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Posts tagged ‘Bali’

The Gili Islands – All The Little Fishes

There are over 17,000 islands in the Indonesian archipelago. Bali is only one of them. A week and a half ago I had never heard of the Gili Islands. It seemed to be the place all the backpackers were talking about. “Don’t even waste your time in Kuta. It is nothing like it used to be.” I heard that over and over. That is one nice thing with backpacking, the “buzz” is always more correct than an outdated Lonely Planet guidebook. So, while in Ubud I bought a ticket for the “the speed boat” and I was on my way.

There are three Gili Islands and all have a different personality to them. Gili Meno is the quietist Island. And no wonder since it has mosquitoes…..I choose not to go there. Gili Trawangan has the most development and the most tourists. Gili Air is less developed and though would be perfect in the high season, right now it seemed almost too quiet for me.

It is easy to jump over to different islands for the day. We were were really happy we spent a day snorkeling on Gili Air as we saw many different varieties of aquatic life here.

Since it was the low tourist season on the islands, I found Gili Trawangan a perfect place to hang my hat. The cost of the rooms are about half the price than in the summer and the weather was perfect. The entire time I was there only three of us occupied this hotel and we had the beach front and umbrellas to ourselves.

The nicest thing about all three islands is that there are no vehicles or motor bikes allowed. Once here you have to walk, ride a bicycle or pay a flat rate to ride a cart pulled by a pony to travel anywhere on the island.

There are no police on these islands but there seems to be no need. I guess if something “happens” there is a “guy in charge” that will resolve the issue. Though I think it is the permanent inhabitants that watch out for their own island. One time someone tried to brings a motorbike on Gili Trawangan and the locals threw it in the water. It is still visible to new comers as a reminder of the no vehicle policy.

In many ways I think I have stepped back into time…. This must have been the way beaches used to be in more famous places before being taken over by developed resorts. All accommodations are steps away from the water. In low season it is not uncommon to spend twenty to forty dollars a day on accommodation. The cost of lunch has been about two dollars a day. An expensive meal would cost seven to eight dollars. No snorkel gear? That’s okay…The place next door has gear for three dollars a day.

The snorkeling is incredible. Just a few feet off our beach we started seeing fish. Then a huge turtle! Wow. We just floated and watched this giant turtle eat on the bottom of the sea. Several minutes later he, ever so gracefully, moved his fins forward and glided to the surface for air.

The were bright electric blue and aqua fish that darted about. There were fish whose color blended in with either the sandy bottom or lime green coral surroundings each tried to appear invisible beside. There were small black and white angel fish swimming energetically and big vibrant yellow angel fish gracefully floating by their reef.

There were grey fish with orange, white, blue and purple highlights. Long transparent fish with needle noses that pointed an inch out from their faces. You could see their long spine within.

We saw a puff fish and a cutter fish with sides that rolled up and down like a flag in the wind. I loved the medium size fish with purple, pink and blue colored pastels. How lovely.

There were also fish as big as a trunk of a person. One of these was busy feeding on the coral when someone I was snorkeling with decided to get a closer look. This large fish did not like that and swam directly towards him. When the fish opened his mouth we saw it had teeth. Now the mouth was smaller than my fist and we we in no danger but our friend was sure he had just had a possible brush with death.

My favorite fish was at least two feet long and had the most brilliant colors. Bright purple and yellow splotches on the sides and tail and vibrant aqua on his face.

Off the shores of Gili Air they had millions of these little light blue minnow fish which darted about us in these massive schools of fish. Just as I thought, “Wow, really cool”, then they all changed directions unison and darted the other way. This is just a few of the countless varieties of aquatic life we encountered. More than once I thought I felt like I was in the middle of the Nemo Movie.

The people here are pretty laid back. The locals and businessmen do not haggle tourists on the beach or when walking down the road unlike in other Asian cities. One only has to say “no” once to be left alone. Restaurants are “open until closed” and no one seems to be running on a set time. Some may say that has to do with the availability of magic mushrooms but I think it is the island life.

