Posts Tagged ‘Bali’

Another Day in Bali

Bali is a popular travel destination, aptly named Island of the Gods. It’s the top tourist destination in Indonesia, and people seek luxury and decadence with beaches, food, massage, surfing, scuba diving and yoga. Locals are incredibly kind, gentle and welcoming; and foreigners frequently remark they have landed in paradise. Like me, many tourists come to Bali on vacation and quickly decide to move here, relishing our sublime existence on this island.

However, paradise is relative and many Balinese still live without access to clean water, electricity or flush toilets. The average income is $1,569 per year. Eighty percent of Bali’s revenue is dependent on tourism, which also means the cost of living for locals is rapidly rising.

In the past 20 years, the number of orphanages in Bali has doubled with over 70 orphanages housing thousands of children. Most of the children have a living parent, but are too poor to care for their family. Parents want the best for their children, and orphanages provide a free education (school fees, uniforms and books are often too expensive for poor families), meals and accommodation.

I recently visited a Muslim orphanage, Panti Asuhan Yappenatim, unique since Bali is 93 percent Hindu. A friend arranged the visit, bringing donations she had raised at her birthday. The orphanage was founded in 1985 and expanded over the years to include an on-site school and is now home to 150 children, ages 6 to 19. The government provides .25 per child per day (about $100/year), and only for 30 children, so they raise donations for the balance.

Children immediately swarm us and many girls greet us with the respectful greeting from children to adults, grasping my hand and raising it to their forehead with their heads slightly bowed. This simple gesture immediately touches to me.

One of the older students asks to accompany us and be our tour guide. Fahri is 17 years old and from a neighboring island, Lombok. A few years ago, he accompanied his father to Bali seeking work, and moved into the orphanage after his father returned home. Most students see their families once a year for a Muslim holiday, but when I ask if he goes home (assuming he doesn’t due to the travel expense), he stretches out his arms at the orphanage and replies, “This is my family now.”

The orphanage sent Fahri to Java for two months for intensive English language classes and it’s obvious he’s an ambitious young soul. I ask him about his plans for work, he gets a thoughtful look and says, “My dream is…” He takes a long pause and I’m contemplating his options, doctor, lawyer, scientist, silently pleading he doesn’t say housekeeper! … and he responds simply, “A teacher.” It’s the perfect answer. And then he asks me for my Facebook name.

We walk into the kitchen and inhale the delicious aromas. Fruit and vegetables are piled onto the floor and we discover they don’t have a refrigerator. We are astounded, 150 children and no refrigerator. The dishwashing station is a concrete vat blooming with mildew. But the kids are happy being stacked eight deep in their dorm rooms, staff relating they only recently upgraded from dirt floors to ceramic tiles.

After the tour, we sit down in the office to make our donation. We sign the log, marking our names, address and amount. In Bahasa Indonesian, the staff member acknowledges our donation, restating our names and addresses and formally accepts the gift. Then he switches to Arabic and for the next five minutes offers us prayers. I sit silently, overwhelmed by the entire experience. Letting his blessings wash over me and feeling grateful for another day in Bali.







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Today is my last full day in Bali and I head to Bangkok tomorrow. In order to prepare myself to be jarred by big city life, I will be getting my sixth massage in 13 days! I am going to have my final Balinese splurge and get a 3 1/2 hour package. For the low price of $30, I will have a spa day that includes a 90 minute massage, honey and cucumber facial, and hair creme bath.

These last few days have been amazing. Need to find a new adjective because everything is just so AMAZING! I attended another cremation ceremony. This one was relatively smaller for only one person, so I was able to see the more intimate details of the ceremony. The streets of Ubud were closed as the delegation of gamelan troupe, women carrying offerings on their head, friends/family/community, proceeded down the city streets into the Monkey Forest. I could hear the chanting and see all the offerings they placed into the coffin.

Yesterday, I went on an amazing bicycle tour. The tour starts with breakfast overlooking a lake and Mount Batur (still active volcano). We stop at a coffee plantation and learn about the process and sample five kinds of drinks including Bali coffee, ginseng coffee, lemongrass tea, cocoa and ginger tea. We bike 25 kilometers (all downhill!) with many educational stops along the way. The tour guide is very informative and we visit a family compound (the pigs in the backyard he calls a living bank, just like an ATM!), rice farmers, village temple and more. As we bike through small villages, the children come out and scream “HELLO!” Again, I felt so lucky to be witnessing everyday life in Bali.

Last night, I attended a fantastic cultural performance of Kecak Fire and Trance Dance. It’s outside and in the round and we were in the front row (I’d heard before about fireballs and was ready to raise my feet!). Men are chanting, the story unfolds and the costumes are spectacular. Before the fire walk, my friend leans over and asks if I want to walk on the hot coals and for a moment I pause because I felt/feel like I can do anything. It has been a long time since I felt like I could do anything and this sense just pervades my being, to the point that I think I can walk on fire! Well, I didn’t walk on fire but am ready for new adventures in the coming weeks in Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam. Thank you to everyone for partaking in my journey!

Attached are photos of the cremation ceremony (the body is inside the bull), pounding rice on the bicycling tour, Kecak fire walk, and me with the Kecak performers.

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The journey continues and I keep wondering, how can it get any better? And it just does!

I left Ubud on a very high note with a $15 three hour massage (yes, that makes four massages in seven days)! The masseuse went to my new friend’s home, Denise and Ketut, in Denpasar. Walking into their home is unbelievable and I was already relaxed before the massage began. I felt like I was in paradise, getting a massage, the windows flung upon, their daughter playing piano and their son is swimming in the pool.

