The Real Bali

Although Lois mentioned that we are staying in Abiansemal, that is actually the name of the district our village is in.   The name of our village is Taman.  Much of the tourist action in Bali is on the southern beaches in towns like Kuta, Bali’s Cancun.   Ubud is farther inland; it is often said to be the cultural center of Bali.  It is where tourists go to see the “real Bali,” although the popularity of Eat, Pray, Love has turned it into a rather congested and touristy town.  Ubud is charming, but it is no longer quite the real Bali.  Taman, our home for the month, is without a doubt the real Bali.   It’s about a half-hour’s drive from Ubud.  We are the only tamu (tourist guests) in the entire village.  When people (especially children) see us, they are clearly startled, but usually delighted.  The Balinese are among the most friendly and curious people we’ve encountered in all of our travels.  Passing Balinese strangers sometimes stop on their motor scooters just to say hello, perhaps the only English word they know – because it also has the same meaning in Balinese.  Giggling children approach us shyly, working up the courage to greet us with “Good morning” whether it is day or night.  During village social gatherings, Lois is often surrounded by laughing children.

Her explanation is that they are fascinated by her blonde hair.

Bali Babe

Our Balinese friend Blue disagreed.  He said it was because Lois is a person who is bursting with love, and children see this right away.

As Lois mentioned in an earlier post, our hosts have said to us that there are no rules in Bali, and this seems to apply particularly to driving.  Well, technically there is a rule about keeping toward the left side of the road, but on many occasions we’ve been in cars in which oncoming motor scooters were passing us both on the right and the left.  Cars and motor scooters crowd side-by-side on the roadway, slipping past each other on either side with a friendly honk.  Unlike Italy and Ireland, they generally keep their speeds relatively slow, but being in a car in Bali (particularly in the city) feels a bit like being in the middle of a brisk cattle drive.  So, in the interest of sanity and the safety of everyone concerned, we’ve opted to have a driver take us wherever we need to go.

Although cars fill their tanks at gas stations, the motor scooters almost never do this.  Their gas is sold in one-liter bottles lined up in stands outside of tiny roadside stores (wahrungs) that also sell a few groceries and sundries.

Petrol

Lois mentioned in a recent post that one of our chauffeurs is Made (Mahday), who drives us about in his VW Thing convertible.  Volkswagen stopped making the Thing around 30 years ago.  Made was confused when I asked where he finds parts for it.  My guess is that they mostly don’t bother with parts, because I noticed that nothing on Made’s dashboard works – including the speedometer, odometer, and fuel gauge.  Once on our way into Ubud the Thing sputtered and died, rolling right up to a little wahrung.  Made just got out of the Thing, strolled over and got a bottle of yellow firewater, poured it into the tank with a funnel, and we were on our way.  What the hell do you need a fuel gauge for?

When you move out away from Ubud to the smaller villages like Taman, traffic does thin out, but you start seeing bizarre things.  At one point I noticed a giant haystack careening toward me on the roadway – until it got closer, revealing two wheels and a barely visible man riding in the middle of the foliage…. along with his toddler and wife.   In Bali motor scooters are for hauling.  In the past two weeks these are some of the things I’ve seen being carried on motorscooters: bushels of rice, bales of hay, 20-foot long bamboo poles, large loads of firewood, huge temple offerings, mobile grocery stands, two dozen ducks, a large (live) goat, a large (live) pig, and a family of five humans (honest!), No worries, though; the drivers are really responsible.  Although there doesn’t seem to be any official minimum age for riding a motor scooter on the village roads, I haven’t seen anyone driving a motor scooter who was under six or so.

Balinese Logging Truck

Recycling – Balinese Style

Actually many Balinese do walk from place to place in the village, but they tend to carry something with them.

Women often carry these items hands free.

If you’re going to stay in the real Bali, your neighbors will include critters of all sorts.   Each family compound has at least one dog.  Our host family’s dog is named Feedo (spelled Fido).   He’s a little 3-month-old rascal who likes to chase cats and chickens and nibble on our toes.  Families in small villages in Bali often raise their own domestic animals.  Roosters are everywhere in Bali because of the popularity of cock-fighting.  So rooster reveille sounds throughout the village (and all over Bali) at around a half hour before dawn.  Oddly enough, at around the stroke of midnight I often hear several woozy rounds of rooster crowing.  Apparently they like to party.  The second morning here I was pretty sure I heard elephants trumpeting all over the neighborhood, but it was just pigs, some of whom are almost the size of elephants.  Speaking of elephant-sized animals, here is a photo of the arachnid guarding the approach to our door.  We’ve actually grown very fond of him.

Houses in the tropics are not insulated or sealed, but are made with openings to enhance air flow – which would also enhance bug flow if it weren’t for the geckos and chk-chks that patrol every home interior.  In Bali you do have to become friends with lizards on the ceiling.  The sound GECK-O…..GECK-0 is echoing through the compound as I write these words.

Gecko

After a rain the bullfrogs and crickets add their voices to the chorus.  All of this is mixed together most evenings with human sounds.  Balinese Hindu chanting and temple gamelon percussion drifts through the forest from neighboring village temples almost every evening.

