We spent a few days on the island of Bintan, enjoying the last of the cheap thrills of Indonesia and building our strength, trying to recover from our respective ills, Shanna a head and chest cold and Sam the Indonesian special, the squirts...
We only planned on staying a day, but the first bombshell was to realise Sam's wheel was buckled due to a broken spoke. We needed to find a Mavic wheel dealer (not likely in Bintan) and they would probably have to order the spoke from the US or Europe.
Just when that was all resolved, and after hours of internet searches, emails and phone calls we found a bike shop in Singapore that had the spoke we needed in stock, the cold Shanna had been fighting turned into a stomach flu and she spent a night throwing up the delicious rice and squid we'd eaten for dinner. So we had to stay another day before tackling the trip to Singapore.
All in all we made the most of our last days in Indonesia - We met some fantastic people, one of them at the gym, aeating delicious, cheap meals; getting amazing massages (for Aus $6); and seeing the local sights, like Penyengat and Senggarang islands. When it came time to catch our ferry to Singapore we were a little sad to be leaving Indonesia, but mostly we were ready for Singapore!
I've always wanted to go on a cruise. In high school my best friend Trudy and I planned to go when we finished year 12. For a couple of years we pored over the brochures and chose islands, ships, cabins, decks... but when the time came neither of us were 18 and they wouldn't let us travel alone. Ten years later I was very excited at the prospect of travelling to Singapore by boat.
I had heard of another boat (not Pelni) that went to Batam on a Saturday, but unable to find any info online we decided to just go to the terminal and test our luck. As Sam outlined in the previous entry, we were able to get a Pelni out of Jakarta that day. I tried to buy first class tickets - everything I had read in other people's blogs suggested it was the best way to travel. But they wouldn't sell me first class tickets - I got the impression this ship only had economy class from what they said. But as Sam and I wheeled our bikes up to the ramp the crew asked if we were traveling in first class. When we said no, they offered to upgrade us on board.
The price was relatively cheap. We'd already paid AU$70 for both of us to travel in economy and they wanted another AU$180. We figured $250 for both of us to travel in our own room with ensuite for the 30 hour journey was good! But it was more than we were carrying in Indonesian money. We did have US dollars though. It took some haggling over price and exchange rates, but eventually we got the upgrade for about US$170. The whole experience with the ticket availability and first class upgrade makes me think that we probably could have got on the Friday Pelni to Batam if we just turned up and paid. And for other travelers, if they tell you first class is not available, push it. Because it probably is available.
The first night we were happy to simply eat a meal of two minute noodles purchased from a fellow passenger (there was no meal provided on board that night and we'd not had time to eat in the rush to leave) and go to sleep. Sam waited until the ship left and took some photos, but that didn't happen until after 10.30 and I was asleep by then.
We were woken at 4.30am by the Muslim call to prayer broadcast to everyone over the PA system. But exhaustion allowed us to fall back to sleep. The next awakening came at 6.30am, when the crew woke us for breakfast. We were escorted to the first class dining room and seated at a table in the middle of the room. It was just us. We weren't sure up until this point if there were other first class passengers, but there had been no footsteps going past our cabin door so we suspected we were it. Breakfast was a cold rice, egg and beans. Not great, but we were hungry so ate it anyway. We were told lunch would be at 11.30.
After breakfast I suggested a walk around the deck, but we didn't last long. Just long enough to buy a drink from the shop at the top of the ship, but the constant, curious stares of the fellow passengers drove us below deck where we watched a DVD.
After the DVD we were laying in bed talking when there was a knock at the door at 10.30. Lunch was being served. As we ate our rice, fish and beans a band played a mixture of Indonesian and English songs for our benefit. 'Only You' was a particular favourite, and it was very amusing to sit in a big dining hall and have a band play when you are the only passengers. The Indonesians were looking at us strangely through the window from the deck. We noticed another place set at our table, and shortly we were joined by an Indonesian lady, the only other first class passenger. I tried to make eye contact, and sat there smiling. But she didn't look at us at all. We finished eating (not that hungry since we just had breakfast), were told to be ready for dinner at 5.30, and went up the top to buy a drink and chocolate, before returning to our room.
Our afternoon sleep was disturbed at 4.30 - dinner was ready. Our fellow first class passenger had finished eating already so at least there would be no more awkward silence while we ate our rice, chicken, fish and spinach.
