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