Beautiful, exotic, spiritual, colourful Bali

Yesterday we moved to a little seaside place called Amed, on the east side of the island. As I’m typing this post from our guesthouse balcony, I can hear the waves crashing in the sand and I’m enjoying a stunning view of a volcanic beach and thinking just how beautiful this island is.

Amed - view from our room's balcony. When we arrived yesterday we were a little bit disappointed with the type of accommodation we found at first. But then we decided to rent a motorbike, left the big backpacks into the motorbike rental shop and went exploring. It wasn't too long before we found this little gem. A room with wi-fi (not so easy to find around here, yet so important for us), sea-view and breakfast, for the equivalent of only 11 euros per night. You can see the black, volcanic sand, some Jukungs (typical balinese wooden boats) at rest on the beach and the laundry from the guesthouse drying in the afternoon sun - Yes, that's the way they dry clothes around here, and that's where our clothes are now, too 🙂

The other day, on our trip from Ubud to Lovina, we met a Dutch couple who told us that they didn’t like Bali.”It’s too touristy“, they said  – yeah, it’s true, some parts of the island are crowded with tourists. Just like Thailand, Bali is probably one of the most advertised destinations in Southeast Asia. So what?

There’s always someone trying to sell you something” – yes, that’s true also, but this happens everywhere we have been in Southeast Asia, where there are tourists around. I guess we got used to it and we don’t let this spoil our experience. Also, as annoying as it can be, we need to understand that this people are only trying to make a leaving and feed their families – most hawkers don’t have a different way to earn money (the other day on the beach I had a very interesting chat with two ladies that sell stuff to tourists –  spending an hour chatting with them was really interesting as it helped me understand more about their world and the way they see us foreigners).

In the end, I just don’t care how touristy this place is. I fell in love with Bali from the moment we stepped out of the plane. We felt a great vibe and we knew immediately we would enjoy our stay here.

During our taxi ride from the airport to Ubud, we got almost emotional with the scenes passing in front of our eyes through the car’s window – young girls dancing in traditional costumes in the school yard, entire families in colourful Balinese attire on their motorbikes, houses that looked like temples with shrines and statues of Gods, beautiful stone and wood carvings everywhere on the roadside, lively temple festivals, old women walking around bare-breasted… and this was just what we saw on a one hour drive. We were both full of excitement to see what else this exotic island had to offer.

Some people who visit Bali prefer to hire a driver with car to move around, but beside being significantly more expensive, having a driver can be limiting and sometimes frustrating. As we’ve heard that some of these people who offer to drive you around for a fee can act as ‘informal guides’ giving you a perspective on Balinese culture and traditions, we thought we would try the experience. So we hired a driver for a day at the beginning of our Balinese adventure in Ubud. First off, he didn’t seem to know much about his own country – of all the many questions we asked about culture and traditions, most of them remained unanswered or if there was an answer, it was confused and (in some cases we found out later) rather imprecise. Second, communication was a major problem because we don’t speak Balinese or Indonesian and he didn’t have good English. Lastly, he drove us to all the tourist traps around Ubud, rather than helping us discover what’s beyond the beaten path.

I don’t doubt that there may be good drivers in Ubud, but it just didn’t work out for us. Actually, we soon realized that if we wanted to see something interesting we needed our own transportation, so we rented a motorbike and since then we got hooked on it. It’s quite easy to drive in Bali. The roads are ok and with Emanuele’s experience driving in Sicily, which is where he is from and where he was raised, Balinese roads don’t seem scary at all 🙂

The motorbike is allowing us to see a different Bali, sometimes even outside the tourist areas and the guidebooks. Most importantly, it’s enabling us to soak up this island at our own pace and with enough independence.

I can say, whether it’s ‘gatecrashing’ a temple festival, mingling with the locals and hearing their stories, waking up at sunrise to enjoy spectacular views, or just driving our motorbike through the rice fields and the luscious vegetation, the Bali we are experiencing is proving so energizing, inspiring and rewarding, that we’ve moved the date of our next flight to Sydney to the 18th of May… Australia can wait! 🙂

Now, I’ve selected a few pictures we shot in the past few days, which I wanted to share with you. I hope you enjoy them.