The sun was getting ready to set when we were finished so we went out to watch. It seems everyone had the same idea, but once we arrived the landscape wasn't watched as closely as we were. I suggested we go to one of the lower decks, where there weren't as many people. This worked out well, and we were able to find ourselves a quiet spot to watch a spectacular sunset.
One of the crew told us that the ship was probably going to arrive at 5am. This worked out well for us, as it meant we could sleep and not worry about finding a hotel in the middle of the night. The journey had been very restful and comfortable, although the voyage was 30 hours and the three meals were served in a ten hour block. Luckily we'd bought our own bananas, apples and milo with us!
The boat arrived amid a spectacular sunrise, and our cruise was over. We still didn't know where Kijang was, but we were one step closer to mainland SE Asia.
We are now on the ferry to Kiraji (I think). We are hoping to get from Kiraji by boat to either Batam en route to Singapore, or if possible direct to Singapore. We will find out when we arrive at a speculative (no-body really knows) time of 5am tomorrow morning.
Tuesday morning and we set off for the Sinbad water/theme park. We could find no information online other than some photo’s and brief FAQ’s by which we were able to establish that the theme park does actually exist. So, we asked the staff at the backpacker hotel we are staying at when we arrived (23 February) and they informed us very confidently that it opened at 10am and closed at 4pm. Bummer we thought, it’s 2pm now, but maybe we can catch it for a few hours the following day before our train leaves at 6:30pm.
At 10am we flagged down a taxi and off we went. Half an hour and 65,000 Rupee later and we were excited to go to our first theme park overseas together and the first for our trip. Anticipication building we ran the 100m from the street to the entrance… were we where met with laughter. We were far too early, the park did not open until 2pm (closing at 8pm rather than 4). If we were to wait 3 hours for the park to open we would be able to enter for 5 minutes, and then we would have to leave.
Dejectedly we realized that we wouldn’t be sliding down any water slides today and began to walk towards the road. Half an hour and several futile attempts to get a taxi home (20kms) we started walking. An hour and a half after this and we were back. We packed our things, carried our bicycles down the stairs, and rode around 10k’s to through a chaotic mess of traffic and one way streets to the station, very early but safe in the knowledge we wheren’t going to miss the train, put our bikes in a place we could keep an eye on them and waited for our train to arrive, all the while questioning inquisitive eyes staring at us, refusing to move, sometimes trying to talk to us in Indonesian, ‘hello Mr’s’, ‘wer you from sir’s’, staring and watching, disbelieving.
The train arrived, or at least it was now time for our train and we hoped that this one was ours, so on we got, directed to an empty, dark carriage we locked our bikes to the wall, found our seats in the next carriage, and exhausted, collapsed into our seats. The train left the station with a great roar and almost instantly the other people in our carriage (Indonesian men) all fell asleep. We tried, but couldn’t, we were too excited. The train began to pick up speed and wobble from side to side and amidst the noise and the excitement, somewhere between Surabaya and Jakarta, we fell asleep.
Awakening with a jolt, I opened my eyes, 2am and bloody freezing. Not for the first time in this country the air-con was at full freeze and everyone in the carriage was covered in blankets, some even had them over there heads and faces. Deciding I had better check on the bikes and find a toilet, I got up. I found the bikes, to my relief still OK, but now there was 4 unconscious Indonesian men surrounding them, laying on the ground in the carriage. I observed there faces, and I wasn’t sure what to make of it so I took photos of them all, not sure exactly why but I figured if stuff went missing then maybe I might have a clue what to look for.
On the way back I find the toilet. It's a smelly affair, but it does the job. I go to pour some water down the hole (how you are meant to flush) and through the darkness and the noise of the train I make out a muffled splatter; it seems as though nothing is stopping the water, the usual resistance just isn't there... Maybe the hole just goes onto the tracks I speculate... In the morning when it is light I look again and realise that it is true, the toilet goes straight onto the tracks... What makes this even worse is that when we are coming into Jakarta there are shanties along the rail way lines for more than 100kms!
Seven in the morning, we unlock our bikes while the train is still moving, and just before the train takes off from the station manage to pull our bikes from the carriage. We are in Jakarta, and there are people everywhere. An hour or so later and we have found a hotel, it is nice, and cheap, and we are exhausted. We have a shower, locate some breakfast down a laneway and set about finding out about ferries to get to Bitan- from where we will find another ferry to Singapore. But there are none, apparently, at least until Friday next week, nine days away. We don’t want to be here for nine more days, and rack our brains trying to figure out how we can get off Java.
