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MY DRIVER, MADE S, AND I DEPART THE SACRED TEMPLES ON LAKE BRATAN and head north towards Singaraja and the secret waterfalls. It’s lunchtime, so before leaving the lake, we pull into a restaurant, obviously serving day tripping tourists—clean, well appointed, sterile, no locals. I’m not a big eater. In my mind, the healthiest diet is the diet of countries who have only one Starbucks and no KFC’s in their cities, what I call The Eat Like A Bird Diet—to simply under eat, eat anything you want to eat, just stop eating before you’re full. And top with a healthy dollop of exercise. And a dash of yoga. I never eat at all-you-can-eat buffets because first, I don’t like that kind of batch-cooked, over-cooked, cooked-without-love food. Second, I dislike feeling bloated after eating, which always happens when you eat all you can eat—that’s the whole idea. Third, since I don’t gorge myself, a buffet is overkill; I never get my money’s worth at a buffet, except maybe desserts.

Made S has brought along a couple pieces of homemade bread for his lunch, which he usually eats alone in his van while his clients begin to billow on nasi goreng and gado gado and mango pie in places just like this one. I invite Made S to eat with me. The restaurant is one that Made S usually takes his clients to when he drives them this way. It is obviously a place only for tourists; however, it does not have a view of the lake, which is my first disappointment—if I’m going to act like a tourist, give me a view of the sight while I under eat is all I’m saying.

This, actually, is one of the few faults I harbor regarding Bali: lack of views. Very few of the rooms in hotels along Kuta and Legian Beach have views of the ocean. What were they thinking? Hey, let’s build a hotel right here on the beach, but get this…we’ll put the garden, the bar, and the pool out front near the ocean. Really? A room on the ocean with no view? And most of the new villas in Ubud—sitting in former rice fields…and former, because now there are so many villas in some places, there’s nowhere to grow rice…and the villas—lie behind high walls, so you may feel safe while skinny dipping in your private pool, but your view is your wall, not a rice paddy.

My second disappointment comes when the young waitress who speaks excellent English and whose nametag informs us her name is Made (!) tells us they only serve buffet at lunch, no ala carte ordering. I don’t even ask the price. I don’t even go over for a gander to see what they offer. It may have been a mistake, but we get up and leave figuring we’ll find another place somewhere down the road.

As a heads up: we are heading into the middle of nowhere, where under eating occurs more often than you might imagine, for animals as well as humans. Made S will be eating his two pieces of bread for lunch, and I will be eating only the dried dates and cashews I brought along as a snack for our trip into Legian Beach. But we just might find some bananas growing wild.

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This is what the Lonely Planet guide for Bali has to say about the middle of nowhere here:

“A series of narrow roads links the Danau Bratan area and Gunung Batur region. Few locals outside this area even know the roads exist, and if you have a driver, you might need to do some convincing. Over a 30km route you not only step back to a simpler time, but also leave Bali altogether for something resembling less-developed islands such as Timor. The scenery is beautiful and may make you forget you had a destination.”

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But just so you know, you can also find right there in the middle of nowhere something called Bali Adventure Tours, and you can also find the (now) ever popular, especially with Aussie families and the forty-something-Eat Pray Love emulators, Elephant Safari Park. You can even stay at the Elephant Safari Park Lodge, a nice enough place if you like 5-star hotels impersonating 4-star hotels, but it’s a far cry from the atavistic scene of cock fights in the dirt on the main plaza in Tenganan or just about anything I’ve seen on the island of Timor. Like Joni Mitchell says: they paved paradise and put up an elephant safari park. Or, something like that.

Photo: Elephant Safari Park
Photo: Elephant Safari Park

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We leave the main north/south road, and begin heading north-east. We almost immediately begin an ascent. We are inside and on the floor of an ancient volcanic caldera complex, comprising numerous volcanoes; Gunung Bratan lies here and has not been active for hundreds of years. We travel on tiny back roads, some barely wide enough for two small cars. I brought no map as I thought I was heading to Legian and know the way. I have no idea where we are or where we are headed, except that we are going to the other side of the island, about as far away from Legian Beach as you could go, physically and metaphorically. There are few houses, fewer villages, no 7-11 stores. Certainly no Hard Rock Cafés. And no barstools with views of a lake.

Lesson learned: pack larger bags of snack food when traveling in Bali. You never know where you might end up.

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One good thing to know: somebody will be selling bananas somewhere. And if not, they grow wild everywhere. In one tiny roadside stand you might find seven different varieties of bananas being sold, all different sizes, from finger length to forearm-of-a-dwarf size. And since they come inside a skin, they are safe to eat anywhere you find them. Same with cucumbers–if you bring a knife to remove the skin (I learned from my days of living in the mountains of Colorado to always carry a knife, I still do).

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We pass interesting people doing interesting (and unknown) chores. We pass through villages where women are burning…er…a lot of “something.”

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Most villages are still decorated with their penjors for the two related holidays of Galungan, when the Balinese ancestors come to visit for a period, and Kuningan, when the ancestors depart. The time in between is festive, with many parades of villagers and musicians walking through town on their way to ceremonies in temples.

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Some homes actually do still sit in the middle of rice fields. And I suppose, if I lower my level of disdain for suburbanizing the rice fields of Ubud, I’d have to say there actually are still many places with great views.

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I never tire of photographing the ornamented tiles of a traditional Bali roof. We travel slowly, on narrow but surprisingly well-maintained roads, through towns with names like Nangka and Lemukih. This road may have a name or a number, but I see no name or number on any road sign. I see no road signs. I do see a rock carved into a cube with a number on it. Made S says that is the number of kilometers to Singaraja. He tells me that he has never come this way before, we’re trying a new route. He does not carry a map.

Made S tells me the story of one of his customers who had a GPS app on his mobile phone. Made S knew the roads to where they were going, but the man was rather arrogant and proud of his new device and wanted to be in control of his family’s adventure. He insisted they follow the directions on his GPS. His children were in awe and ecstatic. Long story short: they got lost, ended up in a dead-end cul-de-sac in the jungle on a road so narrow there was no way to turn around. Made S had to drive in reverse a few kilometers, and they finally got out. The man put his phone away and allowed Made S to show the family his island.

