We flew from Yogyakarta to Bali, having had enough of the train for a while.
Bali is a real contrast to Java. It’s a much smaller island with a population of about three million. 90% of the population of Bali is Hindu — their own brand of the Hinduism is fused with animist and other local beliefs. It’s interesting to think about the fact that, at one time, much of Java itself was Hindu (it’s now mostly Muslim). These islands have been a trade center for centuries, and have been influenced by many cultures, including Chinese and Indian.
We stayed in Ubud, Bali’s cultural center, for several days. Charming Ubud is about an hour inland, and is surrounded by beautiful rice terraces. The locals were very friendly. It’s also a gathering place for a white-people-with-dreadlocks-wearing-bindis crowd, which is comforting, in its way, to an Oregonian.
The Balinese have a reputation for creativity, and the beauty of Balinese homes and gardens impressed us. Traditional Balinese houses are a mix of garden and home; of outside and in. Behind the ornate front gate of brick, homes have well-tended gardens with fountains and sculptures. Within the garden are several room-sized, open-sided rectangular buildings, which are the rooms of the house. They’re made of red brick with cement or stone, and have their own wonderful style — a mix of local and Hindu. Gardens and rooms are often baroque with stone carvings, wood carvings, weavings, fountains, plants, caged birds, etc., but somehow everything comes together.
You can see their creativity in everyday acts as well. Artfully arranged trays of offerings for gods and demons are created daily and put in various locations around a home, business or temple.
The Balinese casual and frequent use of flowers is also inspiring. I enjoyed seeing how they arranged petals in patterns around stair steps or statues or even coffee makers.
Someone had decorated this plant with eggshells. I love the forms:
While in Ubud, we took in an Indonesian Wayang Kuli puppet show. The puppeteers move intricately carved flat leather puppets against a back-lit sheet, and the main puppeteer acts out the drama by singing and talking.
Behind homes and businesses in Ubud, you can still see lots of rice paddies. And if you go a little further out, the landscape is almost digitized with the horizontal vertical zigzag of the ancient fields. Bali’s rice fields are one of the most amazing landscapes I’ve seen.
We even visited a "rice temple," carved into a hillside in the 14th century.
In contrast to the rice fields and villages, one of the roads leading into Ubud looks like Pier One threw up there. There are miles of stores selling carved wood frogs fishing with poles; giant metal cockroaches playing violins; and giant carved wood bears, holding up glass tabletops. I had no idea Bali exported so much home decor stuff. We saw more products of this nature than in Thailand, where we’d expected to see them.
Driving through the surrounding villages, we saw bamboo poles, decorated with black and white checkered cloth (the close proximity of good and evil), and containing offerings for the gods.
And some wonderful (and huge) paper-mache statues created for local ceremonies. I think they’re temporary.
Gunung Kawi is an ancient rock-cut temple.
After a hot day trekking around temples, and driving around in a beat up old van, we went to the Monkey Forest, which is next to Ubud. True to the name, there are lots of macaques in the forest; they’re not shy, and you can feed them bananas.
The forest is a sanctuary to the macaques, and a temple to the Balinese. It’s a cool, dark, steamy grotto of jungle cliffs and gulches, with and long creeping vines with mossy statues and moldering fountains.
The next day, we visited Bali’s biggest temple, Besakih. This is the massive front door, typical of Bali’s temples, which mostly follow the same model. The red brick and stone are also used in traditional Balinese homes, so you see a lot of these forms around Bali.
It’s interesting to see pagodas in Balinese culture — an architectural feature imported from China, hundreds of years ago.
Then, we drove up a mountain in the middle of Bali to Lake Bratan. There’s a beautiful temple on a little island near the shore, and the weather’s a little cooler up there.
Driving back down to the shore, we visited Tanah Lot temple, built on a rocky crag just offshore. Fighting through hordes of tourists put us off, but once we finally got there, it was a magical sight.
We left our hotel in Ubud for Seminyak, on Bali’s shore. It’s part of a row of trendy villages, and isn’t at all as charming as Ubud.
In Ubud, we’d noticed there weren’t as many tourists as the town’s accustomed to. This trend became much more obvious in Seminyak and the surrounding area. In Seminyak, there were lots of mostly vacant trendy shops, eateries and night clubs. Locals told us there are fewer tourists than last year by far, because of the most recent bombing. It was really heartbreaking to see. We’ve been the only customers in many restaurants, and taxi drivers and touts were always calling out for our business. Bali needs help right now. After New York’s bombings, America rallied, and the tourists came back. Bali needs that kind of support right now.