Travelogue Home

Subject: Downhill beats uphill!
Fri, 31 Oct 2003

Dear family and friends,

We are now back in Padangbai, our favorite place in Bali. We left Ubud last Saturday by car (with our bikes and packs in the back), and were driven to Bangli. There we visited the big temple, where they were beginning preparations for a big festival on 4 November, building bamboo pavilions, cleaning the moss off the walls, and generally cleaning and repairing.

From Bangli, we set off by bicycle to ride east to Rendang and Bebandem, a route our guidebook said was through some of the most beautiful rice terraces in Bali. The book said that if you traveled by bike it was best to go west to east, which is what we were doing, since that way is gradually down off the slope of Mt Agung. In the southern part of Bali, the rivers run from north to south, down the mountain slopes to the sea, so if you go north the roads are gradually uphill, south is gradually downhill, and east-west can be very hilly because it crosses all the river ravines. It turned out that the ~15 km between Bangli and Rendang was incredibly difficult, since we had to cross a seemingly endless number of rivers, first braking slowly down the long steep hills, then crossing the bridge, then pushing our loaded bikes up the incredibly long steep uphills. After Rendang, there were a couple more rivers, then finally a long downhill all the way to Amlapura and from Amlapura partway to Candidasa. By the time we pushed our bikes over the big ridge just before Candidasa and rolled downhill into town, we had done 55 km, with 13 km and several big hills still to go before Padangbai. Ellen rebelled, and we got a car to take us the rest of the way -- and Ron didn’t object! The scenery along the way was indeed very beautiful, and we stopped often to take pictures; the trip would have been a reasonable one if we had started in Rendang (as the guidebook recommends) instead of in Bangli.

For an extra few US$ we decided to go upscale in Padangbai and stay at the fancy hotel with a pool – grand total of ~$19/night. Ellen spent the entire day after our ride relaxing by the pool, and Ron spent a good bit of the day there, although he did take a ride through and beyond the area where we had walked when we were first in Padangbai, the village and houses spread out under the coconut trees.

On Tuesday we hired a driver who took us (and Ron’s bike) on a tour. We started by driving up the mountain on a tiny, steep, paved, spectacularly beautiful road, ending up on the road Ron and I had ridden across on Saturday. We had actually looked for this small road, because it would have made our trip much shorter, but missed it. Having driven up it, we were glad we did miss it, since it was so steep and with so much loose gravel on the many sharp curves, that we probably would have had to walk much of it – and walking downhill is something bicyclers do not like to do!

In the car we went first to Pura Besakih, a huge temple complex with 18 separate temples in it. We were told that this is the mother temple both for Bali and for all Hindus, and that it is to Hindus what Mecca is to Muslims. Many people from India make pilgrimages here. There are temples for various clans and castes in Bali, and for special purposes, e.g. one for people who have been married for many years but have no children yet. All the different temples are built up the slope of Mt Agung, and from the top, the view is magnificent as you look down over all the different temples, over the rice fields, and eventually to the sea.

From Pura Besakih we continued up to Mt Batur, which has a large crater with the beautiful blue Lake Batur in it. We ate lunch at a restaurant perched on the edge of the crater, looking out over the lake and all the villages surrounding it. After lunch, Ron got his bicycle out of the back of the car, and he started down the mountain by bike, with Ellen continuing in the car. We stopped just outside Bangli (and waited 5-10 minutes for Ron to catch up with us) and the driver took us to another Aga Bali village, quite different from the first one we have visited near Candidasa a few weeks ago. This one seemed much more of a living community (instead or a museum and commercial enterprise) and had beautiful plants and flowers growing everywhere. Ron then continued by bike (36 km gradually downhill from Batur to Gianyar, then a few hills along the main road east to Padangbai, ~60 km in all) and Ellen by car back to Padangbai.

On our other days here, we have spent the time lounging on the beach or by the pool, talking to assorted interesting fellow travelers, reading, and watching with fascination as the ferries from here to Lombeck (4 hr trip) are loaded with trucks and buses. The loading process involves a lot of changes of position of trucks and buses in order to fit the maximum number onto the boat; we think there is not a single centimeter of empty space left when they are done. How long the loading process takes seems to be of no concern whatsoever, even though there may be other ferries waiting out in the bay for their turn to unload/load.

Ron talked one evening to an Australian man who many years ago started the very successful dive business here, and found out some interesting things about the way the village is organized. There are 3 extended family groups that make up the village population. Each group chooses an elder (who must be married and must have children, which probably gives them stability and a longer range viewpoint), and the council of 3 elders makes all the decisions for the village. All decisions are made by consensus, which means that the process may take a long time, but when something is finally decided, it is certain that all members of all the family groups are in agreement. As an example, there is a big headland between the little town and the beautiful white sand beach (we climb over the headland when we go to the beach). A person or group bought the land on the headland and made plans to build a big resort hotel there. But the elders refused permission, and so the resort was not built, despite the fact that a great deal of money had already been expended by the planners. The (Balinese? Indonesian?) government appoints a mayor and perhaps some other government officials for the village, but the mayor is effectively without power. We are told this is the way villages all over Bali are run. The family groups take care of the members of their group, so, even if food is scarce, no one goes without – the group is the social support system. The worst thing that can happen to someone is to be expelled from the family group, because then they have nothing and no support. Darta, the head of our homestay family in Ubud, told us much the same thing: all the profits from their homestay and restaurant are used within and for the support of the extended family, to pay for education, medical needs, and other special costs. The system breaks down in some of the bigger cities, where money and business are the ruling factors and the traditional village structure is no longer effective.

We listen and ask questions and learn....

We may take a boat from here to Nusa Lembongan, a small Balinese island just south of the main island, to spend a few days there before taking the boat from there back to Sanur. But who knows – we may end up just staying here!

Love to all,

Ellen and Ron


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