One of the things that is immediately evident in Bali is the thickness of their culture. It is everywhere. Beyond the rolling beaches, great surf, towering mountains, and luscious rice fields is a culture so intricate and rich with detail that it is impossible not to admire.
Our driver for the day, Gusti, was waiting for us outside of our villa at 8am. Gusti has 3 kids aged 22, 17, and 11, and is full of life. He would be giving us a crash course in Balienese language and culture as well as driving us through a great deal of Bali. Our destination was Pemuteran in the west, a less populated area of Bali about 4 hours from the nearest airport. We decided to spend some time in west Bali because it is far from civilization and seemed very laid back. It also has soft black sand beaches, world class diving, and Bali's national park. On our way to the first temple of the day, we witnessed a public funeral procession and it seemed like the whole village had shown up. Those in attendance must wear black, and I even saw a hipster Balinese young man wearing a black vintage Guns and Roses shirt. We arrived at our first temple Pura Taman Ayun, which means interesting garden. The temple was filled with tiered buildings, and like much of the Balinese culture, the tiers are filled with meaning. The buildings have 11, 9, 7, 5, 3, or 2 tiers. 5 through 11 all represent mountains in Bali that are connected to their religion. 3 tiers stand for the trinity of Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva, and 2 tiers stand for good and evil. Gusti was telling Kristin and I about all of these details regarding the Balinese Hindu faith when he realized that we are not married. He told me that I am lucky, need to marry Kristin, and have 2 kids. Talk about forward.
I could go on with a ton of symbols and gestures that make up the Bali faith, but such a treatment would need to be bound and covered as it would be quite the lengthy tome. At this point, I want to talk about Balinese cock fighting. Cockfighting in Bali takes place at the temple complexes. The fights are generally village versus village, with the hosting temple, owners of the participants, and villages all sharing in the profits of the winner. The hosting temple gets 10% of the pot, and the owner and owner's village share in the remaining 90% of the winnings.
After pondering what seemed like an honorable way to pit rabid and very mean birds against each other, we ascended into the mountains. Our next stop, Ulu Danu Bratan Temple, is a very picturesque temple that is partially on Lake Bratan. I asked Gusti about the huge Banyan trees that seem to grow on all of the temple grounds, and he told me that they just grow there. All the temples have one huge banyan tree and they just sort of sprout up at holy sites. No one plants them, and when one dies, another sprouts. We were able to witness a family prayer procession at Ulu Danu and it was really interesting. Kristin and I both have very close families, so we really like the notion of an entire extended family all getting together to pray at their mother temple. Gusti told us that ever family has a mother temple. In addition to this, each village possesses a big temple and each home has a smaller one.
At this point, Kristin and I have begun to pick up a few pieces of Bhasa Indonesian and Balinese, which are both spoken in Bali. We realized early in our trip that we are sort of informal ambassadors for America, so we try and be as cordial and kind as possible to every person that we meet. This includes learning some of the language basics because people really appreciate the gesture of taking an interest in their language and culture. Gusti was giving us a huge run through and making us test it out on chance wayfarers. We had some successful exchanges, but when the conversations became a little too ambitious, we would wilt a little in the face of the pressure.
We stopped off at a huge waterfall, and luckily, we had it all to ourselves. Since it was too cold to swim, we let the falls just sort of douse us in mist. We had a very relaxing time at the waterfall, and waited a bit to make the arduous climb back up to our car.
Our hotel in West Bali, The Amertha Villas, is a place of perfection. It is as if someone climbed into our heads and built the best possible place for us. It is in the middle of nowhere on the North Bali Sea with mountains dramatically rising up behind the resort. We are located right on the beach, which has an offshore reef about 20 feet into the water.
After checking in and snorkeling for an hour, we decided to celebrate our year and a half anniversary with dinner on the beach. The stars were out in the Bali sky tonight, and they set the perfect backdrop for our dinner, with the soundtrack of waves gently lapping the shores. For desert, we ordered an ice cream sandwich, and they gave it a rather literal treatment. They served us 3 scoops of ice cream, 1 chocolate, 1 strawberry, and 1 vanilla, all nestled between two toasted pieces of whole wheat bread. Yea, it was not any good.
Rice field on the way to Pura Taman
A busy street outside a temple
Entering the Pura Taman Ayun
Standing at the entrance to the temple
A tiered tower in the third area
The gorgeous tiered towers of Pura Taman
In order from small to large
Climbing a watchtower
First section of temple - preparation
Second section - concentrate
Third section beyond the gate, prayer
Kristin posing with new friends
Gusti saw this nervous kid trying to cross the street
Crossing the street with Gusti is always a good move
Banyan Tree in Ulu Danu Bratan Temple
A family prayer procession
Famous Bratan Temple
Fog over a lake
Overlooking a lake on the way to a waterfall, pretty high here
Gusti and I, straight chillin
Whats up bud
Fog slowly lifting
More fog, lake, and mountain
Some strange balls
Walking down to a waterfall
At the waterfall, all to ourselves
Nerdbags living it up
Supposedly, you can let the water clean you,
but it looks like a straight up beat down
View from my desk
West Bali living - looks like the Dharma Initiative digs
Sunset, you can see Java in the background
More underwater pictures tomorrow - here are some sea urchins