During my first days in Ubud, I joined a day-tour to visit some nearby temples and volcanoes. Finding said tour, however, was no small feat. Transportation comes in the form of unofficial taxi drivers who sit on corners holding up a taxi sign, or calling out “transport, madam?” You negotiate a price, and get into their private car. They’re perfectly safe and one of the few options for getting around, but it can be pricey for a single traveler. While visiting several travel agencies looking for a tour to join, I realized most offerings were for private drivers. Oh sure, they could take several passengers, but I’d have to find them myself. Really?? Why not organize group tours like most civilized (and uncivilized) countries do? After more than an hour of wandering through the heat, stopping at travel agencies, I gave up. I was annoyed, feeling like my single self was not sufficient, so I returned to my guest house for a rest. On my way to dinner later that night, I spotted a travel kiosk on Monkey Forest Road with a chalkboard sign looking for people to join a tour. I stopped to inquire, and they did indeed organize group tours. Each just needed at least two people before the tour would go, so I chose from the few that were available for the next day. The winner: Kintamani/Volcano tour.
They picked me up at 8am the next morning and I was joined by two Swedish girls and a Chinese-Aussie who was living in Shanghai. The driver made it clear he was only a driver- not a guide. Got it, dude, no questions. He did warn us, however, of the sarong hawkers at each of the temples. They accost tourists before the entrance, telling us they’re needed for the temples, but the temples provide free sarongs for use while there. We had no issue with them running out, and some were even fine with my long pants. This is how our tour played out:
Goa Gajah (Elephant Cave Temple)
The façade of the cave displays creatures carved into the rock, with the dominant figure thought to be an elephant. A nice start to the tour with intricate stone carvings that are typical of Balinese Hindu worship.
Gunung Kawi (Rocky Temple)
The main attraction of this complex is the shrines carved into the side of a cliff. To access the temple, however, you need to walk down more than 300 steps… which means you have to walk back UP the steps as well. In the blistering sun, it is not for the weak (or thirsty). I saw a few elderly people walking down as we were headed back up and wanted to shout, “TURN AROUND!” The temple was nice, but there are a lot of nice temples in Bali that don’t require losing 10 lbs. worth of sweat.
Temen Coffee Plantation
After our battle with the stairs, a stroll through the shady coffee plantation was a welcomed stop. They grow Arabica and Robusta beans, but the Balinese specialty is luwak coffee. Luwaks are Asian Palm Civets, sometimes referred to as toddy cats. Luwaks eat the raw, harvested coffee beans and pass them through their digestive tract after which time they are cleaned and roasted. The result is a richer coffee that has less caffeine. Our guide affectionately referred to it as “cat poo coffee” or “cat-poo-ccino.” So crafty, those Balinese. I sampled the luwak coffee, but at $5/cup (expensive by Indonesian standards), I didn’t find it all that special. Sipping it however, along with several other coffee and tea samples, while staring at the lush green forest, was extremely special. I could’ve sat there all day.
I expected a little more out of the volcano portion of the tour. As it was, we were escorted to a fixed-price buffet restaurant with a view of Mount Batur and Lake Batur. The view was indeed stunning, but when the name of the tour has “volcano” in it, I thought we’d get more than a peek from an expensive restaurant. Alas. At least I got some good photos.
Tegalalang Rice Terrace
Rice terraces are aplenty in Bali, and provide a spectacular view of green upon green. Etched out of hillsides, the terraces appear to side-step up and down the landscape. This was a quick stop, but worth it for the sprawling vistas. Luckily our driver took us to a less-touristy part so we weren’t battling vendors to catch a glimpse. This kicked off my love affair with Balinese rice fields. More on these to come.
After being dropped off around 4pm, the four of us agreed to meet up again for dinner. We went to the Riverside Warung where we sat on the floor overlooking the river. Nasi campur, gado gado, and chicken satay filled our bellies as we drank Bintang beer and chit-chatted under the glow of a lantern, learning about each other’s lives. Spending a lot of time alone makes me really appreciate these random meet-ups. After dinner we headed to the Jazz Café where it just happened to be Latin night. A fantastic local band cranked out salsa tunes while staff and guests spun around on the dance floor. I was astonished at how good they all were; it was clearly a weekly hot spot for salsa-dancing locals and expats. What a great way to cap off the day. Bliss.