Leaving Sakti early and well fed, we embark with our trusty blue Honda Wave scooter on a day’s circumnavigation of Nusa Penida Island. Armed with a basic map, a sarong (to be worn in the local temples) and a handful of places we wanted to visit, we had no idea how the day would evolve.
Only a stone’s throw from Crystal Bay, yet somehow directly inaccessible, lies the Pasih Uwug sea craters on the south west coast. Access to this worthy attraction is solely via an epic detour back into the islands clutches, before making your way out along one of its long spindly arms to the coast again, a mere 500 meters south from where you started over an hour ago. Unbeknown to us, this would become the ‘norm’ for every landmark we chose to see today.
Gripping the brakes tightly, the Honda crunches the loose asphalt and manoeuvers clumsily down the steep descents into dark corners, before revving sluggishly to grip and conquer the proceeding incline. Landscapes change dramatically here. One moment you are on top of the island, the breeze in your hair and a glimpse of shimmering blue ocean in the far distance. Seconds later you are buried within a dimly lit tree canopy surrounded by squawking chickens and dotted with red toothless grins from beetle nut induced farmers. Asking locals for directions becomes routine. “Dari mana Pasih Uwug?” Or “where are the sea craters”? A quiet older man takes our lead and adeptly drives through the rubble that has become our road. We are directed towards an open green pasture. “Pasih Uwug” he proclaims and we are reminded of the kindness of Balinese people, they are always willing to help. Thanking him we eagerly walk toward the cliffs edge. No path, no signs, no ticket booth, no women selling sarongs. This seems to be how Nusa Penida rolls. Startled by the enormity of this landmark and its persistence to stay hidden, we stand in excited awe at the deep hole in the ground whose bottom is acid-blue. The oceans only access point into this sea crater is via an impressive archway that forms a fertile natural bridge you can walk across. Cows moo nearby, unhappy to be disturbed from their private sanctuary with a view. The uniqueness and intense serenity of this place would be almost incomparable had it not been for the few speedboats below whistling at their wondering snorkelers. Feeling like the king of the world, with grins as wide as the archway itself, we leave smitten from Penida’s first secret and excited about the next stop.
Back to Batu Madeg before taking a more southerly direction, another hour passes by battling the horrid roads. A small sign nailed to a tree exclaims ‘Bana Cliffs’ and indicates we are not far from the next stop. or so we hoped. Same-same but different we arrive some time later at an abandoned shack with sore bottoms and tense shoulders. Nearing the edge of the cliff my heart begins to race. Now please understand I absolutely adore coastal cliffs. I have ogled at the Great Ocean Road in Australia, the white cliffs of Dover in the UK and the rugged Scottish seashore and now before me, I see an endless, turbulent coastline comparable to any of these. When you stand on the edge of the Bana Cliffs in Nusa Penida you cannot help but feel like a spectator at a football match. These particularly barbaric cliffs stand boldly, fervently scratched at by the envious ocean some 400m below. Sulky and outdone, the scathing sea thrashes in defeat. It glows an unforgettable incandescent blue as a warning to those who dare cross it. You feel so small. You feel the power of the forces which are at play in front of you… Oh, and just before I dare take my eyes off the ‘match’ I witness tens of mantas – I mean 50 or 60 or so – scouring the surface for plankton. Marvellous!
Through the twisted maze once more, now heading west in the search for the Guyangan waterfall, we pass tiers of unkempt rice terraces. Instead of lush green paddies, the artistically formed levels are trumped by banana trees – obviously bananas must be the easier crop of the two. A half-naked lady strolls by, her head ladened with a thick scarf to support the enormous basket of local produce she is carrying. Framed by the dangling fig, she looked truly beautiful. I felt our motorised transport was odd and unwelcome, like something from a distant future to come. The stairs leading down to the waterfall are uncanny as if the cliffs edge is grasping at the iron, pleading with it to stay. Down, down the stairs go. A manta swimming below excuses the slow pace and also hides the fact that my vertigo riddled legs refused to move. Near the bottom of the cliff face it plateaus and a small infinity pool awaits you. Sitting there on the rocks amid the waterfalls, looking out into the deep blue horizon and listening to the waves crash beneath, you cannot help by feel like the only person in the world. A must visit in Nusa Penida, but prepare yourself for the steep ascent.
