Happy New Year!
I am writing this on New Year's day while many of you are still only contemplating the coming New Year's Eve's festivities. It was a a wet celebration here in Ubud. Torrential rains and a thunderstorm set in as we looked for a restaurant to spend the evening. We found a good place with live music where we sat semi-outdoors - after wading through many inches of water to get to our table. We walked to central Ubud shortly after midnight - where thousands of locals and tourists streamed along the streets while fireworks went off around us.
We had a good drive to the North of Bali yesterday - up over one mountain pass and back over another next to an old volcano. I am not sure how high the road climbed - but weather conditions changed dramatically as we climbed - rainy and cool in clouds that were very thick at times. The stream of motor bikes never subsided - riders just stopping to put on plastic ponchos. We continued to be amazed at how the motor bikes weave in and out of the four-wheeled traffic, using all of the road in both directions - all of the driving action taking place next to a mix of shrines, rice paddy fields and hilly jungle scenes.
Although I am continually tempted to do so, Sue and the girls really do not want me to drive, so we have relied on drivers from the villas. They are very good -cautious and patient. I think the girls are worried that if I hit a motor-bike ridden by a family of 4, it will not be a good thing. I somewhat reluctantly agree.
As I sit outside our villa writing this I can hear an interesting mix of sounds - water running through the rice fields, someone playing sax, quite well, from a nearby house and someone singing traditional songs over a loudspeaker, loudly, in a nearby village. Apparently the villagers have been upset by local development plans and have retaliated by singing - in Sanskrit, we are told - their rather unworldly songs. When we arrived, this took place just during the evenings - but things have now escalated to mornings and later at night. An interesting example of local politics...
The Balinese we have met so far have been friendly, gentle and funny - as I guess they are reputed to be. When we stopped in some small villages, unlike in Ubud, some of the local street vendors were a bit relentless - particularly one of the young kids, who somehow managed to sell us fresh fruit at a price similar to what Whole Foods in Park Royal would charge.
Our last few days in Bali
Although not in the same league as some of our far fitter, keener and outdoorsier friends back in Vancouver,earlier this week, Krista and I impressed me at least by getting up at 3:00am to drive to climb 6000' Mount Batur in North Central Bali. Batur is a sacred volcanic mountain in the middle of a large crater of what once must have been an enormous mountain. The overall crater is 27 kilometers across and is left over from a volcanic explosion a few thousand years ago. Mount Batur grew as a cone inside the crater until it too exploded last century and left a still active crater.
Having driven 40 miles North of Ubud, Krista and I set off with our guide in darkness using flashlights to find our way up a tricky trail covered mainly in volcanic rocks, clambering on all fours at times up tricky sections.Our guide and Krista took off like gazelles, leaving me to struggle and stumble up the steep and rough trail. The flashlight I was given was pretty useless and was my initial excuse for floundering around. Things improved a bit when I dug out my high tech LED headlamp, but not that much, and I think my heart rate hit a new all-time high.Krista was a bit surprised by this as we had managed some tough hikes on the Camino del Santiago while carrying heavy packs. She has concluded that I should admit that age is catching up with me - which of course is not the case…..
We reached a hut at the low side of the crater rim at about 5:30am and drank chai and ate hard-boiled eggs until the sun began to rise behind Mount Agung, a 10,000'+ mountain about 30 miles away. We were lucky as the sky was clear and the rising sun reflected off the lake below us.
After sunrise we climbed on up and around the crater rim, which narrowed to a few feet in many places, with drops of a few thousand feet either side of us, steam from the many volcanic vents drifting around and tremendous views of the fertile fields within the crater and the villages perched on the rim.
We climbed down and made our way back to Ubud through a string of villages and rice paddies by mid-morning - a pretty good start to the day!
The following day we had a very good evening and pleasant meal with Keith and Susan Bell in Sunar. Keith manages the Sunar Paradise Hotel and they have been in Bali for 7 years. Keith is the brother of Sue's Dad's wife Linda.
We all really enjoyed our time around Ubud - and the village and villas in which we stayed, in particular. We never made it to the popular beach areas in Kuta and Seryniak - which are apparently far more touristy, developed and crowded. I suspect they are good if you want resorts, night life and surfing - but, seen from a distance, the beaches themselves never looked that appealing.
On Monday we said goodbye to Nyomen and his family and team at Sugars Villas - which we highly recommend and where we would have been happy to remain indefinitely- and set off on the next leg of our journey - to Singapore. .............