Bali, Part 3: Into the Mystic



“We need the tonic of wildness...At the same time that we are earnest to explore and 
learn all things, we require that all things be mysterious and unexplorable, that land
and sea be indefinitely wild, unsurveyed and unfathomed by us because unfathomable. 
We can never have enough of nature.”  ― Henry David Thoreau 

I don’t know why I chose to go with strangers on this trip, but for some uncanny reason I knew it was the right thing to do. I didn't want another vehicle burning up fuel. I wanted to save the planet!

I was making a car reservation for a trip to Mount and Lake Batur when I noticed waiting in line, an older couple who wanted to talk to the concierge. I overheard them talking about hiring a car, and a driver to go to the village of Kintamani to see the volcano. I approached the couple. They were Mr. and Mrs. Pitah from California. I suggested that we should share the same car to go to Kintamani. They agreed and suggested that we hire the driver whom they hired the day before. His name was Dino. He was very congenial. [One of the many great things about Bali is that it is relatively inexpensive to rent a car with an English speaking driver as a guide. The rental company charged by the hour for the car and driver package: $40/3 hours or $87 for eight hours and $10 for each extra hour. So you could go anywhere you want and create your own itinerary].

The following day, we headed to the village of Kintamani to see Mt. Batur and the Batur Caldera, listed as a mystical place and a ‘must see’ in many tour books. Dino wanted to know if we wanted the four-hour or eight-hour tour before leaving Nusa Dua. Since I wanted to see much of Bali, I responded with eight hours. Mrs. Pitah wanted four hours only. Mr. Pitah agreed with his wife, so I was overruled. Dino recommended some places we could visit along the way like the silver factory. Mrs. Pitah liked the silver factory.

We left Nusa Dua at nine o'clock and hit the heavy traffic in the capital city of Denpasar due to a road construction. Bali was preparing for some International conference or summit in June. The ride to Denpasar and the traffic gave the Pitahs and me a chance to know a little about each other. For some weird reason, our charts crossed in Bali, my ending point from traveling from Thailand, their starting point on their way to Thailand. Mr. Pitah was going to meet up with his buddies to go sailing while Mrs. Pitah would stay in the hotel and go shopping. I told them I just came from volunteering in Thailand. At first, the couple was hesitant on sharing some information about their jobs or their business. They eventually told me that Mr. Pitah invented and had a patent on the material used in the construction business. They had also offices in Asia, so they had traveled to Asia before.

Past Denpasar, the sky was covered with menacing clouds. Along the way, we asked Dino, our driver/guide, about anything and everything we saw on the road, from the elevated bus stop to the significance of the swastika symbol I saw in the carving at a temple gate.

Dino was so well-versed on Bali and answered all our questions. “The swastika means good luck and good fortune in Hinduism."

Temples are ubiquitous to Bali. We rode past houses made of dark wood with intricate carvings and houses with temple portals. A temple within residential property serves as a status symbol. The more affluent they get the bigger and more elaborate temples they build, according to Dino. We passed a town where the roadside was lined with stone figures and sandstone with divinity and demon carvings. They were used as a house or temple ornaments.

The landscape in Ubud was a far cry from Denpasar. We passed a vast plateau, rice fields and rice terraces and rolling greens. As we left the Ubud area, the rain started to fall. Puddles started to form on the street. Dino commented that the puddles quickly formed at a slight rain due to the lack of water runoff drainage.

The rain began to pour heavily and water splashed in streams off the road after Ubud. The roadside was overflowing with banana leaves and other leaves spilling into the road. The normal one hour and 15 minute drive from Ubud to Kintamani turned into hours of driving under heavy rain. We got a break from the rain as we made our approach to the most remote village. I smelled coffee.

Mr. Pitah said, “But there are no Starbucks here.”

Dino was quick to respond, “They cultivate fruit trees, and coffee here. You’ll see some orange groves too.”

No wonder I saw stacks of oranges at the fruit stands on the side of the road. “The lifestyle of the people here is still steeped in tradition,” added Dino.

As our vehicle climbed higher into the depths of the mountain forest, the rain lit up to offer a glimpse of the majestic trees and plants and white flowers on the roadside. Suddenly, Mrs. Pitah who had been quiet for a while commented about the white flowers we saw on the roadside. She said that she saw a flower arrangement at the hotel, and the staff told her that the flower arrangement consisted of very fragrant night blooming flowers. Unfortunately, we could not open the car window to smell the fragrant flowers.

As we neared the summit, the clouds drew ever closer, the fog rose like clouds to the distant horizon, no site of the volcano nor the lake. A man was collecting money from the drivers (maybe as entrance fee or parking fee at the lookout). A few yards later, I saw a restaurant/lodge, where Dino said we could get lunch. He asked if we wanted to get dropped off. But Mrs. Pitah emphatically said no. She said, “What’s the point? We can’t see anything. I have some pastries if anyone’s hungry.” She insisted that we should go back into town. Frustrated and having resigned to the fact that I made a big mistake for not going it alone, I did not say anything. We could not control the weather, but we could have at least gotten out of the car and gone to the restaurant. The fog might dissipate at one point, I thought.

I was quiet throughout the drive back into town while the couple bickered, perhaps from frustration over the long trip. It rained on and off. Just when I thought I could have totally ignored the couple's arguing, Mrs. Pitah had the final word and responded to her husband with “whatever." (Oh, I don’t like that kind of response in an argument. It’s like giving up your position, but not letting the other person win the argument). It then occurred to me why it struck a nerve with me. That was my reaction of not saying anything to Mrs. Pitah when she emphatically said no to getting off the vehicle and going to the restaurant when we reached the summit.

Mr. Pitah asked Dino to let him know if he saw a McDonald’s. He needed to use the bathroom and wanted to get a hamburger for lunch. I suggested that we should go to the nearest hotel; there should be a restroom facility at the hotel lobby. When I asked Dino if he could drop me off at the Four Seasons in Jimbaran, it reminded him that we were 20 minutes away from the Four Seasons in Sayan near Ubud. We all decided to stop at the Four Seasons in Sayan and have lunch there.

The Four Seasons resort could not be seen from the roadway. We had to go through what seemed to be a private road. It hunched low on the summit of a hilltop, barely causing a blemish on the beautiful landscape. We walked the long patio leading to the hotel lobby. There were two ponds above the restaurant/lobby.

On each side of the patio, the flat-top mountains stand draped in green. Far north, the lush hillside and the river made a breathtaking view from the open plan terrace of the restaurant.

The thatched-roof villas hunched low across the valley floor. We were seated at the open plan terrace, and as soon as we got our lunch orders in, the downpour started again. We had to move to a different table. Mr. Pitah was not kidding about finding a McDonalds earlier. He ordered a hamburger for lunch at the Four Seasons. 
After seeing the remarkable view of the Cliffside jungle and the river from the Four Seasons, I consoled myself with the notion that I had at least glimpsed the Bali advertised in travel magazines.  I may have not seen the mystical Bali, but the fog at Mount Batur and Batur Caldera created a mysterious atmosphere that it inspired the traveler in me to blur reality. I could have only imagined the most incredible images of the mystical volcano and the lake.


Note:  All photos by the author

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