|Aling Aling Waterfall|
I make no claim to this being a comprehensive tour of all the waterfalls in Bali but we did visit a few on our recent trip. There are dozens of amazing waterfalls in Bali and devotees could spend all their time looking for them - each one is impossibly beautiful and in some cases quite hard to find as they are tucked away deep in the forests and mountains of this magical island. Bali is just over four hours from Bangkok and we chose this as our first overseas trip from Thailand principally because we had heard so many good things about it. While we were in Bali we visited the small town of Lovina on the north coast. From here we were able to do and see a number of things and it would probably make for a good base if you like a slightly more sedate kind of holiday away from the bright lights of the resorts on the south coast.
From Lovina it is a stone's throw to three waterfalls that are all on the same river rushing down from the high mountains just to the south of the town. The tallest of these waterfalls is called Aling Aling and it was there that we headed first. We parked up by a small kiosk that sold tickets to the area (this is not a free hike). The total cost for the four of us was very modest although we would have had to pay more for the privilege of going in the water. Round about the kiosk were a few small cafes selling fairly bog standard fare such as fried rice and fried chicken with signage that was so badly spelled that it was amusing. All around were rather listless looking local people and stray dogs all lolling around trying to conserve their energy in the heat of the sun.
We set off on what seemed like a fairly unpromising path at first with a building site on one side and a collection of farmers cottages. On the other side of the path though was a very eye-catching terraced rice paddy system for which Bali is very famous. The owner clearly seemed to realise that visitors would enjoy the terraces for he had decorated it with some oriental looking scarecrows and umbrellas to give it almost a theme park looking feel.
We passed a number of fruit trees alongside the paddy fields. A rambutan tree was first - its red fruits looking like they were almost ready for harvest. A lot higher up and we could see coconuts also coming into harvest - the colour here though is different from the green ones that we see in the markets in Thailand. Most here seemed to be a rich amber colour and our guide tells me that both varieties are grown here; they each have a slightly different taste. Next was a mangosteen but not yet ripe - they have a beautiful purple colour when in season but the fruit inside is white and reminiscent of a lychee. The last fruits that we saw growing on this short stretch of path were mangoes, still looking quite green on the trees. Most of the green mangoes here are used for making salad when not quite ripe - the yellow ones are the ones to go for if you want to eat them as fruit. They are delectably sweet and slightly mushy - rather different from the ones that are exported to Europe.
As we turned the corner at the top of the slope our noses caught the aroma of barbecuing chicken, a smell that you get used to in South East Asia but never take for granted as it is always so inviting. However it was not the smell here that was magical but the view off to our left for we caught sight of the deep valley in which the waterfalls are to be found. Perhaps because of its steep sides or perhaps because it is prized by the locals as a particularly beautiful place it has escaped any kind of forestry or agriculture and we looked out over what looked like pristine forest stretching all the way from the mountains right down almost to the sea. It was a magnificent view that continued for a short way until the path dropped from the rim of the valley into the forest itself. Almost immediately we passed a jackfruit tree, with two large fruit hanging off the trunk. Neither of the fruit looked very appealing to be honest; I think they had been left two long and looked like they were starting to degrade.
A little further down the slope we had a choice to make with waterfalls signposted to the left and right. We took the right hand turn and headed off along a narrow path that wound its way upstream. The river was full of energy and had plenty of water in it; not unexpected as we were plum in the middle of the rainy season in Bali. We hadn't planned particularly well - I think I assumed that the rainy season in Thailand would be similar to that in Bali but of course it isn't - the monsoon shifts south when Thailand is having its dry season. The vegetation was thick and lush, with water seemingly coming from all sorts of directions including from the trees, the rocky cliffs and the creepers that seemed to find all sorts of opportunities to clamber over. We also saw flowers that we had only ever seen in greenhouses or butterfly houses back home. Damselflies and dragonflies buzzed about and we even saw massive spiders with even bigger webs - it wasn't a place for anyone who hated bugs!
