was a line to get up inside the temple.

It was still a neat experience though, and we were surrounded by many Indian people who I’m sure travelled to Bali specifically to see the magnificent world famous temples of the predominantly Hindu island (while Indonesia is mostly Muslim population, the island of Bali is unique in that it is almost completely Hindu, making it a popular destination for many Hindus from around the world, and anyone with an appreciation for spectacular temples in general…like me. I chatted for a while with the German gentlemen, and watched as the sun set over the rocks. I took some more photos, watched as thousands of crabs scurried up along the walls of the rocks, almost unnoticed unless you knew to look for them, and finally decided to hit the road at about 6:30pm, when it was already almost completely dark, dreading my journey back.

It took me almost 2 hours to get back, and since I had about 5% battery left on my phone I was basically just slowing down by groups of people and yelling “Ubud?!”, and driving off in the direction they pointed me in, yelling “Sook suma!” (“Thank you!”) as I zipped away, stopping every 20 minutes or so just to make sure I was going in the right general direction… I usually was.

Back to Ubud

Finally, at nearly 8:30, I was back and heard Maddie yell “Oh My God you’re alive!” from the bar, the second I walked into our lobby area… By then she had left and come back from a restaurant where she had sat for some tea and tried to message me, and was getting pretty worried, though she knew I was a pretty good driver and that I DID say it might take me longer and not to worry if it did. Still, we were both equally happy that I had survived the journey back, and went out for some food at a restaurant nearby to celebrate.

Booking Our Tour To Climb Mount Batur

After dinner we hung out at the hostel for a quiet evening since we had booked our mountain climb for the following morning. Climbing Mount Batur in Bali was something I had been planning on doing since before we left Canada, though I’ve honestly been just as terrified about the idea as I have been excited. After my second knee surgery on my left knee in October (and third in total… I’ve also had one on my right knee), it would be really easy (and understandable) to say I couldn’t/wouldn’t do it. However, I know that it really is just a bit more challenging and slightly more painful for me because of it, and that realistically I wouldn’t be messing up my knees much more than they already were.

As for the physical challenge aspect of the climb, I obviously haven’t been training for it, though I do consider myself to be in decent physical shape, and it’s not exactly Everest here… I figured that regardless of what the outcome might be, it was something I wanted to do, and I had to say I tried.

The mountain climb is a popular tour for adventure-seekers in Bali, so it was easy to book it through our hostel. The tour costs 300,000IDR ($30), which is about the same anywhere, and it left at 2am. I was so excited about the hike that I couldn’t really sleep early, and got to bed at about 11:30pm… and was back up at 1:30am to get dressed and ready to go.

Climbing Mount Batur For Sunrise

We left just after 2am from the hostel, and drove North to the base of the mountain, where we arrived at around 3:30am. We were handed our breakfast (which we would eat at the summit), water and a flashlight, and were introduced to our guides: Dede (17 years old), Yuka (19 years old) and another whose name I unfortunately can’t remember because our group was split up a bit. We began the hike shortly after, walking in the cool morning air (though we warmed up pretty quickly) up the gradually inclining path leading up to the mountain.

Christian was also in our group (who we had met a couple nights before, who was lively and provided us with plenty of commentary during both the ascent and descent). At first, it felt like any other walk uphill: slightly tiring, definitely a workout, totally doable. 20 minutes or so later, things got steeper, and 10 minutes after that, it was serious. The path became rocky, and rather than walking uphill we were now actually stepping up, like you would a staircase. We took breaks often for water and to catch our breath, and for the group to all catch up to each other. I was in the middle of the pack for most of the climb, though I’ll admit I struggled during the final third or so, and my knee was in a decent amount of pain.

Yuka could tell at one point that I was struggling, silently stepping up, breathing heavily and looking up ahead at the others who were pulling ahead. He reached down from the step above me, grabbed my hand, and pulled me up a few steps and asked if I was okay… honestly it is something I’ve had to remind myself to do sometimes for others, ask if they’re okay. It sounds silly, but even when you’re not, or maybe you are OKAY but you’re definitely not GREAT, sometimes it is just so nice to be asked if you’re okay and know that someone cares, that it makes the not-being-fully-okay thing seem like it’s not so bad. I smiled and said I was okay, just tired. Yuka held my hand and said “Okay we are past half way there now,” and he continued to update me and the rest of our group on how many more minutes to the top as we went, and held my hand for pretty much the entirety of the second half of the climb, which really helped me out when my knee became so sore that I couldn’t keep my balance while pushing upwards on some of the steeper steps.

As with many of the challenges I’ve had to face in life, I remembered what I learned in Vipassana, “Anicca” (Impermanence)…nothing lasts forever. It wasn’t about how many more miles until we were finished, it was just a matter of hours/minutes, and if there’s one thing  that I learned from The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (awesome show on Netflix if you haven’t seen it), it’s that all you have to do is survive the next ten seconds. If you can make it through the next ten seconds, you can do anything. Then you just start on another ten seconds… I counted to 10 a lot during the climb.

When we reached the first peak of the mountain at a stopping place, we sat and watched as a few clouds rolled in above us, blocking our view of the summit. The guides asked us if we wanted to continue to the top for a better view (but only if the sky cleared up for sunrise), or if we waned to stay. A few of the people in our group stayed below with the third guide whose name I couldn’t remember, and the rest of us went on with Dede and Yuka to the top. I’ve always enjoyed gambling, and I figured we had come this far so why not? Volcanic ash…that’s why. The final stretch took us close to 30 minutes of hiking what was basically a vertical cliff covered in ash (the volcano last erupted in 2000) with the odd rock mixed in.

