Bali Indonesia by Irene Butler –
Photos by Rick –
Published at What Travel Writers Say E-Zine –
Our Bali Photo Galleries –
Verdant tangles of jungle, towering coconut palms, expansive beaches, turquoise sea – and that’s only from the airplane! Kuta is our first Bali sojourn, the happening beach town with surfer dudes, sun-browned bodies and not-so-wise lobster-red tourists of all ages, funky cafes (our favourite is the Smiling Frog), hoards of hawkers calling out services, such as “Taxi” or “Massage”, and others with souvenir-type goods for sale.
We relish the relaxed atmosphere; especially evening beach walks to watch the sunset with crowds of like-minded people.
After a few days it is onto Ubud, known for its focus on Balinese Culture. Ninety-five percent of Bali’s citizens are Balinese Hindus, which differs from India’s Hinduism. Locals are quick to say they have one supreme god – Sanghyang Widi. They also honour the trinity of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva, although statues of these deities do not abound. A popular Hindu god, and my personal favourite, is Ganesh, the elephant headed son of Shiva. More prominent in their everyday life are many Balinese gods, arising from a strong animistic belief of powerful good spirits living in high places, and demons under the sea, while humans try to balance these forces in the middle world by daily offerings in temples/shrines for these upper gods, and offerings along the ground for the underworld gods. Adding to the complexity is the belief that everything has a spirit; trees, rivers, and also inanimate objects, along with the spirit presence of ancestors. The number of temples punctuating the landscape is startling. As well as the many temples in Ubud, every family has a small shrine often indicated by a long bamboo pole that curves high above the shrine called a penjor.
We are lucky to be in Ubud for one of the most auspicious temple days of the year, Kuningan. After the previous 10 days known as Galungan, it is believed the high gods and spirits of the deceased hover around their homes and community, and on the 10th day of this descent the spirits gather at Campuhan Temple, and are honoured in the Kuningan ceremony with offerings before returning to their higher realms. There is a steady flow and rotation of families hoisting gaily decorated baskets of special yellow rice dishes and flowers. Placing their offering on tables, they remain for a time listening to chanting Balinese priests and traditional temple music before making their way back down the long staircase.
It is time for my much anticipated visit to the Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary. I purchase a dozen bananas for 10,000 IDR ($1.25CDN) just outside the gate for the purpose of videoing Rick feeding the monkeys. Signs recommend tossing, instead of holding onto a banana while feeding, and it is further advised to wait for one of the park attendants sporting bright green headwraps to be on hand when feeding.
While still outside the entrance a very large no-nonsense broad-shouldered male monkey flies out of nowhere aimed at my bananas; my flash reaction is to toss the whole bunch onto the concrete. He scoops them up and runs to a nearby ledge and eats every last one, not sharing with the group that hungrily looks on – with Rick expounding, “Why did you do that?”
Banana-less we start through the sizable park with ancient temples and thick jungle snapping shots of the Balinese Macaques (also known as long-tailed Macaques) at all sorts of monkey-business – eating bananas at the hands of less edgy visitors, munching on chunks of coconut supplied by park attendants, others swinging from trees, resting nonchalantly with legs splayed, tending to young rascals who are either pulling at, climbing on, or clinging to their moms. There are approximately 537 Macaque residing in the park (64 males, 177 adult females, 296 young).
By the time we descend stone steps to the Bathing Temple our clothes are drenched and water streams down our faces from the sauna-like atmosphere of dense jungle growth encased in a canopy of towering trees that allow in only squints of sunlight. Stone monkeys dating back to when the temple was built in the mid-14th century look like Chia Pets, they are so thick with moss and lichen, as are the temple walls and other stone surfaces. Past this temple is a rapidly flowing river with monkeys in all sorts of antics.
We go on to find the most prominent temple standing like a massive sentinel with statues of gods and spiritual beings before exiting the opposite end of the Monkey Forest. From here we will walk through villages where artisans’ hand-make crafts, with each village having a specialty. One we visit is known for wood carving, another for paintings and beadwork. (There are also villages that specialize in stone carving, batik cloth, and silversmithing.)
