Monthly Archives: November 2014

Climb Every Mountain…Or Just One Volcano

As promised, here is a recap of the second half of my weeklong excursion, this part featuring adventures in North Bali. As you first read this entry the title may seem misleading, although I can assure you that I did in fact climb a volcano…I just did some other things first. But keep reading on if you want to hear about volcano adventures.

On our last morning in the village, I woke up at five with many people from my group and walked to the closest highest point near the village to watch the sunrise. I wish it was possible to capture the beauty of the early sun on the rice fields, but sadly even a picture doesn’t do it justice. In the approximately 45 minutes that we sat on the top of the hill, surrounded by green rice fields and palm trees, the sky went from starry and dark to colorful, accented by mountains on the horizon. As you may have seen in my last post, the landscape of rice fields – green steps cut into the earth – seems to exemplify the beauty of Bali, and are becoming more and more rare as hotels and restaurants are built. So, waking up before the sun, experiencing the rare feeing of cold in Bali, and then watching the rice fields become illuminated by the colorful sky was the most appropriate way to say goodbye to the real Bali, the natural and traditional rice cultivating culture.

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Soon we were on our way, slightly tired from rising early but excited to venture up north. On the way we stopped at a temple so our Academic Director could give a few offerings, as it was an auspicious day. This likely seems so foreign to those reading from outside of Bali, but here it’s like second nature. As you’ve probably gathered from my past posts, there are so many ceremonies in Bali. In fact, I now read that in the voice of a Balinese person, as many have said those exact words to me.  When we reached North Bali, Lovina to be specific, we took in the sight of the ocean, as well as the massive dolphin statue. Apparently Lovina is the place to spot them, although sadly we didn’t see any while we were there. A little while after we arrived, we visited a Buddhist monastery in the area, which I really enjoyed because I was in other countries this past summer that were prominently Buddhist, so it was interesting to see Buddhism in practice here. There were a number of different buildings in the complex, all with Buddha statues and murals. There was even a mini Borobudur (see my Java post if you’re not sure what this is!), and a banyan tree with a statue of Buddha teaching at its base. I’m not really sure if I could last through a meditation retreat, but this monastery seems like the kind I would want to be at if I could. While we were there we even glanced at the schedule for a retreat, and it basically was alternating sitting meditation and walking meditation, after rising super early in the morning.



We had one full day in Lovina, and it was jam packed. To start, we stopped at a Chinese temple, which was my first big exposure to Confucianism in Bali. As I think I said in an earlier post, Indonesians must choose one of six religions, and their affinity is printed on their ID card. Confucianism is the most recent one of the six to be recognized, and is a small minority group, especially on Bali. In the temple we all prayed, which consisted of putting many red incense sticks in pots located around the temple. I enjoyed praying, but I think my favorite part of the temple were the turtles located in the center, signifying long life. I don’t think I’ve seen that many turtles since I visited the zoo years ago.


From the Chinese temple we drove on to Gitgit waterfall, which I loved because it reminded me of the waterfalls back home in the Pacific Northwest. Most of our group stripped down to bathing suits and jumped into the water, but I’m a wimp and thought it was too cold. After hiking back up to our cars (past many souvenir stalls, a common sight in places like this that attract lots of tourists), we had lunch and I was able to get one of my favorite Bali drinks, es jeruk (iced fresh orange juice).With bellies full of gado gado (vegetables and peanut sauce), ayam kechap (chicken in a sweet sauce), nasi (rice), tempe, cap cay (sauteed vegetables), and mie goreng (fried noodles), we went on to our last stop, which was my favorite of the whole day. The place was called Santhi Budaya, and is basically a traditional and contemporary dance and gamelan school. Kids attend classes there as an extracurricular, starting fairly young until as old as mid-twenties. The kids were amazing. They performed a few dances with us and invited us to do their warm ups with them, which I somewhat failed at since I basically just watched them the whole time. The dancing was considered contemporary by Balinese standards, but it still used many traditional aspects of dance like precise hand movements and the dancing stance (basically feet flexed, toes up, knees bent, but out, chest forward…not so easy!). We also saw a solo dance done by a young man which was really interesting to watch because most of the dancing (besides mask dancing) that I have seen has been  performed by women. I took a few videos of the dancing, one of which I will post a link to below, so check it out! This group is so talented and even performs around the world!


