Monday, November 1, 2010

The magical island of Bali.

After Komodo our logical next stop was the legendary island of Bali. This island, located in the southern part of Indonesia, is well known; tourism being the main economic sector. Prior to our arrival we thought Bali would be just another island in Indonesia. But quickly we realized that it is a place of its own and one of its main attractions is Balinese dancing. During a dinner show we attended one of the many dance shows presented across the island but unfortunately no picture would ever make justice to the sophistication of the moves in this dance. One after the other the four dancers demonstrated their skills in the mastering of the complex movements of the fingers, the eyes, the head and every other muscle they possess and seem to be able to move independently. Of course, I didn't miss the opportunity, at the end of the show, to get a picture in the company of the four pretty Indonesian dancers!

In addition to tourism Bali is also in the rice growing business but doesn't miss the opportunity to take advantage of the fusion of the two. For instance this terrace; although used to grow real rice it is so pretty that all the best view points are crowded with tourist stands and the whole nine yards. On the second picture we stopped along a regular rice field where we could have a closer look at the "sticky" rice, which is very tall, and the normal rice at about half the height. Obviously, for Asians seeing a rice plant is as common as seeing a corn cob back home. But for us, rice like bananas grow on the shelves of the supermarket! Putu, our guide, found it a bit amusing that we asked him to stop to look at the plant, probably the most grown in the world.

We can't separate Bali and religion. While the rest of Indonesia is mainly Muslim, with 240 million inhabitants this makes it the one of the largest Muslim country in the world, people of Bali are of the Hindu faith and we can apparently find over 1000 temples on the island to worship Brama (the creator), Wisnu (the protector) and Siwa (the destructor/reconstructor) although the other spirits are not left apart. Everywhere we can see the daily offerings, called canangs, people leave on their doorsteps in the morning to attract the favors of the good Gods or to keep away the evil spirits while trying to keep a balance between the two groups. The offerings in questions are almost always small square baskets about 15 cm (6 inches) on the side in which they put flowers and/or fruits and offer to divinities. Of course, if you are too busy to make your own canang it is possible to buy them already made at the local market! Apparently Gods are not very bothered on the effort. The only thing though is they put the offerings in the middle of the door hence we have to be very careful where we put our feet not to walk on the offering and, we can always suppose, attract on our host the wrath of the Gods! It is also interesting to notice that in the polytheist religions (with several gods) like this one or the ones of the Incas we saw in Peru, have a relationship with their divinities based on exchange and reciprocity while the monotheist religions (with a unique god) such as the Judeo-Christian religions have a relationship based on submission before a punishing god.

One of the most visited places in Bali is the Tanah Lot temple built on a large rock located in the sea close to the shore and accessible only at low tide. The temple itself is, of course, pretty but what is even more interesting is what tourism has done with it. Tourists gather here by hundreds every day and they inevitably attracted with them a myriad of vendors like this little girl who was selling a kind of doll on a stick. The girl in question seemed to be at the beginning of her vendor's career and, although we didn't ask, was probably of legal age to work in Indonesia! But the street vendors, or this one who offered to show us a "holy" snake in exchange of a few rupiahs, were nothing compare to the tourist boutiques at the site entrance. Normally, near a tourist interest point we would find a strip of boutiques selling the usual crap such as all kind of sculptures, masks, sarongs, t-shirts, postal cards and so on. But here it is an entire village of boutiques that we find with streets and all! In fact, the boutique site is larger than the temple one! We nevertheless felt for a vendor who offered us to take a picture of us with his large python. I volunteered to wear the little crawling beast at the neck while Danielle said "No Way!" and was happy to just take pictures of me.

Ubud village has a macaque sanctuary and we did a quick stop to visit our distant cousins. Ok well, at looking at some people on the street or in politic we may come to think that the inhabitant of the Ubud reserve are not cousins that distant but our goal here was to see monkeys and not to conduct an anthropological research on the origins of political men!

Art and workmanship are intrinsically part of Bali. Our guide took us to see wooden sculptures, jewelry making and basket or motorcycle . weaving. Wooden sculptures are characteristic of Asia, i.e. extremely beautiful and with an incredible level of details. Jewels were on the same line and while we couldn't afford to buy these beautiful nautiluses set with silver we still acquired two necklaces and two silver wire sculpture frames. However, the interesting part here is yet again the people. At the jewelry store prices were bits high but not excessive. But the saleswoman was giving us 20% off right away and clearly let us knows she was open to dealing. After a few minutes of back and forth with the price we would eventually converge on a price about 50% of the tag price making the purchasing quite attractive. Of course the negotiation was a bit difficult but was made in good faith and always with a smile. As for the wicker motorcycle we didn't buy it but Danielle always wanted one of these triangular hay hats Asians wear in the rice fields and we found a nice authentic one in a village market.

(photo7) We found these signs in every Hindu temple. It seems that menstruations have something impure for Hindus. (If the picture is not yet posted the sign says "Your attention please. During menstruation ladies are strickly not allowed to enter the temple. Thank you")