Things have gotten rather busy the past few days as I prepare to say a sorrowful farewell to Southeast Asia and a hearty “g’day mate” to Australia. And I don’t mean busy in an “I have errands to run, temples to see, legong dances to do” way, but in more of a “I have treacherous hikes to survive, giant lizards to outrun, and tsunami warnings to research” kind of way.
First there was magical Munduk, a Bali mountain town tucked into the island’s northeastern peaks. This was a “blink and you’ll drive past it sort of town,” but the surrounding environs were true showstoppers. Now, the thing to do – I mean the entire reason you come to Munduk – is to hike to a series of nearby waterfalls. The tourist information hut (“office” would be too strong a word here) marked the hike as “Easy.” Well, “easy” perhaps for Shaun White or some other sure-footed Olympian, but for the likes of this traveler, known as I am for an uncanny knack to trip on flat, evenly paved roads, it was pure terror.
I stumbled and slipped on roots and vertical inclines. I slid down stumpy dirt tracks clinging blindly to vines and branches. I scratched my hands, yelped a few times, fought off some vertigo, and cursed profanely (mostly in my head). “But you never outright fell down,” Ayaz noted helpfully. Finally, I found myself gaping at one of the most magnificent waterfalls imagined – and we were the only hikers in sight.
From Munduk, we headed to Gili Meno, a mere freckle in the sea, and the tiniest of the Gili Islands. Other travelers warned that it was quiet beyond imagination here, with no nightlife, empty beaches, nothing to do. I decided immediately Gili Meno would be right up my 90-year-old soul’s alley. And so it was.
With snorkeling to rival The Maldives, underwater turtle sightings, a glimpse of unforgettable and giant lumbering sea beasts known as the “double-headed butterfish,” relatively empty beaches, deep quiet, cold Bintangs at sunset, and a sweet second-storey outdoor bungalow – I was in island heaven. And then I spied the monstruous running lizard while walking on the island’s sand path. Now “lizard” is a friendly term for what rivaled a zoo-worthy creature. And man, could the thing shimmy. In a split second it was off the path and long gone, leaving Ayaz and I to debate the possiblity of whether we had in fact seen a wild komodo dragon. After a good deal of discussion, we determined that no, we had simply witnessed a lizard which had advanced far beyond Darwinian expectations.
All was well and good, until I checked my email. Few things inspire more terror than an email from the US Consulate titled “Tsunami Warning: Indonesia” when you are smack dab in the middle of Indonesia. The tsunami warning for essentially all of the Pacific came as a result of the tsunami created after the devastating earthquake and subsequent tsunami in Japan on March 11.
Thankfully, the warning did not apply to the Gili Islands, or even anywhere near them (Indonesia is massive), but I know we were incredibly lucky, and my thoughts and prayers stay with all those affected by the earthquake. It still took some time for us to determine we weren’t in harm’s way, and that time was in short, scary.
First we congratulated ourselves on having sought a second-storey room for once, and one made of concrete rather than the ubiquitous thatch and bamboo variety, no less. Then Ayaz read to me FEMA’s article on tsunami preparation.
First, use a battery-operated radio to listen to tsunami reports. “We don’t have a radio, Ayaz.” “No. No we do not.”
Second, head to elevated ground. “The island is flat. Perfectly, evenly flat.” “Yes. Yes it is.”
Third, stay away from the beach. We both looked over our balcony at the waves lapping gently on the shore in front of us. We didn’t need to comment on that one.
We made a trip to the hotel restaurant to up the ante on our bottled water supply. The manager shook his head at our worried faces, promised us we were in absolutely no danger, and popped open 2 cold beers – which we hastily grabbed, then ran upstairs and drank from our 2nd floor balcony.