Bali is turning out to be everything I expected from a lush, tropical paradise. The weather is hot, there are periodical monsoon rainstorms, and beauty abounds everywhere I look.
All around me is green. The terraced rice paddies in the country-side are a green so vibrant and fresh that they exude hope for a successful crop. The dark green of the frangipani trees contrasts with its pale, creamy, white and pink flowers that have a scent of tropical heaven. They are my favorite flower in the world and when I look at them I am reminded of the incredible beauty and grace of Asian women. The place we are staying in Ubud is typical of a Balinese guesthouse…the bamboo bungalows are set in a lush garden of lilies, palm trees, hibiscus and a thousand other tropical plants I can’t name. It really is like a tropical paradise.
The people of Bali are very friendly. The owner of the guesthouse, the chef/cook of the restaurant, the tour guide on the bike tour all took the time to chat with us and to tell us about their piece of this great island. Bali is an easy place to get lost on as we discovered as we took a three day road trip on a scooter. There are roads and lanes criss-crossing the entire island and the maps are not very reliable. We spent a good amount of time in the middle of nowhere wondering where we were and, without fail, every time we stopped to try to figure out the map someone would stop and cheerfully ask us where we were going and help us figure it out. We scootered up some pretty remote roads and everywhere we went people smiled huge smiles at us and children shouted hello. We certainly felt welcome.
There are temples everywhere on Bali…they lend an ethereal feel to the island. Every village has at least three temples, every family compound has one and even the rice paddies have temples to appease the gods. Religion is a large part of life with offerings given twice daily to both gods and demons and various ceremonies throughout the year to celebrate milestones or to ward off evilness. The graceful movements of the women as they give the daily offerings is enchanting…placing the offering of rice and flowers, sprinkling the holy water, and wafting the incense upwards to call the gods…all scripted movements that can’t help but to appease the gods.
And then there is the music. In the evenings as we sit on the veranda the faint sound of Gamelan music wafts over the rice paddies providing the perfect accompaniment to the fading daylight. A few nights ago we saw a Kecak performance with its chorus of 50 men chanting and providing the backdrop for the amazing dance depicting the Hindu story of Ramayana. The sound of the men chanting and the sight of the exacting movements of the women dancing was so stunning that it brought tears to my eyes.
There are a couple of things about Bali that are not so enchanting.
.There is garbage everywhere. Beside the streets, in the paths through the rice paddies, on the beaches…everywhere. I think leaving garbage everywhere comes from a time when all packaging really was disposable and degradable. The advent of plastic packaging now means that the garbage just stays around forever and the behavior has not changed perhaps because the infrastructure for change is not here yet. This is certainly not the first country where we have noticed garbage everywhere (other than Germany I think every country we have visited has this same problem) but here it is so noticeable when contrasted with the inherent beauty of the place.
The vendors are unrelenting. In Ubud it’s the taxi drivers, in Lovina it was the souvenir hawkers and massage girls on the beach and at the cremation ceremony we attended it was the sarong sellers. They ask over and over and over again and will not take no for an answer…and then they’ll ask again just in case we have changed our mind. They are very aggressive and will swamp any person showing even the slightest bit of interest. In fact anything other than a direct, and repeated, ‘no’ indicates interest and then they will descend. Again, we have seen hawkers, souvenir sellers and street vendors everywhere but here it seems predatory
The beauty of Bali, and its people, overcome these downsides though and, even though it has rained everyday since we’ve arrived, we still feel very lucky to be here enjoying such a lush, tropical island paradise.