We try a different travel office, but they say the same thing, but we still can’t fathom there being no way of getting to Batam for nine days so we decide to head down to the Ferry dock (20km’s) ourselves. When we get there we manage to work out that there is a ferry that goes to an island somewhere near Batam, an island off the coast of Singapore. But, it leaves at 5pm. Bummer, it’s now 4pm and there is no way we can get back to our room and get our things in time to make it. We sit there ruing our luck when suddenly a taxi driver walks up to us. ‘Hello Mr’ he says. ‘Hello’ we answer back. ‘No taxi thank you’ we say. ‘You go Batam’ he says, ‘ferry not leave 5, leave 7, maybe 8,’ ‘Are you sure’ we reply. ‘Yes, I here many year, you trust me…’
We scream back to our hotel, give our room to a Russian lady who has just arrived, find a taxi, shove our bags and Shanna’s bike in the taxi and while I ride behind, head back to the port. The evening storm has arrived, the rain is pouring, the traffic is chaotic and while I’m waiting behind the taxi at a set of traffic lights a beautiful girl walks up to me. ‘No thank you’ I say (this area is known for prostitutes, we saw them on the street when we came the other way), when a manly voice counters with ‘soma soma (no worries) sexy boy.’ I squirm, but then laugh at myself.
Finally we make it back to the ferry and realize we are 50,000 rupiah short. So Shanna goes off looking for an ATM while I stay with the bikes… An hour later and I’m starting to freak out, it’s getting dark and still no sign of Shanna. Frantically I look through the bags for a lock and a knife, and when I look up I see Shanna in the distance, searching the crowd for me. Phew, relieved I run over and ask what happened…
Three hours later at 11pm the ferry finally leaves, we are excited but we soon drift off into a peaceful sleep, on our way to an island we still don’t know the name of.
We are still battling the Indonesian stomach attack – Sam more than Shanna. We’ve made the decision to ride to the city of Surabaya – the second biggest city in Indonesia – and from there catch a train to Jakarta. This is the best thing for our health both in terms of recovering from the stomach bug, but also for the basic instinct of staying alive. Surabaya is 65km away and looks fairly easy to find on the GPS.
The condition of the road has improved and we’re able to do a good pace – around 30km/h. It feels like we’re flying down the road and when we stop for our first rest break we’ve made 25km. But to Sam it feels like we’ve gone further. He’s not retaining any carbs and his energy levels are rock bottom. His lays down on the concrete outside the convenience store and shuts his eyes, desperate for five minutes of sleep. But the honking horns put a stop to that dream.
We start riding again. There are signs to Surabaya and we follow them around a series of exits at major intersections. One of the signs (backed up by the GPS) points us down a toll road, but the booths are long abandoned and the road full of holes that could swallow us, so we guess it’s not a toll road anymore.
We continue our good pace. We overtake a guy with a cart and pony – the poor pony looks partly lame and we feel sad. Sam yells at the guy to look after the pony and get it re-shoed, but the man just laughs and waves as we pass.
We cross a bridge where the rain waters are gushing out towards the ocean, and all of a sudden our two lane highway is a one lane track with a village running down the middle. Shanna checks the GPS – it says to continue following the road. But the road ahead is blocked. We ask some locals who point us towards a dirt road full of rocks and holes. Scooters and trucks are heading down there but we’re not convinced that this is the road to Indonesia’s second biggest city. We check with some more locals who confirm it, then call out “Rupiah” in annoyed voices as we head down the track.
The traffic is moving slowly. It is one lane, traffic is trying to move in both directions, plus we’re trying to dodge the holes, or at least minimize the damage. We follow the track for about half an hour, still confused as to how we ended up on this road to get to Surabaya.
Eventually the traffic banks up and we’ve made it to the intersection with the main road again. A policeman and some locals are directing traffic – otherwise we would never get out of the side street. Even with the police trying to stop traffic on the main road it looks certain that some of the trucks won’t stop for us, but at the last second they do. It is quite exciting to join with all the other vehicles in getting back onto the road, and we laugh as we pick up the pace again.
