Bali's Bounty

Trip Start Jan 16, 2012
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Trip End Jul 11, 2012


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Where I stayed
Hotel Melati Homestay, Candikuning

Flag of Indonesia  , Bali,
Wednesday, June 27, 2012

My motorcycle driver turned back frequently with a wide grin to give me the thumbs up signal (I am happy to say, with just one hand). My pack was balanced between his arms on the handlebars and he maneuvered the steep short curves at speed. We were headed for Munduk, a little town lined up along a ridge about 25 km inland from the north coast road, and the hilly scenery with its fields and trees and flowering plants everywhere indicated that Bali is not just about generous gentle spirits and hospitality, but the bounty of the earth.

Our second-floor corner room was full of light and overlooked the valley and the homestay's garden with its cacao tree; after lunch in the garden restaurant we couldn’t resist a nap in the four-poster bed, surveying the scene from time to time when our eyes opened. But the countryside beckoned, and with what we hoped was enough time before dark, we headed out to find the trail to two waterfalls.

The waterfalls provided the goal for the walk, but the true reward was traipsing along flower-lined forest tracks past the occasional village houses, uphill and down. A small wooden table stood by the side of the path, covered in small packets of locally grown products: vanilla beans, cinnamon sticks, macadamia nuts, cashews, coffee beans, cacao beans. When we stopped to look, a disembodied voice called from above, something to the effect of "Wait, I’m coming down!" A lady appeared from her house above the path. A little breathless, she gave us a sample taste of roasted cacao beans and palm sugar and made an instant sale. An hour and a half later, when we’d visited both waterfalls and were feeling in need of a little refreshment, miraculously a sign appeared on the path: “Coffee Corner.” We followed the signs up to a platform perched on a hill overlooking the valley, now changing colours in the early throes of sunset. I ordered Hibiscus tea and Dan Bali kopi (coffee), but we were also brought banana fritters and cacao beans in palm syrup. A divine coffee corner indeed.

The next day we took a long walk down from Munduk into the valley of rice fields, village houses and gardens. There were paths and narrow paved roads running every which way, up and down, past fields of coffee and rice, crossing rivers, and everywhere the sound of water running, gushing through narrow channels and providing the soundtrack for our walk. The distinctive smell of cloves wafted our way: upwind of us cloves were drying on tarps spread out on the road. On the first tarp they were in their most familiar form—dried and brown—and two other tarps held cloves still green. Later on we saw a man picking them green off a huge tree. He was standing on a bamboo pole planted in the ground with sticks stuck through it for footholds. Two girls with buckets picked the cloves that could be reached from the ground. (On our walks to this point, we had seen bamboo poles with holes in them by the side of the path, and we had seen men working on making them, and now we knew what the poles with holes were for.) Rice was ready to harvest and also was drying on the road in upside down bouquets. Everyone was friendly and greeted us with “hello” and even the dogs, when they barked, backed up rather than chasing us.

We pushed on to see a famed banyan tree, which was a maze of roots that you could walk through, for a small fee. A temple stands near the tree and the tree itself is sacred; a sign on it forbids menstruating women to enter.

Still more new taste experiences awaited us in Candikuning, where we spent one night so that we could visit the Pura Luhur Batukau (Temple) and UNESCO-nominated Jatiluwih Rice Fields. The rice fields were mostly harvested and flooded and are probably more dramatic when they are full of green rice, but the terracing was still impressive. The temple, on the side of the sacred Mt. Batukau, was alive with moss and other greenery growing like fuzz all over the temple buildings and paths. In the mist, the temple was atmospheric and quiet. Judging from the green growth, it is always this atmospheric. We wandered around the thatch-roof buildings wearing the sarong and sash required, placing our feet carefully on the green stone paths so as not to slip.

Our driver, Ayat, sold watches in the market when he wasn’t driving tourists around, and he took us there after our drive. He had been pointing out the fruit trees along the road—guava, jackfruit, tamarillo, passionfruit, mangosteen, rambutan, starfruit, snakefruit—a tropical dream for a fruit lover, but he had to admit that almost all of them were not currently in season, and so there were no fruits to be seen on the trees (although lucky for us, strawberries are in season, small and sweet). In the market, he took us to his mother’s fruit stall and gave us a tamarillo to try (sweet and sour), as well as a snakefruit (crunchy, like an apple, but with a snakeskin-like peel). I am amazed how new tastes and sights continue to turn up in my life—travel can provide these, endlessly it seems. And in this same market there was a cute hole-in-the-wall shop with two chairs and a small table where we could buy a real cappuccino. Life really does never fail to surprise.
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