Monday, September 23, 2013

Bali- My Own Journey

When I told friends and family I was going to Bali, I was asked if I was going to look for love like Elizabeth Gilbert in Eat,Pray, Love. I am the first to admit I loved the book and movie. But no, I came to Bali to experience the culture and to relax. As most of you realize, I am happiest when I get to interact with locals and experience the culture of a country. I search for educational opportunities and those that challenge my comfort zone.

Most people think of beaches, surfing and parties when they think of Bali. But, I knew Kuta was not my scene. I enjoy a nice cold beer or cocktail  but not the wild parties. I was going to Ubud for yoga, relaxing and healthy eating. I was prepared to try it all. I chose a room with the winderful Marie Bee ( in the village of Sayan on the west side of Ubud. Marie was fantastic! She has lived in Ubud for years and has contacts in the community. If you want to see or do something, she will tell you how to do it. She sent Made ( to pick me up at the airport. Made and I bonded quickly on the 1.5 hour trip to Marie Bee's room. He explained the beliefs, ceremonies and culture of the Balinese people. I was excited when he told me I had arrived during cremation season. What? I knew the Balinese were Hindu whereas the remainder of Indonesia is Muslim. And I knew the Hindu religion cremates when someone passes away. But I was not aware there was a season to cremate those that had passed away. Made explained to me the rich people will cremate their loved ones after they pass away. However, due to the costs of a cremation the majority of the people will bury their loved ones for 3-5 years and then the entire village has a mass cremation to burn the bones of loved ones. This allows the people to save their money to pay for the cremation. I was intrigued and wanted to see a cremation while I was in Bali. Made told me to ask Marie and ask around town. I made a mental note to ask Marie about a cremation service. Made shared his experiences, knowledge and love of his country as we talked. He even offered to stop and help me get a SIM card for my cell phone! When we arrived at Marie Bee's, Made carried my bag in and introduced me to her staff (Nygoman and Tini). They welcomed me and showed me around the house then took me to my scooter I had rented ($5/day). Yes! Back on a scooter and we all know how much I love that! It was late afternoon and I knew I should get something to eat before it was too late. I hate driving at night in a new town. So, Tini and Nygoman offered to take me to a restaurant on their way home. I followed behind trying to remember how to get back to Marie Bee's. We weaved around corners and up hills then back down. They stopped at what would become my favorite restaurant, Alchemy. I walked in and was in heaven...I saw a fresh smoothie bar and a nice salad bar. Just what I wanted. I ate quickly so I could find my way back to Marie Bee's before it was dark. I got lost a few times and stopped and asked directions. I got back home and went to bed.
In the morning, I met Marie and she gave me directions to see a few sights. I needed to run some errands & then started her suggested motorbike ride. Unfortunately, I got lost several times. Bali maps are poor and the roads are not marked. I enjoyed riding around the back roads, while the people worked the rice fields. I realized it was late afternoon and I headed back to Ubud. I enjoyed the freedom to explore on my own.
The next morning I awoke and left early to see the sights Marie had suggested. As I left on my journey, my first stop was to purchase offerings for the temples. I found a warung on the corner and asked for 3 offerings.
Then I headed through Ubud and north towards my destinations. It was easier because I was getting more comfortable on the scooter and I had an idea where I was going. My first stop was to find the men making bulls for the cremation services. I asked if I may take photos and he was proud to show me his work. I watched as he crafted the tail by braiding palm tree leaves and wrapped it with newspaper. He showed me the bull was made from dried coconut shells, which burn quickly. He told me it takes him a week to build one bull. I was surprised he was so fast and did a beautiful job. I asked the gentleman if there were any cremation services in nearby villages. He gave me a list of days and villages. I thanked him and continued on my way. I realized my 5 days in Ubud was going to be longer since I wanted to see a cremation.

My next stop was Kampung Café for an early lunch and a fruit smoothie. The café has a beautiful view of rice terraces and is very relaxing. After my lunch I continued through the countryside. I stopped along the way at a local temple. Women were entering with offerings. Marie lent me a sarong and sash to wear at the temples. As soon as I put it on a young girl walked over and said hello. She invited me to take my offering in with her. I am fascinated by the beauty of the temples. The orange and gray colors are beautiful surrounded by the rice fields. Made had explained to me that the Balinese people have a family temple at their home where they make daily offerings. They also have village temples where they make additional offerings. I watched as the women entered, bowed their heads and placed the offering in the temple. Then they left. I respectfully left an offering before continuing on my journey towards the Presidential Palace, the resting ground of the first King of Bali. I stopped and asked directions several times and everyone was kind and helpful. As I entered the palace parking lot, I was told it was closed. This confused me because other people were entering. I asked what day it was open and the guard told me "no." I asked if it was open tomorrow and he said "you, never." I asked a few more questions and realized it was closed to tourists. Ok. On to my next destination, Tirta Empul.

Tirta Empul is a holy spring where water emerges from the land which the Hindu people believe can purify and heal diseases. I watched as the Balinese and tourists alike entered the pools and went through the ritual of dousing themselves in each fountain three times. I noticed the people skipped one of the fountains but I was not certain why. It was interesting and beautiful to watch. Many Balinese asked if I was going to participate. Unfortunately, I forgot a change of clothes. I sat quietly watching and appreciating the ritual.  
My next stop was Gunung Kawi. I saw a temple and turned to enter it. As I stopped to ask a man, he nodded his head and pointed for me to proceed. I walked down the winding steps and found a temple and noticed the steps continued further down. I walked past fountains and was confused because Marie had told me I would walk down past rice terraces. I continued further into the gorge.  I continued down to the bottom and found women bathing in the water. They were all naked and encouraged me to join them. No! I was not ready for that! I smiled and thanked them but declined. As I left, I saw women filling large containers with water and placing them on their heads. They women expertly balanced these as the walked up the steps. Wow! I do not have that kind of grace. I wish I did but, I know better.
I climbed the stairs to my scooter. I had made a wrong turn and I needed to figure out where I had missed the temple and needed to go back or if I had not gone far enough. I decided to continue down the road a little farther. If I was wrong, I would turn around and try again. A little further down the road, I saw the sign for Gunung Kawi. I parked and carried my offering as I headed towards the temple entrance. I stopped to read the sign and was surprised by number 3.
I was glad it wasn't that time of the month! I was more concerned they had to specify for ladies.  Ha ha!  I started the hike down the steps and past the stalls selling water and souvenirs. Past the rice paddies. Down into the gorge. When I reached the river, the jungle was dense and beautiful. The area was beautiful and quiet. Very few tourists were here. It was nice to wander the grounds and enjoy the quiet. I explored the nooks and crannies of the temple. I admit, I felt a little like Indiana Jones. And yes, I was watching for snakes. That is one fear I can not seem to get past. I was so happy Marie had suggested I visit this area. It was what I needed. It was peaceful.  As I crossed the bridge, I saw an old woman wearing a monkey mask. I giggled as she came towards me. This was fantastic! I wanted it. Wouldn't it be an interesting discussion piece? I told her no several times but when the price was down to $5.  I  figured what the hell! I bought it and was sending it home with some other souvenirs. I continued the hike back to the entrance and headed back to Ubud. It was a fun day exploring the area on my own. Tomorrow, I was going with Made on a tour up to the volcano and to hike the rice paddies.


  1. Thank you Putranto! I loved Bali and want to go back again. The people are friendly and want to share their lives with you.