We had to laugh one Monday as our hotel restaurant was closed for the day and it was lunch time. We had been sitting on the beach for hours and we getting pretty hungry. “I will ask if they have take out at the place next door?” James, who was staying at our hotel announced. A few minutes later he came back with a smile on his face, “No food there but he did say he had some magic mushrooms and marijuana to offer.” Needless to say we found take out somewhere else.

The snorkeling was some of the best I have ever seen. The sheer beauty of these islands makes this one of my favorite beaches ever. The absence of noise pollutants and few people makes this one of the most relaxing places I have ever been. It is not easy to get out to these islands but if you do you will not be disappointed.
















Dancing in Bali

Watching at least one traditional Balinese dance is well worth your time. I thought the styles were as unique as any I have seen before and thought these events were worth there own post.

The stories of the dances are as ordinary a tale as in any culture. Stories of good, bad, right, wrong and love. The subjects are of demon kings, witches, gods, goddesses, prince and princesses and as in any Disney tale the good guy always seems to win. Many of the dances are also performed in a series of acts. However, the unique aspect of Balinese dance is the music and the dance itself.

The music for the dance is made from one of two sources: The first is sounds made from men who play and instrument which looks like a short xylophone bench. The men sit cross legged at this instrument and use a small pointed hammer to strike the keys on the instrument making a “ping” sound. The second form of music is made from a choir of voices. These men sit in a large circle in a trance-like state with the dance happening in the center of the circle. The men each say one word syllables like “tutt…tutt…tutt” at different speeds and octaves creating a soothing sound.

The performers wear elaborate costumes and make-up. Evil demons seem to always wear scary masks. The movement of the dancers is more deliberate that I have ever seen. Every foot, every finger, every head movement has a precise location for every poise. The women somehow made their head move side to side in an inhuman looking manner. When their head slid one direction, with there face straight out toward the crowd, their eyes slid the opposite direction. The speed at which they performed this movement must have taken years of practice to perfect. In one act, two women danced this style of dance in complete synchronization with their eyes closed the entire time.

My favorite dance was something that took me completely by surprise. I did not even have my camera ready to shoot a picture. A man in a grass skirt was dancing around a flame as all the dancers had been doing most of the night. Then out of know where he started jumping on the hot coals and stomping on them. Then the “helpers” sweep the coals in a circle again and he did it two more times! I was sure it had to be a trick so when he sat down I took a close up photo of the dancers feet. Sure enough, there were coal marks on his feet. What a way to earn a living!?!






















UBUD – Cultural Center OR Spiritual Oasis

In the hills of Bali, between the fields of rice terraces, is the cultural and spiritual center of the island. I had planned to stay two nights in Ubud and I ended up staying six. This community was already known as a destination zone for health and spiritual growth for decades. However, since the “Eat, Pray, Love” movie, this place has become a mecca for a wide range of alternative practices and natural healing.

I met people here from all over Europe, America and Asia on week long to several month retreats. There were a lot of people here for yoga workshops but I also met three people completing intensive week long “colon detox” spa and an entire group of people staying at my hotel doing a ten day mysticism course.

There seemed to be something for everyone and every age here. Vegans and raw food enthusiast would love this place. I have never seen restaurant menus with so many varieties in meal style preparation. I did not even know of the Ayurvedic Diet method and that it was used by some to reach a balance for a particular body type. However, here there are restaurants with a complete section of dishes tailed for this diet on their menu.

It seems as though everyone is out walking in the evening and you can count on live music any night of the week. You will never find yourself lonely in Ubud. There seems to be always someone wanting to socialize.

I went on long walks everyday including walking through the “must see” Monkey Forest. The Monkey Forest is a jungle area near the center of town with hundreds of monkeys. It was pretty but I was more than a bit nervous at times when the diseased infested creatures moved a little to close for comfort.

