Bali, an exotic island

Indonesia's flag
Asia » Indonesia » Bali » Padangbai
February 15th 2006
Published: February 25th 2006
Edit Blog Post

On our sail into Padang Bai, Bali, Indonesia, we pass low, green hills. A volcano rises majestically behind them shrouded in clouds. The wind blows and parts the puffy, whiteness to reveal the volcano’s jagged cone.

Alan and I are taking pictures from the balcony when I spot many odd looking boats in the sea. They are white with leg-like appendages sticking out from each side into the water. They look like white tarantulas crawling along the water’s surface. When our ship gets closer to them, we see that they are fishing canoes.

This morning, we are taking Radisson’s “Bali As You Please” tour with Tyler, Vicki, Stephanie and Phil. We will have two vans, each with a driver and interpreter who will show us around the island according to an itinerary that we choose.

Stepping off the tender, we are greeted by men playing Balinese instruments and a line of beautiful women dressed in yellow and red wearing crown-like headpieces. We find our guides and drivers and decide that the women will ride in one van and the men will go in the other. It’s very hot and humid and we’re happy not to be crowded into the same van.

Our tour begins and immediately it’s sensory overload. Bali has three million inhabitants and they are everywhere...walking along the road, sitting in shops that hug the road or whizzing by on motorcycles with loads of cargo strapped to their backs. We are traveling on an island road crowded with tour vans, motorcycles and dump trucks. At one point, police pull all vehicles over to the side of the road. We stop too. Our driver gets out of the car and disappears from view. After some tense waiting for us, he reappears and we are back on our way never to find out why we stopped.

It’s hard to concentrate on the guide’s narration because our heads are swiveling from left to right looking at the exotic life around us. We can see temples and shrines peaking over gray brick walls of Balinese homes. Family groups live in these walled housing compounds, each with a temple and at least three shrines facing east towards the sacred mountain. In Bali, religion, a mix of Hindu and Buddhism called Bali Hindu, is an integral part of the culture. Temples with shrines dressed for a celebration… a yellow umbrella shielding a shrine…offerings on the sides of the road…their religion is everywhere we look.

The van passes school children walking along the road dressed in uniforms. They carry bundles of straw which are used for cleaning their schoolyard. We continue by rice fields and drive over bridges that span rivers or deep gullies. At one river, Wisia tells us that on our return to the ship later in the afternoon, we will see people bathing and washing clothes at this spot in the river.

The first tour stop is in the town of Klungkung to see Kerta Gosa (the Hall of Justice). The driver parks the car along a side street. Vendors swarm around us the minute we step out of the car. Shaking our heads, “no no,” we push through them to follow our guide across the street.

The Hall of Justice is part of an 18th century Royal Palace. It’s an open air pavilion with a thatched roof and surrounded by statues. We climb steep steps to walk inside where we look up to see an elaborately painted ceiling. The pictures describe the rules of Hindu society and also show punishments that will occur if one breaks the rules.

Across from the Hall of Justice is the Bale Kambang (Floating Pavilion). It’s surrounded by a moat complete with goldfish and lotus flowers. The Pavilion also is open with a thatched roof and another painted ceiling. A flower offering sits on the wall. We will see these offerings again and again today.

From the Pavilion, we walk to a museum which is part of the palace complex. There are a series of rooms depicting Balinese history. The displays are simple consisting of a few artifacts and pictures. One room has an interesting but scary group of masks.

By now, clothes are sticking to sweaty backs and we are ready to go back to our air-conditioned van. Vendors swarm again. Buying anything is a huge mistake as this only encourages them. They push items right into our faces. When we try to enter the van, persistent vendors stick merchandise into the car. “Lady, lady, very nice, very beautiful, you will like.”

Bali is known for its crafts of wood carving, bamboo, baskets, batik, silver, painting and ceramics with villages specializing in only one craft. Wood carving, silver and batik are on our list of “must-see” areas. These are the places to shop rather than succumbing to street vendors.

At the village of Mas, the van turns into a guarded compound. Large trees shade an elaborate building with a deep verandah. We have arrived at a woodcarving cooperative. Guides (really salespeople) greet us as we walk up the steps. The elaborate and extremely large pieces are amazing. In one area, a man is carving on a piece of wood that is taller than he is. Other women and men sit on the floor detailing, sanding and finishing the wood pieces. Of course there is a large shopping area with room after room of elegant but expensive carvings. There are smaller pieces, too; so we make our purchases, say goodbye to the guides and continue to our next stop.

“Would you like to visit a Balinese home?” Wisia asks. Well, of course we do. When we arrive, there are the vendors again. We leave them behind and walk into the family compound where “great-grandfather” greets us. We say our hellos and being the tour.

Their home is really a series of buildings consisting of one for cooking and several others for sleeping. There is an open room for celebrations and ceremonies which is also where the oldest family member sleeps.

Beyond the small buildings is the temple entry. It is flanked by two identical statues of a creature that has been decorated with red flowers behind each ear. We go into the temple, an outdoor area where shrines of wooden boxes with thatched roofs sit on stone and brick columns.

On the other side of the temple is another open building with a thatched roof. A man sits with his back to us working on something or perhaps eating lunch. We can’t tell but we respect his privacy. Around the corner is an area for animals. There are two cages of porcupines (which they raise for food), a caged rooster (for cockfighting) and a black hen with several chicks.

