People of Bali
I keep returning to Bali. Although I don’t think it’s as much me returning, as it is the island drawing me back into its loving grasp, its spiritual energy, its healing air. There is truly something magical about this land and the Balinese people.
In the morning I wake to the golden glow of sunlight coming through the white curtains of my villa. Outside I hear the crowing of roosters and the soft sounds of the island coming to life. I rise from my dream-filled sleep and have a breakfast of fresh fruit that I purchased from the small stand down the road. It is sweet and juicy, Bali has the most delicious fruit in the world, all grown on the island by local farmers.
As I finish my breakfast in the morning sunshine, a local woman passes by carrying a tray of offerings on her head. I could smell the burning incense from the offerings before she came into sight. She stops to smile at me and say hello; everyone here smiles and says hello. Dressed in traditional attire, she is bringing these offerings to the family temple where she will perform a small ceremony. She will place the offering on the altar, dip a hibiscus flower into the holy water and delicately flick the water off the petals as she mutters a prayer to receive blessings. This is followed by a weaving movement of her hands and a pause to feel the effect of the ritual. It is done a few times throughout the day and each time she will replace the old with new. Seeing these rituals happen every day, I feel humbled and appreciate the immense devotion the Balinese people have for their religion. I am reminded to pause, to take a moment in my day to be intentional, anchor myself in gratitude, and slow down.
Around noon I hop on my scooter to head to a healthy cafe for lunch. Cruising around this tropical island on a scooter is one of the most freeing experiences I’ve had. Over the past decade, Bali has exploded into a health and wellness capital of the world. In the popular destinations like Canggu and Ubud, there are several cafés and restaurants serving up raw, vegan, or otherwise uber-healthy food. This is one of the reasons I love Bali so much; wherever I go, I know that I am only a short distance away from some delicious nourishment. Today I choose Alchemy Café in Penestanan, near Ubud. They offer up a make-your-own-salad bar stocked with the freshest of local vegetables. I also get a Jamun juice, which is a Balinese healing elixir of coconut water, turmeric, ginger, and lime.
On my way back from lunch, driving through the village center, preparations for a festival or ceremony are in full swing. Men are sitting around in large groups on the sidewalk chatting, laughing, smoking, and drinking homemade palm wine (locally known as tuak). Women are hard at work preparing things at the family temple. I am reminded of the last time I was in Bali when the family I was staying with invited me to take part in a cremation ceremony for a recently deceased family member. I remember what a joyous occasion this was! In Balinese culture, this day of cremation is not a somber event like funerals are in western cultures. Instead, it is a day of celebration, a day where the entire community comes together to honor the life of those who have passed and to celebrate each other. Everyone is welcome, even outsiders like me were invited to join and share the experience. This is such a beautiful part of the Balinese culture; the smiles and good times and celebrations really are endless. I go home to relax and see that a fresh round of offerings has been placed on the altar.
Evening might be my favourite time of day in Bali. The sun hangs low in the sky and the temperatures become comfortable. I head out for a walk to explore the rice fields in my neighbourhood. Many Balinese still work as rice farmers, living their lives by the cycle of the fields. First, they plow the fields — usually by hand, sometimes by machine, if they are wealthy enough — to get them ready for planting. Then they plant the rice in tiny clusters of four or five grains, one cluster at a time, evenly spaced in a perfect grid, until the field is covered. This takes several long days. The next few months consist of waiting, checking that the irrigation is working properly, making sure that that water level is exactly perfect, and watching the rice slowly grow and become ready for harvesting.
As I walk through the rice fields, watching the farmers go about their daily tasks, the sun begins to set and the whole landscape turns into a vivid painting. The sky turns pink, the cotton candy clouds illuminated in shades of purple and gold. The verdant green of the rice fields becomes even more saturated, and I am overcome by the beauty of the surreal scene.
As the suns masterpiece fades to more subdued hues, I head to Yellow Flower for dinner. Here they serve up a healthier version of Bali’s national dish, Nasi Campur. This delightful and delicious dish consists of a pile of white or red rice surrounded by stir-fried vegetables, tempeh, roasted peanuts, grated coconut, sambal (fresh chili sauce), and crispy shallots. Traditionally it is served on a large bamboo leaf.
Enjoying my last bites of this meal, I am struck by an overwhelming feeling of gratitude and happiness. It is no wonder I am drawn back to this island time after time when this is what daily life looks like here.