We are currently staying in town called Kuta on the south west tip on Bali. Kuta is the nearest town to the airport and has got a bit of a reputation for being rowdy and quite seedy; it's really not the kind of place that we like to be in (the touts are relentless, prostitutes heckle you as they drive past on scooters, people try to rip you off left, right and centre) and we have been feeling a bit down over the last few days to realise that Bali might not be the tropical paradise we were hoping for
. We have also suffered from some massive culture shock since we arrived and I think it's going to take us quite a while to get accustomed to our new life over here. So to help overcome our blues we booked ourselves on to a tour; the tour we decided to do took us out into the rural areas of Bali and away from the tourists towns to see some of the country's temples and rice paddies. As we are slowly starting to learn, nothing is easy in Asia, including booking yourself onto a tour; we basically rang a tour company and hoped that they wouldn't rip us off too badly.
The next day we were up and ready for our 9am pick-up and were just walking down to the front gate of our guest-house when a lovely 4X4 car turned up and a guy jumped out of the passenger seat wearing full Balinese ceremonial dress. "Are you Mr and Mrs Exellsor?" he asked us. Well it turns out that yes, we are indeed Mr and Mr Exellsor; the guy on the phone had got our names wrong but hey at least they turned up so that was a good start to the day. We hopped in the back of the car and then we suddenly realised that this tour had been arranged only for us; we had our own private tour guide, a private driver and car, all our meals were paid for during the day, as were all our entrance tickets to the different temples... all for £44! We sat in the back of the car feeling quite shocked as our driver Wymer whisked us away from the craziness of Kuta and our tour guide Nyman told us some more about what to expect during our 10 hour tour of Bali
. We felt like royalty sitting in the back of the car, with our driver and tour guide up front planning our day for us! As soon as we started out I knew that I was going to love having a private tour guide because I could ask him as many questions as I liked; during all the other tours we have been on so far the tour guides have got a little sick of me because I'm constantly asking them questions all the time. So it was great to have Nyman there because I could spend 10 hours picking his brains about everything Balinese; during the day we had some great conversations and we learnt about so much, from Balinese wedding ceremonies, to birthing rituals, animals, history, money, culture, language, Indonesian daily life, architecture... the list just goes on and on. One of the best things about having Nyman though was that he taught us lots about the Hindu religion, which we are so grateful for; by the end of the day I felt like we couldn't put a price on what we had learnt from him and I feel so much more knowledgeable about Balinese life and culture now because of our time spent with Nyman. We also talked about our decision to come away from our home country and embark on this trip, which both our tour guide and driver thought was an unbelievable idea. Nyman told us that Balinese people are a very 'homesick' people and that they like to remain in close proximity to the rest of their family, so as far as they were concerned we were 'crazy people'!
Our first stop for the day was Bali's most photographed Hindu temple, Pura Tanah Lot
. Tom and I have seen images of Tanah Lot since the day we started planning our trip here and we were really excited to finally get to see it. Tours normally take people to see Tanah Lot at sunset however it can become a bit of a tourist trap during these hours so Nyman agreed to take us in the morning instead so it wouldn't be so crowded. Having looked forward to Tanah Lot for so long, I'm very happy to say that it didn't disappoint us. Tanah Lot is one of Bali's directional temples (which means it is a corner-stone of the island's spirituality) and is a sea-temple; it is built on a tiny piece of rock just out to sea and the only way to get to it is to wade through the water at low tide. The water surrounding the temple was crashing in huge waves and some worshipers who were making their way to the temple nearly got knocked off their feet. It was really strange seeing Tanah Lot because it looks just like it does in the postcards! Even though we were there early in the morning the temple grounds were littered with tourists and we were really glad that we hadn't come at sunset because I don't think we would have been able to see anything if we had waited.
