Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Temples, Volcanos and Rice Terraces of Bali

A typical Balinese street view.
If you have been following my blog, you know I am not a fan of organized tours. I will do anything to avoid them. In Bali, I hired a driver, Made (, to take me to the volcano and to show me his country. I was excited because he loved to share the culture, religious beliefs and would answer the millions of questions I had for him. He was also very courteous and professional. When he came to pick me up, he asked what I had done the previous 2 days and I told him I have been to Tirta Empul and Gunung Kawi on my scooter. He was shocked and impressed that I did that on my own. He and Marie called me brave and fearless. Ha ha! I never consider solo travel that extraordinary. I guess it comes from being single for so many years and doing everything on my own. Mr. Made told me he had planned to stop at both these sights. I was excited and asked if we could keep Tirta Empul on the schedule. I could go in the waters! I ran to grab a change of clothes before we left.
I liked this carving,  jazz hands!
Our first stop was the Goa Gajah (Elephant Cave) sanctuary. I put on my sarong and sash and entered the area. This is not a natural cave. It was a solid rock carved by believers years ago. The holy men would clean themselves in the holy fountains before entering the cave to meditate for enlightenment. This cave was built in honor of Goa Gajah, the God of wisdom, prosperity and good luck.

Goa Gajah cave entrance
I entered the cave through the mouth and took a quick look around. It was dark and smelly from rotting offerings. Not someplace I wanted to spend much time meditating! The surrounding gardens were lush and peaceful. I decided to hike the area and explore the gardens. There were carvings in the rocks as I continued along the paths. I walked until I came to a path where a man wanted money to walk down towards the river. I decided to return back to meet Made.

I met back with Made and we headed north to an organic farm. I had told Made I loved healthy eating and he asked if I would like to see one of the organic family farms on our trip. Of course! We stopped and walked through the gardens and then I was shown how they roast the coffee. Bali also has a special coffee, kopi luwak. The Asian palm civet lives on the farm (cage free) and selects only the best coffee beans to eat. The beans are then excreted and collected, cleaned and roasted to make the kopi luwak. It is believed the fermentation process that occurs in the civet's digestive system improves the flavor of the coffee bean. 

Kopi Luwak beans after cleaning and roasting.
Made asked if I would like a free sample of the farms coffee and teas. Sure, I was game and I really wanted to see if there was a difference in the taste of the coffee. Yep, I was trying that cevit poop coffee! They brought me a tray of samples and a plate of local fruits (including snakeskin fruit). Yummy!
I must admit, the kopi luwak coffee tasted better than the regular coffee. But my favorites were the ginger coffee and the lemongrass tea. I bought a small bag of each for my travels.
Our next stop was Tirta Empul, the holy spring. I had visited before so, I knew where I was going. I left my bag with Made and just took a change of clothes and my iphone for photos. I entered the temple and walked towards the changing room to rent a locker. I got a key and entered. I was a little surprised when I entered to see men and women all together in different stages of changing their clothes. Hmmmm....well, when in Rome do as the Romans. What else could I do? I changed into my swimsuit and wrapped a sarong around my waist. Then I tied a shawl over my shoulders. As I left the changing room an older lady grabbed my hand and smiled. She pulled me along to the entrance of the temple and the water baths. She was excited she had found a tourist to show the way. I passed the priests and gave an offering.
Then I continued to the pool. I asked a tourist if she would take a couple photos for me and gave her my iphone. As I entered the water, I noticed large coy fish swimming in the pool. I giggled as I thought of my sister who would have freaked out being in a pool of water with fish. The water was cool and the bottom was covered with worn stones. I waited my turn and followed in step with the Balinese. I bowed my head to pray Balinese-style: gave thanks to emptiness, the sun, creation, offer blessings to the world and then thanks to emptiness once again. I stepped towards the first of 12 fountains and murmur a gratitude blessing and dunk my head under the fountain three times. The woman smiled at me and grabs my hand to pull me along. Made had explained that each of the fountains has a different significance, providing things like protection from evil spirits, blessings for fertility (no tahnk you!), wealth and blessings for the dead. He told me to follow the locals but not to dip my head in the fountain for the dead. I was glad he told me this. He told me it would be the fountain the locals skipped and it would not have any offerings on it. The fountain of the dead is used to wash the bones of the deceased prior to cremation.
Tirta Empul

I quietly watched the locals and followed their lead. Although this is the most spiritual sight in Bali, I was amazed how the locals chatted and laughed as they went through the process. I whispered my blessing at each spout as I went along. I don't know whether the water will cleanse or uplift me. I only know that I felt alive in the moment and thankful. I returned to the locker room, changed my clothes and returned to Made.
We continued our drive up to the Mount Batur. The view of the active volcano was beautiful and impressive. I walked around the area and shot a few photos. Then we headed south to the rice terraces.

As we continued our drive, I notice all of the cars and scooters had offerings on them. I had not noticed this in previous days. Made explained it was Tumpek Landep, a day the Balinese celebrate all things mechanical. Offerings are placed on cars and scooters because the Balinese believe that everything they have comes from the gods. Offering are made to thank the gods for blessing them with the ability to make things that help them in their daily lives. We passed women with offerings on their way to the temple.

I am in awe of the gracefulness of the Balinese women. They walk with offerings and water jugs balanced on their heads. Talking and gossiping with their friends. I will never tire of this sight. Made told me the children learn to do this in their youth. He pointed out a woman riding on the back of a motorcycle with the offering balanced on her head. Amazing!
We arrived at the Tegallalang rice terraces. They were beautiful. I will never tire of the shades of green and the serenity of rice paddies.

Made joined me as we walked down to the bottom. He was telling me about the naming system in Bali. In his class, all children are named Wayan, Made, Nygoman and Ketut. In this order for a boy or a girl. On child 5, you start back at Wayan. It makes it easy to know the birth order but confusing when everyone's names are Wayan or Made. I asked him how that is handled in school. Made told me the have nick names also. I laughed as I told him my name would be Made also.

Made (left) and a farmer (Wayan) that we met while hiking.

At the end of the day we passed through the stone carving and wood carving areas. I asked if we could stop so I could look at a store. The wood carvings were beautiful. I loved several pieces but passed due to my budget. I had a wonderful day with Made and learned a great deal about Balinese life. I said my goodbyes to Made and arranged for him to pick me up in a few days to drive me to Amed. He smiled and waved goodbye.

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