Temples in the clouds and humble hospitality.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016
Amed, Bali, Indonesia
From Ubud we headed East, through quiet villages and farm land until we picked up the coast road and swung North towards Padang Bai. We had read good things about Padang Bai and thought we may end up staying there. It was supposed to have a nice laid back feel with funky cafe's and warungs. It's a small seaside place that ferries people across to the Gili islands but we were disappointed when we rolled into the small town. Over priced and lacking in any character is what we found. We stopped for a quick drink and a rest and that was where we left it, we were back on the bike in 20 minutes and heading further up the West coast. Past Candidasa we swung in land through Karangasm and started to climb steeply around the back of Mt Agung another of Bali's volcanoes. As we began to descend again we were treated to sumptuous views of rice terraces cascading all the way down to the coast off in the distance. As the road leveled at the coast we took a right and headed into the sleepy fishing village of Amed.

We have been to Amed before on our last trip and it's kind of a strange one for me . It's very quiet which I love. The occasional warung and guest house or homestay dotted about and it is world renowned for it's dive sites. As with Padang Bai it's also a port that does daily runs to the Gili's but there are very few other tourists and travelers here. Most that are, are here for the diving. The locals though I find a strange mix compared to anywhere else in Bali. You either meet the usual very happy folk or you meet those that don't break into a smile and look fairly surly at you. I'm not sure why and can't quite put my finger on it but it's certainly something I remember from last time and this time is no different. Perhaps it's the fact that it is so quiet that the locals either make a weeks money in one night if they fill their warung or homestay or they make nothing all week as nobody ventures into their place.

The first full day on Amed we were up at a crazy time to catch the sunrise over Lombok in the distance and a beautiful it sight it was as well . After some basic breakfast we sorted the daypack and headed off in search of Pura Lempuyang Luhur. The temples at this site are some of the most highly regarded on the island, they are also known as 'The mother temple' and every Balinese Hindu has to make a trip here at least once every 10 years. We had headed off early to for good reason. After arcing round the back of Mt Agung again we turned towards it and climbed steeply on the bike, snaking through lush Jungle before arriving at the entrance to the temples. What lay ahead was over 5 hours of trekking up and down. There are 7 temples in total on the steep mountain side of the volcano with the highest being over 3,800 ft above sea level taking over 2,000 stairs to get there. We climbed and climbed and climbed stopping regularly for water. It may not sound too bad but 2,000 stairs in 30+ heat and 90%+ humidity is hard work indeed. But it was rewarding work. The views on the way up were spectacular. Every so often the jungle would open and we were presented with dizzying views for miles and miles . You could see all the way down the island, past the airport and to the southern peninsular in the distance, to the East Nusa Lembongan, Nusa Pedina and Lombok looked amazing from here. Even more impressive was the sight of the locals making their pilgrimage up. Women who must have been at least 90 with heavy offerings balanced impressively on their heads slowly making their way up. People carrying ducks to sacrifice as an offering, fathers carrying their young babies up with them....not to sacrifice as offerings I must add! There was a constant stream of them. As we climbed to the penultimate temple the heavens opened and thunder and lightning crackled around us. The rain was heavy, the kind that stings your skin as it hits you so we parked up under a small bamboo shelter waiting for it to break. A good hour later it hadn't changed at all so we decided to carry on drenched to the bone. After only another 5 minutes we had climbed steeply up through the rain cloud and were greeted by the final temple. Unfortunately and I am absolutely kicking myself for this we had just missed the ceremony, sacrificed duck and all . If we had not tried to sit out the rain I'm sure we would have been privileged to a spectacular sight. But hey it was a spectacular sight all the same, worth the climb alone for the views you get in return and the satisfaction of doing the climb and visiting all 7 temples on the way. The locals we passed on the route were all amazingly friendly, good-natured and full of banter and humour.