I also spent parts of four days at the Yoga Barn. I figured it was a good place to try to work on one of my 2013 New Year’s Resolutions to “Try to do yoga again and try to like it.” I figured this had to be a good place to try to work on this goal since all the classrooms overlooked gorgeous gardens. How could I become bored in a class here?

There were yoga sessions every hour on the hour from seven in the morning until six at night. They had a wide selection of yoga styles to choose from–I found one style called Shadow Yoga that I actually really enjoyed. Shadow Yoga incorporated marital arts movements into this style with the focus of intensionally following your shadow with the body movements. So I guess that’s something of my New Year’s list….”Check!”

It is easy to arrange tours from Ubud to see the surrounding area. One day I arranged a half day tour to explore a waterfall and walk through the rice fields. The half day adventure with the driver guide cost twenty dollars.

As we were on our way to the waterfall my guide, Yan Tu, asked me, “Do you like coffee and chocolate?” “Yes. But I like coffee better than chocolate.” I responded. “Have you ever had animal coffee?” “Animal coffee?” I questioned. “I don’t know what that is.” “You know poo.” “Poo?” I shake my head as I try to think. “You know, poo, poo.” Reaching back in my mind for an answer I replied, “You don’t mean coffee like on the movie the Bucket List?”

“Yes, the Bucket List! I love that movie!! Jack Nicholson and Morgan…ah..What’s his name?” Freeman.” I answered. “Yes, yes….Morgan Freeman. Do you know that movie?” “Yes, I have seen the movie. It is one of my favorite’s.” “Yes, well it is that coffee…..Luwak.” I chuckle to myself then answer, “No. I am not drinking that coffee.”

We sat in quiet a couple minutes and I thought– Well, I am back in Asia and have not tried to eat something out out of my comfort zone yet. “Okay, the coffee is on the way from the waterfalls.” “Yes. It is.” “Okay, we can try the coffee.” So yes, while in Ubud I did go to a processor of Kopi Luwak. Coffee made from the fermented coffee beans which have been selected, eaten and exited from the civet before being processed into the most expensive coffee in the world. And I must say it is really quite amazing.

So that was my adventure in the heart of Bali. Are you ready to join me yet or at least share a cup of coffee?







































My Days with a Balinese Princess — Part II, LEARNING TO PRAY IN BALI

Ratih invited me to join her on a tour she had previously scheduled for another travelor. I knew the tour would visit a couple of temples and we take a drive through rural Bali but I had no idea what an amazing day she had planned…..

Every day begins the same in any Balinese household and business. Offerings are prepared to give thanks to God and to receive blessings. One type of offerings is made by putting bits of rice on a squares of banana leaves and placing these offerings around the outside of the house. Other offerings include square boxes made fresh each morning out of coconut leafs then filled with petals of flowers and grass. These offerings are then placed around the home and a burring incense stick is added. “What are those for?” I asked looking at the handmade containers with the petals. “An offering…. These are for the angels.” Ratih explains. I continue reading my book as the morning routine, of making and placing offerings, continues as it had the previous two days.

Every home and business prays everyday. Every day, everyone I observe in Bali is taking time to create similar offerings and say thank you to God. At some point I am told that there is one God. Confused, since I thought I had finally understood the basis of the Hindu religion from my travels in India, I asked Ratih, “I thought the Hindu religion had multiple deities but there were three main gods, Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva?”

“No, there is one God….Brahma, the creator, Vishnu, the protector, and Shiva, the destroyer, are manifestations of the same one God.” When I was in India it was hard for me to grasp the main points of the Hindu religion since when I traveled it seemed as though I received different answers from different people. But I was in another country so I decided to give it one more “old school try” to understand.

After a beautiful drive among the rice terraces and lush jungle scenery we arrived at the base of Gunung (Mount) Agung. Mount Agung is the highest point on the island and the mountain is considered sacred. Besakih Temple sits on the slopes of this mountain and is considered the holiest temple in Bali. In 1963 the Mount Agung erupted and the lava flow missed the temple by meters flowing around the temple. The salvation of the temple was considers a miracle by the people. “We alway remember the Twin Dragon. When he is sleeping the mountain stays calm.”

