Whenever I travel to another country, my goal is to get off the beaten path. The hard part is finding the right information or guide to get you there safely. When we decided to go to Bali, I began asking a few of my fellow traveling friends for advice. My friend Lyndsay, who spent several months in Bali messaged me back right away. “You need to meet my friend Imade. He is is wonderful!” We connected with Imade and decided to spend our last day in Bali exploring the island with him.
Our first four days in Bali were planned around diving. Other than the transport to and from our resort to the dive sites, we really did not get to explore much of the island. The parts that we did see left us somewhat disappointed. The cities and beaches were covered in trash and packed with tourists. Our resort was in a large gated area where each car was checked before being allowed to enter. I was really beginning to wonder why so many people suggested we visit. And what about our all day excursion? I honestly wasn’t sure what to expect.
Imade met us at our resort a little after 8 a.m. After some introductions, he asked us where we wanted to go. We looked through the stack of brochures and information about some of Bali’s famed tourist attractions. Finally we posed our challenge. While seeing a few attractions was fine, our real goal was to see the ‘real Bali.’ We wanted to leave the island with a better understanding of what life was like for those who live there. Part of that needed to include a stop in Ubud. It was a tall order for sure and something Imade had to really think about.
The first place he took us was a theater where traditional Balinese stories are performed. Once the show was over, Imade hit the road for Ubud, stopping at the little towns that dotted the road along the way. He explained that each town was known for a specific trade. One was known for silver smithing. Another was known for animal skull artwork (think southwestern USA cattle skulls). My favorite though was a small town known for its wood carvings. Imade took us into one wood shop and explained how the process was done.
Each piece that we saw was carved by hand using a variety of tools. Depending on how intricate a piece was, a wood worker may spend days completing it. The craftsmanship was incredible. Imade was a wood worker before he became a guide. So he was able to offer incredible insight. Of course, we couldn’t leave without purchasing a piece to bring home. The shop owner answered a few questions, then delicately wrapped the piece we picked. It was my favorite souvenir from our three weeks in Southeast Asia.
Our next stop was to the Tirta Empul temple located near the town of Tampaksiring. Translated to Holy Spring, Balinese Hindus come to bathe in the temples large bathing pools in a purification ritual. The pools are filled by a local spring that is considered holy. People make their way from all over the island to participate in the bathing ritual.
An important piece of information to know about Bali is that the island is predominately Hindu (85%) while the Indonesia as a whole is predominately Muslim (90%). The Hindu religion is woven into the fabric of the island, vastly different from all the other islands that make up the country.
Visitors to the temple pay a small fee to go in. You must also be dressed appropriately. If you are not, there is someone who will hand you cloth wraps as you enter, which you must wear during the rest of your visit. Since this is a sacred place of worship, it is expected the visitors remain quiet and respectful of what is going on around them. If there is a service going on, visitors are not allowed in. So you may want to ask a local before making plans to head over.
We were visiting Bali as the country was preparing for Galungan, the Balinese holiday celebrating the victory of dharma over adharma. It is related to Diwali, which is celebrated in India. This is one of the biggest holidays on the Hindu calendar. Many were visiting the temple to present offerings and participate in the bathing ritual. The small boxes you see above the water spouts is an example of those offerings. When I asked Imade about the placement of offerings (some were high and some were placed on the ground), he said that it was important to make offerings to both the light and the dark—the good and the bad. You can’t have one without the other.
Our next stop was to the Bali Pulina Plantation. This plantation supports local farmers, including those who make the famous Luwak coffee. If you don’t know what Luwak coffee is, Google it. In a nut shell, the coffee bean starts as a seed in the coffee cherry fruit. That fruit is then eaten, digested and poo’ed out by a little critter called the civet. That seed is then turned into coffee. Wild, right? Since it takes a lot more than just growing a bean to make this coffee, expect to pay a good price for it—five to 10 times more than a regular cup of coffee in Bali.
Our visit to the plantation included a tour of the grounds. We saw a demonstration of how the beans are cooked and grounded to make the coffee. We were also shown other fruits and vegetables being grown at the plantation. Our tour wrapped up with a stop at the open air coffee shop where we could sample several locally made coffees including the Luwak coffee. The coffee shop sits on top of a hill overlooking the valley. It is absolutely stunning and peaceful.
Once we arrived in Ubud, Imade took us on a tour of the town, followed by a hike through the mountains that connect to different temples (the first photo shown above). It was beautiful! I honestly didn’t think the day could get any better. Once we finished our hike, Imade offered to take us to his family compound before returning us to the resort. His family was preparing for the Galungan celebration. It made me think of Christmas. They were decorating their home and small temple as well as creating gifts and offerings that would be given out during the weeks-long celebration. Imade explained what they were doing, each item’s significance and the culture around the festivities.
We also had a lot of fun playing with Imade’s niece. Her Peek-A-Boo game was the best!
Our journey from Nusa Dua to Ubud left me with an incredible desire to return to Bali. If you are planning a trip to Bali and want to see life beyond the resort, I highly recommend going north of Denpasar and Kuta. The diving was pretty awesome as well, but that is for another post.