Balinesian Ceremony with the Fish Under the Sea

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May 3rd 2007
Published: August 9th 2007
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For the next part of our trip Marc and I pulled ourselves from the coastline and headed into the center toward the cultural capital of the island, Ubud - a great town full of beautiful architecture, some swanky stores and topnotch cuisine, a huge outdoor market, surrounded by beautiful jungles. Ubud is famous for its art galleries and traditional Balinesian dances at night.

Upon arrival via private taxi, we settled into a cute guest house, which for the life of me can't remember the name. It was a beautiful with little bungalows scattered in between the lush greenery of the locale. After, we set out to explore the market. I found some incredible silver jewelry and refined my bargaining skills whilst shopping for some wood serving spoons. After some shopping (Marc loves to shop like I do so it was great!), we wandered around the streets admiring the numerous paintings at all the galleries. As tempting as it was to buy one or two, a) carrying them home would suck and b) I have no house that I want to put them in. I basically considered these galleries free museums. We ate lunch at a beautiful café that overlooked
Ubud MarketUbud MarketUbud Market

If you want sarongs, wood kitchenware, chatchky toys to silver jewelry, you can find it here
a temple.

To work off all the food we ate at the resort, we rented bikes in the afternoon to explore the outskirts of town. Renting bikes was super cheap, yet the quality of the bikes was horrendous. I basically had no breaks, and only 2 gears that worked. This was going to be interesting! We followed a recommended path and found ourselves up on a ridge (mind you, I ended up pushing my bike halfway up the hill!) that overlooked some tall elephant grass and straddled two rivers that flowed below us. We then proceeded to some smaller towns outside the city. We hit up some temples and some very touristy cave carvings. My favorite part of the afternoon was simply riding through the countryside with rice fields surrounding us. We rode by numerous festivals/ceremonies going on and were tempted to jump into one of them, but in the end continued on our ride. I think riding bikes is the best way to see a place because you can stop whenever you want and go slow enough to be part of life that is going on around you. If you decide to venture by bicycle, make sure you check the condition of your breaks and gears before paying any money!

That night Marc and I went to see Kecak dancing which was a definite highlight of my trip. Bali is famous for all its different types of dances. We didn’t know which to choose, so went with the ticket office’s recommendation, the Fire Dance. Traditionally the dances are performed at specific Balinesian Hindu ceremonies at different times of the year, but now in Ubud basically any night of the week you can see any of the dances put on by a performance group. Ubud is like the ‘Bali Broadway,’ minus the half-price ticket booth. The demand to see the dances has caused numerous dance groups to pop up, proving to be quite a lucrative business, thus losing some of the traditional charm and culture. Although not as authentic as seeing the dances at a traditional ceremony, the quality of the performances is very good, often times better than if seen at a traditional ceremony because the Ubud performers are ‘professionals.’ They are damn good at what they do. Most of the dancers in the troops come from the same village and all the money raised from their
Hindu OfferingsHindu OfferingsHindu Offerings

Making her lunch time offering
performance goes back to support and preserve their village.

As the show started the empty stage was soon filled with 100 or so saronged men chanting and moving to the beat, the light only coming from a centerpiece adorned with candles. The eerie loud chanting and dim lighting set the mood for the rest of the show, making it ever so dramatic. The men circled the centerpiece and sat in rows, never ceasing to chant. The chanting is a signature characteristic to the fire dance. Taken from the Hindu epic Ramayana, the dance tells the story of Prince Rama and his rescue of Princess Sita, who has been kidnapped by the evil King of Lanka. The rest of the performers came on stage in elaborate costumes and masks. The ornate masks actually reminded me of the ones used in local dances found in Hiroshima. At the end of a dance a pile of coconut shells was lit on fire. One of the dancers wearing a horse costume came out and started kicking the hot shells with his bare feet! My guess is that the dancers all draw straws, and the one who gets the shortest gets to be the
Ubud Art GalleriesUbud Art GalleriesUbud Art Galleries

so many amazing paintings
fire-kicker for the evening. After the performance we went to meet the guys, and picked up a few dance moves and chants from the dancers.

After the performance Marc and I went to a very hip restaurant. Ubud has a plethora of great restaurants serving all types of gourmet food from Indonesian, Western, Asian and more recently restaurants boast fusions of different cultures. Marc indulged in a huge beef kebab and I had Balnesian tapas, washed down with a nice cold locally brewed beer. Not indulging at some of the great restaurants around Ubud is sacrilege!

