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