Week three in Bali began on Sunday afternoon when we checked out of The Firefly Resort and Rachel, Kaska, and I hopped into a taxi with our good pal Ketut and headed out to hike Mount Batur at sunrise in the northern part of Bali.
On our way just had to stop at the Tegallalang Rice Terraces and wander about.
A rice season here takes about 3-5 months and because weather is pretty consistent year round, every area is on a different planting/harvesting schedule. At one end of the terraces there were young seedlings freshly planted, but the area we were in had been harvested recently and was drying up.
As we got further and further north, rice fields turned into mandarin orange orchards, and we drove past fields of tomatoes and onions and cabbage.
The mineral-rich volcanic soil closer to the mountainous north is excellent for growing all sorts of things.
Seriously, it feels like they can grow anything in Bali!
We started driving by numerous beautiful fruit stands and had to stop.
We picked up 2kg worth of mangos, about a dozen mandarin oranges, and a big bunch of mangostines.
We had the most hilarious time trying to find yet another accommodation; the Triangle House hotel was another tucked away secret, apparently, as the google maps location was incorrect and the property was so small and so low (and surrounded by tall bamboo fencing) that we drove right past it. Twice.
When we finally found it and saw our accommodation in real life, I was reminded of Swedish design. If the palm-leaf roofs were wood shingles instead, it would have completed the look as if we were staying in a cedar sauna house.
The hotel has only been open since December and everything was in pristine condition. This was already the most charming place I had stayed in so far.
These buildings contained only a bed, a side table, and two shelves. There were hooks outside to dry clothes/towels, and shared washrooms/showers behind. They put a soft, freshly washed duvet on the bed just after we arrived, and for the first time in Bali we didn’t even think about air conditioning. It was actually slightly cool in the evening… perhaps thanks to the elevation and mountain air.
Because originally, Rachel had booked the hotel for a solo trip up here, the booking was only for one person. Instead of booking another hotel somewhere for Kaska and I, we hoped we would be able to convince them to let us stay here and just pay them extra. (When I had tried to book another room in advance they were all full up- which was no surprise, it turns out they only had 4 rooms!)
English was not a strength for any of the staff there, but we got by with some charades and exaggerated gestures, and they seemed to be fine with having three girls share a room- and they even moved us to a slightly larger building.
I had been connected with Dewa, a local driver and guide who was friends with one of my best friends back home. They had met when she was here on a yoga retreat, and when I told him we wanted to climb Mount Batur he suggested that night as the weather was supposed to be perfect. He was taking two other Canadians up and asked if we wanted to join them. We had originally planned to go on the Monday night but at that point hadn’t secured a guide so we took him up on his offer.
(When you climb Mount Batur you need a guide. If you read any stories or blogs about people attempting to climb it solo, you will see how much hassle/issues they have with the locals. It’s considered extremely disrespectful to the local people, and particularly if you do a sunrise hike and go up in complete darkness, it can be dangerous. )
The total cost was 900,000 Indonesian Rupiah, which works out to about $90 Canadian. Between the 5 of us it only cost $18 each, which was a full $50 cheaper than what I found online when I was researching my trip before Christmas. Clearly it is best to wait until you get here to book a guide and you will get a much better deal!!
We went to bed at about 8pm, as our alarms would be going off at 3am that morning. Headlamps, water bottles, and running shoes at the ready, we awoke to our earliest morning yet, and headed out the door to meet Dewa at the gate.
The hike started shortly after 3:30am and we were moving at a very speedy pace. It may have had something to do with the other two Canadians being trail runners and they seemed to be racing to get to the top. I was the slowest of the group as it felt like the humidity in the air cancelled out any of my athleticism, and the struggle to breathe was actually worrying. Dewa suggested regular 20 second breaks, and I took them often, immediately turning back to look up at the stars.
The sky took the little that was left of my breath away. The canopy of bright stars were clearer and more plentiful than I have seen in years. I was awestruck.
My friends were happy to pause and we all marvelled at the view (while I tried not to pass out).
We still reached the top in about 90 minutes, climbing 700 meters over 4 km. The average group takes 1.5-2 hours to get to the top.
We were one of the first groups up there and we added our up-until-then seemingly laughable warm outer layers to counteract the cool mountaintop weather‘s effect on our sweaty bodies.
We were told that once there was a bit more light we could wander further along the ridge above the crater where steam still pours out.
(Mount Batur is actually a volcano, and another volcano in Indonesia did erupt within the last two weeks, causing a tsunami in Indonesian islands further north of Bali. No big deal.)
The sunrise was absolutely incredible. We took countless photos, including the ‘vital’ though obviously cliché yoga pose silhouettes.
It was so much fun, and we snuck further along the ridge so we could get some photos without having to dodge and deke around other people to get a good shot.
We came across the steam curling up off the mountain and it was like walking past a nordic spa and facial steam. And it was so warm!
It turns out our guided hike included breakfast: our guides cooked us eggs using only the steam on the mountain, and served them to us with sticky coconut rice. It was delicious.
