Vern: A shuttle bus, which was actually a taxi driver out-thinking the rest by charging only a little less and relying on high passenger numbers, drove us two hours north east and dropped us in Tirta Gangga. Which as it turns out, isn't really a town but rather a few hotels and restaurants which have sprung up around a tourist attraction. This meant that bottled water had doubled in price and that a constant stream of hawkers, hiking guides, taxi drivers and the like set about trying to gouge us as soon as our feet hit the dirt.
We checked in to the guidebook-recommended accomodation option, and for a while just lay down on the bed and enjoyed a reprieve from the agitated swarm. It was a basic place, but it looked onto the fountains in the Water Palace. Cheerfully, the path to our room was brightly coloured, and almost cartoonishly, it rose and sank in a vertical zig zag as if one was walking up and down the pointy back of a crocodile.
We ventured outside again and found a little hut labelled 'Tourist Information' with two questions: How do we walk to the rice terraces? and What are the transport options for our onward journey the following day? The official (who we later realised doubles as a parking guard) ignored us for a bit, made us repeat ourselves multiple times, laughed at us and spoke Indonesian in a condescending tone with three friends camping in her hut for shade. [It felt like the way one who doesn't speak Xhosa is treated in any South African government department]. Uselessly she informed us that if we wanted to hike we needed an expensive local guide, and for transport we had to take an expensive taxi. We were fuming with how rude and unhelpful she'd been. Throughout our travels, well informed and bi-partisan Tourist Information centres had aided and enhanced our visits, and this lousy idiot had just completely turned us off Tirta Gangga and its small population which only exists because of tourism. We were very short with the hawkers as we pushed past them and returned to our room to seethe. We vowed to spend no more time nor money in this place than absolutely necessary!
After we calmed down, we went back outside and walked up the road. Only a few minutes walk away was a gorgeous view of the bright green rice terraces set out on gently sloping land dotted with small dwellings. The blue sea twinkled in the distance and a brewing storm turned the cloudy sky a deep grey to the north. Dotted about, farmers were doing their daily chores - sowing and hoeing. A man who'd carried a huge bale of a bamboo-like reed up a sharp incline rested near us and in broken English suggested it wouldn't be an issue if we went down and walked amongst the paddies. So we struggled down the steep and narrow path which he'd just climbed--though he was in sandals, carrying a ton of plant matter--and we came out onto a thin aisle of firm ground between two swampy bays of planted rice. First we encountered a smiling young man who caught a tiny fish in the muddy water around the rice. He didn't seem to mind us being down there so we pushed on and took a right angle onto another path of firm ground. This one led toward a house, or chicken coup, or both, and it's owner shouted and waved us away pointing to another route through the rice. That sort of took the wind out of our sails as did the encroaching storm and we retreated back up to our viewpoint and then back to our hotel.
Later that afternoon we visited the Water Palace built by the last rajah (king) in 1948. Stepping stones loop around statues of maidens in one of three ornamental ponds and local kids splashed about in two swimming pools in the back of the complex. It is a beautiful space and a testament to the freakin' sweet pool parties which the Karangasem royalty threw in their final days. In the centre a halo glows around a two storey high tower resembling stacked pots as the sun lights up the water spilling from each tier. A bride and groom were seated in the grass - her dress splayed out - having their photos taken against this splendid backdrop.
Later, back in our room, Andrea was drying off after a shower with a rather small towel provided by the hotel. She glanced out the window at the wedding party's photo shoot and noticed that the photographer's lens was pointed right at her. "Hmmm... I think I was in that one." Showing some skin in someone else's wedding picture - well we decided that's like the ultimate photobomb! Eleven out of ten, dear.
At around nine all was dark, but xylophones and drums were ringing out from a ceremony at a building above the palace. We found a 'warung' opposite the road for some crispy chicken and fried rice. Since OJ wasn't available the waitress suggested avocado juice. Puréed, perhaps slightly sweetened and served over a lot of ice, it was rather good.
After breakfast the next day, we decided to wait on the dusty side of the road and flag down one of the minibuses which the locals use, rather than fork out for a cab. It took only a minute before the first one stopped but he was not going where we were. And only a minute after that, a minibus headed in the opposite direction and with a customer in the back slowed down and asked where we were headed. "Tulamben!" Andrea shouted dismissively because he was clearly going the wrong way. Apparently not an issue. The driver swung the car around and pulled up next to us to negotiate a fee. We agreed on an amount and to our surprise he kicked the woman out of the back. "No longer headed to Amalpura," or something like that. The dismayed woman got out and crossed the road to look for another ride. "Guess we made her late for work," I said guiltily and the two of us shrugged, then climbed in and onto the benches which faced each other. The driver drove us a half hour away to our third and final Balinese stop - a dive resort in Tulamben.