Not far down the road there is a turn off to Surabaya again. Again, there are toll booths. This time, the booths seem to be operating and it is a real toll road. Our GPS is telling us to go that way, the signs are pointing that way, there are no other alternatives, and so we decide that is the way we’ll go. We quickly realize that although Indonesians don’t care for road rules, there is one rule that everyone knows – bikes can’t go on toll roads. We have people yelling at us from trucks, the side of the road and waving for us to pull over. But we’re not in the mood to try and find another way to go – one that is full of pot holes, horse-drawn carriages, manic motor bike drivers, rusty old bicycles, trucks honking us off the road, and a myriad of twists and turns. We want the direct road. The man in the toll booth is waving and smiling so we just pick up speed and head on through. Soon people are honking and waving out of their windows at us, some in encouragement of the renegade cyclists, others informing us of their presence in Indonesia... The road is one of the best we’ve seen in Indonesia, and we are mostly able to ride without braking and veering into the traffic to avoid holes, bumps, people, bikes, rickshaws and all manner of unique vehicles. We move quickly, eager to reach our destination.
We’re doing well until we see another toll booth up ahead. We hear yelling through the speaker system in a shrill, panicky female voice, and a hand in the ‘stop’ signal is extended out of the booth. We don't know were else to go and are exhausted, so we pick up speed and sail through again. This time the people in trucks around us laugh and give us the thumbs up. We’ve only got 10km to go and according to the GPS we will take the next exit. At the exit though we’re surprised to see more toll booths. None of this was on the GPS we muse...! We’ve come this far, so we decide to go with the strategy that has worked so far. We get through the first checkpoint, secretly riding close behind a truck but the next booth, 50m ahead is the one that does us in. Unfortunately this time there is a lot of traffic, and we get stuck in a queue, giving security time to come over and escort us to the side. We act the unknowing tourist – pointing to the GPS and showing how it said to ride to Surabaya. He says 'Polisi' and 'English', 'Polisi take you,' a few times and in clear English tells us to 'Wait here for Polisi.' He goes away to continue managing the traffic. We are left to wait for the police...
We double check the GPS – we want to turn left in just 500m and then we’re off the toll road. We look around, it seems no-one is watching us...and the Polisi don't seem to have arrived yet... We decide to make a run for it. We’ve heard about the police who need financial reasons to help you and considering we’re surrounded by toll roads we’re not sure what they would tell us to do anyway. We count to three together and, make a sudden take off. No one has seen us yet, we think, aside from the motorists that are laughing from their trucks and cars as we try to merge through the traffic and get to the side of the road. Adrenalin pumping, this is a challenge in itself, and we only just manage to squeeze through the hoards of traffic spilling from multiple lanes. We speed away and around the corner, but in case anyone is in pursuit we keep riding as fast as we can, legs in pain but adrenalin keeping us moving. We round another corner and suddenly we are on another freeway, panicking we look around us to realise there are now motorbikes on the road... are we safe, are they still coming for us our minds frantically wonder when suddenly a load of dirt falls off the back of a truck and into Shanna's eyes, stinging and blinding her. Blinded and in pain she keeps on riding, hearing Sam yell 'turn to your left and stop...NOW'; she blindly follows, collapsing and crying into a busy city alleyway, the tears washing the dirt from her eyes, the relief of having gotten away washing over her, it seems the chase is over. Diarrhea still trying to overtake Sam's resitance, the rush is now on to find a toilet, and we take the first little laneway we find. We feel safe again. And it seems, we’ve made it to Surabaya.
We weave through a myriad of small streets before rejoining the main road – a massive four lane highway that is bursting with traffic and barely moving. After all the small villages we’ve been in, we weren’t expecting such a major city. A few kilometers down the road we spot KFC and happily pull in for some refreshment. As we leave KFC the rain starts bucketing down again. The GPS says there is a hotel just 500m up ahead so we keep riding. We see it on the left and pull in. It’s not flash but we can get a room with air-con and its own bathroom, the place has Wifi, plus the rain is pouring down, so we decide to stay.
We are amazed at how much rain falls during the afternoon. The hotel paths are flooded and we’re worried about our things. We make sure our possessions are up off the ground and decide to go for a walk in the rain. It is pouring but we laugh as we splash though puddles. The massive gutters are full of gushing water and it seems as if the streets will soon flood.
We awoke early to the sounds of silence. 6:30am and not a surfer in site, or awake. No dawn patrol, no board grabbing for the early before the trade-winds pick up- but a whole lotta hangover... We were tired, but we felt good, and we needed to as we were on our way to Java.