Just as we were finishing up, about 15 monkeys came up out of the forest and hung out, waiting for leftover food. It was hilarious to turn around and see a monkey peeling and eating an egg like he had just come on the hike with us.
The hike down was hot but only about an hour, so we arrived back at Triangle House just after 8am and took showers.
We looked over photos while we drank strong black tea with raw sugar and were just dividing up a mango when our hosts asked if we wanted the complimentary breakfast that came with the room. The options were: banana pancakes with honey or chocolate, toast with various spreads, or a “jaffle”: a soft-cooked egg inside two pieces of bread toasted in a round sandwich press. The other two had banana pancakes and I had a jaffle.
We all felt deserving of a late morning nap, and then at about noon we went out to the garden to have a tea when it started to rain. A lot.
I didn’t have my phone with me to document it but let me tell you, as we sat there the wall of water between us and our bedroom became an opaque silver curtain, and it just wouldn’t stop.
As the rain pounded down in monsoon-like fashion, we sat and sipped 2nd and 3rd cups of tea, watching geometric rivers form in between the raised paving stone pathways around the garden and hotel buildings.
The owner of the hotel went out during this time and returned with beautiful multi-coloured umbrellas and brought them over to us, insisting we use them for the rest of our stay.
We befriended the owners’ 3-year old as he played in the rain and made faces at us. It was that evening that another little boy joined him and by the time we were heading to bed they were hanging off our table and making faces and playing monsters & zombies and being silly with us.
When the rain finally let up (after several games of Crazy Eights and multiple cups of tea), we took the umbrellas and wandered over to the lake, in search of the famous Hot Springs and some dinner.
We didn’t feel inclined to jump in any of the pools (starting at $19 to get in), and went for food instead. We found ourselves on the very edge of the lake at the quietest restaurant I have ever been to (we actually thought it was closed when they waved us over) and while we waited for our food we watched locals setting out fishnets along the shoreline.
I had chicken saté there, and I’m pretty sure that the sauce was the best I’ve ever had in my life.
We got a ride back to Ubud the next morning by a friend of the hotel owner and from there I was heading to a hostel for the night and Rachel and Kashka were catching the shuttle to meet our fellow yogis Ange and Aneta in Kuta before their flights home.
I got to enjoy one night in Ubud wandering charming streets, perusing unique souvenirs (like cool multicoloured travel/camping hammocks!) and finished the evening with some live music and great food!
An early morning shuttle pickup mean that once again I was up before the sun, and then off to Padangbai to catch a fast boat that would be a 75 minute ride across to the Gili Islands off the coast of Lombok.
Along the port for the fast boat to Gili, there were locals selling Bintang beer, Pringles and Dorito chips, and fresh fruit.
Verbatim, a woman selling snacks:
“Something something chips? Yes? Pring-less? Doreet-as? Doreet-as?”
We moved along the shoreline of the mainland of Bali and as we passed by the coastal town of Candidasa I noticed how black the shoreline is. Volcanic sand. 🙂
The highlight of this voyage was not only the discovery that I could hang out on the roof of the boat and listen to tunes cranked by the crew on their stereo, but the pod of dolphins that appeared out of nowhere and leapt across the waves along the side of the boat for several minutes! There were at least 12 of them!! (No video or photos as this moment was too magical to look through a lens for!)
The boat ended up being about 90% full and most people were headed to Gili Trawlangan – the biggest and liveliest of the islands where people go to party.
Then there is the middle island, Gili Mano, which is apparently the quietest and most romantic. Not ideal for a solo traveller… unless maybe you are learning to love yourself…
I was headed to Gili Air, which is apparently the best of both worlds. Chill and relaxed, with some nice shops, yoga studios, dive/snorkel clubs, and restaurants to enjoy.
But really, I was going for some quality ocean time.
Swimming, snorkelling, and kayaking were on the top of my list.
The island also had many charming pathways and inviting entrances to all the home stays, hotels, and resorts here.
No vehicles or motorbikes are allowed on the island so it’s quite quiet. Occasionally, you will hear the sound of a horse and cart go by only because the horses wear bells that jingle as they prance and their hooves click on some of the paved roads.
VIDEO TO COME
Most of the people on the islands are Muslim so there are no temples like in Bali. Every day we could hear the morning and evening calls to prayer at dawn and dusk at the large central mosque.
Because flowers aren’t used in daily offerings, this means that the beautiful frangipani trees are always blooming with plenty of flowers that I can pick and put in my hair…
Gili Air is also called Rock Island because of all the coral that washes up on shore here.
In the low season, on a rainy afternoon, this island felt very *quiet*.
I learned that there was a huge earthquake in Lombok only four months ago, and it impacted the Gili islands greatly. Several shops and restaurants are still closed and you can see some places where entire buildings came down. The beautiful beach was lined with empty restaurant loungers and tables and hammocks. Beach umbrellas were closed, chair cushions were stacked, and my footprints were the only set on the beach.
I was glad to have my umbrella because at any given moment a heavy downpour was ready in the next set of clouds, and I made good use of it, and often found myself tiptoeing through puddles and pathways that were quiet as the rain poured down and everyone took cover.