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After growing and harvesting the rice, it needs to air and dry in the sun. In many small villages, this happens beside the road on plastic tarps. I’m beginning to wonder how I feel about rice lying like this beside the road and mixing with exhaust fumes, or the hooves of goats (of which, for your sake, I will not even mention alimentary canals).

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Climbing vines rise on walls from the rich, volcanic soil. Made S and I now climb the mountain in the van, maneuvering around switchbacks and motorbikes.

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Flying kites is one of the favorite past times of Balinese boys. You might see one, or a hundred, flying anywhere or any time the wind kicks up, usually in rice fields where there is plenty of maneuvering room to fly, and lower safely.

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We drive further and further into the middle of nowhere. The sky appears one moment as though we will be washed away in a downpour, and the next moment, it feels like a scorched day in the desert. Humidity weighs heavily on us. When raindrops begin to sprinkle, I am relieved I am not riding a motorbike. Then rain falls so hard, our vision is impaired, and we must slow down, and creep uphill. When riding a motorbike in Bali, I do carry a rain poncho to wear if it rains, but I prefer not to ride a motorbike in the rain. I feel so grateful sometimes that “something” takes care of me in life. I could so easily be a hopeless basket case flailing through life if I had no miracles appearing in my day. Often. Like right now, I could be huddling under the branches of a banyan tree with my motorbike, waiting for clear skies.

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After two hours of driving uphill into wild forest, on narrower and narrower roads and not finding another restaurant to stop and eat, we see a sign that says: Sekumpul Falls – Parking. We pull in. There is a little place to eat, a shop selling I Heart Bali T-shirts, and a group of young men with motorbikes. I eye the make-shift food stall. In my years of travel, I have eaten street food in many countries and have had surprisingly few alimentary canal problems (*he cautiously looks around to knock wood*). These days, now that I’m older and wiser, I’m a little more hesitant to eat just anywhere. My mind is thinking one word: sanitation. Then my mind overpowers its body’s hunger with this kind of rational logic: we’re here to see the secret falls, dammit, not eat. But it has me wondering—am I now actually wiser, or simply less adventurous? Or is the “Mysterious Something in the cosmos” assisting me in my desire to under eat?

The young men tell us it is 400 hundred meters to walk. 15,000 rupiah for a ride on the back of their motorbikes. What they don’t tell us is that after the bike ride, it’s something like 270 steps down a very steep ravine to get to the river and falls below. I momentarily consider walking the few hundred meters, like four football fields, through some thick and wonderful-looking wooded terrain. Years ago when traveling on a shoe string, there would have been no choice to make: I would have walked, and loved the walk. At today’s exchange rate, 15,000 rupiah is like one US dollar and eleven cents. Fine, I opt for the bike ride, and pay for Made S’s ride also. The town is making money by allowing tourists to park on their land, to walk through their land, to ride through their land, and to view the falls on their land, which lie in a canyon fairly difficult to reach. And this is why few people know of the falls. This is what you call off the beaten path. And you see some folks here living completely off the grid, without electricity or running water. Apparently, we seem to be closing in on the precise middle of nowhere.

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My bike driver is the second child born to his parents; his name is Made—see how easy it is to remember names in this country. The path to the stairs is narrow, only wide enough for one bike. Lush greenery abounds. I’m not totally comfortable riding a motorbike, even less comfortable on the back of one. I snap a one-handed photo of our path as we whisk through the jungle on Made’s bike. While riding, I feel exactly the way the photo looks—jangled, obscure, wooly. I’m pretty certain I have trust issues.

Just about everywhere where there’s a middle of nowhere, the landscape seems to be lush and beautiful (except for some places like, say, Jordan). And sometimes, the middle of nowhere can get scary (like in Jordan, which is 180 degrees away from lush, but is beautiful in a monolithic-igneous sort of way). In the middle of nowhere here on Bali, it is not scary at all, just extremely peaceful, beautiful, and two worlds away from Kuta Beach’s style of viewless scary.

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Ancient rice terraces progress down the mountainside, one artistically carved tier after another. Water for irrigation chimes the air. Trees crowd together like happy families. Bali starlings dash through the valley in darting clusters of gray. Long-tailed macaques sit on branches and chatter like old friends at a picnic. When you look at the pictures above and below, look across the valley floor to the jungle running up the mountain, and imagine standing on this side of the valley in that same kind of jungle on the path leading to Sekumpul Falls. This is big land.

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Homes lie very far away from one another in a place like the middle of nowhere, even in Jordan (where a home there may be a Bedouin tent, and the beauty is a different kind of beauty, a hard-and-harsh-rock beauty). The beauty on Bali is distinctly lush, soft, fragrant, luscious. So just why am I thinking of the harshness of Jordan here? Maybe it has something to do with Lawrence of Arabia who fought his war in Jordan and died riding a motorcycle. Odd, how a brain works some times, how one vision can spark a memory of something else, or one aspect links to another seemingly incongruent aspect. We ride to the end of the narrow path, where the motorbikes can go no further. Then, we begin to hike on a footpath closer to the precise middle of nowhere.

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This is wild country. Many things, flora and fauna, grow wild—flowers, fruit, chocolate, pigs, luwaks. Coffee grows wild here, too. The flowers of a coffee plant emit an aroma similar to jasmine. Both Robusta and Arabica beans grow in the shade of larger trees on this land, their ideal growing condition—as opposed to growing in open sun as they are now forced to grow on large plantations in places like Brazil and Colombia.

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Coffee beans grow on the stems of trees in clusters. Green coffee beans are not ripe. They will first turn yellow, then red. The red ones in the background are almost ready to harvest…or be eaten by a local luwak, the Asian palm civet (not really a cat as some people call it).

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Bamboo ladders can be found lying about, ready when fruit ripens in tall trees. The ground is the perfect (only) place here to store a ladder this size. If a ladder gets ruined or chewed on by a pot-bellied pig, the people simply use the ladder as kindling to cook dinner or heat the bath, then make another ladder on the spot. Bamboo grows fairly large in Bali, maybe 8 inches wide if not cut down to make a ladder or living room chair covered in gaudy, hibiscus-print cushions. The various plants grow side by side naturally, a banana tree next to a coffee tree next to a mangosteen or mango. You see no orchards. This is wild country, natural country, a jungle, a living textbook of natural histories.