A massive breakfast at the American/Australian style restaurant/cafe next door of porridge, eggs on toast, bacon and fruit salad had us ready to go and we got on our bikes, full of food just as the locals (Aussies, Americans. Mexicans-still not up yet, Pomms and unidentifiable surfers), too hot to continue sleeping, were getting up. They stared at us wide eyed- seemingly unable to comprehend just what was going on, and one of them waved a slurred good-bye as we pedaled away from the beach and up the hill to the main road.
The sun was hot and the hills continued as we pushed on to the ferry port. We were hungry and desperately needed a cold drink but we wanted to get on a ferry so we kept riding, through rain forest, rice paddies, and many small villages dotting the coast and finally arrived in Gulimanuk, and the ferry port. Riding straight up we purchased our tickets and rode onto the boat.
As we rode into the hull we saw a person selling watermelon, which we happily purchased. It tasted so refreshing and we didn't care that juice dripped down our faces as we devoured it. The boat was filling quickly with buses, trucks and passengers and Sam went to take photos of the colour and action. Two young boys who were jumping off the pier asked Sam to take their photo, but just as he got positioned and ready they demanded payment for their stunt. Laughing, Sam gave them $1000rp and they jumped into the clear, cool water below.
As the ferry left Bali, Sam went upstairs to the passenger level to see about buying some more food. He bought some rice, chicken, beans and chickpeas. When the seller asked if he wanted juice, Sam happily accepted, only to watch in stunned amazement as an avacado was juiced and placed in his hands, like a thick, green smoothie. The food was spicy, and while Shanna ate just a small amount, Sam knew he needed the carbs so forced it down and used the avacado juice to cool his mouth. While he ate a curious mix of locals inspected our bikes and asked us questions in Indonesian, which we had no hope of answering. Eventually a doctor who spoke a little English joined the group and was able to relay some basic information to the others.
The ferry took about 40 minutes to cross, which was a long time considering we could see the other side all along. When we landed we decided to head straight for a hotel to relax for the rest of the afternoon. Only a few kilometres down the road we found a place with air-con and a dine-in menu. We ordered some Nasi Goreng and settled in to watch one of our movies.
When the movie was over the sun was setting and we walked down to the water to watch the sun set over Bali one last time. We could hear the evening prayer song coming from a nearby mosque, giving a haunting feeling to the night. We had arrived in a muslim territory, and we had no idea what to expect.
Friday 12 February
Difficulty - Shan 10, Sam 8
Distance - 10km walking, 70km motorbike
Weather - Cold, rain, hot, sun, humid
It seemed we’d barely fallen asleep when the alarm went off and it was time to get up. We forced ourselves out of bed to dress and wait for our guide. Outside we could hear a light thudding sound coming from the kitchen, and soon the door opened and Wayan’s mother stuck her head out to say “Puggi” (“Morning”). It seems she was still up preparing food for the household.
The guide had agreed with Wayan that he would meet us outside the house since he had to ride past anyway to get to the temple, where the climb begins. We were waiting outside right on time but nothing. Twenty minutes later Wayan’s mother called Wayan out of bed, despite our protests, when she saw us still waiting. Wayan called the guide who said he was on his way. It was annoying having to wait, another half hour in bed would have been nice! While we waited though we were able to enjoy looking at the thousands of stars above us in the clear sky. We could see lightening flashes occasionally and wondered if there was a storm on the mountain.
Eventually we heard the motor of his scooter and he arrived. I jumped on the back of the guide’s more powerful bike and we rode to the end of the road. In the carpark we put our jackets on and pulled out our headlights. It was 2.30am and time to climb.
The first thing was to climb the hundreds of stairs up to the temple. We’d done this the day before but we were much more tired this time and our breathing quickened immediately. Instead of going into to the temple we moved to the left and took a path around the back of the compound. Straight away the path was littered with rocks of all shapes and sizes which meant you had to concentrate with every step to avoid slipping. It was also quickly evident how steep the path was. I was hoping that this was just a small section, and the dirt track of a nice gradient would begin ascending soon. Little did I know that we were on the easiest section of track for the day.
We climbed steadily and stopped every half hour or so to have a drink and often to eat some food. It was hard going, very steep the whole way up, and we needed to keep our bodies fuelled. The guide had brought along some bananas and a Balinese cake which he offered to us each time we stopped. We in turn shared with him our fruit and rice cakes which Wayan had given us to bring. Whenever we stopped we looked at the lights all around Bali. We could see the bright patch that was Kuta, and across the water we could make out the lights of Lombok.
