Bali is where I came here for. We stayed in a resort north of Kuta beach on our last night on the island and that?¢‚Ç¨‚Ñ¢s what the translation in the hotel information book said anyway. ?¢‚Ç¨?ìThe experience is where you came to Bali for?¢‚Ç¨¬ù. We love the mistranslations and variations on spelling that frequent the signs and menus. Just because the sign in front of the restaurant says ?¢‚Ç¨?ìtuna fish?¢‚Ç¨¬ù, don?¢‚Ç¨‚Ñ¢t think you?¢‚Ç¨‚Ñ¢re looking at a sandwich with celery and mayo?¢‚Ç¨¬¶ we?¢‚Ç¨‚Ñ¢re talking about a nice piece of grilled tuna steak here. And you?¢‚Ç¨‚Ñ¢ll always see ?¢‚Ç¨?ìshrimps?¢‚Ç¨¬ù on the menu, just to calm you of your fears of getting only one.
There?¢‚Ç¨‚Ñ¢s no misunderstanding the people though. Unfailingly polite, welcoming and handy with a smile, the Balinese set the high standard for conviviality. Our travels around this island brought us into contact with a people bearing up under an onslaught of tourism with a genuine warmth and a remarkable openness to each personal encounter.
The beauty of the people must come from the landscape. The country is a well tended web of rice terraces, corn fields and vegetable gardens, set in the lap of hills and mountains that roll up into the mist like majestic gods. And gods are what they are. The good and sacred deities in this peculiar Hindu-animist hybrid religion of the Balinese are the mountains. The surrounding ocean is the realm of evil. And the small island of the southern coast of Bali that is all limestone is the real bad thing because it appeared with no support from the good volcanic deities. Don?¢‚Ç¨‚Ñ¢t go there without a high limit on your karmic card.
We went up from Ubud, north through the mountains to a lake below Mount Batur, the middle of the three Balinese volcanoes and the only one recently active (Agung in the east blew off back in the sixties). The glassy lake has a very sacred Pura (shrine) where we were fortunate enough to come a across a group of the devout from a local village doing a water blessing ceremony. The shade platform in the outer courtyard held a gamelan orchestra playing a very simple piece of Balinese music, not like the complex microtonal (dissonant to my ear) percussive variety of gamelan that I?¢‚Ç¨‚Ñ¢m most familiar with. This music was almost gentle, and formed a background as sweet as the lake and green hills around the ceremony in progress in the inner courtyard. Men and women in white and yellow sarongs where seated facing the forward shrine and answering the chants of the leader in unison with an extended response. Hands together over their heads.
The proceedings having concluded, they took various articles onto a small boat by the shore. Launching it on the lake, they took aim to gather their water and make their offerings.
Leaving the lake, we drove on through the high ridge above the other lakes by Batur, through a monkey forest and on to the north coast of Bali. Our travels took us to the area of Lovina Beach for three nights where we enjoyed an early morning ride in an outrigger canoe to run with the dolphins and a return after breakfast to snorkel over the fish and the reef.
We saved the best for last by taking a transport van to the Amed region in far eastern Bali. Still only gently brushed by tourism, Amed retains much of the character of a Bali that is passing. Days circle around the fishing rhythms. Early morning and early evening the men motor out on their outriggers to make their daily catches, some with line fishing, some with nets. They pull in a good haul of a silvery sardine variety they call ?¢‚Ç¨?ìneh?¢‚Ç¨¬ù. While we were watching they seemed to be doing quite well, unloading a long net clipped with fish that seemed to flow out of the small outrigger canoe forever. We rented a motor bike to head further east to the very eastern tip of Bali, snorkeling over one of the nicest reefs I?¢‚Ç¨‚Ñ¢ve seen, near an old Japanese wreak that was close enough to the surface to touch.
We rode the motorbike a few more kilometers up the coast, stopping at a remote cliffside shade platform the Balinese call a ?¢‚Ç¨?ìboesco?¢‚Ç¨¬ù to escape the heat. It didn?¢‚Ç¨‚Ñ¢t take long before we were joined first by a Balinese man who traded his very broken English for our scraps of Balinese. Then another young man of about 17 who spoke absolutely no English but was still very interested in Stefanie, and finally we were joined by another woman who needed a break from the load on her head in the heat of the day. They all found my attempts at trying to match the sounds I was hearing from my Balinese tutor highly entertaining.
That was as far as our road went that day and soon the ?¢‚Ç¨?ìboseco?¢‚Ç¨¬ù was disappearing around the curves behind us as headed back to our cottage on the hillside above the sea. Bali vanished likewise below us as we lifted off today for Singapore.