Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful Bali

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December 19th 2010
Published: December 20th 2010
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Well, I am sitting here drinking a last Bintang as the sun slowly sets over the Bali Sea to the left and the full moon rises to the right. Not a bad way to spend one's final night in Bali.

The slow ferry from Lembar in Lombok to Padangbai was a fairly eventless five hours, except for the odd local being desperately and violently seasick over the rails and I arrived just after dark. Padangbai itself is the main harbour on the east coast of Bali, but despite the large number of public ferries, speed boats and the like, is actually quite a nice little town once you get away from the port area and I spent a couple of days here doing little besides snorkeling and wandering aimlessly around the town.

And I have to admit it is wonderful being back in Bali. Don’t get me wrong – the Sasaks on Lombok were truly lovely people – friendly, open and wonderful to the last. But there is something about the Balinese, and I’m sure that everyone who has been to Bali (and actually got out of Kuta) will undoubtedly agree. They are just so damn lovely. My cheeks are literally aching because of all of the smiling that I’ve been doing. For example, the other day I stopped my motorbike on a hillside in the middle of nowhere and just sat there on my bike and looked around at the sweeping vistas and listened to the chirrups of the birds. And every so often someone would crest the hill and without fail, one and all, they would all grin wildly and wave or pull over and ask how I was doing today.

Anyway, Padangbai was followed by a night in Candi Dasa where the only thing of note was a wonderful little detour to the Bali Aga village of Tenganan. The Bali Aga were the original inhabitants of Bali, and although Hindu these days, they practice a different form from the rest of the island. It was a lovely little spot though and I spent a few hours chatting with a local guy as we wandered around his village. And then it was a rapid trip of multiple bemos (cheap, tatty, public minibuses), before I finally arrived in Amed, a sleepy little village on the northeast coast of Bali, right on the ocean and relaxed in every sense of the word. There’s very little to do besides fishing, sitting on the volcanic black sand beach and snorkeling the reefs literally metres off shore. Alas, the wet season has kicked in furiously here and the strong winds and consequent raging waves have meant that this particular pastime has been curtailed except for one brief flipper out to a sunken Japanese fishing boat down the coast aways.

I’m staying at a place called The Three Brothers, although having checked in I went for a wander and quickly noticed that the two adjoining places are also so-named. Intriguing, I thought. After a few days and some discreet inquiries, I have come to believe that the three brothers may have had some sort of falling out and thus they split the property into thirds. I’m in what was the restaurant section and thus there is only one little basic bungalow just for me while the neighbouring properties have much plusher rooms and accompanied by the much more expensive costs of course. However, for a couple of bucks I’m free to laze around the adjoining beautiful infinity pool (I'm still pondering that idea Jane) that looks out over the crashing waves as they pound the shore. Gunung Agung, Bali’s biggest volcano, towers away to the left and last erupted in 1963, devastating the region, killing thousands and leaving over 100 000 homeless, but has thankfully been quite quiet since.

So considering the general insnorkability (please excuse me, I’ve just finished Stephen Fry’s autobiography and his delightful focus on language and tendency to frequently make new words up seems to have rubbed off a bit) my days here have been spent alternating between lazing around the pool gobbling up books and slowly meandering on a motorbike along the coast – skirting volcanoes and gazing out at a most beautiful and rugged coastline, frequently dotted with deserted beaches and line upon line of colourful, traditional boats. I followed a narrow but thankfully decent road and slowly meandered through half a dozen little fishing villages with such wonderful names such as Jemeluk, Bunutan and Aas, that just seem to roll wonderfully off the tongue. But that could just be Mr Fry’s influence again…