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One might wonder just what gnaws away at the bark of a tree like this—a tiger, a rutting deer, a man, disease.

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Made, the guide, does not know the name of this “berry.” He says local people don’t eat them, so they don’t name them. To me, the berry looks more like a carbuncular parasite than a fruit growing, rather oddly in clusters on stiff twigs, along the trunk of a tree. Made says his people wait to see if the birds eat a berry, and if the birds eat the berries, then the local people will try them. The birds don’t eat this berry.

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Mangosteens grow wild next to thick stands of bamboo and cacao trees.

Syllogism of the day: Birds eat mangosteens. Mangosteens have a name. Therefore, locals eat mangosteens.

Yeah, I know, let’s just blame this kind of inane wandering-off-on-tangents nonsense to possible ADHD. Or…the ‘60’s.

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We come across a ladder set up to reach fruit in high trees. The locals try to harvest fruit before the birds arrive for their au naturel buffet. Birds do not simply sit on a branch and eat one mangosteen. They take a bite or two out of one. Then move on, and later take a bite or two out of another. They invented the Eat Like A Bird diet. Mangosteen, banyan, and other trees trees grow fairly tall here in this jungle, as you can see in the photo. Most coffee trees grow only about 10 to 12 feet high, perfect for their hiding in the shade of taller trees. Some bamboo plants can reach a height of 90-100 feet. Bamboo is the fastest growing plant in the world, and can grow something like two feet in a day. That’s one reason it was such a good weapon of torture in nearby parts of the world at one time—position a victim’s stomach or eye directly above a bamboo shoot with its tip carved to a razor-sharp point, add water, watch it grow into your victim. If you’re looking for answers as opposed to simply the joy of torturing someone, you’ll probably get an answer in the first few hours.

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I am surprised when we finally arrive at the top of a ravine, where fairly new, but poorly-crafted and already crumbling stairs of molded concrete begin to descend. We turn left at this sign. But the arrow pointing “down” is way more accurate than one would imagine. Very quickly, we are glad we opted for the bike ride, rather than walk all that way through the forest, because now we must walk another 400 meters straight down.

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The stairs at the top of the ravine—400 meters and something like 270 steps. I believe I may have misunderstood the first guy in the parking lot. Perhaps, he meant this was the 400 meter walk and simply expected us to take the bike ride. Because now, I’m believing the ride was further than 400 meters: it took us a while to drive. I wouldn’t have minded that walk in my earlier years of traveling, no matter how far; in those earlier days, I walked all day, every day—my MO as a budget traveler. Today, I’m thanking the gods that 15,000 rupiah is no hardship, no deal breaker, and also that someone invented handrails. The handrail on these particular stairs is there for a good reason. When you build a house where you live, there is a code you must meet for building stairs. On the side of a ravine in the middle of nowhere, there is no code for the building of stairs, nor the steepness of stairs going down a vertical cliff face, nor apparently, the proper mixing of cement into concrete, nor the sturdiness of a handrail. Nor the obnoxiousness of the color of paint.

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When we reach the floor of the canyon, we are treated to a little local jam session on a bamboo xylophone. I’m not going to tell you this music sounded like Yo-Yo Ma on a cello, but it was rather idyllic to be this far from everything and hear an exotic local rhythm accompanying the sounds of silence in nature. This is the entrance to the valley. You must buy a ticket, another 15,000 rupiah. It’s beginning to become a rupiah-intensive trip. But they let Made S enter for free as a reward for bringing me here. They are unaware it was my idea. They should let me in free, make Made S pay. Perhaps, this is the kind of logic you start utilizing after descending 270 steps into the middle of nowhere after passing up a buffet and under-eating your heart out for the rest of the day.

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One thing they neglected to tell us when paying the exorbitant entrance fee was that you must wade across the river six times to reach the falls. I’m guessing this is another deterrent against hordes of tourists visiting. However, if you wait long enough, some day you may be able to ride in here on camels or elephants, and view it from hot air balloons or helicopters.

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After the first crossing, we are immediately treated to a slice of natural beauty, a small waterfall surrounded by lush plants above the river. For me sometimes, the small elements of paradise outshine the larger sights. This might be one of those times. I sat down and stared at this scene for a long while before photographing it. The two Mades hiked on without me. I don’t think the photo does it justice. You can’t hear it, you can’t smell it, you can’t feel that boulder or the spray in the wind.

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If you think the fruit of the banana looks phallic, wait till you see the whole plant growing in the middle of nowhere above the river. Now, that is one well-hung banana plant right there. It might make a more insecure man feel inadequate, or like going out and buying a Ferrari.

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Again and again, we cross the river, which is fairly swift running, and knee deep in some places.

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I take a selfie of me and my Keens mid-crossing in shallow water, just so you would know I actually went to the falls, actually crossed that dang river. Another reason to be thanking the gods—had I planned on coming here instead of Legian, I would have been wearing thongs on my feet for comfort while riding in the van, and now I would be walking barefoot on the rocky river bottom. I chose sandals for more safety on the motorbike ride back to Ubud. River sandals are a much better accouterment for crossing rivers with slippery-and-sharp-rock floors. I’m a little hesitant to report that Made S took off his thongs to wade the river, and while walking barefoot, stepped on a wicked stone, and somehow fell into the river, soaking one side of his pants and shirt. But he was unhurt, did not drown, and his clothes dried by the time we got back to the van. So no real story to tell. I admit, however, I did think about adding a bit of fiction here—writing the story of how I fell into the river, was washed down stream in the current, was swallowed whole by a monster Bali crocodile, but managed to escape through his massive cloaca.

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Everybody makes it to the falls with a little help from their friends. There are actually two sets of falls on the floor of this canyon. The first one is a beautiful twin falls and a little shorter, with more water flowing.

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The second set of falls is beautiful and higher. It has three falls. Above, you see a wet Made S walking near one of the three falls.

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Panoramic view with iPhone. My first attempt at panoramic mode. I did not know how to do this, and tried to lower the camera as the land went downhill. But no. You have to pretty much keep your camera level, or you get black edges. I think that’s what happens.

There are a total of 11 of us at the falls. Not your average tourist trap. No place to park a tour bus, no escalator to move you along toward the steps, no elevator down the mountainside, no bridge(s) across the river, no hoards of vendors selling sarongs, Buddha heads, or Bintang Beer. Pure sensory overload. Lush and natural history all to ourselves.

