Posts Tagged ‘Bali’

THE BEAUTY OF KUTA BEACH 

First timers to Bali are always told to head to Kuta Beach, one of the more popular beaches on the island. It is, I have been told, a favorite of foreign surfers, who are mostly from Australia as the flight from one of its cities is just an hour plus, and local surfers who double up as surfing coaches. It wasn’t on the nth visit and as I watched the surfers gear up to ride the wave that it finally dawned on me why it is a surfer’s paradise. The waves are every surfer’s dream: glassy surface (read: nice and smooth), rolls in one direction, big, and powerful. If the surfers find the waves thrilling I find them on top of the waves absolutely amazing.

Kuta beach in April


At first glance, Kuta beach can be off-putting. First is the huge crowd at the entrance. Finding a parking space is a nightmare unless you have a scooter. Behind the entrance are legions of vendors plying anything under the shaded sun – accessories, beach wear, temporary tattoo (think henna), braiding and massage services, and alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks. In fact, the beverage vendors have set up makeshift “bars” of plastic chairs under a huge beach umbrella and drinks in a cooler box. 

Second push-factor are the aggressive vendors. I cannot forget the mistake I made in browsing this woman’s accessories only to change my mind because the woven bracelet I fancied looked worn out. She threw a hissy fit and followed me around the beach for a time. Lesson learned: never entertain a vendor unless you are certain of buying. 

However, hurdle the crowd and the vendors, and you will come face-to-face with the pulchritude of Kuta Beach. A divine, majestic landscape of blues – light blue, cerulean, aquamarine – intermingled with yellow, gold, and white play before your eyes that is completely mesmerizing. Standing or sitting, it is almost meditative as you slowly breathe in and breathe out the fresh sea breeze. The sun on your face, the breeze dancing with you, and the sound of waves rushing to shore is like a welcomed benediction from the universe and your guardian angels that you thought had abandoned you. A tingling, vivifying feeling shoots through you and you feel a smile tugging at the sides of your lips. For a moment everything is copacetic in your topsy-turvy world – the veil of sadness has been lifted and your heart has stopped crying.

Scanning the area, I people-watch: smiling at the lovers strolling by the water, laughing at the failed acrobatic stunts, staring at those sunbathing wondering if they had put on sufficient sunblock lotion. Then my gaze falls on the horizon and my thoughts take a different direction. In due time the beauty of Kuta Beach will permeate my gray-tinged world.

Advertisements

DANCING BAMBOOS 

I had noticed them as we sped down the highway on her scooter. They piqued my curiosity and sense of amazement. The analogy of my gal-pal Eta, who observes Galungan (think Thanksgiving), when I asked about a decorative post outside the back gate of Sanur-based Hotel Puri Tempo Doelo was striking. It was a little shrine on a pole which was slightly taller than me. She said it was a religious fixture related to Galungan and Kuningan, religious traditions that celebrate the triumph of dharma over adharma. In a nutshell, dharma is the belief in Hinduism of fulfilling one’s divine duty and nature thus overcoming its opposite, adharma. Adharma is the antonym connoting chaos and disharmony. Both traditions are marked by prayers at the temple.

This solitary decorated bamboo pole transformed into numerous towering bamboo poles undulating against the clear blue skies in Ubud. They lined the narrow streets of Ubud, the ends drooping down as if bowing respectfully to welcome visitors. I was completely taken by the sight of these bamboo poles swaying like carefree dancers in the cool breezes. Eta explained that these decorated poles are known as penjor, which to make a non-Hindu understand, is analogous to a Christmas tree of those who celebrate Christmas. The concept is similar in terms of symbolizing a tradition, each household having one, and the decor running the gamut of simple to absolutely breathtaking that normally include coconut leaves, fruits like bananas and apples, and stalks of rice grains. The drooping end has a miniature triangular cage that contains the offerings for deities and spirits of ancestors.

