Ahhh, Bali – peaceful, quiet, simple, relaxed, great food – and the home of the $8.00 massage.
I was going to experience a new culture and I was excited. I would have time with my favorite Belgian girlfriend, Veronique. We met a few years back through a mutual friend while touring France. We have remained travel buddies ever since. It’s great to be with a Belgian who can speak multiple languages, who is crazy enough to fly 20 hours for a week's vacation.
We planned our Bali activities off the cuff, making the process more fun. We agreed to meet in Ubud (spiritual center of Bali), figure out the rest from there. We were to travel around the island from Ubud and then head for the beach in Seminyak. We had a wonderful time, left us hungry for more – a good sign we'll return.
There are so many things to share about this country and our experiences – every day we would come up with some new ideas around travel slogans that described our experiences. I’ve used some of them to group together a few of our key experiences for the week – enjoy!
Bali – Who wants to be a millionaire?!
When I arrived in Bali, I found an ATM in the airport. The standard withdrawal choices were $100,000, $500,000 and $1,000,000! I did a double take, looked around for the conversion rate – 8,900 Rupiah to $1.00 U.S. I withdrew $1,000,000 Rupiah – I was a millionaire! With my wad of 50,000 dollar bills, I took a car to our hotel in Ubud. I felt like Donald Trump, yet my car was a beat up old Toyota with a seat belt that didn’t work, in desparate need of an alignment. The Oka Wati hotel in Ubud was an adorable little place with a lovely garden, overlooking a rice paddy, a small pool, and it had the most charming employees I’ve met so far in my travels.
As I awaited Veronique’s arrival the next day, I walked around, decided to treat myself to a spa treatment. I had to see if these prices were for real. The brochures described two hours of various treatments for $15.00. How could I pass this up? For $15.00 I received a relaxing massage, exfoliation, yogurt bath and a big aromatherapy bath filled with fresh flowers. During the massage, I kept on doing the math again wondering if I had divided correctly. Bali is the land of multiple zeros. I paid my $115,000 for my hours of bliss and marveled that for the same price in Australia, I would have only gotten one martini.
The only hazard to vacationing in the land of the millionaires was that we kept on mixing up our bills. Have you ever quickly tried to tell the difference between $10,000 and $100,000 – not easy. A few thousand dollars of wine and soon the zeros start blending together! Everything about Bali is a bargain. I continued on my spa appointments, actually started getting tired of the massage overload!
Bali – Become one with the Ditties!
Bali is simple. It's about family, faith and tourism. Our hotel was not a typical 100-room hotel, rather a 20-room lodge, no frills but oozing with Bali art and culture. The room came with breakfast served on your personal veranda – fruit, yogurt, eggs and the thickest, best coffee. Gusti, an employee of the hotel, came every day with a smile, wished me a good morning, and asked what I wanted for breakfast. He made these green pancakes (some leaf from his compound) that he crushed, added water to get a certain flavor and color. He would sit on the veranda, I would pepper him with questions about all aspects of Balinese culture – my favorite part of the day.
The hotel had a marketing brochure that read “Welcome to Bali. The magical island paradise blessed with superb natural beauty and a dynamic culture dedicated to the ditties”. Ditties? It was like a game to make sense of the word. Eventually we realized they were translating the word, deities. From then on, we were constantly searching for the "ditties".
Come visit Bali – Enter at your own Risk!
Ubud has a variety of traditional Balinese dances going on every night at various palaces and temples. The stories are as complicated and confusing as an opera. I gave up trying to understand the story and simply watched the dancing. Balinese dance with their hands, fingers, toes, eyes – choreographed together to form a beautiful show. We went to a number of dance performances – The Legong and Barong (classic dance of good and evil). The hand movements were so intricate, the costumes ornate and the dedication admirable. These talented performers were raising money for various temples – not for fame or fortune.
We also went to the Kecak Fire and Trance Dance. It consisted of 50 men, chanting a tune with no accompaniment while the story of the dancers played out in front of us. At the end, they lit a large pile of coconut husks, let them burn high like a bonfire. After the fire was burned out, a few men with brooms swept at the hot coals. I was waiting for them to pass out the marshmallows. Another man came out, decorated in a horse outfit. He proceeded to walk/run/skip through the coals.
Briefly, the choir put the man into a trance. He then walked through burning coals for about 10 minutes. At times he kicked the burning coals into the audience. We could hear the screams of the audience as hot coals landed on them. The men with the brooms quickly tried to sweep the hot coals away, back into the pile. Being a lawyer, Veronique commented that Bali must have no fear of lawsuits! Maybe this was why the ticket only cost $5.00 – enter at your own risk! The fire walker tripped in his own horse outfit once, and fell down in the coals. The audience's reaction changed from terror to a concerned hush. He seemed fine and continued on his coal walk of terror. Some trance!