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You can take a couple out of the city, but you can’t take the city out of a couple.

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Beginning the ascent back to the top of the canyon feels somehow better, or safer, than the descent. There are two sets of steps, leading to two different villages and parking areas. These folks are using the less-steep stairs. My two Mades and I came from the other village and utilized the steeper steps. Like the Navy Seals say: Hooo-yahh!

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Xylophone man. Pupils like saucers. I do not know how to say in the Indonesian language: “what are you on, man.” But I would like to try some of whatever it is—I think. Maybe it is just too many cups of that Robusta coffee they offer at the entrance stand, which they sell for the inflated price of 25,000 rupiah ($1.85) for a bag of beans. Of course, in the Ubud Starbucks, their Bali coffee is way more expensive. But in the Bintang Market, local coffee is half the price here in nowhere. However, Made S informs me that this would be some of Bali’s finest local-style coffee. We both pop for a bag of the stuff.

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Whenever I try to shoot a photo of Made the guide, he lowers his head as though that were his best, or most unique, feature or as though he believed that was the shot I wanted.

We begin to retrace our steps back to the top of the ravine, using the steeper set of stairs. We climb those 270 stairs—going up is easier on the joints than going down, but more strenuous on the muscles. We climb fairly slowly; we all have our own reasons—Made the guide is a young Balinese (the happiest, friendliest, most beautiful people I know but not generally known for expending excessive energy, although I know some who do); Made S has a knee issue and wet pants; I’m a geezer. It surprises me, though, when I notice my heart pounding in my chest. Just how old have I gotten, how out of shape? I have been doing yoga five times a week for the past year, but not once this summer here in Bali; however, I am still fairly limber and in fairly good shape for a grizzled geezer my age. But I begin to feel a weird emotion, because I am remembering a time in my life when I would have run up these steps two at a time, like I did decades ago inside the Washington Monument in Washington, D.C. just for the fun of it (or maybe it really was ADHD). And for the first time in my life, I am imagining a time when doing these kinds of things will no longer be possible, and I’ll be like most people acting their age and traveling on a tour bus to Gitgit Falls along with 300 others. And then maybe a few years later, simply watching the Discovery Channel on a 50-inch TV. I thank god—or whomever or whatever—daily for my being me: healthy, happy, lucky, ornery. And, of course, bad. But what’s up with this pounding-heart crap?

Rationalization of the day: it was freaking straight up hill.

Betty Davis may have it right when she says: “Growing old ain’t for sissies.”

We ride the bikes back through the forest and past the berries the birds won’t eat. Once in the van again, we drive on more roads that Made S is not familiar with. We stop a few times to ask directions. We’re not lost, exactly. Made S knows the area, he knows where we’re going, he just doesn’t know quite where we are or how to get there from here because we’re going a different way than he usually drives, a shorter way, a less traveled way, a very beautiful way back down the mountain. He is finding his way back to the roads he knows. And he will not forget this new route for use with future clients.

We reach the main road back to Lake Bratan and ride through villages with names like Wana Giri and Panca Sari. By sheer chance I glance off to the side and notice a few hundred yards in from the road a pair of those temple pillars, one on either side of the road. I have found them! The very pillars that I had seen years before but didn’t know where they were, and had believed they were the entrance to Bedugul or Lake Bratan. I am thrilled to have found these pillars, thrilled more than you could know. They have been one of my most-vivid memories of my first time traveling Bali.

But then, disappointment saunters on stage. I’m a little alarmed, really, to discover that these temple gates are the entrance to the Bali Handara Kosaido Country Club! I had completely forgotten where the gates had led when I first visited all those years ago. I had remembered being entirely impressed by them when I first discovered them—their size, their beauty, the landscape around them. But I had not remembered being disappointed at the time to discover what they actually were. Now I feel a little let down because for all these years, the memory of those pillars has been a lucid vision of beauty and culture in my mind’s eye. Now, it’s unveiled as the entrance to a freakin golf course. I have nothing against golf nor people who play golf in country clubs. It’s just not the cultural beauty I had encased in memory. Sometimes, apparently, it is simply better not to return to a place you visited decades before.

Note to self: never return to Komodo Island. Or Sumatra. Or Yelapa. Or the Washington Monument.

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We take more back roads finding a different way home with different scenery than the way we came. We end up at Kintamani, a fairly good-sized town high on the slopes of another volcanic caldera, and overlooking Lake Batur and Gunung Batur, an active volcano and sacred to the Balinese. Hardened lava flow is visible down its slopes. But more amazing is that you see houses built on the slopes, next to old cars half-buried in solidified lava. Hey, I’m making no value judgments here—I can understand why someone might desire to live near a sacred site at the tree line of the forest where the lava stopped flowing downhill and burning everything above. OK, you’re right, I have made a value judgment, but I’m trying to keep it to myself.

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Standing on the rim of a volcano and peering into its caldera makes you feel small, insignificant—way more devastating to an ego than a well-hung banana tree. You’ll need to buy yourself a Porsche, a Bentley, and a Ferrari to compensate here. Gunung Batur sits inside a large caldera of a volcano that erupted thousands of years ago. From its rim, you peer into its depths and see Gunung Batur climb from the caldera floor and rise higher than the surrounding caldera rim on which you stand. It makes you wonder just how big the older volcanoes were.

The first time I visited Bali years ago, I stayed in a hotel located right on the rim of this caldera near the town of Kintamani, in a place called Lakeview Lodge. The hotel was expensive for me at the time, $10 a night, but I wanted to experience waking up to that view and just gazing at it all day from my private veranda while sipping kopi hitam (black coffee) and hot ginger tea. If you’ve never stood on the rim of a volcano and peered into its heart, you might want to try it. Even when dormant, a volcano is a powerful vortex of energy you can feel if you silence your mind and allow yourself to leave your personal space and situations. It is similar to the feeling you get when walking into the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris, or jumping out of an airplane, perhaps.

The first thing I saw in the morning from my $10 hotel room years ago was the sunlight shimmering on the lake like a million tiny diamonds. A man paddling alone in a dugout canoe, a thin line of a wake trailing behind him. Bright white clouds hugging the mountain top. The air was still, until the sun warmed the land, and then a brisk breeze blew in with majestic power. A huge bird that may have been an eagle, or large hawk, soared on thermals without using its wings, gliding along the high rim of the crater. This was no golf course.

