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Posts Tagged ‘Bali’

When I taught English on the cruise ships, I had to interview each student to determine his/her class placement.  One of the questions was “Tell me about your hometown.”  Most students, regardless of language level, made a combination of good, bad, and neutral statements.  Things like “Is big city” or “There are too many cars” or “It’s really close to the beach.”  But I noticed something different about my Balinese students.  When I posed that question to them, their faces usually erupted into HUGE smiles.  They then proceeded to say nothing but positive things about Bali.  This struck me.  And usually at some point in their description they uttered the sentence “Bali is beautiful.”

Having already visited Bali in September, I knew they were right – Bali IS beautiful.    So when the Fulbright program needed help with a pre-departure orientation there, I jumped at the chance for a free flight, happily re-worked my teaching schedule, tacked on a couple weekends, and made a full week of it.  I decided I would base myself in Ubud, the arts and culture mecca.

I ate roast suckling pig at the world-famous Ibu Oka’s restaurant.  There isn’t a whole lotta pork on Muslim Java.  But in predominantly-Hindu Bali, pork is not only fair game, it’s a traditional dish.  My Balinese ship students were always talking about it, so I had to try it.

I took a morning walk through some rice paddies.  It was lovely.  I stopped to watch a man collect coconuts:

I walked to neighboring villages, where I came across some Balinese kids studying traditional dance and music.  Watch them practicing here.

I took a bicycle tour around central Bali.  We paused to admire some terraced rice fields:

Then we ate breakfast overlooking this:

We also visited a coffee plantation, where I tried kopi luwak, the most expensive coffee in the world.  The high cost comes from the harvesting process:  civet cats eat the coffee beans, the civets digest the coffee beans, some poor schmuck collects the coffee beans, and then the beans are roasted as per usual.  Not being much of a coffee connoisseur, I thought it tasted like regular coffee.  It did not smell like poo.

Then I took a shuttle to the orientation site, where I spent 2 days preparing Indonesia’s best and brightest to study and teach in U.S. universities.  And can you believe THIS was the view from my hotel room?

After “work” it was back to Ubud for me.  I took a cooking class and learned to make traditional Balinese dishes.  I took a silversmithing class and made what is now my new favorite ring.  I wandered around and met two characters from Eat, Pray, Love: Wayan the healer and Ketut the medicine man.

I hired a guy with a motor bike to drive me around central Bali, visiting Hindu temples.

sarongs required at Goa Gajah (the elephant cave)

the holy springs at Tirta Empul

I happened to be in Bali during Galungan, a Hindu holiday that celebrates the triumph of good over evil.  What a wonderful thing to celebrate.  Because of the holiday, many families were praying at the temples.

Sometimes entire villages paraded together to a temple.  It was an astounding sight.

I walked along more rice paddies.  Despite my daily struggle to avoid eating rice, I sure do love to gaze at it growing.

I went to some traditional dance performances:

I walked all around Ubud and its surrounding villages,
popping in and out of stores,
window shopping,
bargaining,
stumbling upon Hindu ceremonies,
patronizing local cafes,
and enjoying life.
I walked so much I developed a blister.  I changed my sandals and walked some more.  And in case you couldn’t already tell, I went a little crazy photographing all of it.  You can see many more pictures here.

Bali is very different from where I live in central Java.  Bali is Hindu.  Bali is more touristed.  Bali is quieter.  Bali is lined with sidewalks.  Bali is less littered.  Bali is full of wonderful restaurants.  Bali is sprinkled with colorful flower-filled offerings, mini disposable works of art giving thanks to the gods.  And of course, Bali is beautiful.

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Bali highlights

Ramadan ends with a major holiday, called Eid el Fitri or Lebaran.  It’s kind of like Thanksgiving in the U.S. in that a lot of things close and most people travel to visit and feast with their families, except in Indonesia it lasts for at least a week instead of just 2 days.  All of us English Language Fellows here in Indonesia decided to spend our week off vacationing together in Bali.  It was an absolute blast and I could write a book about it, but instead I’ll just try to highlight some of the more memorable experiences.

  • Ubud, Bali. This is a very touristy town, but of the artsy cultural sort rather than the raging party or beach bum varieties.037 Definitely my kind of place, and the one city I really want to revisit.  The morning started with a stroll through the Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary, with Hindu temples and statues scattered through the tropical forest, full of long-tailed macaques.  I spent the afternoon shopping in markets full of beautiful handicrafts, particularly silverwork and batik, although I also bought some lovely glass mosaic pieces.  Evening brought a Kecak dance performance, which was thrilling.  091I want more Ubud!  (The only damper on this day came at the end of our one-hour taxi ride back to our villa, when the driver stopped on the side of a remote road in Canggu and demanded more money to actually take us to our hotel.  Like a random rice paddy was exactly what we had in mind when we asked him to drive us to Canggu!  We all sat in the car, in the dark, for a good 10-15 minutes before agreeing to pay the extra money to go to our villa.  The driver then had to get directions to figure out where that actually was.  When we arrived we argued some more, refused to pay the extra amount, and walked away.  Ridiculousness!  )
  • Clubbing in Legian. Three of us went hard core on our quest for some hip-hop, and finally found it at M Bar Go.  My friend Adam is probably the best dancer I’ve seen in person, and it was great fun to dance the night away and watch a developing gang of groupies follow him around the dance floor.  They grew increasingly enthralled.  I grew increasingly exhausted.  But it was a fun night out.
  • Snorkeling. Our whole group chartered a small skiff to take us out snorkeling/diving in Manjangan Bay.  Our first site was insane – rough waves, coral inches below us, and lots of bumps and scrapes.  Our second location was much calmer, resulting in a wonderful snorkeling experience.  The amount of colorful fish, coral, and sea creatures was breathtaking – better than any other place I’ve snorkeled.  For lunch we pulled up to dock alongside several other tour boats.  As we pulled in, Adam and Maura, the two ELFs who have already spent a year in Indonesia, sang a popular Indonesian movie song from beginning to end.  It was a huge hit with all the other boat operators.  I bet none of THEIR tour groups had ever serenaded the bay with Indonesian pop songs!
  • Rat in our room. My roomie throughout the trip, Amber, is a light sleeper.  During our first night in Pemuteran she awoke to some rustling in our gazebo, 165 and finally woke me up when she couldn’t stand it any longer.  After a few moments of listening, we both heard the distinctive pitter patter of little feet under our bed, which brought us closer together – literally!  Sitting huddled in our bed behind the protective mosquito netting, we finally worked up the courage to get out and check under the bed.  Amber saw a rat.  We got a security guard.  He scoured our gazebo but found nothing.  Our little visitor must have left while we were getting help.  For the remaining two nights we made a point to search the room and batten down the hatches before retiring.  Eeek.
  • Volcano hike. Five of us braved an early morning wake-up to travel 3 hours via van AND ferry to climb Gunung Ijen on Java.  236 It took about 2 hours to hike to the top, but the fresh air was wonderful and the scenes awaiting us at the finish were worth it.  Very different from the volcanoes I visited in Costa Rica – more barren and rugged and rocky.
  • Batik workshop. In Padang Bai 3 of us enrolled in a half-day batik workshop.  This was totally up my alley.  The teacher didn’t speak much English so we didn’t fully understand the process until we were in the middle of each step, but it was a great way to spend our last afternoon in Bali, and I have a fun handmade souvenir as a result.  315337

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