First visit to Bali

February 1st-27th, 2002

From Busan, Korea, my traveling companion, Craig, and I boarded Japan Airlines to Osaka airport where we had a 24-hour wait till our connecting flight left to Dempasar, Bali. I was looking forward to exploring Osaka, but the local bus fare alone was $40US one-way!! This was the equivalent to 10 days accommodation in Bali. We opted to walk around the gigantic island airport that seemed to be sleeping (I think I saw only five planes in the whole time we were there – strange). The highlights were a museum-like tour of the covered parking lot where the new Japanese cars and other expensive import vehicles were parked side by side, and being chased by overweight security guards down a dirt path that was apparently a restricted area, but for us, the only area that we could find away from concrete where we could smell the East Sea’s (Korean)/ Sea of Japan’s (Japan) air. We were escorted back to the airport hotel while they described us on their walki-talkies. Dinner consisted of some packed sandwiches made from my Mom’s jam and peanut butter, and Korean Ramen to hold us till the free buffet breakfast in the morning. It really amazes me how the costs of living is drastically different from country to country. Early to bed in our separate rooms anticipating the next destination. Breakfast was fantastic: Japanese / Western cuisine. We each had three plates, or was that four Craig?!

Arrival in Dempasar brought a smile to my face because everyone who greeted us had one on their faces too. It was warm and cheery. After changing some money (I actually got a bit ripped off at the exchange counter) we negotiated a taxi ride to Ubud where I had reserved a room at Melati Cottages over the Internet. The one hour drive out of the capital city was full of things to see: wood carving merchants, people dressed in their fine sarongs riding scooters, Hindu sculptures towering over the intersections, and lots of greenery and flowers. Sunset was marvelous.

A shared bungalow with two large beds, bathroom, fan and carved wooden doors overlooking the swimming pool and garden which came to life in the dark – frogs, geckos and the odd chicken. The morning roosters were a loud awakening, but it was more pleasant than the early morning soccer players at Ulsan University back in Korea.

“The inland village of Ubud is formally part of an ancient kingdom. In the mid 1300’s AD the Prime Minister of the powerful Hindu Majapahit kingdom of East Java colonized the entire island, introduced the caste system and changed the whole Balinese culture. However, some of the original culture is still found in the tiny hill villages today.

Bali’s surrounding area is a cultural heartland, home to a huge proliferate of temples, museums and art galleries, where Balinese dance shows are staged nightly and a wealth of arts and crafts studios provide the most absorbing shopping on the island. Ubud’s development was closely bound to the fortunes of the Sukawati royal family who ruled for centuries beginning in the early 1800 century. This was the foundation of the strong artistic heritage as musicians, dancers, puppeteers, artists and sculptors from all over the island where summoned to live and work at the royal court. This was one of the only two kingdoms to remain intact after the Dutch takeover in 1908. In the 1930’s, the arrival of expat artists arrived to Ubud, infecting a new vigour into the region’s arts and crafts, which has thrived ever since.

It’s also surrounded by a stunning physical environment – a lush landscape watered by hundreds of streams with archetypal terraced paddy vistas at every turn. Whitewater rafting, bike riding and hiking through the rice fields are all offered to the tourist.” (A Rough Guide to Bali and Lombok, Reader and Ridout 2000.)

We spent three full days in this remarkable city. I drooled with amazement at the architecture. We entered numerous elaborately carved doorways that led to courtyards full of colourful gardens and Hindu statues and house temples to find the proprietor of family house turned guesthouse. Every dwelling had a temple for one of the 400 odd Hindu Gods or Goddesses that come and pay refuge. We were looking for a place to stay at the end of our holiday – the time for massive shopping!

I also enjoyed watching, three times a day, offerings that consisted of woven palm baskets, rice, incense, fruit and flowers, being placed around the temple, doorways, sidewalks – one must watch the step in Bali for fear of trampling these beautiful masterpieces. The smell of incense and the calmness of the people made the days go by with little threat of “terror”. It’s remarkable safe and extremely friendly. Many do, however want you to buy something… “Sarang Miss?” “Transport?” I played with the transport men – they gestured driving a car and I gestured dancing! Fun!