Since that time, they have built a new hotel on that spot, a five-star hotel. I don’t even want to hazard a guess at the price of a room. But I’d guess your breakfast, or one beer at lunch, would cost you as much as I paid in 1987 for my over-priced-for-my-budget room.

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This little lady sells old postcards on the rim of the caldera in Kintamani. I am concentrating on getting down to her eye level and do not notice the logo on her hat, and notice it only when viewing the photo, days later. Now, I wish I knew the story of how she got that hat. Did someone give it to her? Did she find it? Was it payment for a pack of old postcards? Did it blow off someone’s head and end up half a mile down valley or somewhere inside the caldera? Or is it a knockoff made in Bali?

Next post, we finally drink some of the most expensive coffee in the world: kopi luwak. We meet a luwak. And we meet—you guessed it—yet another Made. If this were a song, we might title it: “Life Is Just A Bowl Of Mades.”

You can find other entries to DP Photo Challenge here: Connected

You can find other entries to Lucile’s Photo Rehab here:   Photo Rehab

You can find other entries to WP Daily Prompt here: The Young and the Rested

You can find other entries to Indah’s Monochrome Mondays here:  Monochrome Monday

You can find other entries to Sally’s Phoneography Challenge here:  SALLY’S


  1. Badfish, dont you think its time to come out of the closet? Admit it, dude, you really are that xylophone player,, right? that foot in a sandal is just a stunning disguise. Come on, admit it, man.

    Another chapter in the book. I’m glad you made it to the precise middle of nowhere. This is my favourite line today : This is wild country, natural country, a jungle, a living textbook of natural histories.:

    And can you write that story about the monster crocodile, please? I want to read it. Ya know, people would actually believe YOU. – only a badfish could get caught in a monster crocodile.

    As for : one aspect links to another seemingly incongruent aspect: .. Badfish, you have stumbled upon another name for your blog ! it could just as easily be called: Badfish’s Seeminly Incongruent Aspects!

    Thats why we love reading your blog so much – from the middle of nowhere to the middle of nowhere with lots of laughs and some gecko poop ( sorry, I stand corrected, gecko shit) as well – without all the hard yakka.

    Now you are back in Dubai, just what are you going to write about now?

    Liked by 1 person

    • I like it: Farris Bueller’s Seemingly Incongruent Aspects! And OK, I am the guy with the saucer eyes…at least on the inside! I simply leaned over another hiker and took a photo of his leg. Busted!! Only you would be able to catch me at this!
      I like that line about natural histories, too. This is one of the things I like most about writing stuff–when something comes out of me onto the page and makes me laugh or go…hey, that’s nice. That line did that for me. And it just popped out while writing the other stuff. So–thank you, gods.
      I’m not that good at fiction, so I’d have to actually get eaten by a croc to write the story, and they don’t actually have cloacas, so I’m not sure I want to try that! But thanks for the incentive.

      NEXT? Hey, I’m not finished with that DAY! We haven’t had kopi luwak yet. But to be honest, I thought I might do some stuff on Abu Dhabi…since I’m here. Check out Beth Byrnes’ blog here, I thought I’d do something like she did with NYC:


      • Baddie, my personal opinion ( regarding the blog you linked) is you should stick to what sells, and gecko poop sells. Which means, to spell it out more frankly, people dont self-admittedly wait days, get withdrawal symptoms and etc for your blog because its just another travel blog with good advice and pretty pics.
        they read it because it gives an insight into the soul and the life of a pershop who is as crazy as we all are, and isnt ashamed to write about it, humerously. ((OH MY,… I wrote “person” but it came out as “per shop” !!!! that is too crazy a typo to correct! I’m leaving it as it stands!!!!))

        So, that said, can you do a badfish take of AD? you know, Adu Dhabi in a bali-badfish style?

        you’re right, no one else picked up on the true selfie in there, but dont you feel better for admitting it now?

        as usual, I’m enjoying the comments as much as the post, here at the Badfish Cafe.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Dearest Per Shop,
          Right…that was to cool to edit. And OK, if you are sure that gecko poop and cloacas sell, I’m going to follow your advice. However, I’m not too certain how Bali Badfishy I can get about AD. We have censors and stuff. We’ll see what I can come up with. I could write about my 10-car pile up to begin maybe!! I plan to go out and buy a new car today, mine’s totaled. There is a badfish story in that, along with maybe having to move apartments in 39 degree heat.


          • Badfish, I do apologise for the effort required to read and edit typos. I have this – perhaps unfortunate – tendency to leave typos in then explain what happened, because i think they are funny, or interesting, when maybe others just think I’m plain cow cloaca, but anyhow….

            do you have insurance in AD? Will they pay up? Are ten car pile ups common in AD?? And why do you have to move apartments again? Didn’t you just move a while ago??

            Replies to all of the above questions can be delayed until above mentioned post. I have personal authorisation from the proprietor of the badfish and chips cafe for you to do that. I can fax it through if need be.

            in the meantime, we’re all anxious to read about the COFFEE. i mean how good can it be? personally, i never touch the stuff ( okay, once every three years or so) , so I’m waiting to be convinced.

            Good luck with the new car buying. You can drop that in as a mention in the COFFEE post and get everyone all anxious to read about that too. You do this build-up-the-next installment of the blog excitement so well – you’re a natural!

            Toodle-ooh. 🙂

            Liked by 1 person

          • Yes. Yes. Yes. My work pays for the apartment, but they have a limit. For some unknown reason rents here are like way over the line. And my landlord raised the rent 10%. And the coffee is…really good. I was surprised!

            Liked by 1 person

  2. That was a great way to spend a few minutes of my morning Badfish, feel like I’ve done that whole trip along with you, can feel the clean air and the spray from the falls – thanks for sharing the experience! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. See, it was serendipitous that you were’t able to rent that motor bike and instead utilized the good services of Made S and his dry car. I too seem to have that sometimes ‘something’ takes care of me in life too. Often my biggest disappointments later turn out to be my biggest blessings.

