Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Trekking in Bali

During our first week on the island, we had planned to keep ourselves active. And other than using the first day to rest rather than snorkel off the northwest corner (in our defense, it had rained and was cloudy, so not exactly the best snorkeling weather; plus, a bonus, the hotel was unexpectedly nice with $18 massages (I get the irony of a nice hotel with $18 massages) and a private pool to the front of our room that also had an outdoor living room that overlooked the ocean – it felt like being on the back deck of a really nice boat), so we decided to recover from the long travel day), we were able to find enough treks to keep us active.

The Bloody Trek
From our hotel in Munduk, where are room was basically a rice barn overlooking a paddy, treks were organized and started straight from the property. We hired a guide (at first we thought this might not be necessary but quickly learned we would have easily gotten lost) and were on our way to see two of Munduk’s more popular sites, the waterfalls. The waterfalls aren’t the interesting part of this story. The human falls are.
A daring jump; still no blood
While descending a set of steep, slippery stone steps, Lindsay lost her footing, her feet swept out in front her, and she promptly landed her ass on the corner of a step, bouncing down two or three more for good measure. For a simple fall, she ended up with quite the road rash, including scraped up back and a bloody elbow. The guide immediately pulled some strange tropical foliage, crushed it, and started rubbing it into the wound. I’m not sure exactly what it was and for all we knew it was just the first thing he saw, but it looked official and helped give us confidence that we were in good hands.

A few minutes later we were at the valley floor and it was my turn to go down. I wish I had something like a slippery stair to blame, but I have no idea what happened. All of a sudden I was lurching to the left, bracing the back of my hand against a rock. The net result was a chunk of skin removed from the knuckle where my pinky extends from my hand. I’m proud to report that my fall was far bloodier than the wife’s.
Strange topical foliage applied to the wound
The Rice Terrace Trek
Two days after we both bled, we hired the same guy to take us on the “village-to-village” trek which promised a walk from Munduk to Gesing, rice paddies, and a turnaround at the largest banyan tree on Bali. What’s not to like about that?

Twenty minutes into the hike we found ourselves on a severely down-sloped (and again) slippery sidewalk. Add to that the swarm of mosquitoes Lindsay could see encircling the guide in front of her and this wasn’t exactly the recipe I needed to have a happy trekking mate. When she started complaining about the bugs, I let her know (as any good husband would) that they weren’t swarming her (they were). This seemed to appease her to some degree. Or at least enough so that we didn’t have to turn around as I sensed she might suggest. Shortly afterward, the guide started pointing out things like spiders and snakes; not exactly what Lindsay needed to see.

The trek description also promised rice terrace. As soon as we got out of the mosquito infested portion of the jungle we came across our first terraced section. Unfortunately, it wasn’t as “pretty” as the others we had seen (keep in mind that the day before we had driven to Jatiuliwih, which is a village with pretty much the best rice paddies in the world (at least UNESCO seems to think so as they’re on some sort of list to get protection). Soon after we passed the first, underappreciated terraces, we made a sharp turn left and started down into a paddy which seemed much more aesthetically pleasing, walking between the levels on the edges. This seemed to be more in line with Lindsay’s expectations. Her attitude shifted immediately and it quickly became her favorite experience of the trip (though it's been reported that she likes "alpine mountain style trekking far more than jungle mountain style trekking"). If you’ve never been in a terraced rice terrace, and I must admit this was my first time, there’s something exceedingly peaceful about the experience with the rush of irrigation water flowing from plot to plot and level to level.
Reflection from a water-filled rice paddy
Aesthetically pleasing rice terraces
 After another steep downhill, wading across a stream, and walking uphill through the village of Gesing, we arrived at our turnaround point, the banyan tree. Not surprisingly, if for no other reason than a temple appears about every 25 meters on Bali, there was a temple at the base of the tree, warning menstruating women to stay away (one of the quirkier rules of temple visitation in Bali). After climbing through the root structure, it was time to head back.
Wading across the stream
All the rules for visiting temples in Bali
Thankfully I met the criteria and was allowed to play in the tree
We crisscrossed the valleys back toward Munduk and found ourselves climbing through a second rice paddy. At this point, we experienced something we hadn’t in four days in Bali; blue sky. Not only was there blue sky, but there was a view down the paddy all the way to northern coast of the island. Not a bad scene.
Pockets of blue sky...finally
Unfortunately, at this point we made the mistake of thinking we were almost finished but still had a ways to go. In total, the trek took close to five hours and took a huge loop through the valley. Thankfully, the scenery got better and the bugs subsided else that huge loop might have been a quick trip down one hill and straight back up it to Munduk.

The Volcano Trek
After finishing the Rice Terrace Trek, we cleaned up, drove three hours to a village near Kintemani to base ourselves for an early attempt on Gunung Batur, Bali’s second holiest mountain and a very climbable volcano. We stayed at a very basic $25 per night lodge with a far better than $25 view (though the chemical smell emanating from the bathroom definitely brought the real total value of the room back into the $25 range).
$25 sunset view (Gunung Batur on the left)
The owner said he’d wake us at 3:30am for a 4:00am pickup. The wake up knock never came but we woke up nonetheless. At 3:55am a random Balinese dude claiming to be our driver knocked on the door. Seemed appropriate to us, so we hopped in the back seat of his car.

Within 10 minutes we were at the base of the volcano and were handed off to an official guide. We weren’t sure whether a guide was necessary but had read enough in Lonely Planet to know that guideless trekkers at times could be hassled by the official guides. That, assuming that guiding was probably a major part of the local economy, and the fact that it’s pitch black at 4:00am, and our “with a guide” decision seemed fairly obvious. And so we followed Jerroh up the mountain.

My biggest mistake for this trek was something that I should be smarter than doing. I figured it was acceptable to eat nothing prior to starting a hike that was 3 km each direction with an 800 meter vertical change (like that metric system, right?). At least I remembered water, so I’m not a total moron. I also had a Clif bar, so all was not lost. Lesson learned though; eat something before you start.
Christmas Eve "Sunrise" (though to be honest it was tough to tell the exact time)
We arrived at the summit shortly before the sun was set to rise. Unfortunately, conditions were variable. As in, variable degrees of cloudiness. Some clouds would pass to the east, some would pass straight through us, while others maintained a blanket on top of us. Not exactly ideal conditions to see a sunrise though certainly a memorable way to begin a Christmas Eve.
At the summit. Merry Christmas!

1 comment:

  1. Cool! (well, except for the scrapes and the starvation!)