A penjor dancing in Ubud


The 10-meter penjor is usually placed in front of houses or business establishments of Hindus as a sign of gratitude and religious offerings a day before the start of Galungan which is on a Wednesday once every 210 days based on the Balinese calendar. Galungan was observed on March 28, 2017. Following Galungan, which is 10 days after it is observed, is Kuningan or the time when the spirits of ancestors return to heaven. It normally falls on a Saturday and only two weeks after Kuningan are these dancing bamboos taken down.


The penjor truly fascinated me. Gazing at them dancing in the air, I marveled at the creativity and dedication involved in making them, not to mention the patience in weaving them for hours. The adherence to a time honored traditions – making offerings of prayers and crops – in the midst of modernity that erode religious and cultural traditions filled me with awe stoking the fires of faith. That gods and ancestors are always looking done protectively at mortals and their kin is assuring; they will always triumph against modernization’s threat of oblivion.

A penjor at Bali’s domestic airport

A VILLAGE CALLED PEMUTEREN

Gunung Ser loomed large as the banca sped through the sea.

Gunung Ser loomed large as the banca sped through the sea.

“It is called frangipani,” said Redy, one of Tirta Sari Bungalow’s staff and invited guide for our fishing trip at 4, which also included a viewing of Bali’s awe-inspiring sunset.

“Did you know that dried frangipani can fetch a high price? A kilo costs Rp75, 000. A lot of people collect the frangipani and dry them,” he continued with his vignette.

Dried frangipani is used as incense in the numerous rituals in Bali. It is an offering to the gods who take delight in smelling its bewitching aroma, unable to partake of the other earthly yet scrumptious offerings that run the gamut of fresh vegetables to the famous roasted Bali bebek (duck).

Tirta Sari Bungalows was the place that immediately called to me as I scrolled through the website for accommodation in Pemuteren. The journey to the village was to meet up with holidaying French couple-friend, the Corres, who were joyfully immersing themselves in the local culture, blue skies, surf and cuisine of The Island of the Gods that happens to be one of my favourite places on the planet. But the furthest I had ever been to in Bali is Ubud, which Putu, my resort driver, said is a very short 20+ minute trip from the airport. Putu drove with adroit ease, boredom shrouding his face as he went through the dizzying route. It was, after all, a long day for him. He had left Pemuteren for Denpasar to pick me up as early as 2 am and had to wait because my Sriwijaya flight was delayed. Twenty minutes is, obviously, nothing compared to the four-hour long, serpentine ride, peppered with a few ups and downs through hills, to Pemuteran.

Heels off! Time for sandals and shorts for a quick getaway from the city.

Heels off! Time for sandals and shorts for a quick getaway from the city.

A quaint boutique resort located in Singaraja, Pemuteran, Tirta Sari’s nondescript facade was a disappointment upon seeing it after a long drive. But it actually belied what really awaited a weary traveller once its entrance is crossed. A manicured garden and cemented walkway drawn with tribal patterns led to18 spacious, high-ceilinged bungalows with canopied beds (fitted with a bathroom with a view) on both sides and a pool circled by trees of frangipani and papaya, and shrubs of bougainvillea and hibiscus. Soft gamelan music sashayed from underneath the clear blue sky and snaked through the foliage only to be broken by the chirping of birds. Mewling cats, together with streams of sun light sneaking through the window uncovered by the curtain, greet the mornings. The spa, its menu boasting of my fave Balinese massage, is a few steps away from the pool at the back, and obliquely to the pool is a pathway leading to the beach and a dive centre.

“Tirta Sari only had five rooms four years ago,” said Putu, whose tattoos and thick steel earring were incongruous with his soft voice and friendly demeanour. “Now, there are many rooms and a pool.”

Continued Putu, who has been at Tirta Sari close to four years: “The owner is Balinese. He is only 33 and he already has a big business – the resort, restaurant, warung, mini-mart, dive centre and spa. My sister works in the spa.”

Tirta Sari Bungalow is the perfect haven for divers and those wanting to escape the city blues.

Tirta Sari Bungalow is the perfect haven for divers and those wanting to escape the city blues.

Everyday should be spent lounging in or around the pool.

Everyday should be spent lounging in or around the pool.

Meals are fresh and flavourful at the restaurant.

Meals are fresh and flavourful at the restaurant.

