Our third location in Bali was the Menjangan Hotel in Bali Barat (West Bali) National Park, the journey from Ubud was estimated to take six hours including a couple of stops and lunch so we set of promptly at 08.30. The route took us through the centre of Bali passing over the mountains in the middle of the island, the ever-present scooters buzzed around us in all the towns and villages and the further we got from the commercial and tourist centres the narrower the roads became. Through the mountain they were also very steep and winding, we were very happy to have the services of our trusty driver.
First stop, after two hours drive was a temple called Pura Batukaru on the slopes of mount Batukaru, although the temple buildings were similar to others we had seen (as you would expect) once again the setting was wonderful, Pura Batukaru was set deep in the forest halfway up the mountain, it was surrounded by tall dense forest which gave it a particular sense of calm. We got there quite early in the morning and were almost the only visitors there, we quietly watched temple staff and worshipers going about their business and walked down to the lake just below the temple to watch the fish and the butterflies. From Pura Batukaru we drove East briefly to visit an area of the mountains which has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage site, in particular a village called Jatiluwih which translates to ‘really, really beautiful’, it didn’t disappoint. The approach to the village was via a narrow lane that is supervised by villagers, they manage the flow of traffic to make sure there are no issues with cars trying to pass one another, and take a small fee from visitors. One good thing about this narrow approach is it is too tight for coaches so Jatiluwih doesn’t get too swamped with tourists. The UNESCO status is designed to protect the important forest in the area and the traditional rice farming landscape and practice. The rice fields we had seen outside Ubud were family farms growing rice for family consumption; here in the mountains production is on a much bigger, commercial scale but is still done by hand in the traditional way. We drove through the forest and emerged below the village at the foot of a set of terraces, looking up we could see people working in the fields, it looked idyllic but is certainly very hard work. We drove up the hill towards the village and as we did the view of the valley opened up revealing rice terraces as far as we could see, it was… really, really beautiful! We stopped to take some pictures and then followed Agung down the narrow paths between the fields and across to the other end of the village where we found a lovely restaurant for lunch. We sat on the covered deck looking out over the village and enjoyed a selection of Balinese dishes from a buffet. A bottle of Biatang, the local beer, to wash it down and fresh fruit to follow and we were ready to continue our journey.
We stopped briefly to visit a lake side temple called Pura Ulun Danu Bratan which was very picturesque but also very busy and then settled in for the final three hours of our journey.
The road continued over the mountains heading away from the tourist areas through ‘real’ Bali, we reached the North coast and turned left towards Bali Barat. Eventually, as we started to get stiff sitting in the car we turned into a National Park track and saw a sign for the Menjangan Hotel, the track was unpaved and we rattled down it for about 3km finally pulling up alongside a 5-storey wooden tower with thatched roofing on each level, reception! We were warmly welcomed with cold towels and a cold drink while the hotel staff checked us in and introduced the map of the hotel, our villa was about 3km further on by the beach and we were offered a lift down in a safari style jeep with seats on the roof. We waved goodbye to Agung and our driver, they had another 4 hours in the car to get back to Denpasar, climbed on the roof and set off. It took about 10 minutes to get to the beach driving through the protected forest of the National Park, when we got there the hotel driver took our bags and led us along a boardwalk to our beach villa, he let us in and showed us our beautiful room. The large villa, very similar in shape to the ones we stayed in in Samoa and Fiji was dominated by a huge bed on a platform and swathed in mosquito netting. In front of the bed glass doors opened out onto a deck and the sea lapping the beach about 10ft in front. At the back of the villa more doors opened onto a completely enclosed outdoor bathroom with a large stone bath, monsoon shower (appropriate!) and a loo. It was all very modern, very high spec and very secluded. Back along the boardwalk there was a waterside bar and restaurant with about eight tables on a deck over the water, perfect for a cocktail and an early supper.
We had two full days at the Menjangan, the first one we spent on the beach and in our villa when it rained. The beach was covered with mangrove trees which make the water muddy, and was quite rocky so we were advised to swim on the other side of the restaurant where a jetty led out to clear water, we grabbed masks, snorkels and fins and went to have a look. As we walked along the jetty we could see shoals of thousands of fish, all about six inches long, it almost looked like there wouldn’t be room for us in the water. We climbed in and ducked under to discover an endless variety of tropical fish completely un-phased by our presence, it was great and we stayed in for quite a while. Eventually we got out and started to walk back to our villa, only to come across two large deer grazing next to the path, they were equally un-phased by our presence so we watched them for about five minutes before quietly walking on and leaving them to it.
Next morning we had an early breakfast and caught a boat from the jetty out to Menjangan Island about 30 minutes off shore, we had been told that the snorkelling and diving there was among the best in Indonesia so we thought we should check it out. The water was as smooth as a mirror as our party of 6 guests set off, and as we headed towards the island we saw flying fish gliding over the surface. The skipper moored just of Temple Point, named after the temple on the cliff overlooking the sea where groups of curious worshippers watched us approach and waved to us as we moored. Once in the water we were blown away, this was the reef we had expected to see on the Great Barrier Reef, although it had been damaged by a storm last year there was living coral, anemones and so many fish we couldn’t count the species let alone the individual fish. We stayed in the water for about 40 minutes but during that time the tide carried in a raft of rubbish which wasn’t very pleasant so we headed back to the boat and set of for another dive site. At eel garden we moored up again and jumped in the water, our guide explained that we were going to swim along the edge of the reef which extended about 50 meters out from the shore, at that point the reef wall dropped away disappearing into the depths further than we could see. We were going to swim along the outer edge of the reef to a headland further on where the boat would meet us. The next hour or more was just magical, we saw all kinds of fish and coral and swam over crevices in the reef wall where the sea below us descended into blackness and it didn’t take much to imagine sharks and sea monsters lurking below; over the reef where the water was shallow it was very warm, but as we swam over these deep crevices the temperature dropped adding to the drama. The water was very clear and we took some lovely pictures, I will let them do the talking here, what they can’t show is the wonder of watching a brightly coloured parrot fish nibbling away at the coral and being able to hear him chipping at the rock, what a fantastic experience. After a picnic lunch on the boat we stopped at one more dive site where the other guest went in one more time hoping to see a shark – Mark and I stayed on the boat and watched storm clouds and lightening form over the three volcanoes visible on the coast of Java just a few miles ahead.
We had our last evening meal at the waterside restaurant and headed for bed tired, exhilarated and slightly sunburned. In the morning we called for a jeep to take us for breakfast at the Tower where we had checked in, and at 8.30 Agung arrived to collect us and take us back to Denpasar for our flight to Yogyakarta on the island of Java
2 thoughts on “Bali Barat”
The variations in the colour of the fishes (on their little dishies!) among the reef always leaves me in awe and wonder. Inspiration Mark for anew fish tank in Cornwall? ps my 4 fishes are still alive!!
Could well be a new tank ahead!