Ten days ago we set our tyres for the first time onto the "Pearl" of the Indian Sea. Bali, belonging to one of the world's largest ring of islands, is parted by a huge band of volcanos and is still full of secrets waiting to be discovered. It is one of the most alternating islands and the Bali people say it's beauty can even be admired from the moon....
The first two stages of this mysterious island is bringing us to a tropic gorge. Deep down the so-called "Ayung River", largest river of Bali, has to be crossed on a hanging bridge and then we are following a single trail through richly green rice-terraces. The landscape is very harmonious, even the genius watering-system is fitting perfectly into the countryside and we listen fascinated to the murmurs of the water. Not far from us the rice farmers are treshing the rice in the traditional way. They are telling us that rice is growing in Bali extraordinarily good, thus providing up to 3 crops a year for the farmers. A small rice-temple at the edge of the fields, overcrowded with sacrifices, seems to be made responsible for this fortune. It is dedicated to the rice-god "Dewi Sri" and is extremely worshipped by the farmers.
We are climbing on our bikes again, following the digs of the watering-system, the "veins of Bali". Suddenly someone yells "Andu mau kelepa?" out of the coconut-trees - "Do you want coconuts? - One for 10.000 rupies?" That is far too much and after short tradings we are enjoying the soft white meat of the fresh fruits we have bought now for 3.000 rupies (30 cent) in the shade of the coconut-trees. Having regained our strength, we can easily absolve the remainder of our tour, reaching finally the small artist village Ubud.
The fragrance of Frangipani blossoms mixed with the scent of fresh cloves is filling our noses as we circle carefully with our bikes around the plastic covers where the cloves, rice grains and also the hot red chilis have been laid out to dry in the sun. The highland is very furtile. Also coffee, cacao, vanilla, pineapple and several other tropic fruits are to find thriving and prospering. The street, a mix of asphalt and gravel, is getting steeper as we are getting to the big caldera of the Batur volcano. We are longing for a refreshment which we gratefully buy at one of the countless fruitstands in form of a green fruit which none of us can identify. Our knowledges of English are pretty useless here in the highland and as we ask "apa ini?" (what is that?) we get the answer "sirsak", which means Guanabana or soursop. Well, we do buy 5 pieces of that fruit and the salesgirl is smiling broadly as she realizes that we do not know how to eat it. She is kind enough to show us the secret of opening this tropic fruit.
After this delicious snack we put the chain in the big gear and are climbing up to the caldera of the Gunung Batur. 78 years ago this monster has erupted for the last time, 60.000 houses have been destroyed. Lately it is quiet around it, only in 1998 a small eruption has scarred the inhabitants of the villages Kolombo, Pura Yati and Songan. Looking from a safe side farther away from the volcano, we can observe the escape of little sulphur clouds against the blue sky. Enjoying a little downhill from the edge of the Batur volcano, we can already see the next massif, the "shellmountain" Batukaru. We can easily manage the crossing of some canyons with our high-tec bikes, and are observed kind of envious by the natives who are using their bikes mostly for the transport of coconuts, packed and stuffed in various creative ways so they can only push their bikes. Meanwhile we are rolling high above the lake Buyan, along an old stream of lava, and enjoy the sight of the glittering Indian Ocean from 1200 m height. The ride through the hilly terrain leads us to the third lake Tamblingan, than the endless downhill over 30 km begins. Before the brakes start glowing we are surprised by the sounds of a Gamelan-orchestra out of the green Banana plants. Quickly we park our bikes at the huge trunk of a palm tree and enter the thicket. In our lycra-biking clothes we don't quite match the dress-code, here everyone is dressed in precious sarongs made of silk or cotton - we are in the mid of a Hindu-wedding! The very excited party is inviting us despite our "wrong" clothing to a Copi Bali. We are escorted to a temple. The priest, a lean and striking figure, is sprinkling the bridal couple with holy water. The locks of our cameras are clicking, we feel thrilled and emotional at the same time.... Watching the ceremony, we have lost every sense of time and suddenly the sun is downing rapidly. Before it has completely fallen in flaming red behind the huge Ijen volcano, we have reached our destination in the Menjangan National Park.
For the next two days, we put our minds and souls at rest and enjoy the multicolored underwater world around a preliminary coral island.
Having regained our strength, we cross the 2 km wide Bali Stait on a ferry. A sharp wind is blowing and several dolphins are accompanying us on our short crossing to the isle of Java, the heart of the archipel. No less than 121 volcanos are forming a row on this side of the island between Serand in the west and Banyuwangi in the east. Some 27 are still active, but we are aiming only one of them! The first kilometres the asphalt is leading us through sugarcane, slightly inclining only. We pass two or three villages and refill our bodies with liquid. Two men are adoring our light aluminium-bikes and ask where we are going, "ke mana"?. We point to the mountain and answer "kawa Ijen", they are watching us unbelievingly as we climb on our bikes...nobody here can understand why one should try to climb a mountain on a bike, some of the locals have never been to the top so far.... Meanwhile we have left several villages, coffee- and caoutchouc-plantations behind us. Up here in the highland only some beemasters are living. The Bergur forest is cloudy and the sun cannot come through. To both sides the nature is getting more wildly. Rain forest is spreading and the street is getting more narrow. Everywhere around us we hear noises like chirps, humming and screaming. The thickness of the forest is keeping us from seeing more details. Sometimes it is rustling near us and monkeys are escaping to the tops of the virgin forest.