 

The rice fields

Some rice terraces we saw yesterday on the road to Amlapura, the closest town, to which we were going in search of an ATM (yes, there are no ATMs in Amed, where we are now)
Some rice terraces we saw yesterday on the road to Amlapura, the closest town, to which we were driving in search of an ATM (yes, there are no ATMs in Amed, where we are now)
This is me at the rice terraces in Tegalalang, near Ubud.
At the rice terraces in Tegalalang, near Ubud.
One of the rice fields close to our first guesthouse in Ubud.
One of the rice fields close to our first guesthouse in Ubud.

 

Balinese Dance

At the beginning of the Kecak (pron. Ke-Chak) show two men light the fire that will remain at the centre of the stage during all the performance. During the show, not less than 50 men bare-chested in their sarong sit around the fire and accompany the dance by singing a rythmic, almost hypnotic, Ke-chak sound. I wish I could have shot a video to show the performers in action!
At the beginning of the Kecak (pron. Ke-Chak, typical balinese dance) two men light the fire that will remain at the centre of the stage during all the performance. During the show, not less than 50 men bare-chested in their sarong sit around the fire and accompany the dance by singing a rythmic, almost hypnotic, Ke-chak sound. I wish I could have shot a video to show the performers in action!
A snapshot of the Kecak performance.
A snapshot of the Kecak performance.
Balinese dancer performing Legong, another traditional Balinese dance.
Balinese dancer performing Legong, another traditional Balinese dance.
One of the musician of the Gamelan ensemble accompanying the legong dance performance.
One of the musician of the Gamelan ensemble accompanying the legong dance performance.
After the show we approached this musician from the Gamelan ensemble. A very nice guy, he also thanked us for watching the show and asked some questions about us.
After the show we approached this other musician from the Gamelan ensemble. A very nice man, he also thanked us for watching the show and asked some questions about us.

Temple festivals and religious rituals and celebrations

Balinese women preparing offering baskets in a temple in Peliatan, south of Ubud. As the driver we hired in Ubud drove by this temple we noticed that there was something going on and we asked him to stop by. Fortunately we were allowed to get in and we also got to chat to these locals who were making all the prepariation for a major religious celebration. Usually women prepare offering baskets for the spirits or the Gods, depending on the case - Offering baskets can be made of banana or palm leaves and they usually carry - among other things - rice, flowers and incense sticks. Once the offering baskets are ready, they are laid down on the floor (if intended for the spirits and the demons) or on the altars (if for the Gods).
Balinese women preparing offering baskets in a temple in Peliatan, south of Ubud. As the driver we hired in Ubud drove by this temple we noticed that there was something going on and we asked him to stop by. Fortunately we were allowed to get in and we also got to chat to these locals who were preparing for a major religious celebration. Usually women prepare offering baskets for the spirits or the Gods, depending on the case - Offering baskets can be made of banana or palm leaves and they usually carry - among other things - rice, flowers and incense sticks. Once the offering baskets are ready, they are laid down on the floor (if intended for the spirits and the demons) or on the altars (if for the Gods).
As we were eating at this restaurant, the owner took a break to perform her daily propitiatory ritual. She laid some offering baskets on an altar, then she lighted an incense stick, and subsequently dispensed some holy water on the baskets swinging her hands gently from left to right and right to left. On the background you can see someone tapping on a calculator, probably calculating the bill of one of the customers :)
As we were eating at this restaurant, the owner took a break to perform her daily propitiatory ritual. She laid some offering baskets on an altar, then she lit an incense stick, and subsequently dispensed some holy water on the baskets swinging her hands gently from left to right and right to left. On the background you can see someone tapping a calculator, probably summing up the bill of one of the customers 🙂
Cock fights are theoretically forbidden in Bali, but people continue to organize them. As well as being a chance for people to gamble, cock fights have a religious significance. Often (but not necessarily) cock fights are performed before a temple festival takes place, so the blood of the looser cocks is offered to the evil spirits to placate them.
Cock fights are theoretically forbidden in Bali, but people continue to organize them. As well as being a chance for people to gamble, cock fights have a religious significance. Often (but not necessarily) fights are held before a temple festival takes place, so the blood of the looser cocks is offered to the evil spirits to placate them. We were driving outside Ubud and came across this bunch of people. We tried to take a couple of pictures but in the end we decided to go away because we didn't feel comfortable pushing people to get to the front of the crowd, and also the environment didn't look so friendly.
Balinese women carrying their offers on their head at the Samuan Tiga temple, not far from Ubud.
Balinese women carrying their offers on their head at the Samuan Tiga temple, not far from Ubud.
Samuan Tiga - High priest dispensing holy water to a couple of devotees as part of a religious ritual.
Samuan Tiga - High priest dispensing holy water to a couple of devotees as part of a religious ritual.
We were having lunch at a beach-front restaurant when this group of Balinese people came out of the blue and started performing a propitiatory ritual. They were sitting cross-legged facing the sea with some sort of hand-made altars made of bamboo and palm leaves in front of them.
We were having lunch at a beach-front restaurant when this group of Balinese people came out of the blue and started performing a propitiatory ritual. They were sitting cross-legged facing the sea with some sort of hand-made altars made of bamboo and palm leaves in front of them. If you enlarge the picture you'll see one of the guys sitting in the front posing with his fingers in a typical asian V style 🙂