If we venture about a half-mile away from the family compound to the jungle adjacent to the river Agung, we also see and hear monkeys, as Lois mentioned in a recent post.  Since monkeys are sacred animals to the Balinese, we often see them in temple compounds as well.  They’re not especially frightened of their slow and clumsy human relations.  The monkeys in one area are famous for stealing small items set down by humans (like sunglasses) and ransoming them for bananas.  I saw one macaque stage a sneak attack on a dog when it wasn’t looking; the dog deserved it.

Our host Wayan is philosophically opposed to large-scale tourism in which hotel chains buy up scenic Balinese rice fields, river banks and ocean front, causing great environmental damage and congestion that will ultimately cause Bali to become a less attractive place to visit.  This is already happening across the river from Taman in Ubud.  Wayan is passionate about promoting what he calls sustainable tourism.  The lifeblood of Bali’s economy is tourism, but he favors a grass-roots, downsized approach in which individual families are encouraged to host tamu in small bed-and-breakfast environments, giving guests an opportunity to see the real Bali, as opposed to a fabricated resort environment.   Wayan and Ayu arrange almost all of our excursions.  In addition to being our host, Wayan has been a local tour guide for 20 years.

Wayan

When we wanted to go to the beach, he arranged for us to go to a beautiful “secret” beach he knows that has few tourists and is serviced by small local wahrungs and restaurants rather than large chains.

Secret Beach

Rather than send us to Ubud to do our shopping, Ayu introduced us to the village’s morning market.

Ayu and Lois at Morning Market

Morning Market

Wayan and his friend Blue have taken us to beautiful waterfalls where the visitors are almost entirely Balinese.

We’ve visited palaces and spectacular temples set by the sea or in the mountains, some of which are far away from the tourist routes.

Gangga Water Palace — once the palace of the royal family of Bali

Pura Melanting

Malanting Temple

Temple Ulan Danu

Although there are not many Buddhist communities in Bali, Wayan also brought us to a beautiful Buddhist monastery.

Guarding the Buddhist monastery

Reclining Buddha

Wayan especially enjoys taking us on walks through the rice fields.  Balinese rice fields are astonishingly beautiful.

As often as not, we encounter people washing their clothes or bathing in the canals that irrigate the rice fields.  The older ones sometimes try to cover up, more to accommodate our sensitivities than their own.  The kids don’t seem to care.

As part of a two-day tour of the north and west parts of Bali, Wayan took us to a fishing village in which the fishing fleet looks like this.

He knows where to find the best sunsets,

Looking west from the Bali coast toward volcano in Java

the most amazing views,

and cool trees.

Wayan loves gardens; in fact, the courtyard of his own family compound is a beautiful garden.  On one trip, we stopped at this ridge-top garden overlooking spectacular terraced rice fields.

By the way, on our tour of the northwest Wayan told us we might be able to see some flying foxes.   We saw several.

Flying Fox

I believe this fox hybridized with a pterodactyl.  Although Wayan insisted that they were harmless, my hand kept moving involuntarily toward my jugular.

Wayan also took us on a tour of northeast Bali where we saw the two active volcanoes on the island.

Mt. Batur — Volcano

Lake in the crater at the base of Mt. Batur

Mt. Agung

Mount Agung last erupted in 1963.  It is considered to be the home of the gods.

Many of these locations are not frequented by the big tour operators; they’re often not even mentioned in respected alternative travel sources like Lonely Planet.

As part of their plan to facilitate sustainable tourism, Wayan and Ayu are now adding two more guest cottages to their family compound; they are urging their village neighbors to do the same sort of thing.  Bali needs tourism.  Wayan and Ayu just want more people to have access to the kind of tourism that supports residents of the village and integrates tourists into village activities, rather than the kind that mainly offers the experience of a large hotel complex and highly commercialized and inauthentic activities.  It would be absurd to claim that Lois and I are living like real Balinese.  We are among the few people in this village who have hot water; we get to sleep in late; all of our meals are prepared for us; and whatever we need is provided.  After all, we are still tamu, but we are getting to see the authentic Bali.  It’s a beautiful and amazing opportunity.

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3 thoughts on “The Real Bali

  1. Great post and pictures as usual, George! I don’t think I’ve ever seen Mom so tan before! It seems like you guys are having a great time, and probably even better now that you know Obama is president! 😀 Love you!

    • Yes, your Mom is as tan as I’ve ever seen her, and we’re having an amazing time. The news about Obama was wonderful. Your mom was having a 5-hour spa treatment in Ubud (pedicure, manicure, facial, massage, body scrub, flower-petal bath, hair rejuvenation, and karma analysis that determined she is actually an incarnation of the goddess Saraswati) while I found a little bar where election returns were coming in on CNN. Minnesota, Michigan, Ohio, New Mexico, Oregon, Virginia, then Florida — all for Obama. An electoral thumping. Every Balinese and every American I talked to in Bali was pulling for Obama. I was in heaven. Obama is my president, and I’m married to a goddess (I always suspected as much). What more could a man ask for?

  2. I have to agree with Blue, kids are attracted to Lois because she is bursting with love. You can see it in her smile. Wayan sounds like a killer guide. The family seems so sweet. I love the fabrics, Lois’ skirt is awesome! Love the writing! I hope Bali stays beautiful!

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