Saturday, November 26, 2011

Photo Post #2: Bali, Indonesia

OK, here is part two of the holiday photos, showcasing our time in Bali. Well, sort of anyway. I was a bit ambivalent about Bali, in the true sense of the word. We stayed in Nusa Dua in a giant resort. It was not the type of place we'd have ever stayed in before, and to be truthful I felt a little out of my depth and like I didn't belong in there. And, lovely as it was inside the resort, it was very isolated from the rest of the island and island life. In a way, I wondered how much we were missing out on by being all the way down there, out of the action.

However, that said, I did enjoy the doughnuts every day at breakfast. Best. Doughnuts. Ever. My waistline enjoyed them too... there were scales in every bathroom! Talk about putting a bit of a dampener on the holiday eating! Surely that kind of unpleasant surprise should be reserved for when you get home? It didn't stop me from eating those lovely doughnuts though...

The Balinese, like most people in South East Asia, have a very open and obvious spirituality. It affects every moment of their day to day lives. It's almost embarrassing to be a Godless westerner, such as I am ('what religion are you?' Ermmm... ).

Despite this, I was very taken with the offerings placed on every footpath, on stairs and steps, on pedestals and alters, tucked into plant pots and motorbike number plates. I couldn't seem to stop taking photos of them, and when we got home I had dozens upon dozens of offering-photos to sort through.

Like good little tourists, we visited a number of temples.

They were always flooded in sunshine and hard to photograph, so I tended to aim for the shady places;

In places like this, I like peeking in hidden corners and finding tucked-away pavilions and seeing the things that people have left behind for a later date or time, like their lunchboxes;

like bottles with ornately carved wooden stoppers and metal teapots;

and the essentials for a life spent day to day with your Gods.

We also spent a little bit of time in the irrepressible Kuta. I had expected the worst, but to a girl who has spent too much time at Bangkok's Khao San road in the past, and who has been to Phuket and Vang Vieng (Laos), and who was so harrassed by touts in Hanoi (Vietnam) that she turned around and screamed at someone to 'just f*ck off', Kuta really wasn't that bad! I expect it's seedier at night, but during the day it was just a place with lots and lots of little tourist shops and a fairly mediocre beach with some nice shade from the scalding sunlight. We even managed to get a little lost on some backstreets and there wasn't a person in sight - local or tourist - to point us in a different direction.

We also spent a little bit of time in and around Ubud. I had a bee in my bonnet (love that saying!) about visiting Gunung Kawi because I particularly like looking at old sites. It was not the most interesting place like that we have ever been to, I got the distinct impression that all the interesting parts had been 'removed' (IE stolen) at some time in the past, a feeling akin to the intense disappointment you feel around some of the Cambodian temples when you find there is not a single statue with it's head intact. However, despite this, Gunung Kawi was quiet and shady and beautiful. There was a little river running through the centre of the site as well as loads of gorgeous big trees. I think it was probably one of the nicest places we went, not least because there was hardly anyone there!

And all around Gunung Kawi? Rice terraces! Oh, I do love a good rice terrace!

I don't think there is anything else in the world so Green and cooling as rice.

Have you noticed I mention being hot a lot? Bali is hot. You'd think that would be self evident, being the tropics and all, but Bali is also quite grey, there is an awful lot of concrete and carved stone surfaces, reflecting all that tropical heat right back at you. A shady spot with an ocean breeze is sheer bliss. We could have sat on these Tanah Lot stairs for hours.

But when the sun went down every day it was just warm and still and glorious. Most evenings we left our resort for one of the dozens of cafes nearby where we spent the time eating and drinking and trying to keep the toddlers occupied (it was our first real 'family' holiday, we travelled not just Chef D, SP and I, but also with D's mum, his two sisters, one sister's husband and small child).

In the end, I don't think I really 'got' Bali. I felt like I'd seen a lot of it before, in other places. The roadsides lined with shops reminded me a lot of some places in Vietnam, the tourists - mostly Australian - made me think of Phuket, and the rice fields and the beaches could have been anywhere in South East Asia. Kuta was tidier and better maintained than I expected, but I was shocked by how shabby some parts of the supposedly 'superior' Nusa Dua were. Clearly, the tourist dollar is not spread very evenly. Nothing about that is new, but I thought that at least in the more touristed parts of Bali it would have been. Still, it was interesting and nice to see somewhere new. The food was good and we didn't get sick, and I am seeking a recipe for something called 'Pepinchak Udang' which is this kind of fabulously delicious coconutty prawn curry (Google is not helping me out this time).

So... this is my Bali, I think: life and death on the small scale, gory and gritty and grim and beautiful, with a backdrop of hot pink and chrome.

Next time: Thaton.

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