Return to Bali, 2017

Bali is a regular place of escape from southern Australia’s winter.

In Bali, I try to avoid the beach ghettos catering for foreign tourists, which at their worst, are venues for booze swilling excess by those seeking the title of cultural barbarian/worst ambassador; and equally avoid the cloistered resorts that insulate guests from the real Bali in a more costly ghetto.

In spite of more than half a century of mass tourism, my impression is that Bali, away from the artificially constructed tourist enclaves, remains culturally and historically strong.

Bali visits always remind me of the humility, respect, friendliness, humour and warmth of the people. Only the Balinese could name their band for an Irish theme night The Paddy Fields Band.

Ceremonies remain a fundamental part of Balinese Hindu culture. Here are some images from a Sanur beach purification ceremony, the final stage of the cremation process.

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In rural Bali, age-old sights and communities flourish; here are typical rice paddies near Pupuan.

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I often enjoy snorkelling when visiting Indonesia to coral reefs and islands in Lombok, Nusa Lembongan, and Flores, as well as Bali. On the latest trip, I returned to Pemuteran, in  north-west of Bali, and nearby Menjangan (Deer) Island.

The visit raised concerns about the significant amount of coral bleaching, more than I recall from two years ago. Locals attribute it to rising water temperatures – global warming – a fate endangering coral reefs throughout the world. It will be a monstrous tragedy if current generations fail to move quickly enough from our destructive fossil fuel stage of energy generation to deny our descendants the chance to glimpse this remarkable undersea world.

DSCN0643Snorkelling off Menjangan Island. In the background are several of East Java’s volcanoes, and the boat that brought us to the reef.

Underwater, the view is a visual feast: swarming schools of fish, lone barracuda, clams, delicate and colorful fronds waving in the currents, and shallow coral gardens dropping off into inky depths where larger fish cruise.

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Bali Dawn

Bali Sunrise
Bali Sunrise

The sun begins to light up the sky over south-east Bali.

In the distance the island’s holy mountain, Gunung Agung, emerges from the morning mist.

As the light increases, a  fisherman casts his net around the moored traditional fishing boats – Jungkung in Balinese and Prahu in Bahasa Indonesian – while a couple of boatmen already have their boats moving in readiness to brave the often turbulent tidal streams and waves offshore.

The boats look like aquatic praying mantises in the morning light. With their canoe-like hulls and bamboo outriggers, they have a reassuring seaworthiness for their fishermen skippers, as well as for visitors who travel in them for snorkelling and diving pursuits, or as transport to the beautiful Gili Islands off Lombok’s coast.

A family of five comes to the beach for their morning ritual, saluting the mountain and the rising sun. They wade chest deep into the water, releasing and watching their floral offerings drift out to sea.

Others, alone or in groups, are sometimes silent, or murmuring, or conversing. They imbibe the dawn while the sea at this coral reef protected beach quietly and soothingly adds sounds to the hypnotic scene.

On a clear morning, across the Lombok Straight, another volcanic shape can be seen, 3726 metre high Mount Rinjani, as well as the white cliffs of Nusa Penida, another island about 15 kilometres across the sea.

The dawn described above is a world away from the gross features of mass tourism that afflict a small part of Bali, yet it takes place at a major tourist destination. Here, traditional rituals, culture and ceremonies flourish at least as strongly as a generation ago.

Perhaps the wealth generated by tourism has had some positive effects. Historians often suggest that the European Renaissance, the flowering of the arts, literature and intellectual pursuits, required a degree of wealth, patronage and leisure to promote those cultural activities. As in Bali?

As a regular visitor to Bali and quite a few other islands in Indonesia’s 17,000 plus archipelago over many decades, Bali remains a beguiling place to visit for the warmth, humour, respect and culture of the people, the great food, and the extraordinary diversity and beauty of its landscapes, beaches and undersea. Traditional life and culture have survived better than some imagine.

This post forms part of Fiona’s  A-Z guidebook, a monthly travel journal.