Ubud & Mt Batur
From Nusa Lembongan, it was a straightforward ferry trip then long ride share to our accommodation in the heart of Ubud (how could a 22 km journey take 75 minutes??). Our hotel looked like a temple on the outside, which caused us quite a bit of confusion. Once it was confirmed that yes, this was where we were sleeping, we dumped our bags and ventured into town.
On our previous trip to Ubud, we visited most of the popular tourist sights (you can read about it here). We weren’t interested in repeating ourselves, so we planned a different itinerary this time around.
Lunch was our first priority, and we stuffed ourselves to bursting point at a popular restaurant serving local food. Afterwards, we wandered around the city centre, taking in a small temple and the repetitive street markets. The roads were crammed full of cars, scooters, tourists and touts, and the humidity was just as oppressive as it was on the island. It had been 9 years since we last visited Ubud, and my recollections were of a place that was much more laid back than this (admittedly, that holiday was not in peak tourist season). To cope with the madness, we went bar-hopping around town, following happy hour signs for the rest of the afternoon.
Who is crazy enough to set a 1.50 a.m. alarm in the middle of their holiday? We are. Although we eagerly anticipated our climb up Mt Batur for sunrise, the 2 hours of sleep and the steady rain falling outside dampened our spirits. The rain continued to pour for the entire van ride out to our breakfast stop, but thankfully it disappeared as soon as we stepped outside. Our guide offered the group fried bananas and coffee (both of which I declined - my stomach was not up for breakfast at 3 a.m.) before shuttling us off to the start point of the hike.
Van after van of tour groups rolled into the carpark, unloading hundreds of tourists who were ready to undertake the trek up the mountain. Our group of 8 dashed off at a fast pace, but with the first 3 km being entirely on a paved road, it was easy going. Cars and scooters carrying both tourists and locals continuously raced past us, ruining the ambience that I usually love when hiking. Our guide pointed out various vegetable patches beside us as we walked, but as it was pitch black it was sort of pointless.
Finally, we turned off the road and onto a paved path, which quickly disappeared and transformed into soft dirt and gravel. Now this was my sort of hiking. Our guide gave us frequent breaks, which I think most of us found unnecessary. Panic started to rise in my chest when I saw light coming into the sky, but we were still well below the summit.
We reached the crater rim, at 1,717 metres, just as the sun started peaking out over the horizon. I had to fight for a decent vantage point among all the other tourists crowded into the area. It had only been a short hike (4.3 km, and a fairly easy one at that), making it accessible for almost anyone who wanted a sleepless night. My mind quickly forgot about the trek up here and instead focused on the immense scene in front of me. Bursts of yellow and orange streaked across the sky, while a blanket of clouds sat right below us. A large mountain dominated most of the photos, and silver reflections formed on a placid lake at the foot of the mountain when the clouds parted. I was completely enthralled by the ever-changing sight.
It wasn’t long before the clouds filled the sky and the view vanished. Apparently that was some sort of signal, as it was right about this time that several troops of monkeys started climbing up towards us from inside the crater. They eagerly rummaged around the site, looking for any scraps of food they could get their hands on. One monkey perched itself on my backpack that I had thrown on a bench, and for a second I was worried that it might be the last time I saw my bag. A couple of local dogs who had followed us up began barking and chasing the monkeys, causing a tense standoff. No one was hurt.
When it was time to descend, our guide led us down a different path that meandered through a pine forest. It would have been beautiful if not for the procession of motorbikes passing by carrying passengers. The hike didn’t feel like such a feat when we knew others were getting a lift to the top and back down again.
After 2.5 km we arrived back on the road, from where it was an easy walk down to the car park. This time we could see all the veggies our guide had labelled for us, thriving in the volcanic soil. It seemed like there were a lot fewer people walking down and a lot more vehicles passing us.
Halfway back to Ubud, our van stopped at a coffee plantation and the driver compelled us to join a tour. As the drivers were paid to stop, there was no way they would skip this place, even when we all begged him to. Most of us were exhausted and just wanted to sleep. He assured us it would only be 20 minutes. 7 of us stayed in the van. One woman got out. An hour later she returned, full of coffee and ready to take on the day. We didn’t feel so perky.
Back in our hotel, we achieved a brief power nap (that was all our minds would allow us) then took off in search of lunch. I discovered a vegan buffet in a quiet garden setting, which was so good I helped myself to seconds. It was incredibly cheap and they offered me free jackfruit as I was leaving, freshly removed from the fruit. Ripe jackfruit is one of the foods I have missed greatly since leaving Asia.
To walk off the excess calories, we ventured along the popular Campuhan Ridge walk. My memories of this path were of an idyllic countryside stroll through lush vegetation and views out over rice fields. The reality was quite different. Although it started out quiet and leafy, the further we progressed, the more guesthouses, souvenir stores, cafes and construction we encountered. The rice fields were almost non-existent and the views were severely lacking. It was anything but peaceful.
We returned to a bar we visited yesterday, as their cocktails were the best we had tried and it was only a 1-minute walk from our hotel. We sat upstairs on the balcony, near another couple who were next to the railing. The bar staff warned them not to sit so close to the edge, as monkeys often wandered by and they could become inquisitive. The warning was ignored. It wasn’t long before several monkeys came rambling by, navigating the power lines and overhanging branches to reach the balcony. A platter of food was saved, but one monkey ran off with their bottle of chilli sauce. A few metres away he attempted to crack into it with his teeth. After realising his attempts were futile, he dropped it on the ground and ran off. The glass bottle smashed on the pavement below, miraculously not hitting anyone. We made a mental note to never sit on the edge of the balcony in Bali in future.