Ulu Watu by Motorbike

Day 130: Kuta, Bali, Indonesia
Luhur temple at Ulu Watu, Bali, Indonesia © Matt Prater
Luhur temple perches on a seaside cliff at Ulu Watu in southern Bali, Indonesia.
This morning, no tours were available, but a guy at the agency, Rey, offered to take me to Luhur temple at Ulu Watu on his motorbike for a much cheaper price than the air-conditioned van trips. We left at 3:30 so I could watch the sunset at the eleventh-century clifftop temple. It was a 45-minute white-knuckle ride on the back of Rey's motorbike. We dodged in and out of traffic, zooming into the oncoming lane to pass vehicles that were going slightly slower. When we slowed down in heavy traffic, the front tire of Rey's bike was mere inches from the back tire of the bike in front of us. We passed trucks so close that I could have touched them, and I had to make sure my knees weren't sticking out where they could hit another vehicle. I felt like I could have fallen off at any time, and I gripped tightly to the handles placed awkwardly behind my seat. I tried to relax, knowing that everyone in Bali drives like this, but it was quite a nerve-racking ride at times. We went up a steep hill at one point; I tried to adjust to keep from falling off the back of the motorbike, and I lost one of my flip-flops. I've been looking for an excuse to get a new pair anyway, as the cheap pair I've been wearing since Namibia are getting quite worn.

When we finally arrived at Ulu Watu, I told Rey I had lost a flip-flop and asked him if there were any vendors where I could buy a new pair. He nodded, and I proceeded barefoot with Rey to the ticket booth. I figured there would be vendors inside the temple area, as there have been at other attractions in Bali. We walked all around the temple complex – up and down stone stairs, along rough pathways next to the seaside cliffs - and I asked Rey quite a few times if I could please go buy some flip-flops now! After a while, Rey finally realized the situation, and he took me out of the temple complex to a nearby row of vendors, where I finally bought a new pair of flip-flops for my now filthy, tender feet. I don't know if he just didn't understand what I was saying – most Balinese speak quite broken English – but I would have thought that my plight would be obvious with me standing barefoot, holding one flip-flop, and asking where I could buy a new pair.

With my feet now enjoying the protection of my new pair of flip-flops, we went back into the temple area. Annoying, cheeky macaque monkeys were roaming the place, and we had to watch to make sure they didn't try to take anything from us. We saw one nab a girl's earring, and numerous people warned me to protect my glasses from the thieving monkeys. It's one thing to walk around barefoot, but I certainly didn't want to ride on a motorbike all the way back to Kuta blind. Although I didn't have any food in my backpack, at one point I was going down a large flight of stone steps, and a macaque bared its teeth and pounced onto my back from the wall next to the stairway. I ran at top speed down the steps and the monkey dropped off. As much of a nuisance as these animals are, tourists for some reason love to risk their earrings and have their pictures taken with the vile creatures. Vendors sell nuts and bananas at the entrance to the temple, and it seemed to me that the practice of feeding the macaques just exacerbates the problem. However, I soon found out otherwise: Rey bought a pack of nuts and threw one at a monkey whenever one seemed about to jump on us. It was a useful diversion tactic. One massive, fierce-looking macaque cornered us as we walked down a wooded pathway. Rey just chucked the whole bag at the beast, and we ran. Locals and tourists seem to be equally cautious of the macaques; they sport a mean set of fangs and are ruthless in their attempt to obtain food.

At sunset, I made my way to the clifftop theater at Ulu Watu, where I enjoyed one of the Kecak dances for which Bali is famous. This dance is the interpretation of a story from the Ramayana, a Hindu epic. The strange chanting was hypnotic, the costumes were elaborate and beautiful, and the fiery finale was spectacular, but it was difficult to follow the story with little to no knowledge of the Ramayana. But for the performance alone, it was definitely worth seeing.

Kecak dance, Ulu Watu, Bali, Indonesia © Matt Prater
A masked performer dodges flames during a Kecak dance at Ulu Watu in southern Bali, Indonesia.

After the dance, it was half an hour to Jimbaran Bay. I was getting slightly more comfortable on the back of Rey's motorbike, but maybe it's just because it was dark and I couldn't see anything. At Jimbaran, I ate dinner at a seafood restaurant on the beach. My table was actually in the sand. I selected some massive king prawns and fresh snapper, and the restaurant barbecued them Balinese-style. The prawns were as big as my foot and tasted excellent, but the snapper had too many tiny bones for my taste. After my seafood feast, it was only twenty minutes back to Kuta, and I could relax knowing that I didn't have to endure any more of that motorbike. I wanted to set up a tour for tomorrow, but I tried a different tactic: I went up to a random tour vendor on Poppies Gang I, and I asked how much it would be to hire a private vehicle and driver for a whole day. I told him where I wanted to go, and he quoted me a price of $35 – not bad for a private, custom tour to locations all around the island.