The road from Lake Tamblingan over the mountains to Lovina seemingly kicked the chassis of our car about like a tin boat in a storm. Huge potholes were unavoidable, snaking across the road and marking the place of the river of rain that had created them the last wet season.
This was the road from Lake Tamblingan to Lovina – “Just one hour maybe,” said Ketut at the lake. “On a bike, maybe forty minutes.”
I love Balinese optimism. It never wavers, no matter if the messenger is telling you a journey will take three hours. Information is provided with a smile and confidence, even if it’s being made up. We trusted Ketut’s verdict but we learned another lesson in not just asking how long it would take – we should also have asked about the comfort of the journey.
We bumped relentlessly over the winding road, cursing Google Maps for not being up to date and then laughing at the futility of that wish. We stopped to check directions, having already done one U-turn, to be told that the road shown on the map was “broken”. I would hate to see what that actually looked like, because the road more traveled was also most definitely ‘broken’!
With sore rears and wavering smiles, we finally limped into Lovina, a town on the north of Bali that runs adjacent to the Bali Sea. We made our way up one of the steepest roads I have seen in Bali (apart from climbing Mt Agung, which was mentioned several times by way of comparison as we made our ascent), reaching our villa in time for sunset. Stepping through the front door, we were greeted with a view that sucked our breath out so hard that I swear the bamboo swayed in its wake. Beyond the curved infinity pool, the hills swept down to the sea, green jungle dotted with the occasional home or villa.
The temple below sent up trickles of music as locals heeded its call and began the small but essential afternoon offerings at their home temples. Birds sailed across the clear blue sky on a breeze that helped them dip and float as the sun dropped behind the mountains to the west. The village of Lovina was otherwise silent as we immersed ourselves in a romantic notion of a Bali many feel has been lost forever.Walking through the village reinforced this feeling. Small roads wound their way along the many ridges of the mountains that begin on the east coast of Bali and run through the centre to the west. A Westerner will be in awe of the lives that carry on as though no other country or even town exists. Children wave and smile, greeting you as though you have been invited and are driving through their front gate. The jungle is thick and almost uninhabitable. Tiny homes dot the sides of rudimentary roads that have not long been transformed from dusty trails, and chickens run free. The occasional pig lays without tether at the front of a home and cows blink lazily out from bamboo shelters.
The air is crisp, reminding me more of a spring day in cooler climes of Australia. I don’t know how high we were but it was definitely thinner, drawing the breath out of my lungs as we pushed ourselves up the hill to our villa on an early morning walk.
To be so close to the south of Bali and seem lost in time is a feeling that immediately calms you. Worries of the world are forgotten and the vast expanse that lay in front of us was an image I wanted to drink in until full, and then start all over again.
On this trip, we’d come from the temple at Bedugul and Lake Tamblingan. It had been raining and the temperature dropped to below twenty degrees. Mist swirled around the valleys obscuring vision for more than thirty or so metres. It seemed such a contrast to the heat of the south that it was welcomed, its beauty appreciated rather than scorned as we would in our home town of Melbourne.
A wedding was in progress in Bedugul (spelled several ways on government signs, from Bedugul, to Bodugal and Bedugal…I believe Bedugul is correct as this was the most frequent spelling!) Locals boarded a small canoe with offerings and made their way out to the centre of the lake to scatter them. Dozens waited their turn on the shore but I am yet to learn what the ceremony was to achieve – I will certainly make an effort to find out for the next edition of Bali Soul Journals! Participants chatted amongst themselves, never bored with waiting. That is life in Bali, an eternal wait.
Because my mother is visiting, we returned to Lake Tamblingan however earlier rain prevented exploring it any more. Instead, we absorbed ourselves in the village, simple yet existing with a smile amongst what we would say is hardship. We returned to Ketut’s home to find that the kitchen had been relocated to the back of the concrete slab. Their home had been washed away in floods three years before and they were unable to afford to rebuild completely. The makeshift kitchen that was there on our last visit had been blown away – while they were in it – requiring a rebuild and some remodelling as well.
Life doesn’t change much at Tamblingan. Ladies sat idly, not glancing at us as we walked by, bored after the rain prevented them from carrying out their usual daily activities. Ketut’s mother began cooking fried fish which we suspected was for us, but we were keen to get on the road to Lovina. We trusted Ketut’s assessment of one hour for the 19 kilometre journey, but …. well, you just never know.
Each time I venture out of Canggu, I am amazed at how I learn more about Bali and its people. It is a constant journey and expansion of everything I thought I knew or believed. Once, when I was a tourist, I had misconceptions and opinions. Now, as a guest and a traveler, I realise that whatever I feel I know or hold true today, will be enhanced by what I see tomorrow. I often mention in Bali Soul Journals that I feel as though I am becoming more awake.
The sense I have of community in Bali is stronger than ever. While ill last month, I spent time watching interviews of significant thought leaders. A comment by Thich Nhat Hanh struck a chord:
“Without a community, we cannot go very far.”
Dr Martin Luther King Junior echoed his words in an interview in 1963 on American television:
“Our goal is to create a beloved community and this will require a qualitative change in our souls, as well as a quantitative change in our lives.”
The importance of community was increasingly apparent to me as I wrote Bali Soul Journals, but not to the extent that without it, our very existence is threatened.
As I drove back over the mountains that separate the north of Bali from the centre and the south, we passed through villages. Again, I was aware that we are observers. It is such a different feeling to when you visit Paris or Chicago. Immersion in Bali is almost impossible for the average Westerner. But as guests with the honour of being allowed this passage, we have a responsibility to not just watch, but learn and begin to make changes to our own lives and thinking – how we relate to one another, involve ourselves in their lives and give back to the communities we choose to live in.
I have the strong sense that the people we brand as being part of ‘third world communities’ in a wide sweeping statement that almost always implies backwardness and lack of development, may well be the very teachers that we need to change the direction of our lives, and perhaps take us all back to a connectedness that has rapidly diminished over the last several decades.
Notes: The villa that we stayed at in Lovina is available for private use. It boasts four large bedrooms with ensuites. A chef is available for breakfast or dinner from $10 per meal, with the cost of ingredients being added to the bill. For contact information, please contact Clare at firstname.lastname@example.org. Price startes from 130 Euro per night depending on the season.
The main road to Lovina is a good quality road, although you may need travel sickness tablets as it is very winding. It is about 45 minutes from Bedugal and leads to Singaraja, which is ten minutes from Lovina. There is no need to take the road from Lake Tamblingan that we did – you will be guaranteed a far more comfortable trip!
Photography and text by Clare McAlaney, all rights reserved. All photography is protected by intellectual property rights, so please ask before taking, and always give full credits.
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