After about an hour we came across another guide with two German trekkers. We stopped with them for a few minutes before they motioned for us to keep going while they kept resting. At this point, although it was grueling work to keep going up, we were feeling very strong and making good time, so thought we’d make it to the top well before sunrise.
Another hour saw us hit an even more difficult section of path. It became even steeper, often at angles of more than 45 degrees, and we spent a lot of time on our hands and knees climbing up sheer rock – reaching for handholds and testing rocks for their strength before climbing on. Luckily it was dark, so I couldn’t see how far I would slide if I misjudged a rock.
Just before dawn, I kept looking up expecting to see the summit getting closer. But each time I could just see the shadow of the mountain continuing to reach impossibly high into the sky. The climbing was tough, my legs were tired and I began thinking I couldn’t make it. The doubts were vocalised but there was really nothing to do but keep moving arms and legs upwards. Fatigue and not enough food started to take its toll and when I smashed my hand into a rock I started to whimper and cry as I kept climbing. Sam heard me and made me stop to rest and eat some food. But I felt sick and fought against eating. Sam persisted and I ate some not very appetizing Balinese bread.
With food in my stomach and new batteries in my headlamp so I could see better we started climbing again. The edge of the sky began to light up and all of a sudden it seemed as though the summit was getting closer. We would make it after all.
We climbed up the last sections of rock slowly and with frequent breaks to catch our breath. Then we were there. On one side we were looking down into the volcano and on the other we were looking at – clouds. The clouds had gathered during the last section of our climb and now we couldn’t see anything.
We started taking photos and within minutes the clouds cleared and we had a spectacular view all around us. The Germans and their guide arrived and their guide (who spoke English, unlike ours) told us stories about lost climbers, mystical monkeys and Hindu worship. He twisted all the stories together, starting one, then continuing another, until we weren’t sure if the monkey had led him to a lost climber or just the body of a dead fellow monkey. Or maybe it was the body of the lost climber?
Looking down from the summit we could see Mount Agung’s large crater. The volcano is still active and often belches smoke and ash into the sky. It last erupted in 1963/64, when it killed thousands of villagers and devastated the surrounding country side. Because of its size it in comparison to the low lying, very flat countryside beneath it, it dominates the climate, drawing the rain to its surrounding area and causing other areas to be barren and dry.
Our guide motioned to us that it was time to descend and we were keen to get back ourselves so we bid the Germans goodbye and started the downward trek. I was not looking forward to this. Climbing down steep volcanic rock was just as hard and sometimes harder than climbing up. Lots of time was spent on our bottoms, using big rocks as footholds as we occasionally slid downwards. I reassured myself that eventually we’d come to the section where I could stand up. Some sections were slippery mud from volcanic ash, and in these sections the guide held my hand and helped me keep my balance. It was daylight now and I could see the life-threatening fall that awaited me if I slipped the wrong way.
Eventually we made it down off the sheer rock face but the track was much steeper than I’d realized, and the shale all over the path made it impossible to stand upright. I had to apply the brakes with every step to make sure I didn’t fall and often I ended up back down on my butt just to make sure I got down safely. The angle of the path was so steep that I felt like gravity wanted to pull me face first down the mountain to the bottom and my balance was thrown completely. Being tired and hungry didn’t help this either. It was mentally exhausting concentrating so hard on every step and I could feel the strain on my legs.
About halfway down we met Wayan coming up with a group of four trekkers. One of the group was particularly struggling and Wayan doubted he would make it up. We spoke to an English traveler for a while and he said the group had met at a retreat where they ‘shake’ for three hours a day. They stand on the ground and (pay lots of money) to shake their whole body for hours – apparently curing all manner of ailments. He recommended it as preparation for our bike ride. We said bye to Wayan and thanked him for allowing us to stay with his family, and we continued down.
Around this time I developed ‘jelly legs’. I was struggling to walk and often my legs would give way under me as I picked my path amongst the rocks. Sam found this very amusing (Shanna’s sookyness) and filmed me stumbling along the path. I was frustrated but had to concentrate on getting down off the mountain! The guide helped me a lot of the way in this last section and eventually we were back at the temple. Walking down the stairs to the bike was difficult, but at least there were no rocks and I could relax my concentration.