Padang Bai
The next morning I woke up early en route for Padang Bai where I would receive my Diving Certification. Upon arriving I asked a local where I could find Bali Waterworx Dive Center . He told me to keep walking straight and I couldn’t miss it. A bit hesitant, I followed his directions. Low and behold, Padang Bai was literally a road with a few dive shops, restaurants, and small guesthouse on one paved road along a cove. Indeed, Padang Bai was exactly what I was looking for after being in touristy (yet wonderful) Ubud and Kuta. Within 5 minutes
Ubud Art GalleriesUbud Art GalleriesUbud Art Galleries

so many amazing paintings
I walked up to Waterworx and was greeted by German David- a very nice middle-aged man who has co-owned the dive center for over 10 years. Padang Bai is predominately inhabited and visited by Germans. As an American I was definitely a minority. I had confused the dive center on which day I would be arriving, so my original instructor Andreas would be joining me the next day. I got settled at Billabong Bungalows and was ready to begin my course. I knew that wherever I went for Golden Week I was going to get my diving certification. I was stoked.

In the morning David reviewed the physics of diving and basically told me how not to kill myself. Although diving is potentially very dangerous, the engineers that have designed the equipment have quadruple-proofed it so that in actuality the sport is safe, as long as you follow the instructions. After a great lunch looking out into the quaint cove, David and I went to a pool for some basic training. Since I have dived before this part of the course was easy-peasy.

For dinner that night I went with my Billabong Bungalow friend Artur to a local joint with an absolutely horrible cover band. Artur is not someone you forget quickly- a Turkish doctor who lives in Germany and smoked cloves like a train. A year ago his business partner/best friend was killed by a crazy patient. He attempted to carry on his practice but found it was too hard. Instead he sold it, took off to Indonesia for six weeks, and soon planned to work with ‘Doctors Without Borders’ in Cambodia. All in all great company- I meet the coolest people traveling.

The next day I woke up to Marc pounding on my door saying I was late for my dive course. I put on my swimsuit and walked the 30 seconds to get to Waterworx. My original instructor… Andreas… was waiting for me. Now, before our trip I joked with Marc how wonderful it would be to have a cute diving instructor. I mean, every girl fantasizes about her travel guide, teacher, TA, or coach being this handsome and debonair guy, ready to sweep her off her feet. Unfortunately the reality of it all is that usually it turns out to be a girl or guy not to her liking. Andreas was that perfect
Marc on our Bicycle AdventureMarc on our Bicycle AdventureMarc on our Bicycle Adventure

lost among the elephant grass
instructor: with his shoulder-length brown-blonde unkempt hair swept into a low ponytail, slightly unshaven face, big brown eyes, running around in his little black swim trunks. As he shook my hand introducing himself I melted, and thought ‘Thank you God! (or should I say Brahman…Bali is Hindu…)’ I like to call him Mr. Germany and all my teachers at school call him German Ikkeman (all my crushes are referred to as Ikkeman). I was in Heaven.

For my course today I had 2 dives and watched some videos. Mr. Germany and I set out on our tiny boat to the cove around the corner called the Blue Lagoon. As we pulled away from Padang Bai to round the corner to the Blue Lagoon, you could see the mammoth Gunung Batur lurking in the distance encased with clouds - it was awesome! For my first dive we first did some technical work underwater for 5 minutes, then it was a fun dive for about 40 minutes. The coral and fish were spectacular. I forgot how much I loved to dive and the incredible feeling I get being underwater. There is nothing like it in the world, and the closest I
More Rice!More Rice!More Rice!

It isn't asia if there isn't rice
will ever get to fulfilling my childhood dream of being Ariel the Little Mermaid. Andreas was with me, and in the back of my head kept thinking ‘this is so the perfect first date’ (hey everyone gets to have their own personal fantasy and I was indulging in mine!). I watched a few dull videos, ate lunch, and it was time for round 2 underwater. Not only was Mr. Germany a sight for sore eyes, I had a great time flirting with him and he definitely seemed to enjoy my company as well. My mind couldn’t help wandering to think about what we would name our three children 5 years from now. The second dive was also amazing- some incredible mirco-organisms showcasing incredible colors, a sting ray, an eel, and some of the most bizarre looking fish I have ever seen. That afternoon I watched more videos, flirted with Andreas and in my head contemplated if I really could live in Padang Bai forever or if we should move to Thailand.

Day 3 of the course I was DYING to go to the Tulamben Shipwreck on the north part of the island. Unfortunately, they took a crew the day
Heading to the sticksHeading to the sticksHeading to the sticks

A moment where I could actually ride my bicycle and was not pushing it up the hill!
before, and I was the only one that wanted to go that day, so I was SOL. I guess it’s one thing I will have to go back and do in the future- you always have to leave something to return to. Still, the morning dive was fabulous and probably my favorite dive I have ever done. We swam up and down a wall, peering into the coral and crevices along it. The highlight of this trip was a 3-foot long lobster. I got to reach out and have its long tentacles graze my hand. In addition, we saw a lionfish, another sting ray, shark, and swam through schools of hundreds of tiny fish. On our way back to the dive center Mr. Germany sprung on me that he was engaged. All my hopes and dreams were shattered, and I thought she is some lucky girl. That said, Mr. Germany was definitely flirting with me, and pushing the boundaries of friendly service. I passed my test with flying colors and to celebrate had one final dive. To make up for not going to the wreck and since I was doing really well, we went to a more advance area. With Mr. Germany by my side, I felt I could do anything. The current was a bit stronger and at times it definitely felt like I was getting a true work out fighting against it. We got to see a rather large shark and again wonderful fish and coral. I was given my diving card signed by Mr. Germany and David shook my hand saying “Congratulations! You are now a certified diver. The world is now a better place with another diver in the world.”

