I could hear the frogs singing on the rice terraces, the air was warm but the humidity of the day subsided in our village called Mas. The wind was rustling the palm leaves behind the hedge. I took a map of Bali and started planning, feeling slightly overwhelmed. I haven’t travelled to the other side of the world to see things I could just as well visit in Europe after all.
There were temples, waterfalls, beaches and volcanoes waiting to be explored. I wondered about how modern travel is different to journeys in the 19th and 20th century. I have already seen the temples I was going to visit online. Was there any point? Should I not have researched Bali before coming here? Was the fear of missing out stronger than my longing for adventure and exploration?
Gusti had the biggest smile and a voice of somebody who smoked too many cigarettes. I bit my tongue and didn’t mention the deadly consequences of his habit. Before too long we were on our way, chatting with Gusti who was a father of 3 and a driver for our hotel. He spoke about the rice terraces, temples, businesses he’s in with 3 other westerners and about his religious life with openness and trust of an old friend. He wondered if rice crops were any good in Poland this year.
The landscapes were changing quickly in front of our eyes. Black stone temples with bursts of flowers in entryways, old people chatting on street corners, men sitting in front of their houses lovingly stroking their pets, children chasing one another, colourful kites under cloudy skies. Passing through villages one could notice the poverty, the lack of sanitation but also the lush greenery – the abundance of green colour was incredible. As was the Hindu religion, noticeable yet discrete.
Gusti insisted we stopped by the coffee plantation, run by his friend as he frankly admitted. By that time the heavens have opened, the rain was pouring down in streams onto our bare shoulders. I followed a sarong wearing lady into the tropical forest down a path to the coffee tasting station. We passed women who had been idly chatting seconds before they saw us and broke into ferocious coffee bean roasting show as soon as we arrived. The coffee tasted ok, not great. Politely I tried all the varieties, mainly to make Gusti happy.
Passing through more villages, we carried on north. The roads narrowed and curled around green hills, as Gusti sped in our white mini van. At the next stop I noticed that the temperature dropped by a good 10 degrees. The terrain was much more mountainous, the trees a deeper shade of green although growing even more densely than on the lowlands. Batur, a smouldering mountain, rising out from rice fields on the horizon reminded me that I was on holidays in Indonesia – the archipelago of fire and water.
Finally we reached the main destination – Pura Ulun Danu Beratan- an iconic Balinese water temple built in the 17th century on shores of lake Beratan – the main source of the complex web of irrigation system in Bali.
Mist hovered over the top of the lake. For a moment it was just me, water and silence.
I sat down, watched how the wind gently wrinkled the blue lake surface and thought about all the people who came to the temple to worship and pray.
Even though I’ve seen Ulun Danu in the travel guide and on the Internet, the feeling of tranquillity of that place and the cold mist on my skin could only be felt in person.
After s short while the mist lifted.
Gusti waved at us and we carried on north once more to Munduk, a tiny village in rural part of Bali, set on steep hill slopes among coffee and cloves plantations and cascades of rice terraces awaiting to be explored.
PS. Here is Gusti. If you ever need a great driver and/or a guide in Bali, I can give you his number.