While this is primarily a trip about relaxing, we are rarely a couple to sit around and do nothing for too long and after a week or so we tend to find relaxing, not so relaxing. Not being our first trip to Bali, we’ve already seen many of the typical highlights – Tanah Lot, Uluwatu, Mt Batur, The Monkey Forest, The Elephant Cave, markets, markets and more markets, temples, temples and more temples.
We’ve never ventured much further north than Mt Batur though, so setting off with Katuk, our driver, we decided to explore the area around Lovina. This coastal strip stretches about 10kms westward from the city of Singaraja. Singaraja, known as the Lion City, was once the main port in Bali, during the Dutch occupation prior to WWII. Port traffic has since moved south leaving the city in peace – clean, quiet and culturally distinctive. It has a decidedly more affluent and colonial feel than much of Bali.
The Lovina area to the west is actually made up of several small villages. For a time the area was becoming more popular with tourists, though remaining quieter than its southern counterparts. However the current declining tourist industry in Bali has affected these quieter areas even more so than the hotspots of the south. Hawker trade on the beaches can become quite competitive and fierce.
We stopped for lunch at a local warung that was beachside, few tourists mostly locals, though packed to capacity. That puts a guaranteed beacon above your head, pointing you out to the women and children plying their wares up and down the narrow strip of beach. I’m always a little dubious of eating with the locals, more from the potential consequences for my digestive system rather than a fear to try something new. The choice was limited but what was on the menu was delicious – and incredibly cheap, two meals, a large and young coconut for around $5. And you could not beat the location, sitting cross-legged at low tables jutting out over the beach.
The coastal strip is unique, not much more than a kilometre wide, sandwiched between mountain and sea. Not the perfect beach destination….sands are neither the pristine white of the South Pacific Islands nor the jet black of Santorini. They are more of a dark dirty grey. However flat calm waters, dolphins and magnificent sunsets are the big drawcards.
Taking a day trip from Sanur to Lovina has several interesting stops on the way. It’s around a three hour drive, however the scenery is stunning and ever-changing. City traffic gives way to villages, which give way to rice paddies and finally winding mountain roads. Having forgotten to pack a motion sickness bracelet, however, I have to take Scott’s word that it was spectacular. I was more concerned about keeping my stomach in its rightful place…. which actually takes a fair amount of concentration. I was grateful for our first stop – the twin waterfalls at GitGit.
The falls are approximately 9 km south of Singaraja and set about 800m from the road, along a winding path and amidst coffee and clove trees. Entrance fees are 1000 rp to enter, and guides at the road will try to convince you to use them for about 80,000 rp. The path is well constructued (by Balinese standards) and theres not much of a commentary needed. The guides will also advise you to stop at their mother’s shop to “look” . We opted for no guide.. though did stop at some of the shops. We are happy to support the locals if not getting obviously and excessively taken advantage of. GitGit falls are the largest and most spectacular in Bali, falling approximately 65 meters with several smaller tiers down the mountain. The walk to the falls, scenic, and cool – a welcome relief for tourists in the high humidity.
Another worthwhile stop while in the north of Bali are the the Hot Springs ‘Air Panas’ of Banjar, situated in lush tropical gardens in the middle of the jungle. The springs are separated into 3 areas; the top area is the hottest and the next two areas progressively cooler. The last has water falling from about 20 feet and it can give you a great massage. The pools are distinctive with eight carved stone dragons pouring water into the first pool, five more for the second pool and one final 3 meter-high dragon serving the third pool. Traditional belief holds that this hot spring can cure illness. The water is of volcanic origin and its temperature is around a constant 37 degrees celsius. Since the water is sulphuric, this is especially ideal for those who suffer from rheumatic diseases. There are showers, as well as cabins where you can change clothes, and a restaurant provides a cool place to relax and watch over the pools. Visiting the springs is best done early in the morning when there will be few visitors and plenty of parking. Unfortuantely we visited shortly after lunch on the day after Nyepi – which is akin to a public holiday in Bali – it was much like Bondi Beach on New Years Day, fighting traffic, parking and a spot on the sand.
The north of Bali is also home to the largest buddhist temple on the island. We stopped to look, but having seen temples in Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and of course explored the Angkor Wat complex in Cambodia, I tend to get somewhat underwhelmed by temples elsewhere. But if you have not seen to any temples, this is probably still a worthwhile stop..and as we were up that way anyhow…
Brahma Vihara Arama Temple and Monastery is perched high in the hills with views overlooking Lovina Beach. Entry is by donation and you need to wear long pants or one of the sarongs provided. If you’re lucky, you will find cloves drying in the gardens outside of the main temple and their scent as it mixes with the wafting incense smoke make for a magical smell. Overrun with frangipanis and lush tropical plants you could while away hours exploring Brahma Vihara Arama’s gardens and admiring beautifully carved statues. Interestingly Brahma Vihara Arama has incorporated elements of Balinese Hinduism including a couple of Naga either side of the entrance and a Balinese Hindu kulkul (wooden bell) tower. A pond brimming with lotus flowers makes a perfect place for quiet contemplation and you’ll find 3 prayer temples including the main temple built as a smaller replica of the sacred Borobudor Buddhist Temple in central Java.
Our final stop for the day was undoubtably the highlight for Scott – he got to try what he likes to call “cat poo” coffee!!! Kopi Luwak – as it is properly known – or civet coffee, is coffee made from the beans of coffee berries which have been eaten by the Asian Palm Civet (Paradoxurus hermaphroditus – known as Luwaks in Bali) then passed through its digestive tract. A civet eats the berries for their fleshy pulp. In its stomach, proteolytic enzymes seep into the beans, making shorter peptides and more free amino acids. Passing through a civet’s intestines the beans are then defecated, remaining undigested.
After gathering, thorough washing, sun drying, light roasting and brewing, these beans yield an aromatic coffee with much less bitterness, widely noted as the most expensive coffee in the world. Only about 500 to 700kg are produced a year – selling anywhere from $300 to $1000 a kilo. In November 2006 Herveys Range Heritage Tea Rooms, a small cafe in the hills outside Townsville in Queensland, put kopi luwak coffee on its menu at $50.00a cup, selling about seven cups a week, which gained nationwide Australian and international press.
The small plantation we stopped at allowed us to sample a (very) small cup for around $4. I love my coffee, but I cant say that I’d be willing to pay $50 for a cup. It was strong, smooth and much better than the local bali coffee. The shop at the plantation sold 15g packs for 22 000 rp (about $25). We opted instead for some delicious lemongrass tea, ginseng coffee and organic cacao powder, much more reasonable priced and packaged for export.
Now if we get home and I see Scott feeding the cats coffee beans…..