Eventually we found our way to Aling Aling waterfall after climbing up quite a steep and rocky last stretch of path. The waterfall was huge - at least 120 metres tall and coming down with such a force that the sound was deafening. It clearly had a lot of energy too as it had carved out a huge plunge pool that clearly was too dangerous for swimming as there were signs warning about doing so. Even trying to climb down into the water looked pretty hazardous for the rocks were shiny and slippery from the spray of the waterfall. We enjoyed the moment for a while before turning back and heading downstream to the next waterfall.
If swimming was forbidden at Aling Aling it was positively encouraged at the next waterfall, known as Kadek. This one had a natural water slide at the top and was clearly the one that people had paid their extra money to use. We watched as there were shrieks of joy from people that took the plunge; the smooth rock under the top of the waterfall enabled them to slide out far enough to take them into the nice deep plunge pool below. There was quite a crowd of people bobbing around in the plunge pool watching their mates and probably thinking about the steep climb to get to the top of the waterfall, a lot of effort for a few moments of fun. We watched for a short time and soon moved on to the next waterfall below which was bigger and did not lend itself to sliding but seemed to attract more daredevils who were prepared to jump over 30 metres into the plunge pool below.
We crossed the river at the top of here and the path took us past a small hut and up to a point above the last waterfall in the series (the fourth). The end of the path was a small ledge that was being used as yet another jumping off point and a couple of small Bali men were showing their rather larger Western companions how it was done. There were a few gasps as the two of them dived off together, not quite synchronised but not bad. They were soon joined by a couple of daredevil Aussie lads who took the plunge much to everyone's entertainment.
The antics of the youngsters was quite entertaining but for me it was the beauty of the place that captivated me. The ferocity of the water was exciting and the spray that each fall generated within the enclosed valley generated a microclimate that supported all manner of flowers and insects. The butterflies and dragonflies were incredible although trying to capture any of them with my camera was nigh on impossible as they spent so little time settled anywhere, whether it be rock or flower. I tried my beast as we looped around the path that took us back to the junction where we had bore right earlier. From that point we retraced our steps to the car park. By now we were feeling both satisfied with our efforts but very hungry. We eschewed the cafes at the start though in favour of a cafe down in Lovina where we were introduced to the delights of suckling pig, the local delicacy of Bali and which was an extremely welcome meal at the end of the walk.
Later in the afternoon after we had been to some other places including a Buddhist temple we called in at the waterfall at Munduk. Sadly the hot and sunny weather that we had experienced in the morning had now given way to rain and this meant that we had to limit ourselves to the main Munduk waterfall. There are several others in the area and it is possible to do a fairly lengthy walk that includes them all. We managed to get a short break in the rain that was enough to walk down the steep track from the parking area. Again we got an education in the types of crop that are grown in these jungle locations, including coffee, bananas and pineapples. These were all familiar to us by now but we had seen our first cashew at the temple - none of us had any idea what it looked like before!
The path down to the waterfall was quite steep and we passed a couple of settlements on the way; a house that looked as if it belonged to the jungle farmers and a coffee shop further down. The latter proclaimed that it did not use caged civets in order to make the highly prized kopi luwak (luwak coffee). This expensive coffee is made from the partly digested coffee beans eaten by the small nocturnal mammal that we call civets but are known as luwak in Bali. Mostly they are caged and force fed the beans in much the same way that geese are force fed to produce foie gras. Ethically it is very questionable as the civets live a very poor quality of life and certainly the ones we saw looked quite sad and lonely creatures. We avoided buying kopi luwak for the same reason.
The falls themselves were at the bottom of the hill and once again we had to pay a small admission fee to get close to them. They were well worth seeing though, especially because unlike at the earlier falls near Lovina we had these ones all to ourselves. They were considerably taller too, so much so that it wasn't easy to see the top. Clearly no-one would want to swim here, especially not now for it was surprisingly cool with the spray billowing around and the rather enclosed position much higher up the mountain. Nevertheless the magic of the waterfall was enough compensation for the cool conditions and we were thankful that the rain held off long enough for us to go and have a look. Maybe in the future we could do the walk that takes in other waterfalls on the same system.