The road to Munduk winds up from Lovina on the north coast gradually. The rice fields become steeper, interspersed with lush scenes of coconut and banana plantations. Reports of trekking in Bali had attracted me to these forest-clad mountains from when I first began to research my mission to discover unspoilt Bali.
Steep terraces push upwards through the green, which is dotted with the red rusted tin roofs of villages. The scent of cloves wafts down through the warm air – millions of the aromatic dried flower buds are spread to dry in the sun along the roadside.
In the main street of Munduk banners are fluttering in the breeze, and I settle in quickly on the verandah of One Homestay to drink in the stunning views over valley and peaks. Below me the blackened shrines of a small family temple is decorated with red and yellow fabric.
In September the clove harvest was in full swing in Munduk. Once cloves only grew in the ‘Spice Islands’ – the Maluku Islands – and were a hugely valuable trading commodity in the 17th century, worth their weight in gold. They have been used over the centuries for everything from freshening the breath to flavouring food, cigarettes and traditional medicines.
Looking about me in Munduk it is clear they are still a profitable agricultural crop. Over the past 15 years clove plantations have replaced over 40 per cent of the rice terraces in this area. The fast growing trees, which grow eight to 12 metres high, are a less labour intensive cash crop than rice. A man can gather three sacks of cloves in a day and I saw them spread out in different states of dryness.
From five o’clock in the morning the sound of a thousand roosters crowing is uncannily like sports fans cheering on their team, or perhaps a riot. But it’s good to get up early for a day of trekking in Bali as even at these altitudes the temperature and humidity soon rises to uncomfortable levels for strenuous physical activity.
I did a number of short walks from Munduk. Wandering among the Balinese rice paddy fields in the valley below the main village in the early evening is lovely. Around four o’clock in the afternoon workers are returning from the harvest, carrying huge sacks of cloves on their heads and on the back of bikes.
Then there is the Red Coral Waterfall walk, well documented in guides on trekking in Bali, that takes around four hours. Because I had my young daughter with me I saved fifty minutes up the hill road through Munduk village with a 10,000 Rupiah ($1) motorbike ride. From the track head it is a short stroll down to the Red Coral Waterfall.
The gorge is lush with tropical foliage and flowers and the path then winds through jungle and plantation with a few hamlets of scattered houses. These are very humble abodes but each had a carefully planted garden of bright flowers as well as the usual bamboo and rice religious decorations.
Then the trail drops down past a small warung into a valley that was ringing with the shouts and laughter of the clove pickers. Long bamboo ladders extend up high into the trees that are thick with flowers. The harvest is a family affair with wives and children relaxing on the ground beneath the clove trees. The air was redolent with the scent and the red flower stems scattered the dusty path under my feet.
The thundering Laangan Waterfall is reached via five hundred or so steep steps. I could hardly take a picture of the waterfall due to the intensity of the spray. Then it is up and down through tiny villages selling spices, Balinese coffee, roasted cacao mixed with rich palm sugar, and a whole constellation of spices.
A huge variety of plants and flowers keeps trekking in Bali interesting, apart from occasional views across the hills and valleys. A 30 foot avocado tree loaded with shiny green fruit contrasted with bright poinsettias. Of course there are coffee beans and the colourful seed pods of cacao: there is still a lot of diversity in the agriculture of Bali.
You can see the landscaping and water conduits of former rice terraces. It is all quite wild and jungly – difficult to tell where the plantations begin and end.
Trekking in Bali was a new experience from my usual hiking holidays in mountains. I loved the colour and variety of all the walks, but most especially the opportunities to interact with the people.
By Natasha von Geldern
Have you been trekking in Bali? I just did a few day walks from Munduk but has anyone done anything more ambitious?