Sunday, June 3, 2012

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Rice paddies were as close as around the corner from the villa.  As we drove through different climate zones on the island, we saw many other crops, as well.  In the cooler volcanic mountain region, cabbages and peanuts form neat rows under orange trees.  Squares of taro, corn, tomatoes, and strawberries patchwork with groves of pomelo, papaya, bananas, pineapples, pears, and durian.  During the trip, we tried mangosteen, dragonfruit, rambutan, and snake fruit.  Trellises of long bean edge the fields.   

We enjoyed a stop at a coffee, tea, and spice plantation, sampling ginger and lemongrass teas. Bali may be famous for its "lewak" coffee, but if you heard the story of what makes it "special," you may not find it very appetizing.  As souvenirs for our coffee-drinking friends, we opted for a different kind of premium coffee bean.

Shrines are ubiquitous in the fields, and everything is done by hand, including the rice threshing.  Some crops are prepared for export, especially dried fruit, but most is consumed locally or is subsistence farming.  Families get by with their own rice, vegetables, fruits, some chickens, and a duck or two.  Tourism and deforestation are eating away at the arable land.

We quickly realized that the quality of the groceries which Wayan was buying for our meals was far superior to what the ordinary Balinese would have.  Her family can only afford to eat meat once a week.  How excessive we Americans must seem.  We were not ones to waste rice before, but now every kernel seems more precious.

If I had to pick one memorable aspect of Bali, I'd have to say it is its spectacular natural beauty.  Little wonder that in the version of Hinduism practiced by the majority of Balinese, gods inhabit the physical world, making cliffs, mountains, and trees significant.  Out of the countless temples, we strategically selected two where the land met sea in dramatic fashion: Pura Tanah Lot and Pura Luhur Uluwatu.  On a sacred part of Kuta Beach, we chanced upon a ceremony in which loved ones were sending ashes of their family member into the surf.   Palm leaves and bark were crafted into small baskets and outriggers bearing offerings of blossoms fruits, grains of cooked rice, and even cookies and cigarettes.  Incense is offered everywhere.

Our driver showed us the resort beaches of Nusa Dua and the little cove of Padang Padang, now unfortunately known as the "Eat, Pray, Love" beach.  It's much smaller yet more beautiful than how it appears in the movie.  Bob said be sure to have a grilled fish dinner on Jimbaran Beach at sunset, and we are glad we did that.

Our last day, we headed north to the volcanic mountain areas unfrequented by tourists.  We rambled through the terraced rice paddies at Jatiluwih, designated a UNESCO World Heritage site on the slopes of Gunung Batukan, the second highest peak in Bali.  Akemi tackled an adventure course with zip lining in the Bali Botanical Gardens; I watched this one from below.

Driving for miles more on a narrow winding road through cloudy mist, we came to a beautiful lake in the volcano caldera.  Since we were coming off the rainy season, the water level was still high enough to surround the temple Pura Ulu Danu Tambligan and we approached it by dugout canoe.  We were the only visitors there.  Akemi had a field day taking “art shots” with our driver Dean, an enthusiastic and experienced photographer who gave her tips on angles and framing.  He was pleased to give us a unique experience.

In contrast with all that is lovely and graceful about Bali, we also were struck by the homes of cinder block walls, rusted corrugated metal roofs, and earthen floor next to piles of trash.  Motor bike congestion causes traffic jams not unlike LA's and young people struggle for education and gainful employment.  But all the Balinese we had contact with were warm and friendly. 

Bob's house staff has been with him for years, and are like family.  As we left to return to Singapore, they urged us to come back. This was a once-in-a-lifetime trip, and yet it would be wonderful to see them again.

On our stop-over night in Singapore, Bob treated us to an incredible Peranakan dinner at the Grand Hyatt Straits Cafe.  Early the next morning, we were on our way back to Changi Airport on the MRT, old pros of the system now.  We could hardly believing our big trip was coming to an end.

Akemi and I have had a non-stop return to reality since getting home on Friday.   Our adventure is now one for the memory books, yet we also are now looking forward to many other excited things lined up for this summer.

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