I found a sweet little restaurant called Musa and I decided to try their vegan carrot cake. I picked the most comfortable looking spot in the restaurant; a beautiful big swing with comfortable cushions.
My server, Ending, [yes that is his name] suggested that next time I come, I try the treehouse. Because this restaurant has a treehouse.
The carrot cake was some of the best I’ve ever had. I swore I would come back the next day and try something else.
The first morning here looked like we were getting a bit of sun, and a storm was forecast for the afternoon. So I decided to sign up for a snorkelling adventure that morning! I brought my own full face mask which I was eager to try out. The trip promised sea turtles, underwater statues, and lots of fish! We took off at about 9:30 AM and went to our first location, just off the east shore of Gili Mano. I decided to put my $12 waterproof phone case to the test and try to capture the stunning under-the-sea sights I so often discover but can never share.
Not only was I delighted to discover the case worked, but I caught the absolute highlight of the day: a stunning, graceful sea turtles gliding by.
The downside, was the jellyfish. Tiny, aggressive, though almost invisible little demons. I was wearing a T-shirt, as I often do to snorkel in order to not burn my back. There was a point where I was sure I had trapped about six angry creatures inside the shirt so they could just keep stinging away to their hearts content. I ripped it off and tossed it up into the boat for the remainder of the day.
Sadly, by the time we got to our third spot, the jellyfish were so bad that no one had any interest in staying in the water and we all turned around simultaneously and beat our guide back to the boat. In the end it was probably for the best, as the aforementioned storm came up and it started to rain just as we began our return to Gili Air.
Back in Bali I was always catching incredible sunrises. Well, here: it was all about the sunsets.
Oh the sunsets on this island!!
The Friday night I was here I glimpsed the sun going down through the palm trees and I booked it over to the west beach to catch one of the most gorgeous sunsets I have ever seen.
Even the locals seem to come to the beach at this time to sit and watch the sun go down. Some people stood in the shallows casually tossing fishing lines out into the water although they didn’t seem to be expecting anything at the other end. Some smoked cigarettes or sat in the sand drinking bottles of Bintang.
A further highlight to the evening was a beachside barbecue at one of the resorts nearby. The Oasis Resort had a huge screen set up and as I walked by the staff said “yes? You stay for movie night and dinner?”
I couldn’t resist.
The options for dinner were: locally caught tuna, saté chicken, prawns, or tofu/tempeh skewers and an all-you/can-eat buffet for $10.
When I mentioned I couldn’t decide between the tuna and chicken saté, they said they could give me a deal and I got both! A beautiful tuna steak seared on the barbecue, and two delicious saté chicken skewers.
The film was Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle, and though I had seen it already, I grabbed a lounge chair and settled in to indulge in this beachside movie night with the soothing waves lapping the shore on my right. About ten minutes into the movie the staff brought out individual coconut bowls of popcorn for each of us! So awesome.
Oh yeah, and the sunset.
The next day I woke up to sunshine and heat and no sign of a storm or any rain at all! I was headed to the beach for a kayak, and then discovered they don’t rent kayaks until the afternoon as the tide is too low to get out there. They suggested I return just before sunset.
There are lots of yoga studios on the island, as well as diving training pools and shops, restaurants, and spa services everywhere you looked.
Back at Musa, I finished reading my ‘vacation novel’, a birthday gift from my friend Allison, while enjoying a cold fresh young coconut, in the treehouse. 😎
After exploring the island (you can wander across the entire thing back and forth in less than an hour), I found a lovely restaurant that was part of a resort.
I decided to splurge and booked a villa there for my last night. When I was looking at the website I knew they had me at ‘private pool’. With the stormy weather we had been having I hadn’t done nearly as much swimming as I had wanted on the island, and the pool was saltwater so I felt like that was a proper nod to the ocean (and definitely better: sans jellyfish)!
When I arrived at my new hotel in the early afternoon I was handed a fresh watermelon juice and my bag was carried to my villa through a shaded canopy walkway made of bougainvillea branches.
And oh, the pool. ❤️
One look at this place and I was tempted to stay longer on this island…
Everyone here is so friendly and I can see why people stay longer on the islands and really get to know the locals.
My hotel lent out free bikes so it was easy to get around the island last couple of days and do a bit of speedier exploring. I shared a pizza with a couple Canadians at a beach-side bar, took some photos for other solo travellers on the water swings, and was invited to come listen to a jam session with some of the locals at one of the restaurants later that evening.
My last evening on Gili Air, I headed over to the beach and the hotel that rented kayaks. Pink Coco is the name of the hotel and everything is magenta, from the beach chairs and the umbrella to the Instagram-worthy swing in the water, the hotel front, and the pool. $15 for an hour was just perfect for my final night, and I definitely had the best view of the sunset.
(My first ever kayak at sunset. Not too shabby.)
Indonesia, you raise the bar for sunsets to a whole other level. 😍
I was very sad to leave this magical place but was looking forward to heading back to Ubud for another yoga retreat week!
Goodnight, private pool. ❤️