Travel Blog #18 – Bali

Are you, like, even a traveller yah? If you don’t go to Bali ? With white sand beaches, yoga retreats, surfer dudes, palm groves and waterfall walks it promises to be the perfect instagram opp stop. And blooming eck there’s a lot of insta action. Search #bali or #yogaubud and there so many picture perfect poses and party photos and beach bodies and headstands with sunsets and sunrises –

But do people just go because you should ?

Where is the Balinese culture and is there any left ?

Our motivations for going to Bali were surfing and yoga; and heading initially straight to the inland town of Ubud the intention was to eat well and live well. We were to have a month in Indonesia (or Indo as the Australian teenagers say) and so looking to try to slow down. The fact that Ubud is yoga vegan healthy food cafe heaven meant that is was to be a welcome, if somewhat slightly guilty pleasurable change from the more grittier parts of SEA. (That’s South East Asia for you non traveller types yah).

Surf camp is booked for next week so this week is for Helen to initiate me in the virtues of yoga. Days are spent nicely in a routine of early morning classes at the famous ‘yoga barn’, brekkie on the balcony, then a mixture of, in no particular order; Balinese coffee, book writing, brunching, ‘power’ bowls (big salads essentially), book reading, Bali massage and flower baths (though we only did that once. Ok, twice).

I was really surprised by how much I enjoyed the yoga sessions – I was one of the people who thought yoga was for fatties and softies who didn’t want to exercise properly. I was ignorant. The exercise and the poses were super hard and clearly good for improving strength and balance; but I also very much connected to the spirituality and the ethos of the practice.

We explored a range of yoga styles, each rooted in Hindu and Buddhist theory and expressing a view on the world through mindfulness, clean living and community – collective consciousness.

First evening it was ‘Restorative Yoga’ which was on the face of it lying on the floor for 90minutes very sleepy and with little movement. But that was me being ignorant. It was really relaxing and strangely revitalising. How often do we take the time to unwind physically, mindfully. Not sleeping, not collapsing into bed on a night after working late or child care or Netflix binge but consciously, mindfully, maintaining natural poses, identifying tension and trying to let the body soften, reflecting on the day and giving thanks.

Next morning is opposite. Beginners flow is a more recognizable style to me, and bloody hard. I’m really hurting from the balances and the poses; ,sun salutations and warriors pose my faves. No wonder the yoga dudes are all tanned and handsome and toned.

Back again the following day at 6.30am for ‘Kundalina’, which was buzzing! A mixture of seated stretches, a free dancing section and a philosophical conversation. Our teacher plays some music and encourages us to move, just dance around, and although I’m a little self conscious we close our eyes and probably for the first time in my life ‘danced like no one was watching’ -and it was good. Felt connected to my self and felt thankful for being fit (ish). Next, sweating profusely, we look a partner in the eyes and try describe a time we have felt grace. Felt thankful or happy with the world. It’s an interesting word, grace, and I initially found it difficult. But actually, pleasantly, it conjured up images of simple beauty that we talked through with honesty. A kind word. A sunset. A smile.

My final session is Yoga Yin Yang – a series of slower poses and some medium length meditation. Sitting with your thoughts is something I am trying to do more and it does bring about a feeling of contentment and acceptance. In this session the intense pleasure was enough to bring one lady to tears.

Other time in Ubud was spent enjoying a sauna and reflexology session. A full body massage and scrub and an oil bath with flower petals chocolates and tea. We go for a walk one day up through lush rice paddies along the Campua ridge and the massage after it the best thing ever for the sore calves and tired toes.

It really was lovely in Ubud and I enjoyed it probably the most, or at least one of the most, of the whole trip. I feel the healthiest and happiest in a long while. In fact we joke sometimes on a busy Filipino train or a bouncy boat across to Gili: ‘wish I was back in Ubud’.

Is it a place I enjoyed ? Very much. Did it make me feel good? Really good. But is it just about me havjng a good time ? It’s certainly set up for that. I just wonder how the locals feel about the influx of visitors. Yoga is not Balinese as such, but it is certainly an important aspect of the religious beliefs here. Vegan health food is not Balinese, but am sure plenty of Balinese people like it and it goes hand in hand with yoga. Thing is most of these places are not owned or run by Balinese people. All but one of the yoga teachers came from Bali. While we swanned about being healthy, grown men sit along the roads holding signs that say ‘taxi’. All day and night. Tourism has certainly been the making of modern Bali as it is, but I can’t help wondering what life was like before. Farming, mainly, inland, and fishing on the coasts, I suspect, and it’s easy to imagine that as an idyllic island subsistence existence – but no one wants to be a museum piece, and it probably pays a lot better to drive two tourists to the airport than to work the fields for months in the sun. But at what cost? As far as I could tell Balinese culture in Ubud did tick along nicely, just out of sight from me. And maybe that’s how it should be. All families have their own temple or shrine and the streets and lined everyday with offering boxes of flowers and foods. There is plenty of farming still on the island and Bali is still known as ‘spice island’ due to the abundance grown here.

