In the heat of the late afternoon Jude naps in the hammock, while I burn ‘excitement’ energy getting my gear ready for tomorrow. Washing is done, bags are packed, and the bike is given a thorough clean and tune up. The honeymoon is over and now the adventure continues. Scotland is calling and it’s time to head west. Our first destination: Bali.
The journey from Gili Air to Padangbai is the reverse of what we did a month ago, but now Lombok feels familiar. This time the local ferry to the mainland is not over packed with people and produce, and we don’t have to bribe our way on to it. From Bangsal we ride the coast road back to Sengiggi, we enjoy the bike lane through the tree-lined streets of Mataram and four hours later we are in Lembar boarding the ferry to Bali. It feels great to be back on the bikes, although after a few weeks of fine living my body does cry out on the steep hills and we are able to drink 2 litres of Pocari Sweat in 10 minutes due to the heat.
It’s a five hour ferry ride to Padangbai. The locals nap or chat to each other, while the tourists watch movies on their computers and play board games. It’s fun to people watch and the slow pace is broken only once by a few huge waves. They are big enough to rock the ship and to have the locals running to check that their motorbikes are still standing. We pull into Padangbai just after sunset and accept the offer of accommodation from one of the touts at the port. As always, food and sleep are at the top of our agenda for the night.
The next morning we cycle out of Padangbai, hoping to get as far west as we can. There are various options for our route and after the un-rideable gradients of some of the hill roads in Lombok, we choose to avoid the central highlands of Bali. Instead we head towards the black beaches and seaside towns of the north coast. Once out of the tourist areas the riding is lovely. Gunung Agung is the constant backdrop of the changing landscape.
It’s marvelous how the Hindu religion permeates all parts of life on Bali. Houses incorporate shrines and religious statues into their architecture. Incense and small offerings made with banana leaves, flowers and rice are placed daily outside all houses and on the many little shrines that dot the countryside. Chanting, bells and drums are heard when we cycle past a Putra that has a ceremony being attended to. Ceremonies abound, and little did we know that in a few days we would be a part of it all.
Luckily for us Bali has not drugged or shot their civil engineers. We took a few back roads and slowly climbed up into the lower foothills of the east. Life was peachy until my left knee decided that it had had enough. A sharp stabbing pain seared through it on every push down of the pedal and after an hour of gritting my teeth and bearing it, I had to admit defeat and stop. We rested at a warung and feasted on nasi campur and gado gado. What to do? The small village of Tirta Gangga was nearby, so using only one leg to pedal, I climbed the last kilometre and we were greeted by the smiling face of Bapak Ketut and the hospitality of his family.
Tirta Gangga, meaning holy water of the Ganges, takes its name from a fresh water spring that pours from the base of a banyan tree. The locals believe that the water comes from the same source as that of the Ganges River in India. It’s nestled amongst rice terraces and is the home of a stunning water palace built by the king of the region in 1948. We spend the afternoon exploring the gardens, marveling at the water features teeming with fish, swimming in the cool water of the pools and reading by the edge of the ponds. We watch swifts dip into the water as the sun sets and are grateful for another day in paradise.
The next morning I test my knee on a short ride up a hillside. The pain is still there and we decide that another day of rest would be best. We also need some time to plan. Visa extension time is upon us and we need to decide how we are going to get to mainland Asia. With our first access to fast(ish) and reliable internet in months, we devise a new plan and are excited to say that we will now spend a few weeks exploring Java and then catch a ferry from Jakarta to Singapore.
The rest of the day is spent relaxing and reading, in the hope that my knee will heal quickly. I know that I shouldn’t, but I do worry. I wonder if my body is ready to cycle the world. Then I remember that while cycling in Australia, besides a sore bum, my body had never felt better. It’s just adjusting to life in the saddle again. My spirits are lifted further that evening as Bapak Ketut’s extended family gather at the restaurant and we sing songs, play guitar and drink arak together. We are told that the spiritual men have requested rain for that night, and soon enough it starts to fall. As the night wears on, English language songs mingle with Indonesian. We are told stories of the area and about Balinese culture. Tomorrow is a day of ceremony in Tirta Gangga and we are invited to join the family and many others on a spiritual cleansing pilgrimage from Tirta Gangga to the beach. We accept.