    And what a stunning afternoon you had…forests, rice fields, waterfalls, volcanoes, ornamental roof top carving, cool ladders to the tops of fruit trees, a motor bike ride (okay, not the one you had wanted but the one that you got) and best of all, connecting with so many beautiful people of Bali.

    Okay, there was a ‘less than’ lunch experience and the the over touristed bits with the I ‘Heart’ Bali T-Shirts to remember them by, but overall, it was a magnificent tour.

    Luckily you let Made S navigate rather than your phone. Who knows what the day would have turned out like if you were such a control freak…I guess lots of photos of a dead end cul-de-sac.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hahahaha! You are right–count my blessings it is. Being taken care of is sometimes nicer than other things that might happen. I sure wouldn’t want to be in that rain on a bike!! And fine, so I dieted for the day. And how many photos can you take of a cul-de-sac!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. What I like is being able to sit here in my overstuffed, properly proportioned chair, chillin’ with the morning’s first cup of coffee, and read a lovely travel log that places me right there, in the middle of beautiful nowhere Bali, without all the fuss and bother of, you know, hiking 400m of vertical stairs and shit. Or having to juxtapose my plump, pasty white skin next to the lovely brown lithe youths in your photos.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sally, hey thanks! I actually don’t mean to get so carried away with all that detail and all those words, it just sort of spills out and apparently, keeps spilling out.
      I was wondering–do I have to create a separate post to enter your weekly thing, or can I link using a photo from a post like this, where I’ve used some iPhotos?


      • You can link from a post that you have used an iPhone to take an image.
        Check Amy at Share and Connect. She uses a post that has a number of images and she’ll mention the challenge. But it is important to link to me (send me a Pingback), and then I can list your entry on my post. I will be delighted to have you as part of the challenge’s photo community. By the way let those words find their landing. In the future you’ll be ever so pleased that you did.

        Liked by 1 person

          • i think that lensandpenssally means “enter the challenge whenever you feel up to it”.. as in, let the words about being part of her photo challenge community land in your mind and emerge into action whenever you see fit. I think lensandpenssally must have seen your many refererences to Procrastination. 🙂

            Liked by 1 person

  5. Ok. So best educational take-away: bamboo can grow to be 90-100 feet high and can even grow 2′ in a day. That is totally awesome. No wonder there’s so much stuff made out of bamboo! Is this the kind of bamboo Panda bears eat?

    One more thing I thought was awesome was what you said about staying on the rim of the volcano and how it made you feel. That is how I felt at Mt. St. Helens a couple years ago. And also at Quake Lake (Hebgen Lake) in West Yellowstone where it freaked me the hell out! I think the hair stood up on my arms the whole time we were there.

    Another wonderful and enlightening post! Going to be sorry that you’ve gone home! Hugs!


    • I know…that stuff grows fast! And yes, pandas eat that stuff. Lesson of the day: if you are reincarnated as a bear, it’s better to come back as a panda rather than a polar bear–much easier to find food.
      And listen, about going home: this post is just the first day, and we have not gotten to the kopi luwak yet!!!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Oh! I am glad! I rather enjoy these. Makes me feel like I’ve actually been somewhere! Though we’re off to see our new granddaughter in Maryland next week. So that will be fun. Will be looking forward to your next installment! Hugs.

        Liked by 1 person

      • there’s about 42 different speicies of bamboo that pandas can eat. if they are the same bamboo species as growing in indonesia, i dont know. however, baddie, hate to rain on your parade, but finding food for pandas isnt so easy. that’s why they’re endangered. because human activity has encroached on their homelands.
        the poor polar bears are being down out of their ice also, nothing so sad as seeing a polar bear trying to find food on the ground instead of the frozen sea ( i just saw a doco, it was really so sad)

        anyhow, did you know that in chinese, pandas are called “xiong mao” which means “bear cat”.

        panda habitats have decreased by huge rates and there are only isolated patches of wild territory.

        if you have 2000 in hard cash to spare, you can cuddle a panda for two seconds and have your photo taken. Poor panda. They should get danger money for being forced to cuddle so many humans per day. The money is supposed to go to panda research, but hey, really?

        Liked by 2 people

        • Jeeesh, what? You’re like the expert on bamboo, eh. And pandas! Yeah, people, I forgot about that in the equation for coming back next life as a panda. People seem to mess up everything, don’t they–air, land, panda habitat.
          2000 what? Yen or dollars? I love pandas, but I’m not spending 2000 bucks to pet one. And right…just where does that money go is always the question.
          So…next life: I guess I’ll come back as a cat…in a rich person’s home in America in, say, Colorado. Or Montana, where I can roam free.


          • Baddie, I promise I am going to go away and drink tea after this comment.

            Actually, the expert on bamboo is Ms Google, i ask her a lot. Pandas – well, most school kids know they are endangered. what grade did you say you taught? ( no offence, man). At first I thought it was 2000 $, like USA ones, when I first heard about this gig some years ago, but now I realise it is YUAN, note not yen, which is japanese. that would be about 400 aussie $ at the latest exchange rate – still a big slog in anyone’s money and they usher you in and out I have heard. Pandas also are, apparently, notoriously difficult to mate in zoos, and the zoo keepers want them to, as the rate of panda bubs in the wild is also very low ( you know, endangered species and that). So – true story – some zoo keepers took to showing boy pandas panda porn. Babies emerged, some time later.

            Now I really do need that cup of tea.


          • Panda “bubs”…is that a word (or one of your lovely typos)? Fujian…well, a missed opportunity, but fine, we move on. Panda porn…I don’t doubt it, but…well, yeah, that’s doubtable. Is it legal?

            Liked by 1 person

  6. I will admit that after the snub of the buffet and the lack of available food I could barely concentrate. I am notoriously irritable when hungry, just ask a certain saint like husband. I might have been leaping out of the car at the sight of bananas.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s funny, I can see you sitting there downing the buffet looking out the window at…nothing but the vans in the parking lot. And it’s funny because I’m the opposite, I’ve felt hungry many times in my life, and not eaten. There was just too much to do. Eating has always been a nuisance for me, a waste of time. But the bananas were good!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Some day we could have a very good discussion about this. I spent much of my life being hungry too and not enough energy to do much. Now food is the fuel that keeps the life adventures fired up. I’m pretty fond of bananas too. 🙂


  7. Finally I see Badfish selfie 😀 oh well, a cute one leg at last being seen :p
    I have never been to this waterfalls then I think it’s quite special that you saw it yourself – despite all the trouble to climb steep stairs 😀 crossing so many rivers 🙂 You know, the thing that comes to mind when reading this part, you will jump and swimming there afterwards 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • I know…the first selfie! You’ve never been to these falls? Not surprised. They really are in the middle of nowhere, and maybe not even accessible until fairly recently?? That one group of young people did wear bathing suits. The water is not really deep, except right under the falls, the perfect spot to bath.


