Bali, Indonesia (Part I)

Saturday July 9, 2016

Up in the middle of the night on our way to the airport. WE’RE GOING TO BALI. This is what dreams are made of: an enchanting island full of alluring colors, stunning beaches, and an inimitable culture humbly devoted to Balinese Hinduism.

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Rice fields in Ubud

We have two goals for this trip: get SCUBA certified and RELAX.

A friend and fellow American expat in Singapore highly recommended DiveInn Bali for getting our SCUBA certification. Chris and I completed the online courses and now we’re on our way to Tulamben to get in the water. Tulamben is about a three hour drive from Denpasar, the major airport on the island. The winding, chaotic roads are cluttered with motorbikes, chickens, cows, and cascading rice paddies. The Balinese harmony is palpable. Every creature is happy and peaceful. It’s contagious.

Tulamben is a sleepy diving and fishing village. There is really nothing else to do. Which is great because you have plenty of time to relax to the sound of the beach. The shoreline is comprised almost entirely of black volcanic rocks, smoothed over by the perpetual crash of salt water waves. It makes for distinct crackling sound as the water comes in and out.

Tulamben Beach, Bali, Indonesia
Tulamben Beach, Bali

After a few session in the pool to get comfortable with the gear we headed to the ocean for the real thing. That first plunge under the surface was surreal – we entered another world that is so foreign and unusual. The dive conditions in Tulamben are superb; the sea life is vibrant and active. The warm waters are clear and wet suits are more for protection than to keep you warm. The USS Liberty shipwreck is the lure for divers. We completed many dives over the next three days to achieve our Open Water SCUBA certification. We hit multiple spots all throughout the day. I thought the sunrise dive would be the best until our instructor asked if we wanted to do a night dive – I was terrified at the mere thought but was fairly easily convinced after a couple beers. If you ever get the chance to do a night dive you absolutely must. Everything is different in the dark. There were new fish and sea creatures to see that only come out at night. Nothing quite like turning the corner of a shipwreck and being face to face (12 inches away) with a 200lb fish. Your heart will surely jump but will quickly calm down when you realize its not JAWS! After the SCUBA experience it will be hard not to think about what’s lurking below the surface at every future ocean swim. What an incredibly life changing experience. I can’t wait for the next chance to put the gear on and dive down to 100ft. below the surface and back in the alien world under the sea. And fish love bananas and white bread – who knew?!

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SCUBA certification? Check! After four full days of diving, Chris and I head to Ubud, the spiritual center of Bali.

When driving in Bali, it is sheer, willful negligence to NOT stop at a waterfall along the way. Our wonderful driver, Gede (pronounced like an Aussie would say ‘good day’. It also means he’s the oldest child in his family, as all Balinese children are named by their birth order, regardless of sex. Fun fact!) took us to Tegenungan waterfall. I’m telling you, Bali will make your soul happy. It really is contagious.

If you must leave the waterfall to make your way to Ubud, going to Puri Sebali resort is a good reason for it. The main areas of Ubud are packed with tourists and jammed with motorbikes. There are temples everywhere. The Balinese create beautiful offerings each day and place them outside their homes, on their cars, outside their work place, and of course where they worship. Ubud can be so full of people the colorful folds of paper and flowers could easily be missed. If you keep going up the hills, you will find yourself at Puri Sebali above all the chaos, nestled in between rice paddies. It’s so serene you cannot miss the vibrant Hindu culture and way of life which has sustained the Balinese for centuries.

Our room was incredible and the private pool made relaxation impossible to avoid. It also made it really hard to leave and explore. The rice paddies were close enough to walk to, so we begrudgingly got out of bed and went for a morning walk. It was worth it! I can’t fathom how much rice must be grown to feed all the people here at nearly every meal. The farmers work the fields tirelessly planting, sowing, and harvesting the rice. It’s a wet, mucky job which never ends. If you go, wear sandals or shoes you can clean or you don’t care how dirty they get! Also, I recommend having a backup pair of shoes so you can wash your rice paddy shoes and let them dry during the day.

After the morning trek we came back to the resort, had some coffee, took a yoga class on the deck overlooking the beautiful scenery and relaxed by the pool until the early afternoon. Chris and I had to peel ourselves off the lounge chairs to venture into the city of Ubud. We checked out the crowded marketplace first. Mostly tourists and trinkets, you can also find some great art work by local artists.

A must-see in Ubud is the Monkey Forest. The monkeys reign supreme in this designated corner of the city. A few of them will wander across the street in search of snacks. Inside the forest though, they outnumber all the visitors. The jungles are lush with mini waterfalls and rolling waters, koi ponds, and of course– a temple. The monkeys are incredibly active and particularly protective of their young if you get too close. Otherwise, they do what they want, seemingly unfazed by people. Unless you have food. The signs all warn you not to have any type of food, even an old wrapper, on you because they will come after you to get it. Chris and I did see a couple purses snatched and searched. Almost immediately after entering the monkey forest one of them came up to Chris and stole a dental flosser out of his pocket. Shockingly, the monkey knew exactly what to do with it! He ran across the sidewalk and diligently flossed his teeth.

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I could have spent all day here wandering around in nature with some of our closest relatives. But it was hot, and we were thirsty, and the time was beer-thirty. Ubud is home to a plethora of super watering holes. Every few steps there is a restaurant or cafe. Even though Chris and I walked a lot, we still probably gained weight. We had a few drinks and made our way back to the city center in time for that evening’s dance performance. You can’t miss it– it happens at the temple right next to the Starbucks. You also shouldn’t miss it. The performance is captivating! The Balinese dancers are colorfully dressed and use every part of their body, particularly their eyes and fingers, to tell the stories of their religion.

Everything about Bali was magic. The sacrosanct culture and traditions are felt in your soul. I’ve never been any place like this, and while I’m sure there are some places that may come close, the heartbeat of Bali is immortal.

Cheers!

C+J    Monkey Forest, Ubud, Bali, Indonesia

Stay tuned… we’ll be exploring new parts of Bali soon in Part II 🙂