Sunday, 27 November 2011

Crater and destroyer

Saturday 26th November, 2011, 7.45am; An unknown guest house, Batur, Bali
Total km: 59.8

A butterfly that we bumped into on the way.
We left Dana guesthouse at a little past 11am, and set out towards the road that encircled the city. Traffic was fairly light, although we are still learning the rules of the road here, as we often found ourselves blocking the left lane at traffic lights, or not being sure how to get across into the right lane to make a turn. These were minor issues though, and the ride was nice and flat all the way to Ubud. It was hot though, and we frequently stopped at warungs for a cold drink from the fridge to keep us cool and hydrated.

Ubud seemed to mark the point where the land began to rise towards the volcanoes that sat a little north of the centre of the island. It began as a slight incline, and very gradually became steeper, then levelled out for a little while, then inclined again. Our destination was a dormant volcano called Mt Batur that sat at around 1700m.

Lihat Peta Lebih Besar

The road from Ubud to Batur went on and on. Villages rolled into other villages, and all of them apparently made a living selling wood or stone carvings. Each area seemed to specialise in a certain kind of produce. So one town sold stone buddhas, and mosaic bowls, another sold lots of large spiders and skeleton masks, various areas sold large faces carved into tree stumps. It went on and on, as the road got steeper and steeper, and we just had to wonder: who buys this stuff?! One small village made its money from selling wooden Pinocchios. Shop after shop selling the little fellas, all identical. Who is buying them?

The stone work in Bali is something to be marvelled at.
We should be careful not to knock the craftsmanship too much, because some of it was remarkable. Enormous eagles chiselled out of great branches of wood. Ferocious demons carved from stone. Some of it was fantastic. But seeing these things, even the fantastic ones, replicated over and over, from town to town, as we pedalled up one long straight road, did make us a little jaded to it all.

6pm rolled round, and the sun set. Cicadas from hell began screeching in the trees along the side of the road, accurately mimicking the displeased spirit of a 1980's sheet fed printer. It was so loud at first we thought it was somebody working a angle grinder or a chainsaw somewhere. The air began to cool off though, which was a relief given that we were both sweating profusely. It is one thing taking weekend cycling trips around the cool climate of Victoria, Australia – as we had done to prepare ourselves for this, but it is something else tackling kilometres in tropical heat. All of our clothes had become completely saturated with sweat, and I had to flick my fingers every two minutes or so to rid myself of the drops that kept accumulating there and were soaking the handlebars.

The conundrum was that we weren't sure how far we had to go, and it was going to get dark rapidly. A quick google map search earlier in the day revealed that it was about 65km from Denpassar to Batur. As the sun went down we asked a few people along the way, and in a 5km stretch of road received the following answers: 2km, 6km, 15km, and 50km. We did double check that last one, and he insisted that it was indeed 50km. Although this guy was trying to get us to buy a lift off him, so we took that with a pinch of salt.

As well as wanting to reach the top of the mountain in the first day, and therefore have a run of downhill for day number two, we also became aware that there wasn't really anywhere to stay on this road. As dusk set in the shop doors closed, all the houses we past became dark, and the only people on the streets were groups of young kids on mopeds, who shouted boisterously at us as we heave-ho'd past them. We had our tent, but there was nowhere to pull off into, and pitch it. The land was either being farmed, or lived upon by people. Any small lanes we saw leading off from the road had dogs guarding them that eyed us with hostility.

Night fell like a lead weight, and the road took on a sharper incline. It was hard to tell how hot it was because we were working so hard to keep moving, but were still streaming with sweat. Had it cooled off? How far was it? We hardly had time to think about such things because as we approached another little village along the road, with the human inhabitants nowhere to be seen, the sound of a dog barking loudly bit through the quiet night wind. More barks came, and a street dog came marching down the road at us, barking quickly and continuously, and coming right for us.

The street dogs are sedate during daylight
hours, but when the sun goes down...
Bali has a problem with rabies. We had heard from the couple at the billiard club the night before that two people had been killed by an infected animal the week before. But being bitten, even by an animal that was rabid, wouldn't be life threatening here. Rabies is an extremely dangerous disease, and should never be taken lightly, but we were within 50km of a major city where we could get a rabies shot within hours. So I suppose the reason the dog made us so nervous was not so much the risk of the disease it carried, but because it was doing a very good job at intimidating us.

Like lackeys from an old kung-fu movie, more dogs appeared from the gates of a temple, making their presence known with a rapid succession of barks. Two of them began to canter after us, increasing their speed to match ours, then closing the gap. Without saying anything Liv sped up, and I followed. Thankfully they didn't fancy a chase, but stayed behind us in the road yapping and yammering as we disappeared up the road and into the night.

It seemed that we were greeted by dogs in much the same way at every village from that point onwards. When people go to bed around here, the dogs rule the towns, and they make sure you know about it. Perhaps if we were in good condition we could frighten them off - hiking boots would cause havoc to a dogs jaw if it tried to bite us – but we weren't in good nick by this point. We were shattered, but there was nowhere to pitch a tent, or spend the night. Times like these you feel very vulnerable, and it underlined the importance of not exhausting ourselves at not tootling along back country roads in the dark. Christ, we were ready for a nice cosy bed.

We eventually found a group of people milling around at a crossroads, and they told us that Batur was only 5km away, which was a manageable distance for us, and as we pulled away a couple on scooters offered to escort us to their hotel in Batur. Normally we wouldn't commit to anything before arriving, to keep our options open, but getting a bed immediately was our priority, and we didn't care if it meant paying a bit more than necessary. The road got steeper again as we closed in on the rim of the old Batur crater, and it seemed that the temperature had dropped at this altitude. A combination of physical exhaustion, dehydration, and a wicked blend of having hot muscles but being covered in cold sweat all caught up with us, and after stopping several times – both of us panting, we eventually decided to push the bikes up the final 500m.

In a daze we reached the top, rolled along the flat road to the hotel, which was closed. After some confusion we were taken to a hotel across the road and given a room for 250'000INDR – about $28. A rip off, but we were in no position to barter, and the staff there did make us some food despite the kitchen being closed.

Batur didn't feel quite so benevolent when we were cycling up her.
We both felt very bleak. The ride had drained us so much that it took us several minutes to realise that it was cold, and we quickly changed out of our dripping wet clothes and got under the blankets. Food arrived, but despite our stomachs grumbling with hunger, we found we could only eat a few mouthfuls each. Dreams came within minutes of putting our heads down, strange and vivid. It was a deep sleep that took us, and it mercifully returned us to normality the next morning for some A-grade downhill coasting. What goes up, must come down, thank God.

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