  8. Wow…I’ve been saving your post for a couple of days until I had the opportunity to savor it…every word. I keep thinking I am there engrossed in the beautiful scenery and details….not so much the stairs up the edge … were I actually there at this moment I would undoubtedly stay there forever as I would not want to ruin the mood with having a rescue helicopter haul my old carcass out of there! Reading your words is like the feeling I get sometimes when engrossed in a particularly interesting book when I can feel myself almost physically pulled back to reality. Oh, did I say I liked the adventure trip?

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Aloha Mr. Badfish…Thank you for this one…the pictures remind me of all the places on my island I have only seen pictures of and have yet to actually visit…what a wake up call to make me feel “lucky to live Kauai”… and get my ass back in shape so I can go do a few new things…As usual, beautiful story, beautiful pictures…Thanks again!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • KK, Aloha right back at you. So glad you like this piece, it took me forever!! And yeah, it easily could be the island of Kauai, lush and tropical, and really not that far away. I hear you on the “get my ass back in shape” thing! How did I ever get like this anyway?


  10. “Standing on the rim of a volcano and peering into its caldera makes you feel small, insignificant—way more devastating to an ego than a well-hung banana tree. You’ll need to buy yourself a Porsche, a Bentley, and a Ferrari to compensate here.”


    And now this, from www:

    “Jed McKenna does not exist. The name on the cover of Spiritual Enlightenment: The Damnedest Thing is a pseudonym for the actual author who wishes to remain anonymous.”

    Sorry for blowing your cover but you’re just too damn enlightened for your own good. 😉

    And you’re not so old! Like mom told the boy: “You don’t have two heads. Now good night. Mwa. Mwa.”

    Liked by 2 people

        • He’s got a speakeasy he’s been keeping quiet down in the Badfish and Chips Cafe basement, snowsomewhere. There’s unlimited coffee and tea down here, he hasn’t offered us champagne yet. But i’m sure he’ll bring it out for you. You’ll probably have to wait a bit though… he’s off somewhere with Elvis. ( he said so, above somewhere.) Anyhow in the continued absence of the proprietor, welcome to the Badfish and Chips Cafe and Basement Speakeasy. 🙂

          Liked by 1 person

          • Hello Badfish, no, no stevia, its just a marketing ploy and almost as bad as what it substites, sugar.
            Sugar free and sugar -additive free tea, ethical of course, free-trade and all that.
            we might even put a few tea bushes out the back so you can pick your own, okay?
            no civet poop though, sorry.


          • Bummer, is it really as bad as sugar. I’m not going to believe you until I read it somewhere, dang it!! But I suppose if it’s processed, it can’t be that good for you. Stevia in the raw, fine, that is good for you. Stevia powder…hmmmm?


          • dear Baddie, thanks for replying to my reply to your reply to my reply to someone else’s reply that you had already replied to – because it gave me the chance to look again at those gorgeous photos. It also made me ponder, once more, as I looked at those pics of the saucer-eyed man, how you managed to disguise your true identity for so long. Those sandals might fool a lot of your followers, Baddie, but they dont fool me.
            Now, where were we? Stevia, I believe. I am truly mortally offended that you don’t believe me. so go google it for yourself – it is truly not good. the plant, yes, the processed gunk, nup.
            Before you head off to google, how about topping up my crystal flute? and by the way, how IS Elvis?


          • Right…to all that.
            Stevia: it’s just that I WANT it to be better than sugar. I can see it’s processed. Dang!
            I suppose you want topping offed with the GOOD stuff…eh?
            Elvis: yeah, he’s fine, but we are redecorating the Jungle Room. Too many ghosts.


  11. As always, love it!!! You do know those saucer like eyes come at a cost? In case you didn’t, his mouth would clue you. The picture of that little girl is so charming, maybe one day, you can put together a book of beautiful children from around the world.

    Liked by 1 person

      • Yeah, the teeth. I hope you can your book done one day. The thing is to do it. Like this blog, if you build it, they will come! You already have a built in fan base and with your witty narratives, no problem selling it. Trust me.


          • I did a script read this weekend and felt like I was annihilated, but then in retrospect, no more than anyone else. It’s hard to open yourself like that and then listen to criticism, but fortunately everyone was kind and amazing making excellent suggestions on how to improve.


          • A writer has to have thick skin, especially if you’re asking for feedback. The stuff that hurts is the stuff that makes your piece better. I’ve had a lot of stuff that hurts.


          • Absolutely! Like I said everyone was looking pretty pained, but all were very appreciative. What got me is what I was thinking was not as evident as what was on the paper. It was like, “I thought I said that” On closer look, it was in my head but never made clear on the page. We were not allowed to respond until everyone had commented, which was time efficient. I noticed with myself and others that some people got what I was saying or doing and for others it was not clear and V.S.


          • Ah…got it. And right…sometimes what we have in our heads is not what makes it to the page. Here’s a hint: revision, revision, revision. And then, revise again.


  12. Hi BadFish, I have been back and forth here, reading this post several times and enjoying the photos of paradise, without leaving a comment. So many beautiful photos triggered (good) envy of your time there, although it is entirely your fault. Your detailed, fun and instructive narrative, is like time travel, but all of a sudden I realized that only you were there! 😦
    And you’re jealous of my red bridge? We need a shrink! Why human-not-sapiens always want someone’s else life? At least you need a shrink to resolve your Ghecko trauma! He made an impression on you!
    But seriously, I am short of words, as always, after reading your superlative posts. Bring the next ones. I am here!
    Ah, and have a lovely week!
    PS. How’s that construction in front of your apartment going?