As we reach the pass in 1500 m height our bottles are nearly empty. The entrance to the Ijen National Park is not far away and we can relax our sour calfs cycling a 8 km long downhill to the plateau. It is said that Tigers and Leopards have hunted in the high grass years ago, but nowadays you won't see any of those rare animals. They are eradicated on the whole island of Java. Here in our basis camp we get to quench our thursty throats and receive an excellent Nasi Goreng meal. Sitting around the bone fire a multilingual discussion is arousing in the native language, Indonesian, English and German. We should get up early at 5 o'clock to watch the beautiful sunrise, and we still have 3 km and 400 m altitude difference on a sandy and steep piste to absolve, in order to reach the edge of the caldera, the notorious "sulphate-trail".
We're done! All by our own strength, none of us had to climb into the accompanying bus for lack of condition. We are on top and absorbe the breathtaking sights of the coastline of Java, the Bali island and the surrounding volcanos Raung and Merapi. The rising sun is sending her sunrays into the fabulous turquoise sea in the caldera....
An amazing adventure is lying behind us and we are facing a giant downhill over 40 km through Bergurforest, coffee- and cacao plantations down to the coast of the Indian Ocean.
It's almost a miracle, how the sea-turtles find their way to their home beach Sukamade. Latest discoveries say that they navigate magnetic. We do need a detailed map, thirst for adventure and good bikes to find our way to the hidden Turtle Beach in the Meru Betiri National Park.
Starting from Gilimanuk, the most western tip of the "Islands of gods" Bali, the ferry permanently crosses the "Bali Strait" to the larger neighbour island Java. The distance only is 2 km, but due to the strong current caused by the tides, the crossover almost takes 1 hour to the harbour of Ketapang. A strong wind is blowing around our faces on the most adventurous ferry, but it blows away the thick clouds covering the nearby volcano Ijen and opens the view to the peak of the 2800 m high Gunung Merapi.
From the Green Bay to Sukamade it's only 20 km through tropic vegetation with marvellous views at snow-white bays at the Indian Ocean. After 4 km on worst stone-covered roads uphill we finally can enjoy a long downhill through the most wonderful jungle with lianas, lush ferns and jungle-giants. Shy black monkeys and screaming birds observe our way from the tops of the green roof. In the plain some clear rivers are unexpected obstacles - there are no bridges, apparently they would be washed away in the floods of the Monsoon-time anyway. We use the opportunity to take a refreshing bath.
The sun has long been over its zenith as we make the last kilometres through cacao-plantations. We meet several plantation workers who are also riding by bike on these dream-trails. Unlike us, they have loaded their bikes heavily with cacao, coconuts, grass or firewood. Some of the vehicles are so wide that we have to make way for them. Late afternoon we are reaching our target and receive a friendly welcome from the guides at the basis-camp. We are the only visitors, only few tourists find their way to this interesting place. Even fewer are bike-tourists, therefore the guides are very curious and have a lot of questions like: Where are you from? How many kilometres have you made? How much is such a bike? Having answered all their questions it is our turn to ask........is the moon standing favourable? Can we watch the Sea-Turtles tonight? How many came yesterday for egg-laying?
Adi, our guide, answered: "Yesterday there were four having found their way out of the ocean. Two of those have laid the eggs and the other two have broken up, maybe they were disturbed." He is giving us instructions for rules of behaviour for the observation in the coming night and at 9 pm we are starting our little tour to the Turtle Beach. We are full of expectations and follow our guide silently through the forest. The headlights are only seldom in use as the bright moon shows us the way. Once in a while we hear screams out of the thick jungle, where wild pigs, deer, monkeys and all species of birds are living. In former days leopards and panthers have hunted the animals, today only some bats are flying soundless through the air, hunting the annoying mosquitoes.
The sound of the roaring waves of the Indian Ocean is increasing and suddenly we are standing at the end of a kilometre-long beach. In order not to disturb the Sea-Turtles upon their arrival we are waiting very still in the dunes and Adi goes to search for traces. It doesn't take long and we are receiving a light signal from a corner in the darkness. He seems to be successful! Full of expectations we follow the signal and reach Adi shortly afterwards. We are lucky! A Green Turtle is digging a hole with her fins for the eggs. But we have to wait till the egg-laying begins and Adi is giving us interesting information about the life of the Turtles at the beach of Sukamade. Since 150 million years those reptiles are living on the earth. They have adapted to the modern life of today and survived the ages of dinosaurs, ice ages and continental shifting. Once they are adults, they nearly have any other enemy than the humans. But till then it is a difficult way to grow up, only very few of the young animals survive at all. Upon their journeys between the earth parts they are travelling very long distances. Only the females return to beach where they have hatched out for the egg-laying.
We do hope that the species of these rare arts will exist very long and thank the team of the Meru Betiri National Park for their help and friendly support!
Maria, Thaddi and Werner
further storys in BALI & BEYOND September 2007