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Thursday 12 January 2012

Portraits from Bali

Eat, Pray, Love?

The day before I flew to Bali I watched the film adaptation of Eat, Pray, Love. I know that sounds ridiculously clich├ęd. I hadn’t read the book but I knew what it was about. A writer fed up with her job, her life, her home, her husband….someone in need of a change and a new perspective. Knowing I had more than one of these things in common with her, it seemed apt it should be my pre-flight viewing. The movie rushed through Elizabeth Gilbert’s travels around Italy, India and Bali though I sensed that the book would be more complete. But alas; it got me excited about the prospect of seeing some rice fields, even if I wouldn’t, like Julia Roberts, be able to cycle through them. 
Happy feet

First thing was first. Bali has long been known for its massages, spas and pampering treatments and it was my plan to ensure every inch of me got to experience these local traditions – starting with a frangipani pedicure. Seeing these fragrant buds in abundance on every street corner made me realise that I’ve never actually seen a real one before. But it wasn’t just these beauties; the entire island was filled with colourful fauna and foliage, none of which I could name as most of them were new to me.
Wherever you are in Bali, you are never far from a massage therapist. But the biggest concentration are in the cultural capital of Ubud. I found it useful to gather up all the leaflets I was handed as I wondered around, and to pop in and view the facilities before choosing. Prices vary so it’s best to pick and mix around the treatments you want, rather than packages. On my final day I opted for four hours of massage, scrub, reflexology and a hair treatment, split over two neighbouring venues that set me back just £17.
Toyah Bungkah's resident artist

I had heard that creative people automatically feel at home in Bali, while non- creatives leave in touch with their creative side. I can safely say that the first part of this theory is true; I settled in immediately, which was strange considering geographically it is the furthest I’ve ever travelled. Even the most ordinary of people seemed to be brimming with creative talent. I met this man in Central Bali in the lakeside, volcanic town of Toyak Bungkah. He makes his living by selling paintings (so intricate you need a magnifying glass to appreciate them) and breeding fish. He paddled me over to his fish farm in a small canoe to see his specimens. It was one of the most picturesque locations and it sounded like the most ideal of jobs, and yet in reality holding down two jobs is a challenge and no where near as romantic as it seemed.

Family life

Public transport is Bali’s only weak point; it’s non-existent. For boat trips, there are a choice of public and tourist boats, where prices vary. The quotes I received to visit a small island, off the coast of mainland Bali varied from £50 to £32 to £4…..I’m sure you can work out which one I opted for! On the roads there are small tourist buses called Bemos but sadly they are unreliable, take ages (two-hour car journeys can take seven hours in one because they chug along so slowly) and are crammed, so you can’t appreciate the views. I saw most of the sights on the back of a motorbike and from car windows where I snapped up this family outside their shop.

Another Wayan

In Bali people have several names. Dependent on the order of when you were born, one of your names will be Wayan (first born), Made (second born), Nyoman (third born), Ketut (fourth born). I met many Wayans, Mades and Ketuts!  

Strawberry Stop

I found it hard to get a true understanding of Balinese food as I mostly lived off fish curry and rice or tofu and rice (it seemed to be served everywhere, but I wasn’t sure if that makes it strictly Balinese?) Juice wise I switched between avocado and jackfruit…..two of my favourite fruits. For the entire trip my travel partner Janine and I followed our noises rather than the guidebook. Infact there was just one place we read about that we made an effort to go to, Strawberry Stop (because I have an obsession with strawberries.) Here we saw strawberry fields, drunk fresh strawberry juice and witnessed local kids gobbling them down like sweets.

Peaceful playtime

We actually had no idea that December/January is low season in Bali and because we stayed away from the major tourist hangouts we rarely saw any other travellers. And perhaps that also explains why I found it so easy to switch off. For once in my life I felt as though I was living in the present. My mind wasn’t wondering off daydreaming as it usually does, it stayed where it was. One of the main disciplines taught by mediation instructors is to master this technique and I seemed to do it without even closing my eyes.

Natural phenomenons

No trip to Bali is complete without visiting temples. All but one of them are Hindu temples and I saw some utterly outstanding ones, but it was islands only Buddhist temple that blew me away the most. It had an almost magical atmosphere that attracted all manner of wildlife to settle within its grounds.

Culture in Ubud

Traditional Balinese dance shows are on most evenings around Ubud. I was slightly sceptical that they could be very dull and amateurish, yet the performance we saw at Ubud Palace was hugely impressive. The costumes were stunning and the discipline of the moves and facial expressions made it seem like the hardest choreography I’ve ever witnessed.

My companion Janine at Mundak waterfall

But the moment I felt like I had truly let go and felt fully rejuvenated was when we stopped off at Mundak waterfall. There’s another major waterfall in the vicinity that most visitors flock too, but Mundak is the quieter one. As soon as the gentle. cooling mists hit my cheeks, every stress I had ever felt, vanished. And this comes from the girl who sits at her computer most of the day with poor posture, storing stress in her shoulder blades. The mists dissolved away what months of physio could never do. Which makes me think rather than shelling out a fortune on expensive doctors, coming here is a far better way to spend money!

Mount Batur (this is real scenery, even if it does look painted!)
So, the overall verdict? I certainly ate, prayed and loved during my trip to Bali…but where love was concerned it wasn’t with a jeep driving Brazilian! I left with more love for myself, and what I do, and with a renewed enthusiasm for life. I am happy to be back home (and back to blogging!) as I have an amazing bank of holiday memories which will help me get through any challenges I may face in 2012.

All images (apart from the last one!) taken by me!

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