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March 25th 2018
Published: March 25th 2018
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Bali. Palms and beaches. Warm-skinned people. Polynesian-flavoured music perhaps. Batik sarongs.

Somehow Bali surprised me. I must have been expecting a Waikiki or Miami kind of frenetic beachfront, peppered with high rises and more tourists than locals.

Instead, we found a gentle-paced, low-rise, well thatched, kind of summer-camp-feel place. We stayed in the town of Sanur, with one main street that connects it to the towns before and after without break. The road is lined with clothing shops, restaurants of every kind , spas and massage parlours (the legit kind). Taxis toot as they pass hoping for a fare. No one uses their horns otherwise and everyone seems to make space for bicycles, scooters, cars and vans. The party towns are elsewhere; we chose Sanur as it was described as laid back, which I now read as older-friendly.

A Balinese fellow tells us about how Muslims pray six times a day, but the Balinese are largely Hindu and they pray only three times. Same-same but different.

Each morning everyone seems to be carrying a few coaster-sized little trays woven from palm leaves and containing gold marigolds, rice, seeds, and any other little offering of thanks that appeals. These little thanksgiving packets are left at the foot of driveways, on car windshields, on business counters, just about anywhere. Incense sticks burn beside many. At our domicile, every regular day, 30 of these little parcels are delivered to different corners of the property. Some joy seems to be taken when birds or dogs partake in the offerings, as the circle of life is happening before our eyes.

On major celebration days, things scale up a lot. The day before we arrived was a special Balinese holiday where everyone is expected to do nothing. The airport closes, as do stores and restos. Streets lights stay off. Food is prepared the day before, but talking is encouraged. Time for family, friends and relaxation.

The locals have a shrine in their homes to honour their ancestors. Each morning offerings are made, and a tiny piece of flower is rolled and tucked behind the ear of the one who delivered the ritual. Once we know what we‘re looking for, we see people’s ears adorned with these little petals everywhere.

One day at the beach, a party breaks out. Drums, musics, people dressed in saris, sashes and special headdress dance and gather in the parking lot next door. A portable shrine is carried in, along with two small coffin-sized containers. Our eyes grow bigger as we realize they are actually coffins. A cremation is about to occur. Today was chosen because it was an auspicious day - a good day to celebrate.

Two fire boxes made of green, large bamboo trunks are ready. The lids are removed from the boxes and offerings of food and beauty are removed and the cremation begins. Powerful propane torches are lit and boxes are lowered. With the families leading, the event is joyful, open and relaxed.

Driving inland to Ubud to do a ridge walk on a hot day, we pass an older Indian couple in full garb returning, saying it was too hot for them to continue. Our driver laughs when we point out the couple later and says, “oh, they’re real Indians!” As opposed to (east) Indians who have immigrated to England or Canada. Real Indians are rare here. Most tourists are repeat customers from Australia - they rest of us pop in to Bali only, and ignore the rest of Indonesia. Backpackers are the exception, who come so
Cremation in progress Cremation in progress Cremation in progress

The family didn’t mind pictures being taken.
far that they pop from island to island and cover it all.

A visit to the Monkey Sanctuary is fun. People follow the wooden walkways, while the monkeys chase and torture each other ignoring us all. Until someone buys some bananas and the monkeys yank at his shirt to get him to drop his treats.

Beachs here are granular and shell-y, but oddly not so busy. Beach chairs have more available than rented, and the water is so shallow and warm that most stand at waist depth with a periodic plunge to soak a few minutes.

Our home for the week is Klumpu Villas, a place we expected to be back in the jungle and away from it all. Turns out that we are in another small enclave created with eight units in a bustling neighbourhood but with fountains, waterfalls and tons of foliage, feels like a different world. We are asked what unit we are in. As we are in the second in from the entrance, I say “2”. A quick correction that we are in 107 had us giggling. Stars can be seen on any clear night - so low is the ambient light.

This place is remarkably zen in ambiance and mood. We try to sus out who the owner is - a Dutch fella partnered with a local woman. We see him once I think. Our driver says he only pops in once in a while to ask “are guests happy?” If they are, off he goes.

There are no signs here. Nothing to denote the deep end of the pool, nor warn of the dangers of jumping or slipping. No signs on when the restaurant closes or restrictions on food and beverage. One young couple arrives late and slips into the pool well after most of us are in problem. Enjoy.

And that’s Bali. Pretty great.

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