The image of Bali conjures up images of skies painted pink and orange, lusciously green rolling rice fields, steep ominous volcanoes, large smiling faces, bustling markets and reverend ceremonies. Images that attest the fact that this island has something special going on. What sets the island apart though lies a lot deeper. The Balinese people are masters of equilibrium. Living in that holy place all the while respecting nature, producing arts and crafts, paying homage to their Hindu gods with ceremony and prioritising family and friends at every opportunity. They are devoutly committed to self-care and healing, and hold a big vision for how they live their lives. One that is innately connected.
Here is a collection of short stories of people, places and experiences that capture Bali’s essence. Where magic collides. Where spirit comes to life. Where the divine dances in the light of the day and the celestial bows in the dark of the night.
And it really is no wonder it’s called the Island of Gods.
It enwraps you.
His whole face lights up. His old murky blue eyes twinkle with soft gentleness. His mouth wide in mid grin. His skin wrinkled, lining years of smiles and chuckles.
Freckles and spots mark his nose, a speckled canvas painted by countless days in the sun. He may have few teeth remaining, but his face is full.
Full of happiness. Full of life. Full of love.
A man crouches in the rice field and opens a basket. He carefully takes out offering after offering, a collection of flowers, fruits and weaved banana leaves, and delicately places each of them ceremoniously on the grass before him.
He blesses it with holy water, closes his eyes and bows his head in silent prayer. He asks for abundance, prosperity and growth to support his family. He plucks a bundle of rice stalks from the field and places them atop his creation; his call for a brighter future.
Ascend to descend
“Turun, turun,” says the guide before us in the dark of the night, gracefully climbing the ascent with the ease of a mountain goat.
“Cepat, cepat!” He is asking us to continue with speed. To climb ahead and reach the summit of the volcano in time for sunrise.
I look to my right and see the moon, full and beaming its luminous light. I take a moment to look behind me, only for a minute, and see a trail of small glittering lights zig zagging their way up the mountain, treading the same path I had just walked. I can’t help but think we are all on this journey.
We continue, scaling the loose volcanic rock to the top where we are met with the dead of the night. Pitch black and cold. I slightly tilt my head and all is radiant. Stars and galaxies sparkle and shine, creating a roof over our heads. We stay. We sink into the silence.
Time is elusive. I’m not sure how long it takes before shapes gradually become visible as the sun creeps slowly above the horizon, beaming its energy our way.
First only a pin-point, bright and powerful. Slowly, it grows. All is golden. The volcano across the way in enveloped by a ring of clouds, fluffy and buoyant. Monkeys scamper with excitement, climbing nearby trees with their bubs.
The sun is here to grace the new day. Everyone is awake. Everything is alive.
It’s time to descend.
Rhythmic, guttural, repetitive, captivating. 100 or so men sit in a circle, chanting the word “kecak” over and over again, swaying their bodies to and fro, left and right.
An older man - small, frail, and grey - raises his voice above them all, and preaches a message. A message we don’t understand but it is said with such power and force, it makes your hair stand on end. The volume of the chant reaches a peak.
Beautiful women dressed with gold crowns and jewels and tightly bound sarongs, enter the circle. Their eyes – big, round and dark – dart from one side to another. Their hands twist and turn with extended hypnotizing fingers. A fire grows taller and taller, burning the pile of wood in the centre.
The swaying is now more vigorous. More intentional. Monsters and demons now enter the ring, masked as frogs, monkeys and eagles. There is fear in the air. The princesses are in danger. The fire rises. The tension soars. The choir sings louder. A fight breaks out; good versus bad.
From different parts of the room, singular voices vocalize a new tune. I glance at the men and it’s plain to see they are in a trance. Captivated by the scene and fully engrossed in the motion of the play. Unsure of what is to happen, with one swift move, evil is dissuaded and good triumphs. The princesses are released. But this isn’t the end.
What really leaves you shocked is what happens next. A man dressed in white – a holy man – riding a wooden horse bare footed proceeds to enter the fire. Walking over and kicking the burning hot coals, again and again. The audience astounded. People left in awe.
From the earth
Rich and flavorsome. Colourful. A piece of art. My plate is full.
The centre is an island of fluffy brown rice surrounded by a mote of Balinese specialties, each made with spice, sweetness and a dash of sour. Harmony for the taste buds.
Chilli, ginger and coconut are the dominant aromas, coating and marinated beans, roasted tempe and barbequed tofu. Shallots lightly fried, nuts slightly salted.
Lime for zest and crunchy spinach to garnish. Glorious food grown, cooked and prepared to satisfaction. To nourish, and of course, made with love.
Rice field strolls
A narrow pathway, only wide enough for my frame, ambles its way through the rice fields. Every now and then, a motorbike attempts to pass – a tight squeeze that almost always ends with me nearly toppling into the rice field, followed by “ma’af, permisi” (sorry, excuse me!) and a loud laugh from both of us.
Ducks quack in a pack, roosters roam heralding their presence. Dogs walk with a pace and small birds scoop to pluck snails and insects from the fields. In the distance, mountains border the view. Small brick temples are at every turn, marked by white and yellow flags, which flap ever so slightly in the warm air.
I walk this walk every day and each time, I discover something new. One day a man lugging a hessian bag full of coconuts stops to chat. On another, a small green snake crosses the path before me, two inches from my feet. On yet another, the rain pelts down with such ferocity I think I may just fall over.
Drenched head to toe, I can’t help but smile.
Question: Is there a place, much the way Bali is described here, that lights you up? Makes you feel a particular way? Keeps drawing you back? Share away in the comment box below. Can't wait to hear from you :)