After realizing we needed to alter our transpo strategy and nearly a week in Bali, we set off on our first real exploration of the island.
We managed to set up a ride with Reynaldo, our very friendly driver who acted as an impromptu airport pick-up stand-in. Our plan was to spend the day visiting a few out of the way sights before being dropped off at our new digs in the heart of Ubud. On the daily docket: Tanah Lot, Pura Luhur Batukaru and the Jatiluwih rice terraces.
One of the most well known temples in Bali, Tanah Lot is often touted by travel bloggers as overrated. We went despite this reputation, and absolutely nothing about our experience gives me any inclination to suggest otherwise. Overrun with busloads of tourists, I have to agree that it is not a highlight of a visit to this island paradise. Sunset is really the time to go to see it in all its glory, which we avoided in hopes of a smaller crowd. I cannot even imagine how crowded it must be at sunset, given the insane amount of people we encountered on a gloomy, overcast mid-morning. Go if you must, to say you’ve been, but I would suggest quickly departing, as we did.
Pura Luhur Batukaru.
This temple, on the other hand, is a far superior experience. I wish we had skipped Tanah Lot and had more time here.
We were dropped off by our driver in the middle of the jungle amidst a large stone temple complex. We paid a small fee and were both draped in sarongs before entering the sacred ground. It was so peaceful, I hesitated at every moment I wanted to share something with Jason, reluctant to break the enchanting silence. We quietly wandered through the unfamiliar structures, occasionally spotting worshippers going about their routines.
We even came across a Western family that was participating in some ritual at the complex… all kneeling in a row as a practitioner of the faith bestowed different blessings upon them… at least that was my interpretation, for all I know he could have been giving them an ancient remedy for Indonesian-food induced flatulence.
Whatever it was, it was beautiful to watch.
Lunch Among the Terraces.
As happens when being carted around any foreign destination by a driver, you will inevitably be dropped off at some restaurant (or store) that clearly gives a commission to anyone who brings in patrons. I honestly don’t have an issue with this. It’s basically the grandfather of affiliate links. Plus, this place had a killer spread and an amazing view.
Pricey by Balinese standards, as it clearly caters solely to tourists, our lunch was delicious. Often I am skeptical of buffets, and timidly made my way through the line at first. Once we sat down and began tasting the food before us, we realized this place was the real deal. This is where our dilemma arose. Under the assumption that we wouldn’t be eating much from our plates, we left them fairly bare. A German family came in at the same time as us, and their three kids followed the same protocol we did. I conspicuously kept an eagle eye on their table, seeing if they would return for seconds, unsure if this was a one and done buffet situation.
If the kids went up for seconds and no one stopped them, it must be ok. It wasn’t long before those kiddos discovered as we did, that a second go round was a must. The eldest son cleared the buffet for a second time without a single employee batting an eye. All clear. J went up and got seconds of a few of the best dishes – chicken wings, stir fried noodles and the ubiquitous nasi goreng (Indonesian fried rice). I beelined for the soup – while looking like a pot of warm snot mixed with corn, it tasted pretty phenomenal. Also of note was the exceptional sweet iced tea. As Southerners, we judge sweet tea (the iced is implied) pretty severely. With a lime slice instead of lemon, this would give any tea in the South a run for its money.
After eating our fill and requesting the bill, we were blown over by the cost. This was not a free seconds buffet, and we were charged for four, instead of two. Well played, restaurant… well played. The German dad two tables over was about to have an even bigger shock (pretty sure all three kids and both parents went back for seconds… and that one boy went back for thirds!). Feeling like an idiot, because, of course they wouldn’t go out of their way to inform their unknowing clientele – we choked back our annoyance, paid and headed to the rice terraces.
Jatiluwih Rice Terraces.
After reading in my Lonely Planet Bali pocket guide AND on Nomadic Matt’s Bali guide that these rice terraces were devoid of tourists and a great “off the beaten path” destination, we were disappointed upon our arrival at the hordes of tourists being carted in on the same massive busses we saw earlier at Tanah Lot.
Granted my LP guide was published in 2015 and NM post was published in 2010… just goes to show how quickly things can change. (There is an updated LP Bali Pocket Guide published July 2017).
While we did enjoy our walk through the terraces (even with the rain), it was hard to completely suppress our disappointment at not having the place a bit more to ourselves. Reynaldo let us off near the starting point of the path and we wandered through with our fellow travelers, but it wasn’t until the descent into the valley and re-ascent that it really got under our skin.
A single, narrow pathway leads down the terraces, across a bridge and back up the terraces on the other side. Our arrival coincided with a trifecta of bad-timing… we had experienced daily showers since our arrival in Bali so the dirt pathway was essentially a mudslide… which is likely why, with the recent influx of visitors, the pathway was being paved. We had to traverse this tiny, partially paved and partially mud single-file width pathway, playing hopscotch with wet concrete steps and avoiding farmers trying to work the land. In our Chacos, no less. Had an insanely nice Balinese woman not held my hand down half the path I certainly would have slid down on my ass.
The elation at making it to the bottom without completely falling down was quickly abated by looking up at the completely unpaved path back to the top. It was a struggle to make it up and not get mud all over my camera, but I mostly succeeded. Mud did cover my hands, feet and pants, but it’s all part of the adventure.
Muddy, sweaty and exhausted we were beyond ready to get to our guesthouse in Ubud.