The next day, I arrived in Lovina, on the north coast of Bali most famous for their dolphin tours. I have a bungalow on the beach, and can hear the gamelan music from the adjacent temple. Yesterday, I went snorkeling at Menjangan Island and it was spectacular. So many fish that I have never seen before, and the coral and underwater life is amazing. It makes me want to paint, sculpt and create jewelry/metal work!

This morning, I went on the dolphin tour from 6am-8am. There were five of us on a motorized catamaran and we saw THOUSANDS of DOLPHINS! I sat next to the guide and he would happily scream, “Dolphin jumping! Look!” One of the best parts of the tour was his total glee to see these dolphins even though he gives this tour every single day. It was as if he was seeing them for the first time. And this trip makes me feel that way too. I want to savor this feeling of wonder and awe that I feel every day. I know I will bring that home with me and it is such a gift.

Afterwards, I had a personalized tour by motorbike of a nearby Buddhist Monastery. Bali is 90 percent Hindu, although most of Indonesia is Muslim. Then I capped off my day with a trip to the hot springs. Only a few tourists from China, Java, and many locals too. It’s a natural hot springs and the water is spewn from the mouths of dragons. I thought I should really do it up, so I asked my guide about swimming with the dolphins (they have this offered in a hotel swimming pool in Lovina). He said I didn’t need it, because it’s for people who need power and I didn’t need any more power!

Tomorrow, I head back to Ubud for four nights before leaving to Bangkok. I am so excited to return to Ubud. On my first (and only) trip to Vietnam in 1998 I fell in love with Hanoi. We took a two day trip to Halong Bay and were so excited to return to Hanoi. I have this same feeling about Ubud, it is like going home.

The attached photos include the crystal blue water at Menjangan Island, the dolphins in Lovina, and the natural massaging force of the hot springs (this was the coolest part of the hot springs!).

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Thanks for all your lovely e-mails, gives me a welcome taste of home. My senses are on overload and exploding every minute.  There is so much to see, hear, taste and experience in Bali.

A few days ago I attended a wedding in Karangasem, the rural part of Bali, a two hour drive from Ubud.  I was invited by a friend of a friend, Denise Abe, and her husband, Ketut.  Denise is a former Seattleite and now owns the Three Monkeys Cafe in Ubud.  Denise, Ketut and the groom are all involved in the East Bali Poverty Project (www.eastbalipovertyproject.org). They have impressive outcomes including reducing infant mortality from 50 percent to 25 percent through public health outreach, developing and running four new schools (illiteracy rate was 100 percent), installing the first road into the region which will spur economic development, developing infrastructure for water, on and on.  Donations stretch really far here so please check out the web site to learn more.

Yesterday was the beginning of a four-day festival for Ubud, marking the anniversary of one of their temples.  The hotel staff asked if I wanted to go to a beach ceremony.  I tried to ask what it entails and just went along with no idea what to expect.  And it was just extraordinary.  That’s what Bali is like, I don’t know where I am going and then loveliness and magic abounds.  About 1,000 people attended with only a handful of tourists, offerings were carried down the road surrounded by rice patty fields and we end at the beach.  More offerings and prayers and the surf is pounding away.  Words can not explain how lucky I felt to be experiencing this ceremony.  Today, I attended a cremation, one of the most holy ceremonies in Bali.  Three different bodies were placed in separate huge paper mache animals and then burned.  The gamelan music is playing the entire time and no one is crying, it’s a festive occasion because now the souls are finally freed.  I sat next to the daughter of one of the deceased and she really wasn’t sad at all.

I just love Ubud, and have been fighting my instinct to plan my days and move on to the next town.  Right now, for the first time in many years, I am just taking it one day at a time.  It is a liberating feeling and exactly what I need for now.  Soon, I will hit the beach though! I wish I could attach many photos because there is so much to share with you, but the internet connection is too slow.  The attached photos include my morning walk in the rice paddy fields, beach ceremony, and the wedding couple.

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I’ve settled into Bali and bliss has already occurred, but not before a few moments of panic! It took me 24 hours to get to Bali with a layover in Taipei so I was pretty exhausted when I arrived.  I’m in Ubud, Bali, the interior of the island and the cultural heart of Bali, surrounded by rice patty fields.  When I arrived, I was a bit disappointed because my room was very small, bathroom was dingy but what can I expect for $20?  Didn’t sleep well at all and woke up disoriented and don’t even have a clock. It was rough goings in the morning and I was feeling frustrated and wondering if I have made a horrible mistake travelling alone on a backpackers budget of $50/day with two months stretching in front of me.  At first, I couldn’t figure out where the free breakfast was (the hotel staff gave me vague directions), it was hot, my new sandals gave me blisters, I didn’t know where to buy water and was parched, on and on. 

After breakfast, I wandered down a side street and found another guesthouse for the same price with a much better room/bathroom. So I returned ready to check out and wound up haggling for a massive upgrade and now have an amazing huge deluxe room with air conditioning, beautiful sitting area overlooking the rice patties.  Then I found this amazing spa reservation service that will get me discounts anywhere and make all the arrangements. I had a two hour session that included a Balinese massage, scrub of sandalwood/tumeric/rice, detoxification with cool yogurt, and finished off with a bathtub of flowers overlooking rice patties — all for $15! So all is well in the world once again. 

The food is delicious and the drinks are so refreshing (watermelon mint juice, ginger lemon squash).  The people are very kind and there are offerings everywhere. It really is a magical beginning to my journey.  Tonight, I’ll have Thanksgiving dinner with friends from Seattle who happen to be in Ubud as well.  I’m loving it so much here that I will likely stay for two weeks, skip Thailand and head to Laos next.  Attached are a few photos of me in the flower-filled bathtub, doorway to my room, view from the hotel’s outdoor area.

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