Bali is one of those places–like Tahiti, Fiji, etc–that I never thought that I needed to see. Yeah, yeah, beautiful beaches, paradise, sounds great. Whatever, it’s probably full of drunk Spring Breakers. It’s probably expensive. It’s probably full of bony models.
But I was wrong. I love being right, but in this case I’m happier that I was wrong. In a sense, Bali IS all of those above things–but it doesn’t eclipse the majesty of the place whatsoever.
Back in Pittsburgh, Emily and I began concocting a plan to meet up and travel in Asia. I can’t remember how it went, but eventually we settled on meeting in Malaysia, traveling to Singapore, and then flying to Bali. Our good friend, Caralyn, overheard the plans and eagerly joined in. Before we knew it, we were counting the days until our reunion in paradise.
As is customary in our culture, we bragged about this on Facebook. It was spotted by Sameeta, one of my favorite people ever. We were roommates in college and most of my most cringe-inducing memories involve her somehow. She asked if she could come along. Um, obvi.
So that’s how, on December 26, we all boarded a flight to Denpasar, Bali Rather than force my readers, most of whom are in cold, snowy climates, to endure a long description of our daily island paradise routine, here are the highlights:
Snorkeling and diving in Amed. We stayed in a beachfront villa on a blacksand beach. Two steps into the water and there was a magnificent coral reef, teeming with sea life–and a sunken Hindu altar. After a couple days of great snorkeling, I began to wonder what going down a few more meters would be like. Sameeta and I went diving (both of our first times) and saw some truly incredible things–like a lionfish. The next day, still not having reached my underwater limit, we took a sunrise boat ride to another bay to snorkel around a Japanese shipwreck. Add this to magical sunsets, amazing beachfront food and truly luxurious digs–and you see why we fell in love immediately.
Hinduism. Though Indonesia has the world’s largest Muslim population, Bali itself is a Hindu island. Tirta Gangga, a water palace of a former king, was an unexpected highlight en route from Amed to Ubud. Little offerings of flowers, foodstuffs and herbs are omnipresent everywhere in Bali, but especially Ubud. They were everywhere–on the seats of motorbikes, on the threshhold of businesses, tucked into rocks along trails. And Gunung Kawi, a last-minute road trip, proved to be one of the most incredible sites I’ve seen on my entire trip so far. It’s a 1000-year-old temple site with nine shrines carved into the mountainside. It’s reached by an interminable series of steps. We climbed high up on the hills to altars with incense still smoldering, views of incredible terraced rice paddies, and devotees paying respects. Criminally, I’d forgotten to charge my camera, and little evidence of this site exists in my photo collection.
New Year’s Eve. I’ve written about it before, but a fancy Italian dinner, good wine, great friends, fancy dresses and homemade fireworks. Here to 2012.
Textile course. I try to get a sense of local textiles everywhere I go. In Ubud, I attended a course at Threads of Life, an NGO that works with cooperatives of weavers in remote areas (sound familiar?) I was worried the course would be too basic, but it was fabulous. I plan to write a long post about textiles at the end of the trip, so I can save details for that. But Balinese textiles are truly among the world’s finest. One example is the presence of the double ikat–a type of textile only found in Gujarat, India and Bali. It’s dual warp and weft dominant design makes it excruciatingly difficult to weave, exquisitely fine in detail and on the whole, simply amazing. I’d never seen one before the workshop.
Uluwatu. Fabulous cliffside house on the world’s most famous surf break. Chiseled Aussie surfers climbing the rocky cliff, dripping with sea water and adrenaline. Ethereal sunsets. A motorbike. A bunch of restaurants in motorbike range. Friends. Sun, sand, blue blue skies.
A day alone. You all know by now that I love and value my alone time. I was sad to see Emily head back to Cambodia, but I spent my day in Seminyak well. I was recovering from a stomach incident and so didn’t push too hard. Seminyak is strange–imagine SoHo and South Beach put together. It’s a ton of batik and silk boutique stores, upscale restaurants and wine bars, bony models and international jet set. I couldn’t be bothered with any of that, and instead made my way to Good Earth, where I nursed myself back to health with some quinoa soup and a beet juice. I wrote postcards and looked at the ocean. I took a cab to the airport, whizzing by an enormous, escalatored Carrefour supermarket and the world’s flagship Rip Curl store–a massive, florescent affair.
Bali’s a strange place. I’d encourage anyone to go there. I’ll definitely return some day. The beaches are irresistible, yes, but it’s so much more. The Hindu spirituality oozes from every crevice. The Balinese people are kind, honest, educated and gentle. The art in Bali, ranging from theatre to painting to music, is simultaneously light-hearted and technically sophisticated. Bali is both rural and rustic, and urban and swanky. The prices aren’t bad, the landscape is amazing, and the island is easily exlpored independently on a motorbike. What are you waiting for? I’ll meet you there.