* Zoe Raymond's continuing quest through Asia, part II. See Index Here

Bali: The Island of the Gods

 

By: Zoe Raymond

The traffic flow leaving the airport was more akin to a swarm of bees than an orderly motion of modernized vehicles controlled by traffic lights. Without a single stoplight the only rule that applies is to avoid a collision. In America, a family’s means of transport might be a minivan, but in Bali, a scooter may carry two parents, a child, and a baby. Regardless of the lack of order within the streets there is not a single scornful expression among the drivers. Despite the absence of material wealth, the locals are rich, rich with happiness and contentment. I began my travels in Ubud, Bali. Residing in a local village is like plunging into an ice-filled tub where everything contradicts what a Westerner is accustomed to. Each family shares a single plot of land.

There might be as many as thirty-five people coexisting amongst each other with one communal bathroom. A bathroom consisting of a hole in the floor, a weathered plastic bucket, and a coconut shell ladle in lieu of toilet paper. The smoke swirls and rises from the kitchen stove, fueled by the daily gathering of dried palm wood. No locks, no doors. The Balinese security is powered by karma (what goes around, comes around). They simply do as they wish to receive. 

 

Ubud thrives on Hindu philosophy. With 3000 ceremonies a year, they dedicate the majority of their time to creating offerings, known as pakaian adat madya. Sitting for hours, the locals intertwine bright green banana leaves into baskets the size of your palm. They are held in place by splinters of bamboo and adorned with boldly-colored native flowers. After creating more offerings than one can count, they dress in their ceremonial attire. The women pull a skin-tight lace blouse over their head, binding it with a saffron-dyed sash around their waist. They pair it with a hand-made serong that has been colored with sacred patterns. As if they are wearing a painted canvas across their waist, they walk to their village temple (Pura) with offerings situated like a pyramid of freshly stocked apples above their head. All the while, the women, smiling under the beating sun, are escorted by their equally happy husbands - who do not partake in the manual process of carrying offerings.

They walk miles down the unpaved roads which lead to the village temple, a temple built from hand-carved stone and an entrance of a fierce animal, intimidatingly greeting you, like a dad on a daughter’s first date. As they place their fragrant offerings in front of the detailed altar, they kneel before their gods to pray for one of their numerous ceremonies. Placing a single flower between their fingers and raising their prayer-joined hands to their forehead, they bow their heads and inwardly thank their gods for their vitality, family, and rice to name a mere few. Ceremonies range from a tooth filling to the consecration of priests and priestesses. Ceremonial preparation and attendance is mandatory. It is as if one must go to a distant-relative’s birthday everyday for their entire lives.

Perhaps the strong guidelines in which Balinese Hindus must follow, shape them into grateful individuals. Walking into a monkey sanctuary is like walking into a enchantingly haunted forest. Monkeys scope you out from the tree tops; tourists squeal as their glasses are stolen from their heads. These monkeys have developed a strong case of kleptomania. They had found out that holding one’s personal belongings would result in a ransom fee of fresh bananas. Strolling through the forest and cautiously gripping my bag, as if it was my text book on the first day of high school, I sat down on a swing. Joined by a deceivingly cute monkey, I reached out to pet him. Repercussions were taken, his teeth latched onto my arm as if I had just deeply insulted him. Walking away with all of my limbs, I bolted towards the exit. Done, checked off the bucket list, but you won’t find me there again! 

 

Meandering through the rice fields allows for one for to be entirely immersed in nature. I am surrounded by 100 year old trees with roots overtaking the land, plots of land all designed so the water can flow equally through each villager’s field with countless rows of bright green fields and rice plants all meticulously planted. Basking in the glow of the sunset, the jungle plants soak up their last bit of sun. A group of

quacking ducks waddle through the fields searching for bugs to eat. The smells of the freshly-rained on earth purify my lungs.

 

The sky was as black as ink. The hush of the evening allows for the jungle creatures to commence for their nightly orchestra. The sounds of geckos clicking, frogs croaking, and the breeze running through the trees were all beautifully intertwined into one song. Their sedative melody seeps into the windows and carries me fast asleep.

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Ubud is famous for its conscious community. When this land was first discovered for it's healing energy and medical plants it was called Ubad, which means "healing plants".  Over time Ubad changed names to Ubud. There are dozens of studios around town offering countless types of yoga. As I practiced my first class I noticed that the studio was far from an ordinary studio, It was composed of bamboo and surrounded by a vast array of trees. I walked away from yoga feeling grateful for being able to practice in the middle of the jungle. 

 

Afterwards, I go to eat at my favorite "warung" (local restaurant). It costs a whopping $1.75 to eat nasi campur, a dish composed bean sprouts, green beans with chili, green vegetable curry, stir fried Tempe, and corn fritters. As I wait for my food, I say, “Apa Kabar?” (How are you?), and socialize with the locals which also strengthens my Indonesian skills. The amazing things that Ubud has to offer tempted my Mom and I to stay long term and that is exactly what we did.