Sleepy wouldn’t quite capture Pemuteren’s essence notwithstanding the stark absence of big malls and ubiquitous franchises like McDonalds and Starbucks from the green landscape. Roads are devoid of lampposts, its lighting only coming from a few establishments – several warung, a bar-restaurant called Frangipani and a convenient store at the mouth of the unpaved road leading to Tirta Sari – and motorbikes and trucks plying the road. Through the eyes of an individual long mired in the miasma of city living, Pemuteren is best described as selcouth. A sense of the marvellous permeates the air, which is as refreshing as the cool breeze on one’s face. I paused and pondered – something was missing and the answer was at my fingertips. But, of course! The heavy jadedness that accompanied me in Bekasi, when the mixed din of construction work, cars and screaming children punctured the day, was nowhere to be found.

Pemuteren basks in selcouth silence – the lulling, soothing kind as opposed to foreboding. Thoughts don’t collide; they march in rhythmic motion, no jostling or hustling. There is time to ponder on what to do next on this brief sojourn without feeling the need to do everything. There is no rush, just meditative motions that slowly usher in that sense of the marvellous. So amidst the piped in gamelan music wafting through the al fresco breakfast hall, Claude planned our activities.

“Would it be possible to change the trek’s departure time from 8am to 6am?” Claude asked Redy in that wonderful French accent. “Perhaps we could see more animals before the sun comes out.”

“Let me find out first, sir.” And off he went and was back even before everyone had had a sip of their Balinese coffee. Yes, six was possible and they – my couple-friend – were to wait at the lobby for their guide, Pak Yoyo. Meanwhile, I was set for a Balinese massage.

“What about your entertainment for this afternoon?” Redy asked.

“What is there to do in the afternoon?” replied Claude in return.

“You could go fishing and watch the sunset around 6pm,” suggested Redy.

Fishing was a marvellous idea to spend a lazy Saturday afternoon in Pemuteren. The last time I held a fishing rod – a bamboo rod – was when I was an elementary student at JASMS Quezon City during the annual fishing day organized by the late horticulture teacher, Modesto Manglicmot, whose love of plants, particularly bonsai, and the outdoors had his students experiencing life outside the classrooms for themselves until the fishing and farm area were sold to a condominium developer.

Pak Wayan helms the banca for an afternoon of fishing and sunset-viewing.

Pak Wayan helms the banca for an afternoon of fishing and sunset-viewing.

I would brook no interference with my plan – not my vertigo and fear of water – to marvel at the sea and sunset so I gamely, after Pat and Claude, stepped onto the motorized banca, which dropped anchor two kilometres from shore. Before me rose the stately vision of Gunung Ser.

“No one lives in Gunung Ser, but there are people who live behind it,” explained the 24-year-old Balinese while he hooked tiny fishes on the hooks.

Pat tries her hand at fishing, which lasted for a few minutes.

Pat tries her hand at fishing, which lasted for a few minutes.

The men-folk wer left in charge of that night's dinner.

The men-folk were left in charge of that night’s dinner.

Fishing is undoubtedly an affair that demands patience in waiting for the unsuspected fish to take the bait. Redy had it while mine only lasted for more than five minutes after which I relinquished the fishing pole to the men – Pak Wayan, fisherman-guide, Redy and Claude – who proved luckier than us, as Redy interrogated the women.

“Are you married?” Redy quizzed Pat, as he waited for a fish to take his bait.

“He is my husband,” answered Pat, pointing to Claude who was busy reeling in his line at the opposite of the banca.

“And you?” asked Redy, turning his attention to me, as he hooked new bait on his rod.

“I am friends with them.”

“Oh, I thought you were wife number two!” he quipped cheekily.

Laughter erupted throughout the banca.

“I was just joking. Are you married?” continued Redy with his inquisition.

“Am single.”

“With boyfriend?”

“Nope, no boyfriend,” I replied flatly.

Redy then suddenly broke out into Rihanna’s Umbrella, his smile and demeanour reminding me of Pepe Le Pew. Everyone erupted in laughter again. In any other context or time, such conversation would have had me pushing Redy off the banca without preamble, but everything is part of Pemuteren’s selcouth charm: playful banter is simply playful banter.

