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lunedì 28 ottobre 2013

Bali Om

I was in Bali in August for a couple of weeks after I decided to meet one of my best friends who was there for the summer holidays.I had been there once before many years ago and I had mixed memories of that journey so I took the opportunity to try the Balinese experience again. I arrived after 24 hours journey and dazed and confused as I was I took a taxi to one of the most beautiful places I could remember: the cultural and spiritual capital of the island ,the wonderful city of Ubud. It was full of tourists when I first went there but this time they were three times as much. Nestled amongst green hills and rice fields it is a destination for yoga aficionados, nature lovers and people in search of their spirituality. Bali is known worldwide for many things including shimmering nightlife but there is very little of that in Ubud. It is an oasis of peace and quiet especially at night and especially if, like me you are staying in a homestay, what the Balinese call rooms in a typical house which includes a few short buildings, a garden and a family temple. The only thing that might disturb you at night is the roosters crowing which can go on all night long. All the Balinese families have many chickens and at least a couple of roosters. The sad news is that they use them also for cockfighting which is a religious happening and takes place in temples. Needless to say I find it barbarian and notwithstanding the respect I have for every religious belief it never justifies cruelty against animals. Balinese people are hindu but in a different way than hindus from India as you might have gathered. The main attraction in Ubud is the Sacred Monkey Forest, a wonderful oasis of nature and shade from the humid heat of the Balinese summer. As you might have gathered from the name the forest is inhabited by monkeys. Tons of monkeys. These pretty cheeky creatures are used to tourists and therefore are quite aggressive: if you have anything hanging off you: a bag, a backpack or if you are carrying a shopping bag, or even just wearing sunglasses, necklaces, scarves,let alone if you are carrying any food be sure they will snatch it from you and won't let it go even if they are not interested. If you try to get your stuff back they will grin,and threaten you because everything that was yours has now become theirs and they will bite you even. I was snatched a little shopping bag with a few souvenirs outside the Forest (!!!) from a big monkey and there wouldn't have been any way of getting it back if it hadn't been for the old lady working in the ticket office. Anyway it is a must go and the monkeys are very funny, they play, jump from one tree to the other, swim in a big fountain and even plunge. They are lovely creatures, and the cheekiness is part of their nature. With my friends we decided to go to the sea side, which for us Mediterraneans is not so special: mind you it is very beautiful but if you're not a surfer than it is not so interesting since you can never swim : it's either high waves or very strong currents. Every year somebody ends up drowning so it's better not to risk it. Plus there is the problem of the high-low tide. In the afternoon you have to walk a lot before reaching the sea. The atmosphere though is precious. It is one of the most relaxing places where to go on a beach. The locals are very nice and helpful and for a ridiculously cheap sum will give you sunbeds and drinks , or you will be able to buy fresh fruit or food while laying down in the sun. After a whole day of rest you will be able to admire wonderful beach sunsets and feel in peace with the world. Our first stop was Sanur a pretty town, with a nice beach and very relaxing atmosphere. This place is very nice on a Sunday when hoards of locals would go down to the beach with their dogs and fly kites all afternoon. You know that kites are one of the typical things in Bali right? In the whole island you will see millions of them with varous forms and colours flying over your head. Another thing why Bali is so famous is nightlife as I said before, for that you have to go a little south in the infamous village of Kuta or the more refined Seminyak. I was in Kuta many years ago and honestly I wouldn't go back there. I wasn't a hooligan then and certainly I am not now so I avoided it and my friends took me to Seminyak where they had rented a little villa for as much as 35 Euros a day. Yes these are the prices in Bali. You can obviuosly spend a lot if you go to 5 stars hotels or rent Hollywood style villas (and there are many)even if it's gonna be less then what you will spend at home for something half as beautiful, but if are on a lower budget you can still really splurge yourself. Now, as much as nightlife is concerned there are truly truly amazing places where to go: Potato Head, Kudeta,La Plancha and many more. If you are not interested in shimmering nightlife and want to keep a lower profile there are many typical place where you can have your Mie goreng or Nasi Goreng, Gado Gado and so on. This is how the day goes: you lie down on the beach, sip a coconut water (from a real coconut), then go bathe in the sea, lazily go to eat something at lunchtime, take a nap on your sunbed, read a book, plunge a little more in the water, sunbathe, watch the sunset drinking a Bintang (beer) and then go take a shower and get ready for the night. What a hard life uh? I spent the time I was there like this and believe me I enjoyed every moment of it. My first trip to Bali many years ago was more cultural : I went to see all the temples and the things there were to see but this time it was all about relaxation and enjoyment. When my friends left I decided to go explore the north and ended up in Lovina, a totally different place as to atmosphere and landscape. First of all the beach is black and then it is formed by all these little villages where it is very relaxing but there is nothing really special. Nevertheless I enjoyed it and ended up staying three nights. The only things to visit in that area are the Hot springs in the middle of the forest and a Buddhist temple where you can practice Vipassana meditation. I spent my last three days in Bali in Jimbaran a half moon of white sand where apart from nice hotels there are a lot of little fish restaurants on the beach where you can eat a nice fish dinner in the light of a candles right by the ocean . Needless to say that it is more a place for couples than it is for solo travellers. Nevertheless it is definitely worth going and staying at least for one night. You can then take excursions and explore the surroundings like I did although I knew them already. I went to Balangan one of the ost famous surfers beaches, where it is very hard to even plunge in the sea but is somewhat very beautiful. And then Ulu Watu the sacred temple situated on a cliff by the ocean where you can enjoy spectacular sunsets and where the monkeys are even more aggressive than in the Monkey Forest. I personally saw four sunglasses being snatched away by the naughty things plus a pair of what I afterwards learnt was a pair of 1000 USD reading glasses which they just broke in two and tried to look through. What can I say ? Bali is a magical place, every corner is special, and I remember every moment of it with pleasure. The little alleys with temples on one side and rice fields on the other, all the offers made to the Gods everywhere, the smile of the children, the colours, the fruits, the incredible vegetation. Bali will always remain in my eyes so my yoga mates will forgive me if I changed the mantra Hari Om only for this one time.