Last year I immersed myself in the waters of the largest archipelago on the planet. Flying through the aerospace of the nearly 17,500 islands that make up Indonesia, I finally arrived in Bali.
I’ll admit it. I added Bali to my list when I was returning from Ko Phi Phi island in Thailand. After reading the book ‘Eat, pray and love’, and being captivated by the photos of a friend posing on a swing while watching a spectacular sunset, I couldn’t resist the FOMO from the social media bombardment
In the book, the writer Elizabeth Gilbert recreated a quiet island with ancient traditions, where tourists come looking for that elusive spiritual “peace”. Its landscape, a tapestry of green rice fields and turquoise beaches.
But the daily life in Bali is full of contradictions. Although it is known for its pristine and paradisiacal beaches, unless you stay in the luxurious hotels, you may find yourself in beaches where you dive into the midst of floating plastic debris and visible pollution.
The island is a Hindu sanctuary, the only one within a predominantly Muslim country. The main nearby cities of Kuta and Ubud, on the other hand, have chaotic traffic and a permanent surge of tourists. When I say traffic, I mean hour and a half parked on the road for a distance of 10 km.
Unlike Thailand, there are no temples with golden buddhas, but houses with shrines. Every morning the Balinese offer flowers, rice, food and incense to the gods and the spirits of their ancestors. They ask for protection against demons.
And, in the afternoon, the women make new offerings with leaves and flowers to leave on the sidewalks for the next day. These colorful squares do not last more than a couple of hours. Many offerings die under motorcycles, others are crushed by pedestrians, fall into the river, or are left in the trash.
Bali creates expectations. It is a giant island, and to know it in depth, you need more than a week. I suggest you include at least 6 places to visit if you dare to experience the famed Balinese adventure.
This temple was built in the year 926 A.D, during the Warmadewa dynasty. It is a place of pilgrimage for the Balinese, as legend has it that its 12 fountains have healing powers. The entry fee is 1 USD and you can even bathe among the fish.
2.- Pura Ulun Danu Batur or “The Temple of the Lake”
It is the postcard from Bali. A temple with different roofs that emerges from the waters of a volcanic lake and with a mountainous landscape behind it. It is dedicated to the goddess Dewi Danu, in charge of protecting the area as a symbol of fertility and prosperity. Its entry fee is USD 4
It is a charming city in the center of the island. To get there you will go through the paddies. It became famous among tourists for the book and movie Eat, Pray and Love. The featured house (which is now a hostel) of the Balinese sage Ketut Liyer is a must.
Although the healer died a couple of years ago, his son will read your palm, due to the dozens of tourists who knock on his door and want to live the experience of the writer and also the actress Julia Roberts.
4.- Monkey Forest, Balinese long tailed monkey sanctuary in Ubud
It is a natural sanctuary. More than 340 Balinese long-tailed ‘macaque’ monkeys live in this forest and roam freely along the trails and trees of the enclosure. Be aware that you’re entering their home.
Everything you have on hand, as well as earrings, glasses, and wallets are up for grabs if it’s interesting enough for them. The entrance to this temple costs 1.50 USD per person
5.- The Ubud Market
Wooden masks, wallets, sarongs, dresses and souvenirs from the trip. It is a two-story market where you can haggle to buy everything at a fair price.
6.- Beach and pool day
Escape for once the island’s traffic. Relax all day in one of the private clubs along Kuta Beach. My favorite was Potato Head. It has a bed with an ocean view and the bar is inside the pool. Get their mojitos until you see the sun go down.
Swings on Gili Trawangan Island
When I was planning my trip, I realized that the sunset with the swings that I saw in the photos were on one of the three Gili islands. So, I took the ferry and in 3 hours I reached this beach. It will take you an hour to make the complete tour on foot and 15 minutes by the only means of transportation available: Horses.
Gili Trawangan, like the rest of Indonesia, has a majority Muslim population. There are no human shaped decorations or temples, no flower offerings and you could only hear the call to prayers from the mosque. I thought for a moment that the island was sparsely populated, imagine my surprise when later on I found throngs of tourists looking for parties.
After a rainy day and almost at the end of the afternoon, I finally arrived at the place where everybody got ready to enjoy the show. Along the beach, you find dozens of swings that are part of the hotels and restaurants in the area.
So, it was there, in the swing and with all kinds of pastel colors in the sky, I enjoyed my last day on the beaches of Indonesia.