…Bali Ha’i will whisper, In the wind of the sea, Here am I, your special island! Come to me, come to me…
It’s early in the morning and we are sailing along the coastline of Bali, past the volcano, and it is so beautiful from the water, and I am so excited to be here after 28 years. My friends Chris, Ruby and Tracy and I cycled for two weeks around Bali back in 1990. Great memories and I am looking forward to revisiting this lovely island.
Bali is one of 17000 islands in the Indonesian Archipelago with Java and Lombok being its closest neighbours. Its population is around four million. It is easily the most visited island, known for its beaches, mountains, rice terraces and volcanic hillsides, historical & archaeological sites, as well as surfing and diving. It has a deeply spiritual culture and is known as the Island of the Gods. It stakes a claim to be ‘paradise on earth.’
As we get closer to the dock, the water activity is amazing. Parasailing, banana boats, tubes, fishing boats, snorkelling boats, recreational boats – it is a busy busy place. Not quite what I remember. There is a huge new causeway that I can see from the water also. It turns out to be a toll road.
Tonight we have a cultural evening planned for the Around the World Travellers. It is a beautiful evening and the set up is outside on the grass of a lovely venue with a half moon shining up above and a lovely breeze. It couldn’t be more perfect. Balinese food, culture and dance, beautiful ladies, and not to mention drinks and good friends made for a wonderful time.
But what I am really looking forward to is my tour and getting reacquainted with the island. The first thing I noticed was the number of automobiles and trucks on the roads, and I don’t think any of us would be happy to be cycling here today.
We visited two temples – The 17th century Royal Temple with its beautiful grounds and Bali’s most photographed temple Tanah Lot situated just off shore in the sea. It is accessible on foot during low tide. We also visited a Batik workshop.
The other thing I missed was the smell of burning sandalwood or incense. Every business or home has a little offering placed out front on the road or sidewalk or driveway with rice, flowers, and other food, and 28 years ago they burned incense or sandlewood. The waft of smoke as we cycled past was wonderful. It is a fragrance I have associated with Bali all of these years. Today, no one is allowed to burn anything because they felt it was polluting the air. By the way it is a no-no to step on these offerings, just as you do not touch the heads of the children.
Every house or home compound has three areas. A shrine or temple. Then, sleeping area, kitchen, a room for ceremonies ie birthdays, weddings, and guest house. Then they may have an extended area for pigs, cows, & chickens etc. How big or elaborate depends on what the family can afford. Some may be very small and simple.
The families are patrilineal. One boy will remain with the family home after he is married and look after them, while the girls will go to live with their husband’s family once she is married. You still see the black and white checkered clothes around trees or statues. Black for evil and white for good. Or ying and yang. Umbrellas are considered guardians. Cremation is popular here and the ashes are given to the ocean with small amounts retained at home in a jar in their temple. They believe in reincarnation. 80% of the people are hindu and the rest are christian or muslim. Balinese food is hot and spicy. They have MacDonald’s here, but these Mac’s here will deliver to your home. Buildings here can be “no higher than a palm tree” (4 stories) so there are no high-rises which is really nice.
Education is compulsory and it is subsidized to University level. Students who cannot afford tuition fees can get a loan from the government and, like back home, are expected to pay it back. They have no natural resources here. Their power comes from Java via undersea cables. They have two active volcanoes. The last big eruption was in 1963. The positive from these eruptions is they get lots of building material ie lava rock and stones, and the soil becomes very fertile.
The south island tends to be very populated and touristy – ie Kuta, while the north is wet and they grow crops. Rice is a staple in their meals and they are self supporting with the growth of rice. It is harvested by hand or by using the Bali “tractor” – brown cows. It is too hot for fruit like apples and pears, but they have lots of other fruit and they grow coffee.
They have a unique coffee here call Luwak. This little squirrel like animal called a Civet eats the coffee beans and because he cannot digest them, he “poops” them out whole and they make coffee from them. Apparently it is less acidic and less bitter. They call it – wait for it – cat-poo-chino!!
There are hundreds upon hundreds of small business. They are allowed to set up at the front of their homes, either on the sidewalk or the ground floor. They are mostly run by women and can range from fruit stands, to little sort of take out restaurants & bakeries, to clothing and health related items. This supplements their income. The crime rate is very low and they believe deeply in Karma – what you do will come back to you – SO BE GOOD!
I thoroughly enjoyed my visit. This is Bali on steroids, but still beautiful.