The Reason People Love Bali

Trip Start Jan 15, 2005
Trip End Apr 22, 2005

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Tuesday, February 22, 2005

I've discovered the reason that people love Bali, aside from the knock off handbags... it's everything outside of Kuta. Frankly, I was disappointed arriving here and walking around because this is Bali and I had high expectations. I've discovered the places that charm you into obsession.

I booked a day tour to the northern part of Bali to see the black sand beach of Lovina (black sand sounds glamorous, but in reality it's just unbearably hot!) and the beautiful temple on the lake. The bus ride was spectacular once we escaped the traffic of Kuta. The rice paddies spread over rolling hills with the huge volcano in the background. The Ulun Danu Bratan Temple is situated right on the edge of a perfectly still lake surrounded by steep hills. It was full of people making offerings and seeming to socialize with each other and the tranquility of the place was profound. We stopped to see more monkeys in the monkey jungle and these were even more tame than the ones at Uluwatu. They would come up and take the fruit right from your hand. Next we stopped at a natural hot spring bath and went for a swim. The water smelled slightly of sulfur and had a green tint from all of the minerals in it. The baths themselves were built for tourists, but were beautiful nonetheless with stone lion heads that spit the hot water from the hottest pool down to the main pool. Finally we stopped at the Gigit waterfall, and after braving the mile long walk down the path lined with vendors calling out from their stalls (and no I do not want another sarong!) the waterfall was spectacular. It's like something out of Jurassic Park with high cliffs on either side covered in tropical vegetation and the foaming white water falling in a narrow band down from the heights - amazing. After the day tour the return to Kuta was bearable and my faith in Bali was restored. I was looking forward to Ubud.

To get to Ubud there are tours you can book of course, but I decided instead to hire a driver because there are several towns along the way that are famous for their handiwork. One is famous for batik, which is basically a washable painting on fabric, another for woodcarving, another for stone carving, painting and one for their silversmiths. I'll give you one guess which one I spent the most time in... So after some confusing phone calls I arranged a recommended taxi driver to pick me up and decided to spend the night in Ubud as well.

We set off early in the morning after I had finished my free breakfast of banana pancakes which are actually more like crepes and white coffee (coffee with condensed milk - no need for sugar). The villages were amazing. I watched the silversmith make a bracelet just like one that I bought and I was in awe of how labor-intensive it is. I met the batik artist whose work was beautiful, and saw how he outlines the design in pencil first and then basically fills in the design with the colors one color at a time until it's finished. There were two woodcarvers - one who does the rough work getting the basic shape, and one who does the details. The work they produced was fantastic and if it weren't heavy and potentially breakable I'd have been all over it. The Balinese paintings are so interesting and unique - always depicting some of the myth and everyday life of Bali.

Naturally I enjoyed the morning of shopping and was looking forward to lunch in Ubud. I ate at a place surrounded by rice paddies with ducks swimming in them, and the food in Ubud is varied and fantastic. I think I had the best tempeh I've ever eaten at a little vegetarian cafe on the main street. After lunch I wanted to see the Neka Art Museum which is a bit outside of Ubud, and though it's small I could have spent all afternoon there. Much of the art is contemporary, some is abstract, but all of it is beautiful and very Balinese-inspired. The museum itself is set in a series of small pavilions and I've never before been in a museum where there are geckos on the walls next to the art and the windows actually open to the outside where you can appreciate its hilltop location. Very cool. Had a chill night, saw a dance at the palace and stayed in the guesthouse of a Balinese home.

When I come back to Bali, I may stay in Kuta for a weekend, but then I'm off to the interior of Bali and to some of the quieter beaches - amazing!
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