We were both exhausted and despite Wayan’s family’s coaxing to stay and eat and rest, we packed our things and got on the bike (not before we had left a gift and some money to say thank you) to ride back to Kuta and get the ATM card. Wayan’s wife told us it had recently been in the news that bank employees were involved in taking ATM cards and stealing money in a massive scandal that involved at least 30 staff. It was raining and cold as we rode down the mountain, but when we finally reached the lowlands it was suddenly hot, humid and dry, and the hot sun seared down on us as we ducked and weaved our way through the traffic back to Jimbaran.
We stopped off in Kuta to pick up the ATM card and were very relieved when it was there. Back at the hotel we checked the balance online and fortunately all the money was there.
The next priority was to set off in search of a cheap massage for our weary bodies. We walked down a beach where we’d been told we could find one but everyone we asked looked at us blankly or said no, there was no massage around here. One guy grabbed his van and offered to drive us “five minutes to massage, $40,000” but wouldn’t tell us where it was. Just as we were about to give up we stumbled upon a place in a side street, where we could get a Balinese massage for an hour for $50,000 each (less than $6). For 60 minutes we were kneaded and pushed and pulled, experiencing pleasure and pain (and Sam was offered a happy ending, to which with a muffled laugh he politely refused…).
During the night we awoke to the scariest noise possible in Bali - the sound of explosions. Shanna awoke first - the deafening bursts disrupting her sleep. Flashes of light were illuminating the sky and the noise seemed to be coming from all around her. She looked out the window but couldn’t see anything. As she awoke fully, she realized the sound was fire works of some sort. Other than the fact that the fire works were going off on the roof, there was no danger after all.
Sam awoke soon after. What’s going on I asked Shanna, ‘there is fire works on the roof’ she replied. Walking outside our room and onto the balcony I realized that the fireworks were next door (although they were so loud it seemed they were going off on the roof), and I marveled at the size and power of the display.
We awoke early to the sun beaming through our curtain less window, ate breakfast and began preparing to drive our little scooter to Selat, around 80 km away and the closest mountain town to Mount Agung. I wasn’t sure that the little 120cc bike we had hired was going to get us there but fortunately, after navigating some crazy traffic and roads, a short stop at a roadside kiosk in the countryside for a bowl of Nasi Goreng and a couple of cold drinks, getting lost a couple of times and a pit stop for petrol, we arrived safely in Selat.
We drove through the town and decided that we still had enough time to drive up the mountain and see Pura Pasar Agung, temple (altitude 1500 meters) built on the side of the volcano. As we drove up the mountain the temperature began to drop and the humidity decreased rapidly as the road, in some parts went directly up the mountain. The closer we got the steeper the road became and the bike was reduced to almost a standstill. I tried going from side to side up the road but the scooter just couldn’t do it and I had to make Shanna get off for two short but impossibly steep sections.
Just as we were approaching the temple a withered old man in a traditional Hindi robe ran from his post at an old gate and preventing us from going any further, made us dismount from the bike and come with him to a statue beside the road and workship in the traditional Hindu/Balinese manner (they perform many rituals similar in style to Chinese Confucianism). Once we had performed the rituals he motioned to his wallet for us to pay him. We asked how much he wanted but couldn’t understand the reply. After some time I realized that his motioning meant he wanted everything in my wallet that he could get his hands on so I gave him twenty thousand and put my wallet away. He still wanted more but I told him no and motioned to Shanna to walk back to the bike. He gave a wry smile and we got back on the bike to drive on up towards the temple.
Just as we were about to get on our way we heard some yelling from the trees to our right. We turned and saw a man high up in a tree just in time to hear a loud crack and see a huge branch come crashing to the ground beneath it. The man was still in the tree and yelled out to us saying ‘climb Agung, climb Aguug?’ We yelled out yes we wanted to climb Agung and asked if he was a guide. We couldn’t understand his reply so we said ‘guide, are you a ‘GUIDE’’? ‘Ya guide’ he replied. We asked how much and he said $300,000. The price seemed reasonable but we tried to bargain, ‘$200,000’ Shanna said. He didn’t seem to understand so we settled and put two fingers in the air to say we would meet him here at 2am. Seeing he understood we left for the temple.
