Safari to remote Bali
What do you do in paradise when you are alone?
Sadly, I seem to find myself alone in romantic places with some frequency. It takes a bit of internal resource not to let the sheer romance of the place overwhelm you with an increased sense of “aloneness”, and one remedy I took was to book a 4WD tour of Bali on a safari to remote Bali: just 6 passengers per vehicle and two vehicles travelling together.
For a couple, it has to rate as one of the most romantic adventures on an island of romance.
The Land Rover arrived to collect me at my hotel – complete with wicker picnic baskets on the roof and just two other couples. We joined another vehicle on the outskirts of town.
The route quickly left more familiar areas as we headed for the mountains, passing some of Bali’s colourful wayside sellers en route.
The villages were at first quite prosperous looking…
…but seemed to grow poorer as we drove higher…
..although everywhere we were greeted by happy faces …
..and even from the workers in the rice fields there was always a friendly wave.
As we drove we saw temples…
…and carefully shredded bamboo frond decorations at a house entrance...
…women laying out the rice to dry…
…and others in the field threshing grain from the stalks.
Another lady was raking grain on a canvas to dry…
..and everywhere we passed the usual everyday pedestrian traffic of village life.
A little girl carrying her sister…
…and villagers carrying goods on their heads alongside the roadway…
…and higher up the mountain on the track which our vehicle shared.
The rice terraces spread out beside the road…
..and at each turn there was a different perspective of the lush landscape.
…and everywhere there were people at work, here with bicycles parked against a tree…
…and here in the back-breaking task of planting.
In almost every rice field was a shrine to Dewi Sri, the goddess of rice, fertility and abundance: some more elaborate…
Often I noticed a flag on a bamboo pole in the field.
This is the gathering post for well trained ducks…
…which are led out in the morning by a young or more elderly person.
The flag is then planted and their escort departs.
At going-home-time, the ducks know to gather around the flag. Their escort duly arrives - and the ducks march off in military order behind the flag-bearer.
The rice fields are poetic to see…
...but the labour required is extreme.
For this reason, with the increasing tourism in Bali, most young people seek other better paying, and less physical work.
As a result, many rice paddies are being sold off for tourism establishments. This is causing a crisis in rice production and consequent imports. Traditionally Bali was a big supplier to the rest of Indonesia, but this has changed.
An effective system of management of the rice fields and their water distribution has evolved over centuries.This Subak is a water-sharing system which divides the water equally among rice farmers. The Subak leader is traditionally the man who has the land at the bottom of the water distrinution system – so he has a vested interest in maintaining equality.
The gravity irrigation through bamboo pipes moves the water from rice-paddy to rice-paddy, in an inter-dependant system…
… ensuring even distribution over the rice fields of the whole village.
In most places, the Subak goes beyond water-rights administration to become the central co-operative through which things that will affect the village are consulted.
With hardly any rice farmers in Bali under the age of 50, the prospect of a break-down of the Subak will have wider reaching impacts on village life than that which is most obvious – that of the reduction in rice production.
There are some quite wealthy rice farmers whose homes are outside the village compound, but even these are proud when, after selling off their land for villas – usually owned by foreigners - their children no longer have to work the same back-breaking cycle of rice production.
Meanwhile, this rice field had an interesting version of coconut-headed scarecrows...
…and here the bending bamboo made interesting reflections.
Finally we stopped beside a small cluster of houses.
Here our picnic was unloaded from the panniers above.
..and we entered into the courtyard.
..where we could sit and enjoy our morning tea.
On the other side was a sort of market, with a variety of local goods.
A cockerel that was sitting at the entrance under his basket.
I was amused when a member of the party asked if he was a fighting cock – and the quick-thinking guide read the potential response if it was and responded diplomatically that it was a pet.
Strictly speaking this was true. Fighting cocks are much prized by the men – and they set their baskets out every day by the roadside so the cock may be amused by watching the passers by.
At the same time the songbirds in cages are set in the trees to enjoy the sunshine.
The birds in the nearby chicken farm didn’t have the same luck.
Our break over, we set off yet higher up the mountain, and the state of the roads quickly deteriorated…
Our next stop was to see one of the Bali stone quarries.
Here people were working with hand tools…
… to hack out slabs of rock from the quarry.
The layers of the cliff face above the river…
…show the progress made with these crude tools…
The finished slabs were carried straight up the cliff and across this bridge on the head of quite elderly, but obviously very hardy women.
We met one of these ladies as she was coming up and we were going down, but I just didn’t have the heart to take a photo, as it seemed – well – a cheapening of the value of her work.
The load this lady was carrying didn’t compare.
As we walked back to the Land Rover, some of the delicately built, deer-like native Balinese cattle peered out through the undergrowth at us.
The road disappeared into a track, and as it was monsoon season, it was still muddy from the rain of previous afternoon.
Quickly, we all came to understand the need for the 4WD on safari in Bali – as we ground along in low range, following the other vehicle and still slipping from side to side, despite the extra traction.
However, eventually we arrived at our destination in the forest of giant bamboo, over 900 metres (about half a mile) high in the mountains of Bali.
Our escort was waiting for us, and as the mist started to rise from the valley…
…he led us down a pathway to a door with various baskets and bamboo gongs outside.
The gongs was rung and I was gestured inside.
Unfortunately my photos of the scene inside were damaged. However, the sight was totally unexpected and quite breath-taking.
Here we were in the top of the rainforest, having seen a side of Bali most tourists never witness, and suddenly we were in a gourmet restaurant.
Inside this traditional Balinese structure, cantilevered over the steep valley of bamboos, lined up along one side were a series of Balinese clay cooking ovens, with an array of colourful and delicious smelling food – and flanked by attentive staff in traditional dress.
The tables were covered in white linen tablecloths and set with china and crystal and there was a selection of fine wines – and cognac with coffee.
The windows were traditional palm-leaf panels, jutted out and held open by struts – and in the midday warmth as we sat down to eat, the afternoon monsoon rains came.
The sound of the heavy rain on the palm-leaf roof, the images of the real Bali seen en-route, the aroma and taste of the food – and the magical extra touch of tunes from a bamboo xylophone wafting up on the rising valley mist from a village below – created one of the most magical and romantic settings I have even had the pleasure to experience – even if I was alone in a group of couples.
As someone once said:
Life is a celebration of awakenings,
of new beginnings,
and wonderful surprises
that enlighten the soul
There are tours in the morning and in the afternoon. I thought I was lucky to have chosen the morning tour, for the meal was a wonderful culmination of the experiences en route and I preferred it to having the meal and then the tour of discovery.
There are two companies doing 4WD tours now – but it looks as if this company is the one who has taken over from the French one with whom I travelled:
Link to Bali Safari
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