Bali – like Easter every day!
In the Balinese religion, it is customary for women to make daily spiritual offerings in front of every entrance to ward off evil spirits. (I could have used this in front of my office door in New York). The spiritual offering normally consists of flowers, incense and holy water. These three items represent the three manifestations of their supreme God. I’m not sure why this was a woman’s job, but Balinese women seemed to spend most of their days dropping off offerings. You saw them everywhere, in front of stores and homes. It was impossible to not step on them! Plus, I think they fed the local stray dog population!
Every morning there would be a new offering on our veranda, made out of palm leaves containing rice, incense and flowers – like the Easter Bunny left a little basket for us. My favorite were those that had fruit, one even had a large piece of chocolate cake with sprinkles!
We were in Bali for Galungan – one of their biggest ceremonies. The Balinese Hindus make large offerings, bring the offerings to the temple in the morning. They decorate the gate to their house with a penjor , tall bamboo tree (think Christmas tree) as a symbol of victory against the evil spirits. A penjor is also a symbol of thankfulness for the grace of God.
The penjor starts with a long 30-foot bamboo stick the men transport on their mopeds – quite a sight to see a man on a moped carrying a 30-foot pole, speeding, trying to turn corners. Once the men decorate the base of the penjor, the women are in charge of adding the intricate design details and the alter of offerings.
We were fortunate to be in Bali during this special holiday. We walked around Ubud and watched the hundreds of mopeds pass by with a families on it. They were dressed in their formal ceremony garments, women toting large baskets filled with various offerings. Groups of young boys walked around the village conducting a Barong Ngelawang, a dance and song to ward off evil spirits and get more customers in the future!
Bali – where everyone knows your name!
I met at least five Wayans, and four Mades – children are named according to their birth order – from oldest to youngest. Wayan (pronounced Why-an), Made (pronounced Mad-dee), Nyoman (pronounced Neoman) and Ketut.
If a family has more than four children, they start over, the fifth child is called Wayan Two. It's super easy to remember names!
Bali – Relax at our Beaches and Temples and Get That Monkey off Your Back
I lived in New York City for three and a half years. I never felt concerned for my safety, never thought about violence or theft. After one week in Bali, I was mugged by a monkey – really – the monkey stole my earring.
Veronique and I went to Pura Luhur Ulu Watu – a temple on the southern tip of the island. We heard that if we arrived before the crowds, we could get great shots of the morning sun. That's what we did, in fact, the place was deserted. As we walked closer to the temple, we saw lots of monkeys hanging out on the path – about 25 of them. Little did I know they were casing us. Veronique and I were a bit freaked out. The monkeys were large and they outnumbered us. We tried to ignore them, went about our business of taking pictures.
There was this one path where we could take pictures from a distance, but the monkeys guarded it. We re-grouped. Veronique took off her glasses, put them in her pocket and we proceeded through the monkey gang. Veronique went first since she couldn’t see without her glasses! We were almost through. I relaxed a bit, turned around to look at them – and felt something on my back. A monkey, equivalent to a medium-sized dog, had jumped on my back! I took an inventory of my belongings – found everything. Still, I sensed something was missing. Sure enough, one of my silver earrings was gone, ripped right from my ear. I took off the remaining earring and left it on a rock.
Bali – Where Safety is First!
We stayed at a lovely beach resort for next to nothing in Seminyak for the remainder of our week – in a cottage. Little did we know that the cottages came with a personal crossing guard (the cottages were across the street from the hotel). Every time we came out of our cottage, the guard perked up, left his hut, blew his whistle and used his electronic crossing wand (flashed green or red) to help us across the crosswalk. There was little to no traffic, still, we felt safe!
Bali – The Land of 20 Questions
When I reached Ubud, everyone immediately asked, “Where are you staying?” followed by “Where are you from?” followed by “How long are you in Bali?” followed by “What is your name?” followed by “Where did you go for dinner?” This personal interrogation was endles, if you let it. At first I felt intruded upon. However, I came to learn this was their way of practicing English, their way of learning about others and a good source of information for popular hotels. I began interviewing locals. Check out my new interview posts on the site!
Bali – Come and Live an Ulcer-free Lifestyle!
Veronique and I had a wonderful time exploring this enchanting island. We ended the week lighter. Between the excessive sweating and the hours of spa exfoliation treatments, we felt we lost weight! We basked in the peacefulness of Bali and its patient, kind people. Nothing wound them up – true tranquility. When I questioned one woman in an interview about the stress level of her job, she didn't know the word, stress.
On our final night, we laughed about how we had spent millions of dollars on our spa treatments, our skin the smoothest they'd ever been, how we enjoyed our luxurious, ulcer-free lifestyle.
Read more of Sherry's world travels at blogs.bootsnall.com/leaott
» More reading: David Webb’s article about Kuta Beach for beginner surfers.