After unwinding in our posh guesthouse with pool, beside the river and small jungle on the other side, we boarded a bus that took us to the port and onto the awaiting ferry to Lombok – the island to the East of Bali. A good crossing: all tourists up on the upper deck lounging for the four hour trip in plastic garden chairs that were chained to the decking. Here we made friends with the others and found some who were heading to our destination – the tiny island called Gilli Trawangan.

Well, upon first sight, Gilli Trawangan, one of the three Gillis just off the northwest coast of Lombok, seemed friendly and quiet. “Strikingly beautiful, with glorious white-sand beaches lapped by warm, brilliant blue waters and circled by coral reefs” was know as the unspoilt paradise island by travelers in the 1980’s. Still today, there were no cars screaming by with exhaust exhaling out their pipes or little two-stroke scooters – the worst for fumes. There were many brightly coloured horse’n carriages lined up at the dock awaiting our backpacks and bodies. Because we didn’t have reservations or a clue as to where to stay, we dumped our bags in the Perama office, the tour agent for our voyage over, and roamed the dirt-covered, cobble-stone, front street under a big black rain cloud looking for our rendezvous – two teaching couples from KyungJu Korea. A peppy English bloke darted our way and told us of Eky’s Loseman (Indonesian for guesthouse): “… nice garden, good breakfast, shower and a cheap price ($1.50US each for a room with two beds).” It turned out to be just across the street from our friends – who were paying double for their bungalows.

At night, this tiny island came alive. Well, at least along the front street for about 75 meters. Restaurants expanded their fresh fish and squid displays, and candle lit tables on the sidewalks. In the back, DVD players shined the latest flicks. Every other night, there was a party in one of the fancier ‘hotels’, which was usually a buffet diner and live music to follow into the wee hours of the morning. The island was reputed to be “The Party Island”.

Trawangan was uninhabited until the 1970’s when a dozen families from Sulawesi settled. Tourists discovered it and which brought more settlers who made small cottages and started to make money from the visitors. Today, there are about 700 who live year round. I did meet a Canadian woman who was building a small resort on the far end of the 3 X 2 km island. A foreigner can’t own land outright; they need an Indonesian sponsor. I met her handsome Balinese husband.

My days were relaxed to say the least: up at the crack of dawn – sometimes even before my companion who in Korea boasts about his ability to get up earlier than the sun – and into the hotel pool down the road for my wake-up splash. I would prefer to wake-up in the blue sea, but the shallow reef is very undesirable to look at. It’s actually really depressing. The fishers, I’m not sure if it still happens but, have in the past, done dynamite and cyanide fishing in the reefs – it’s totally dead. There are lots of fish, but its all brown underwater, and white where exposed to the sun.

Following my free breakfast, a banana pancake or eggs and toast with a hot cup of thick crunchy coffee, which came with the price of the bungalow, I ventured down to the main strip and purchased an Indonesian breakfast. Spicy rice with fish and vegetables called ‘nasi campur’ is far more filling and tastier, and I felt good supporting a local woman even though it was only about $.30. I savored this treat for later – usually after a 2-hour hike around the island.

The afternoons, if not rainy, were spent on the beach, under a bush, reading my book about Tibetan spirituality. Occasionally, I joined my friends and went for a drift snorkel. Whatever time the afternoon rains came, I took shelter and filled my abandoned empty water bottle collection with the eavesdrop waterfall. Our showers were mixed with salt water – fresh rain is better on the hair!! A swing in my newly purchased woven cotton hammock, a chat with the locals and early to bed with or sometimes with-out an evening meal – by choice. I did manage to get to one of the parties – a Reggae Night, but stayed only a short time. Feeling old!!

After eleven days of this relaxed and healthy lifestyle, Craig and I retraced our steps back to Padang Bai port on Bali. We stayed overnight in this quaint little fishing bay scattered with tiny, brightly painted wooden, one-man fishing ‘canoes’ with sailing masts. I enjoyed the sunrise scene when all the boats came drifting to shore and dumped their catch – mackerel – in the buyer’s buckets. After a stroll to the tiny beach up and over the hill, I joined Craig and jumped into our hired private ‘Land cruiser’ with driver who drove us via the scenic route to Amed in the north coast for about $9.

