Serene, beautiful, mysterious, soothing to the soul, nourishing to the spirit — I love Bali. I was enthralled with this special island during a visit in 2012 and thrilled to return this past winter following our adventures in Myanmar. (For Myanmar posts, scroll down column on right to list of Recent Posts.)
We –Vino Roberto (VR) my husband no longer BB of bicycle fame — and I went back to the bit of paradise we discovered on that first Bali visit, the Tanah Merah resort just 20 minutes from Ubud, a funky, artsy town in the hills. (see previous posts ”High on Bali,” Jan. 28, 2012, and “A dentist and His Jungle Haven ,“ Feb. 14, 2012).
Tanah Merah is the perfect place to chill out and soak in the seductive Bali ambience surrounded by a lush tropical landscape, statues of Hindu gods and spirits, exotic flora and fauna, a friendly and helpful staff, plus a spacious and luxurious room furnished with island antiques.
During our 10-day stay we embarked on a few excursions – to temples, a nature hike, Balinese dance performances, and, for me a fabulous cooking course. We also witnessed an amazing cremation ceremony.
“I like the atmosphere in Bali,” Olga Jafai, a Dutch woman who has lived in Bali for 40 years, told me. “The people live very close to God… or several gods.” Religion, a form of Hinduism different than that practiced in India, is interwoven with everyday life in Bali. In addition to the three main manifestations of God (Siwa, Wisnu and Brahma), there are other gods and spirits. Every house has shrines and/or a temple with statues of gods and spirits. The Balinese treat the many unseen spirits of the land as honored guests with daily offerings, usually small banana leaf baskets with flower petals, rice and other gifts, placed at the base of the statues, as well as at the base of trees which also have a spirit, every day. Sarongs are often wrapped around the statues and trees to protect the spirits. At Tanah Merah, the statues and trees are faithfully cared for with fresh offerings every morning.
Bali has numerous grand temples and holy places , fascinating places to visit. On our previous visit, we went to the Besakih temple in East Bali, a huge complex and the “mother” of all temples. This time we visited Tirta Empal with its holy bathing pools in Tampaksiring. Mind boggling: A pool crowded with clothed worshippers, all immersed in the waist deep water, dutifully following one another around the pool to the side with spouts spewing water. The object is to put your head under the spout, a purification ritual….never mind sanitation.
The cremation ceremony we witnessed in Ubud was yet another intriguing ritual. The deceased, I learned, was someone important , hence a major ceremony. A procession through the town with the usual loud Balinese sounds, lots of drums and cymbals, preceded a huge fire.
The crowd of both tourists with cameras and locals decked out in their finest followed several men whose shoulders supported a pier on which a replica of a large black bull stood. Inside the bull were the deceased’s possessions. The burning of the body would take place at another time.
At the crowded cremation site, the bull was raised to a large flower-decorated platform. More music (sounds), louder and louder, until the beast was set afire and rapidly engulfed in flames. Quite a spectacle to bid farewell to the dead man’s treasures!
Unfortunately our early February visit to Bali coincided with the rainy season. We encountered some rainstorms, but mainly just cloudy, steamy days. Not great weather for a bike excursion, so instead we signed up for a nature hike (the hike from hell).
Idewa Nyoman Gede Rai, our trusty guide, led us down paths bordered by dense tropical brush. “Don’t touch the green plants,” he warned. Later he told us the vegetation is home to green snakes, cobra and pythons. “But I don’t tell people that. They will be afraid.” He did show us an enormous spider, which, he said, is good to eat if you have a urinary infection. We saw green lizards which you should eat if you have cancer.
The hike led through flooded rice paddies. We followed him, gingerly trying to keep our feet on the skinny wooden planks alongside rows of rice — very tricky. Most of the slippery planks were covered in growth and or water. I fell twice. The humidity was wretched. I was miserable. “How much longer?” I kept asking.
After the challenge of the rice paddy trek, we drove to a beach with black sand where surfers were chasing waves. He rewarded us with fresh coconut milk, and demonstrated how to drink the liquid from the coconuts. It must take practice. I got a face full of sticky coconut juice.
My favorite part of this Bali visit was the half-day Paon Bali Cooking Class which was much more than chopping, dicing and stir frying. Along with these kitchen tasks and learning about tasty Balinese cuisine, the course is an enriching introduction to Balinese life and customs.
The course begins at Ubud’s bustling market where everything from clothing to souvenir items to all manner of fruits and vegetables is for sale. Our class, five other women and I, zeroed in on the latter. Women sit on the ground with their produce spread out on blankets. Others have stands to display their merchandise. It is crowded, chaotic – and fascinating. Our guide made purchases and let us sample common Bali fruits, most unknown to us; mangosteen, durian, jackfruit, hairy fruit (rambutan).
The course was held at the home of Ni Luh Made Puspawati, who asked to be called Puspa, and her husband, Wayan Subawa . Wayan explained the layout of a Balinese home (several structures) before ushering us to the outdoor kitchen overlooking the jungle where Puspa, our effervescent and ever smiling teacher, and several assistants took over. We would prepare Balinese – not Indonesian – dishes, Puspa, explained. Bali is one of 13,466 islands that make up the Indonesian archipelago. Its cuisine is influenced by both China and India. A typical meal consists of many different dishes, always accompanied by rice. The food is pungent and spicy enriched with the flavors of fresh ginger, raw chilies, shrimp paste, palm sugar and tamarind.
Balinese dance performances are popular for tourists with several venues in Ubud offering the shows. Most illustrate ancient stories often involving evil spirits played by dancers who wear frightful masks. Some feature graceful young women wearing beautiful costumes. We enjoyed two performances. The Fire Dance, with the lead performer dancing barefoot atop fire, was incredible.
“If you live in Bali, you don’t want to live anyplace else,” said Jafai, the Dutch resident of the island. If you visit, you will want to return, again and again (For more on the cooking course, see my article on Travel Squire: http://travelsquire.com/balinese-cooking-class/
See below for more Bali photos. Comments welcome and appreciated. Today’s Taste (top right) features a recipe for Lemony Lemon Brownies –different, delicious and perfect for a picnic dessert. Don’t miss future posts and recipes. Sign up, top right, to become a Tales and Travel follower.
Tanah Merah Resort and Gallery, www.tanahmerahbali.com
Paon Bali Cooking Class, www.paon-bali.com
Ubud restaurants we can recommend:
Café des Artistes, www.cafedesartistesbali.com
Casa Luna, www.casalunabali.com
En route to cooking class, we visited a school where kids were happy to pose for photos.,