Balinese houses

A Ganesh statue in the courtyard of a Balinese house. Ganesh is worshipped as the "remover of obstacles" and it is quite common to see statues of the Elephant God in Balinese households.
A Ganesh statue in the courtyard of a Balinese house. Ganesh is worshipped as the "remover of obstacles" and it is quite common to see statues of the Elephant God in Balinese households.
House or temple? House. But with a temple inside. Typical Balinese houses have a small temple at the front side - usually the side looking at Mt. Agung (which is considered to be the place where the ancestors dwell). Apart from the front temple, usually there are other shrines and altars distributed along the perimeter of the house (sometimes at the corners).
House or temple? House. But with a temple inside. Typical Balinese houses have a small temple at the front side - usually the side looking at Mt. Agung (which is considered to be the place where the ancestors dwell). Apart from the front temple, usually there are other shrines and altars distributed along the perimeter of the house (sometimes at the corners).
This is our second guesthouse in Ubud. We left the first one because it was more expensive and its internet connection was terribly slow. The staff was also nicer here. This is a typical Balinese cottage, like many others in Ubud. These used to be family houses but then they were converted into tourist accommodation. Breakfast is usually served on each cottage's veranda.
This is our second guesthouse in Ubud. We left the first one because it was more expensive and its internet connection was terribly slow. The staff was also nicer here. This is a typical Balinese cottage, like many others in Ubud. These used to be family houses but then they were converted into tourist accommodation. Breakfast is usually served on each cottage's veranda.
This is the door of our first guesthouse in Ubud. You can see a bunch of offering baskets on the floor. Also it is very common to see stautes like these at the front door of a house. Plus, typical balinese house doors, like the one in the picture, are made of wood and are finely carved.
This is the door of our first guesthouse in Ubud. You can see a bunch of offering baskets on the floor. Also it is very common to see statueses like these at the front door of a house. Plus, typical balinese house doors, like the one in the picture, are made of wood and are sometimes finely carved (see next picture for a 'finer 'carving').
Another of those statues that are usually found in front of the main house door in a Balinese house. This statue is dressed in a Poleng cloth. This cloth has a chess-like pattern with an equal number of white and black squares. This pattern symbolise the relationship between opposite forces (i.e. good and evil, etc.) and it has a spiritual significance for the Balinese.
Another of those statues that are usually found in front of the main house door in a Balinese house. This statue is dressed in a Poleng cloth. This cloth has a chess-like pattern with an equal number of white and black squares. This pattern symbolise the relationship between opposite forces (i.e. good and evil, etc.) and it has a spiritual significance for the Balinese.

…In the next few days I’ll post more pictures on our Facebook page, so stay tuned if you want to see more of our Bali images 🙂

  • Wow, those photos are amazing! I’ve always been a bit dubious about Bali’s attraction – it’s hugely popular with Australian tourists so I’ve always assumed it would be a little bit tacky. I am definitely starting to change my mind and Indonesia is in the top 5 of the next countries I want to visit.

    • Romana

      Thanks Megan 🙂 You should give Bali a chance. It’s very easy to avoid the loud/drunk scene if you want: just stay away from Kuta (and generally all the south). Also we found it extremely rewarding to explore the island on our own with a motorbike. It allowed us to get out of the tourist trail and see parts of the ‘real thing’.

  • I Nyoman Sudirka

    hi…….i’m fishingman at sanur.my name is leming..do you remember me…?

    • Emanuele

      Yes, Leming. I remember you from Sanur beach. It was good to meet you the other day. I’ll put the photos of that afternoon online soon. Keep in touch!

      • I Nyoman Sudirka

        sorry…friend.. my english not so good…i’ll waiting your pictures

  • U r a great portrait photographer 🙂

    • Emanuele

      Hey! Glad you liked the photos 🙂 thanks for stopping by

  • Pingback: The Siracusas’ 7 links()