My favorite place in the world is Bali. I’ve been been blessed to be able to go there twice now. Each time has been a “family vacation” with all that entails. And yet, despite the responsibilities of parenting first two and then three children under 6, including “losing” the oldest on the last trip, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed myself both times.
The first trip was just the four of us and my mother-in-law. The second was the entire sibling group, mother-in-law and our three for a total of 6 adults and 3 children. And this was the time that the oldest of my children wandered away from the group and was “lost”. I find this very funny now although it was not funny when it happened. At the time, I wondered how two ostensibly responsible adults (my brother-in-law and his new bride) could “lose” a 5.5 year old. When one realizes that it was their honeymoon, it’s not that hard. And the oldest of my progeny has this way of slipping off from the group that is maddening.
But enough about that one little blip. I’m telling you about Bali itself. This is not meant to be a travelogue. All I’m doing is giving you my innermost thoughts.
Bali is my favorite place on earth. It’s pure and unspoiled. For the most part. If you don’t mind the tourists and the shopping malls that are an inevitable part of tourism. For me, the pasar-pasar (markets) are more intriguing than Starbucks – even though I made a concerted effort to visit every Starbucks in the areas of Indonesia that we were located. For me, finding the perfect batik tulis (hand-dyed batik) was the main attraction – more so than the most killer wave that the surfers all come for. And Ibu Oka’s babi guling (roast suckling pig) mean more to me than the local McD’s. Ibu Oka’s babi guling is such an important treat to me that I will eat there every day I’m in Bali if I could. It’s nearly impossible to make here in the States so I have to gorge myself while I’m resident in Bali. Another treat that I try to get while I’m there is klepon. They are little balls with gula merah (brown sugar) inside and coated with coconut flakes. Truly addicting. And fattening in large amounts.
But beyond all that, there’s a peacefulness in Bali that I’ve not found anywhere else in the world except Bogor on the island of Java – where my father-in-law is laid to rest. To say that Bile is restful is an understatement. Even in the aftermath of an earthquake during our first visit, the serenity of the island was unbroken. We barely felt the earthquake when it happened. We were at a lake resort/tourist stop with the ubiquitous Hindu temple and a restaurant that served pisang goreng (fried bananas) that were heavenly.
The Balinese people live by the philosophy – rooted in Hinduism – of being at peace with God, then nature and each other. Truly, this way of living permeates every interaction I’ve had with the Balinese - a lovely people who are almost always smiling.
Since Bali is primarily Hindu with a smattering of Muslims and Christians unlike the majority of the Indonesian archipelago, there are hundreds of temples to the Hindu gods all over the island. Many of the temples are still in use today and one can observe Hindu services in progress. The ancestors of the Balinese came from India via Java around a thousand years ago or more. They were forced there by the newer Muslim settlers that came via the Middle East while on the spice trade routes. The Balinese language is very similar to Hindi or Thai script with it’s curlicues and basis in Sanskrit. There is also somewhat of a caste system remaining as well.
But none of that has any real bearing on why I want to bury myself in Bali and never return to the outside world. The “peaceful, easy feeling” washes over me the moment I step off the plane and I head toward the baggage carousel. Despite the almost 100% humidity – which to this Florida native is normal – and the language barrier – I speak VERY little Bahasa Indonesia (the official Indonesian language) and NONE of the Balinese language – I feel at ease with life and humanity. It’s as if the Balinese philosophy becomes part of me and I become one with the Island.
Bali is verdant. Unspoiled. You can stay in a five star resort or in a private residence where there is no one else around for at least 200 meters. In either case, you still will have an amazing view. The sounds are similar to what I imagine the Garden of Eden was like. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that Bali could *be* the Garden of Eden. Lush vegetation, beautiful fruits and vegetables, flora and fauna that intrigue… All that and still there are pockets of “civilization” where one can get wi-fi and a Starbuck’s latte or McDonald’s hamburger and fries – if that’s what you really want.
Bali is the best of both worlds, really. And when I retire… If I retire… That’s where I’m going. And I’m never coming back. Never. You can keep your shopping malls and all the “modern conveniences”. I’ll take the sounds of silence, the frangipani flowers and my babi guling over them any day of the year.
If you’re in the mood to visit there, I recommend the Santika Beach Hotel and the Santi Café. Second to Santika Beach Hotel is the Hotel Padma. The Mandara Spa at the Hotel Padma is *amazing*. Even though there is a Mandara Spa local to me, I’d much rather go to the one in Bali. It’s just NOT the same. The Santi Café has the most AMAZING seafood in the world. You can pick your lobster, crab, shrimp, fish or other fruits of the sea from a tank as you walk in. And the chef prepares it to order. The bill for our meal was small compared to what it would have been in the States. It’s said you’re considered “lucky” if you get the shrimp with the most roe. Well, I was the one who got all the shrimp roe. And I guess I am pretty lucky to have been able to visit Paradise twice in one lifetime.
And now I’m suffering withdrawal. But life is good and I know that one day, I’m going back to my happy place. And if I’m lucky, I’ll never have to leave.
PS: I promise I'll put in some pictures so you can see why I never want to leave Bali.
PPS: The image header on my blog contains photographs from my Bali trips.