Monday, February 1, 2010

Munduk and Jaitiluwih, Bali, Indonesia

You know you’re headed off the beaten path when you’re on a rather small island (Bali is only 80 miles from top to bottom) and your local driver has never heard of the town you’re headed to- or, for that matter, ANY of the villages up in the mountains.  He stopped to ask for directions four times, he turned around and headed in the opposite direction at least three times, and then finally drove us headlong into a wall of clouds and a torrential downpour. We drove by people in rain ponchos huddling with their motorbikes under trees or lean-tos waiting for the sheets of rain to let up.

At the top of a mountain ridge, as we passed monkeys crouched by the side of the road, our driver leaned back and motioned for us to hand him the map in our Lonely Planet guidebook.  He held the book in front of his nose with one hand while he navigated hairpin turns on the soaked road with the other hand.  After looking down the steep valley on our left and noting that there was no curb, no guardrail, just pavement turning to mud turning to cliff, I closed my eyes tight and prayed he’d stay on the narrow road.

Our driver kept looking back at us and saying emphatically  “So far away, yeah?”.  It was clear he both thought we were crazy to be headed off to this middle of nowhere and was angling to be paid more than we’d already agreed to.

We dropped our bags in our bungalow on stilts just in time to see the clouds clear.  We’re in Munduk, a simple village surrounded by verdant vistas in every direction.  We can see Gunung Lesong and other mountains in one direction, and the north coast near Lovina in the other direction.  The air is cool and misty here.  Our bungalow is surrounded by a private lily-pad pond swimming with fish.  We have a tangle of green plants growing in our open-air shower.  There are roosters roaming the grounds and two caged black birds with yellow-crested heads who whistle and speak Indonesian words at us when we walk by.

Our first night here, we were the only guests.  We ate an early dinner in an empty open-air pavilion set for about sixty.  We watched the sky turn brilliant shades of orange as the sun slipped down.  I spied a big brown spider, maybe the size of a small mouse, in the rafters over our bathroom.  I’m trying to forget I saw him.  And hoping he’s not hungry.

In the morning we woke up and opened the carved double doors separating our mosquito net-draped bed from our balcony to see mist rising from the chlorophyll-green mountainside.  There were swarms of red and blue dragonflies darting back and forth just above the bushes and at least six different kinds of butterflies flitting from flower to flower.  The black butterflies cast a shadow when they fly overhead and are as big as birds.

We went for a hike along irrigation canals, ducking under overhanging leaves and brushing away spider threads.  We passed coffee trees, vanilla pods, jackfruit, and anise growing nearly wild among the ferns and vines.  The path opened up at a crashing waterfall.  Looking up, a foam of big white droplets catapulted over the edge of the rocks, briefly catching air and then falling to the sandy bottom where we stood.  We were quickly saturated with the cool mist that blows off the falls, the same mist that feeds the lush foliage growing on the cliff face.

On the way back into town, we got lost.  We followed unnamed footpaths through the forest and out into rice paddies where a cow was tethered under a shed and a man and his wife both worked under the sun, wearing those conical straw hats we saw all over Vietnam.  They were raking the clayey mud to prepare for another planting.  The man pointed up a steep hill, through a rural cluster of homes, as the way back into town.  As we passed, every dog got up to bark at us and baby chickens scrambled out of the way.  A man sat on his front porch playing a bamboo xylophone (called a Joged Bumbung), and smiled at us.  In the sun, and even in the shade, it was searingly, sweat-drenchingly hot.  We made it back to our bungalow just in time to hear the rumble of thunder announce the arrival of afternoon rain.  We spent the afternoon reading in our his and hers chairs on our balcony, listening  to streams of water drip off the edges of the thatched roof.

The next day we hired a driver to take us back to the southern coast, but asked him to detour through Jaitiluwih along the way.  We drove through 18 km of terraced rice fields that are centuries old and have been nominated for UNESCO status.  We also stopped to see the hindu temple of Pura Taman Ayun, an incredibly peaceful and atmospheric complex that looks like the jungle and spiders will take it over tomorrow when no one's looking.

1 comment:

  1. Kate, You are such a great writer. I love following your blog. What an amazing experience the two of you are having. Its really inspiring. Can't wait to see you guys when you get back. By the way, let me know when you guys will be in India. I'm going at the end of February. xoxo Reetu