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Bali Days

by the Social Diary Hawai'i & Water Sports Columnist Sonja Evensen
Column #3, August 1st, 2006

Rich and sensuous, Bali engulfs the full range of senses. The smells and colors, rich batiks and silks, exotic landscapes, and sumptuous foods mingle with episodes of persistent vendors, mangy Bali dogs, and hoards of motorbikes, providing little 'white space'. It's a place heavy with decadence, yet strikingly fragile.

Whether you like Bali is mostly up to your own attitude, some judicious choices, and the rest is up to fate. Here is an example. I rode the local bus, called a Bemo, because I had time and curiosity; but it's not the usual choice of tourists because it is generally slow, hot and uncomfortable. Transportation is cheap enough otherwise but somehow I liked the idea of the roundabout ride.

In the midst of bustling Denpasar, I boarded a bus of curious co-passengers, some with crates of vegetables, some with chickens, and most were heavily burdened by whatever their livelihood demanded of them. I announced that I was going to a certain place in Kuta, which required a transfer or two. I paid my 500 rupiah (about 50 cents) and jostled along in the small bus that can hold 6 comfortably but generally holds 15. They know how to make themselves small.

I had to change bus, which required a 45 minute wait in the hot sun, in a smoke-filled bus with interesting other smells…but at least no pigs this time. A kind-faced young man sitting in the back, also curious about me, offered up a cigarette. I choked back my desire to lecture about the health risks and thanked him for his kind gesture. He spoke better English than most.

The driver, a bleached orange haired young man, full of tattoos, went about collecting fares. I pulled out the standard 500 bill and handed it over. He looked at me and said; "20,000". I stared in disbelief. As calmly as I could, I replied: "No, it's 500" and handed him my fare. He insisted, and then unexpectedly the kind faced young man in the back pulled out 15,000 to pay mine. Everyone on the bus looked at him, then looked at me, and waited for a reaction. I said "that's wrong", but pulled 30,000 out to give to him instead of the driver, preferring to pay him back for his kindness. He would have none of it.

As we got closer to Kuta, the bus driver motioned for me that it's time to get off. I looked around, saw nothing familiar, but moved toward the exit. As soon as I got up to get off, the kind young man behind me woke up from half-dozing and informed me; "no, this is not where you said you wanted to go--it is a bit further. I will show you." I gratefully sat back down, and about 3 miles later, he got off with me and decided to walk me to my destination. I asked him if he wanted to stop for lunch or a cold drink. He refused. What an angel, I can still see his face in my mind's eye.

Sure, I can understand the bus driver wanting to ream me. It isn't fair that we tourists have so much money, and can frolic around in their country and buy whatever we want. But I don't understand the meanness of telling me to get off at the wrong spot. Yet the young man's kind actions more than made up for it. Now there is some good karma.

You can easily see the good, bad, beautiful and ugly, in the same moment. The intense beauty in everything from the simplest carved bowl to the grandest temple hits you even more in retrospect. Everything from hand-carved furniture to intricately woven cloths, sculpted walls and beautifully landscaped gardens, gives a sense that great pride and care is taken for every detail. At the same time, one is being bombarded by vendors selling massages, manicures/pedicures, hair braiding, sarongs or transport; or anything that might make a few rupee…some just resort to begging, especially the little ones with the sad eyes. Frustrated vendors pull you into their shops, as if making you look obliges you to buy something, yet there are always sweet-faced people who just smile graciously. Lots of experiences are there to be had, for sure; from surfing to shopping, hiking up volcanoes, watching fire dances, visiting temples, and long walks in the rice paddies (one of the respites from the noise of dogs and motorbikes).

I later realized that surfing would have been a better experience by boat trip, or a visit to a neighbor island. I started off in Kuta; the Waikiki of Bali but worse, --because it was really easy to find a good quality board there…with more selection than in Hawaii. Surf was the god of the city--and indeed, a few foreigners seemed to have quit life elsewhere just to live there and surf. The beach break was consistent but crowded, and this was where most people come to learn, which means trouble.

