Tired of the legions of tourists in Kuta and Ubud and the constant calls of “Transport? Massage? Watersport?” that follow them? Hop on your moped and head out west, to the side of the island rarely visited by tourists. While we took the scenic and quite out-of-the-way route of cutting through the mountainous middle of the island and heading west along the northern coast, there is a straightforward “highway” along the southern coast – just beware of the large and fast trucks coming from Java.
I highly recommend the small village of Permuteran, on the northwest coast of Bali. A short drive from the much more popular Lovina, Permuteran is known for its diving. We enjoyed the quiet sandy beaches and charming hotels, and there was some good snorkeling to be found just off shore. Heading further west from Permuteran, the road meanders through tiny villages of thatched-roof houses and the landscape becomes much hotter and drier. There was hardly a soul to be seen, Indonesian or otherwise.
Gilimanuk is a nondescript port-town where one can catch the ferry to Java, but it is a must-visit if only to try the famous Chili Chicken. We located the original chili chicken shack at the back of an old bus terminal and mistakenly ordered 2 orders of chili chicken. The owner laughed and said “Only one!” which was a relief when we received a whole chicken, completely covered in chili peppers. It was accompanied by 3 different kinds of sambal (chili pepper paste). We sweated and burned our way through the delicious chicken, much to the amusement of the other local patrons, each of whom had their own puddle of sweat under their seat!
The western towns of Bali are Muslim and have quite a different feel from the rest of the Hindu island. Negara features mosques and much more covered women, but the people are no less friendly and the town is refreshingly devoid of tourists. Take a short detour to the traditional fishing village of Pengambengan to see the incredibly beautiful fishing boats only found in this area. A riot of psychedelic colors and much larger than most Balinese fishing boats, these beauties travel in twos with the captain sitting in the ornate crows nest.
A must-see in Negara – and truly the highlight of our whole Bali experience – are the buffalo races held in nearby Perancak. The racing season runs on Sundays from July through October, but there were smaller practice races while we were there in February as well. The buffalo is a surprisingly adorable animal with a stocky build and fuzzy beard and is adorned with red and golden bells. The race is not for the faint of heart: the dirt track doesn’t have fence to block the stampede, and the jockeys whip the buffalo with a thorny stick -but it is a truly authentic Balinese experience.