Biking Northern Bali
Lost In The Mountains At Night
I was disappointed when the original plan for the trip (which was motorbike island hopping from Bali to Flores and back) fell through, but that didn’t mean I couldn’t still get some riding in while I was still on Bali. I had been told that I needed to check out a little town called Lovina in the North of Bali. Standing between us and Lovina were some pretty formidable mountains that surrounded Bali’s volcanoes, so it was going to be a fun trip.
The day of the trip we overslept. It was noon when we were leaving the hotel. On the way out an overbearing concierge asked us where were going and when we would be back. None of your damn business, Mom! We told him that we were heading North to Lovina. He looked surprised.
“Oh, very far! You will be back at 9?” He asked.
I was getting sort of creeped out by all his questions for some reason so I told him that we didn’t know and fast-walked out of there.
We didn’t know how long it would take us to get over the mountain to the Northern coast and back but I figured that it couldn’t be that long. Bali is a pretty small island, right? Well, as it turned out, we didn’t get back that night until 10:30pm. I’ll lead with the video this time – then the pictures & words.
First of all, the North of Bali is totally different world than the South. It is still relatively undeveloped. It is nothing but tiny, poor towns, winding mountain roads, massive complexes of rice paddies and nature. The farther North you go the more the touristy façade fades away to reveal what Indonesia once was – and still is if you dare venture off the beaten path far enough.
The difference in weather patterns between the lower (touristy) areas and the Balinese highlands is like night and day. When we left our hotel in Ubud it was a beautiful sunny day, but within an hour of riding uphill we could tell that the weather was changing. I pulled over in a small town and bought ponchos for us to ride with. They cost 70,000 IDR (7 USD) each.
These ponchos turned out to be a godsend as it wasn’t long before we were precariously rolling through a blinding downpour. This felt pretty dangerous to me, seeing as we were on windy mountain roads with a sheer cliff on one side, so we stopped at a randomly selected piece of shelter to wait out the rain. We snuggled in next to some locals who were all sitting under a small general store’s overhang. They graciously made room for us and we all waited together. Eventually the rain let up enough that we could leave our niche. It was 40 minutes still before we were out of the rain but it was much more manageable at that point.
There was a reason that I didn’t want to rent an automatic motorbike. They are quite dangerous to drive in mountainous areas because if you are forced to ride the breaks for too long they will eventually snap. With semi-automatic and manual bikes you can break by simply switching to a lower gear and you are in no danger of losing your breaks. Much to my dismay, I was driving an automatic bike down a mountain and dude, it was freaking me out. I was just riding my front break for at least 30 kilometers, cringing all the while. But our breaks survived and it was not long before we reached Lovina.
It was kind of a let-down. I think the real appeal of the town lies in what it isn't; it isn’t Kuta, or even Ubud, which are both quite touristy at times. I was unimpressed though with the actual town though. It was certainly in an area that was rich with natural beauty but there was trash everywhere. We rode out to a beach and it looked like a waste-disposal barge had recently capsized just offshore. Ew. At least it was real though. That’s all I can ask for. Here are pictures:
Lovina’s real claim to fame I think is their proximity to Bali’s dolphin population. Apparently they jump out of the water with unusual frequency on that side of the island, so the ‘thing to do’ is go out on sunrise boat trips to see them. We didn’t do that though. We just had lunch.
Rushing Back Through Jungle At Night
We finished lunch around 5:30pm and headed back. For the record, this was about 2 hours too late. You will need about 4 hours to get across Bali. We realized our mistake an hour or so into our drive. It was getting really dark. And to make matters worse, our phones were at about 5% battery. That meant that there would be no map to guide us home.
As we raced the death-clock on our phones I was getting pretty nervous. It was getting extremely dark on those tiny mountain roads. Like pitch black. Then I realized that I was still wearing my sunglasses. I took those off and then I calmed down a bit. It was still dark but I could manage.
We went about 20 km down the wrong road at one point so we lost some time that way but overall our strategy was just to go straight until we got to the main Southern highway. From there we could easily find our way back to civilization. That highway goes to Denpasar City and then on to Kuta, where at least there are people. We were staying in Ubud though, which was an hour North of all that. Whatever, we’d figure that out later.
Fast forward an hour or so and I was driving on a totally dark road through what seemed to be a never-ending swarm of mosquitos. On top of that the lights on my motorbike were alarmingly dim. I was worried for the battery on the bike. Eventually though our strategy paid off and we got back to the main highway.
After 40 minutes or so on this highway I was ready to not be the ‘typical man’ anymore and actually ask for directions. We decided that we would pay a taxi to let us follow it back to Ubud. But there were no taxis this far from Denpasar so we decided to stop and ask a business to call one for us. This would surely save us time. We had reached the point where Ubud and Denpasar were about to be in different directions.
So we scanned the storefronts whizzing by on either side of us until finally we saw the familiar, comforting glow of a Western style convenient store shining its white, fluorescent light like a beacon of development and security. ‘Mmmm it’s like America again!’ I thought as we walked in.
A Random Act Of Kindness
Seemingly everybody in Indonesia speaks at least elementary English. Unfortunately, these store clerks seemed to be the exception to that rule. As we struggled to make our request clear, a customer in the store who had been overhearing our struggle came to our rescue. She spent at least 25 minutes 1) translating for us 2) looking up the phone numbers of different taxi services when the cashiers didn’t know any and 3) calling the taxi for us on her personal phone. Her name was Maria… I think. So shout out to my girl, Maria – you saved us. Thank you.
From there we just had to wait for the taxi to arrive so we bought sugary, Western snacks and sat on the curb for 20 more minutes, watching the neighborhood children do tricks on their bicycles.
The cab arrived shortly and I trailed it all the way back to Ubud. Just in time too. I was starvin’ Marvin.
Monkey Forest is just a tourist attraction in Ubud. It has a very old, mossy temple and they sell bananas at the door to feed to the monkeys. It is very cool but I didn't think it quite merited its own post... so I needed something to attach it to. Still, I did get enough footage to make this fun little video. Enjoy 👍
And if you were wondering, Monkey bites in Bali are apparently no big deal. I was surprised by this - I'm pretty sure that monkeys have been responsible for many of the major disease outbreaks in recent history. They are literally just cute, furry vectors. But all that was required was a band-aid and some anti-septic.