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May 20th 2008 by Tina
Adventures in Bali

Posted under Bali

We hired a car and driver from our hotel for a day of sightseeing and tailored our own itinerary: the rice terraces of Jatiluwih and two Balinese Hindu temples. The first temple – Pura Luhur Batukau – was located in the mountainous interior of the island. As we drove north, away from the more populated southern cone, the scenery transformed from steamy city streets to green mountain slopes covered with ancient rice terraces. The terraces were designed to take advantage of the fertile volcanic mountain soil and retain all available surface water so that the rice seedlings could thrive in their plots of mucky utopia. The small villages surrounding Jatiluwih has some of the most beautiful rice terrace views in all of Bali.

The mountain regions are dotted with farming villages where children play in the streets and women carry heavy loads on their heads. Interestingly, on Bali, it is the women who do the heavy lifting, transporting such things as baskets full of bricks while the men take on the lighter tasks. The subject came up at our lunch table at the John Hardy compound the day before and one of the Balinese women said, first (with a laugh), that men are lazy and, second, that the Balinese women are strong for themselves; they do not wait for their men to be strong for them. Hinduism is the dominant religion of Bali and even the smallest villages have ornate temples which serve as the community center and venue for festivals and ceremonies. After about two hours of driving over winding mountain roads, both sealed and unsealed, through rice terraces and quiet villages, we finally arrived at the first temple.

Pura Luhur Batukau was tucked into a tropical mountain forest; the cool, misty air bathed the temple grounds in an ethereal glow. Because of the temple’s remote location, the noise of tourists and touts is noticeably absent and replaced by quiet serenity. We paid a nominal fee to enter and were requested to wear the sarongs provided in the small baskets while on the temple grounds. A sign at the entrance listed restrictions for entry: pregnant women, menstruating women, and children with baby teeth among others were forbidden. Only Balinese were permitted entry into the inner sanctum so we walked the manicured gardens around the exterior and ventured a few steps through the main entryway on the heels of the only other pair of tourists whose guide ushered them a few steps inside. There were marvelous stone carved statues covered in rich green mosses which only added to their aged beauty. Some were adorned with fresh, brightly colored flowers.

The most striking and unique features of Balinese Hindu temples are the merus – multi-layered, pagoda-like wooden shrines with thatch-covered tiers. The merus are often dedicated to animist spirits of the Balinese religion and contain ceremonial items hidden behind the wooden doors. (Lonely Planet Bali & Lombok March 2007) After taking in all that we were allowed of the temple compound, we relinquished our sarongs and headed back down the mountain.

We stopped for lunch at a seaside restaurant near our next temple stop and invited our driver to join us. He was nice enough but his English was mediocre and conversation required some effort in order to avoid the uncomfortable silence. At the end of the meal, he thanked us for lunch and discreetly walked over to the restaurant owner to collect his commission for bringing tourists to this establishment.

We drove around to the parking lot of Pura Tanah Lot – the most photographed and commercialized temple on the island. We purchased our tickets and walked through a large area of souvenir and refreshment stalls before reaching the entrance. Set on Bali’s west coast, the sea temple is reputedly thronged with tourists every day at sunset but it was relatively quiet in the early afternoon. The temple is built on a rock about fifty meters off the mainland. At low tide, you can walk across the shallow water to the temple although, again, non-Balinese are not permitted to enter. We found it slightly disheartening to pay an entry fee to a temple we could not enter. Still, the outside of Pura Tanah Lot was impressive. It had a mystical, storybook appeal with winding stone staircases leading into dark, mysterious caverns. There were several outdoor restaurants on the cliff overlooking the temple and it would have been a lovely place to watch the sunset but we were happy to avoid the crowds and catch the sunset on Kuta Beach instead.

The beach at sunset is the place to be in Kuta and Legian. Aerobicized tourists walk in the sand; Balinese boys play pickup soccer games all along the shore; there are still plenty of surfers trying to catch that perfect wave before dark; and cheap, ice cold beer is served on plastic patio chairs for those who want to sit back, relax and take it all in with the postcard backdrop of hazy pink sunset. A cold beer is best enjoyed at the end of a long, hot day and we were completely relaxed with our icy Bintangs as a local guitarist played mellow American cover songs in the seat behind us. Even Aaron contentedly sat for a second round of beers before we wandered off through the darkened streets to find dinner.

On our final morning in Kuta, Aaron decided to take a surfing lesson. He had been talking about surfing since South Africa and Kuta just seemed like the right place. We set out early for the beach. I had no interest in surfing – I’m still convinced that Jaws is waiting to mistake me for a seal – but I went along anyway in the capacities of family photographer and entourage. Aaron rented a board on the beach and started his lesson immediately with a few exercises in the sand. Five minutes later, he and his young Balinese instructor were headed for the waves. He got up on his third attempt and several times after that for the next hour. He took a short break and then went out again until I gave him the signal that it was time to go shower and check out of the hotel. He had a great time and I could tell by his big smile that a new surfer was born.

We rushed back to the hotel, checked out, and negotiated a transfer to Ubud. Our final assessment of Kuta and Legian is that they were a lovely first glimpse of Bali but a bit too touristy for us. The beach was an integral part of every day and the range of hotels and restaurants spanned every taste, whim, and budget. The travel is easy in Bali and it is one of the few remaining places where the American dollar still goes pretty far, much to the budget warden’s delight.


2 Responses to “Adventures in Bali”

  1. Bear Mom on 21 May 2008 at 7:41 am #

    Hey Surfer Boy,
    I am so glad that I have you, the “budget warden” booking and planning my itinerary for France. Staying within or under budget will be great.
    I love you both very much, Mom

  2. Ollie SimpSon on 23 May 2008 at 7:57 pm #

    Hey you guys, I’m checking in to tell you we love you and miss you. It was 110 on Tuesday of this week and by Thursday it was 69. Crazy weather in Az. right now. Things are good though as the cool weather is very welcome right now. Anyway, keep doing what you’re doing and having fun at it.Love you,

    O & Lean