February 9th, 2015 - Ubud, Bali
After a month of settling into my coding routine in Ubud, last week was a departure back to the traveling lifestyle, as I took advantage of our week long break to explore Lombok’s Gili Islands and Bali’s remote northern coastline. Mentally, it felt spectacular to be back on the move and was a great reminder about why I embarked on this trip originally: to explore amazing places. Both Bali and Gili Trawangan are stunningly beautiful, and snorkeling in February is always a plus.
The Gili Islands are one of those tropical paradises you’re more likely to see on Pinterest than with your own eyes. They are composed of three tiny islands ringed by white sand beaches, with no fresh water yet a bustling tourist industry. The water is crystal clear blue and a massive coral reef teeming with fish surrounds the island.
We arrived by taking a ferry across the Wallace Straight, the body of water running between Lombok and Bali and the biogeographical line of demarkation between Australia and Asia. The depth of the ocean is the deepest in the Indonesian archipelago, reaching up to 1.2KM and making it impossible for land-bound species to cross, even when global ice ages caused the ocean levels to drop hundreds of meters.
Our crew of Ruby On The Beach travelers dispersed to our separate digs around the island, and I teamed up with Dan and Luca, two fellow aspiring code monkeys, to find “Little Woodstock”, our tiny bungalow complex set halfway to the other side of the island. We wiled away our time on the island lounging on the burning beaches, snorkeling the surrounding reef, and drinking our fair share of Bintang beers to accompany the gorgeous sunset views.
After three wonderful days on Gili Tarawangan, Luca and I returned to our villas in Ubud on Tuesday evening for a spectacular night’s rest and some much needed clean clothes, but immediately upon rising the following morning I set off again, this time via motorbike. Over the next three days, I took a loop around Bali’s northeastern corner, taking in breathtaking views at every step along the way.
Upon departing Ubud and heading North, I didn’t get that far out of town when I encountered a gorgeous panorama view of cascading rice fields into one of the surrounding valleys. The farmers terrace the fields to take advantage of as much land as they can, and I stopped for a coffee at one of the hillside cafes, just listening to the water slowly percolate down from one layer to the next.
As I steadily progressed North, the islands massive peaks began to come into view, and before long I was greeted by a stunning view of dueling volcanos separated by a glassy lake.
Instead of following the planned route around the peaks, I decided to traverse the road that paralleled the lake far below. As I descended into the valley, I was dwarfed in size not only by the massive mountains and their respective calderas, but also by gigantic volcanic rocks left over from the most recent eruption. The towns in the valley were completely remote and untracked by tourists, which made for some delightful interactions as I whizzed by young children on their way home from school.
In the afternoon, with my backside getting increasingly sore after riding for so long, I arrived in Lovina and haggled with a few different guest house owners before finding decent accommodation for the evening. Traveling to remote locations in the down season has tremendous advantages, and the prices in Lovina were a world away from the Gili Islands or even Ubud. Just steps away from my room, I made my way down to the ocean for sunset and took in a fiercely competitive game of locals playing volleyball.
Not particularly enchanted by Lovina, which was a relatively quiet town with just one main street of guesthouses and restaurants, I woke up early the following morning for an absolutely stunning ride along the northern coast, bound for Amed but in no particular hurry. As the sun began to peak over the onward horizon, I was greeted by gorgeous views of mist rising over the rice fields on my right as the fishing boats made their way out to sea on my left.
Every half hour or so, I encountered another town with a bustling morning market, replete with farmers hawking produce from all over the area, fresh seafood, and uniformed school children grabbing a bite to eat from one of the many breakfast stands. Leaving so early enabled me to make great time, and before 9AM I was already on the outskirts of Amed, where I stopped for breakfast at Batu Belah, a tiny set of bungalows facing out over the Ocean’s endless expanse to the North.
As I was the only customer, my pit stop here was one of those perfect off the beaten path traveling experiences. Over breakfast, I had a fascinating and informative conversation with the owner, a British man named Colin who has lived in Bali for 16 years now. He was chalk full of interesting tidbits about the surrounding coastline villages and Balinese culture, having married a local and raised two girls on the island. In exchange for helping him with some issues he was having with his computer, Colin even provided me with some snorkeling gear to explore the reef right off of his tiny beach, which was, in his words: “an absolute aquarium”. It was beautiful.
In the early afternoon, I arrived and explored around Amed, which is not really a town at all but rather a series of fishing villages, strung together with tourism infrastructure, along the Northeastern tip of Bali. Throughout the afternoon, I snorkeled some amazing spots in the surrounding area and relaxed along stretches of black sand beach.
The following morning, I was awoken by a rapping on my door at 5:15AM. “Matt!” a voice called, “Time to wake up!” Although every fiber of my being wanted to roll over and get another couple hours of sleep, one of the local fisherman had convinced me it would be a blast to head out fishing with him the following morning. So with the full moon still illuminating the night sky and a bounty of stars overhead, I head out fishing with Putu, who trawls the gorgeous surrounding waters each morning for mackerel, mahi mahi, and barracuda. The calming silence of Putu's sailboat cutting through the current combined with the ocean’s spray leaping up to kiss my face was the perfect way to start your day. As we sat there, waiting for the fish to bite along his line, dawn began to peek its early morning rays of light over Lombok’s volcanoes in the east.
Finally, the sun made its grand appearance and the massive ball of light rose rapidly into the morning sky, extinguishing the remaining stars and illuminating the multitude of other fishing sailboats trawling their morning lines. It was a spectacular morning, not blighted in the least due to the lack of biting fish, as Putu maintained his cheery spirit throughout.
That afternoon, I made my way back to Ubud, taking the long road through the mountain pass and enjoying spectacular views as I criss-crossed luscious hillsides.
That evening, I returned to Ubud, tired but feeling accomplished and recharged after six amazing days on the road. For now it's back to coding and learning, but I won't be surprised when wanderlust strikes again.