Monday, 26 March 2012

Bali - Beauty At Its Best

Too many package tour tourists, jaded locals, aggressive touts, less than idyllic beaches, did we really want to go to Bali?  We almost gave it a miss but a last minute decision to go while we are so close was one of the best decisions we have made on the entire trip. We all loved it and would go back in a heart beat.

The combination of things Bali has to offer came at a perfect time for us.  For starters, the infrastructure is well developed making things in a nutshell, easy.  We are at a point in our trip where we are liking easy very much.  We would prefer to test our endurance through athletic pursuits rather than dealing with transportation or lodging nightmares.  The island of Bali is pretty compact and in spite of a little traffic congestion it is easy to get from A to B in a couple of hours rather than a couple of days.  It is also easy to find great restaurants and lodgings, cheap street eats, cool coffee shops and just about any of the comforts of home that you might want.  When you combine these niceties with great beaches, terraced rice fields, an abundance of lushness, a unique culture and people that seem to radiate with kindness you start to understand what the hype over Bali is about.

Can a place that offers all of this still be interesting or do all the conveniences and the hype somehow take away from the local culture?  It did not seem to from what we could tell, well maybe in Kuta but not in Sanur where we spent most of our time.

Bali is but one of the thousands of islands that make up the country of Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim nation.  In spite of swimming in a sea of Muslim influence Bali is Hindu, intensly so.  We have not been anywhere that the influence of the culture and religion seems so thoroughly entrenched in day to day life.  We could literally not walk down the street or the beach without stepping over colorful offerings and incense left for the Gods.  As we ran on the beach in the morning we saw women and men kneeling at the oceans' edge presenting their morning offerings to the Gods.  We saw parades of people making their way to temples laden with plates of beautifully decorated fruits and flowers and dressed in their lace and finery, religious ceremonies obviously being tightly woven into the fabric of everyday life. 

The most significant ceremonial tradition we witnessed was that of Nyepi, the Balinese New Year, a day of silence.  The entire island stops, no cars, no lights or flights, no telecommunications (no kidding).  It is actually against the law to leave the house or to even be on the street or the beach. The only people working are the guards patrolling the streets to ensure no one goes out and a few people in the hospitality industry at the hotels.  The day of silence and reflection comes after an evening of revelry where huge paper mache demonic figures (ogoh ogohs) representing evil spirits are paraded wildly through the streets.  After the parade the ogoh ogohs are burned and the community is then deemed cleansed of evil spirits and ready for the new year.  We counted ourselves fortunate to be there at such a significant time and to witness how an entire island could come to such a unified and complete stop. 

Yes, Bali and the Balinese are different.  We had heard this before but we were skeptical.  We aren’t any more.  The island's roads are busy and they don't seem much different from other busy places but we found by staying relatively still and keeping off the roads we got a much better feel for the place.  We enjoyed where we were and were happy to establish some relationships with lovely locals who were as warm and friendly as anyone we have met on the trip.  We spent our days running on the beach, riding our rented single speeders along the beach walk, playing in the water, snorkeling, learning how to stand up paddle board in the surf and even braving the waves with real deal surf boards.  The torrential downpours that seemed to start and stop at random provided welcome relief from the heat.  The boys loved the rain and when it would start they would rush out and play in it without a care.

The stand up paddle boarding was not always "stand up".  We had lots of fun just playing around and hanging out in the warm water.

The kids picked up the sport without any trouble at all.  It was like they were pros from the get go....

We did do a bit of exploring as we travelled to Ubud as well as to various spots along the coast.  We had been expecting to love Ubud, the “cultural” capital that we had heard so much about.  We have to admit to being rather disappointed.  We found the streets irritatingly busy and not at all pleasant for strolling.  The traffic combined with aggressive touts asking us if we needed transport every five inches led us to cut our trip to Ubud short. We sure enjoyed the Monkey Forest but the rest of the city was a bit of a let down.  We were not unhappy to get back to the quietness of Sanur.

Tanah Lot, Temple in The Sea was lovely...

Our time in Bali went far too fast.  We had originally planned to travel to some other islands in the area but the weather played havoc with our plans. The ferries were not running regularly and we didn’t want to take the chance of getting stranded on a fairly deserted island.  This may have worked out for the best as staying in one place for a while left us feeling more relaxed than we have in weeks.  Unfortunately Eric got sick (Bali Belly) and that put a damper on the last few days of our stay but otherwise Bali was a big hit.


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