For such a tiny little island, Bali is big on experiences. One day of exploring this petite paradise can bring more than a week’s worth of wonders somewhere else in the world. From the East coast to the North coast to the Central city of Ubud, this triangulation of destinations, delights and depths was divinely laid out for us. Describing every detail would be daunting, so I’d rather just resume my tropical state of mind, and meander down memory lane to hit upon the highlights that made for a jolly Bali Holi(day) this year!
Yes, the sun rises in the East, but from our beach front bungalow in Candidasa, we also enjoyed some pretty spectacular sunsets! That is to say that while Candidasa may be a slow, sweet little spot on the east coast, our days were fast and filled with delightful diversions that were quite like being a kid in a ‘candi’ shop. First treat? The beach, of course! We strolled the whole 35 meters from our front door to lounge for an hour or so, while a guide prepared his jukung (the local double outrigger canoe) to take us snorkeling off shore, and then onto the shore of the pristine and sparsely populated White Sand Beach. Sure, fun-in-the-sun is a ‘must’ on a tropical island, but perhaps the most arresting scenery in Bali is the rice fields. These lush green carpets of slender stalks of rice cascade down a hillside where water courses over the dividing ridges from one field to the next. This is a classic system that ensures everyone gets their share, even if you’re the last farmer down the hill. In late December in Bali, there’s no shortage of water either…because it’s the rainy season. So, what better way to spend a rainy day than visiting the Floating Palace, and Royal Water Garden? The Floating Palace is just as you would expect — a tranquil floating complex that once served as the home and visitors’ quarters of the King of Karangasem. The Royal Water Garden, on the other hand, is teeming with tourists and local people hopping from stone to stone through the shallow ponds, submerging themselves into the royal pools for a swim, and taking streams of selfies in the spray of the pagoda fountain. For us, it was time to come in out of the rain! So, we headed to what is known as the best preserved Bali Aga (original Balinese) village, which is still inhabited by descendants of its original villagers. Tenganan, as it is called, does not embrace or follow the greater society’s practice of Hinduism. This tiny community of less than 700 people has held tight to its beliefs in its own divine origin. Of great importance are the traditional crafts like weaving geringsing or double ikat cloth, a fabric and weave found otherwise only in Gujarat, India! We were personally guided through the village, which was void of any other tourists, by an elder in the community who explained many of the customs, introduced us to other artisans at work, and even took us into his own home to demonstrate the weaving process, and present us with one of his original Lontar (a picture-story etched into palm tree leaves and rubbed with some kind of natural stain to bring the image to life). From sun up to sundown, starting in Candidasa proved true that it IS better to “eat dessert first”!
In the same fashion that we eased into the East coast activities, we eased out of our ‘fashion’ to expose ourselves to the beauty of Northern Bali, au Naturel! Once our driver found the clothing-optional resort, it was as if we had actually arrived in THE Garden of Eden! As you can well imagine, there were very few photos of this place online, but the grounds and architecture of this great estate were exquisite. After a thorough tour of all the facilities and an itemized agenda of the available activities, we were finally (clothes) free to relax, naturally. Unfortunately, the resort was short-handed, and being so tucked away from town, many of the expected amenities were lacking, but we ‘barely’ noticed. Instead, we went skinny dipping in the pool, worked on getting rid of our tan lines, wined and dined al fresco, and returned to our days of ‘living free‘, the way nature intended! We made instant friends with some lovely Australians, beautiful Canadians, and some crazy Americans, and all had a blast ringing in a Happy Nude Year with a Bare-B-Q dinner, high-spirited body painting, and a midnight skinny dip on the beach! For our one and only venture off property, we took an incredible daytrip that included 5 Hindu Pura (temples), an old capital city & market (Singaraja, which translates to Lion King), Bali’s single Buddhist monastery (Brahma Vihara Arama), holy hot water springs (Air Panas Banjar), and an Art Zoo (Symon’s Gallery). Packed with powerful structures, a beautiful bounty, astonishing atmosphere, healing baths, and titillating paintings, this tour covered it all, but we were never more pleased than to get back to the resort where we could get uncovered, and reveal all that we had seen with our naked eyes.
The Center of Paradise – Ubud
Arriving late in the day on January 1st, having taken the looooong and wiiiiinding road through the mountains from the North coast, truly tested our wherewithal to wander this lively location that we had saved for last. However, after catching a second wind, and a hair of the dog, we wound up at the Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary! This small swath of jungle is actually comprised of 3 holy temples, and the sanctuary grounds are populated with a huge band of grey-haired, greedy, long-tailed Balinese macaques. We never found our way to the temples, and only narrowly escaped the sanctuary after one of these innocent-looking impostors jumped me in an attempt to steal my bottle of water! Outside, we found the nearest, coolest warung, a casual dining spot, aptly named “3 Monkeys”, where we gorged ourselves on local and ethnic food and drink, and then waddled back to our bungalow amid the rice paddies to rest up for another adventure amid the Ubud scene. When staying in the hub of happening, it seemed only right to take in as much as possible. So, after a brief and bizarre breakfast of grilled banana paninis with a side of warm fruit and weak tea (included with our room reservation), we traced a map that was to take us up into the rice terraces for trekking trails through the knee deep fields of grain. It was hotter than hell, and humid beyond stupid, but we forged ahead to find a verdant vista complete with a mountain backdrop, a spiritually situated spa (a restorative respite), and a flock of ducks frolicking at our feet, trying to put themselves in a row! Our walk about was wonderful, and we talked about the wonders all the way back to town, where we spent the afternoon sitting and sipping ‘Lime Crushes’ at our new favorite, open air cafe, while watching the parade of people go by. The new year was off to a grand and green start! The only thing left to do was shop! So, the next day we dedicated to the search of the special souvenir, and declared it, “shop til you drop and buy til you die” day! I was raised in a family of shoppers, but it’s always felt a bit like sensory overload to me. However, the Balinese spirit had moved me. I had money to burn, and so I became a born again bargain hunter. What fun it was to simply stroll into a shop and start negotiating the sales price of that sought after item…like the “Bali lolly(gag) pants”, or the perfect “penis-shaped Pinot Noir holder”, the exotic fruit sorbet, or even the designer duds (like Polo and Gucci) at hugely discounted prices already! I rid myself of all my excess Indonesian Rupiah, carried home hoards of treasures, and still felt that all was truly right with the world.
One last OFFERING
Perhaps the most unforgettable memory and the essence of Bali, in my experience, is the omnipresent offerings! It’s like this: A wisp of smoke rises from an incense stick balanced between colorful flower petals and a pinch of white rice arranged on a banana leaf no bigger than a deck of cards. This little offering was placed outside our private beach house on the first morning of our stay. I thought it must be a special holiday or something, as I saw many women placing these offerings EVERYWHERE (in front of houses, on the beach, on dining tables, even at the end of the bar)! However, I quickly realized that these Balinese offerings come in all shapes and sizes and are handmade continuously throughout the day and night. Some are extravagant baskets or carved wooden boxes that sit perched under fringed umbrellas and wrapped in black & white checkered sarongs. Others are long willowy branches that line the streets, bent over with decorations made of palm fronds and local berry bushes, but most are the tiny little trays that kept appearing as if by magic.
Bali was magical. Bali was sweet. Bali was natural. Bali was lively. Bali was the best!