Experiencing Bali

Ganesha, Hindu God of Beginnings

Travelling is one of those things that you often wished you were doing while the life you are leading throws up obstacles to prevent you from doing it, so when Hannah asked me if I'd like to go to Bali, I thought about it for a second then jumped at the chance. It occurred to me that I'd never given Bali any thought other than seeing friends I know visit there on occasion. Being a photographer with a love for hiking and mountains, I expected myself to go to New Zealand next, and yet, after running around the popular Indonesian island with Hannah for two weeks, I'm now unsure as to when I would "fit in" that visit to New Zealand.

It's not that I don't believe the mountainous snow-capped lands of New Zealand (Middle Earth) wouldn't be a great destination. There are some amazing hikes I'd love to do such as the Routeburn Trail, but in hindsight, I had rendered myself blind to once again experiencing a very different culture and environment to our own. In the end, Hannah was the one who set up most of the trip's general direction and we filled in the gaps on the go.

Driving past a cockfight on the way to Sahadewa.

I'm guilty of photographer's tunnel vision when approaching the idea of travel, thinking more about the locations and the mountains I would see and giving far less thought to the cultures I would experience instead. Our short race around Bali has given me far more of an appreciation of the Indonesian culture and has heightened my excitement for a potential visit to Japan in 2017, my first in the country.

We stayed in four different locations across the south, central and eastern regencies of the island. Ubud was first and it was a great place to start because it allowed us to become familiar with the way people in a bustling town go about their day, such as how the countless scooters and small SUVs squeeze their way down the thin streets, learning to deal with the very different scale of currency (10,000 Rupiah to 1 Aussie Dollar) and interacting with the Balinese people who are very much used to visitors. As a self described "city kid", I felt at ease being amongst the busy streets of Ubud.

Hannah writing notes whilst I read at Kafe, Ubud.

From making Kafe in Jl. Hanoman our local for lunch to seeing the White Herons in Petulu and experiencing the wonderful Sahadewa Kecak and Fire Dance, our five nights at Ananda Cottages amongst the rice fields was the perfect introduction to Bali. We're both avid readers and podcasts listeners so it was often easy to sit back and spend a good half hour just being quiet and absorbing the surroundings before moving on.

Exploring the rice fields near our first stay in Ubud. The peak in the distance is Gunung (Mount) Batukaru, north west of Ubud.

I've never been a big theatre goer, more out of ignorance than disinterest, so I was delighted to find myself watching a performance that was so different to anything I'd seen in the past. The Kecak dance surprised me to point of laughing many times throughout the show, from the percussive "cak" and haunting verses sung by the men to the fascinating movements and actions of the various characters. I didn't understand the Indonesian words, but I almost didn't have to.

Bali is much closer to the equator, and as you might have guessed, it's hot. You get used to the heat however, despite coming from the middle of winter in Brisbane. Sweating buckets on most days becomes part and parcel. We only experience that half of the year here, but Bali is just always hot and humid. When everyone feels it all the time, it no longer becomes an issue. Another more modern aspect of Indonesian culture is that given the small and often unmaintained roads, the most common vehicles you'll see are scooters and smaller versions of people movers and vans.

As far as we could tell, there are no road rules in Bali. The traffic simply flows according to the attentiveness of each and every driver. Although this often causes long delays, I never once saw any vehicle collide nor any pedestrian struck. It was almost liberating in comparison to the strict, safety first, zero freedom rules we have in Australia. Roads have lanes painted on them and there are traffic lights in some built up zones, but it's really more of a guide.

Our driver Wayan, family man with three children and often our tour guide helped us discover many interesting locations along the way to our second and third stays, from Taman Kertha Gosa in Semarapura to Tirta Gangga, the water palace, in Abang.

Street in Semarapura

Part of the water palace which was formerly the royal palace of Tirta Gangga owned by Karangasem Royal.

These lads at the water palace were taking pictures of each other, so I first took their's with their own then asked to make my own picture. Smiles all round.

After a good four hours of driving and stopping along the way, we stopped in Amed where our next stay was. The roads were quieter. No bustling town streets here, but plenty going on regardless. The east Bali beach town of Amed is home to an assortment of beach side villas, farms and mountain roads following the coast and leading back into the mountain ranges.

This ended up being more of a relaxing three days of snorkelling and hiring scooters to explore the roads up and down the coast as well as enjoying the Indonesian cuisine. Nursing some minor bumps and bruises from coral formations while snorkelling (in my case) and a slip on the beach rocks (in Hannah's case), we found Amed a little slower than we had become used to in Ubud. The interesting thing I found with the food in Bali was that despite being a self-declared meatosaurus, I ended up eating almost entirely vegetarian meals. Since coming back I've tried to keep this going too.

Our couple of days on the beach turned into two nights at Great Mountain View Villas in Sidemen, a cozy but beautiful stay on the slopes of the hills facing Gunung (Mount) Agung, a 3,031m stratovolcano which last erupted in 1963. We both found it mesmerising, as the highest mountain ranges near us are only a third of the elevation. If you're up for the challenge, there is a 12 hour hike you can try, otherwise Mount Batur has a four hour hike but was described as quite busy, so we were okay with not doing the trek in the end.

Hannah insisted on "dragging" me to a cooking class, but it was a great experience in the end and further heightened my appreciation of the traditional ways of Balinese living. Yuka, our Green Kitchen cooking instructor, took us through the rice fields to collect the ingredients for each of the several dishes then made our way to the kitchen where we proceeded to prepare each component by hand in a workshop fashion, from squeezing coconut milk to pounding spices and vegetables into sauces.

Our last few days were spent in the southern end in Uluwatu where we stayed at the very new Hideaway Villas. Other than a day trip to Seminyak and visiting the Uluwatu Temple on the coastal cliffs, we spent the remaining time catching up on reading and relaxing.

Even with only two weeks, I thoroughly enjoyed the experience, aided partially by generally avoiding the areas flooded with selfie stick wielding tourists (despite being tourists ourselves!) and can recommend anyone thinking of visiting the island to seek out the traditional Balinese cultural elements if they can.