This article originally appeared in the A2Z Fashion Magazine.
With its picturesque rice fields and stunning beaches Bali is the synonym for a blissful wonderland for many. But what truly positions it so close to paradise is the local people’s sense of beauty, their spirituality and hospitality. And, maybe, the omnipresent scent of the frangipani flowers.
I was on the way from Lovina to Gilimanuk, where I planned to take a ferry to Java and wave Bali goodbye. I was eagerly looking through the windows of a small bus, the local bemo. I became overwhelmed with that feeling of insatiability which appears every time I have to leave a beautiful place for good. And Bali’s allure was unique indeed.
A local woman was sitting beside me with a baby, and a salesman took a seat in front of me. His merchandise took a lot of the bemo’s space. The conditions were rather uncomfortable. Squalid, narrow seats and insufficient space for legs. I just killed another ant on my notebook and wondered whether they were fare dodgers crawling out of my bag or the bus residents.
Of course plenty of more convenient transport options are available on Bali. In fact, the local tourist agencies unanimously claim that there is no such thing as public transport on the island and air-conditioned shuttle buses are the only option for visitors. Skeptic as I am, I eventually found my bemo in Lovina. It was incredibly hot so all its doors and windows were wide open. The wind was messing up my hair and I felt genuinely happy – something unachievable in an AC minivan.
Suddenly, the driver stopped in front of a temple. He left, carrying a small basket filled with flowers and sweets. He put the basket on a small altar by the temple, lightened an incense inserted amongst the offerings and said his prayers. When he returned, he smiled at me. We were now set to drive safely, the gods would watch over our vehicle. Just to be perfectly sure we repeated this ritual… four times during a five hour drive to Gilimanuk.
CULTURE, DANCES AND LONG-TAIL THIEVES
Entering Ubud for the first time feels like following the footsteps of Indiana Jones. The cultural center of the island is surrounded by vegetation so lush and intense, that it feels almost fairytale-like. Jungle and rice fields encircle this artistic oasis. Some claim that the town has lost a lot of its appeal since mass tourism started increasing in the previous years. The number of commercial places may indeed be overwhelming, with a Starbucks right next to the historical Royal Palace, but it is still possible to find many of those lovely corners where time stands still. As for the main sights, visiting the Monkey Forest and seeing a Legong dance drama are the obligatory points on your itinerary.
The dancers who perform the Legong dance in Ubud have mastered their moves to perfection. While following an extremely difficult routine, they also express emotions which enrich the performance. The Legong dramas usually tell stories about kings, princesses, wars and romance. And the music of the traditional gamelan orchestra, made up mainly of drums called kendhang, xylophones and flutes, makes for a dramatic background. Its sounds bring the public in an almost trance-like state, occasionally interrupted by a lady selling cold drinks. The most popular performances take place at the Ubud Royal Palace but they can be watched at several other places too.
The cheeky Indonesian long-tail macaque monkeys who inhabit the Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary (Mandala Suci Wenara Wana) in Ubud are one of the city’s main attractions. Looking cute and innocent, but only waiting for the smallest opportunity to rob a visitor of any item that resembles food. There are three astonishing temples inside and more than 600 monkeys all over them.