Finally we were at the temple car park. But no sooner had we parked and gotten off the bike that we saw two men drive up on bikes and approach us. ‘Are you climb Agung?’ they asked. We replied yes and were asked if we had a guide in fairly good English. We answered that we did and were asked how much- when we replied 300,000 they seemed surprised and said that they had 22 guides in the company and charged 350,000. They then asked if we had payed to see the temple, we told them the story of the man at the gate and they laughed and said it is 50,000 thousand to see the temple, producing a book with other names and signatures in it. We payed the 50,000 and then asked if they knew anywhere we could sleep that night. The man we were talking to asked his friend and the friend replied in Balinese that we could come back with him after we had seen the temple to see his house and decide if we wanted to stay. We said OK and began climbing the stairs to the temple.
Around 100 stairs later we approached the carved stone gates to Pura Pasar and we were stopped again. Once again we were required to perform rituals and then taken to a mans house beside the temple to have sarongs put on us so that we were fit to enter (we had to pay another 20,000 to hire these). He then took us up to the temple through a different route and we saw some of the beautiful ancient stone alleyways that led to the open air hall of the temple itself.
On the way back down we saw the man who spoke some English and had organized for us to go back to see his friends house. He said that his friend had taken off so he would take us to his house but that we would not like it as ‘it was not nice like a hotel, so you decide when you see.’ He told us his name was Wayan.
While Wayan had waited for us to come down he had collected a huge basket of grass that he told us was to feed his cow. He balanced the basket behind him on the bike, not securing it to anything, and we followed him down the steep hill. As we rode we stopped at the same place we had stopped on the way up and Wayan was speaking to our guide. It was one of his friends and they confirmed details for our climb in the morning.
Wayan had told us that his was the first house from the temple and we quickly arrived there. He went inside the fence and we waited outside while he spoke to his family. He motioned us to come in and we met his wife, his daughter and his parents. His sister was at work but she lived there too. Wayan showed us the bed we would be sleeping in (we susptected it was his sister’s but no one would let on, only insisted that we were welcome to sleep there) and gave us a tray of traditional Balinese food and drink, much of which came from the crops he grew.
Wayan and his wife both spoke good English that they had picked up at school and from the trekkers that Wayan had taken up the mountain and were able to explain to us the different foods they offered us. One was a ‘cake’ made from rice and palm sugar that they can only eat once a year when they make it for the annual offering. We didn’t really like it, but they did, so they were happy to eat it. We also tried some fruit with a scaly peel and a tasty rice cake with palm sugar sprinkled on it. They asked if we wanted to eat with them that night or go to the village – but we insisted that we wanted to share the meal with them and experience real Balinese food. They seemed very happy with this and we spent some time asking Wayan’s wife questions about Balinese and Hindu life while Wayan did the household chores.
There were animals everywhere – dozens of chickens, chicks, kittens, a couple of dogs (not friendly) and of course, the cow that Sam went and fed with Wayan. The family explained to us how they could never imagine having the money to travel, plus there were the constant Hindu/Balinese ceremonies to perform so it was difficult to leave home. Wayan said their lives were simple and family came first. He already had a daughter but having a son was very important to him. They must have a son. During the afternoon Sam went down to a local stall to buy some water and food for our climb in the morning.
When it was time for dinner they all waited for us to eat first. We had rice, spicy pork, noodles, fried tofu, beans and some small fish. The meal was delicious and they kept piling more on our plates. We were very full!
After dinner we spoke to Wayan and his wife about climbing, money, families, education and life. Wayan wanted money only to be able to educate his children and give his parents a comfortable life. He worked very hard as a mountain climbing guide and his climbing boss had recently set up a website to get more tourists to the area. He told us he had had his first booking through the site and the people were coming next week.
Spending time with Wayan and his family really made us reflect on how lucky we are. We have so many conveniences like clean running water, ovens and microwaves, money to buy good clothes and shoes, opportunities to be educated and travel. But it also made us reflect on whether these things really make people happy. Wayan and his family lived a basic life, but were clearly happy and content. Just by sharing an afternoon and evening with them we gained profound appreciation for all that we take for granted back in Australia.
We reluctantly went to bed knowing we needed to be up in just a few hours to climb Mt Agung but we soon found that sleep was almost impossible as the family dog constantly barked and yelped. Amazingly this didn’t bother any of the family and they never told it to be quiet, although Sam eventually got out of bed and said ‘no’ which seemed to work for just long enough for us to get a few hours sleep.
Sam and Shanna Evans are from Melbourne, Australia