Lantern Festival

Lantern Festival
Nighttime, Lantern Festival.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

A Li'l Tuscany, A Li'l Bali

Via Cavalieri. A lot of the streets in Pisa are narrow .
My friend MLZ gets very excited about certain things and then she's like the dog with a bone. Well, this time it was Julia Roberts' 'Eat, Love, Pray'. I wasn't that crazy about it, but she would go on about a pilgrimage to Tuscany, India and Bali.
Yes, Pisa is in Tuscany.
India wasn't that doable, because for one thing, it's too hot and for another no one else wanted to go besides herself and she wasn't about to go on her own.  But Tuscany! Now, that was everybody's idea of romance and good food and wine. B&B's perched on mountaintops, olive groves stretching down the valley into the sunset, winding mountain roads, and Yves, our imbibing French friend-chauffeur whom we had befriended on our first trip to Mougins, in the south of France, on the Mediterranean. That was ready made romance.Not Yves, I meant Tuscany .

Yves, always cheerful
Anyway, this post wasn't going to be about Tuscany, because the third country Julia Roberts went to was Bali, and that's where six of us landed last September. It was love at first sight for all of us, although we didn't get  to stay in a rice field. We would have, only the foreign investors had got there ahead of us and bought up the vacation houses and charged unashamedly. So we went local. We signed in to the Kuta beach hotel, a most enchanting Balinese hostelry with beautiful smiling young things greeting us with hands clasped in front of their bowed heads. And the gorgeous plantings, oh those flowers!  I felt like a film star. 'Selamat datang'  indeed.

With Sambo, our lovable driver and guide. That's me, one of his escorts.
Entrance to the temple is behind us.
The hotel was almost smack in the middle of the town but only accessed through a  long back lane, so it was quite private and quiet. There was also a large courtyard. We walked out on the first day and could not walk anywhere without a bunch of youngsters following us, calling out the names of their massage houses and their fees. It seemed they knew that all foreigners came to their country for their massages. And they were ridiculously cheap.  $4 an hour?

We obtained the services of a van with a driver for the duration of our Bali stay. It happened that we stopped at a roadside stall where a young man had a sign advertising trips and tours, and he just knew where we could get a van with driver. He made a phone call and voila, we had our driver and tour guide, Sambo.

Our driver was young and hip, had a long ponytail, cheerful, courteous, and very knowledgeable. He knew every inch of the country, it seemed. He took us to all the known tourist sights and some unknown ones, and my fellow travelers decided to fund the economy. Four of them had massages every day and all of us bought everything in sight.
The beautiful soloist Temple dancer .
Temple dancers in Batubulan. Dancing
the Ramayana.
I loved the greenery, the people, the cultural shows.  We went to the temple in Batubulan (Moonstone)  for the traditional Barong dances, which mostly told the story of the Ramayana. On our second night we were part of a crowd of hundreds gathered at the Uluwatu Temple, at the edge of a cliff, 200 feet of a drop to the Indian Ocean. We witnessed the spectacular Fire Dance where we were sure we were in danger of incineration because it seemed some accelerant was used and there was a fairly strong breeze coming in from the Ocean. The dance, as is usual among the traditional dances, tells of the fight of Good over Evil.

terraced ricefields
Sambo took us to terraced ricefields and to waterfalls. He found us the little shop that served the local roast pork, babi guling (disappointing) and the vendors of durian! Now that was worth the whole trip. Were we in heaven?  The vendors (wearing gloves of course) opened the hard durian shells and gave us the extracted kernels in a small plastic food bag. We sat at the roadside and fed our faces. The ridiculous price wouldn't have bought two mangoes in New York. Repeat: were we in heaven?

The outside of the jewelry  shop owners' home
When our driver took us to a gold and silver shop  in Celuk, the girls' trip was made. The pieces were absolutely gorgeous. The shop was owned by the designer, a pretty, very elegant young lady from Sumatra, and her handsome Balinese husband. They live in a separate house behind the shop, and when we gasped over how beautiful the Balinese-style house was,  they welcomed us to tour it. Their traditional wedding picture was hanging on a wall. They looked like some Malay royalty and he gave me permission to photograph the picture.

Wedding picture of the young couple who owned the
gold and silver shop. I had to photograph it  (with his
permission). They are so beautiful.
Every one of our four days in Bali was filled with fun and excitement. My most precious souvenir is a pair of silver and marcasite dangle earrings from our very hospitable jewelry hosts. I have their card somewhere among all the misplaced items from my recent move.

Peaceful Balinese village.  We left Bali regretfully. The concensus was: 'I could live here.'


  1. Looks like you had a nice trip Ah Ngee Ku :)

  2. Hi, Kenny, yes, it was fabulous. Nice to hear from you.

  3. After reading your blog I can't help but feel nostalgic and brought many, happy memories we all had in Bali. Let's do it again soon. mlz

  4. You bet! Just whisper a word in a few ears, MLZ.

  5. Love the wedding photo. What a beautiful couple and how very romantic! India is often on backpacker's itinerary, as it was on my son's 3-month-holiday. I guess it was the begging and pressure from vendors to buy; or taxi drivers and porters to use their services in Mumbai and other cities that put him off a bit. I tell him that experiences - good or bad, are part of what makes a journey memorable.

  6. Yes, moretea, journeys are taken for the experiences we can treasure for a lifetime. And what stories we can tell our grandchildren! We must be open to how 'the rest of the world' lives and hobble along with them the best way we can. Together, we can make life worth living.