Indonesia: June 10th – 14th 2018
Four days on the trendy and tropical island of Bali, Indonesia was incredible. The second stop of our month long adventure reunited Jordan and I with 6 friends from back home, also on their own trips around Asia. Anyone can tell you that trying to get together 8 people for activities and outings can be near impossible, but thankfully everyone was easy going and relaxed (you can’t be unhappy in Bali) making some crazy-fun memories possible. We kicked back on the top surfer beaches in Canggu, indulged in incredible meals in hot-spot Seminyak and hit up downtown Kuta for (several) nights out. The beaches were another level of beauty, some of the most gorgeous I have ever seen. The locals were incredibly friendly and helpful, despite the language barrier. And the nights out, well, they were just too much fun for words. Bali is paradise. Perhaps its just the magic that comes with being by the beach, but my sneaking suspicion is that the influence of Australian amenities has transformed this traditionally religious Balinese province in to a twenty-something’s eating, shopping, drinking and partying – wonderland.
It’s well known that many Australians spend their winter months on the much smaller island of Bali, as its only a quick hop, skip and a jump away. Many, it seems, eventually decide to stay the course of the year, and make Bali their home. From villa rental companies, to massive beach party and event organizers, to surfing instructors – the presence of Australian culture is everywhere. Not to mention the bohemian beach-town vibe of the restaurants and cafes, clothing stores and boutiques and of course ritzy beach clubs in the popular tourist area of Seminyak.
I for one, wasn’t complaining. I enjoyed days of laying on the beach, or learning to surf if not too hungover, having a juicy Australian beef burger for dinner followed by vegan friendly ice cream and of course partying until the early morning at our favourite bar La Favela (lets just say we went three times in four days). The bar scene is like nothing I’ve ever experienced before, everyone is there to have a good time and everyone is young and beautiful. Our first few days in Bali were almost identical to college spring break – but without the bitter old couple at the bar judging you for ordering 5 daiquiris at a time.
Some of the best meals and places in trendy Seminyak.
Despite the amount of fun had the first couple of days in Bali, my favourite and most unforgettable day by far, was our ‘authentic’ day trip to the nearby region of Ubud. I put the ‘authentic’ in quotes because it was kind of a running joke among the group that we wanted to have really ‘authentic’ genuine experiences in Asia and not just party like we were at home. Even though we would laugh and joke around when we said “that was sooo authentic”, I think we all actually did want to learn about Balinese culture, doing and seeing things we could only do there. The perfect opportunity arose with this day in Ubud. Our tour guide for the day, Uncle Rai (as he told us to call him), picked us up early in the morning and carted us out to Ubud for a day of authenticity.
Our first stop for the day was a coffee plantation specializing in the most expensive coffee in the world – the pride of Bali. As one of Indonesia’s biggest exports, coffee beans like well-known Arabica and Java beans are a major part of the economy, and are only grown in three regions across the country, Bali being one. My initial thought was that gold would somehow be involved in the world’s most expensive coffee, but in fact, its poop. Yes, the most expensive coffee beans in the world come from Bali Indonesia and have been eaten by a small ferret-like creature called a Luwak. After digesting the beans he then poops them on to the jungle floor, to be picked up, cleaned, dried, roasted and brewed in to a cup of coffee.
What gives Kopi Luwak, as its called by the Balinese, its unique and expensive flavour is this digestive process that the beans endure while inside the Luwak’s stomach. A wild Luwak’s diet consists mainly of jungle berries, which impart their flavour on to the coffee beans during digestion. It’s a rich flavour that can only be created through this process – hence the expensiveness! We got to do a taste test between the pooped and un-pooped coffee beans so to speak, and truth be told there was a clear difference in flavour between them. An avid coffee drinker myself (and admitted foodie), I was thrilled to learn about the process and taste the difference between the two kinds of beans. I even bought a bag to bring home for my Dad (sorry I missed Father’s day!) who is also a coffee lover, but he has yet to try it still – I think he’s scared.
The car rides between each place Uncle Rai took us were probably the best part of the day. He would answer our questions about certain religious offerings we noticed on the roads, getting a drivers license for a bike, his own family, right down to the history of the Balinese people in Indonesia. All of this intertwined with his fun energy and abundant laughs. It was fascinating to hear about his family life, and how important religion is to his culture. I was particularly interested in their ritual of daily offerings to the Balinese Gods. Uncle Rai explained that every morning, families work together quickly to put together a Canang – an offering of various things each having their own respective meaning. The point of the Canang is that it’s a selfless act, its creation is in part meditation, but also time offered to the Gods as gratitude for the day. The time spent making the Banten which holds the offering, is a reflective period to escape the buzz of everyday life and be thankful for family and health and all that you have.
While Uncle Rai was telling us about these rituals, I was thinking about my own life and how much I have to be grateful for, that I often don’t appreciate. Sure, I’ve dealt with arguably more than my fair share of tough times the past few years, but this entire month in Asia put in to perspective how blessed I am. Every day of this trip it was incredible to see the pure appreciation and happiness for life that people in Bali and elsewhere have. It made me feel guilty in all honesty, that I don’t wake up everyday thankful that I’m healthy, loved and simply alive – something I should practice more often. Listening to Uncle Rai talk about his own family and their relationships was really special and I was grateful we got to meet him and see his Bali.
~Bali~ as seen on my ‘gram
The next stop were the rice terraces in Tegalalang. This was my first ever experience in a rice field (though there were many more to come on the trip), and I could not stop taking pictures of the view. Obviously I’ve seen many a flat farmers fields back home, but the rice fields built on tiered hillsides were quite something. The jade green of each stalk is so vibrant and lush, and they just go on forever. While walking down to the valley and back up the other side, we learned from a man working in the field that the valleys and terraces are better for growing rice because they can collect more water, allowing the rice to be harvested several times throughout the year. In this part of the world you live and die by the rice harvest. Whole communities are dependant on the success of the harvest, especially in small agricultural communities like Ubud. I felt that it was important to see this while in Bali, to witness the everyday life and livelihoods of the community and it’s individuals, as more than a tourist destination.
For a quick lunch, Uncle Rai took us to a local restaurant in another small rice village nearby. On our way there we joked about how we had no idea what the traditional foods or dishes of Indonesia were. The past few days we had just been pigging out on Pizzahut and burgers in Seminyak. Uncle Rai informed us that the most popular dishes were really quite simple. Nasi Goreng meaning fried rice, and Mie Goreng meaning fried noodles. He also told us about another one of their traditional dishes called Babi Guling – meaning a small pig, which is slow roasted on a spit and slathered with traditional spices. He explained that in old traditions one person would eat the entire pig, though in recent times it is more of a delicacy shared among families at special occasions. I sadly didn’t get to try it at lunch, but I was constantly on the look out from then on.
The final stop of the day was to a local-favourite waterfall and swimming hole. Deep off the beaten path, Uncle Rai drove us another half an hour to an isolated waterfall where the only other swimmers were kids from the neighbouring farms. It was the perfect place to end our day of genuine Bali life. Each day of our trip brought new experiences and adventures, and I was grateful and excited about each one. But learning from Uncle Rai about Balinese traditions and getting to see what he finds special and unique about his home was so personal. Our ‘authentic’ day in Ubud will remain as one of my favourite days of the trip and I’m not going to forget about it anytime soon.