Last Words From Bali

Wow! What a lot we have done since the last time I wrote. I’ll try to keep it condensed so as not to miss sharing any of our experiences.

First, let me share with you a number of the beautifully set temples and historical sites that we visited on our last several days in Bali.

Ulu Danu Beretan is one of the most popular temples visited by tourists, and is a classic postcard image of Bali: the main Meru tower of the temple is on a small island in the mountain lake Beratan. At this site, it was very interesting to see a Buddhist stupa contained within the main complex of the Hindu temple. As well, just down the road was a very busy mosque. This area was quite busy since we went on a Sunday, when plenty of local people head out to the mountains along with the tourist traffic, and the last several kilometres traffic was moving about the same as walking speed.

Taman Ayun is another temple in a wonderful setting. This temple is one of the six royal temples of Bali, and is surrounded by a large moat. The inner section has several many Meru towers.

Tanah Lot means land in the sea. It’s a temple built on a point of land in the Indian Ocean that becomes an island at high tide. This is a very, very popular spot with tourists and it was obvious that we were in a different target audience when we arrived at the parking lot, and not only was it filled with shops, the restrooms accepted Alipay as a method of payment… Not that the throngs of people detracted from the experience. It’s obvious that it’s popular for a reason: majestic setting on the sea and generally wonderful sunsets. Unfortunately, like the sunrise hike, the weather foiled us for the sunset and the last 1/3 of the sun’s fall to the sea was masked by a thick, distant cloud. That’s OK though, as when it became apparent we’d already seen the best of it, we got to beat the huge rush out of the parking area.

Elephant Cave Temple (Goa Gajah) is just outside of Ubud and we arrived early in the morning when there was almost no one around. One of the chambers of the temple is inside an ancient cave with an amazing entry gate – and it’s OK to go inside the T shaped cave! The cave wasn’t the only cool thing about this temple – the lush jungle setting was sublime.

Yeh Pulu was a short stop not visited much by tourists – although we paid for tickets, there was no one checking them at the entry gate like everywhere else, and we only saw one other person on our walk, which was a lady placing offerings in the temple. She also offered us a blessing 🙂 The attraction at this site is a mural carved into the rock wall close to 1000 years ago with rudimentary stone tools, depicting typical jungle life in those days. It’s a shame that there aren’t many written records of Balinese history from long ago, as it would be interesting to read first hand accounts of life in those times. We can only imagine by looking at stories like this…

A couple hundred stairs brings you down to Gunung Kawi, hidden in a deep valley in the verdant rainforest. Amazingly, there are enormous statues, figures, and chambers carved in the valley walls about 900 years ago by hand, with the temple buildings in the middle. Down in here makes one wonder how it’s possible to be on the same planet as the wide open prairie of Alberta. We saw a new building being constructed in here with the finishing using the same volcanic rock as all of the other temples on the island. Very interesting to see the skilled tradesmen doing almost everything by hand and (unprotected) eyeball.

Around 500 steps (37 floors, according to my phone) down a well constructed path brings you to a secluded rainforest valley where you feel like you’re miles away from anywhere. Only the sounds of the rushing water of Nungnug Waterfall fill your ears as you get closer, but you can’t actually see it until you’re only a few steps away. Not many tourists down here, maybe 30 people in total. It’s somewhat remote and the sweltering hike back up the stairs deters a lot of people, but it was certainly worth the visit.

Campuhan Ridge Walk is a short walk from the town of Ubud. It’s one of the few paths that is motorbike free, as stairs are needed to access the path. It’s absolutely worth it to do this, especially at sunrise when I did it – sunset is probably awesome too. The walk takes you on a ridge above the Campuhan River which runs through the middle of Ubud. There’s a busy, well developed road on one side and the rice fields that we were staying in on the other, but there were so many places where you couldn’t see anything at all other than trees and the sky. From where we stayed, the walk to the trailhead is through the wonderful tree tunnel on Ubud’s main street.

I was a bit unsure of how the weather would be when we were first planning this trip. The Northern Winter season is when Bali is in monsoon – the wet season, and April is the transition month. If you looked at the forecast below you’d think we were hiding under umbrellas or quacking every day – nope! At our place it only sprinkled lightly a couple of times, not even worth getting an umbrella out, and we did encounter one thunderstorm in the mountains which was a real tropical downpour, but this only lasted about 20 minutes.

