Paradise Bali

Trip Start Oct 20, 2010
1
9
14
Trip End Feb 07, 2011


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Flag of Indonesia  , Bali,
Friday, November 19, 2010

There is a big sign right outside of the airport of Despansar (Bali capital) declare simply “Bali – the Paradise”.  The plane load of tourists (mostly Chinese) probably can testify for that statement.  The driver from Okawati hotel in Ubud  was waiting for us and it took  about 1 hour to drive to the Balinese culture center city.  Okawati was the “pick” of hotels in Ubud by Lonely Planet book. We were awe struck when a smiling receptionist showed us our rooms.  All the ceiling and the wall panels were covered with beautifully hand woven bamboo mats.  On one side of the wall is a exquisite carved stone picture.  The bed and all the furniture were in Balinese style.  The veranda faces a lovely garden and a swimming pool.  At $55 a night, it is better than most 4 or even some 5 star American hotels.  Lonely Planet also commented on how helpful and pleasant their staffs were.  We found that especially true with Gusti - our receptionist .  He has worked for Mrs. Okawati for close to 20 years.  He is an excellent cook and prepared and delivered our breakfast in the morning.  The breakfast consists of fresh fruits (arranged artistically in a flower shape), freshly squeeze juices, eggs in any style you want, toast, homemade yogurt and coffee.  I tried Balinese pancake with banana – it actually is a crepe filled with bananas and it was excellent.  Gusti was very patient and answered every question Ray asked which kept him on our balcony for at least 20 minutes.   The staffs attentiveness made our 4 days stay there very enjoyable. 
Indonesia is a Muslim country but 95% of Balinese are Hindu.  They are devoted followers because every morning they go through this ritual of making offering boxes out of banana leaf ,fresh flowers and rice.  These little boxes are at every door steps, on the streets, on the walk paths, even the steps of stairs.  If I were a Hindu god, then Ubud would be my heaven.  It is just so lovely here.  Our hotel  is right on Monkey Forest road which is the main street in Ubud.  Ubud is a tourist town so you see the usual tourist traps but with a nice touch. When we were walking around the city many locals will hold up a sign “Taxi?” and when we said no, they will hold up a 2nd sign “Maybe tomorrow?”.   You have to laugh at their optimism and good humor.  There are many restaurants on Monkey Forest road.  Some of them have a court yard that boarders right next to pretty rice fields.  Somehow Bali people are able to incorporate natural into their life and backyards.  We went to a Balinese Dance performance at an old temple.  There were several Balance dances and they are all based on legends and stories from Hindu myths.  We saw the one that is Palong Dance.  The customs are glamorously decorated  with gold and red colors and the head dresses is a crown made up fresh flowers.  The dances have a lot of religious overtones.  The first two ladies started out dancing with their eyes closed as in a trance.  The eyes are a very important part of most Balinese dances.  They use the movement of their eyes more than the expression of their faces.  It was quite impressive.
We went for a mountain bike ride with a local Eco tourism company Bali Eco (www.baliecocycling.com ).  The price (including transportation, breakfast, lunch, bike, helmet, English speaking tour guide) was a very reasonable $36 a person.  We started out from Lake Batur – a beautiful volcanic crater lake and rode downhill for about 25 km through country road, rice paddies and small towns.  During the ride, we stopped for a visit at local villager’s home.  This is a fairly large family compound including 4 generations of people. The family temple (in a set of 3) always at the head of compound on the N or E direction. The ceremonial building is where they have celebration for birth, wedding and funeral.  To avoid evil spirits the Balinese baby do not touch the grounds for 3 months after birth.  At 3 months, the priest will come and bless the baby before the baby’s feet are put on the ground.  They also have a ceremony to file the 6 upper front teeth (represent the animalists portion of human) around puberty.  The grandparents, as a respect, have the highest building in the compound.  The other family members have smaller and lower buildings.  Each family will have their own kitchen so the women will not fight.  The Bali family cooks once a day in the morning (at least the rice).  Before they eat, they take some rice with fresh flowers and go around making offers to all the gods.  They dip the flowers in water and sprinkle them around to give blessing to every part of the family compound. The family in general don’t eat their meals together and Balinese basically eat the  same thing (rice, vegetables and some kind of meat) for breakfast, lunch and dinner.  After the morning offering, the family members will drop by the kitchen to eat their meals whenever that is convenient for them.  That is sort of a different family tradition than what we are familiar with.  The family raises pigs (they called it their ATM machine or cash crop), chickens and cows but their main production is bamboo mats.  We watched the family cut out the huge bamboos from their bamboo groves, peel the skins, weave the mat into the finish products.  The old grandma who was peeling the skins showed us how sharp these bamboo skins can be by cutting a piece of paper with one of the shavings.  