The summer seems to have flown by and my blog’s been neglected of late. Mainly this is due to a crazily busy time at work (even blogging has to take a back seat when you’re exhausted), but I’ve also been travelling.
For my globetrotting I have my daughter to thank. She’s been volunteering in Borneo all summer having recently left school. When her end-of-trip travel plans fell through she was looking for company: “Help, Dad … I want to go to Bali. Can you come with me?“.
Obviously, it didn’t take too long to answer that question. Flights were hastily-arranged, time booked off work, travel options researched and bookings made.
Bali’s a long way from Scotland (around 20 hours flying time, to be precise). It’s a world away in many senses: climate, culture, people, food and landscape. It was also a reminder that travel has that endless capacity to instantly ‘change the channel’, switching off one place only to immediately find yourself immersed in a completely new environment.
I found it fascinating. The stresses of work were soon forgotten and I had so much to catch up with my daughter about, all in culture that’s so open and welcoming to visitors.
Although I’ve travelled in Asia before I’d never been to Bali, a smallish island within the Indonesian archipelago. Interestingly from a Scottish perspective, Bali’s population is marginally less than Scotland’s (at 4 million) but its population density is ten times ours. It’s also a comparatively ‘young’ population. So it’s a busy place, full of young and energetic people whose economy is growing like topsy.
If you’ve never visited Bali then hopefully my snapshots of the country will whet your appetite. If you know the country well, then my photos should be very familiar. I’ve selected some of my favourite photos, together with some text to set them in context. Ayo pergi!
Boats and beaches
Mention Bali and many people first think of beaches. It really is a paradise island, blessed with warm water, weather and people. From the world class surfing beaches of Ulu Watu and Padang Padang in the south to the idyllic sandy crescents of the east or north coast, Bali has it all.
We spent a couple of days relaxing at Seminyak before finishing up our trip with an afternoon snorkelling at Padangbai.
Rice has been cultivated in Bali for centuries. We eat a lot of white rice, and occasionally brown, but have you ever tried red, yellow or black rice?
Rice is served at any time of the day; in fact, anything not served with rice is considered a jaja (snack). The classic Balinese plate of nasi campur has a portion of steamed rice in the middle of the bowl with a variety of meat, seafood or vegetables around the outside, together with a spicy sambal. Delicious!
At Jatiluwih you can see how rice has been grown over many centuries. Ribbons of curving terraces adorn the sloping hillsides with as many shades of green as you can imagine. This is a Unesco-recognised site, where the fascinating system of subak ensures that water equally irrigates the terraces at the foot of the slope as those at the top. Bamboo channels of water trickle constantly as you thread your way in between the narrow terraces.
There are estimated to be 10,000 temples in Bali. You see them everywhere, from simple shrines to impressive, ancient sites. In fact, every home has its own temple, every village has its own temple and then there are more elaborate temples that are the focus for important religious ceremonies.
We were lucky enough to visit Pura Ulun Danu Beraton on a morning when a significant ceremony was taking place, involving several hundred worshippers in traditional dress. It was essentially a service of remembrance; those attending had all recently buried family members and the ceremony was taking place to commit their souls to god.
In Bali 85% of people are Hindu, in contrast to the Muslim majority elsewhere in Indonesia. At each home-temple Balinese families make a daily offering. This can literally be anything that you offer to god as a blessing: flowers, coloured paper, food and such like.
These simple shrines are also to be found in the corner of restaurants, outside shops and businesses and in public places. You’ll see simple square trays made from banana leaves left on the pavement – and need to tread carefully to avoid stepping on them.
Just as rice plays a central part in Balinese culture, so bamboo is ubiquitous. It grows freely on roadsides, is widely used as a building material and is now recognised as a significant renewable resource (bamboo straws are fast replacing the polluting plastic variety).
We loved the entrance to the W Resort in Seminyak, where we splurged for our first two days of down-time beside the beach. A vibrant green bamboo colonnade provides an incredibly dramatic entrance, providing that ultimate separation between the hustle-and-bustle of the narrow, traffic-choked streets and the serene luxury of a 5-star resort.
In every country around the world, markets are the go-to place to observe ‘real life’ at work. We visited the combined fish, meat and vegetable market at Jimbaran early one morning as a prelude to an Indonesian cooking class.
Locals bartered and noisily chattered amid scooters, cats, boats and outboard motors. From fresh lemongrass, aromatic ginger and rolls of banana leaves to coconuts being pulped, chickens being prepared and the most amazing variety of fresh fish and seafood being carried from boats up the beach, it was all on view.
Have you visited Bali? What sums up the Balinese culture and way of life to you?
In Part 2 of this post I’ll share another six snapshots of Bali, including some 21st Century aspects of Bali’s culture.