Report from Tomorrow - Vol 35

1USD = S$1.66 (S$1 = 0.580USD)

Bali

In late November, Mary and I spent four days in Bali. We flew there on the Indonesian air carrier, Garuda, which we originally were biased against. But it was S$200 less for each of us and our travel agent, Riduan, assured us, "It would be OK" and it was very OK.

Bali is an island in Indonesia to the east if Java and south of Borneo. For S'poreans, it is gigantic, being 150 times larger than our home island and is home to about 3 million Balinese who practice their own form of Hinduism.

Travel can be so wierd at times. You all have made comments about the date line phenomena where you are a day behind us (well 12-14 hours) and how strange that can be. Well, Bali is just a few hundred miles south of the equator, so while remaining in the same time zone, we flew two hours and jumped from winter in S'pore to summer in Bali.

As you are all aware, Indonesia has been have more than a few problems. Fortunately, none of the violence has shown in Bali. In fact, given the extent that religion is intertwined with everyday Balinese life, violence would be an extraordinary event here. I suppose it's possible, but it seems so unlikely.

The people of Bali were so friendly, cheerful and easy going! The island is blessed and has a thousand plus year history of abundance and an easy life. Hinduism plays a major role in the daily life of every Balinese. While the people are very aware of the Asian crisis and concerned for their country, they remain relatively wealthy compared to their neighbors. Bali, being Hindi in the largest Muslim country in the world, feels a little left out at times and people here seem to be strong Megawati supporters as they see her as fighting for the common people.

Bali is a favorite place for Australians to visit - especially for the beaches. This had little appeal to us, so we wanted to see the country and chose to visit Ubud, an hour drive towards the middle of the island, and a center for various crafts (what a surprise :-). We picked a hotel called the Bali Spirit. Riduan was unsure and after checking it out, assured us it was going to be satisfactory. We didn't have any doubts, but his concern was nice.

Bali Spirit

Despite it's "moderate" label, the Bali Spirt, seemed pretty upscale to us. It had an air condiditoner, which we used once, but the weather while we were there was so pleasant and breezy, we slept under a ceiling fan and even used covers (not something I've done yet in S'pore). Anyway, it as way more than "fine".

The Bali Spirit is set on a fairly steep hillside overlooking a sacred river (I think maybe all rivers here are sacred), which is the daily scene of communal bathing each afternoon. Kids, women and men each have their own areas to bathe. While generally modest, Balinese have no problems bathing in the river.

Our room was in a bungalow of four rooms which you get to along a narrow winding path through lush gardens of tropical bushes, flowers and trees (no handicapped access here). It seemed bewildering the first time when we were led there at night, but after seeing it in the daylight, navigation was no longer a problem.

The room was a large bedroom surrounded by glass (and curtains) with a dressing room in the rear and an outdoor bathroom. No, not an out house, but a bathroom as we know it (shower, sink, stool) set outside in a well protected garden. It was sorta weird to walk outside to take a pee or shower while it's raining, but we quickly took to the idea. We had no TV, no radio, no clock - only a phone that did not ring. A common room had a VCD player where you could go watch movies.

Morning's we'd sit on our porch reading and be surrounded by this lush, varied garden. The hotel was basically empty, so we had it mostly to ourselves (it was booked solid the entire month of December), so we had a most peaceful and intimate setting. Like I said, way more than just "fine".

Ubud

We were very pleased with our choice of Ubud. Ubud is about an hour's drive, on remarkably narrow and winding roads (glad I wasn't driving), into the middle of the island. This is known as an artist area and it seemed every street was lined with shops selling wood carvings, paintings, handmade clothe, batik, and lots of shlock. Sometimes the shop sellers were very agressive and pushy, but it wasn't as bad as we'd expected.

It reminded me of Estes Park in Colorado - completetly overrun with tourist shops. Yes, we were there for some of that, but it was clear that Ubud could accomodate thousands more than were there, and we were glad it was pretty empty. A few minutes walk or drive put you into the country, among the rice fields and nearby villages.

One highlight of our time in Bali was a "Village Trek". We were driven a few minutes into the country and started a slow walk back to Ubud. Our guide, Darwa, explained about the countryside, the Balinese people and village life. Did you know that the banana tree only gives fruit once? The trees must grow like weeds to make bananas so plentiful!

Balinese, whether in Ubud or some tiny village, normally live with their extended families in groups of buildings behind a wall which faces the street. It makes the streets seem closed and there is a somewhat isolated feeling, but makes the housing very private. There are usually four or more sperate buildings. The north and west are for sleeping, the east for ceremonies and south for the kitchen and toilette facilities. The courtyards are filled with small shrines to various Hindu gods/goddesses and demons.