We do attend a Balinese dance show but I feel it is rather for my benefit than anyone local, but on the other hand it gives jobs to the musicians and dancers and sustains folk traditions. The performance is Balinese Legong Dancing at the ubud palace. Crazy instruments banging and clanging with kind of head jerky body popping curled finger intricate dancing. Quite theatrical the eyes of the dancers jive and dart. The highlight for me a warrior dance complete with regalia, and a mask dance portraying an old miser preening himself. Made me think of the comedia dell arte pantalone and the French comedies of The Miser. Interesting how the grumpy old man character transcends international boundaries.

Further north into Bali to a town called Munduk and things are different again. The scenery is so lush green , the heat is wet, the streets are ours with no tourists here hardly. We’re here to hopefully see the famous spice farming of Bali and also take in the waterfall walks. Our first evening after arriving we go on a wild and sweaty trek to find an ancient banyan tree that someone said had fallen down but I didn’t believe them. After two or three hours of hiking up steep soil slopes and taking wrong turns and asking for directions we walk behind a run down youth club where people are playing basketball and see it. Fallen down. Oooops. Still, we get to walk the woodlands and see birds and butterflies and meet lots of locals. I reward myself with a Balinese BBQ pork rib, ginger veg mix, and some nice rice that night and I sleep very soundly.

Waking up to such a beautiful view I cannot resist an early morning dip. This is truly a beautiful spot.

Aching a little from yesterday’s adventure we take a guide to show us a Waterfall walk, taking in Munduk Red Falls, Labuan Kebo, and Laangan Melanting.

Our guide used to work as a journalist in Surabaya and after the Bali bombings was laid off. He explains that many businesses suffered after these terrorists attacks and the region has had to rebuild and re skill.

As we walk he talks us through the flora and fauna of his hometown, maybe not his original journalistic dream but he has a way with words nonetheless as he details: Butterflies the size of sparrows and all the colours of the rainbow, dragon flies too buzz by. A snake slides into the stream and wiggles off in the current – magic moments.we pause on the path to less pass a Beetle built like an armoured car. Then past Coffee plants, jasmine flowers, red rice white rice rose apples limes cacao courgettes, mini pumpkins and more. A lady at a wooden shack sells packs of spice to passersby, as new stock dries In the sun.

Apparently the area is famous for ‘living coffee’ made using beans eaten, and ‘passed’ by civet cats. After the walk we stop to talk and sample at a Kopi Warung Luwak. ‘Luwak Munduk Bali’ made from the scat of wild civet cats. Best coffee in the world? Was good, and I like the theatrical brewing system. Nice brew, not a bad view too.

Down the road Food at Don Biyu. Lovely pork satay medley Chilli and lemongrass, bbq honey and black pepper. Rice and spinach with peanuts and chills. Banana goujons and chocolate brownie. Feel like I’m in the real Bali.

What I’m really here for is the Big Waterfall tour and next morning we head off to Kroya waterfall.

We start with a gentle 5 metre flop into a lush green pool. The Kroya waterfall itself chutes down a face about twice that size opposite and provides the water walloping soundtrack.

The signs says ‘test your nerve’ but the platform is well built and the drop short so without wait I’m in.

A nice warm up.

And Helen follows!

Next we scramble up sloppy steps to the the top of the falls and in corpse hands crossed position slide down the fast natural flume and plop our into foamy white wash wonderment ! Great buzz. And Helen comes up smiling too.

Just down stream are the Kembar waterfalls – where there are jumping plunges 10 and 15 metres.

This is where Helen bows out. The first one is a tight drop from a flat crag into the brooding blue bowl below. Couple of deep breaths to get myself together, tummy flutters. I seem to fall for an age bracing for the slap, I tilt a little on my axis by accident as I drop and schlop my back and bum loudly as I land. Woo! Feeling pretty alive right now.

Just a along is the main event. A 15metre leap of faith over outcrops to drop into a wide round ripply flow of water below. I sit on the edge a little pointy rock and look over my toes. Gulp. Legs feel jelly ish breath quickens. It takes a while to pluck up courage but I meet the test feet first after a torpedo plunge into the water. Up for air up for air up for air – yeah! Takes my breath away, laughing smiling invigorating, clapping from above and love .

Then we Take a taxi Back to ubud. My bum is black and blue and my nose is blocked with water but it was worth it. And I felt like I saw a little bit of the Bali that lies behind the photo filters and perfect swimsuit sunset pouts. So this is what it’s all about.