Amidst Redy’s ear-splitting cover of Rihanna’s song, Pat and I soaked in the scenery. The view is majestic – Gunung Ser on one side and the vast ocean on the other. It is, in fact, more than a view; it is an experience actually that pulls you back to the ultimate reality of the sublimeness of life lost on city folk who are hemmed in by buildings, stuck in enervating traffic jams or locked in virtual worlds. To feel the wind on your face and the heat of the sun on your back is an epiphany: life is a calm sea void of narcissism, pettiness and consumerism.

Pak Wayan steered the banca into calmer waters in the hope of increasing the catch. Not much luck, but serenity helped eased queasy tummies and swimming heads. From a distance, the sun was slowly beginning to set, its rays bathing the sky in a jaw-dropping backdrop of yellow gold and orange, turning into a pinkish-purplish hue. The breeze became cooler. Within minutes, the sun was gone and everything was swathed in a light tinge of grey, which was quickly turning into charcoal black. On cue, Pak Wayan readied the banca to head back to shore then the anchor got stuck. I was half-expecting curses to float through the air, but the marvel of Pemuteren reigned. Showing no agitation, Pak Wayan calmly instructed Redy to get the knife from his rucksack so they could cut the boat loose.

No other sight at Pemuteren takes one's breath away than the brilliant sunset at sea.

No other sight at Pemuteren takes one’s breath away than the brilliant
sunset at sea.

Still marvelling at the cool heads that prevailed, I now wondered at how Pak Wayan would be able to berth the banca at the correct spot. There were no tell-tale landmarks on the shoreline before us except for the round lights that didn’t do much to differentiate one resort from the other. But he found the berth without hitch and, after an effusive goodbye and suksma (thank you in Balinese), we three city-folk made our way back to Tirta Sari Bungalows.

“It was such a marvellous experience!” exclaimed Claude.

I couldn’t agree more.

 

EAT, PRAY & LAUGH

The lines in the book of Elizabeth Gilbert that had me laughing were the lines – the ones that I can remember – she wrote in connection with her problems with meditation and how her mind would stray to the most inconsequential things while trying hard to find a connection with herself and the universe. I meditate myself and I can certainly relate to that situation. It takes me several minutes to realize that I’ve gone off the path that my practice loses a bit of its tranquillity as I reined in my thoughts guiltily.

I never thought that describing fruits would have a funny ring to them and that a Spanish actor saying them in English can be alluring. That was the nice surprise in the movie adaptation of the novel Eat, Pray and Love. Javier Bardem, who plays the role of Felipe, the new lover  of Elizabeth (played by Julia Roberts), dons the hat of a tour guide to familiarise  the New Yorker around Bali, revealing the secrets of what I’m guessing is Ubud with all the rice paddies, narrow roads and temples dotting the cinematic frames.

Elizabeth asks what the red, hairy fruit is.

“Oh, think of an orange having made love to a plum,” replied Javier/Felipe in a serious tone.

Laughter in the cinema especially from the back row where I am seated

Next, Elizabeth asks what the green, spiky fruit is.

“That tastes bad. It tastes like rotten feet,” said Javier/Felipe in a cautionary tone.

Another wave of laughter in the cinema – again from the back row

Sans Ketut the medicine man and rice paddies, it was almost a Gilbert moment on a Sunday in sunny Jakarta except for the praying part. Lunch was at Marche and Javier made me laugh. I haven’t had a chance to chat with the universe yet.

THE CALL OF BALI

BALI, INDONESIA:  “Have you been to Bali before, Miss?” he asked, a smile planted on his chubby face as we sped down the road from Ngurah Rai Airport in Denpasar to 100 Sunset Boutique Hotel in Kuta.

“Yes, I’ve been here before,” I answered a little less cheerfully. It was already way past midnight and sleep was heavy on my eyes.

“Sorry, my English not very good. I not go school,” he babbled on oblivious to my reticent behavior. “I learn English listening tourists.” 

“It’s rainy season. It rain every day,” he continued. 

