Asia Indonesia

A Totally Alternative Experience on the Campuhan Ridge Walk

“Just let go,” Jo was yelling at me. “I’ll catch you.”

In any other circumstances, I would have rolled my eyes at the cliche. Or I would have adamantly demanded I could do it without his help.

But I was in a jam. I was suspended midair, clinging to a jungle vine with all the (insufficient) upper body strength I had while scrambling to find a foothold in the cliff before me.

There was no way I could use my arms to haul myself up to the ground above the escarpment. And there was no point anyway.

We were deep in the Indonesia jungle, far from any infrastructure. And our only real chance to return to civilisation involved climbing down to the river and following its course back to Ubud.

But my only alternative was to let go of the vine and place my trust in a (granted, well-built) Danish guy I had known less than 24 hours.

campuhan ridge walk

The most famous part of the Campuhan Ridge Walk.

Lost in the Indonesian jungle

I wondered yet again how I’d managed to get myself into this bind. It had started out as a simple stroll along Campuhan Ridge, the heavily Instagrammed path that traces the top of a ridge close to Ubud’s centre.

It’s a beautiful spot surrounded by rice paddies, with the Wos Barat and Wos Timur rivers snaking their way along the valley far below on either side. Its beauty is why I recommended the hike to my companion Jo, who I’d met the night before at a birthday “rave” set inside a rock climbing centre.

When Jo and I met the next day and completed the short walk, we craved more. So we continued further along a road populated with cars and people. It wasn’t satisfying our need for adventure, so we ventured into a rice paddy, which mingled with jungle before we really understood what we’d done.

Before we knew it, we were sinking our feet deep into leaf litter, hoping not to disturb any sleeping serpents. I was barefoot, my sandals good enough for the Campuhan Ridge walk but not nearly grippy enough for this adventure.

There was no path. We bush-bashed our way around vines and dense shrubs to get down to the river and our only identifiable route back to civilisation.

We had to tread carefully. Leaf litter often obscured deep holes and even the edges of steep drops. Eventually, it was no longer possible to walk, but we could hear the gush of the river below us, tantalisingly close.

We were stranded on a ridge shrouded in dense scrub. To go on – to go down – we had to descend a precipice several metres high. That was fine for my buff companion, who had spent the previous night eyeing off the walls at the rock climbing centre. For me, it posed a problem.

Jo gave one vine a heavy tug and it dislodged from the tree and tumbled to the ground below us. He pulled on a second one and lowered his full body weight onto it. It held. So he abseiled down the ledge. When the vine ended, he rock climbed.

I followed suit. But when I got to the end of the vine, I couldn’t see any of the grooves he’d used. I could barely lift my backpack into overhead airplane bins let alone carry my weight by my fingertips.

And so I held onto the vine and dangled there, trying to find a way to get down on my own. I knew it was pointless, that I’d need to succumb to my co-adventurer’s appeals.

And so I did, releasing the vine and falling the few metres into his arms.

campuhan ridge view

The view from Campuhan Ridge.

Swimming to civilisation

Of course, getting to the river wasn’t the end of our ordeal. In fact, it was simply to help us find a navigational point that would help us return to civilisation.

What we weren’t expecting were the cliffs that enclosed the river, making it impossible to meander alongside it back to town. We’d have to enter the murky brown waters – waters so opaque, we couldn’t see the bottom … or its inhabitants.

For the next few kilometres, we clambered along the edge of the river, where the water was often only ankle or waist deep. Sometimes, there were boulders on the banks that we could hop over, the two of us testing different paths to find the best way forward.

It was tempting just to throw ourselves into the waters and let them gently draw us along to our final destination. But we had phones to protect and I wanted to keep my top dry.

Still, there were times where there was nothing for it but to submerge ourselves and swim. The taller of us (not a hard feat), Jo secured our phones in my bag and held it above his head.

At one point, we entered a section of the river where vines draped right down to kiss the river’s surface, with mossy green cliffs towering above us either side. It was romantic until we discovered the cobwebs creating a patchwork quilt across the river, with large spiders guarding their creations.

The cliffs made these cobwebs impossible to skirt around, so instead, we submerged ourselves to our necks and gazed up apprehensively as we passed under the intricate webs and less admirable occupants.

temple on campuhan ridge

A dragon relief at the start of the Campuhan Ridge Walk.

Breaking the law to return to civilisation

Eventually, we noticed something distinctly manmade on the banks of the river. Concrete steps. Gleefully, we left the water and climbed the stairs, the soft, level feel of concrete a welcome relief to my abused feet.

There were about 200 steps in all, ending discouragingly at a walled compound and a padlocked gate. Jo pulled himself up the wall and leapfrogged over it. He reappeared on the other side of the gate and began to inspect the locks.

I soon noticed we weren’t alone. A blonde man was standing behind Jo, inspecting us silently. I smiled at him and said hello. Jo swivelled around.

The homeowner was rather overwhelmed by the appearance of two drenched and dishevelled foreigners in his backyard, but when we explained that we only needed to escape the forest and return to the road, he played his part in helping us in.

Of course, he couldn’t locate the keys to the padlock, so he gave me a shaky wooden ladder to use to scale his wall. It wouldn’t sit firmly on the ground and I judged it less reliable than the wall itself, so when the man disappeared into his house to fetch us some water, I scaled up and over as Jo had done.

We thanked the man profusely for his service as he instructed us the way back to Campuhan Ridge. And as we pulled twigs from our hair and tried to air out our sodden clothes, passing all the tourists and Instagrammers on the path, we agreed that we wouldn’t have had our hike go any other way.

Campuhan Ridge Walk: What you need to know

The Campuhan Ridge walk is actually really close to Ubud town centre – walkable, in fact. Coming from town, the ridge walk begins just after Warwick IBAH. Just get to the bridge and you’ll see signs pointing the way to Campuhan Ridge.

The ridge can take anywhere from 1 to 2 hours return, depending on your pace and the amount of time you take taking photos and stopping for refreshments.

There are plenty of cafes and art stores on route so you can even get a little bit of a shop in. In fact, there are even accommodation options along the ridge. Find out more about the hike along the ridge itself from Almost Landing Bali.

Or if you feel like reading some of my other ridiculous outdoors adventures, read about the time I got lost in the jungle in the Perhentian Islands or the time I stabbed my feet on coral and then kayaked in a storm on an Ang Thong Marine Park tour in Thailand.

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