“Wow, so you’ve spent in Bali almost four months, is it really a paradise island? Does it really look like on the pictures in tour operators catalogs?” Many people asked me exactly the same question, so I started to think about it and analyze what I saw and witnessed during my stay in Bali. Surely when you get to spend more time somewhere and you kind of live there like a local, you see this place differently than someone who spends two weeks in five stars hotel and only sees what the tour guides show them. The answer to this question is ambiguous. Yes, there are paradise-like places in Bali, but this island is so much more than just sandy beaches with turquoise water and tasty local food, which some of the tourists think is enough. I found myself both enchanted and surprised so many times during my stay on the “paradise island”.
Let me show you various faces of Bali, that I noticed during my almost four months there.
Rice-fields are the most green thing I have ever seen in my life. There is something ocean-like about them. When you seat on the hill over the rice-fields and all you can see is the various shades or green – it somehow looks like the waves on the surface of the ocean. I did not go to see the fields recommended as tourists attractions, instead we just took the motorbike and drove around from village to village in search of beautiful views. This is my favorite type of sightseeing – riding or walking without a plan and hoping to find something interesting. This method never let me down. I saw much more than just the beautiful views – I saw very hard working man using almost ancient tools and machines to plant the rice. I saw women beating the bundles of rice in order to get the grains. I finally saw the kinds running around the fields with their kites in the rays of the setting sun, waiting for their parents to finish their daily duties.
ARTS, CRAFTS & BALINESE AESTHETICISM
It cannot be denied that Balinese people are gifted when it comes to arts and crafts. Plaiting small baskets from palm leafs and preparing beautiful offerings, arranging cute patterns from flowers on the water ponds or creating impressive colorful kites are just some of the everyday creative activities of local people. Bali is well known for its wooden carvings and this fame is well deserved. Wooden door-frames even in the simple house can be really impressive. Moreover carved and colorful shrines are inevitable part of every household. I visited one of the woodcarving workplaces along the road and I must admit I was truly amazed with the talent and meticulousness of the workers. All parts of the temple are carefully carved and painted before they are put together to form deliberate construction. What surprised me was the age of the artists working on the temple parts. While cutting and handling bigger wooden pieces was the task of grown man, smaller parts were carved and painted by boys, the youngest of them was maybe about 12 years old.
I have seen many other amazing craftsman workplaces, mostly on the suburbs of Denpasar, Sanur, Ubud and Amlapura. I admired sculptures made of wood or stone – Balinese people put various statues of gods and demons in front of their houses, as well as fountains which are very popular decorations of the garden. I was enchanted by handmade masks and other home décor articles with typical Balinese motifs. What was equally interesting to observe is materials and special colorful robes worn by both man and woman during frequent on Bali religious and family ceremonies.
Yes, this cannot be denied that Bali is unmatched source of inspiration for artists and photographers, and the ubiquitous spirit of creativity makes it incomparable with any other place.
RITUALS AND CEREMONIES
It’s enough to spend just few days on Bali to notice people getting dressed in special ceremonial robes and rushing with offering baskets towards temples, shrines or particular households. In most of the countries there are 2-3 bigger holidays (Christmas, Easter..) and few smaller occasions to celebrate during a year. Well, in Bali it works a little bit differently. Apart from (quite many) general religious holidays there are plenty of other bigger or smaller occasions, when people give offerings, pray and gather with friends and family.
One of the most interesting holiday I witnessed was ceremony for metal objects, called Tumpek Landep. In every home and temple, after the prayers, offerings are made for all metal objects that people use everyday. That means celebrations and blessings for motorbikes, cars, kitchenware or computers. The objects and machines are cleaned and decorated with kind of wreaths plaid from palm leafs and flowers. Balinese believe that those celebrations will ensure that the metal objects will serve them well and will not break, of course when it comes to cars and bikes the offerings are supposed to provide safety of the drivers and passengers. Does it work? Well, I never saw any accident during my stay on Bali, and about the driving habits of Balinese I wrote here… so maybe it is not a bad idea to bless your car or motorbike 🙂
Another interesting ceremony I witnessed took place in Sanur on the crossroad… I was sitting in the garden of one restaurant when I saw people preparing the mats and baskets with offering and placing them on the street. “How much did you drink?” you may ask, but I have pictures supporting my story. There were clearly two families and young mad and women in the center of the celebrations. There were certain rituals carried separately by women and man of the family. The whole thing lasted around an hour. Was it a pre-marriage ceremony in order to ask for blessing for the young couple? It looked like that. The participants were so engaged in the whole celebrations that I did not dare to approach and ask any of them for the details. After they finished all the offerings were left behind on the street. The cars and bikes were riding over them, nobody cared that it was a part of the holy celebration just a moment ago. Fruits that were not immediately destroyed by the tires were thoroughly looked through and picked up by homeless people. In the evening when we were coming back to our hotel we noticed just the flat remnants of the baskets and colorful flowers. This is another typical thing for Bali, what finished serving its purpose is usually left behind and forgotten. When offerings are done and the incense sticks burn out, the food and flowers used for the ceremony become for the Balinese usual earthly items. Some foods are eaten by the animals and the remnants are spread over the pavement by passers-by. This indifference and forgetfulness stands a bit in the contradiction to typical Balinese spirituality, but hey.. didn’t I tell you that this island is full of surprises?
Well this was the biggest surprise for me in Bali. I wrote previously about my extraordinary trip to Mount Agung summit, but who new that this volcano that slept for over fifty years would wake up now and start to threaten with eruption. Bali, as well as rest of Indonesia, lays within Pacific Ring of Fire.
In September the seismic activity around volcano became stronger and more frequent, which quickly lead to rising the volcano alert to the highest level and evacuating more than 100.000 people from around the mountain. We lived in Amed, small town that lays about 15 km from Mt. Agung. It was too far to be in direct danger, but close enough to feel numerous earthquakes every day. It was a weird and memorable experience. Once before, when I was in Greece I experienced the earthquake, but this felt totally different. This time the earth shook few times a day, the streets were getting more and more empty every morning and the awareness of the imminent threat made it impossible to sleep calmly throughout the night. With every bigger tremor I was wondering is it starting now? Is this THE eruption? Few times I was sitting on the pouch at night and thinking how would that be? Where would the lava reach and what about the ashes? I even dreamed that we were running away from eruption on our infallible Honda Vario amidst hot stones falling from the sky. This situation lasted few weeks and finally we decided that we have to leave Bali for good, although our original plans were different. Well, sometimes life knows better and has some other plans for you. Thankfully it already revealed a bit from the next chapter for us 🙂
Stay with me to find out where shall we head this time..