The Lovina Tour

On Saturday, Prescott and I took what our hosts at Lata Lama called “The Lovina Tour”: eight hours of driving, trekking, swimming, soaking, sightseeing, high adrenaline, and serene meditation. We started out with a drive up, up, up into the hills just southeast of Lovina Beach. At this point, we weren’t really sure where we were going; a quick glance at the map revealed that we were not headed toward any of the locations recommended by our guidebook. But we trusted our host, who’d grown up in the area, and figured something good would happen.

When we stopped at a ticket booth for something called “Sambangan Secret Garden,” I wasn’t sure what we’d gotten ourselves into. The guy wanted to charge us an outrageous 500,000 rupiah (that’s about $34 US) for a trek to see some waterfalls and a lagoon. That’s a huge amount of money by northern Indonesia standards (for comparison, we had had hour-long massages the day before for a combined total of 200,000 rupiah, including tip), and I am used to doing my hiking for free. But the pictures looked intriguing and our host sounded confident, so we handed over the cash with some reluctance and left ourselves in the hands of a young local guide.

We had selected the “medium” trek, which started with this view down over the rice paddies and out to the sea:

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While they do grow some rice in the mountains of north Bali, this drier section of the island is better known for producing coffee, chilis, and cloves. We walked through a forest marked by scraggly clove trees (if you squint, you can see one to the left of Prescott’s elbow below).

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Our first stop was at a local villager’s house, where they gave us coconuts to quench our thirst. We were also presented with this:

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I have seen a lot of fruit in my time, but this one was new to me. It turns out that this is a cocoa pod — in other words, this is where chocolate starts out (though you would have to ferment, roast, and grind the innards to actually get anything resembling cocoa). If you are impatient (as I am) and don’t want to wait for chocolate (as I don’t), you can just suck on the custardy flesh surrounding the beans in a fresh cocoa pod — it tastes a little sweet and a little tangy, like mangosteen — and then spit the beans out. Prescott wondered why anyone would bother doing that …

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… while I really enjoyed the experience and ate (or sucked on, to be more precise) almost all of the fruit.

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We spent a while chilling on the family’s thatch-covered seating wooden platform (these are common in southeast Asia), which was unexpectedly relaxing. I also took a turn attempting to play a bamboo xylophone that I think is called a tingklik — clearly set out for the tourists — which is tuned in a key that makes western songs sound pretty awful.

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We continued on our way through the forest to a spot that they call the Blue Lagoon. This place was magical.

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We were the only people there (I think the 500,000 rupiah bought us some privacy). It was peaceful and perfect.

Our guide led us up above the small waterfall, where we swam in a smaller pool at the base of a narrow gorge before jumping back into the lagoon. The swimming was a little chilly and absolutely ideal.

While I was swimming, I discovered a nest of white-crowned forktail chicks in a nest tucked into the underside of a wet rock cliff. That was amazing! I was so sorry to leave this place.

Our walk continued with a stop to look at at Aling Aling Falls, which is spectacular …

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… but which does not afford any swimming opportunities:

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I’m not sure what makes one waterfall holy and another one not, but the distinction was drawn for us several times on our journey.

Fortunately, just a few hundred meters away, we came to another set of waterfalls — Pucuk, Kroya, and Kembar (I never figured out which was which) — which was clearly the main attraction for all of the other visitors to the area. Here you can jump into deep pools from rocks that are five, ten, or fifteen meters above the water (we did the five meter jump, which seemed like plenty). You can also slide down a waterfall!!!

That was very exciting (and much better the second time down, when I learned that it’s better not to scream, because screaming leads to a sudden and undesirable water intake).

There’s a smaller slide down a much smaller waterfall, too, which you can do without a life jacket. The bigger stuff is thrilling and heart-pounding. And all of it felt what I would call “third world safe” — the guides helped us get our positioning right and provided us wth life vests, but you would never catch something like this being allowed in the US. There wasn’t a safety warning in sight.

We finished our walk through a more populated segment of rice fields, where they have built pretty scarecrows just for the tourists:

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This was an expensive tour by Bali standards, but we both agreed that it was worth every penny. I would go back in a heartbeat.

We next hopped back in our minivan, drove back down to the coast, and headed west to woods that house the Air Panas Banjar Hot Spring:

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At first it was a mystery to me why anyone would want to go to a hot spring in the heat and humidity of Bali, but the water was at just about body temperature, which meant that it was a bit like being in the calm of a sensory deprivation tank. It was surprisingly peaceful despite the crowds …

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… and I loved that you could stand underneath dragon spouts:

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The final stop on our tour took us to Brahmavihara Arama, the largest Buddhist temple and meditation center in Bali. Less than 1% of Bali’s population is Buddhist (the only non-Muslim island in the world’s most populist Islamic nation, Bali is about 85% Hindu), so this temple is one of just a handful dotted around the island. To say that is it a single temple is a bit of a misnomer, however, because there are at least three or four temples on the grounds. When you walk around, you’ll find a cluster of temple buildings…

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… stupas …

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… and a scaled-down model of Borobudur, a giant Buddhist temple structure that was built on Java in the ninth century:

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The original Borobudur consists of nine stacked platforms and is the largest Buddhist temple in the world. This replica is roughly one and half stories tall and houses a large, dark room on the lower level:

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Brahmavihara Arama was founded in 1970 by a monk who has been rendered in an oddly lifelike fashion inside one the buildings on the temple grounds:

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The statuary here is both expected …

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… and unlike anything I’ve ever seen at a Buddhist temple before (the dragon head seems quintessentially Balinese):

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Before dinner, Prescott and I walked down to Lovina Beach for another sunset over the mountains of east Java.

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It’s wonderful to watch a sudden stillness settle over the boats along the shore.

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But our favorite part of this outing wasn’t the sunset — it was picking up dead fish on the beach (we scraped them onto leaves) and feeding them to stray kittens!

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This may sound like a strange form of entertainment, but trust me, it was fun.

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For dinner, we decided to stay in and order Lata Lama’s version of room service: an enormous buffet cooked in-house by Indonesian women who really know their stuff. This was a splurge (another 500,000 rupiah) and too much food, but totally worth it. We had fresh whole barbecue fish, pepes ikan (fish cakes wrapped in banana leaves, which look repulsive and taste out of this world) …

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… corn fritters, fried tempeh, greens, krupuk (prawn crackers — a personal favorite), and a fruit platter. Delicious!

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