The guesthouse that we stayed at in Ubud was just awesome. It’s a 2.5 level house constructed entirely from local materials, has windows and big doors for natural air conditioning, and an amazing outdoor bathroom in the rear. The front porch and second level balcony was surrounded by greenery, flowers, views of the rice field, and the constant bubbling of water. It was an extremely peaceful place to unwind. The level of detail inside on the woodwork, and again, the setting, were simply wonderful. The Jalan “main street” of the Subak was nearing the developed end – very narrow north of this – and there were many people that stopped to take photos of the place as they walked by. Although we did the 20 minute walk to town many, many times, it was such a relaxing outing. The northern part, furthest from town, runs through a depressed gully several metres below the coconut tree lined rice fields, with water gurgling on both sides of you. The southern part contains many interesting shops and wonderful warungs and full service restaurants. I think our favorite was Cafe Pomegranate. The staff on site were friendly, helpful, and took great care of us. Wayan, officially the housekeeper, but I think the woman-in-charge who seemed to take care of just about everything, prepared a great breakfast every morning, and Made, the gardener and de-facto shuttle driver really enjoyed having Elinka onboard for her new favorite activity – motorbike ride. We met some great people from all over the world during our stay, including a family from Vancouver who had a nearly 5 year old daughter that hit it off with Elinka for coloring, toys, and splashy time in the pool for the last couple of days.

We visted a traditional market in Ubud a couple of times. This is not like the main Ubud market, which generally had knick knacks, soft goods, and touristy type stuff. The traditional market has all of the fresh food that you could need, particularly produce brought down from the hills early every morning, as well as ready to eat cooked foods. We sampled a number of local fruits, baked goods, and desserts, like Klepon (rice flour, cococunt and brown sugar ball). Even though there was a ton of food, including fresh fish, poultry, and meat, the market didn’t smell at all unlike some other markets we’ve been to in developing countries.

One afternoon we paid a visit to a local painting school. This school is set up to keep young people interested in the local style of Keliki painting. It was really unbelievable to see the level of detail in the paintings, from kids as young as 10 years old. Some of the larger paintings take up to a year to create. No way I’d be able to do anything like that! Of course we purchased one of the students’ paintings as a unique souvenir of this visit.

Wayan, our housekeeper at The Rice Joglo, is an amazing cook and offers cooking classes at the guesthouse if you so desire. We decided to do this one evening, with a meal of bean salad, sampal, Balinese chicken satay (ground chicken with spices, not cubes), grilled chicken, and sticky rice pudding. I’m not sure if we will be able to duplicate the deliciousness at home but Granny has her notes so we will certainly try!

One of the most unique experiences on our whole trip was being invited to our driver, tour guide, and new friend Made’s home for his birthday on our last evening in Bali! He and his family live in a neighbouring village to Ubud, about a 25 minute drive from our pickup point. I don’t think you’re going to get this kind of experience on too many trips. We got to see how a traditional Balinese compound is set up – basically all of the common areas are outdoors in the center, with different buildings for sleeping, cooking, and bathing. In the back of the property is the family temple which is probably the most important part of the compound for the Balinese. In Balinese culture, when a woman marries, the custom is to move to the husband’s home and in with his parents. Made’s mother had made beautiful offerings and was blessing the property. We couldn’t speak the same language as her but it was easy to tell that she was a very caring person. We also met Made’s wife and 4.5 year old son, and a number of his other family members – his uncle picked us up and his cousin dropped us off at the end of the evening. He had a ton of friends and family over for the occasion, which I think is usual in these parts, and we got to help with a very small part of making the enormous spread of food for dinner. We tried our hand at making Balinese chicken satay on lemongrass skewers, which have extra flavour rather than just using bamboo, but it’s a lot harder than it looks! With the appropriate amount of fresh pressed coconut oil in the meat mix to keep from burning over hot coals, the lemongrass gets really slippery!! Made’s wife made a classic black forest cake for dessert, and the food aside, what can I say other than what a unique, authentic, and wonderful experience to help our new friend celebrate his birthday in their traditional way.

This morning we packed up our things and took the last walk down the Jalan Subak Sok Wayah to the main road of Ubud. The places and scenery aside, we could all learn a a thing or two from what we could see in Balinese going about their daily life. By and large, we could see that everyone that we encountered was relaxed, focused on living in peace and harmony, had a strong work ethic, and kept their faith, family, and friends at the forefront of everything they did. In the city I’m sure it’s a bit different, but not out here. One of the many gems of this wonderful world that we live in.

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