The drive up the road is slow as we approach. In between the slowed vehicles, motor bikes continue to inch forward. In any space left between the motor bikes and cars, people were filling the space. Many women balanced offerings on the heads as they walked.

Today happens to be the day after a full moon and considered holy. “It is also the day of the year when Balinesse give thanks to god for the blessing of metal. Have you noticed the flowers and leaves on the cars and motorbikes?” “Yes. I was wondering what that was about.” “Those are offerings. Giving thanks for metal used on our vehicles. That is why there are so many people here today. Besakih is considered the most holy place so everyone from the island comes at least once a month to pray at this temple. Some people come as early as four in the morning and they will be arriving all day to pray.”

Ratih has prepared a gift of clothing for both of her guests. We stop at a rest stop near the temple to change into our new clothes. “Does this look right?” I ask Chad, Ratih’s other guest. “I don’t know. Ratih helped me.”

Soon our guide had appeared around the corner. I had put my sarong on upside down. We return to the restroom together and Ratih assisted me. I came down the hallway and the women sitting at the bottom of the restrooms looked up, gave me a big smile and thumbs up.” I understood I was now dressed properly.

Raith, Chad and I proceed on foot up the hill. The entire surroundings was stunningly beautiful. We proceeded up the steep steps to the area designated for prayer. Raith had prepared offerings so that Chad and I could participate in the worship and receive a blessing. It is one thing for a tour guide to show you a temple and talk about the traditions but it is so much of a deeper experience to participate in the traditions. Participation is exactly what Ratih had planned for our day.

She handed us the offerings she had prepared and lit our incense. We then walked to sit with the others praying at the temple. We took the first flower, which represents beauty and waved it in the incense. “The incense is a witness to your prayer.” Then we clapped the flower in our hands with our palms touching together and placed our praying hands up to our forehead. Ratih told us “Now you can say your own prayer God.”

We repeated this two more times. Each time getting a new flower from our dish and waving it in the smoke before saying our individual prayer. After the three prayers were completed, holy water was passed from others in the crowd for us to use for our blessing. A flower was put in the water and sprinkled on us three times. Then rice was taken from the common dish and a few grains were placed in the middle of our foreheads. A sign that we had been blessed.

In Bali families usually stay at the temple after their blessing to have a picnic lunch and enjoy their time together. We had more places to tour and were on our way.

After a short drive we had lunch overlooking another active volcano called Gunung Batur. “This mountain erupted when I was having lunch here just over three years ago.” It was an amazing crater with a lake below. The lava flow from 2009 was visible on one side of the mountain and nothing appeared to be growing in that space.

After lunch we were headed on to our next sacred sight named Tampaksiring. Here the water springs up from the earth. One can visibly see water bellowing up from the earth as plumbs of sand puff up in the clear water. From here the holy water runs through a canal system that pours water out in a series of fountains.

Raith has brought everything we need to experience the purification of the holy water. We take our flower offering and burning incense and wait in line for our turn to be touched by the flowing water. At the first fountain we leave our offering. We know to let the water touch our face, then we taste the water and finally have it run over our head. Afterwards we are to line up for the next fountain in the series. We know to skip the two fountains that only those experiencing death attend.

Many adults waiting in line have smiles on their faces. Many parents are sharing this time with their children who, of course, are having the time of their life while they are waiting in pool for the next fountain. The children are all giggles when it is their turn to duck under the fountain.

There are other adults who are visibly injured and some with long faces who are seeking some kind of peace. One couple behind me had an offering for each fountain, not just the first, and then I noticed that this couple did not skip the fountain for death and their eyes had become red and glossy. I said a prayer for them and hoped for relief.

