Alex and I hired a driver to take us around Bali. Wayan was very informative and friendly, and most importantly, he was a very good driver! I thought most “two-lane” roads were barely wide enough for two cars, let alone cars parked on the side of the road, or the ubiquitous scooters that would weave in and out of traffic. There are open ditches on both sides of most streets too, so it really takes a good driver to be able to navigate around all that! (They also drive on the left side!)
What we learned from Wayan:
- Because Bali is so close to the equator, the sunrise and sunset times vary only 20 or so minutes throughout the entire year! Alex and I agreed that we actually prefer more daylight during the summer months, even if it means shorter days in the winter.
- We saw many different flags hanging from lampposts in front of many homes- these flags show each family’s support for their World Cup team favorites.
- Many homes had long bamboo poles with a basket at eye level for offerings and a long, dangling palm leaf tail. They are supposed to look like dragons, and were put up during the Balinese holiday Winning Day (good conquering evil) in May. We’re glad we were able to see these decorations, which will be taken down at the end of June.
- The traditional entrance way to a Balinese temple or shrine is a split entrance (it looks like the archway is cut in half and pushed apart) because it is supposed to split the bad (yin) from the good (yang) before allowing a person to enter the temple with only his good self.
- Taman Ayun Temple: I was very surprised to see a sign at the entrance forbidding all menstruating women and pregnant women from entering the temple (we proceeded to see this same sign in front of all the temples). I guess they think that menstruating women are “unclean”… but obviously it’s all on the honor system… no one is checking to make sure women on their period don’t go in. We saw many cages with one rooster per cage… Turns out, cock fighting is really popular in Bali.
- Danau Bratan Temple: This temple is on Lake Bratan. We loved the thatched roofs! As with most temples in Bali, we weren’t allowed inside the main temple, since it is still in use.
- Jatiluwih Rice Terrace: We had lunch overlooking the UNESCO World Heritage Site nominated rice terraces. Alex and I expected to see flooded rice fields, but that’s only for the “baby rice” when the rice crops first start growing. We were there when most of the rice was either being harvested or was already harvested (the remaining stalks are then burnt so that they can quickly become compost and fertilizer for the new rice). After lunch, Wayan took us on a walk THROUGH the rice fields. We saw the complex irrigation system that divides water from a common water source to separate plots of land. During this walk, Wayan pointed out orange trees, banana trees, as well as guava (never knew what the actual fruit looked like!), and jackfruit. Wayan cut off a stalk of lemongrass – it was the first time we had ever seen where lemongrass came from! We also saw coconut trees, tomato and chili plants, as well as cocoa (I never knew that cocoa beans come from a cocoa fruit!).
- Tanah Lot Temple: This temple sits on a large, offshore rock, located on the west side of Bali. It’s supposed to have the best sunsets, so we went there an hour before sunset. The place was PACKED because there was a ceremony at the temple. Many Balinese, dressed in white, were bringing offerings to the temple. It was low tide, so they could walk across to the rock where the temple was located. Most women were carrying their offerings on their heads (supposedly most Balinese women can carry up to 40 kilograms/88 lbs (!!) on their heads). Alex and I enjoyed the sunset as well as all the people watching.
- Alex loves yoga. And he’s really good at it. I am not good at yoga, and therefore I hate it. But, somehow, he managed to drag me up at 6 AM for a 7 AM sunrise yoga class. The class was in a big room facing a yard with a bunch of roosters and chickens. It felt very zen! There were about 30 people in the class, and the teacher went slowly enough where I felt like I could sort of follow along.
- Wayan drove us through Kuta, the most popular town for tourists in Bali. Most tourists don’t venture past Kuta, the beaches, and the southern part of the island. Alex and I were glad we didn’t stay in Kuta- it was too crowded and hectic for us. There were a bunch of posh hotels, restaurants, and clubs. We passed the location of the nightclub that was bombed in 2002, as well as the memorial honoring the victims.
- We had a nice, relaxing lunch on the beach at Jimbaran Bay. Because the area is known for seafood, we ordered some Redfish and squid (by the kilo). It was delicious… so delicious that a stray cat kept on pawing at us to give her some scraps.
- Ulu Watu Temple: This temple is set high on a cliff in South Kuta. The area is home to a bunch of Balinese Macaque monkeys. Before leaving the car, Wayan warned us to be extremely careful and to take off sunglasses, hats, etc. because the monkeys will steal them (and may attack or bite you if you try to get them back). He even asked if I could leave my glasses in the car… At the entrance, we covered our legs in purple sarongs, before carefully walking through the park. The view of Ulu Watu temple with waves crashing far below was breathtaking. We witnessed a monkey swing down and steal a guy’s sunglasses from his head. And when the guy tried to trade a granola bar for the sunglasses, the monkey snatched the granola bar and ran off!
- In the late afternoon, Alex and I sat at a bar on top of a cliff, and watched experienced surfers ride the waves. Ulu Watu is known for its huge waves and surfers from all over the world come to surf. We stayed until the sunset, before passing Padang Padang beach (where the movie “Eat, Pray, Love” with Julia Roberts was filmed) on the way to the airport.
We had a wonderful “sampling” of Bali. Out of all of our travels in Asia, so far, Bali is at the top of the list! We definitely would like to go back!