Gitgit with my teacher, Ella!


Click here to see the video. Just a warning, the music is loud so don’t have your volume up too loud. Also, it’s probably better watched in HD if you have a fast enough connection.

On our way out of Loivna the next morning, we stopped at a large village (in my opinion, more a small town) called Sangsit that is known for having religious harmony, as it is made up of both Hindus and Muslims (and some Confucianists). I believe many years ago Muslims came to Sangsit as either traders or fishermen, and since then Hindu community openly welcomed them. Since then supposedly they all work together, respect each other’s religious differences, and even provide support during major religious holidays. We were only in the village for a short time and only saw one family’s compound, which looked a bit more like houses we saw in Java – not quite as ornately decorated, and obviously no family temples as it was a Muslim house. I wish we had the chance to stay in the village longer, as I’m curious to see if this so-called religious harmony is actually true, but I think I’d probably have to talk to a lot of people or live there a long time to get to the bottom of it all.


Sangsit village


After our stop in Sangsit Village and a two hour long twisty turny drive, we made it to Kintamani, which is more central-eastern Bali, and where Mt. Batur is located! Batur is a volcano that is about 6,000 ft above sea level, and has two calderas. The outer caldera is massive, and contains a lake that people live around. The inner caldera is what people commonly climb, and also what has more recently erupted. The volcano is still active, althoughI don’t think recent eruptions have caused  major damage in the area. We arrived mid-afternoon, and spent the rest of the day relaxing in preparation for our climb the next day. That night I set my alarm for one for the earliest times ever to have graced my alarm clock – 3:00 am – as we had to be ready to climb at 3:30 am. Of course, in true Bali (and SIT Bali group) fashion, we didn’t depart until after 4:00 am, but it was still completely dark and freezing. For the first hour or so we walked through what seemed like forested land, until we finally hit gravel and began to ascend. Unlike most climbs or steep hikes I’ve done in the past, the trail was hardly marked and there were no switch backs. Plus, because we were climbing a volcano, there was volcanic gravel everywhere, which is quite difficult to walk on.


Batur in the daylight.


The beginnings of the sunrise, from the side of the volcano. I’m not really sure what that peak in the picture is, but I don’t think it’s volcanic.

The sun began to rise when I was about halfway up the volcano, which gave me a good excuse to stop every once in awhile to catch my breath. It was incredible, lighting up the whole sky with reds and oranges and even illuminating a volcano that is on the island of Lombok. Sadly I did not make it to the top before the sun totally rose, but I didn’t mind because there was something special about climbing, stopping, looking at the sky, and feeling empowered to keep climbing. I feel like this all seems incredibly cliche, but I don’t know how else to describe how I felt on the side of the volcano. I had thought of myself as totally out of shape (exercise is not really a thing here in Bali), but I felt physically and mentally recharged and strong as I climbed on the volcanic rocks.


Almost at the top with Cecilia and Dixon


When we finally made it to the top, we were greeted by cool winds and the rest of our shivering group. I am ashamed to admit that in the one instance where I could have really used the sweatshirt I brought with me on the trip, it was sitting where it has been sitting since I flew here late August – in my suitcase at my homestay. But, the view from the top made it all worth it. Plus, as we had been climbing, our guides were working on making our breakfast…in the side of the volcano. Yep, they dug holes out of the top of the caldera, buried eggs, and then served them to us hard-boiled. My egg was a bit of a fail, though, as when I tried to crack it on the table it exploded everywhere. Apparently volcano cooking isn’t always the best method. I still was able to enjoy a breakfast of warm bananas in between slices of white bread (surprisingly good for regaining energy), and a little fruit.


I made it!


My beloved volcano egg, before it splattered everywhere. Photo by Cecilia.

Our climb down was not so pleasant, as the loose gravel that was a nuisance going up became a slipping hazard on the way down. Many people in our group fell, although thankfully the worst injuries were just scrapes.  When we finally ended the hike it was only mid-morning, and we were able to rest in the car until we reached home.