We are literally suffering from a ‘pain in the ass’ by this point. We make a final ascent into the lush landscape passing yet another highlighted ‘town’ on the map. Taglad remains to be little more than a traffic roundabout with several houses strewn off its spiny lanes. Hungry we ask if there is a warung (eatery). “Ada” they reply “there is.” Following the pointing fingers we enter a grimy alleyway at the end of which is a stall with fresh carrots and lettuce. In Indonesian we query “do you have fried rice?”… “No have.” “Do you have fried noodle?”… ”No have. Have Pot Noodle only.”
We decide against eating from this extensive menu and continue on our merry way. The roads improve as we approach the eastern coastline which is good since the tremendous views make concentration upon the numerous pot holes very difficult. Numerous unrecognisable shapes slowly transpire into segments of seaweed farms. Protruding sticks map out the territories of the mosaicked multi-coloured weed growing in the clear shallows. Just after reaching the water’s edge we admire a local group of sailors steering a timber outrigger into the bay. Sporting a bright orange sail, this boat appears to be cheerfully celebrating its own arrival.
The next stop is a temple, not just any old temple. Pura Goa Giti Putri (try asking for that several times) sits atop of several flights of stone stairs from where you make a donation to the local monks before being shown access to a sliver of a gap within the rocky floors. “Di-dalam?” we enquire. He nods, yes inside. We lower our bodies into the gap and crawl through the remainder of the opening until once again we stand fully upright. The cave has opened into a huge chamber filled only with the sounds of our hesitant footsteps and the small chirrup of bats who tickle the ceiling with their wings. Passing through this sacred place we meet several revered statues before finding ourselves on the backstreets of town.
The continual hum of planes overhead is a constant reminder that we are only 14km away from Bali but it does not fit with the surrounding picture that depicts a distant land. Content pigs cool themselves off in sloppy mud pools and nervous chickens make a dart for freedom from screaming half naked, dirty children. There is no signal on our phone and instead of a call for money there is the chant of “hello mister” from the local kids.
To complete the day we need food, having had nothing since breakfast other than a couple of chocolate bars and plenty of ‘pocari sweat’ hydration drinks we continue around the coastline until an eatery grabs our attention. Oh and aren’t we lucky, it is a restaurant with a view.
The sun begins to descend as our cap cay arrives. We survey the seaweed farmers emerging from their huts ready for their evening duties. Wearing a mask they check the state of their seaweed farms before heaving lumps of weed into a rubber ring that is towed behind them. Once the work is done these rings make good toys and the lads waste no time before wrestling one another from their inflatables in the cool water.
One cannot help but be amazed at the lack of rubbish in sight, nothing but pure pristine ocean, smooth and silky as if it were actually a lake. Behind this ‘lake’, towering upwards towards the Gods stands the omnipresent Gunung (volcano) Agung. It is a scene of such serenity that it’s no wonder why people take pride in keeping their backyards so clean. I am not saying that there is no progress to be made; ample plastic still litters the streets and in the water there are plastic bags skimming past the mantas but, and it is a big but, there is the feel that people are aware of these beautiful surroundings. For a start many do not want the change that Bali has experienced to come. People are enjoying using their own means and their own land. Proud of local produce, restaurants happily encourage you to order a seaweed mock-tail or “cassava hot chips from island farmers.” There is a sense of pride also in the nature that is around. At crystal bay local bar owners are not shy to offer you a snorkel set or take you fishing. A life guard sits tall and proud upon his electric yellow chair watching the bathers chase the waves and a big sign indicates that the marine park here is special and it is here to stay. That all adds to the beauty of Nusa Penida.