Report on our Bali Trip
Our trip to Bali was a while ago now – last December, in fact. But I am conscious of the fact I said I’d blog about it and never did.
Indonesia is made up of several small islands. The majority of its residents are Muslims. Bali is the only island which is mostly Hindu, and elaborate temples can be found everywhere. Each village has to have at least three. Homes tend to have at least two. The temples are elaborate and very beautiful, but there are so many of them that after a while you get used to seeing them everywhere and you no longer stare in wonder at every one you pass.
The Balinese put offerings to their gods outside the temples three times a day – after every meal. The offerings consist of rice, flowers and incense sticks in little wicker baskets. It’s such an ingrained part of their culture that they seem to do it without thinking about it. Even in the restaurants you see the staff crossing the room at certain times of day with the offering baskets.
It’s incredibly hot and humid in Bali, and it is prone to heavy rain. The hotel we stayed in wasn’t near the beach, so they had a shuttle bus that ran there twice a day, a fifteen minute trip. The first day we were there it started pouring with rain as we were getting ready to get on the shuttle bus to the beach, so we cancelled. We soon learned this was a mistake. The rain falls heavily, but it stops as abruptly as it starts, and it’s so hot the puddles dry out very quickly. After a day or two we learned to get the shuttle bus to the beach anyway, regardless of whether or not it was raining. If it was raining when we got there, we would visit the cafe for a drink. The rain would have stopped by the time we were done.
The hotel also ran a shuttle bus to Kuta, which we discovered is more or less the Australian equivalent of Benidorm. This is where all the bars and restaurants are, not to mention an enormous Western-style shopping mall. So many Australian tourists holiday here that half the bars in Kuta are Australian-themed, and fly Australian flags outside. It’s a madly busy place. We discovered it’s the best place to go for a bite to eat, and if you want to drink all night, that’s the place to go – the bars are for tourists only as the natives are non-drinkers.
We arrived in Bali in the run-up to an important festival that seems to be the Balinese equivalent to Christmas. Every family erects a giant decorated bamboo pole outside their house, and during the two days of the Galungan festival everyone visits their families, eats and drinks more than usual and doesn’t go to work.
We went on a day trip that involved driving across the island seeing some of the crops that grow – the only industry on Bali is agriculture and tourism. There are acres of rice fields, and they also grow a variety of spices, herbs and coffee beans. We were quite taken with ginseng coffee, which is very sweet and refreshing. During our trip we stopped at a local’s house for tea and rice cakes. Houses are built as a series of small buildings separated by large outdoor areas, and several generations of one family live on one plot.
One particularly striking thing about Bali is the presence of hundreds of motor cycles. Most of the population can’t afford a car, so they all buy motor cycles as a means of transportation. Often you see families of four or five packed onto one motorcycle, and no one wears helmets or any kind of protective gear. The bikes ride five or six abreast along the road, weaving and ducking their way amongst the traffic. I got rather terrified watching them, and I was in the back of a taxi. I wouldn’t want to drive in Bali, and I’m sure there must be a lot of accidents every year. The motorcycles are used to transport items as well as people. We saw several motorcycles with the giant bamboo poles that are used as decoration for the Galungan festival, being transported home by someone on the back of a motorcycle and sticking far out across the road.
We didn’t spend all our time on Bali trekking around the island – the hotel had two swimming pools, and we spent some time chilling out there, too.
When we returned home it was a bit of a culture shock to go from Bali’s humidity to the Big Freeze London was gripped in last December. But it was nice to have a bit of sun in mid-winter, and experience some South Pacific culture.