Overall, I think this weeklong excursion showed me multiple sides of Bali that I hadn’t seen before – the tourist-less village, the diversity of religion up north, and the beautiful nature that reminds me that I really am in Indonesia, the Volcanic Ring of Fire.

Amidst The Rice Fields

We arrived at the village by foot,  which was perhaps the most practical way given the amount of potholes in the somewhat-paved road that were not quite catered for a four wheeled vehicle full of college students. In retrospect it also seemed like the most appropriate way to start our short stay in the village, free from cars, free from technology, walking through rice fields without a car window in the way or headphones in my ears. Our walk was incredibly hot and gave many of us a sunburn, but we lots of cocoa trees (which surprisingly tastes really good, once you crack them open and eat the white substance around the seeds) and rice fields which were so beautiful and made it all worth it. Not to mention the two young coconuts I had at the end, which came at about the best time ever.


Walking to the village


 The village my group visited is called Munduk Pakel, located in the Tabanan district in central-ish Bali. It is the village that my Academic Director is from, and is not frequented by tourists besides an SIT group every semester. This made our visit really special, as Bali is so heavily touristed that it’s hard to go somewhere without seeing any other foreigners. We visited the village for five days – just enough time to begin to get a taste of the life. Many of the residents are farmers, most of rice but also some coconut plantations (and potentially other crops, although I am not positive what kinds). We invited students from Udayana University (a university in Denpasar), and so in the end we were joined by 14 students, mostly first years as others had exams that week. They all seemed excited to join us and many had never been to rural villages in Bali before. On the last two days they helped us do interviews with locals for our village research paper, so we were able to connect and work together interviewing people. I interviewed five people about the same topic as my research my project (which I will explain in a later post!), but since I did my interviews in Bahasa Indonesia, it was a little bit difficult to understand every response.  Still, being sort-of able to do an interview in a foreign language that I’ve only been studying for two months felt like a huge accomplishment!

While in the village I stayed with a sweet host family in their compound. Every meal I had was some variation of noodles and peanuts, sometimes with an egg on the side, and even one time with three little (dead) fish on a plate, staring right at me. I love noodles and peanuts so I was always happy, although I couldn’t bring myself to touch those fish the night they were served on my dinner tray. My favorite part about my homestay was my host-grandfather (Kak in Bahasa Indonesia), who sat with me for nearly every meal and enjoyed asking me tons of questions in Bahasa Indonesia. After five days in the village I think my conversation skills improved tremendously, mostly just from these little chats with him. The rest of the family was also quite friendly, but they kept to themselves more, and I was not around the house that much as we had a lot of activities and downtime was mostly spent at our academic director’s family compound.


My village host family! After taking this picture I think I need to start a website called “Awkward Host Family Photos”


My bedroom


Other highlights from the village included:

-Lots of walks through rice fields! As a group we walked through my academic director’s property and nearby rice fields learning about natural medicine, and along the way picked up various plants and fruit that could be used for medicine, food, or offerings. I loved this little walk, and not just because I was able to eat a mangosteen right off the tree (although that was a big reason). We were able to collect enough ingredients to make a sambal (a type of sauce, usually with red chilis but  I don’t think there were any in this one) and boreh, which is a medicinal paste made from leaves, cloves, bark and herbs and rubbed on the body to relieve pain. After our walk I helped to make the boreh, which was mostly just a lot of grinding using a mortar and pestle, with the occasional lemongrass or ginger tea break (which I’ll admit I was a bigger fan of than the mortar and pestle work). In the end I tried both the sambal and boreh – the sambal was tasty over rice, a mixture of herbs and onions I think, and the boreh I put all over my shins and feet, and never felt any different. Some people said it was cooling, though, so maybe it was just me.


Fresh mangosteen! This fruit is delicious and one of my favorites.


The inside of the mangosteen. You eat the white parts (not the outside).