These bamboo mats are then sold to cities to use as ceiling and wall panels.  Our 2nd stop was at a 500 year old banyan tree where we saw many children sweeping the dirt floor.  They asked us for banana peels to take home to fed their pigs.  We also stopped by a coffee plantation to taste the “World Most Expensive Luwak Coffee” (check out the movie Bucket List and see what Jack Nicholson was drinking if you don’t believe me).  Luwak coffee was obtained from the dropping of the civet cats.  The cat only eats Arabian coffee (smart choice) and after digest the fruit, the seeds (coffee beans) were left in their poop and were collected,  washed and roasted for Luwak coffee.   Due to the difficulty of finding the cat’s droppings, this coffee is valued and sold at premium price worldwide.  We each paid the equivalent of $3 a cup to taste the coffee.  It was pretty good but I don’t think I will get hook on it as Jack Nicholson did.  I also learned that there are “male” and “female” coffee beans.  The female beans contain two seeds while the male has only one seed.  The male coffee tastes stronger and hence commend at higher price.  You never know what pearl of knowledge you will learn by traveling Bali. 
Along the bike route, we  saw beautiful rice terraces that look just like the ones you see on many travel magazine on Bali.  We stopped and tried our hands helping local farmers thrashing rice.  They were laughing at us because we probably lost more grains outside the pad then put it where it should be.  The whole scenery is gorgeous although some of the roads were a little bumpy with lots of pot holes due to the recent large amounts of rainfall they received.  After 25 km, only 5 people were up for the challenge of  riding another 7 km uphill to the restaurant where we would have our lunch.   I can proudly announce that our group of 4 were the brave ones who took up this challenge.  The last part of the ride was more on city streets so there were a lot more traffic whistling around us.  It was a hot and long haul uphill, but after 30 minutes all of us made it to the restaurant and the staff handed us some icy cold face towels.  What a reward that was!  The lunch is buffet style and full of Bali special dishes including the smoke duck, roast chicken, bean curds and our favorite – Cato Cato – a combination of vegetables wrapped in cabbage leaves with a great peanut sauce on top.  We came back to soak our tired bones in the beautiful swimming pool surrounded by tropical plants.  Ray got an hour foot message and I got a full body message from a lady who came to the hotel for about $7 a person.  I don’t presume that life could be any better than this.  Dinner was at a local restaurant with curried fish wrapped in banana leaf and coconut shrimps.  Ray tried the local palm wine (Arak) which was quite strong but he said it tasted good mixed with lime and ice. 
We hired a car to spent a day in Bali visiting sacred places near Ubud.  The driver’s name is Newman (#2 child in his family) and we went to Goa Gajah (Elephant Cave) first.  It is surprisingly cool and very green with tropical plants.  This place was built around 11th century.  The stone sculptures all covered with mosses and bring tranquility into ones soul.  There are water pools with sculptured women and animals.  We bought two fresh coconuts from a local vender who just cut them down earlier and they tasted real good.  The 2nd place we went is Gunnug Kawi – a Sanctuary.  This one is harder to get around because you had to walk down over 100 steps down (of course the pathway was lined with venders selling coconut carvings, sarong, and cold drinks).  We watched a shop lady doing her magic with palm leaves, weaving and cutting to make beautiful boxes for her daily offering.  She is quite dandy with her knife and cuts slits this way and that way and when she open it out, it spreads out like flowering pedals.  She uses a think bamboo stick to stitch everything together.  I think all Bali women learn how to make these kind of containers when they were young girls.  Bali people are very artistic and uses fresh flowers lining everyday ordinary items with beautiful arrangements.  This is what makes Bali the paradise.  The last place we visited is  Seribatu.   Seribatu looks more like a pleasure garden than a sanctuary.  The wall and sculptures are all covered with flower like dark green mosses which I never seen before.  There are also some very unusual and pretty tropical flowers.  What intrigue us most is this small deer- it looks different than any deer we had ever seen.  It has horns and ridge on his face with two tiny canal teeth sticking out of his mouth.  There is a deep fold under his eye and for a second, the fold opens up and make his eye extremely large.  The dominate male is about the size of a medium dog and there are also a mother with her baby and some young males in the next cage.  Ray gave the large male some grass and he started to lick Ray’s hand, must like the salty taste on the hand.   This place is definitely on my “not to miss” visit in Bali.
It is hard but we had to leave Ubud and the Okawati staff.  Maybe I can convince my family to have a reunion at this beautiful place.  Bali is such a amazing spot that I can’t write all our experience in one blog.  I hope you enjoy this segment of our Ten Thousand Mile Trip (we made it over 10,000 miles now!) and come along with us to go snorkeling in Nusa Lembongan. 
 
 
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