My solitary bungalow at The Three Brothers has also meant that while I didn't really met many other travellers in Amed, I have had the opportunity to get to know a few of the locals quite well. Wayan, a truly genuine and beautiful lady (but again this is Bali and as noted, it’s a challenge to find someone here who isn’t blissfully pleasant and generous of heart) warmly invited me to visit her house and meet her husband Kadek, and their two gorgeous little girls. I have also been blessed to be here for the ceremony of Kuningan. Briefly, in recognition of the ultimate triumph of good over evil, every 210 days the Balinese celebrate Galungan when the gods descend from heaven and then ten days later there is another celebration as they are bid farewell and return. The festivities ensure that there are a lot of offerings made to one’s ancestors in both the personal family shrine as well as the larger familial one and Wayan would sit with a bunch of palm leaves and a sharp knife creating the most intricate and elaborate creations to be offered. Every day in between these two festivals, each and every family spends a few hours in the morning making satay, half of which are presented as offerings and the other half eagerly devoured by the family and friends. Due to Kadek being a fisherman, they focus on satay lilit– a wonderfully spicy fish satay where the meat is minced and mixed with coconut milk, chillies and various spices, moulded onto little skewers and then slowly cooked over a barbecue. Divine to say the least. Thus I spent a morning helping out, or rather getting in the way, and gorging myself on too many of these delicious little treats.

Wayan and Kadek – and a slight detour here – in this part of Bali, whether boy or girl, the eldest child in every family is called Wayan or Gede, the second is called Kadek or Made, the third Komang, the fourth is Ketut and so on. They obviously have second names as well, but it does get a little confusing at times. Kadek had told me that to find their house, I was to just wander along the beach and look for his fishing boat that says Bumbaru, wander to my left and call out Kadek. Of course doing so resulted in half a dozen people all called Kadek wandering out of their houses and wondering who the hell this strange bloke was…

Anyway, back to it. Wayan and Kadek also invited me to come and celebrate Kuningan with them, so with much haste I jumped on my motorbike and dashed to the nearest largish town of Amlapura. The markets were closing up and I quickly scuttled around, located a clothing trader and betwixt much gesticulation and mumbling of “Kuningan. Kuningan. You know…sarong and stuff,” was hastily outfitted with the appropriate traditional dress for the ceremony including an intricate sarong, embroided white cotton shirt, a silk covering for over the sarong and the most wonderful udung that sits nestled on your head.

So today I awoke at dawn, dressed myself in my newly acquired finest, and jumped on my bike to meet up with Wayan, Kedek and the family. After a brief ceremony at the house, we piled onto motorbikes and joined up with the rest of the family - cousins, aunties, uncles, grandparents - at the larger family shrine where I was apparently looked over approvingly and invited to join the ceremony. It was a beautiful affair, the gentle tolling of bells as the pemangku chanted prayers and splashed dashes of holy water over us all and I hope that I followed protocol without extensive embarrassment to my hosts. Kadek sat just behind me and at each stage would mumble into my right ear; “Hold flower. Middle Fingers. Pray." Put flower left ear.” “Water. Top of head.” “Rice. Forehead.” It was an amazing and beautiful experience and I feel incredibly fortunate to have been included. This was followed by another beautiful meal back at their house before Kadek insisted that I accompany him to the traditional cockfight along with all of the other men. I must admit that I’m not a big fan of cockfighting, and it wasn’t quite the peresian contest that I had experienced in Lombok (and at least those combatants had a choice on whether to fight each other) but when in Rome and all that…

Anyway, that brings me to Lovina on the north coast, via a hurtling bemo ride that detoured an hour into the mountains to deliver a brand spanking new mattress to some tiny village at the summit of Gunung Batur. Today was spent slowly wandering around on foot and exploring various waterfalls and other sights. Oh, and the hot springs at Air Panas where I frolicked with the locals as the hot slightly-sulphuric water cascaded through large statues of nagas to pummel and massage one's back and shoulders. Tomorrow I'll be returning home to my darling wife, friends, family, ongoing renovations, Christmas, New Year and a new career as a year 1/2 teacher. Bali and Lombok, both honeymoon and beyond, have surpassed all expectations and I have no doubt whatsoever that we’ll be returning again one day. To all of the people I’ve met, the places I’ve seen and the things that I’ve experienced here, I can only say a final huge and heartfelt ‘teri mekasih banyak’. Until next time…


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