Two steps forward, one step back. Thank god for Yuka, he grabbed my hand again and smiled, and gave me a second wind. I think that my biggest struggle with the climb wasn’t being out of breath, sweaty, in pain or exhausted, it was being okay with the fact that I did need Yuka’s help, and accepting it openly without letting my ego get in the way. I think that sometimes as we struggle we get so caught up in overcoming something alone to prove a point that we forget that it’s okay and even healthy  to ask for help sometimes, and in many cases (including mine) you’ll only make friends by doing so.

Finally Reaching The Summit

After around 2 hours of climbing, at close to 5:30am, we reached the summit. We sat, drank hot tea (served at the top), ate our breakfasts, and enjoyed the view of the lights below us dotting the area around the lake like stars in the darkness, and a small thin trail of twinkling flashlights leading all the way down to the bottom from other groups of tourists making the same climb. Soon enough, the clouds had cleared and the sun was beginning to rise. I’ve never seen anything like it before, and it was made better by the sense of accomplishment we all felt having completed such a tough climb to 1717m. The sun slowly rose in the distance over the clouds, revealing the towering silhouete of Mt. Agung, the highes peak in Bali, and a few distant mountains on the island of Lombok. It was incredible.

The way down was much more enjoyable. Dede and Yuka both helped us as we literally slid (for sometimes several feet at a time) down the volcanic ash, to the crater in the middle of the mountain. I can’t even begin to explain how different the view was from the climb up and at the top. The way down looked like something from New Zealand, rolling green hills for miles around Lake Batur in between the mountains. The crater was massive, and we were surrounded by clouds up at the top. Monkeys followed us along the way and climbed up on Dede who had some treats for them, and we could see the the huge area of land beneath the mountain still completely black from the last time the volcano erupted.

We also made friends with another Canadian on the way down names Kristopher, and the group of us chatted quite a bit over the hour and a half or so it took to get back down, smiling the whole way because we knew that the hardest part was behind us. When we got back to the bottom we took a group photo together in front of the mountain, and thanked Dede and Yuka for being such great guides. I gave them both huge hugs, and told Yuka I was so grateful for his help.

We each took a photo of us together, and I knew that he could tell how much his help had saved me. When we got back in the minivan, we were given banana pancakes and driven back to the hostel (just over an hour).

Post-Climb, Exploring Ubud!

When we got back we were completely exhausted, but after a quick shower I decided that I wanted to go explore some more, since today would be our last chance in Ubud. Maddie slept and I hopped on the motorbike to drive to Goa Gajah (only about 15 mins away). I paid 15,000IDR entry  and walked through the area, which was more of a garden in the jungle than a temple it seemed, but it was beautiful and quiet, which was all I needed.

Afterwards I went to the “Botanical Garden” that I had seen on the map about 20 minutes from Goa Gajah. The last time I went to an actual pay-to-visit Botanical Garden was in Ein Gedi, Israel, and it was one of the most beautiful gardens and walks I’ve ever been on, so I figured I’d check it out. After driving the length of the street it was on twice without luck, I pulled over and looked at my MAPS.ME app…supposedly I was there.

I looked to my left and saw an old farmhouse/shed with a for sale sign… I figured I’d go in anyways to see. The lady inside was as surprised as I was that I had found the place, and I paid the 25,000IDR entry fee, which was actually only 17,000IDR since I didn’t have enough in small bills and she didn’t have enough change for big bills. After paying, she explained to me that the garden had been destroyed a few years ago, and she appreciated my donation to help restore the garden to its former glory… There was no garden.

She said I could still walk back, but to put on some mosquito repellent. I walked back into the incredible jungle behind the building, down the stairs onto the path between the towering overgrown trees and vines, looking up at the lush green that blocked out the daylight… and then I looked down. My entire body was covered in mosquitoes… small and barely noticeable as they bit me, but EVERYWHERE. I swatted them away and within seconds was covered again. I flaled around like a maniac and ran back up the stairs to the building. I told the lady that I was sorry but I couldn’t go in, there were too many mosquitoes.

She apologized and said that I could have my money back if i wanted, but i told her to keep it. She thanked me and said that next time I came to Bali there would be a beautiful garden here… I will certainly hold her to it when I come back.

Ubud Market

After leaving the garden, I returned the motorbike at around 3pm and met Maddie for some late lunch. Afterwards, we walked down to Ubud Market, where I went a little bit shopping-crazy, picking up souvenirs for some of my family. It felt like splurging and still I only spent around $50.

At one of the stands selling coconut oil, I looked up and saw Jess! (Alex’s friend from back home who I had met briefly at the airport). We chatted for a few minutes, and Maddie and I tagged along with them for dinner at a raw vegan restaurant called Alchemy, a 30 minute walk from the market (I was exhausted by this point). It was delicious but a bit pricey, though it finally gave me the chance to meet up with Jess, her boyfriend and her friend who she had been travelling with for the past few months.

We had a great evening and swapped stories for hours before heading back to the hostel and calling it a night. I was very proud of myself, and amazed at the fact that I had made it until past 10pm on 2 hours of sleep after hiking a 1717m mountain for sunrise, visiting a temple and “garden,” motorbiking for over an hour, walking all around Ubud for several hours, and managing to keep myself awake and energized long enough to enjoy dinner with some new friends…
If that’s not a successful day then I’m not quite sure what is.

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