One of the most exhilarating feelings of travel is when you finally see in person that iconic structure or image that you have longed for years, maybe even decades, to see one day. You dream about that day and wonder what it would be like. The excitement is akin to seeing a lover or a good friend after a long time apart: in other words, you can’t wait. So when the morning came of the day that I would visit the Jatiluwih Rice Terraces, a UNESCO heritage site, I felt like a kid again. I couldn’t wait, and the two-hour car ride along winding roads made it more anticipatory. My driver, Alex, took a few minor wrong turns as he mentioned that he’s been there only once maybe. I felt a little nervous, also, because it looked like it might rain, and I couldn’t bear the possibility that the picture that I have been longing for years to take might not be picture perfect after all. Each time I travel to a place, I dream of taking that perfect shot that I could enter in a photography contest. Of course, I would be the winner. And Jatiluwih would be the perfect place for a winning shot with it’s expanse of nature, and perhaps the greenest I would witness other than Machu Picchu. It was pretty cloudy that morning and I was a little worried that my photo might not be contest worthy. But you never know. Anything can happen when it comes to the weather.
When we finally arrived, the sun came out! We got out of the car to a lookout point overlooking a part of Jatiluwih, and since there was a restaurant right there we decided that it would be a good time to have a quick bite. It was perfectly sunny with blue skies and white, puffy clouds (as the above picture shows) and I was so happy I was finally there. I was a little nervous about how hot it might get in the rice fields as I only had a hat with me and not sunscreen. Our lunch was only about 45 minutes long and when we were finished it started to rain very lightly, although it was still sunny. The entrance was within our view, and it took us less than a minute to drive up to it. Then suddenly and immediately it started pouring rain. I wondered why things turn out the way they do sometimes. How is it possible that a few minutes ago we were having lunch while it was perfectly sunny, and then a few minutes later it is pouring rain? I was hopeful that the rain would pass, and just as quickly the weather turned from sunny to a deluge of rain, I hoped that the weather would reverse again. To pass the time I asked Alex to pull up to the outdoor cafe that was right by the entrance to the rice fields. When we came out of the car, the pools of rain on the ground were numerous, and I was so glad I had flip flops on. We each ordered a Balinese coffee. What a perfect way to watch the world go by, I thought. But it rained so hard that I can still hear the sound of the harsh rain as I write this, and I can still feel the cool mist on my face from the rain. My chance of taking a good photo really didn’t look good. I ordered a second cup of coffee while Alex preferred a cigarette instead. Sitting across from me Alex had a certain look on his face. I didn’t know it then but in looking back at this moment it was the look of pity, I believe. He knew the weather wouldn’t get better but he was obliging me with my childlike enthusiasm as well as hope. When it became depressingly clear that I would never get that perfect shot, I confessed to Alex that I wanted to cry. As he paused to inhale his cigarette, he said that if I felt like crying that I should go ahead and cry. As he exhaled, I, too, exhaled but with tears. I told him that I have been wanting to see the rice terraces for a long, long time. I was a little girl again as I ranted about spending $1,600 in an economy airfare, taking a 22 hour plane ride, and never, ever coming back to Bali nor having the opportunity to see the rice terraces ever again. And is it too much to ask, I ranted, for just ONE nice picture after all this trouble? Alex looked at me across from the square wooden table while still smoking his cigarette, and he was silent. He listened and he understood. I was glad that he was silent because I think I would have cried harder if he tried to make me feel better. As we drove away from Jatiluwih, that feeling came over me, consumed me rather, like when you are saying goodbye to a loved one forever. I didn’t care about where we were going next, actually. We were supposed to try to catch the sunset at Tanah Lot Temple but we weren’t quite sure if we would make it in time. I didn’t want to expect much for fear of being disappointed again. Besides, who knows if the rain would stop, although Alex seemed to think that the weather would be much better where we were headed. I didn’t know if he was just trying to make me feel better as I would have none of that. My day was ruined, and I couldn’t imagine my day getting any better. As we drove off, I kept looking back wishing for the miracle of the sun to shine through.
Those moments of driving in a car, on foreign soil, with foreign signs, and being driven by someone you hardly know are one of the greatest treasures and adventures of international travel. You are entrusting someone with your life since the rules of the road are unknown to you, traffic might be on the opposite side of what you’re used to, and you have no idea where you’re going. You have no control. The crazy scooters and motorbikes in Bali, dodging and weaving in and out of traffic, especially when raining, added more danger (although it was nothing in comparison to Cambodia). The near misses that I have had in Peru on a dirt road where the car, I swear, could have skidded off the ridiculous high cliffs, the crazy snake-like roads on my way to Marrakech while riding in the Atlas Mountains, and riding on the back of a stranger’s motorbike in Cambodia without a helmet were all moments in my travel life that were far too dangerous, and far too amazing that if I died, I wouldn’t regret for a moment. At least I would have died while doing something that I absolutely loved. And just like that, after about an hour and a half in the car with Alex (and only one near miss of an accident), we were parking. I didn’t feel sad anymore.
While we were getting out of the car I noticed how quickly luck, as well as life, can turn on a dime. Levity was in the air as the entire sky had a glow and warmth to it. I felt welcomed. The somber mood and darkness from less than two hours earlier was replaced with light and an anticipation of what was to come. Luckily, we made the right timing to catch the sunset at Tanah Lot Temple. As we approached the main gate, the bright sunset glistening over the ocean was blinding and stunningly beautiful. We passed through the gate and entrance toward the sand and we were met with the sound of the rolling waves of the ocean. We were then greeted by the large rock temple, and the vision was spellbinding. But then again I was in Bali after all! There was certainly excitement in the air as everyone around were there to catch the sunset.
We climbed up to the edge of a cliff where restaurants and cafés lined up overlooking Tanah Lot Temple. Feeling so lucky and blessed to hear the sound of the ocean’s waves while looking at the illuminating colors of the perfect sky and sunset, I wondered what I did to deserve such an honor. How rich I felt at that moment was a humbling experience on how temporary everything is in our lives. The ecstasy of that sunset would be a memory just like my upset from a couple of hours earlier. As the absolutely stunning beauty of the sky faded into darkness, our Balinese dinner arrived. The glow of the sunset was replaced with the gentle flickering of candles on our table, and Alex and I had dinner (along with a Bintang beer, of course) at the edge of a cliff with the sound of the cascading waves serenading us. Some things cannot be captured with a photo. That’s when we use our hearts. ❤️