It’s a common misconception that Bali is a separate country, independent from the rest of Indonesia, yet arriving after two months sailing through Indonesia it feels as if it could be.
Gone are the groups of curious, grinning, innocent children running to greet us as we row ashore. In their place appears a sole 8 year old with perfect English, an arm full of souvenirs and a sales pitch so smooth it actually feels slimy “Welcome to Bali”. As we continue to stagger up the hot, black sand Lovina beach carrying the dinghy, two women fall over themselves to “greet” us. The insincere smiles soon become aggressive sneers when it becomes clear we do not wish to purchase sarongs today at 5x the market value. Although the offers of services/souvenirs/tours varies, the scene continues all the way up the street in this supposedly ‘quiet, un-touristy, laid back section’ of Northern Bali. We cannot begrudge the locals for making a living, nor is this the only place in the world where this is common, yet this aggressive sales environment is not one we wish to spend any time in.
It would however be a shame to skip past the Indonesian island that attracts so many visitors without spending some time finding out what draws in the crowds. Luckily for us it’s easy to explore on a budget; £8.50 covered our scooter hire and fuel for two days, and £22 gave us a night’s semi-luxury accommodation overlooking the rice paddies. The reason people come here was becoming clearer. As we set out on the road so was the reality behind many of the Bali Instagram photos we have seen. 50 or so ‘selfie cafe’s’ side by side, alongside the noisy, dusty road. Each offering little in the way of food but selling the opportunity to have your photo taken on a swing/hanging basket.
A short walk to Gitgit falls and some time spent with the mischievous monkeys lining the road, broke the climb into the hills for both us and our little engine.
Next stop on the list of ‘The places to visit’ was Ulun Danu Beratan Temple, a famous, stunningly ornate Balinese temple situated on the lakeside.
Driving through the lifting barriers, we paid for our parking ticket and pulled up the scooter among countless others, squashed between the taxi’s and huge tour buses. Not quite the barefoot, sarong covered Balinese temple experience we were expecting but we paid our entry free and wandered in to the grounds (you are not allowed in or even near the temple itself). The giant sponge bob square pants just inside the entrance, created a tourist theme park atmosphere. Following the selfie sticks to take our own photos by the lake side, there was no denying the beauty of the place, yet what we expected to be a such a spiritual place, felt soulless and superficial. Blaming it on the giant plastic frogs, we resolved to scrap our remaining list of ‘must see places’ and have some more time at our ultimate destination; the Jatiluweh rice terraces.
As we turned off the busy highway and into the countryside, the tour buses reduced and the smiles became more frequent. Over loaded bikes replaced the buses, houses replaced cafes, and locals started smiling back at us. In an instant we were transported back into the Indonesia we have grown to know and love.
Passing through the ‘village in clouds’ the ornate buildings and elaborate roofs became so frequent, it became difficult to differentiate between houses and temples.
With the first sight of the fields, we were already thankful we made the journey to get there, finally the ‘Beautiful Bali’ people rave about, yet surprisingly few people visit. Although, nominated as a world heritage site and certainly still a major tourist destination, the Jatiluweh rice fields are a tranquil retreat. Further from the main tourist hub of Ubud, they don’t attract the same crowds as the famous Tegalalang rice paddies, yet are still protected from the development that has spread across much of the island.
Accompanied only by the trickle of the irrigation canals and music of the bamboo wind chimes, we wandered through the ornately terraced, wavelike fields of green. Traditional cone hats popped up among the dense, vibrant rows as farmers tended their crops, breaking from their work only to return our “salamat sore”.
There are many, well signposted hiking trails through the rice paddies. The use of two, surprisingly good mountain bikes were also included with our accommodation and provided a great way to see more of the area.
As most tours don’t arrive in the rice paddies until late morning and leave by around 4pm, staying overnight in the area allows you to enjoy the sunrise and rice paddies at their most peaceful.
It was our first night spent on land, away from Florence in over 18 months (since staying with friends in New Zealand).
The unlimited fresh water showers, huge-stable bed and ability to just walk around were refreshing but not because 18 months on board has pushed us to the point of needing to get off the boat. This was merely the best way to see the area of Bali we were most interested to spend time in. A night on land did us good, but our hearts still skipped a beat as we wound our way back down the hills and caught our first glimpse of our beautiful home bobbing in the bay. Climbing back on board we were certain of two things; our love for Florence and a new appreciation for the beauty of Bali.