Just when I thought that this blog will never be consistently updated (what with the long hours I spend for studio work and illustration projects in-between), by some miraculous twist of fate, I have somehow found a way in my current schedule to allot days devoted to blogging. Having said that, this post is intended as a final hurrah to summer. Yes, even if the rainy season has already set in.
A summer ago, I and my friend, Evan, found ourselves in Bali after exploring temples around Yogyakarta. While it was scorching hot in the latter, Bali weather was erratic, much like the current weather condition here in Manila – one morning we’d be sweating while taking photos and marveling at temples, the next thing we know we’re running and looking for shelter from a sudden downpour, usually settling for the nearest cafe (with Wi-Fi!) we can find. We arrived on a rainy night; our flight from Jakarta was even a couple of hours delayed. A one-hour cab ride took us through lush rolling hills and rice terraces to the town of Ubud, Bali’s center for arts and crafts, dance, and music. We had difficulty looking for our guesthouse as it was tucked away in a narrow residential area, a good 10-minute walk from the main road where most of the other guesthouses, curio shops, and restaurants are located.
The best part of our room was the huge terrace overlooking the guesthouse’s garden. I would wake up early each morning and enjoy my quiet time alone, having breakfast and sipping a good cup of coffee. I brought my handy sketch pad with me, and I would draw away during lazy afternoons and evenings, listening to Beirut and Florence and the Machine. That terrace is just perfect!
Of course, temples were our priority more than beaches. Public transportation in Bali isn’t as convenient as in Yogya, thus, car and/or motorbike rentals are strongly recommended especially for temple hopping. While Hindu temples are mostly towering, Balinese temples or puras are designed as open air places of worship enclosed within compounds boasting of intricately carved gates and walls.
We heeded the advice of our driver and skipped the Mother Temple of Besakih, which according to him, is a tourist trap. We may have missed our opportunity of visiting the largest temple in Bali and possibly a Kecak dance, but seeing Melasti rituals done in preparation for Nyepi at Pura Tanah Lot, and breathtaking views of the Indian Ocean at Pura Luhur Uluwatu more than made up for it. The former sits on a rock by the sea surrounded by black sand and picturesque rock formations, while the latter is dramatically perched on a cliff.
It may or may not have been an unfortunate circumstance that one of the days we were in Bali fell on Nyepi. It is a day of silence, fasting, and self-introspection strictly celebrated by the Balinese that even tourists are required to observe in preparation for the new year – the day after. No work, no noise, no lights, and no traveling. With the exception of rushing sick people to the hospital and/or pregnant women giving birth, no one is to be seen loitering in the streets and even the island’s only airport is closed.
The day before Nyepi, most of the establishments were only open half-day and some were even closed. We opted to stay within the vicinity, trying out a couple of cafes and just, basically, lazing around before we decided to join the bandwagon in panic buying food supplies for the next day. Come late afternoon, people began flocking the streets to watch the Ogoh Ogoh. These are demonic statues constructed out of paper mache, chicken wires, and bamboo, symbolizing negative deeds, elements, and malevolent spirits. They are paraded on the streets accompanied by the beating of drums, torches and fireworks, and are then burned to ashes at the end of the procession at a cemetery as a symbol of self-purification. It is believed that by keeping silent on Nyepi, the remaining evil spirits will be tricked that the island is deserted, leading them to abandon the place, thereby setting up a peaceful start to the Balinese New Year.
In accordance with the regulations in celebration of Nyepi, we spent the whole day inside our room, keeping our activities, noise, and electricity consumption to a minimum (we only turned the bathroom lights on when it got dark). The plan was to be couch potatoes for a day by watching all 10 episodes of the first season of Game of Thrones in just one sitting while munching on our food supplies. And this was how I was able to successfully convert Evan into a GoT fan. I should note that the staff of Tirta Arum took the extra effort of cooking dinner for us guests for free, introducing us even to a somewhat barbecue-flavored taosi-like sauce that made every single food it’s used as a condiment on taste awesome. It’s that good that Evan bought a bottle of it all to himself.
We continued temple hopping the next day before we flew back to Jakarta. The following are more photos of ornately carved details on doors, gates of puras, and a few shops and restaurants in Ubud. I’m very much indulgent when it comes to taking photos of design details. The intention is to be able to use them as inspirations in the future for illustrations and paintings.
As for beaches, we did go on a day-trip to Kuta. However, the shores were dirty so we decided not to swim despite us being all excited about it. We learned later on that we came at a bad time, and the beaches weren’t usually that littered. So instead, we just walked around, pigged out, and checked a couple of bars for a few round of drinks in the evening.
Two establishments I highly recommend that you visit in Kuta are: (1) Zula Vegetarian Paradise in the Seminyak area for fresh, healthy, and reasonably-priced meals. Trust me when I say that they have an extensive vegan menu consisting of delectable international cuisines. Their tofu cheesecake with strawberry sauce is an absolute must-try; (2) Cat furniture shop also in Seminyak. I regret not being able to recall its name, but it’s relatively easy to spot as it sticks out from all the other shops selling scarves, wood carvings, and other souvenirs lining the area. If you are a feline lover such as I, almost everything in this quaint store is sure to send you gushing with cuteness.