Bali is hot. Bali is cool. And Bali is beckoning me back. That’s all there is to it. Cutting to the place where video and rice meet – start here.
The evening quiet at the Villa Saraswati was soothing after the heat of day. Each night, I especially enjoyed winding down – sipping on a cold beer and eating a bowl of delicious, freshly roasted peanuts. I also loved swimming a few cooling laps in the pool just steps from my bedroom, late at night and early in the morning. Being the naïve one that I am, I had no idea that Saraswati was the goddess of knowledge, music, arts, and nature. It figures that I would choose “her” villa for my first Balinese sojourn. According to my Wikipedia sources (oh no, it’s come to that!)…
Saraswati is a part of the trinity of
Saraswati, Lakshmi and Parvati. All the three forms help the trinity of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva in the creation, maintenance and destruction of the Universe.
Most of my Bali highlights took place away from the crowds. I can not seem to get enough of the Vishnu stories, the various representations of the gods, the ogres, and cool animistic sculptures. One day, I spent the better part of an afternoon and early evening visiting two temples – one dating back to the 1600’s and the second, to the 1500’s. One inland. One on the ocean. The latter, Tanah Lot, is highly commercialized and visitors of every stripe pay their way into a market area with hundreds of souvenir stores on the bluff.
The waves, quietly erode the temple. Some visitors come to bathe or dip themselves or children in the holy water; some pay homage to real snakes that symbolically represent those that guarded the temple from their cave on the beach.
There are a series of alluring mini-temples stretched across the bluff. With the ocean waves and the sunsets, it’s no wonder that the place is crowded. The inland temple, on the other hand, was quieter and sat in front of a beautiful green park and next to a gorge. There were roosters caged on each corner of an interior courtyard. An adjacent area continues to be used for cockfights. Everywhere I went, I saw caged roosters, and even cages for sale.
On my second full day, I left early in the morning heading by van for an area adjacent to a volcano for a half-day of downhill biking. Way up high, with overcast skies, the air felt almost cool as I scooted downhill. I tried to find my Zen place and enjoy the views rather than worry about the bike’s worn brake pads and bald tires – the owners of this Bali biking company were not terribly invested in routine bike maintenance. In addition to the pleasure of biking through small villages on back roads and visiting a family’s compound, we got to bike through a rice field. I admired the water systems, that snake their way around and through the fields and of course, the hard work (mostly women’s) of planting and picking the rice two or three harvests per year, depending on the type.
On my final morning, with only one last “chunk” of expendable time, I took an hour-long walk through the terraced paddies of Tegalalang, a small village about 20 minutes from Ubud. Feeling a bit like I was walking into some strange mystical story, every five minutes or so, I would meet an older Bali person. I interacted with each as I walked my way along a narrow path toward terraced rice paddies. The green color floored me even as each person stopped me. One wanted me to buy postcards, another coconuts, another (the smelly) durian fruit, and another two simply wanted me to pay passage.
Walking further and further into the terraced wonderland, I dared myself to quit moving, to quit wiping away, to quit wiping away the sweat and to simply be still. The reward for being still was to enjoy the loud sounds of insects, roosters, cows, and water. I saw reddish brown dragonflies, an egret, a snake, and two lizards. I also saw a handful of people working the terraces. Sadly, I had to retrace my steps and unwind the dream, sit in a van, and drive to an airport, zipping through and around traffic, tourists, and beckoning walled compounds and temples and palm trees and ocean.
So, as I leave Bali – I realize I have really seen next to nothing yet. How could I having only two full days to visit?
My hope is to bring my family back to Bali – those who will come – and visit the far north, visit some of the museums, sample the beaches, and enjoy meeting more of the kind people and tasting more of the delicious food. Each evening, I enjoyed a vegetarian dinner that consisted of fresh, lightly stir-fried vegetables and tofu served with slices of freshly grilled eggplant slices, and a cone of white rice. The meal sat on a banana leaf. Alongside the dish sat a bowl of soy sauce with slices of fresh, yellow peppers floating within; the peppers subtly burn the crap out of anyone who will try them. The heat is addictive. Bali is cool. I will have to pray my way back! Vishnu. Waves. Biking. And Rice.
And so, I prepare to leave this part of the world but two last days await: one in Singapore where I have met (and will say goodbye to) amazing colleagues in this 21st Century city that hums along on the other side of my expanding universe; the final day will be a quick in and out of Hong Kong.