The Balinese culture I found to be very interesting because it was very different than even Indonesian culture. The island had it’s own way of life and I loved getting away from the crowds out meeting and learning from locals. One of the best ways we would learn was during our hour long cab rides between cities. We would ask our drivers one question and by the end of the drive we would end up learning a ton of new things about their culture. After meeting a few locals we quickly began to realize that they all have the same names. Wait you’re Wayan too? I thought he was? Haha. They have rotating set of around 6 names they can choose from, depending on their birth order. The first born male is always Wayan, or Putu, the second Made or Kedek, the third is Nyoman or Komang, and the 4th born is always called Ketut. The only difference for the girls is that they have Ni as the suffix in the the front of their names. For instance a female would be Ni Wayan, and a male would be I Wayan, much like the way use Ms. or Mr.. We also found out that if there are more than 4 kids the naming system just starts over again. Yes that means you and your brother could have the same name! So interesting! So need less to say we learned a lot on our cab ride to Nusa Dua where we caught a 30minute speed boat to the island of Nusa Lembongan.
This island was tiny and you could easily see it in a day by scooter. It is connected to an even smaller island, Nusa Ceningan, by a bright yellow suspension bridge, only wide enough for one scooter to pass at a time. While on the island we found a nice little room near many of the restaurants along the water. However, what we didn’t plan on having was an unexpected 3rd guest, the giant geko and his little friends on the wall/ceiling of our room. Kayley was terrified and almost refused to sleep in there. After the grounds host explained to us that they only ate insects she was able to relax a little, but still made us sleep with all the lights on so she could know where he was at all times! Haha! Luckily, I had an eye mask and was able to make it though the night, free of geko encounters.
The first night we had dinner at the restaurant closest to our hotel called Ware Ware. The place was an open deck atmosphere that over looked the boats anchored along the sand. It was early December, and not really the busiest season on the island so we had the place to ourselves. Another quiet candle lit dinner for two. Every time this happened we would just laugh at how we kept visiting romantic destinations on our trip. Kayley had even read an article about “The top 10 romantic destinations in the world” and we had now gone to at least 6 of them haha. That night our waiter, since we were the only two in the place, came up and chatted with us helping us practice our Indonesian Bahasa, meaning language. We learned that much like everything else in Bali, their language too had a slightly different dialect than many of the other Indonesian islands. In traditional Indonesian, the most common way to say thank you was ‘Terima Kasih’, however the proper Balinese way was, ‘Suk sm-uh’ meaning ‘Thank you’ and ‘Muwali’ meaning you’re welcome. He told us to avoid confusion with the tourists many people use the Indonesian version, but to use the Balinese way is more polite. He also taught us about the importance of religion in their culture. Here it isn’t just a religion, it’s a way of life. Women prepare daily offerings and gifts to the gods first thing in the morning giving thanks for all they have and for good luck. He told us how not only does the language differ between islands but also the religion. On the main island of Bali and on the islands of Nusa Penididia (Whcih Lembongan is a part of) they are Hindu. But just the next island over, on the large island of Lombok and the well known Gili isalnds, the main religion is Muslim. He told us how people from Lombok or Gili arent allowed to even buy property on Lembongan or Cennigan for fear that if too many people began to come over the island would lose its Hindu culture.
The next morning, while Kayley was still sleeping, I was able to enjoy some tea on our little porch, taking in the sounds of the life in the garden outside our room. The birds chirping, the wind rustling the trees. It was quiet, and serene. I decided to talk a walk up along the path where the restaurants we located and landed at a nice little cafe called “The Deck”. Here I was able to sit and write while enjoying a delicious breakfast overlooking the bright blue water with the silhouette of the main island in the back. It was just beautiful. A prime location for a cafe.
That day when Kayley finally woke up, we rented a scooter and set out to explore the islands. We passed seaweed farms, and crossed the rickety suspension bridge on our way to finding a hidden cove called the ‘Blue Lagoon’.We used our map much like a little treasure map, heading down the most unkept broken asphalt roads and getting lost along the way. We stopped for coconut breaks on our way to finding a small beach called ‘Dream Beach’ and beautiful water display at a place called ‘Devils Tear’. Here we watched as the water would crash against the cavernous rocks and then spray back a giant mist back much like a fire breathing dragon. It was just so powerful to sit on the edge of the rocks, getting misted by each wave and feeling the rumbling of the water as each set came in. Just magical. This was one of my absolute favorite spots.
On our last day we decided to go snorkeling!! The waiter we had met on the first night told us his uncle had a boat and could take us out. So without even thinking we agreed and headed out to Mangrove Bay around the back side of the island. This was my first time snorkeling and it was amazing to see the life under the water! We had so much fun swimming with the fishies and pretending we were helping film for the next Finding Nemo movie.