After we finish at the fountains of purification we ready to enter the temple behind the spring at Gunung Temple. Here we followed the same rituals we had learned earlier that morning which included a series of prayers and offerings. We are blessed a second time with rice and have received the sacred purification waters from the fountains.

I must admit that I still don’t understand a lot about the Hindu religion but I do think I have more of an understanding now that I have experienced some of the traditions firsthand. I also understand that the Balinese people have their own flare to their religion which is impacted by their island culture and ancient customs. They also have a deep regard and spiritual practice for their ancestors as well as other spirits and angels. In Bali you will also find many statues with bulging eyes and angry teeth meant to keep bad spirits at bay.

While I have been here I have heard several times of the importance of balance; The good and the bad, the ying and the yang, the male and female. Ratih also spoke about the importance of praying. “It is important to be still and pray. So much poison can get in your eyes and your ears which can trouble you. You much have some quiet (so you can handle the world).” Now, doesn’t that make a lot of sense?

People in Bali do seem to pray continually. Even though they are working, every business and every home has reminders all around them which remind them of their God and to be thankful for their blessings.

When I was young I asked my mom why why put ashes on our foreheads on Ash Wednesday. I remember her saying, “It is a outward and visible sign of a inward and spiritual faith.” I am reminded of this here….. We may not always understand the traditions of others but maybe some of those traditions are just the outward signs which brings individuals closer to their faith and God.

The important things I learned today from Ratih is how similar we all are even though our customs are very different. How we are all searching for answers and how we all searching to cope with life and loss and struggles. That balance and quiet moments are important to preserve oneself. And finally, I walk away thinking that if all people in the world prayed to their God as much as the Balinese, then wouldn’t this be a changed world indeed.













My Days with a Balinese Princess — Part I, THE ARRIVAL

As I exited the airport there was a crowd of people behind the waist high fence waiting for new arrivals. Most had signs with names written on white paper, but some were there just hoping to pick up a new customer. I scanned the line up and soon saw my name in all caps. I looked and waved at man holding the sign. He looked hopeful and points to me and then again at the sign. I look him straight in the eyes and smile as I shake my head “yes”.

We were quickly on our way. I had arrived during afternoon prayer and could hear the call to prayer over the busy traffic. I would soon learn that Islam is practice in ninety percent of the county. However here, on the island of Bali, Hindu is the predominant religion.

The accommodation I had arranged was located in the city, a short distance from the Sanur beach. It was the home of a Balinese Princess and I would learn the 1982 crowned Miss. Indonesia.

Stepping out of the vehicle it would be hard not to notice the massive white statue of Lord Ganesh, the Hindu elephant god, as I came to the entry of her home. On either side of the statue there was a pathway. Once around the statue, an immense lush and hidden garden revealed itself. There was green everywhere. Trees, broad leaf plants and ivy filled the open spaces. Fluorescent lime green moss covered the cement statues and rock work in the garden. There were serval buildings in the complex. All structures had the same white exterior, red clay roofs and intricately carved doors. Many colors detailed the woodwork on the doors, windows and rafters but most impressively the gold paint provided a striking contrast against the clean white building. I could hear the sound of water falling into a pond and the soft chimes blowing in the wind. I was suddenly and completely relaxed.

Reaching the second house of the compound, I was surprised to learn that I had an entire house, not just a room to myself for the next few days.

It was not until the next morning that I noticed a black and white picture hanging in the downstairs living room. I was sure I had seen as a child. However, I was positive that I had remembered this photo in color. “Is that you?” I asked. “Yes. That was from a very long time ago.” “I think I have seen this picture before?” “The photo was used as a travel advertisement for JAL Airlines in the 80s.” Ratih, my hostess, replied.

Only then did I recall that I had seen this photo in Seattle airport. I remember wanting to go wherever that photo was taken. Now not only had I arrived here, but it was hard to believe that I was speaking with the girl in the photo.

Ratih was a perfect hostess and helped me to arrange the plans I had in mind for my stay in Bali. My favorite day would be the day we went to the Temple and she taught me how to pray.