Down the coast toward Uluwatu, there are more breaks: Impossibles, Bingin, Balangan and Padang Pagang. I ended up staying at Dreamland because it sounded so good. There were mostly European and Australians along with a few hot-shot Indonesians who rip more than Hawaiians. I got run over by some guy --so I put my hands over my head to come up (to make sure no board hits me in the head) and I grabbed something soft and squishy. He asked (in a high pitched voice)--are you all right? Well, that's what he gets for running me over. Dreamland, right…

By then it was time for a break to the hills. I bussed it to Ubud--the artsy city; a place known for yoga and reflection. It was a welcome respite. There I met and joined some young "kids" (in their 20's) to trek up Mt. Batur volcano. We got up at 1:30am (--rather, never actually went to sleep) to drive for 1.5 hours and then hike for 2.5 hours to reach the summit of Mt. Batur, just in time to witness the sun rising over Mt. Agung. Yes, it was worth the sleep-deprived hike on an empty stomach to view that magnificent sunrise. The monkeys were up for it too. Rather, they were up for the potential handouts as the guides fed us hot banana sandwiches and boiled eggs. Even the monkeys in Bali were good bargainers. Sometimes they would steal someone's hat or sunglasses and barter for a bunch of bananas.

For me, the highlight of the trip was meeting new friends while riding the bemo (I never gave up on it) on my way to Ubud. They too were curious about me and why I was there. Since it was a rather long bus ride, we had time to talk and learn a few things about each other. Wita is a fashion designer, and her husband is an engineer but is now working as a miller. Wita spoke excellent English, though her husband was rather shy but understood everything. By the end of the bus ride, they had invited me to his brother's wedding in a village about 30 minutes away. At the appointed time two days later, they sent someone on a motorbike to pick me up.

Imagine the silks, gold, offerings, and sounds of the chanting, bells clanging, and the smell of incense. The rituals lasted 4 hours. I was very aware that I was the only tourist there, so I hoped I didn't offend anyone. I found myself wishing I had something more decent to wear, but I did my grunge travel thing with a backpack and very few clothes. I had forgotten to wear a sash, which needs to be worn to enter the temple, but Wita was able to get one for me, without embarrassing me.

I was treated to an assortment of sweets, with mochi rice, banana and coconut and date sugar, soy nuts, then a sumptuous dinner -- and the hostesses kept coming around to make sure plates were loaded with delicacies. My new friend Wita patiently explained the rituals, what the prayers were about, and how the elders were chanting about their lineage--connecting the past with the future. The little girl from Timor wanted so badly to connect with me but we could only smile. She produced every word she knew in English. She had been learning it for 5 months so far.

What a gorgeous sight, all the beautiful women in their gold and silk sarongs, and men handsomely clad, and the bride and groom were stunning beyond belief! I felt truly blessed, my head full of images, warm feelings, and privy to a brief glimpse into another culture.

pictured here - Bali Canoe. All photos this page are the photo credit and copyright of Sonja Evensen, all rights reserved.

pictured here - Ketchak Dance.

pictured here - Batur Sunrise.

pictured here - Monkey in Batur

pictured here - Batur Scenery.

pictured here - Tiers of Rice Paddies.

pictured here - Monkey Forest Temple

pictured here - Wedding

pictured here - Wedding.

pictured here - Wedding.

pictured here - Dreamland.

pictured here - Dreamland.

pictured here - Denpasar Market

pictured here - Stone Carving in Ubud

pictured here - Rich Silk.

pictured here - Man offering Carved Coconuts.

pictured here - Sonja and little friend from Timor

pictured here - Wedding Ceremony.

pictured here - Wife and Husband praying.


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* Sonja Evensen is an ex-pro windsurfer who moved to Hawai'i from Norway over 25 years ago. She competed professionally for a little more than a decade. Currently she divides her time between windsurfing, surfing, and kitesurfing, not necessarily in that order. Besides her love of the water sports lifestyle, Sonja works as a program evaluation specialist for Pacific Resources for Education and Learning ( www.prel.org ), a job that takes her traveling throughout Micronesia and good surf spots.

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Warning ** photos, video and writing on this site are the

copyright of the author, The Social Diary, San Diego Social Diary, margomargo.com and Margo Schwab.

no reproduction of any part or parts is allowed without written permission by Margo Schwab






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