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.

Colourful wayside stall in Bali

The villages were at first quite prosperous looking…

Ubud street in Bali

…but seemed to grow poorer as we drove higher…

Bali mountain village street

..although everywhere we were greeted by happy faces …

Village children in Bali

..and even from the workers in the rice fields there was always a friendly wave.

Friendly rice farmers in Bali

As we drove we saw temples…

Mountain village temple in Bali

…and carefully shredded bamboo frond decorations at a house entrance...

Shredded bamboo-leaf entrance decorations in Bali

…women laying out the rice to dry…

Laying out rice to dry in Bali

…and others in the field threshing grain from the stalks.

Threshing grain in Bali

Another lady was raking grain on a canvas to dry…

Raking grain to dry in Bali

..and everywhere we passed the usual everyday pedestrian traffic of village life.

A little girl carrying her sister…

Girl carrying baby in Bali

…and villagers carrying goods on their heads alongside the roadway…

Roadside walkers in Bali

…and higher up the mountain on the track which our vehicle shared.

4WD track in Bali mountains

The rice terraces spread out beside the road…

Rice terraces in Bali

..and at each turn there was a different perspective of the lush landscape.

Mountain rice terraces and bananas in Bali

…and everywhere there were people at work, here with bicycles parked against a tree…

Workers in paddy fields in Bali

…and here in the back-breaking task of planting.

Planting rice in Bali

In almost every rice field was a shrine to Dewi Sri, the goddess of rice, fertility and abundance: some more elaborate…

Bali rice field shrine to Dewi Sri

…than others.

A Bali rice field shrine to Dewi Sri

Often I noticed a flag on a bamboo pole in the field.

Flag to rally the ducks in Bali

This is the gathering post for well trained ducks…

Ducks in the field in Bali

…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…

Bali rice paddy palm reflections

...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…

Bali rice paddy irrigation pipes

… ensuring even distribution over the rice fields of the whole village.

Irrigation pipes in Bali rice paddy

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.

Houses amidst the rice fields in Bali

Meanwhile, this rice field had an interesting version of coconut-headed scarecrows...

Coconut-headed scarecrows in Bali

…and here the bending bamboo made interesting reflections.

Symmetrical reflections in Bali rice paddy

Finally we stopped beside a small cluster of houses.

Loaded-shoulder-baskets-in-Bali

Here our picnic was unloaded from the panniers above.

Paniers on roof of 4WD on Safari

..and we entered into the courtyard.

Courtyard of mountain village house in Bali

..where we could sit and enjoy our morning tea.

On the other side was a sort of market, with a variety of local goods.

Mountain village market in Bali

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.

Chicken farm in Bali

Our break over, we set off yet higher up the mountain, and the state of the roads quickly deteriorated…

Broken road surface in Bali

Our next stop was to see one of the Bali stone quarries.

Here people were working with hand tools…

Stone quarrying by hand in Bali

… to hack out slabs of rock from the quarry.

The layers of the cliff face above the river…

River beneath stone quarrying by hand in Bali

…show the progress made with these crude tools…

Stone quarrying with hand tools in Bali

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.

Mountain bamboo bridge in Bali

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.

Native Bali cattle

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.

4WD-on-mud-track-on-Safari-in-Bali

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…

Mountain lunch-stop in forest of giant bamboos

…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.

Bamboo chimes and hanging baskets in Bali

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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