I added Bali to my schedule primarily to see a young friend of mine I had met back in 2019. Back then Risky was a 16 year old island girl taking an English Emersion class in Yogyakarta. Her assignment that day was to find an English speaking tourist and be their volunteer tour guide to the Pramanan Hindu Temple Complex. We had a great day together and have maintained a friendship on line as I helped her practice her English with weekly Video Chats.
Three years later and Risky is about to begin her third year of University in Tourism. She has spent the last two months working on an internship with the Pusat Pendidikan Turtle Conservation and Education Center on Bali. My trip coincided with the conclusion of her internship so I had a ready-made tour guide and she had her first client.
Risky developed and excellent itinerary of some places I visited in 2019 plus some new sites. In addition to Risky being an excellent and enthusiastic tour guide she also has an interesting hobby shooting video on her smart phone and editing short quick moving high quality video vlogs. So Bali will feature my first ever video series embedded into my written narratives. I hope you enjoy this new feature and that Risky will continue to teach me how to edit my videos remotely.
Our first day began with a tour of the Turtle Conservation Center where she has worked for the last several months diving for seaweed to feed the turtles, cleaning their tanks and showing foreign tourists around the compound. The Center has two very important missions: first they work to help protect nesting sea turtles and their eggs and second rescuing sea going turtles trapped in fishing nets, plastics, fishing line or injured by boat propellers.
I enjoyed seeing the fruits of her labor and the progression from eggs nestled in sand nests to 3 day old tiny turtles, to 3 week old turtles to turtles ready for release into the sea. The compound has mostly green and loggerhead turtles.
After touring the Turtle Compound and leaving a small donation we were off to Ubud to visit the Monkey Forest. I passed on this tourist site in 2019 but Risky promised I would enjoy the visit so away we went. And I’m glad we did – the forest was made up of beautiful virgin trees with massive vines and tons of klepto-monkeys.
After a pleasant walk through the Monkey Forest we made a bee line for the Bebek Tepi Sawah. This wonderful restaurant is not to be missed. Every table in the outdoor pavilion overlooks the rice patties and make for a perfect setting to enjoy authentic great tasting traditional Balinese cuisine and ambience.
As you might expect of a Restaurant with the name “Duck” in its name features mostly duck dishes. Fortunately I love duck and enjoyed a nice crispy half duck with rice, salad, spring rolls and a nice local beer. The food was delicious to the taste buds but the view across the rice patties were just as delicious to the eyes.
After lunch we traveled a little ways north to visit nearby rice terraces but they were small and a bit of a disappointment so we called it a day and headed back to the hotel and dinner.
Next day we were up bright and early for a full day of sites and driving. We began our journey with a visit to the ancient Hindu pilgrimage Pura Luhur Tanah Lot (Temple). I visited this temple in 2019 and received a blessing from the Hindi priests.
This time high tide prevented any actual visit to the small island temple. But I did take some nice photos from the mainland and as usual there was a line of local women wanting photos with me lol.
The temple complex is very interesting in that the entrance, most of the grounds and most of the structures and satellite temples are on the mainland but the important temple and small alter is actually on this little island that you can wade out to during low tide and pray and be blessed by the holy men.
The three acre island temple is a short 20 meters from the mainland but only accessible during low tide. This is one of seven sea temples that the locals have for centuries believed protects Bali from negative sea spirits.
One interesting oddity is that although the island is surrounded by seawater there is a fresh water spring in the small cave that provides a constant pool of cool sweet fresh water. In 2019 I tasted the water for myself before I was sprinkled with it, blessed, had rice stuck to my forehead, a flower placed behind my ear and 100 rupees lifted from my wallet . lol
We left the coast to drive north into the island’s highlands to visit the Jatiluwih Rice Terraces and eat lunch. The terraces have been a work in progress since the 9th century and stretch across 600 hectors of rolling green hills. And when I say green I mean a vibrant and contrasting green to the beautiful blue sky. As you look across the waist high rice stands dropping to the valley below then marching up the far hills they look like giant green staircases built for an ancient race of colossal men.
Since we arrived in time for a late lunch we found a nice table at an open air café overlooking the terraces. My driver took advantage of the all you could eat buffet and enjoyed a massive plate of mystery meats and unrecognizable vegetables. In fact the only thing on his plate I was sure of was the rice. Risky and I ordered from the menu and I have to admit the view was better than the food. Lol
Later as I walked through the rice terraces I learned that there are two types of rice grown here – white and red rice. I didn’t even know there was such a thing as red rice. I also learned that this is one of the few places in the world that the farmers get three harvests each year from their terraces.