We rise early in the morning and put on ceremonial dress – a white shirt with a sarong and sash. I top mine off with my new straw hat and am asked by a cousin where my horse is. By 7 many people have gathered and soon enough we hear excited voices and music coming from up the road. Hundreds of people pass us carrying offerings, flags, umbrellas, boxes on wooden poles that represent gods and the procession is followed by a band. We join the excited masses. The music is captivating and lifts my soul. We watch as the boys carrying the boxes dance, move, run and jostle with each other, and I imagine the gods being frisky and playful.
The 16kms to the beach passes quickly, and by the time we get there our numbers have swelled to the thousands. The locals burn incense, put out offerings, chant and pray facing the sea. Jude and I sit on the rocks and meditate, the spray from the waves cooling us. The morning has become crazy hot and everyone begins to fade. The pilgrimage then turns to climb back up the hill. People start to straggle, thongs break and the once jovial masses break into little groups that help each other cope with the return.
By this time Jude has developed some pretty serious chafe and her walk has become duck like. We are befriended by some ladies and they offer her some cream for her legs. Unknowingly she puts it on the chafe and at the same time I smell the unmistakable fragrance of deep heat. I’m sure I don’t have to go into detail about how much it initially hurt her. Seeing her reaction, I am transported back in time and laugh at the memory of male friends screaming and running around in pain after putting deep heat on their scrotums. For future reference, Jude does assure me that it does help – eventually
We slowly make it to the next village and jump into a bemo that takes us the rest of the way back. It has been a wonderful morning and we spend the rest of the afternoon relaxing in the tropical garden. That evening we share beer and sweet treats with our new family, and toast to ‘good health, good life and good journey’.
Our ‘good journey’ continues the following morning. We finish cycling the foothills and whoop in delight as we speed down to the coast. The difference is palpable. The lush greenery of the east gives way to the semi arid zone of the north and west. Fishing villages, private villas and dive resorts dot the coastline. The seaside town of Lovina, 80km to the west, is our destination for the day. The last 15km is spent cycling through the city of Singaraja. While waiting in traffic we are offered a guest house in Lovina and we are guided the last 8km by motorcycle. I feel sorry for the guy as we are slow after the long hot day and the pain in my knee is crazy bad. But soon enough we are drinking ice tea and watching the sunset while floating in the sea. We get some local takeaway food for dinner – martabak telor, nasi campur and a sweet pancake with banana and chocolate for dessert – and settle down to watch ‘The year old living dangerously’.
In a moment of fatigue-induced weakness, we agreed to join a dolphin watching and snorkeling tour the following morning. Heading out to sea on a small fishing boat we watch the sunrise over Gunung Batur. Pastel colours glow on the water’s surface, which is as smooth as glass. The tranquility is soon broken when 40 other boats start the daily chase of dolphins that pass through the region. I am always blown away by how graceful dolphins are and we watch them jump and dive for 30 minutes. The snorkeling is refreshing and it’s the small stuff that interests me today.
By mid morning we are back on the road and after a few hours we are starving. It’s a full moon tonight, which means ceremony day for the Balinese, so most food places are closed. Jude spots one that is open, and it is a vegetarian’s nightmare. Rice with six different meat dishes. We eat only the rice. Nearby we seek out a small store and go on a paddle pop eating binge. The variety of paddle pops here is astounding and at 25c each we can binge all we like. Sugared up, we cycle on and towards the end of the day we pull off at Banjuwegan. We cycle around and find a public shower block that is fed by a natural hot spring. For 30c we have our first hot shower in months. We pitch our tent nearby and watch the sun set over Java and the full moon rise over Bali.
Not long after dawn, while drinking peppermint tea, we watch the moon set over Java. It’s our last day in Bali and we are sad to leave so soon. As always, the more we explore the more we want to experience. In a couple of hours we will be on a ferry to Java, and from what we have heard this is where the craziness begins. So we take our time. We enjoy the quiet roads, breathe the fresh air, watch everyday life going on and feast on nasi campur at roadside stalls. The riding is easy and by mid morning we are in Gilimanuk, the ferry port to Java. Standing on the coast and you feel like you could almost swim (or paddle on a lilo) to Java, it is that close. We take the ferry and as usual we are soon speaking to people about life and our adventure. It’s a wonderful world.
All my love,