The narrow paved streets segue into dirt paths through rice fields, leading us to a hands-on recycling plant, where we visit with the villagers who sit sorting and bundling plastic, cardboard, and tin. Later we stop at a roadside stall where we drink coca-cola and exchange smiles and practice our few Indonesian words with the owners. All the while a man sits nearby and massages his rooster; no doubt his prize bird for a clandestine cock-fight, which are officially illegal.
Another day’s excursion is to some ancient monuments with our driver/guide Mr. Devi. We make our way to the town of Bedula, and the Yeh Pulu site, believed to have been a hermitage dating back to the late 14th century that was rediscovered in 1925, and excavated a few years later by the Dutch. Descending many steps brings us to the impressive 25m-long cliff face carved with a long line of everyday scenes – men fighting a lion, a horse and rider struggling uphill, a women peering around a half-closed door. At the end is the elephant-headed Hindu god Ganesh at whose feet a tiny elderly woman is fussily arranging her offering. Seeing me she picks up her small shiny metal container from a ledge, dips her hand in and sprinkles me with water while saying something, which Mr. Devi says is “a blessing”. I feel honoured.
Further north is the town of Tamparksiring, where Gunung Kawi is our goal. A steep seemingly endless stone stairway leads down to the river and lush valley. Before even reaching the bottom our eyes feast on 10 rock-cut shrines each holding a carved memorial believed to be for members of 11th century Balinese royalty (probably King Udayana, Queen Mahendradatta, their son, the King’s two brothers, and his four main concubines). Each 7m-high memorial is in a sheltered niche cut into the cliff face.
Another memorial, believed to be for a royal minister, is supposedly located 1km through terraced rice fields, and we make a fine effort to find it – but after a lady ahead of us loses her flip-flop in the mud and digs elbow deep to retrieve it, and my running shoe sinks ankle-deep in mud with such suction power I have a hard time pulling it back out, it is time to abort.
Our next request to Mr. Devi is to have his Suzuki SUV climb surrounding hills for a panoramic view of rice terraces, which are more spectacular than I imagined; the lime-coloured crops sectioned off like a patchwork quilt with dark green beaten-down grass paths used to move from paddy to paddy.
It was then onto a Mr. Devi-suggested stop at a small Agro-Tourism plantation called Abian Sari, for a taste of coffee and cocoa grown on site. We pass gardens of passion fruit, pineapple, bananas, and herbs for teas before coming to cocoa and coffee plants, the latter with some of the berries red and ripe for picking, and then…. cages of small animals ?? which Mr. Devi says will be explained later. Past the cages is the facility’s coffee roaster – a young girl stirs the coffee beans in a wok over a wood fire.
We arrive at picnic tables at the edge of a cliff with a great jungle view, and a young lady named Kadek serves us complimentary samples of some of the plantation’s products; Bali coffee (strong), Hot Cocoa (decadent), ginseng coffee (interesting), ginger coffee (firey), lemon tea (soothing), ginger tea (sharp), rosala tea (flowery), coconut coffee (yummy! our favourite).
It was then that we get the “poop” on the caged animals that we learn are co-producers of the most expensive coffee in the world, in some instances selling for $400 US for 100 grams. These civet sub-family animals (Paradoxurus) live in the wild on the plantation, but a few are caged for show. The locals call them luwak, the same name of the specialty coffee that they have an inside scoop on producing. Yes, the red coffee berry is eaten and goes on a journey through the intestinal system of the creature where it undergoes chemical and fermentation treatments in their digestive tract. The bean “exits” in the same shape and is collected off the forest floor, washed, roasted and ground the same as other coffee beans. Always looking for a bargain we can’t resist a cup of Luwak for only 50,000 IDR ($5.50 CDN). I must admit it is smooth, rich, almost syrupy, and one cannot deny –an exotic finale to our day with Mr. Devi and our farewell to Ubud.