It was a little over an hour on winding roads to the sprawling Mother Temple of Besakih, nestled at the base of Mount Agung. This huge temple complex is one of the most popular tourist sites in Bali, and as such, I had to contend with numerous scams designed to rip off tourists. There was a roadblock many miles before the temple where I had to purchase a ticket, and the ticket checkpoint and parking lot were half a mile below the temple, necessitating motorbike transport up the steep road to the temple. The man at the ticket counter tried to suggest that I pay around 20 euros for the required guide, but I ended up paying 3 dollars. Unlike every other temple I've visited in Bali, Besakih does not provide sarongs, so I had to rent one for an outrageous price (well, $1.50, but that's outrageous for Bali). I used the toilet next to the ticket counter, and when I exited, a woman sitting next to the door demanded 5,000 rupiah (50 cents), even though the typical price should have been more like 1,000 rupiah. Of course, there was no sign indicating the price, so I had to pay what she asked. In retrospect, I should have just put 1,000 rupiah in the jar and walked away. Once I navigated through all the scams, the temple complex itself was actually quite impressive. The complex had a terraced design that climbed the slope of the volcano, and numerous towers jutted into the misty sky. Some of the temples date back as far as the eighth century, and the black lava stone used for construction originated from the bowels of Mount Agung itself.
I stayed in a bungalow across from the beach, and the water smelled of sulfur, a constant reminder of Bali's volcanic nature. Even with ear plugs, it was difficult to sleep that night because of the incessant crowing of roosters. It was my ignorant impression that roosters crow at sunrise, but it turns out that the avian insomniacs crow all night long.
Today, I hired transport to Tulamben further up the coast, where a fabulous World War II shipwreck rested just off the coast. It was supposed to be the best diving and snorkeling site in Bali, so I rented a snorkel and mask and splashed into the waves. Unfortunately, the rough water was churning up so much black sand that the water was too murky to see anything. The beach was composed of large, water-worn lava stones that swirled in the crashing surf. I only stayed fifteen minutes before I decided to give up and head back to Amed. The drive back was more interesting than the snorkeling: we passed one of Bali's famous ritualistic cremation processions, featuring traditional music and dress. A dried black lava flow originating from a conical volcano emptied into the sea. In Amed, the water was a little calmer and slightly clearer, and the black sand beach was softer. Still, I only saw a few fish and bits of coral. I swam out further, but it was just a murky turquoise void. I gave up on snorkeling and relaxed in my room the rest of the day.