We’ve all seen the reality tv shows and shock current affairs stories about Bali. Usually they’re based on people behaving badly – and all too often it tends to be about a mix of alcohol and stupidity and a disregard for the local customs. Mostly these stories are centred around Australians behaving badly in Kuta. As an aside, not all of Kuta is as it’s depicted in these shows either – but that’s for another post.
Shows like these and behaviour like that leaves an impression about Bali on potential holiday-makers and it leaves an impression on the Balinese about Australians.
But, just like most Australian tourists are unlike those in the reality shows, the real Bali is not like that little pocket of Kuta. The real Bali has a way of creeping in under your skin and before you know it you’ll be planning your next trip.
I first visited the Island of the Gods in March 2011 – and have been another six times since. I love it so much that I’ve (partially) set two books there – Baby, It’s You and Big Girls Don’t Cry.
Why do I keep coming back? I’m glad you asked.
It’s everywhere you look and tread.
The daily offerings are the most obvious – the beautiful little palm baskets that are left around shrines, statues, doorways, roadsides, paths, steps…wherever.
Some are elaborate, most are not. Some contain a few petals, maybe some rice, a cigarette, a couple of tiny crackers, an incense stick. There’s something so peaceful and mindful about watching the (mostly) ladies as they carry their baskets of offerings on their heads, and then carefully place them, saying a little prayer as they complete the mini ceremony.
Who are the offerings to? The Gods of course – and there are many. The tributes are designed to both thank and appease. It’s also a sort of proactive if I give you this will you leave me alone and go away type of thing.
These days, as life is busy, this too can be outsourced – well, at least the construction phase can be – as complete offerings may be purchased at local markets.
It’s not just offerings though, religious ceremonies can be seen all throughout Bali on any day at any time with the whole family – from the oldest to the youngest – participating with pride.
One time on a walk through the ricefields in Ubud we followed the faint sound of a bell to a temple in the middle of nowhere and watched the ceremony taking place. Just beautiful.
Oh my goodness, the scenery. It’s jaw dropping – but you’ll need to venture out of your resort to see it. From the rice terraces at Tegagalang near Ubud, or Jatiluwih near Tabanan to the lush green in the foothills of Gunung Agung in East Bali. And yes, that’s the volcano that’s grunting and groaning at the moment.
You can hire an English speaking driver in an air-conditioned car for between $50-$80 a day, so why wouldn’t you get out and about?
Sure it’s about nasi goreng and satay, but it’s so much more than fried rice and chicken on a stick. There’s the fabulous babi guling, or suckling pig flavoured with spices that taste like the island (and yes, I used that line in Baby, It’s You), and bebek betutu – roast duck.
There’s also soto ayam, a flavourful turmeric spiced chicken noodle soup, and beef rendang – the Indonesian version is a tad different to the Malaysian. My favourite, though, is nasi campur. Essentially this is a mound of steamed rice surrounded by small portions of a meat dish, some vegetables, perhaps egg or satay, sambal. There’s no rhyme or reason to it – and it will differ from place to place.
Oh, I’m almost forgetting my favourite salad – sayur urab. It translates loosely to mixed vegetables. I like it so much I’ll post the recipe separately.
There’s a fabulous restaurant scene in Bali now – especially around Seminyak and Ubud, but my favourite is still Bali Asli. Owned by an Aussie expat, the menu changes daily depending on what’s in the garden or what’s come out of the sea that day. It’s traditional food, prepared traditionally.
Located near Amlapura in East Bali, it’s a couple of hours from Legian and Kuta, but only about 30 minutes from Candidasa – and is well worth the trip.
Temples are such an integral part of Balinese life. I could do an entire post on temples. I love them. Of course there’s the biggies like Pure Tanah Lot, but there’s so much charm in the temples you find in family compounds and in villages.
Pura Luhur Batukau, in the central mountains west of Kuta etc is one that’s worth seeking out. For a start there are no touts, but the serenity is what it’s all about. I’ve written about it here.
Take the time to read the signage. I was particularly taken by the extensive list of warnings that this temple in Sanur came with. I have no idea what crossed streak is – and hope that I’m not afflicted by it any time soon. Speaking of which, according to the Lonely Planet guide, Sanur is one of the “few communities still ruled by members of the Brahmana caste”…and is a centre for black and white magic. Perhaps I’ll refrain from flirting – and ranting.
Yes, Ubud. Sure, it has all the Eat, Pray, Love connotations (and I’m absolutely a fan), but Ubud is like a great big exhalation. Don’t just stop at Monkey Forest, stay a while and feel your stresses melt away to the faint sounds of the gamelan.
I’m having difficulty transferring my travel posts across from and anyways, so for the next few weeks, I’ll be re-hashing them here.
Because it’s Thursday, it’s also time to get our happy on with the Lovin’Life linky.
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