When we walk back through the compound, we each give great-grandfather, who is almost 100-years-old, a monetary gift for allowing us into his home. Now it’s back through the line of vendors and on to the next village.

At Celuk, we turn down a small lane and into another guarded compound. We are at the silversmiths. Women sit at tables on the front porch demonstrating jewelry making. A guide takes us to each table to explain the work. Then, it’s inside to shop. The extensive amount of jewelry is overwhelming but I manage to shop anyway. The others cool off with a cold drink while they wait for me.

Next, we go to the town of Tonpati, home of batik. At Popiler Batik Factory, two women sit underneath a large, covered area demonstrating batik painting. An exhibit hangs on the wall showing the many steps to a finished product. Inside is the best shop of all. The batik shawls and scarves are especially pretty. Before long, clerks are pulling out one colorful scarf after another until the counter is draped in a kaleidoscope of color. Vicki, Stephanie and I have a wonderful time while Tyler, Phil and Alan patiently wait, again.

It’s getting late and we still want to drive to Penelokan, a village that sits on the edge of the active volcano Gunung Batur (Mt Batur). Wisia suggests we stop there for a late afternoon snack since we’ve missed lunch. The ride takes about an hour and Wisia falls asleep. We climb in elevation through a less populated area but we still have the ever present motorcycles buzzing around us.

When we reach Penelokan, the vans stop at an overlook for a view of Mt Batur’s crater which is 18 miles in diameter and 600 feet deep. The good weather allows a clear view of the black lava flows and the lake formed by the volcano. In the center, a new volcano has formed. Wisi says that when it erupts, Balinese come to watch the show which is quite beautiful at night. Even here, the vendors swarm us; but this time they are children so it is much harder to say no.

Up the road from the overlook, the vans turn into a steep driveway. At the top of the hill, Gunawan Restaurant perches on the edge of the crater with a good view of Lake Batur. It is 3pm and the restaurant has stayed open specifically for us. Our light afternoon snack turns into lunch as we feel an obligation to eat at their Indonesian buffet. I look over to see our guides enthusiastically eating lunch. Now I know why we stopped here. Our group has fun tasting Indonesian dishes while we sit in exotic surroundings. Unfortunately, a storm rolls in during lunch and our view of the crater disappears.

My most interesting experience happens when I visit the restaurant’s restroom. A male attendant wipes off the toilet seat and later, turns on the sink water and squirts soap into my hand. He offers a paper towel to for me to dry off my hands and says, “gently, gently.” The paper disintegrates when I use it to dry off. He hands me another one and says, “more gently,” it falls apart too.

We are running out of time and still want to see a temple and the rice fields; so, our drive back down the mountain is swift. Soon we reach Bangli and our temple visit. Climbing up the hill is Pura Kehen, a 12th century temple. Before entering, our guide gives us pink sashes to tie around our waists as a sign of respect. Vendors hover nearby hoping we will visit their shops on our exit from the temple.

Steep steps lead us to the ornate temple entrance. Inside, on the first terrace, a bell tower sits beneath a 500-year-old banyon tree. The bell is used to call villagers to ceremonies. The main shrine sits on the second terrace. In two weeks, a large ceremony will occur. Preparations are beginning and we have to peak through wooden scaffolding to view the main shrine.

Vendors wait in the street for us when we descend the temple stairs. Vicki, Stephanie and I rush to the van but the men don’t make a fast enough get away. When our van speeds down the street, we look back to see Phil and Alan being led by the hand into the shops.

Our last stop is on the side of the road to view the rice fields. The green terraces rise up a hillside bordered by large palm trees. Flooded fields glint in the late afternoon sun. I can see a glimpse of the ocean beyond the trees. Although traffic on the road is heavy, there is a sense of peacefulness here.

On our way back to the ship, the van drives by the river we passed earlier in the day. People are bathing and washing their clothes. Further on, fishermen sit beside the road selling the day’s catch.

We reach the tender area and say goodbye to our guides and drivers, thanking them for a wonderful tour day. The sights and sounds of this exotic island have provided a distraction from the hot, humid weather we have experienced. Our tender is crowded with passengers comparing purchases and experiences as we motor back to the Voyager.

Back onboard, Alan and I clean off the day’s grime and hurry to the pool deck. Tonight is the Balinese barbecue. The deck is crowded with passengers looking over the Indonesian and American barbecue choices. After dinner, Balinese dancers entertain us with traditional music and dances, their elaborately gilded costumes glowing in the lights.

The entertainment ends and we begin our sail away. Wisia told us to be sure to look out over the bay when the Voyager leaves port. On clear nights, fishermen go out to fish carrying lanterns on their boats. We see them twinkling in the distance as we leave Indonesia and head for Borneo.

To read about how we planned our Bali excursion, visit my blog for baby boomer traveler's, My Itchy Travel Feet.

Additional photos below
Photos: 22, Displayed: 22


26th February 2006

Beautiful Bali
Donna, your description of Bali is wonderful. I visited there 8 years ago and you reawakened many wonderful memories. It is a beautiful place and your photos capture so much of it.
5th August 2008

Bali versus Bali Hai
Bali is one of my favorite places on earth. I have a time share in Tubang. But I am writing about the disparity between the romanticized image of Bali and the "real Bali". These pictures are great. It is nice to see people enjoying the wonders of Bali. Iemke

Tot: 0.27s; Tpl: 0.021s; cc: 22; qc: 145; dbt: 0.0377s; 1; m:saturn w:www (; sld: 1; ; mem: 1.6mb