George, Rocky, and I are going on a bike ride for a couple of days to Negara in SW Bali, not that we need a reason but I just collected my new Honda PCX, and I haven’t seen much of West Bali. Negara is an interesting but not an especially popular destination. A coastal area with the forested central mountains as a backdrop, it has some rather special attractions including buffalo races, a very colourful fishing port, a cosmopolitan community and my favourite – some wonderful concrete statues.
We weave our way through the outskirts of Denpasar in the early morning light, there is little traffic. A short distance after Tabanan the road turns south and meets the coast near Soka, we ride along the coast with glimpses of the ocean where a good swell is running, then on past Balian to the small town of Pekutantan.
Here we take a side trip and turn into the hills and up through the plantations of cloves, coffee and cocoa to visit Bunut Bolong, a huge hollow banyan tree which bridges the small country road. It’s a good place to stop so we take a rest, buy some coffee, take in the views and chat to a couple of local vendors. There is a small temple beside the tree and the early morning mist creates a mystical aura. We head back down to pick up the main road again. It’s a short ride before we turn down a sandy track to Medewi beach a popular surf spot, where we find a beach front warung, watch the surfers, chat to the locals and have some lunch.
After Medewi we head to Negara a bit further up the road. While it now sits on the main road between the ferry from Java at Gilimanuk and Denpasar it was originally an isolated regency unaffected by events on the rest of the island. Due to some quirks in history the area has a large contingent of ‘Bugis’ people from Sulawesi living here. As a result there is a large number of mosques and the influence of Islam is stronger here than anywhere else in Bali, reflected in the distinct architecture of Bugis houses around Negara.
A decent river cuts the town in two and after getting lost in some random exploration we come across some lovely beach front accommodation on the west side of the river called Segara Urip Homestay. And of course, serendipity provided us with a host also races Buffalo. According to Agus the Balinese owner there is nothing ordinary about his champion-winning Buffalos, but alas there is no buffalo racing at the moment. Nonetheless he drags us off to see his prize winners and later watch videos of them kicking up dust in their colourful attire. The races are held at Delod Berawah about 9 km east of Negara town, the races are thought to originate from Madura and are now held as part of the harvest festivities in Negara. The colourfully decorated carts and buffalos race around a 4 km course every 2nd and 4th Sunday morning starting about 7am, certainly worth a visit here for the races alone.
With no Buffalo races Agus recommends we visit the local port in the late afternoon to see the colourful and unusually designed fishing boats. It’s a pleasant ride into town across the river and back down to the coast and onto the harbour on the other side of the river. The locals are intrigued by the three gringos wandering around the port. George, an old fishing seafarer becomes engaged in conversation with the local fisherman, Rocky is fascinated as he watches the traditional boat building and repairs in the muddy shallows, while I wander around taking photos of the Madurese style fishing boats in the soft light.
We head back to our accommodation, find a nice local warung near the river mouth which serves fresh fish and cold beer. As the sun sets we watch the colours of the boats come alive and reflected on the surface of the river.
We have no particular plan for the next morning, so we wander down and along the beach front. It was a beautiful still morning and the fisherman were returning with their overnight catch. Mum, the kids and extended family come down to inspect the catch and help drag the boats up the beach, it’s a cooperative affair with everyone helping out.
We have breakfast and head a bit further west and then into the foothills to Palasari Village, where there is a large reservoir and a Catholic Church, both set against the backdrop of the rugged National Park. The area has some interesting history. The Dutch who colonised Bali rather late, learnt from their previous mistakes elsewhere wanted to preserve the distinct Balinese culture so they restricted missionaries and plantation owners.
Existing Catholic and Protestant missionaries were moved to forested tracks of land in the foothills behind Negara. Undaunted the Christian trailblazers created successful protestant and catholic communities. The Catholic community at Palasari Village has a congregation of about 1,400 and remains the largest Catholic Church in Bali. The protestant community can be found at the nearby Blimbinsari Village.
Unfortunately, the Church is closed today so we ride around the very tidy but sleepy village and visit the nearby reservoir, winding our way back down through the hills to the coast.
It’s time to head back to Denpasar, but I have one more side trip planned. Set in the foothills behind Selemadeg is the Bali Trees Retreat. It was a beautiful ride up the small village tracks through the terraced paddies, along the tracks in the dappled light of the plantations, it’s a beautiful retreat in a pristine area but quite isolated. We head back down through the villages to the main road and head home to Denpasar.