Sunday, February 9, 2014

Bali

Before going to Bali, I heard lots of conflicting things from friends who had been there. Some said it was a kind of tropical paradise, the jewel of Indonesia. Others said it was a tourist trap, filled with party beaches and scammers. Well, during our five days there, Sharman and I felt it was closer to the former. I wanted to stay much longer and could’ve easily filled a few weeks with different explorations. Alas, we tried to make the most of our short five days there. This was, at almost 25 years old, my first time in the southern hemisphere. I can’t wait to return! But to where? Australia? New Zealand? Hmmm...

Our hotel was in Ubud, towards the center of the island. We stayed there, as it seemed to be an interesting, artsy place, and not filled with drunk beach bums. About five hours after we arrived, I went out to a sports bar called the Melting Pot, about a 15-minute taxi ride away from the hotel. The reason I went was (drumroll please) to watch Super Bowl XLXIII between the Seattle Seahawks and the Denver Broncos. As this was a major priority, I’d contacted the owner a week before to make sure that I could watch the game there at 7:30 am.

The Seahawks won; it was glorious. I even met a few Seahawks fans in the place, though I spent most of the time sitting on my own, eating pancakes, shaking my head in wonder at the lopsided victory.

video

Due to lack of sleep and Seahawks euphoria, I was fairly dazed on the first day, though Sharman and I did get to go to a Fire Dance performance. The performance consisted of 100 men chanting and singing, while elaborately costumed actors performed/danced a famous Balinese legend around a spire of fire. Then at the end, another performer danced on hot ash, kicking the embers about while riding a straw horse. It was unlike anything I’d ever seen, or probably ever will see.

Ubud jungle houses
Temple in Ubud
Fire Dance
The next day, we went out and around Bali with Nyoman, a taxi driver/tour guide who I’d met after the Super Bowl. He seemed to share my desire to avoid throngs of tourists so we asked him to take us to some places he recommended. After driving through some magnificent rice fields, we stopped at Tulamen, where I was able to go scuba diving through an old shipwreck. I hadn’t originally planned on diving on this trip, but then again, I hadn’t realized that there was a shipwreck I could explore. Though I had a bit of issues with the goggles leaking while underwater, it was quite cool to see. After that, we stopped by the staggeringly beautiful Water Palace. We ended that day at a beach called White Sand Beach, where we had dinner and a swim. Or should I say, I had a swim while Sharman got a massage. And best of all, we just about had the entire beach to ourselves.

Scuba time
Dragonfly, stay!
Water Palace
White Sand Beach
We enjoyed that day so much that we asked Nyoman to take us out again the next day. After stopping by another interesting Hindu lakeside temple called Ulun Danu, we headed to a nearby waterfall called Munduk. Though I didn’t expect much, this was a major highlight for me. Very seldom have I so strongly felt the power of nature as I did here, with literally tons of water splashing down just a couple yards from me.  

After that we ate lunch with a glorious view of Mount Watukaru and the Jatiluwih rice terraces. Walking through the green rice fields reminded me a lot of my trip to Yuanyang, China ten months ago, just with more English speakers around. Last we headed out to Uluwatu to see the cliffside temple. Unfortunately, though we were there for the sunset, it was too foggy to really see much. Oh well—can’t always get it perfect.

Ulun Danu
Waterfall plus scrawny boy
Jatiluwhih
Uluwatu
The fourth day, we slept in a bit and spent the day entirely in Ubud. As Ubud is the art capital of the island, we went to the main art museum there, which was outstanding. Not just because of the collection, but because of the lush, jungle setting. After a delicious Mexican lunch (sorry I’m so predictable) and a massage, we headed to another evening show, this time a dance involving a number of mythical creatures and elaborate costumes. The reason I booked tickets, however, was because of the gamelan troupe accompanying it all. What a mysterious, interesting instrument.

ARMA museum
Ancient Muppet
For the final day, we took part in a Balinese cooking course. Much like our similar course in Thailand, this was a fun way to learn about the culture, while meeting friendly fellow tourists and enjoying delicious food. Before leaving, I purchased one souvenir, a painting of some fields near the volcano Mount Agung. I’m not really an art collector but I couldn’t pass up this chance, particularly as the shopkeeper was so friendly and came from a family of artists. This painting was apparently painted by the shopkeeper's uncle.
Cooking course
Painting of Mount Agung

I’ve now been to Southeast Asia six times and Bali may possibly be my favorite place there yet. The culture, the natural beauty, the atmosphere, it all just added up to a good vibe. Now, I need to buckle down and survive the next nine weeks of student teaching, exams, projects, planning and more until I head down to Malaysia in April.