When you spend time on an island, you get into a state of -how to describe it- anxiety and at the same time relaxation. Once you have set foot on shore, you realize you cannot go anywhere but the island. You are stuck!
Being stuck while you are traveling (because of weather or even an airline strike) might be very inconvenient indeed. But it forces you to ease down and look around to experience the culture and the way of living. Where am I exactly and what is happening here? Being stuck on an island can also create that same feeling. And it’s a great feeling, I love it.
What to do in Bali
I have spent two weeks in Bali just recently. You cannot call Bali a small island, but the shores are never far away. If you want, you can reach all parts of Bali from a central town like Ubud within a couple of hours. But is this island small enough to get that awesome “stuck on the island”-feeling? Yes, for sure! And I believe you have to search and find it to get a good comprehension of what Bali has to offer (besides mind-blowing rice fields).
Two weeks provided me with a lot of impressions and only now, being back home, I am starting to remember and understand things. Following my memories in random order, this post hops from one subject to another (I already apologise to my readers). Please sit down and relax, it is a story about Bali.
In Bali, daily offerings are given to the Gods as a token of praise and prayer. Every day small baskets are being prepared from leaves. You can see people preparing them everywhere you walk. In front of every shop, house and all other places you can think of, a daily offering is made. Some would think it rather crazy (at least very time-consuming) to organize these daily rituals, but no hurries here in Bali. This is part of their religion and it is believed that gods must be reassured of people’s good intentions.
Talking about reassuring Gods, let’s have a look at Bali’s active volcanoes, of which the island hosts even two! When you visit a volcano you get impressed by the strength and the power that is asleep deep down in the earth. Asleep, but always ready to get awake and stir things up dramatically.
We visited Mt. Batur, a volcano with a crater of more than 13kms, formed almost 30,000 years ago. Within the major crater, 3 smaller craters were formed later. One side of the mountain is completely black. That’s the place where most recently the stream of hot lava burned everything on its way. Earlier eruptions killed thousands of people and destroyed towns and small villages.
But when it happens, it happens, no escape. Bali people know they even depend on these eruptions, although being as catastrophic as they are. The lava and the ash make surrounding soil fertile, allowing to harvest successfully for years to come.
Things to do in Ubud
Ubud, the central place from which the whole island can be visited easily (with the exception maybe of the Western part of the island). Ubud offers a great number of places to stay. Although a small town, it does begin to show signs of a commercial hub for the inland of Bali.
But again, take your time in Ubud. Discover the Arma museum, it’s amazing. This museum is really worth a visit, the best one in Ubud I dare to say! It offers a combination of historic and modern art. When I visited I only met 3 other people, I had the museum and the awesome garden with sculptures for myself! I strolled further towards the adjacent Arma Resort. A luxury resort where personnel just slowly raised their heads and greeted me. Take your time, they seemed to say to me.
Another tip when you have time to spare: take the roads out of Ubud and go walking. We walked the way from Goa Gajah (the Elephant Cave) back to Ubud. A lousy 4km, but a lot of things to see! We met and talked to wood carvers who turned a huge log of wood into a beautiful table representing a woman and men embracing each other. We also met a beautiful man who sold birds alongside the main road and even a biker who collected monkey skulls to decorate his bike!
You meet real people who are very much pleased to meet you and willing to explain about their way of living. And not to forget, you come across some amazing rice fields, hidden behind boring buildings, waiting to be discovered.
You might come across books or articles saying that Goa Gajah is an overrated tourist destination. OK, it might be at first glance (and you might get disappointed while entering the actual cave). But don’t hurry away to the next destination on your list. Walk down the stairs into the forest and discover great carvings in the rocks. We even met a lady who explained the whole Balinese offering ceremony to us.
Temples or villages that look the same (or sometimes look uninteresting) at first glance, can have hidden potential for travelers. If you allow yourself some more time, you have a good chance of watching a ceremony (religious celebration or a cremation). In some remote areas people will surely offer you a glass of arak (Balinese rice wine) if you show interest in their life.
By the way, don’t expect people to arrive exactly on time, it is even found impolite! When you have an appointment with someone, don’t be surprised if he or she arrives 10-15 minutes later..
We spent a great amount of time at Tirta Empul temple (Temple of the Holy Water). Don’t miss out on this temple. Despite all other beautiful things on Bali, the visit to this temple was the highlight of our trip. The tradition leading to this huge amount of activity by people bathing in the holy water (we visited on a Sunday) attributed for a large part to this ‘rating’.
In Bali, the rice field scenery is breathtaking. But when you visit certain temples, villages and even the beach (we spent time at Sanur beach), at a first glance you might find it less attractive then you expected it to be. My advice, give it some time.
Don’t make a minute-to-minute program when visiting Bali. Allow yourself to just watch people, preferably when they are preparing for a ceremony. Spend more time than you have planned discovering the surrounding area. Feel excited when you find a special place or when people want to show you their way of life. By doing so, you will feel great and enriched when you are leaving the island…
Before and after the bomb
It was a cruelty that life on Bali was attacked so terribly back in 2002, when bombs exploded in Kuta. When you speak to local people about this, they always refer to ‘before the bomb’ and ‘after the bomb’. Let us hope this will never happen again.