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Life & Times In Bali

By Kate “Bob” Addison

October 20th, 2014

We’ve visited some amazing places with the Picton Castle on this wonderful, slow voyage round the world, but nowhere quite like Bali! It’s the Far East, it’s Indonesia, it’s Bali! The colour and noise and bustle is really something especially after visiting some of the quietest and most beautiful sandy atolls of the South Pacific.

In Bali you can eat nasi goreng (fried rice with an egg on top) for about $1 and get a cool jasmine tea drink in a bottle for half a dollar at a small, cheerful roadside hut with plastic chairs and a funky music channel playing on the small TV overhead. Or you can walk another hundred meters to pay $50 for a fabulous main course of imported, organic ingredients, all perfectly cooked and served by impeccable, smiling waiters while you sip your champagne and look out on the gorgeous gardens, lightly scented by frangipani, tasteful water feature gleaming in the sun, and the whole melding seamlessly into the ethereal green of young rice paddies stretching far into the distant. I chose both, please! Such good food everywhere!

Bali is amazing and wonderful. Hectic and colourful: busy roads, millions of shops. One area called Kuta is covered with beach bars where you can sit on bean bags on the beach, get silly cold drinks and listen to Bob Marley covers while the sun goes down over the hordes of sunburned Australian tourists. Oh, yes, and get offered massages, sarongs, transport, knock-off Rolexes, get yer hair braided… or you can head off and see and feel the Bali of legend. Beautiful volcanoes, rice paddies, markets, craftsmen, jungle, monkey forests and stunning temples in great variety.

For the Balinese, the temple is a central part of the community and seems to be a significant obligation in the everyday life of families. But no doubt it’s a source of festivity, socialising and fun too. Five times a day little woven pandanus baskets filled with flowers, coloured rice and sweets are offered up to the Gods in family temples and holy places all around, which are often unhelpfully in the middle of the road or on the steps up to a shop. I don’t think anyone minds too much if you accidentally tread on one – we are told the blessing is received instantaneously, so really your tourist flip-flop is just stomping on the holy leftovers. I guess it’s the same reason it’s ok for ants, stray dogs or even monkeys to raid the offerings for sweet treats. Every family house has a temple in the garden where their ancestors hang out. These are all decorated with fabric and flowers, and scented with incense. The fabric is black, white and grey in checks which we are told symbolises the good, bad and indifferent in the universe, and the fact that all good people have some bad in them, and the other way around. Also gold fabric, which I think is just because the Balinese love bling.

Their clothes are all elaborate; printed with gorgeous batik patterns in gold and bright colours. Everyone wears skirts made of two sarongs on top of easy other, the ladies with little lacy tops over and a brightly coloured sash and the men with high necked tunics or shirts and little starched snappy turbans. The dancing is strange and beautiful. All fancy gold costumes and tiny, precise synchronised movements – fingers, toes, even eyes are all expressive and help tell the stylised story. It’s a very old style of dancing, very cool. Though it’s not all old – we are told there’s a brand new dance that’s started even since the ship was last here, so I’d like to check that out if there’s time!

Our gang have been hanging out in groups or wandering off alone, visiting small islands offshore to get away from the tourist trail, eating, praying and loving with the organic-hippy-yoga bunnies in Ubud, or enjoying the tacky, sun soaked fun of Kuta beach. Seminyak is swanky, full of exclusive shops and beach & spa resorts. Fun to visit though. There are monkey forests where you can walk along a path and watch the monkeys watching you. If you hide food in your bags they will find it, so it’s better to just accept the racket and pay up your bananas. It’s worth it to watch them eat them with their little monkey fingers and faces looking like weirdly old and hairy human babies. But they are sacred here, for all their mischievousness, and live in great numbers in the gardens surrounding many of the temples. And they are smart and organised, little crooks!

Vai, Dawson and Made Alon's daughter

Vai and Dawson get to know our friend Made Alon’s daughter

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