From having read a little about the place, I knew that Bali was going to be a very different place than any I had ever visited. But there were a few things I hadn’t anticipated.
For one thing, I had completely forgotten that newly elected president-elect Obama had spent time in Indonesia…and was quite the local hero. On our first day in Bali, our tour guide Merte , with a little prompting, gave us a glimpse into the pride of the Balinese people in having a part in this historic event. That morning, the local newspaper reported how schools all over Indonesia had set aside 15 minutes of prayer on election day, hoping to help Obama get elected.
Merte also informed us that this was the weekend that the terrorists who had been responsible for blowing up a nightclub filled with tourists in Bali, were to be executed in Jakarta. Australians had been warned to stay away from Bali in case there would be trouble. The good news is that all the tourist attractions would not be crowded. We would have been concerned, but our plans called for us to be in fairly remote parts of Bali, and we had no plans to set foot in the touristy areas that were the terrorist targets. Nonetheless, it did make us very aware of the little bit of extra security that seemed to be in place around the island.
Bali is the only predominantly Hindi island in Indonesia, and one thing that jumps out at you is that everywhere you look there are temples. Merte explained that in Balinese culture, every family has a temple, and they have individual temples for each member of the family. The extended family lives together in a compound, and the most prominent part of the compound–the part facing the road–is typically where all the temples are. To western eyes, they look kind of like cemeteries…a cluster of stone edifices behind a wall.
Merte brought us to some of the more famous temples in Bali–the Sea Temple, a temple that belongs to a royal family, and one up in the mountains on a lake. He did an amazing job of explaining Balinese culture in a way that was very personal, and made our trip much richer.
He also took us to the rice fields, where we learned about how much labor goes into that spoonful of rice that we take for granted. I felt especially guilty for my no-carb diet.
One day, we lucked into seeing one of the major rituals of the Balinese calendar. We were visiting the Monkey Forest, a forest preserve where there are huge numbers of wild monkeys. That day was the day when offerings are made to the animals. There were hundreds of women carrying offerings into the jungle. There were muscians, puppeteers, men sprinking holy water, priests chanting…all it once. It was semi-organized chaos, and fascinating to watch. And the participants were very open and friendly…glad to have tourists taking their pictures and sharing in their culture. That is one thing that seemed true wherever we went in Bali. The Balinese seem keenly aware that their culture is the key to tourism, and are enthusiastic about sharing it with outsiders.
We were only in Bali for a short time, but managed to spend time on the beach, go rafting in a particularly beautiful part of the island and absorb a whole lot of Balinese culture. Big thanks to Merte.
And on to Singapore…