Monday, September 19th, 2011: Bali, Indonesia
We we’re both anticipating our arrival to Indonesia as one of many “firsts” on this journey. It was our very first visit to Asia, and though it would be short (just one day), it would mark the 6th continent that we have travelled together, leaving only Antarctica on that list.
We were up quite early as we had a 7am meetup in the Princess Theater for our tour and we weren’t alone. Over 300 people had booked the same tour and it sold out very early, so we were fortunate to have tickets. As we slowly made our way through the line and received our “I’m A Tourist” blue oval tour group stickers, we headed down to deck 3 and boarded our ferry, Bali Hai, to tender into the Port of Benoa, approximately 30 minutes away.
After arriving at the port, our first task was to exchange a small amount of money for purchases. Though most places accept Australian and US currency, having a little local currency can be helpful, so Darin exchanged just $5 US and received 42,500 Indonesian Rupiah (Rp) in return. We hopped on our mini bus (just 26 passengers) and got out on the road to start our day.
The mini-bus would come in quite handy very quickly as driving in Bali is not for the faint of heart. There are no lane markings, there is no speed limit, driving on the wrong side of the road is quite normal, and your horn is a respecful communication device here, warning other drivers and moped riders that you are going to pass, change lanes, or merge. As choatic as this all sounds to us in the United States, the system actually works quite well, and within minutes, we felt completely comfortable with the entire process. Our bus driver was a local pro and made all of our trips enjoyable and fun.
Next, our superguide for the day introduced himself. Though by given name he is called Maryana, he asked us to call him “Bloody Good Mar” or just “Mar”. The hope was that by the end of the day, he had earned the nickname for being a “bloody good” tour guide. Truth was, he earned it right from the start of the day. Mar was the ultimate culmination of the Balinese people. Gentle, warm, extremely humble, and very proud of his island of Bali, he was also quite considerate of his place in the universe (and staying in karma’s good graces). He was incredibly knowledgable and spoke very good English, though he apologized often believing that we might not understand all of his explanations. (The apologies weren’t necessary.)
As we began to make our way towards the first stop of the day, a silversmith’s jewelry factory, we drove through several villages along the way. Each village has a focal point and it is this that centralizes the people of that village to do the very best that they can do. For some villages, such as Samur, the focal point is the beach, and the local people strive to be the best tourism ambassadors. Others like Mas and Celuk, focus on beauttiful craftsmanship, whether it be for incredibly beautiful wood carvings (Mar), or slver and gold making (Celuk).
Arriving into Celuk, we entered a silversmith’s factory, where local Balinese created, shaped, formed, and polished beautiful jewelry. We were allowed right onto the workers floor and literally walked the rows of designers and peered over their shoulders as they formed the wings of a silver dragonfly pin, shaped a ring with mother of pearl, or rounded silver hoop earrings. The pieces were quitte intricate with complex patterns and it was stunning to see what was possible with just the most basic of tools in use at the factory.
From the creation room, we move next door to the polish room, where nearly finished pieces received a substantial amount of buffering and cleanup to become hundreds of uniquely original pieces, ready to head to the showroom floor. Next door, the showroom was bustling with people and sales personnel as the pieces sparkled under the bright haolgen lights. Along with the beauty of these creations came very “tourist” prices to match, with prices well into the 10-25 Million Rupiah range (about $1200-$3000), though you could also find plenty of smaller and more reasonable options ($50-$200 range).
From here, we continued into the village of Ubud. This is the crafts center of Bali, and the Ubud market is the place to be for shopping of nearly everything. The center serves both the local people and the tourists offering everything from thousands of different saris and sarongs (“2 for $10”) to woven bags, wood carvings, metal toys, natural skin care products, knives, lanterns, kites, produce, food, cosmetics, and the list goes on and on. Nearly everything was made by hand, and custom orders were possible, given enough time and of course, the right price. We spent almost 45 minutes working our way through the market, winding through tiny and dark narrow passageways, huge sun-filled courtyards, and getting lost more times than one can count, but at no time being concerned or worried as the market was a very fun and bustling place, where people and shop owners bartered like mad (it is a fun and expected practice here) and shopping bags filled and owners blessed their market shops with the newfound wealth as a blessing for more good fortune.
The Hindu religion is engrained everywhere here and the Balinese are especially devout. Though they believe in one god, it had 3 manifestations, so all three have an important role and part to play in the daily lives of the people. Because of these, in every home, every village, and throughout the island, there are puras, or temples, where the people can go at all times of the day or evening, regardless of what city they may be in, to pray, pay their respects, and make offerings to the gods. The offerings are generally small woven baskets with freshly cut flowers and incense, and may be placed in the puras, on the front door step to bless the home, in the market stalls to ask for good fortune in the trading day, and anywhere in between. The sweet scent of incense smoke was everywhere, but was never overpowering, just a gentle reminder that each and every day, the Balinese were sharing their hopes and dreams with the guidance and the support of their gods.
Right near the Ubud central market was a large pura, and it was clear that with towering stacks of offering bundles that the people were sharing their appreciation for the day they were having or asking for better in the days to come. As we walked by, two women were in the temple guiding smoking incense sticks around the space, while tossing freshly cut flowers and placing the small woven bundle stacks onto the ever growing mounds of the day’s offerings. Amongst the hustle and bustle of the market, the quiet reflections of prayer were the only sounds here.
