The boys and I were talking today, and we agreed that you don’t really experience Balinese culture until you leave the city and stay in the countryside. We had our first two full days away from the craziness of Kuta and Ubud, and we absolutely loved it.
Our day started off a little later than anticipated. Josh and I woke up around 4AM, and when we tried going back to bed at around 6AM I was having trouble breathing. The strangest thing would happen when I would fall asleep but not be breathing. Then I would jolt myself awake to consciously breathe again. Finally by around 9:30AM we all woke up, surprised by how long we all slept. Our Indonesian mama brought out banana crepes and tea for our breakfast. We thanked her and made small talk. She told us to be “hati-hati”, meaning careful, because it was raining. As we were leaving, she taught us “da-da”, which means goodbye. As we said goodbye to everyone else at the house, they all laughed because Josh’s poncho had a giant hole in it. Mama came over to help him fix it right before we left.
We drove about an hour through a little rain, a lot of potholes, and up chilly mountain to get to Pura Ulun Danu Beratan. Once again, our GPS almost took us the wrong way through a mud road. We decided to turn back and found the real entrance. The fee to get in was 30,000 IDR. Right when we entered, we heard music. Alvin joked that we were actually paying to get into a music festival instead of a temple, and that Kygo was headlining. We entered and found a group of young boys all performing traditional Balinese music and dance. The rhythmic patterns were much more intricate than the ones we heard the night before, but you could still hear the similarities. All the instruments the boys were using were the same as the ones the women were using the night before with gongs, cymbals, and bamboo. They incorporated dancing and chanting into their routine also.
The rest of the temple was filled with tourists, like many of the other temples we’ve visited are. Part of the temple lies on a lake, which is closed off to visitors. The weather was overcast and the clouds were close to us since we were so high up in the mountain. It added to the mystical feelings, and made it seem like we were in a temple on a lake near the sky. We walked along the lake through the rest of the temple and saw some deer on our way out. They seemed to not mind the tourists taking photos of them because they would come right up next to the fence to say hello to everyone.
From there we drove to the Organic Farm Cafe, which was over more crazy hills and potholes. Instead of following our GPS, we followed signs until we found the restaurant instead. We were greeted by a friendly barking dog who immediately wanted us to pet its belly. We sat down in the small cafe area which was built on the front porch of the building in the middle of farmland. We tried the most delicious basil chips that were cooked fresh at the restaurant, and had lemongrass infused water as we waited for our food. Our food came out, and we were all fully satisfied with our organic meals. Alvin enjoyed his omelette while Josh and I enjoyed our mozzarella sandwiches. We know, it’s not Balinese food, but after reading about the history of the Organic Farm we were happy to support the cause. The owners of the Organic Farm, who are an Indonesian and Dutch couple, are working at keeping farming alive and prosperous for all farmers in the mountains of Indonesia.
We later went to the Air Panas Hot Springs that was five minutes away from the cafe. We paid 35,000 IDR to get in. We walked to the hot springs, but Josh and I were a little turned off by the water being lukewarm and brown. The nice worked offered us a private room, which was also not very hot. Finally, he showed us another private area that had hot water that we were happy delving ourselves in. We relaxed next to a statue of Ganesha for about 15 minutes in our little confined hot spring pool.
On our way home, the boys and I wanted to see the beautiful rice terraces we saw the day before again. We hoped the sun wouldn’t peep through, but the clouds insisted on staying as we drove around at took pictures. We followed a dirt pathway through the terraces that led us in the middle for an even more epic view of them. Josh parked his motorbike and started running through the rice terraces to get the perfect pictures of them. Everywhere we looked and even beyond the distance it seemed that the rice terraces would never end. It really is a genius system of growing organic rice here in Bali.
As we drove back to our home stay, it started to rain on us again. We put on our ponchos and drove off, laughing at Alvin because he looked like a sumo wrestler as his poncho was blowing in the wind. We made it back just before dinner. Indonesian Mama told us she would be right back because she was going to go to the temple to pray first before preparing dinner. She prepared us some home-cooked mi goreng (fried noodles), and was happy to let us eat inside her home. Our Indonesian Papa picked us up some Bintang to go along with our dinner.
We spent our dinner chatting with Darma (one of their relatives also taking care of us while we are here) and Indonesian Papa about life here in Bali. He explained to us how the land here in the mountains cannot be tainted or tarnished by the tourism industry because it is protected by the government and by the association of farmers. He talked about their organic ways of farming, and how pure Indonesian rice can only be harvested twice a year, unlike GMO rice which is harvested all throughout the year. Instead of using chemicals to keep rats and insects away, they let the local snakes go through the rice terraces to eat them. Turns out they’re actually friendly non-poisonous snakes who are afraid of humans, so no need to worry about them. He explained to us how Balinese people practice the same Hinduism as those in India do, but that they have their own traditions and practices to celebrate and practice reverence to the gods. He said it was a lot of work keeping up with all the celebrations and traditions that they have, but that it’s all worth it because he loves being Balinese and loves his culture. Before we left, he told us that his dream was to meet people from all over the world who come to stay in this home stay, and he hopes to make them all happy with the best service and true Balinese hospitality.
Going back to what I said in the beginning of this post, you really can’t experience true Balinese culture until you’ve really travelled inwards to central Bali. Don’t get me wrong, the south is beautiful, but you really find the heart of Bali through the people and their culture outside of the tourist areas. Dharma also told us that it’s customary for everyone here to strike up conversations with everyone they pass by on the street, asking how their day is going or how their family is doing. It’s like a complete yin and yang when you compare it to life back home, where following a schedule is important and small-talk can be saved for later. We spent the last two days with a wonderful Indonesian family who took care of us like we were their own family coming to visit for a weekend. They invited us to watch them practice for their ceremonies, eat their traditional food, and taught us how to speak their language. Although Indonesian Mama and Papa didn’t speak much English, I feel like we genuinely got to know them better than we get to known people who we’ve talked to for years. And that’s the Balinese experience.