    Liked by 2 people

  13. I finally got to the end of this post. What a journey. I would have loved the climb down to the waterfalls – they look beautiful. I also would have love the climb back up 🙂
    I wrote a great long rambling reply but lost it so this will have to do. We rode those elephants. We drank Kopi Luwak. I have so much sugar in my coffee I couldn’t tell the difference from ordinary coffee.
    Love the photo 5th from the top, and the one taken from the motor bike – really captures the movement.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. I think I just enjoyed your day almost as much as you did! First of all, your leaf photos captivated me – I have no idea what they all are (some banana leaves for sure), but to a one they are gorgeous. Second, what I really need when I read your posts is the ability to redline the writing; I need to drop little comments in here and there, all over the place. But I can’t … so suffice it to say that my favorite part was when you just sat – sat and looked at the scene before you photographed it or walked any further. That is why I walk deep into nature all over the world, so I can keep those few moments of stillness with me when life gets too crazy.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Yeah, for some reason, I seem to take photos of leaves. Maybe it’s a past-life thing? I would love to see your red-line comments!!! Or even WHERE you put a red line. And yes…a moment of stillness beside a wall of leaves and a waterfall—this is life at its best.

      Liked by 2 people

  15. Hi Badfish, I think this is probably the first post I’ve ever read where I ignored the photos entirely, until the end. I was captivated. You have a wonderful writing style. I absorbed all the sights and aromas – I was THERE! And the photos were a bonus on an otherwise right riveting read! Bravo.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Saf
      Well that is like one of the most precious things anyone has ever said to me…made my day, and it’s only 6:30 in the morning! I never thought I’d like to hear that someone ignored my photos!! But…

      Liked by 1 person

        • Yeah, that. Or toss the papers down the stairs. The ones closest to the bottom get A’s. The ones near the top, Fail.But I do like your idea of “motivation”…and win win.


          • That would be too much work for you.
            But seriously, this idea of grading is controversial. There are many saying that stringent measurement doesn’t lead to better performance.I agree. Not always the best graded students turn into the best professionals. I see evidence of this in the corporate world, which also ‘grades’ using performance management measures, which invariably fail to increase…performance…but effectively discourages people.
            At school and in business, I think we should also grade teachers and managers.
            Have you ever seen this Ted Talk?


  16. I love it! You wrote a sequel! The minute I began reading, I knew you began where you left off (sort of). I’m already acquainted with Made S, so I know where I am.

    Then you bring up one of our spooky moments: “I’m not a big eater. In my mind, the healthiest diet is the diet of countries who have only one Starbucks and no KFC’s in their cities, what I call The Eat Like A Bird Diet—to simply under eat, eat anything you want to eat, just stop eating before you’re full. And top with a healthy dollop of exercise.”

    I mean, this is me to a T. I’ve never been a big eater, and I am not thus because I’m trying to stay slim and trim – not that there’s anything wrong with that. I’m actually just not really hungry… EXCEPT for your one line in the next part: “I never eat at all-you-can-eat buffets … I dislike feeling bloated after eating, which always happens when you eat all you can eat—that’s the whole idea. Third, since I don’t gorge myself, a buffet is overkill; I never get my money’s worth at a buffet, except maybe desserts.”

    Yes, I cut out a bit, but only to highlight that which makes it even more spooky. If I go to a buffet – we have a Chinese buffet in town – I have found the one dish that suits me fine. Poached/steamed (?) salmon, no sauces, or anything, and I grab the veggies off the top of some of the other entrees and maybe 5 little cap mushrooms. That’s it. But really, I’ve only come for the desserts. It’s the only time I actually eat sweets – otherwise, it’s fruit after meals.

    Now I return us to your story…

    Ah, finding reasons why I choose this versus that – or you do, as I read. The familiarity is, shall I say, spooky? I rationalize too much. I am happy, now to see, others do as well.

    I love this sentence: “This is wild country, natural country, a jungle, a living textbook of natural histories.” In fact, I love that I learn so much. I marvel at your knowledge – it doesn’t matter if it has always been in your head, or you sit researching, after getting back home and begin to organize the memorabilia of your trip, so you can bring us to a place that is a paradise called “the midddle of nowhere.” I’ve had this sense before. It’s luxurious, and your way of allowing us into a personal journey, and making it not just sound, but feel like the epitomy of all that is right with the world – as far from the maddening crowd as a body can get.


  17. Wow, paradise found! Your iPhone pano is amazing, along with all the rest of your photos. Bali is so beautiful — I miss it. Btw, were did you live in Colorado? I grew up there. Thanks for another exceptional post off the beaten path. Where are you now?


    • I know, that iPhone is fast becoming my favorite tool. It does have some huge drawbacks. But I love that I can carry it all the time, and have it ready to take a photo anywhere. I’m so tired of lugging camera gear around!

      I lived in Aspen, CO, for ten years…best ten years of my life. I just got back from Bali, am home in Abu Dhabi now. I meant to be in Bhutan at THIS very moment, but failed to make plans! bummer


      • Wow, lucky you to spend 10 years in Aspen! I agree — lugging camera gear is no fun. But phones are clunky in their own way too. Whoever invents the one-handed DSLR will revolutionize the whole thing. I’ve been watching coverage of the pope and the press have four cameras around their necks and are peering through their viewfinders. There has to be a better way. How is Abu Dhabi? Post some photos!


        • I know, Aspen…very cool place to hang. Where were you? And…Right…at one point in my life, I thought I wanted to make a living at photography. Just never followed through…like so many other grand ideas I came up with. My phone is very difficult to take a photo with, light weight sure, but how do you hold the thing? It needs a handle….and to be one-handed. And to be as good as a DSLR. Then, I’m happy.


      • what happened, Badfish? did you buy the ticket and then miss the plane? or just miss buying the ticket?… maybe Bhutan doesn’t need a Badfish right now? or maybe a Badfish doesnt need a Bhutan with its Happiness Quotient…. or maybe, as you said somewhere else, reality is … well.. highly overrated. think of it this way, if you are on holidays, then you will have lots of spare time to write lots of humourous posts to keep the wolves at bay, okay? looking forward to that….. oh and btw, what happened to your new/old car? you forgot to keep us posted!


        • Bhutan…you have to plan a month in advance, everything is done by sanctioned tour.
          Old car totaled. Having difficulties registering the new one, bought and paid for, can’t drive it…red tape.

          Liked by 1 person

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