I was concerned that the reality of Bali would not match my expectations. I’d heard raves from friends and read amazing accounts of the alluring island in Indonesia. I was excited – but also prepared to be disappointed.
After an amazing week there, I left with my head swirling with a kaleidoscope of images and my dreams vibrant with the sights and sounds of the art, color, nature and wonderful people of the island.
Each evening on Bali I was serenaded to sleep with the calls of frogs and cicadas and awakened by the sounds of birds and roosters. I’ll never forget the smiles of the children in their school uniforms, waving to me each morning and practicing their English as they greeted me with “hello” or “good morning.” It is said that the children in Bali are the happiest in the world. They grow up with their extended families in gorgeous surroundings – an environment of natural beauty and creativity.
The Balinese are by nature gentle, humble people with a relaxed lifestyle and a devotion to tradition. The smiles and easygoing nature of the people I met were soothing to the psyche.
Bali is a place of deep spirituality where every family, rich or poor, has their own temple. You’ll find a shrine around nearly every corner. On several occasions, while visiting the major temples on the island, I watched ceremonies with local people bringing offerings for the gods in baskets, sometimes balanced on their heads. On Bali, life, art, work, family and spirit seem to coalesce into one mesmerizing tapestry.
Many Californians going to Bali to surf stay around Kuta. There’s great surfing here, and the nightlife and parties are the liveliest on the island. But it would be a mistake not to explore the island further, as there's so much more to discover.
If you come to Bali and stay by the beach, make at least a day trip to the rice fields and to the artists’ mecca of Ubud. In Ubud, there are numerous shops and galleries of wonderful handicrafts, sculptures and paintings by local artists.
Many expats have migrated here to develop their creative talents. Others take (or teach) yoga classes. There are traditional dances each night at the Ubud Palace. I also enjoyed going to the barong dance in Batubulan just south of Ubud and a legong dance at Café Lotus near the Ubud Palace.
I stayed at Santra Putra Guest House in the little village of Penestanan near Ubud. It is run by the internationally exhibited abstract artist, Wayan Karja, and his wife, Made. Karja’s work makes use of vibrant colors and is informed by Balinese cosmology. He offers painting lessons to guests.
If you stay there, request one of the upstairs rooms overlooking the rice fields. Also, check out the amazing banana pancakes at nearby Made’s Warung.
Each little village on Bali seems to specialize in its own craft – some in stone carving, some wood carving, others Batik clothes weaving or beadwork. The Balinese are skilled and patient artisans. It may take a month to carve a detailed wood sculpture and up to a year to weave a colorful Batik dress. The key for the Balinese is to do it right, to create something beautiful that will last.
Bali is an island that exudes healing and is conducive to peace and relaxation. There are several spas to enhance that feeling of serenity.
It may be paradise, but Bali is not without traffic. It has its own version of rush hour (mainly with motorbikes) after 5 p.m. The roads were even buzzing with a plethora of motorbikes at 9 p.m. during my ride from the airport to Ubud. You can rent one inexpensively to get around the island, but be cautious if you're inexperienced – there are many accidents involving visitors.
For a relatively small island. Bali has quite a variety of natural wonders. You can hire a driver for a day for about $50 to take you anywhere on the island you want to go. Check out Trip Advisor for recommended drivers. My drivers, Agung Dena, Wayan Lia and Kadek Adnyana (all very good) loved to tell about their lives on the island and various Balinese customs.
Many of the temples and restaurants I was brought to were in locations with magnificent views. I never knew that lush river valleys and rice fields could be so inspiring. The stepped terraces are particularly lovely, and I believe I saw shades of green during my stay that I had never seen before.
Some of my favorite spots on the island were the Jatiluwih rice fields (have lunch or a late afternoon drink at the Jatiluwih Café), the Besakih temple and the Guning Kawih temples, where you'll enjoy a spectacular view of the valley as you descend the stairs to the stone carvings. I was also brought by my driver to a stunning hidden waterfall in the jungle. There are several mountains you can hike as well.
On my first morning in Bali, I was taken to the beautiful Sayan rice terraces just outside town and introduced to an Australian artist who had married a Balinese woman. For 40 years he had lived in a house that he designed overlooking the lush, gorgeous valley. He spoke of a trip across America he made in the 1960s inspired by Jack Kerouac’s classic, On the Road. I told him I heard that Francis Ford Coppola was preparing to make a movie based on On the Road.
“Oh, Francis Ford Coppola was here just a few months ago sitting where you are right now. I’ve known him for years.”
It turns out that Van had known Clint Eastwood and Buckminster Fuller (“the Leonardo da Vinci of our time”) as well. Though he had hobnobbed with celebrities (who may well have envied his quiet, contented life in paradise), he was happy just to be chatting with me this particular morning.
“Why would I want to go anywhere else? I’m in the best place in the world.”