As we descended back down the rain had stopped and all around us in the jungle steam was rising and the sunlight was blazing shafts of light through the slits in the foliage. It really had been a worthwhile day out and it was about to get even better once we reached the entrance again where our bike was parked. As we sat down to take in another well earned drink we were approached by one of the local temple guides there called Wayan. We had declined to take a guide when we arrived. We like to do these kind of things under our own steam and not feel rushed, taking our breaks when we want and enjoying the views at our own leisure . Wayan however is one of the nicest most humble guys I have ever met in Bali. He must be around 60 years old and he sat and chatted for a good half hour with us about the temples, Balinese Hinduism and karma in the most clear and fluent English. He has never been to school and his English is all self taught with the help of the tourists he hast taken up and down the mountain over the past years. He is now no longer well enough to take people up and down so he chats to them and then his daughter is the one that makes the daily trip up and down the thousands of steps. I got the impression he may have lung cancer from what he said but I couldn't be sure. He is a very poor man and will not have had the luxury of being able to see a doctor or get any care or treatment for his condition. Then as we were about to leave he invited us back to his home for some coffee and to meet his family. These are the kind of opportunities you can not pass up when traveling so of course we said yes.

We followed Wayan down the snaking hill on our bikes and after only a few hundred meters we had arrived at his home . And what a simple home that was. A small concrete shell with a separate kitchen built opposite and a recently built rough breeze block wall around his compound. To his name he had a few banana trees, one cockerel and a small young mango tree that he was very proud of. His family was big and again so happy and welcoming. His sister lived in a small hut adjacent to his compound and his mother and four children also lived with him. He did not mention his wife and I did not want to pry either. We shared coffee and he spoke of his plans to eventually build his compound into a homestay so that his future generations could have a better life. However money was a massive stumbling block for him to do this. His sole income for the entire family was reliant on his daily tours of the temples. I guess in low season like it is now this must be very hard work to find and to scratch a life from. He said there are 8 guides who work there and when we signed the check in book and made a donation at the entrance there were only 3 other tourists that had been through that day and there were non after as we didn't pass any on the way down and the place closed up for the night after we left . He reckoned it would take him roughly another 10 years to save the money needed to change his compound into a small basic homestay. I really felt for Wayan, he is such a happy smiling soul and his family also had that same infectious happiness about them. Yet again I found it so humbling that the people I meet on my travels with so little are the ones that are so willing to share and show you hospitality and kindness. Sharing that coffee with him and his family and being invited into their home was another priceless moment that really moved me. It makes you so appreciative of the life you have and the life you lead. It teaches you to respect others no matter their background and to embrace every moment you have. I can not thank Wayan enough for giving me this refresher in life and karma. To see such happiness from people with so little makes you realise that the material things in life are nothing, nothing at all, they certainly don't guarantee you happiness. After staying and chatting for an hour or so we bid our farewell and were blessed by him on our travels for safety, happiness and good health . What an amazing man and example in what is truly important.

The next day was a very wet mixed affair. With Amed sitting in the shadows of the towering Mt Agung it gets it's fair share of daily rain, particularly at this time of year. We trundled round locally on the bike without venturing too far. It was nice as well. A lazy day exploring small valleys and villages with some stunning scenery. All topped off with more delightful locally caught fresh fish for tea. Thankfully the day after started a lot brighter and we decided to grab our snorkel gear and see what we could find as we had heard it was good for snorkeling right off the beach without needing to pay for a boat to take us out anywhere. It was ridiculously hot that morning so the cooling water was a nice relief from the burning sun. The snorkeling itself was okay but nothing spectacular. Some nice angel fish, parrot fish and a few others that I don't know the name of but not much to speak of in the way of coral as most of it looked fairly dead now, just the odd piece dotted about. Then as per usual after the heat had built up over mid day the clouds closed in and the rain came again. We returned to our digs to kick back and relax still aching from the previous days trekking.

I think it's probably time to move on tomorrow so let's see where we end up.

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