It was a lovely drive through some of the most spectacular scenery yet. The terraced rice fields surrounded by the shear slopes of the volcanoes caught my attention. Another photo opportunity was in Candi Dasa beside a small lake filled with lotus flowers and lily pads. Squatting worshippers were making offerings of fruit, flowers and incense to the temple Gods while children played on the raised platform in the lake. Oh what happy people.

We arrived at Lipah Beach just in time for lunch. We agreed to splurge and rent a nice bungalow for two nights at Vienna Cottages right on a small private beach. The cost was $17US for two, which included breakfast and dinner. Nice large Balinese style bungalow with an interesting outdoor shower and toilet. I noticed a few eyes looking in from the road above as I rinsed the salt off after a swim. The waters here were very inviting and offered an array of coral and fish life. We also walked a few kilometers to where a small Japanese freighter had sunk and very much enjoyed our first wreck snorkel, a preliminary for our future dive plans further north up the coast.

After two nights in this European guesthouse, we chauffeured another car and driver to take us to Tulamben. “Tulamben is the site of the most famous dive in Bali, the Liberty Wreck. Built in 1915 in America as a cargo steamship, the 120-meter-ling Liberty was equipped with two guns at the outbreak of WWII. Carrying a cargo of rubber and rail parts, she was torpedoed on January 11, 1942.” It was covered in brilliant coloured sponges and corals, including giant fan corals, and home to numerous amounts of large groupers, angels, and tiny tropical fish. The wreck itself was mangled beyond recognition: jagged pieces sticking out and holes to venture through, it made for two exciting dives. We stayed in another guesthouse located off the volcanic pebble beach for free! ‘One can stay and eat breakfast for free if they go diving with the proprietor’. Good deal! It even had a swimming pool and an outdoor restaurant overlooking the waters.

Even though the rains kept coming, it didn’t dampen the day’s events. During the last morning, I took a long walk along the coast. I strolled past an abandoned temple ruin and an old run-down farmers shack (he was watching me as he took care of his crops – rice I assume). The land itself had been created after the volcano in the background exploded in 1963. There were many lava rocks sprinkled throughout the grass fields and interesting formations along the shores. It was very quiet, peaceful and with the light sprinkle, very refreshing.

From here, Craig and I, and another couple from Canada, hired a car to take us back to Ubud. Another pleasant drive took us through little towns where we saw the temple processions with ladies carrying baskets full of food sorts tiered like a wedding cake on their heads, and the men squatting while taking care of pigs roasting on open spits. I wish we stopped at one of these for a photo opportunity. Next time…

Back in Ubud we were dropped off on Monkey Road to fend for ourselves in finding a guesthouse. I wanted to get one off the main noisy and polluted road and found a lovely marbled four-story house owned by an Australian woman and her Balinese husband. She and her mother, a converted monk who studied in Tibet and had met the Dalai Lama, were asked if we wanted to meet a visiting Guru from Tibet. “Sure”, jumping at the opportunity.

Tibetan Buddhist Teacher, Ven. Dagpo Ripochewill, gave his teachings and blessings to an international audience. I would guess that there were close to a hundred souls glued to his words and presence. I felt very moved. Wanting to take advantage of being amongst this energy, I tried to relax my thoughts and concentrate on joining in. When the grape of light came around to be digested, I cried as I could feel it’s purposed energy and see the light flowing within me. He was a very strong man. Apparently he is a reincarnation of a Balinese Buddhist that lived here many moons ago. He is also capable of tapping and providing the energy of Sarisweta, the ancient Hindu Goddess of knowledge. I left the two-day event feeling refreshed, uplifted and charged. Hmmmm…. could be the start of something… or a continuation??

Back on the plane with a few bits and pieces of shopping I knew that I would be back; to buy and experience more dream treasures

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