What do you do in paradise when you are alone?
Sadly, I seem to have found 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'.
One remedy I took was to book 4WD trip to the Bali rainforest: just 6 passengers per vehicle and two vehicles travelling together.
For a couple, this 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 paniers - our picnic baskets - on the roof. I shared the ride with two couples and we joined another vehicle on the outskirts of town.
The route quickly left more familiar areas as we headed for the mountain rainforest, passing some of Bali’s colourful wayside sellers en route.
The Balinese villages were at first quite prosperous looking.
However, as we drove further, higher in the mountains. theyseemed to grow proportionately poorer,
Everywhere we were greeted by happy faces, whether richer or poorer.
Even workers in the rice fields had a friendly wave.
As we drove towards the rainforest 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.
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.
Higher up the mountain on the track which our vehicle shared were rice terraces.
They spread out on either side of the road.
At each turn there was a different perspective of the lush landscape.
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.
The duckas 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 increase of tourism in Bali, most young people seek other better paying and less physical work.
Many rice paddies are being sold off for tourism establishments. This is causing a crisis in rice production and increase in consequent imports. Traditionally Bali was a big supplier to the rest of Indonesia, but now this has changed.
An effective system of management of the rice fields and their water distribution has evolved in Bali over centuries.This is called Subak and it is a water-sharing system which divides the water equally among rice farmers.
Sensibly, 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.
This ensures 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 fifty, the prospect of a break-down of the Subak system 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.
This rice field had an interesting version of coconut-headed scarecrows.
In another, bending bamboo made interesting reflections.
Finally we stopped beside a small cluster of houses.
Here our picnic was unloaded from the panniers above.
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 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 as we approached the rainforest 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. It would have made an excellent photo but I just didn’t have the heart to take one 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 the Bali rainforest.
Despite the extra traction, as we ground along in low range following our partner vehicle, the Land Rover still slid from side to side on the oily mud.
However, eventually we arrived at our destination in the forest of giant bamboo. By this time we had climbed to over 900 metres (about half a mile).
Our escort was waiting for us, and as the mist started to rise from the valley of this magical Bali rainforest, he led us down a pathway to a door with various baskets and bamboo gongs outside.
The wooden 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 Bali rainforest having experienced en route a side of the island most tourists never witness, and suddenly here we were in a gourmet restaurant.
This traditional Balinese structure was cantilevered over the steep valley of bamboos. Along one side of the interior a series of Balinese clay cooking ovens stood in a line. From each wafted aromas of delicious smelling food - each as colourful as the next. Beside each was an attentive server in traditional dress.
The tables were covered in crisply starched white linen tablecloths and set with bone china and crystal. There was a selection of fine wines – and cognac with coffee.
The windows were traditional palm-leaf panels that jutted out and were held open by struts.
In the midday warmth as we sat down to eat from our beautifully arranged platefuls, the afternoon monsoon rains began.
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 had been tours available in either the morning or afternoon. I thought I was lucky to have chosen the morning tour, for the meal was a wonderful culmination of the experiences en route to the Bali rainforest.
I preferred it to the alternative reverse trip that offered first 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.
It looks similar, but I note that it offers a different level of cuisine with just soft drinks and it seems also to not have the crystal, silverware and starched linen that marked out my own adventure as truly memorable - even alone.
It would still be worth the trip, but not quite the same sense of amazing delight at the mountain-top luxury.
For more Bali pages: