Monthly Archives: May 2020

Suksma Bali

We had arranged for a private tour on day 2 in Bali with Bali Paradise Tours as recommended by Toni and Brad, the delightful Australian couple we met in Darwin, Australia. Since we prefer to book directly with local providers, we were happy to learn about this independent tour operator.  The owner and guide, Wayan Yasa, was there to meet us as arranged and helped us narrow down our interests to use our time most efficiently. Although the island is small, the traffic is challenging and we didn’t want to spend the majority of our time in the vehicle. In the end, we left it up to Wayan’s best judgment and we were happy with the results.

We took off in Wayan’s large, comfortable, air-conditioned vehicle and headed first to the iconic Garuda Wisnu Kencana (GWK) Cultural Park. Completed in August 2018 after 28 years of construction, this collossal monument of the mythical bird and national symbol of Indonesia, Garuda, ridden by the Hindu God Wisnu is decorated with kencana (gold), hence the name GWK Cultural Park. Taller than the Statue of Liberty and visible from many locations throughout Bali, the monument stands 121 meters (397 ft) tall and is reportedly the third tallest statue in the world.

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GWK statue from a distance

After we purchased our tickets for 125,000 rupiah each ($8.46), Wayan loaded us onto a golf cart for the ride to the statue. I’m not sure how far the monument was from the entrance to the park but the golf cart was a welcome relief in the blazing hot sunshine accompanied by high humidity. We didn’t complain about the heat but sunscreen, a hat, and water were absolutely essential!

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Jim, Lori, Wayan with our golf cart
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Lori, Jim, and me in front of the GWK statue
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GWK statue

Notice the use of black and white buffalo check fabric called Saput Poleng in the photo below indicating balance to create harmony according to the philosophy of Rwa Bhineda. (You can read more in my previous post here.)

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Interior of the monument
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Decorated entrance to the elevator

It’s possible to take the elevator up into the monument for a view of Bali from the top but the sign at the elevator indicated it was closed for maintenance during our visit.

The enormous cultural park also includes venues for events, an amphitheater, daily cultural performances, restaurants, and shopping but we were ready to move on.

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Leaving GWK Cultural Park

As we drove, Wayan told us he was the oldest child in his family. In Bali the oldest male or female is always named Wayan, Putu, or Gede; the second-born is Made, Kadek, or Nengah; the third child is Nyoman or Komang; and the fourth is always Ketut. (You may recall the Balinese medicine man in Eat Pray Love was named Ketut.) If the family has more than four children, they simply begin the rotation again. That information explained our experience upon disembarkation from our cruise ship. A number of guides offered us tours to which we responded, “We’re looking for Wayan; we booked with him.” Many laughed and reponded, “My name is Wayan” which, in retrospect, was probably true. We got quite a chuckle out of that.

I asked Wayan why we saw so much discarded rubbish everywhere. He responded that it’s actually much better than it used to be and it’s an issue of education. The people need to be taught not to discard their garbage on the roadways which is an effort the government is working on. In fairness, we did see many motorcycles carrying large loads of plastic bottles for recycling so there is an outlet for recycling. I mention this not as a criticism of Bali but to prepare other tourists. I’m always disheartened when I visit areas where the environment seems neglected and I was happy to hear about the government efforts in this area.

We stopped next at Lumbung Sari Coffee Plantation for a tour and a free tasting. Even Jim, who is not a coffee drinker, enjoyed several of the coffees, teas, and cocoa.

Tasting area at Lumbung Sari
Coffee beans at Lumbung Sari
Woman roasting luwak coffee beans
Assortment of coffees, teas, and cocoa for tasting

Lumbung Sari also serves the famous Luwak coffee which required a fee to taste but we were game to try it for a mere 50,000 rp ($3.40). Luwak coffee is made from partially digested coffee beans defecated by the Asian palm civet. Think “cat-poo-chino.”

Asian Palm Civet resting in a cage

Reputed to be the most expensive coffee in the world, it, honestly, didn’t taste any better (or worse!) than any other coffee but the idea of coffee made from poop is kind of a turn-off regardless of its reputation or cost. The employee accompanying us explained that the civets, which are nocturnal, roam freely around the coffee plantation and forage for coffee berries during the night and rest in the cages during daylight. When I later read treatment of the luwak (civet) is considered unethical because they are confined to cages and their diet is restricted to coffee berries to produce more of the kopi luwak (civet coffee), I was glad we didn’t buy any to take home. We did help the local economy, however, by purchasing another Bali coffee, mango tea, and cocoa to take home to our children.

Shop at Lumbung Sari
Lori and Jim shopping at Lumbung Sari
Kopi Luwak (civet coffee) purchased by another cruise passenger

We told Wayan the one “must see” on our list was a beautiful Bali beach. After all, isn’t that what Bali is known for? He took us to Padang Padang Beach which was also featured in the movie, Eat Pray Love. For a nominal fee of 10,000 rupiah ($.67) we entered the beach while Wayan waited for us in the parking lot across the street.

View from street level to the beach

As we descended the stairs to the beach, we were charmed by an added bonus, long-tailed macaques everywhere.

Lori descending the stairs to beach
One of many log-tailed macaques we saw as we passed through the temple on the descent

When we reached the beach, it was even better than the view from the street. Padang Padang, also called Pantai Labuan Sait, exceeded my expectations with the surrounding cliffs and jungle giving it a feeling of seclusion and intimacy. Reportedly one of the better surfing areas, no surfers were in the water while we were there, but the board rentals confirmed surfing was an option.

Padang Padang Beach
Looking at the street level bridge from Padang Padang Beach
Jim and me at Padang Padang Beach
Lori at Padang Padang Beach

We’ve visited many beautiful beaches around the world and I would place Padang Padang among the best. As we headed back up to the street level, we couldn’t resist more photos of the macaques.

Jim made a new friend
The climb tells you this was not a handicap accessible beach

After the heat of the beach, Wayan was waiting for us with cold drinks and aircon. What could be better than that?

Bintang break

We had an enjoyable day with Wayan. He was knowledgeable and personable and shared lots of interesting tales about his experiences as well as tidbits of his personal wisdom such as “No money, no honey,” meaning nothing is free. He also taught us a little Balinese language which is different from Indonesian. Suksma means thank you and mewali is you’re welcome.

Wayan and Jim

After Wayan delivered us back to the port, he called to ask Jim to come back for something he’d forgotten. Jim went out to meet Wayan and returned with a gift. Wayan presented him with the traditional male Balinese headgear, an udeng. Jim was surprised and thrilled.

Jim says suksma for his udeng

While we had only a small taste of Bali, it was a good first experience. I’ve read many tourists visit Bali only for the weather, beaches, and parties and never leave their hotel grounds. We experienced so much more than that. For all we experienced, Suksma, Bali. (Thank you, Bali.)

Based on events from February 2019.

Categories: cruise, Indonesia, Travel, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , | 5 Comments

Finding Balance in Bali

Prior to our visit, I pictured Bali as a serene South Pacific paradise with stunning beaches, volcanic mountains, lush jungles, fragrant tropical flowers, historic rice terraces, and Hindu temples. Honestly, I pictured something like Hawaii on steroids at a fraction of the cost. Admittedly, my expectations were influenced by the movie Eat, Pray, Love in which Elizabeth Gilbert, played by Julia Roberts, rode her bicycle along peaceful roads bordered by verdant, palm-covered landscapes, swam in inviting turquoise waters, and generally enjoyed life in a tranquil Shangri-la. As it turned out, some of my preconceived notions were confirmed but by the end of our brief 2-day visit, we were better educated.

Bali is actually in the Indian Ocean rather than the South Pacific. It is one of 6000 inhabited islands in the nation of Indonesia, the largest archipelago in the world comprised of a total of 17,508 islands. In terms of population, Indonesia is ranked number 4 in the world with 267 million people dispersed throughout the islands and 4.2 million of them reside in the province of Bali. The island of Bali is the 11th largest in Indonesia measuring 230 miles (370 km) in circumference or 95 miles (153 km) from east to west by 69 miles (112 km) from north to south. It is roughly half the size of the Big Island of Hawaii. Of the 147 volcanoes sprinkled throughout Indonesia, 76 are active and 2 of those are located on Bali.

As our tender boat delivered us from the Norwegian Jewel to the cruise port in Benoa, Bali, we were immediately confronted with massive pollution in the bay.

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I was disappointed to discover Bali was not the pristine paradise I imagined. Seeing the debris reminded me of the television commercial for 4ocean, an organization started by two young surfers who saw the extensive plastic washed up on the shores in Bali and decided to do something about it. Although the organization has recovered 8,693,079 lbs worldwide since 2017, there’s plenty more where that came from. Go to their website and help if you can.

Fortunately, our poor first impression was countered by the traditional Balinese dancers who welcomed us to Bali. Following their performance, we were excited to experience more of this exotic culture on our bus tour to the Bali Terraces and Ulun Danu Temple.

Indonesia is the largest Islamic country in the world. In Bali, however, 83% of the population is Balinese Hindu, which is a blend of Indian Hinduism, Buddhism, and pre-existing local beliefs including animism, the belief that everything has a soul or spirit. Throughout our tour, we observed how religion permeates all aspects of Balinese life and culture.

As we departed from the port and entered the city, we observed exotic architecture obscured by electrical wires; lots of signs, many of which had to do with the upcoming election; more debris; statues of Hindu gods; offerings to the deities; and congested traffic accompanied by roaring motors and blaring horns. Bali was, from beginning to end, an island full of contrasts.

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Balinese architecture

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Signs, traffic, and the ubiquitous KFC

The Titi Banda Statue on the outskirts of Denpasar was only one of the magnificent statues we admired. Rising 10m (33 ft) above the junction of several main roads, this massive monument depicts the mythical epic Ramayana in which Prince Rama rescues his wife, Sita, held captive by Ravana in Lanka.  Rama, aided by his monkey troops built the Titi Banda (stone bridge) to Lanka to mount the rescue attack. The photo below taken by my friend, Lori, from the bus is only a portion of this enormous monument.

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Titi Banda Statue along the road on the outskirts of Denpasar

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More statues along the roadway

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Debris along the roadside

From the windows of the bus, we saw Balinese offerings everywhere. Expressions of gratitude to the gods, these offerings vary in size from a grain of rice on a banana leaf to ornate towers of fruit, flowers, and sweets. The small daily offering called canang sari and banten are placed on small shrines or even on the ground. The shrine in the photo below held offerings to both the higher and lower spirits to ensure harmony and balance.  IMG_7559

Tall decorated poles, called penjor, also contained offerings. When I spotted an assortment of plain bamboo poles, I knew they must be the undecorated version waiting for ornamentation. The poles are decorated with coconut leaves, fruit, grain, and flowers for festivals or religious holidays and placed outside homes and businesses. Partway up the pole is a basket or platform where an offering is placed.

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Bamboo poles

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Penjor

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Penjor and offering

We noticed black and white buffalo checked fabric called Saput Poleng on umbrellas, wrapped around trees, and draped on shrines. The Balinese philosophy of Rwa Bhineda or balance is similar to Yin and Yang. It holds that in order to maintain harmony all things must be in balance. So white balances black, good balances bad, right balances wrong. The black and white of Saput Poleng embodies the essence of Rwa Bhineda.

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Saput Poleng

To break up the drive to the rice terraces and Ulun Danu Temple, we stopped for an unexpected tour of a traditional Balinese home compound where we learned about Balinese family life from our guide, Murya. Extended families live together and when sons marry, their wives move into the husband’s home. (My daughter-in-law can be grateful we’re not Balinese!) In such a warm climate, most living occurs outside so there are few walls but roofs keep out the frequent rain showers.

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Our guide, Murya, telling us about the family compound (notice the penjor behind)

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Balinese home

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Murya and family shrine

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Family members with drying rice in foreground

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Ceremonial pavilion

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I was looking forward to seeing the Bali rice terraces, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Unfortunately, we didn’t stop for photos and I was disappointed that all my photos were through the windows of the bus. The entire sustainable system of irrigation called the Subak System has UNESCO designation so all the rice terraces in Bali are included. A cooperative water management system of irrigation dating from the 9th century, Subak is based on the philosophy of Tri Hita Karan, which is to create harmony between man and god, man and neighbor, and man and nature.

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Rice Terraces

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Rice Terraces

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Rice Terraces

Nestled in the mountains surrounding Lake Bratan, Ulun Danu Temple is regarded as one of the most beautiful of the 20,000 temples in Bali. Erected in 1663 to honor Dewi Danu, the goddess of water, the temple consists of two small pagodas seeming to float on Lake Bratan. The mist rising over the pagodas added to the mystical quality of the experience.

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Entrance to Ulun Danu Temple

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Grounds at Ulun Danu

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Grounds at Ulun Danu

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Larger pagoda at Ulun Danu

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Two pagodas at Ulun Danu

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Lake Bratan

Following our visit to Ulun Danu, we stopped at Secret Garden Village for a typical sweet Balinese snack with tea.

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Balinese treats

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View from Secret Garden Village

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Trompe l’oeil at Secret Garden Village 

Most of us were quiet and sleepy during our return to the ship. I did take a brief video of the drive, however.

I admit I suffered from a bit of culture shock in Bali. Metaphorically, I expected a serene yoga retreat and got that plus a lively Zumba class.  In the end, the philosophy of Rwa Bhineda summarizes my experience. Finding your balance between rain and sunshine, noisy streets and contemplative temples, clear aqua waters and plastic pollution, will result in a harmonious visit. And above all, express gratitude.IMG_7943

For so much more in Bali including Balinese dance and a personal day tour with Wayan, check back here.

Based on events from February 2019.

Categories: cruise, Indonesia, Travel, Uncategorized, UNESCO | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

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