Pak Wayan is actually a sweet man as he prattled on about his life and Bali. Through the 15-minute drive I learnt that he freelances for the boutique hotel. If there is a booking for transportation, the hotel would call him.  If he is not available he’d sent a friend on his behalf like what he did when I booked a car for a drive around Ubud, Nusa Dua and Kuta. 

He’s married and is a proud father of three children ages seven, five and one. His late mother was so happy when he got married because there would be another woman to help out with the preparations for the temple ceremonies. 

“My son help with making flowers but he don’t do that for long. They might think he is woman,” he said with a chuckle. 

Blame Captain Stubing and Julie McCoy. Bali has called me ever since the defunct Love Boat aired an episode in connection with Bali, that magical island that makes dreams come true, that endless source of happiness and contentment. This is the fifth time I’ve answered the call of Bali, which is very significant for me because it heralds a new chapter in my life.  The world wasn’t going swimmingly when I hit 40. I was weathering emotional tsunamis one after the other, but I survived them all. Coming to Bali was my way to mark my victorious return and celebrate the beauty of life. It kicked off with major pampering at The Spa and touring Ubud, Nusa Dua and Kuta. 

My first sojourn to Bali was a girls’ holiday with a friend when she was still based in Singapore. Ubud was our destination and we were billeted in a rustic little resort near a rice paddy. 

“How do you feel?” she had asked me probingly after we touched down at the airport. 

“Huh? I’m hungry,” was my not-that-curt reply to her odd question. 

I learnt the reason for the bizarre question later on. Some people like another friend of hers didn’t enjoy Bali because she was “affected”. Her friend’s sensitivity to spirits – Bali is known to be spiritual and spirit-filled – prevented her from enjoying her stay on the island. My friend was just covering the bases although, to this day, I wonder how she would have handled the situation if I were sensitive. Ubud’s serene ambiance was perfect for attending a yoga class, browsing through the quaint shops in the area and trying our hand in bargaining at the Ubud market. It was refreshing to see smiling faces, hear courteous replies to greetings and bask in the bonhomous setting. 

It was a media trip organized by French hotel group Accor that I was in Bali for the second time round. Tom Racette, Accor’s Director of Marketing Communications, extended an invitation and, naturally, I accepted. We toured the new hotel-resorts built by Accor in the areas of Sanur and Seminyak, which blended with the natural landscape of Bali beautifully. My job: enjoy Balinese hospitality and Accor’s five-star service, which I did through the dinners, tours around Sanur, Seminyak and Ubud, and massage and mango body scrub at the spa. 

Bali welcomed me for the third time with the spineless lying cad I was seeing (it was on hindsight that I saw that).  I enjoyed touring Ubud and Jimbaran Bay and especially the latter’s mouthwatering seafood dinners on the beach punctuated by roving minstrels and cool breezes. 

Imagine listening to a mother crooning a lullaby to her child. That’s the call Bali makes to me, auguring feelings of joy. You learn to keep things simple in Bali, meaning the problem or issue at hand is seen for what it is and faced eventually with equanimity and fortitude.  The pacing is like the beginning of a waltz – slow and easy – that can pick up depending on how fast you’d want it to go. The island’s blue skies with puffs of cottony clouds rolling by always take my breath away. They never fail to make me feel that all is well in the world despite the natural disasters and overwhelming injustices. 

Blue skies over at the posh and exclusive Nusa Dua area

Food is another reason to answer the call of Bali. They’re flavorful – you don’t need condiments as the herbs and spices have been blended expertly in the dish. Some people swear by the babi guling (roasted pig) while I’m partial to the nasi uduk and ayam bakar (grilled chicken) served with fresh sambal uleg, vegetables, tempeh (soy cake) and tahu (tofu), and pisang goreng (banana fritters). 

Indonesians, I discovered, are generally inquisitive. They ask not to pigeonhole you in stereotypes but to learn a little about you. In Bali, marriage is part of their lives and situates them within the universe’s grand plan. From marriage comes family, the foundation of a society that shapes the roles of people thus guiding them on the right path of life. This view point extends to foreigners so it’s the first question they ask. What’s good is they don’t pity you if you’re not – backtracking they’ll ask when you’ll be married, as if to say that your time will come soon.  I learnt from my driver around Bali, Mas Komang, that Balinese women usually marry around 18 – 19 while men marry around 20 – 22. The 25-year-old is father to a one-year-old boy who is looked after his 22-year-old wife. 

