After almost a week in Bali I had still only managed to acquire one two-word phrase of Indonesian, which is more than a little sad really. Fortunately, terima kasih is a phrase with a lot of mileage; it got me all the way from Denpasar to the magnificent volcanic highlands at Munduk and back again, with barely a hitch in the process. Which is just as well as the only other support I had to get me there was a map that seemed to have been drawn by someone to whom Bali was once drunkenly described a long time ago. Terima kasih, or “thank you”, cheerfully filled in all the gaps though.
With only 30-odd hours in which to get a taste of Bali beyond the crowds and heaving traffic of Denpasar I’d been advised to go to the volcanoes in the north, and that Munduk was a good place to overnight. So I hired a 125cc, and took off at 09:00 on Saturday morning, thoroughly unprepared for the staggering beauty that awaited.
Leaving Seminyak was easy; I pointed the scooter north and was off. According to the map, it was a straight line from the junction where I turned left leaving Seminyak all the way to Antosari. I took it at its word and thus began some of the confusion. Many, many terima kasihs later I was reasonably sure I was on the right track, and booting happily along the road between Tabanan and Antosari, and this is where I first started to get an idea of what was waiting.
The road twirled its way between several river courses and the woven contours of the earth, guarded on each side by luscious, rich forest. Deep gorges and valleys revealed themselves and everywhere the most wonderful shades of green popped out, a million shades of gorgeous. My heart had started to soar.
After arriving at Antosari, and checking I was on the right road, terima kasih, I turned north for the road towards Munduk. I’ve decided that it’s really not possible to describe just how shatteringly beautiful the scenery is. Paddy stacked up the hillsides, palm trees blew in the breeze, and my eyes vibrated from trying to take it all in. I don’t know how many times I nearly crashed.
The road rose gradually and I finally reached the turn-off that I needed to take, and this is where I made my first mistake. No matter where you are in the world, never ask teenage boys for directions. They still think farting and sending tourists on wild goose chases is the height of hilarity. On the plus side, I got to see lots of beautiful Balinese villages that I would otherwise have missed.
With rain threatening, I finally asked an old man for directions to Munduk. “Up,” he said, and he was absolutely right. Left, right or straight ahead, it didn’t matter. They only direction to follow was ‘up’. The scooter chugged bravely up the steep, steep, forest flanked hills and around the long, winding bends. If there were a road to Heaven, it would look like this.
Munduk is a funny one-street town that didn’t feel very promising at the start. But I grabbed a map from the reception of my guesthouse (that had a spectacular view for $20 — most of Munduk’s hotels have views), and took off to go find the waterfalls. A word of advice here: if you’re going to go looking for waterfalls along a path that weaves through a glorious forest, wear something, anything, other than flip-flops. It’s really not smart.
My plans were scotched though when the rain started to drizzle down, and I had no rain-proof gear for my camera. Luckily, I was passing the last hotel on the path when it started, so I ducked in there for a coffee, and waited. And waited. I watched jealously as smarter tourists, with a guide and wet-weather gear, trudged past in the rain, and waited some more.
Finally, I picked up one of the hotel’s brochures, which advertised numerous services and facilities, including yoga. Aha! I thought. Tracking down the hotel owner, I asked if I could take a session. He looked at me a little nonplussed, but then said yes, for $35. After I stopped laughing he said, “Okay, so, $20. In one hour.” “You’re on,” I said. Shortly afterwards, he came back to me and asked how I knew the hotel offered yoga. “It’s in your brochure,” I said. “Really!?” he replied, and wandered off scratching his head. This didn’t seem very promising at all, and sure enough this is how I ended up having one of the most expensive and unchallenging yoga sessions I’ve ever had. And it was worth every penny.
The open-air exercise area looked out over a long valley that dropped down into a never-never and then across a long plateau. It was breathtaking. As we moved from downward facing dog to warrior and back again, I kept peering one-eyed across it, hoping my very lovely instructor (who seemed to have been scooped off the street in a panic) wouldn’t notice and be offended that I wasn’t really paying attention. The shush of the rain falling down was joined in a watery harmony by the gurgle-y rush of a stream beside us and the fat plops of the rain falling off the roof covered the percussion side of things. Lying on my back, all I could see was green, green and more green. I was in ecstasies.
Munduk is very damp, and much cooler than southern Bali, which was a welcome relief. I wasn’t prepared though for the real chill as I motored early the next morning up to the volcano where my shortage of time started to become a real problem. You could spend days up here, exploring trails, finding waterfalls, and just being blown away by the views at every turn. I had about nine hours until my flight.
The top of the mountain, the mouth of one of the volcanoes on which Bali is perched, was the goal and I gaped and clicked and gaped for as long as I could. In the brittle early morning light, the lake shone and I longed to be able to go down and explore. I guess I’ll have to come back.
The road back down the centre of Bali is flanked all the way by small towns and villages which are all practically poster-perfect advertisements for the simple beauty of Balinese architecture. The scenery is staggering too, and I had to stop taking photographs or I’d still be on the side of the road snapping furiously, and causing rumours among the locals.
I was completely punch-drunk from the beauty of it all. Every time I thought it couldn’t do any better, I’d turn a corner and it would. Who needs beaches and barbecues. Bali’s northern beauty goes beyond anything I’ve ever seen. And all you need to find it is a $4 scooter. Bali, terima kasih.
By Nicky Sullivan
Last updated on 3rd March, 2015.