Our other hike through rice fields was to a Balian, a Balinese traditional healer. This Balian must have been at least 90 years old, but still was able to walk fairly well. He had only two bottom teeth, and wore a coat with huge shoulders – quite the character. He spoke to us briefly about his experiences, describing cases where he helped patients with physical ailments, and then he showed us a rock he found in the river that helps him tell if he is able to help a patient (basically he looks through a little hole and if he can see the person on the other end he is able to help and cure them). He took a few questions from us, but once his incense ran out he stopped talking. Seems like a pretty good excuse to stop, if you asked me.

Our last adventure in a rice field was near the end of our trip, when we walked to a nearby village to help with rice harvesting (side note: walking up and down hills in the hot sun = extreme sweatiness). I don’t know how much of a help we actually were, but it was pretty fun to be in the middle of a huge field of rice paddies and see what the rice looks like before it ends up on my breakfast, lunch, and dinner plates (not a joke – Balinese eat rice three times a day). Our job in the rice field was mostly just to take bunches of rice stalks and hit them against this wooden contraption, so the rice kernels would fall off. Some students got really into the process and even helped cut off some of the rice stalks, but I just preferred exploring the rice field and hangin’ out with the cows.


Harvesting rice

-We played gamelan in the village! I’m not sure if I have talked about gamelan in my past posts, but it is a group of instruments played in Bali and Java mostly made up of instruments similar to the xylophone, but there are also some tambourines and drums. We were taught by the local gamelan band in the balai banjar, which is similar to a community center, and after two nights of “lessons” our group was able to play four different melodies. The gamelan men helped us all learn the notes by holding the mallets with us as we hit the keys, but they were fairly simple and repetitive, so it was not too difficult. Occasionally I would zone out, only to look up and realize that one of the old gamelan men would be looking right at me as I played the wrong notes. Whoops. Gamelan is an essential part of many ceremonies here, so we were finally able to play some tunes that we hear all of the time (albeit a bit easier than the common ones). Ironically, as I write this blog post there is a live gamelan troupe playing about twenty feet from me, so I have some nice inspiration.


For our last night in the village, we went to a “block party” like no block party I’d ever seen before. A gamelan band set up in the street, and we were all treated to a Balinese flirtation dance, the joged bumbung (which is really fun to say). There were five different dancers, and they came out one by one. They’d start with a solo dance, complete with the traditional eye movements and super bent hands (that I still am not able to do, even though I’ve tried), and then once the music would change slightly they’d pull out a fan and come towards the audience. Each of us was invited up to dance and “flirt” with the Balinese dancer, and when it came to be my turn I got up there and mostly just awkwardly giggled the whole time.


The flirtation dancer!

Like I said before, our few days in the village were the perfect way to see another side of Bali. In the village I felt free of the tourist label, which is nearly impossible to escape here. Before going I was nervous to experience rural life, perhaps because I wasn’t really sure what to expect or because I was convinced that there’d be no running water and we’d have to eat bugs – both rumors that went around. I did not eat any bugs (except for maybe the spider that supposedly everyone eats in their sleep once in awhile) and there was running water, although I surprised myself and opted for skinny dipping in the river with my friends each day in lieu of a bucket bath. Perhaps that’s not the most appropriate thing to admit on this blog, but I can assure you that I did it tastefully. Even the one time that we accidentally chose the same spot as two young fishermen, they were incredibly respectful and we never ended up with an awkward moment. Our time in the village was not like any school day I’ve experienced in the US (really no day here has), but those few days were exactly what I wanted in my program: full immersion into a culture so different than what I find back home in the US.


The path that you can sort of see on the right of this picture lead us to our bathing spot at the river. The structure near the path is a temple. Nothing like bathing with a view of the beautiful rice fields!

After the village we all traveled to North Bali for a few days, but this post is already quite long so I think I’ll do a “part two” post. I’m currently in the midst of my Independent Study Project (ISP), which will also be another post that I’ll write soon. I hope all is well in whatever part of the world you’re reading this! If you’re in Walla Walla (or other parts of the US), stay warm! It’s a bit hard for me to wrap my head around freezing temperatures as I sit here in my tank top and shorts, but it’s making me miss wearing sweaters and boots. Sampai nanti teman-teman! (see you later friends!).