Where to start? What to share? There is oh-so-MUCH!
Now that we're back into our routine, we've run into lots of people who ask the obvious, "How was your holiday?" It seems a bit redundant to say "Bali was fantastic!"...but it really was (is!). Only a three-and-a-half hour flight from Perth to Denpasar took us to a completely different world. It's almost like Disney World; it even has a US$25 entry fee (temporary visa) and an AU$15 exit fee. Most Australians head for Kuta on the coast, and it's probably fair to say that (on a relative scale) Aussies have done for Kuta what Americans have done for Cancun. It's an inexpensive place for the big S's: sun, sand, shopping, service, and substances (well, alcohol at least, but that doesn't start with S). None of that appealed to us much. We have gorgeous beaches near Perth, so we opted instead for the lush interior, selecting a small hotel in the village of Keliki near Ubud in central Bali. Our flight times were odd, so we arrived at our hotel close to midnight the first night, only getting our first look around the next morning. Check out our view:
That's the volcano Gunung Agung, the tallest and most spiritually significant peak in Bali. Once the daylight hits the humidity, you cannot see it at all from Keliki, but early in the morning (before 7am), there it is. Magnificent.
Ubud is the cultural center of Bali. The villages all around it specialize in particular crafts. It's amazing. One does soft wood carving, another does hard wood carving, another for stone carving, gold and silver jewelry, clothing, miniature paintings...it's incredible. Being in one of the small outlying villages, we would pass through some of the others on commutes into Ubud, and the level of craftsmanship on display were stunning. I'd love to go back and rent one of the ubiquitous scooters/motorbikes to see them all. With two wee kiddos in tow, we felt teased by all the richness around us. The girls travel well and usually manage one for-the-adults thing per day, but that's the most we push them. At first, Markus and I felt frustrated by our lack of freedom to explore, but then he reminded me that the other option is not to visit Bali right now at all (wise man).
The timing of our visit couldn't have been better. Our hotel regularly hosts school groups, and we arrived the day before one group left and we left the day another arrived. In between, we shared the hotel with a maximum of 6 other guests (including one family of four from Germany). Essentially, we had the whole place to ourselves. The rice fields were ready for harvest, most of which is still done by hand in the area where we visited. In the larger world, Ubud was hosting its annual "Ubud Writers Festival" (which alas ended on the first full day of our visit). This has grown in consequence over the years, so that it attracts authors from all over the world to come and give talks and workshops. This year, it even attracted a Nobel Prize winner, a source of great pride for the locals, though none of whom (charmingly) knew who it was. On Wednesday, the Hindu-practicing locals celebrated the festival of Galungan. This was a source of endless delight to me. I couldn't get enough of their penjor and temple decorations. Families not only pray at their family temples, but also at the village temple, temples belonging to other families helpful/close to them and other functional temples (such as the temples where they work, including the one at our hotel). It is such a joyful holiday. I loved seeing their traditional clothing and big smiles on everyone's faces. The children have three weeks of school holiday around Galungan to allow for the multi-day preparations and celebrations. The day before is really busy, finalizing decorations and preparing the offerings. Balinese people don't eat much meat, but they slaughter chickens and pigs for Galungan. Our so-informative-and-often-funny host, Dewa, explained that chickens symbolize greed, because they peck peck peck for food all day long, never satisfied; pigs symbolize sloth, as they flop over for long sleeps as soon as they've gorged themselves. These animals are slaughtered as part of a cleansing ritual. Some of the meat is offered to the gods, but the rest is happily consumed in feasting. On Tuesday afternoon, Dewa told us, "Today is very good day for Balinese people...not so good for chickens and pigs."
I could easily do a blog post for each day of our trip (would you mind if I did?). There was so much to see and do and learn. We snagged every opportunity to learn more about Balinese culture and traditions, and it was wonderful and fascinating. Bali is the only part of a developing country that Markus or I have ever visited where we felt no threat of crime or violence or even social unrest at any time. Some people have more than others, but by Western standards, nobody has much...but almost everyone seems to have enough. There is a pervasive sense of harmony in the ritual of their daily lives that comes through to an observant visitor even before it is explained. Religion plays a huge role. Over 80% of Balinese people are identified as Hindu, but Dewa told us most Balinese people don't align themselves solely with that religion. They have a blend of traditional beliefs with most practices centered around the Hindu faith, which came to Bali centuries ago.
Of course, the girls cared about none of this. They did have a fantastic time, though. When you ask Ellie about Bali, she reminisces about ice cream and the pool. Baby Stephanie was enraptured with the chickens that were just about everywhere, along with a few cows, duck in the rice fields, and of course the special trips to the elephant safari and the Sacred Monkey Forest. This morning, she took my finger and led me to the front door, saying, "Wanna see 'phant. Wanna go Bali." I don't blame you, darling.
In the interests of not going on and on even more than I already have, I'll wrap up this post. I've uploaded well over 100 pictures from the trip to our flickr account, and you can access them all by clicking on the flickr badge on the sidebar. Please let me know if you'd like more details (where we went, what we did, what we saw...). I will be so happy to share!