As we left the Ubud market, we began to head north towards our midday lunch stop at Mt. Batur, one of two major volcanoes on the island of Bali. The last major eruption of this volcano was in 1963, when nearly 300 feet of the summit blew off, sending debris 10kms into the air. It’s dark, black lava flow is still visible down the southeast face nearly 50 years later.
As we headed north and into the mountain region, we found a number of roadside fruit vendors as this area was much more agricultural, due to the volcanic and nutrient rich soil aiding in the growth of many plants. In addition, we had our first view of the highland rice paddies and the terraces built right into the hillsides. Over many years, families have carved out the terraces to create the best possible conditions for rice, making Indonesia one of the top 3 growing nations of the staple food in the world.
As we arrived at the Lakeview restaurant in the village of Penelokan, we had a 180 degree view of Mt. Batur and its namesake lake to the southeast. Though there was a slight haze in the air, the view was commanding as we all enjoyed a buffet lunch in the resturant as our tables looked out onto the valley below. We enjoyed a number of Balinese dishes including steamed and fried rice, sauted noodles, stir fried tempeh, pumpkin soup, fish satay, chicken, red snapper, potatoes, fried bananas, fresh fruit, and black rice pudding for dessert.
Once we had completed lunch, we headed south, and slowly made our way towards our finish point of Benoa port, but before we called it a day, we had two more amazing stops to make. The first was the traditional Balinese village of Panglipuran, a town that has mantained the old style of home and village building of the ancestors (as much as is possible to combat weather, earthquakes, and volcanoes), but ultimately maintains the community, and the architecture of the pura in the traditional building of the home. At each address in the village, there is a set of nameplates identifying the family or families in each resident with a count of the number of grandparents, parents, and children in each residence. Some homesteads are shared by family groups and in each there are multiple puras along with rooms to sleep, eat, and live. At the highest point in the village stands the Pura Penataran, the main temple of the village and where all of the villagers gather as a whole for ceremonies and blessings as a community. We were able to take pictures outside of the temple here, and able to walk the grounds surrounding it. The stone carving was jawdropping and every square inch of the temples are immaculate, as a show of respect for this place. The villagers were also out welcoming the visitors into their homes as much as a sign of welcome and to share (their religion dictates it), but also to offer things to buy and commemorate the visit (souvenirs, food, and drinks).
As we made our way back to the buses, we all agreed that if the “traditional village” was exactly as it was — a glimpse inside of the Bali that the people hope can represent the island versus a pawn in a global war on terrorism, as two previous bombings on the heavily western tourist island in 2002 and 2005 have deeply impacted the people, not only economically due to the huge drop off in visitors, but also in respect within the region. They hope that westerners return to Bali in greater numbers soon, to see that the core values of the Hindu religion can once again provide a strong foundation to build lasting appreciation of this place.
Our final stop for the day was near the community of Bangli, the home of the Kehen Temple, or Fire Temple. This temple has been in existence for nearly 1000 years and continues to be utilized today by the people of Bali to pray tribute to fire. The Balinese believe that a great dragon lives in the belly of the volcano and provides the fire that brings the eruptions — not only to rid the world of evil spirits, but to bring great fertility to the soil and to bless the people with great prosperity in farming the crops — those of rice, coffee, and other major exports from the country.
The Kehen Temple as with all puras is the highest point around and required a hike of several dozen stone stairs to reach the apex. Here a great set of stone archways are passed through one of three red doors, carved in intricate designs and decorated in blue and 24 karat gold paint. The result of these brillant colors, along with gray of the stone and the green of the moss provides a mixture of color that only serves to enhance the viewing of the many offering platforms throughout the complex and the benches where offerings are placed and prayers are made. As a sign of respect, shoulders and legs must be covered and a cermonial sash must be worn to pay respect by all visitors.
As we closed out our amazing day in Bali, we still had over an hour to drive back to the port, and we encountered one of the new realities of the fast growing island. Traffic. On a small island of over 3 million people and small two lane roads, even though there are a lot of scooters, there eventually hits a critical mass and that occurs like clockwork around 3pm in the afternoon. We were smack dab in the middle of it and enjoyed gingerly weaving through the melee of cars, tooting horns, and darting scooters with ease because of our expert minibus driver.
We arrived back at the Port about 4:20pm, and with the last tender scheduled for 4pm and a number of tour buses hitting the traffic mess, the Bali Hai ferry didn’t actually take off for the ship until nearly 5:15pm and we didn’t get back onboard until nearly 6:15! No worries on our part as, being a part of the ship tour, they wouldn’t leave us, but it just allowed us to enjoy an immensely exciting and jam-packed day with “Bloody Good” Mar, his team and the amazing people of Bali. We can only hope that our travels may some day bring us back to this place, to once again share time with a people that may not have a lot in terms of money and physical wealth, but more than make up for it in humility, compassion, and spirit.
We’re back on at sea for the next three days and will kick off the weekend on Friday in Fremantle, and enjoy Saturday and Sunday in the smaller ports of Bunbury and Albany. Looking forward to sharing those adventures next week!