From the Rice Terraces we continued further north to the Ulun Dani Baratan Temple. The temple is situated on Lake Baratan in the highlands at about 1500 meters above sea level. The crisp cool air contributes to the lake’s calm mirror like surface which reflects the temple’s image in its clear surface.
The temple complex consist of four sacred buildings. Linga Pura stands three levels high, and it is devoted to the god Shiva. Pura Puncak Mangu stands 11 levels high and was built to honor the god Vishnu. Prua Teratai Bang is the main temple and devoted to Brahma. The fourth temple is Pura Dalem Purwa was built to worship to Sang Hyang WIdhi and is used to pray for fertility, prosperity and well-being.
The temples were first built in 1556 but the site has had religious significance as early as 500 BC evidenced by a sarcophagus and stone slate near the temples dated to that period.
After visiting the temples our drivers took us to an incredible venue for lunch. The cafe sat on the edge of a high hill overlooking lush green farm terraces with Kodak worthy photo opportunities in every direction. While waiting for lunch Risky and I played movie makers and professional photographers (lol we came up short on both but hope you enjoy our efforts). Oh and the food was fabulous here too! and their specialty was – you guessed it crispy duck. MMMM Good!
My third day in Bali turned into a total bust. Our driver suggested we visit a nearby island that was supposed to be the most beautiful spot in the hemisphere. Spoiler alert it wasn’t. in fact it was a total scam! After paying thousands of rupees we waited an hour and half in the hot son for the boat to arrive. Then 200 of us were crammed into this packed unairconditioned boat version of a ghetto bus shoulder to shoulder like sardines in a tin. An hour later we make landfall on this island disguised as a trash dump called Nusa Penida. Everywhere I looked there was either garbage floating in the surf or knee deep in the sand.
As we waded ashore through floating plastic bottles and discarded food cartons we could see our seedy looking driver waving to us. I’m not sure what I was expecting but I was surprised when we walked past parking lot after parking lot and nice SUV after SUV to finally reach a shabby alley and find of all things a 1970s era Scooby Van. No Shit!!! The van looked like the Scooby Doo Mystery Machine. Except one of the passenger doors did not open, the orange and yellow plastic covered seats were stained with what I hoped were not body fluids and the floormats were rubber. Oh and to make things the perfect shit show the van was unairconditioned and had absolutely no suspension.
So off we went against my better judgement to what was supposed to be a 5 star restaurant overlooking the beautiful Diamond Beach. Two hours later after a harrowing bone jarring ride along a narrow winding pot hole filled beach and mountain road we pulled up to this large open air pavilion crammed full of rows of picnic tables packed with 200 sweaty people with another 50 waiting outside for seats to open for their turn at the buffet line of unrecognizable 3 day old left over magot covered dumpster finds.
And there was no beach in site. In fact the pavilion was perched on the side of a waist high weed covered hillside overlooking a drainage or maybe even open sewer ditch nowhere near anything resembling sand, surf, or the ocean. By this time I had spent 90 minutes in the hot sun waiting for the floating sardine can, an hour in the sardine tin, and 2 hours in the unairconditioned Mystery Machine and I was out of patience. It was now 2pm and our sardine can back to Bali was scheduled to depart in 3 hours.
So under threat of dismemberment our idiot driver finally agreed to just turn his piece of crap van around and take us back to where he picked us up without subjecting my system to food poisoning or driving another hour to this so called Diamond Beach.
Arriving back at the garbage strewn beach at 4pm every café was closed until 5pm. So no lunch for me and back into the sardine can with the rest of the sweltering foul smelling sardines. So my message to anyone who reads this blog – DO NOT GO TO NUSA PENIDA OR PAY A SINGLE RUPEE TO ANY OF THE TOUR OPORTORS TRYING TO SCAM YOU. THERE IS NO DIAMOND BEACH, THERE IS NO 5 STAR RESTARUANT AND THE ISLAND IS A GARBAGE DUMP!
After the miserable day I decided to take the next day off and work on catching up on my Philippine blogs and working with Risky on creating some videos for future blogs. The day off gave me time to cool off and allow my blood pressure to drop back to normal and mentally prepare myself to once again give Bali another chance.
We began our next day with a visit to Panglipuran Village – a beautiful traditional village protected from development and modernization. The entire village has remained in a state of suspended animation for centuries. All houses and the small lanes they surround are just as they were hundreds of years ago.
The village and homes follow a Balinese concept of Tri Hita Karana – balancing the relationship between the Gods, man and the environment surrounding them. The entire village is 112 hectors and sits at about 2000 cool and comfortable feet above sea level.