“She will work in five years’ time when the baby is a little older,” he explained with a smile. 

 Next question for foreigners is country of origin. Bali is a melting pot of holiday-makers and the Balinese take on a keen interest in the people who land on their shores. It never fails to surprise them that the person they assume to be Indonesian is actually a Filipino. And they never ask about how much money you earn or other annoying questions. 

Another girls’ holiday saw me in Bali for the fourth time. We almost missed the art tour because the people we were with wanted to skip it for shopping. The tour guide was about to give in until he saw me and N glaring at him. Ubud is the seat of artists especially the village of Mabuan where, according to Mas Komang, 80 percent of the residents are artists and they wanted to forego that for shopping. Philistines, I tell you! 

Despite the urbanization of Bali – new shopping areas and ATM kiosks are ubiquitous in Kuta – I know I’ll find my way back to Bali, alone or otherwise. There’s no ignoring the call of Bali.

Photography by Liana Garcellano

FITTING THE WORD II

I’m still searching for my word for Singapore as I mentioned in the first part of this entry. But I don’t lack words for Indonesia. Several words come to mind. First is enchanted because the only island I knew way back then was Bali, the hailed island of the gods where dreams and romance come true. My first visit to Bali was far from romantic, but it was pleasant and relaxing. In fact, I had all the time in world. I stayed in Ubud, in this rustic resort, waking up to clear blue skies and views of quaint paddy fields. Processions of women dressed in their finery on the way to the temple were a refreshing sight every time I’d walk down the streets. Everything seemed so placid and everyone so good-natured that one might mistake it to be an ancient order of things in Bali until you read the tales of Bali of Elizabeth Gilbert in her best seller Eat Pray & Love. Bali in the halcyon days, according to Gilbert, had its share of history that was marked by oppression. It began with the Javanese royalty who, upon settling down in Bali, established a caste system and you know what happens in a society with a caste system. Slave trade was not absent from Bali of the early years either. The Balinese’s reputation was that of fierce fighters specially the traders and sailors, and well-disciplined particularly the army that was successful in repelling the Dutch colonizers until greed for power broke the united front of the Balinese.

The present sees Bali as paradise on Earth. It is the place that people find balance and peace from the maelstrom in their lives. Sanctuary is the word that is generally associated with Bali nowadays and I’m in total agreement with that.

The word changed when I visited Lombok and Manado separately with a friend on our “girls-only-holiday”. Both islands were bucolic so simple – as opposed to complex– was the word I associated it with. From the design of the resorts to the lifestyle to the food like nasi champur, everything was simple. No urban complexities to grapple with here – just pure and natural simplicity punctuated by bonhomous demeanor of the islanders.

When I found myself in Jakarta simple was replaced with cosmopolitan. The city reminded me of Makati, the dubbed central business district of the Philippines with its tall buildings, paved roads and sidewalks, massive malls and, not to forget, the legendary colubrine traffic jams. Walking would have been a better option that one time I got into a cab to go to Blok M to buy shawls. Bekasi, its suburban neighbor has its own charm. The pace is laidback – it’s somewhere in between urban nimbleness and village slowness. The people are generally amiable and exhibit none of the urban aggressiveness and callousness.

My word for Bekasi is haven. Although it lacks the convenience and modernity of Singapore, it’s a place that brought me back to myself, to the core of my essence. Bekasi is where I can be quiet without being questioned unnecessarily and where I can laugh out loud without being shushed. Here is where I’m not labeled atheist, irresponsible, non-conformist, crazy or different. I’m simply Ms. Liana with the nice curly hair. Here is where I rediscovered equanimity – I don’t lock horns with conceited people so I’m always in Zen mode – and it is the place where I’m piecing together my tattered life.

Refuge is my other word for Indonesia and Bekasi is that at the moment.