Our next stop was one with Nyman was really excited about; seeing that we really like learning about different cultures and we like to get away from the regular tourist spots, he couldn't wait to take us to our next temple, Pura Luhur Batukaru
. Batukaru is a rainforest temple and is sat on the side of one of Bali's volcanoes. It took us quite a while to reach it, during which time we saw a Balinese wedding procession taking place outside someone's house then learnt all about Hindu wedding ceremonies from Nyman, but it was definitely worth the drive up into the rainforest. Batukaru was one of the most peaceful places I have ever been. It had a feeling of calmness that filled you up from the second you walked inside. Tom and I were really lucky because Nyman offered to take us into the inner-temple, so we got fitted with traditional sarongs and sashes and went in for a look around. Inside the inner-temple we took a seat and sat quietly for what felt like an age. Even though there was so much which we didn't understand, it felt really special to just sit for a while and take in all the sights, sounds and smells of the temple. It might not make much sense but being there felt like one of the 'Wow' moments which we are constantly searching for on this trip. We were also lucky enough to see some Balinese ladies making offerings at the temple and, I know I keep on saying it, but we got to learn so much about the layout of Hindu temples and the importance of certain features around the buildings.
We stayed at Batakaru for quite a while and we got to enjoy some 'quiet time' in the inner-temple, which we really appreciated after the mayhem of Kuta
. After we had finished at the temple we headed to our next stop, which we were extremely excited about, Bali's biggest rice terrace called Jatiluwih. However first we stopped for some lunch at a restaurant up in a smaller rice terrace. The lunch was great and the views over the terraces were simply magnificent. Nyman kept telling us not to get too excited about these terraces though as the ones we would be visiting later would be far better, which we didn't really think possible. However Nyman was right... Jatiluwih was absolutely unbelievable. Our guidebook had said that by the time you have finished at Jatiluwih you will have run out of ways to describe the colour green... and I think they were right! The rice terraces were far more beautiful than I had ever imagined and we were really lucky to get the chance to walk down into the terraces and sit in a pagoda amidst the growing rice. We knew that Jatiluwih must be pretty spectacular, even by Balinese standards, because even our tour guide was busy taking photos of the terraces. The drive through the country was wonderful and we got chance to see a completely different side of Bali. Once we had finished at the rice terraces we headed back down from the mountains and went to visit another important Balinese temple, a lake temple called Ulun Danu Beratan. We couldn't believe our luck as we entered the temple because we saw that there was a ceremony happening just as we got there. This was another great chance for Nyman to teach us some more about Hinduism and we learnt all about the rituals and ceremonies associated with funerals (the ceremony which was taking place was a post-cremation blessing)
After Ulun Danu we headed to a local food market where we were shown all of the different fruits, vegetables and spices which are grown in Bali. We got to try a couple of different fruits, including a rambutan which looks like a little red spiky plum and tastes really sweet. After the market we headed to our final destination of the day, a royal Hindu temple called Taman Ayun. This temple was huge and as we were walking around the heavens opened and we got soaked to the skin. We ended up sheltering under an artist's workshop and this gave us a chance to see a Balinese Barong up close; a Barong is a big model animal with a masked face which is used during special religious ceremonies and festivals. After the rain had cleared we went for a look into the inner-temple; I felt so lucky because Nyman talked me through a Hindu prayer ceremony and even translated some of the prayers from Balinese into English for me! It was an incredible end to an absolutely brilliant day.
Back in the car it was time to head back to Kuta, and to squeeze any last minute answers out of Nyman before we lost his encyclopedic brain. We were really loath to have to go back to Kuta after having had such a great day in the rural parts of Bali, however at least now we know that there is so much more to Bali than just the seedy bits that we have seen in Kuta and we are really keen to get out into the countryside more.
Thanks Wymer and Nyman for making our first real day out in Bali so fantastic! Suksma.
This is our first proper blog entry since we arrived in Bali a few days ago. It may sound strange but I'm not going to write an entry for our first days here but I'm going to skip forward to our fourth day instead as our laptop is really on its last legs and I want to do this this blog entry before it finally kicks the bucket; if I get chance I'll write another entry later on telling you all about our arrival in Bali.