Although we’d come to terms with the fact that we wouldn’t be able to climb Mount Agung, we couldn’t seem to shake the desire to climb something, so we decided to head to Tirta Gangga to hike up Pura Lempuyang Temple, see the Water Palace and do some trekking. Courtney calls a recommended guide ahead of time and we arrange to meet him first thing the next morning to discuss routes for the day’s trek. The shuttle rates that Nick’s listed are high for our liking, but the man at ‘reception’ assures us that his friend can give us a private ride for less. The next morning, he writes his friend’s name ‘Ketut’ and ‘white car’ on a paper and directs us out front. The man in the white car is not named Ketut, but he seems to be our guy, so we hop in the car questioning our judgment in driving halfway across an unknown country with the friend of a friend of a friend. We quickly find that his friend is our friend, and that for the most part in Bali, taxis are somebody’s friend.
We arrive in Tirta Gangga and our stuff is quickly whisked into a bungalow at Good Karma homestay, not where our reservation is, but it’s pretty and cheap so we go with it and head off to find our guide (also Ketut). When we find him, he explains that actually he can’t guide us on our trekking excursion, because he has ceremony today, but his friend will drive us to the base of the temple and we can trek tomorrow. Either he is incredibly forgetful or this was a great big ruse to get us out to Tirta Gangga because regardless of whether we trek, we’ll spend money. But the thing with the Balinese is that they are so friendly and good-natured that even when you’re being conned it’s quite difficult to be upset. Plus the place is called Good Karma, how can you not just go with the flow?
When we get to the base of Pura Lempuyang, we are greeted by Wayan Bon Dobi “like the American rocker.” He speaks very good English (“from experience, I am not an educated man”), but he speaks it so quickly that I can barely keep up! He rents us sarongs and belts so that everyone knows that we are ‘OK’ when we’re walking around the temples and offers to guide us. Honestly, as kind as he is 10 minutes has left my head spinning; if I had to hike up 1,750 stairs with the man I might hop off the top.
We start the hike and find that the mountain is as crowded as expected, but not with tourists! In fact, we are one of the few non-Balinese faces I see. It is one of the two annual major ceremonies in Bali, so folks have come from all over the country on a pilgrimage to the temple. There are large groups of school children who have come to see the temple and camp at the base and you can only imagine our surprise when they ask us if they can get a photo with us. After shooting this shot, one girl explains to me “she my best friend” and the other yells out “forever!” and they run down the hill in fits of giggles. I see myself at 12 and realize that teenage girldom is universal.
The only thing more shocking than our new-found celebrity status come later when we have hiked up much further. The fog has begun to fill in and it is a truly beautiful site. We have almost reached the top of one of the holiest, most remote temples in Bali and we hear none other than the voice of Justin Bieber ringing through an MP3.
Courtney left our ‘monkey stick’ (yes, we were actually given a monkey stick) at the base of the trek, and it turns out to be a near fatal mistake. One minute we’re laughing at a group of monkeys playing in the trail, and the next minute one of the cute little monkeys is charging at me, teeth bared. Not long into our marriage, and Courtney is already having to defend my honor, literally lunging at monkeys yelling ‘ska, ska! no!’
It truly was a beautiful experience. There are four major temples and a number of smaller ones and it seems that at any given time there is a ceremony going on at each one. Anywhere you are on the mountain, chanting and the smell of incense are ringing through the air.
By the time we get back down, my legs feel like jello. Courtney comments “that was quite a trek, we sure conquered those 1,750 steps!” and I can’t help but point out that yes we did, right behind the grandmothers with baskets, water, cement or offerings balanced carefully on their head, while carrying babies.
After resting for a bit, we head to a local cafe for what turns out to be the best and most authentic meal we’ve had yet (tuna in Balinese sauce in a banana leaf and a jackfruit pudding with a delicious rice wine) before heading to the Water Palace for a photo shoot and a sunset.