According to Tri Hita Karana the land is divided into three areas based on purity and value. The Utama Mandala is the northern most part of the village and considered the most sacred. This is where the village Pura (temples) are located. Pura Puseh Desa to worship Brahma (the creator god) and Pura Bale Agung to worship God Wisnu (God of Preservation). The main part of the village flows south and is called the Madya mandala or area for humans. Here you will find the hundreds of homes. And finally on the southernmost part of the village is the impure zone known as Nista mandala. This area is reserved for the graveyard and Pura Dalem for the worship of Shiva the destroyer.
Each home, like the entire village follow the Tri Hita Karena and is divided into three distinct zones. Each home will have a Utama Mandala containing a family temple to worship their god and ancestors. Then the home will have a Madya Mandala consisting of a kitchen, bedroom sitting area where the family lives. Finally every home has a Nista Mandala that is used for drying clothes and to house livestock.
There are approximately 850 people living full time in the village. I found it interesting that during the day many of these people go off to work or their business in the modern world but at the end of the day they return to the village and a life that has been lost in time. They practice their own kind of time travel without even the benefit of a DeLorean or a flux capacitor.
Next we visited Bali’s Mother Temple. Besakih Temple is a huge and sprawling temple complex consisting of 86 temples and shrines constructed over the centuries beginning in 1007 AD and flowing down the southwest slopes of Mount Agung.
The temple complex is built on six levels terraced up the slope with an entrance marked by the standard Canid Bentar (split gateway) followed by the Kari Agung or gateway to the second courtyard.
In 1963 a series of eruptions of Mount Agung killed nearly 2000 people but the lava flows missed the Pura Besakih by just meters. Of course the locals took this as a sign from the gods that they wanted to flex their muscles but not destroy the monument the faithful had erected in their honor.
After finishing our tour of the Temple and descending the six levels back to the SUV we headed for our next objective for the. Day the Tirta Gangga (Water Palace). The Water Palace was built in 1946 by the late King of Karangasem. And when I say built by the king I mean he actually helped dig the pools and ponds and design the palace himself. This project was a personal hobby and labor of love for him so he worked side by side with the low class laborers in the mud and hot sun day after day.
And his labors are truly beautiful and a nice diversion on a hot summer afternoon. The gardens consists of three parts each with its own ponds, fountains, statuary and gardens. The first level consists of a fountain and two large ponds overlooking the swimming pools on the mid-level part. The highest and largest complex is the King’s country house which is now a restaurant and small hotel.
Our final stop of the day was to visit was to what was referred to as the Virgin Beach. I’m not sure why they call this place Virgin Beach. It couldn’t be because it is remote and devoid of crowded beach goers because the beach was packed. And I am sure it has nothing to do with the virginal purity of the young ladies sunning themselves on the white sands. Mostly I’m betting it just sounded good to some marketing type at the local Chamber of Commerce.
But it was a nice beach and everyone seemed to be enjoying the day swimming, snorkeling, sunning or just people watching. I wasn’t dressed for beach day and just stayed long enough to take some photos then back in the SUV for the 2 hour drive back to my hotel for dinner.
On my final day In Bali I began by searching for a place to get a PCR test. And just like in the Philippines the first half dozen places advertising fast PCR tests and results turned out not to actually provide the service. Eventually I ended up getting the test done at the hospital and then Risky suggested we visit the Gwk Statue.
Turned out that the Gwk Statue is just the 122 meter tall center piece of the Kencana Cultural Park. The statue was inspired by a Hindu story about how Garunda’s search for the elixir of life. The fable goes that Garunda agreed to be ridden by Vishnu in return for the right to use the elixir to free his enslaved mother.
It took 28 years and 100 million dollars to build the statue. In addition to the statue of Gwk there are other statues including one of Vishnu plus a large collection of Ogoh-Ogoh. The Ogoh-Ogoh are statues representing demons built for the Ngrupuk parade.
The Ogoh-Ogoh are mythological beings, primarily demons constructed to purify the natural environment of spiritual pollutants created by human activity. These fantasy figures are designed and constructed by each town and paraded through the city streets carried by 8 strong towns men.
It was a hot day to be trapsing around this large unshaded park and the sun was brutal but I got some great photos and video to share with you. Hope you enjoy both the photos and Risky’s new addition to my blogs – the short video clips. Before returning to the hotel we stopped and enjoyed Balinese Barb B Que.
And boy did I enjoy!!! Pork Ribs, French fries, cole slaw and lemon ade. The meal was perfect for the afternoon. In fact I enjoyed most of my meals in Bali. I like the food in Bali and I especially enjoyed our daily afternoon run to Maximo’s for three scoops of gelato (chocolate, caramel, and cherry). I will miss my daily gelato fix and my good friend Risky but time to move on to Thailand and trade my visits to Hindu Puras for Buddhist Wats and Stuppas.