That night I headed back to Kuta, although it was tempting to stay in the tranquil and relaxing atmosphere of Padang Bai for a few more days. I had made quite a few good acquaintances while there and would have been good fun to hang out with them a bit longer. The pace of life was so different here compared to everywhere else I had been on the island. I said thanks and farewell to everyone, and took one last glance at Andreas to store in my memory forever, realizing I would probably never see him again (hey but the world is round…). While waiting for the van to take us to Kuta I had
Ready for a CeremonyReady for a CeremonyReady for a Ceremony

Dressed to the T with offerings on the head- no better way to go
a great conversation with some locals, and told them I would return soon and they could take me out on their boat. I encountered nothing but hospitality and kindness from Indonesian people the entire trip, even a few marriage proposals.

Back in Kuta I quickly forgot about the slow pace of Padang Bai. Marc and I met for dinner (he went back to Kuta a day earlier than me) before he went to the airport to fly home. I ended up calling my Indonesian boyfriend Agus and planned to meet at Bounty. We had a great night dancing, and at Double Six him and his American friend Nick even made a bungee jump. It is a small world- Nick is from San Diego and we have a mutual friend that went to Berkeley with me!

For my last day in Bali I originally was planning to surf and go to the Ulu Watu temple for sunset. Instead, I decided to hang out with Agus and Nick and do absolutely nothing. It was awesome. Agus and I started at the beach, then migrated to Nick’s pool. For lunch Agus took us to one of his favorite local places. We got a whole fish smothered in vegetables, fried rice, and shakes, all for 2 dollars. Not only was it cheap, it was authentic, and my favorite meal of the entire trip. We headed back to the beach for more laziness as I sat there and contemplated if I should do the bungee myself. Succumbing to my “Carpe Diem” mentality, Nick and I headed to Double Six for the bungee. It was a special deal if two people did it.

Now, from the ground it doesn’t look so bad. In fact, it looks easy. As we took the elevator to the top and Kuta got smaller and smaller, my heart started to race and I was having second thoughts. What in the world was I doing? I couldn’t bring myself to look at the ground below us, and kept my vision straight ahead of me. We stepped out onto the platform and Nick lined up to do his jump. Before I knew it he was over the edge, and I was standing solo, contemplating my sanity and if I was actually going to do it. I concluded that it would have been better if I did it drunk since while inebriated everything seems like a great idea! When I get shots I often make the nurse or doctor constantly talk to me so I stop thinking about it. Similarly, as the bungee guy was tying me in I kept rambling and asking him to talk to me to divert my attention away from the fact that I was about to plunge 148 feet from a large rubber band. Then they asked me if I wanted to dip my head into the pool below. I said “What do you recommend?” The guy smiled and like I expected said “definitely the pool.” With my feet bound together, I slowly shuffled my way to the ledge, still unable to look down, with my heart racing and my hands shaking. I knew that the longer I waited the more fear would build in my chest. As the guy counted down “3…2…1….BUNGEE!” I knew it was now or never. Without hesitation I somehow launched myself off the ledge and began freefalling hundreds of feet. Of course, in true Casey fashion, screaming the entire time. Before I knew it I hit the pool, water just passing my chest. Then I was hurled back into the air and flying around for a good 20 seconds before I came to a halt. WOW! It was amazing! I loved it and can’t wait to do it again!

Post-bungee I was on the biggest high running through the streets. I did some last minute shopping (damn Japanese omiyage), got a pedicure, grabbed some dinner, and before I knew it was at the airport on my way back to Japan. My non-stop Golden Week had come to an end. I sat on the plane drifting to sleep with wonderful memories of the past 10 days.

Bali…what can I say….is true Paradise. I would go back in a heartbeat. Yet as much as I loved Bali, going there only made me thirsty to explore Indonesia even more. I am dying to hit up Lombok and hopefully someday find myself diving in Flores or Komodo alongside mola-mola fish and manta rays as large as VW bugs. The food, people, culture, activities, sights, and atmosphere were incredible. Bali is the Hawaii of Southeast Asia sporting many fabulous hotels and fine dining with incredible beaches- just at a fraction of the cost. I loved it and can’t wait to go back soon!

Additional photos below
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Fire KickerFire Kicker
Fire Kicker

Marc and I with the short-straw guy. Check out his feet
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Comparing Muscles

Mine are soooo bigger

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