The majority of Balinese people are Hindu, despite the rest of Indonesia being a Muslim country, and it is this which makes Bali such a unique island. Everywhere you go there are signs that religion is embedded into the islands psyche, from the women making offerings on the sides of the streets, to the parades which take place down main roads most days and most obviously from the huge number of temples (practically one on every street corner). Under Balinese law, each village is requires to maintain at least 3 temples so obviously there is a fairly significant number across the island.
We decided during our week in Kuta to take a trip out to see some of the more notable (and scenic temples) and subsequently during our time in Bali we have seen a few more (wait for the next blog...) We hired a driver for the day called Made to take us around the island to see Tanah Lot, which is famous for being on land which is only accessible at low tide (a little bit like the shrine we saw at Miyajima in Japan) and Uluwatu, which is famous for being balanced precariously on a cliff edge over the ocean. We picked these two, as along with learning more about the religion and culture of Bali, it would also offer us the opportunity to see some of Balis scenery, probably it's second most notable attraction.
The first stop on our day trip was to Tanah Lot which is about an hours drive away from Kuta. Avoiding the vast number of hawkers clamouring for business from the passing tourists, we walked through the fairly unassuming archway and down the steep stairs to the sea.
About 30 metres out to sea is the temple which sits on the surface of the water looking like a huge ship. Unfortunately, the waves weren't as high that day as usual as in famous photographs of the temple the waves are crashing against it's rocky base creating a stunning picture. It was high tide though and it did look like the temple was completely inaccessible (a theory disproved by the group of German tourists we saw wading through the water in order to get their photo taken at the temple).
Walking along the rocks to get a better view, we also spotted the holy snake cave which supposedly houses the venomous snakes who 'guard' the site. After posing for a quick photo with a VERY excitable Asian girl, our first since Vietnam, we walked away from the mass of tourists along the cliff top to see what else was around. We walked uphill for a while and found a much better vantage point from which to appreciate the coastal scenery and also saw a large number of Balinese women preparing for a ceremony later that day. Most of them were carrying large amounts of supplies on their heads (something which I can't fathom seeing as my balance isn't great at the best of times).
After a quick lunch at a nearby warung of Nasi Campur (a bit like an Indonesian tasting plate) and Nasi Goreng (Balinese fried rice) we headed back to the car and to our next stop. Made offered to take us to Padang Padang beach on the way to Uluwatu, which is supposedly much more scenic than Kuta so we thought we'd check it out. The main road is a fair way above the beach so you have to descend about 100 stairs which snake through the rocky cliffs which provide the backdrop to the beach. Walking down we were expecting big things but it was a bit of a disappointment. While I'm sure it was once a beautiful beach, every tour group on the island now seems to take a detour there so it was very like Kuta in that it was busy with a vast number of touts. The cliff face is still beautiful and the monkeys who live on the beach are cute but apart from that it is decidedly average.
After a brief stop and a sweaty walk back to the car in the 35degree heat, we headed along to Uluwatu. We wanted to see the sunset here which we'd heard was spectacular and potentially check out the Kecak fire dance which takes place behind the temple each night. I'd sensibly worn trousers that day but still had to tie a purple belt around my waist as a mark of respect, but Rob had worn shorts so had to wear the sarong he was handed.
Living at Uluwatu is a troop of wild macaque monkeys who have obviously become very used to humans invading their territory. We were warned to remove any sunglasses and not take in any water bottles or carrier bags at risk of getting them stolen and we were glad we followed this advice. Within a few minutes of arriving we must have seen 30-40 monkeys of varying sizes and temperaments and whilst none seemed overly vicious we saw a number of people losing glasses, bottles and even a child's cuddly animal.
After observing the monkeys for a short while, we walked first to the east of the temple along the cliff edge in order to find a good view point. The temple in itself is somewhat unremarkable but it's location on the precipice of a cliff does make for an excellent view.
Beyond the temple itself, the scenery surrounding it is amazing with white cliffs ascending from a turquoise sea and green forests everywhere. Walking along the cliff face (taking our time due to the sheer drop and lack of barriers) we took loads of photos of the views and witnessed a whole Chinese family taking some risks balancing on the cliff edge for a photo opportunity.
There were more monkeys and after buying some rip-off fruit to feed them (dodging the huge fat one that kept trying to steal the melon) we headed back along to descend the steep stairs up to the temple. Unfortunately, blocking our way was the most gigantic tour group we have ever seen of about 100 people all posing for photos in the most inconvenient places possible.
We were planning on watching the fire dance that takes place each evening, but the £8.00 admission fee and the fact it takes place during sunset but facing the wrong way put us off. We found the best view point to watch the sun go down instead and despite it initially seeming promising, before it actually went down the clouds came from nowhere blocking it from being anything special. This cued us to leave so after a sweaty walk back up the hill to the car park we headed back to Kuta.