One would think a destination guide to Bali should be about as useful as a 274-page manual for using a light switch. After all, if there are off the beaten track destinations, then the track to Bali has been beaten black and blue - black sand, blue sea, party on the beach, end of the story. Every square centimeter has been described in a dozen blogs, photographed by hundreds of amateurs, and employed as a background for someone's selfie. And one would be wrong: even the touristy parts of Bali, southern and eastern, still hide a few secret attractions, and the west receives zero attention from the hordes of vacationers, ex-pats and winter refugees. The rice fields of Lalanglinggah are not mentioned in any guidebook, a beach with a temple and a cave nearby barely appears on Google Maps, and Jembrana remains an unnoticed bus stop on the land route to Java, despite its traditional buffalo races.
Just like Sherlock Holmes' letter, this is a secret hidden in plain sight. The few tourists that happen to realize Bali is not a country and is located right next to a much larger, more diverse and attractive island of Java might pass right by the terraced fields of Lalanglinggah if they choose the land route to Gilimanuk and Banyuwangi. Even from the road, this feat of agriculture is impressive - the sheer vastness of it, and in good weather, the looming mountain shadows in the background. But Lalanglinggah is not only broad, it goes deep into the hills. Many little roads and farm trails snake through the terraces, most suitable for a motorbike. Lalanglinggah definitely warrants a full day of exploration. I would even dare to say it matches the more popular rice terrace area of Jatiluwih (and beats the hell out of Tegalalang, the undeservedly famous tourist trap near Ubud). As it is common in equatorial Indonesia with its lack of seasonal changes, you may stumble upon fields in every stage of ripeness on the same trip - mirror-like water surface of unplanted pools, the green texture of young rice, bright gold of ripened stalks, and dirty brown soil where the grain has been harvested.
If an animal can move, people will use it for racing. It probably tells something fundamental about us humans, and more so about Indonesians, who race just about every species they can get - Sumatra, for example, has duck and fish races, in addition to the more common horse and bull ones. Makepung, the buffalo race of Bali, is an opulent, pompous, but visibly brutal affair. The mighty beasts pull brightly decorated chariots at an impressive speed, barely making the sharp turns. Maniacal jockeys continuously smack them on the rump. Canes with thorns or, more often, short iron nails are used for the job, and blood flows freely. This is not a contest for the best animal, like the Sumatran pacu jawi - this is a big sport, with all the expected fervor. Tournaments usually start in late September or early October, with the grand finale happening around the end of November. A cup is presented to the champion by Jembrana authorities. To a visitor, makepung makes quite a spectacle, and a photographer will find it a great subject to try panning shots on.
Soka Beach is another "secret" attraction of South-West Bali. It is located right next to Gilimanuk road and also remains unknown to the majority of tourists. Some travelers come to Balian, a nearby spot popular with surfers, but very few stop at Soka. Sharp rocks here make the sea too dangerous for surfing, but they also form a rather spectacular panorama. A cliff on the western side of the beach cuts off a still, reflecting pool of water and towers above it. Another one houses a small cave that can be explored. This place is sacred for the Balinese. A cavity in one of the rocks is believed to be the cooking kettle of Kebo Iwa, a legendary gluttonous giant who protected the island of Bali against incursions by the Majapahit empire. Aside from regular melasti ceremonies conducted here, locals also come to Soka Beach to watch the sunset. A small shack selling hot drinks may or may not be open, depending on sheer luck.
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