Sunday, June 13, 2010

More Temples / Snorkeling in Eastern Bali

Day 133: Amed, Bali, Indonesia
Balinese Barong dance in Denpasar, Bali, Indonesia © Matt Prater
Balinese Barong dance in Denpasar, Bali, Indonesia
After twelve nights in Kuta, the longest I've stayed in one place in over four months, I finally left for the tranquil eastern coast of Bali. On the way, I stopped at quite a few sights for a final taste of Balinese culture. The first stop was Denpasar, the island's biggest city, where I went to a Barong and Kris dance. This performance depicts the eternal fight between good and evil, and like all Balinese dance, emphasized elaborate costumes. There were a series of short stops in the craft villages in the Ubud area before lunch. I learned about the process of making batik fabrics in Batubulan, examined the intricacies of silver jewelry in Celuk, and witnessed some impressively detailed wood carving in Mas. After lunch, I visited the ninth-century Goa Gajah (Elephant Cave) and its associated bathing temple, excavated only sixty years ago.

Goa Gajah (Elephant Cave) near Ubud, Bali, Indonesia © Matt Prater
Goa Gajah (Elephant Cave) near Ubud, Bali, Indonesia
Bathing temple figures at Goa Gajah (Elephant Cave) near Ubud, Bali, Indonesia © Matt Prater
Bathing temple figures at Goa Gajah (Elephant Cave) near Ubud, Bali, Indonesia

It was a little over an hour on winding roads to the sprawling Mother Temple of Besakih, nestled at the base of Mount Agung. This huge temple complex is one of the most popular tourist sites in Bali, and as such, I had to contend with numerous scams designed to rip off tourists. There was a roadblock many miles before the temple where I had to purchase a ticket, and the ticket checkpoint and parking lot were half a mile below the temple, necessitating motorbike transport up the steep road to the temple. The man at the ticket counter tried to suggest that I pay around 20 euros for the required guide, but I ended up paying 3 dollars. Unlike every other temple I've visited in Bali, Besakih does not provide sarongs, so I had to rent one for an outrageous price (well, $1.50, but that's outrageous for Bali). I used the toilet next to the ticket counter, and when I exited, a woman sitting next to the door demanded 5,000 rupiah (50 cents), even though the typical price should have been more like 1,000 rupiah. Of course, there was no sign indicating the price, so I had to pay what she asked. In retrospect, I should have just put 1,000 rupiah in the jar and walked away. Once I navigated through all the scams, the temple complex itself was actually quite impressive. The complex had a terraced design that climbed the slope of the volcano, and numerous towers jutted into the misty sky. Some of the temples date back as far as the eighth century, and the black lava stone used for construction originated from the bowels of Mount Agung itself.

Mother Temple of Besakih, Bali, Indonesia © Matt Prater
The Mother Temple of Besakih sprawls up the slopes of Mount Agung in eastern Bali, Indonesia.

Rice terraces at Bukit Jambul, Bali, Indonesia © Matt Prater
Rice terraces at Bukit Jambul, Bali, Indonesia
On the way down from Basakih Temple, we stopped at Bukit Jambul to view the rice terraces, which were picturesque but not as impressive as the extensive landscape of terraces at Jatiluwih. The next stop was the Court of Justice and its moat, part of the Klungkung Palace. Klungkung was the most important kingdom in Bali from the seventeenth century to the early twentieth century. Outside of Klungkung, I visited Pura Goa Lawah (Bat Cave Temple), which features a natural cavern containing hundreds of fruit bats. Since there was still a bit of daylight left, I asked my driver how much it would be to extend the trip all the way to Amed further up the east coast. He suggested $5, and I haggled the price down to $3. This seemed a bit too good to be true, as Amed was an hour and a half away. Even though the driver was looking at a map, he clearly wasn't familiar with Amed, and when we finally arrived (after stopping for directions many times), he was disappointed that he had agreed on such a low price. I've been ripped off so many times that it's only fair to come across some good fortune every once in a while. It all evens out in the end.

I stayed in a bungalow across from the beach, and the water smelled of sulfur, a constant reminder of Bali's volcanic nature. Even with ear plugs, it was difficult to sleep that night because of the incessant crowing of roosters. It was my ignorant impression that roosters crow at sunrise, but it turns out that the avian insomniacs crow all night long.

Today, I hired transport to Tulamben further up the coast, where a fabulous World War II shipwreck rested just off the coast. It was supposed to be the best diving and snorkeling site in Bali, so I rented a snorkel and mask and splashed into the waves. Unfortunately, the rough water was churning up so much black sand that the water was too murky to see anything. The beach was composed of large, water-worn lava stones that swirled in the crashing surf. I only stayed fifteen minutes before I decided to give up and head back to Amed. The drive back was more interesting than the snorkeling: we passed one of Bali's famous ritualistic cremation processions, featuring traditional music and dress. A dried black lava flow originating from a conical volcano emptied into the sea. In Amed, the water was a little calmer and slightly clearer, and the black sand beach was softer. Still, I only saw a few fish and bits of coral. I swam out further, but it was just a murky turquoise void. I gave up on snorkeling and relaxed in my room the rest of the day.

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