Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Indonesia: Monkeys and Temples

After a month enjoying the Philippines, we headed down to Bali for our first stop in Indonesia (and my [Lauren's] first time in the southern hemisphere!) I was starting to get a little stir-crazy after spending so long in Boracay and was anxious to get to a new country. I'm not sure when Bali popped up on my radar, but it's always been a place I've wanted to see (even before 'Eat, Pray, Love' came out, I promise!). We touched down in Kuta, Bali at 1 a.m. and had to wait util morning to get our first real look at Indonesia.

Offerings at a temple: flowers in banana leaves.

Unfortunately, Kuta left quite a bit to be desired. The main streets are lined with shop after shop selling every imaginable trinket and do-dad ... and then even some you might not have imagined ... think giant wooden penises and bumper stickers with phrases not suitable to mention here! No, we don't have any picutres: we quickly walked by the shops and didn't want to attract any attention of the persistent vendors. Kuta beach, a famed surfing spot, was filled with trash that had washed ashore. To top it off, it was rainy and dreary so after a couple days there we were ready to travel north to Ubud.

Ubud is billed as the cultural center of Bali, famous for it's arts and crafts, holistic and yoga retreats, and lush green landscape. Some people say Ubud has lost it's charm with the bus loads of tourists that are now a daily presence. Others say it's still there, you just have to look a little harder. 

We found Ubud to be a bit of both. We said it seemed like a hip, California town filled with yoga moms and new-agey hippies. Modern, designer shops lined the streets. It was pretty packed with tourists. Scooters and cars jammed the main streets.  But you could turn down a side street, walk 10 minutes and suddenly be in the middle of a rice paddy having a coconut with a little lady who spoke no English. 

We also took a trip to the Monkey Forest, a nature preserve and temple complex filled with monkeys that are a little too comfortable with humans. We read warnings about bringing food in and even wearing jewelry. The ladies that sit at the doors to the forrest selling bananas are armed with sling shots. We thought that our newly purchased bottle of water would be safe, but we were wrong. Not long after entering, this monkey aggressively grabbed the bottle and Lauren tried to hang on. After a tug of war for a minute she reluctantly let it go and the monkey casually unscrewed the cap and tilted the bottle back to drink. He then dropped the bottle and sipped the spilling water.

The monkey got a grooming in his not-so-private parts.

We hired a driver, Kutud, to show us temples in the surrounding area. Indonesia has the largest Muslim population in the world, but Bali is predominantly Hindu. We happened to be in Bali a week before Nyepi, the Balinese new year. Nyepi is a day of self-reflection and quite different than the new year's celebration we know. No lighting fires (and lights must be kept low), no working, no entertainment, no travel (even the airport is closed!) and for some even no talking. The belief behind it being that the silence will trick the spirits into thinking no one is home and they will have a prosperous year.

Even with our guide the meanings and tradition of some of the temples were lost, but their beauty and serenity was undeniable. He did explain that there are many types of temples: private temples that families build on their property, village temples that are just for that village, and larger public temples that anyone can visit.

The public temples are used to celebrate the rice harvests 2-4 times a year. Everyone that comes to the ceremonies bring offerings such as flowers, fruits, and even eggs. We visited one temple the morning after a large ceremony and the entire place was covered in leftover offerings that were slowly being cleaned up.

Mount Batur, an active volcano in Bali
Fresh spring holy water at the temple. People bathe in it and even bring jugs to fill up to take back home.
Queues to bath in the holy water.

More from Indonesia to come!