After 3 days on the island, we took a boat back to the mainland to start another portion of our trip which we called our mini yoga/ heath and wellness retreat. Once we got back to the mainland we took a cab up to Ubud, the yoga and arts central of Bali. The ride up there was almost as cool as the city itself. Each town you passed on the way in towards the center of the island had a trade they were known for. One was known for its stone carvings, another for its wood carving and painting, one for silver making, and finally the epicenter of Ubud known for its art and dance. Ubud was a special place, and much different than the other pars of the island we had been to. It was lush, and green, and filled with art. It was much more serene and the people weren’t there to party like in the beach towns. The expats and people visiting here were more health conscious, active, and mainly yogis. So when in Ubud, we signed up for a multi day pass for some Vinyasa flow classes at the well known Yoga Barn, a.k.a. yogi heaven. With several rooms and outdoor studios it was pretty much everything you could imagine, all backing up to a field of rice paddies. Just a very zen and relaxing place. The yoga instructors we quirky and different and had come from all over the world. Each instructor at the end of class left us with something to think about. One had us focus on our path, and the journey we took to all be in that room together at that moment, on an island, in the middle of Indonesia. The second intentional thought was on our practice, focusing on where we were in our yoga, being aware of your own body and limitations and not trying to over exert yourself to be on the same level as the person next to you. Intention was the third focus, what do you plan to get out of this practice, move with intention in all aspects of your life. And lastly layers, shedding the walls and layers we put up around ourselves and just becoming vulnerable and ready to open up to people and to change. Some of these simple concepts, but when put in context with the atmosphere, and setting it was so uplifting and made you leave each class, sore as heck, but thinking. After class one day we went to get some delishious smoothies, taking a break from mango everything and indulging in peanut butter banana. (I told you I couldnt get enough peanut butter!) We even tried the infamous Kopi Luwak coffee which is made from an animal, eating, and uh digesting, and eventually pooping out the coffee bean to give it its unique taste. The bean is cleaned obviousy before it is ground but it is a very popular and strong coffee made right here in Bali. The cup was a whopping $5, which at home sounds like your average drink at Starbucks. But here that was expensive, over 5 times what a normal coffee would cost. In the U.S. there are places that import this coffee and it costs around $40 a cup! Steep! (Final consensus: It was good, and cool to say we tried, but I don’t think I’d pay $40 for it at home!)
Aside from yoga we wanted to get back in shape. We signed up for a biking tour that also had some pretty awesome stops along the way. On our way to the bike drop off destination, our driver stopped us and the few Germans we were with at a coffee plantation. We learned about the different types of coffee, robusta and arabica, and enjoyed an array of tastings while over looking a grove of palm trees. A pretty prime spot. Here we met a young Balinese man named Kedek if I remember correctly, who taught us not only about the coffee making process but also about the Galungan holiday we were about to encounter in the next couple of days. Galungan happens every 210 days and marks a time when the ancestral spirits visit the earth. The last day of the festival is called Kunigan in which the spirits return. The festival is one of the most important in Balinese Hindu culture and really sets the tone for the rest of the year. People spend the whole week leading up to Galungan preparing the front of their homes for the arrival of the spirits with decorative weavings of coconut leaves and giant arching bamboo poles called Panjors that symbolize the mountains as offerings. The daily offerings can range from flowers, to rice, or even a pig. Whatever you have, you offer it up to the gods first as a sort of tithing. Kedek also gave us a little more insight into the beliefs of Balinese Hindus. Before the Hindu religion was brought over, the Balinese didn’t have religion just things they had learned from their ancestors. They then adapted the same types of Hindu gods into their own version of the religion, but each god having a slightly different function. Above all these smaller gods they do believe in one main god, a god with different forces. He called it the Trinity. The Maker, the keeper, and the destroyer. He talked about the belief in 3 connections: person to nature, person to person, and person to God. Every village too had 3 temples, and as we began to see the number was of great importance to their culture. While listening to him explain his religion, rather than denoting the obvious differences from Christianity, I couldn’t help but begin to bridge the similarities between the two. Firstly, the number 3 and the association with the Christian trinity: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Even the holy rice they place on their foreheads after a prayer service reminded me of the holy water I placed on my head each time I walked in and out of a Catholic Church growing up. Now I’m not saying these religions are the same, nor do Christians believe in reincarnation or other gods, but the core values of character, being an honorable and hard working person, giving thanks, sharing your gifts with others, and helping your neighbor, are all similar underlying themes. Religion may be different all over the world, but being a good human, is universal.
After the coffee plantation we had breakfast at a restaurant with a panoramic view of Bali’s biggest volcanoes. It was then we realized how big this island really was, and how we had barely began to scratch the surface. After breakfast we hopped onto our mountain bikes and followed a guide through the bushes an shrubbery. We stopped by temples, rode along rice fields and back roads, and even stopped at a Balinese family compound to get to take a closer look at daily life. The compound can have as many as 4 families living there and up to 17 people. Talk about cramped quarters. Made me definitely stop and appreciate the home I grew up in. We ended our day with traditional Balinese cooking and made it back to our hotel right before a torrential downpour of rain.
Our last day in Bali we spent walking the streets and doing a bit of shopping for souvenirs for family and friends back home as we realized the count to Christmas was getting shorter and shorter. As we walked along the streets with borrowed umbrellas, our eyes were focused on the obstacle course of a sidewalk in front of us, covered with metal crates slightly off their hinges and disheveled concrete. As we walked about, slipping while trying to avoid the giant puddles and getting splashed by the cars driving by, we couldn’t help but to be strangely happy as we admired the last of the Galungan decorations being put up as the locals got ready for their special day. Children were dressed up and playing their percussion instruments and making music throughout the streets, the city was alive and we there getting to experience their tradition.