Hole in the Donut Cultural Travel

With every step I take along the road in this sleepy village of Amed, Bali, someone tries to lure me into a conversation.

“Miss, you come in, I give you free drink.”

“Hello, where you stay? Come sit, try free drink.”

So far they have all been sitting under open-air, thatch-top pavilions that serve as restaurants. I just shake my head no and keep walking. I am in search of an Internet Cafe. There is a third guy now, standing on the dirt shoulder of the road.

“Good morning – how are you?” he asks. “I am fine,” I reply. The Balinese are so polite that you want to respond in kind, even when they are in-your-face aggressively trying to sell you something. It is a trap they use very effectively. “Where are you staying?” he asks, in perfect English. I motion to the end of the road, “Down there somewhere,” I say. “I want to be your friend,” he continues. “My name is Delta. You want to go sit on the beach and talk?” He flashes a brilliant smile at me. Delta is about 5’8″ tall with jet-black, curly shoulder length hair and stunningly white, perfectly straight teeth. He is cute and he knows it. He can’t be more than 30 years old, although it is hard to judge age with the Balinese. “Delta, are you hitting on me?” I ask, now being completely impolite. He is taken aback and seems a bit embarrassed, but the smile never falters. “No, no, just friends,” he says, adding, “But very good friends.”

Traditional hand-carved Balinese fishing boat

Traditional hand-carved Balinese fishing boat

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The knock came gently to my door promptly at 5:30 AM. “Hello, miss, you up?” I couldn’t help but laugh – and be glad I was already awake and downstairs in the bathroom. Otherwise, I never would have heard, much less wake up to this gentlest of knocks. My guide also laughed when I told him about it. “It is a Bali thing. It would be impolite to knock loudly and wake someone up, even when this is what you want. So they come with a gentle tap, tap, tap, instead. Balinese are always very polite.”

View of Lake Bratan, just before dawn in Bali

View of Lake Bratan, just before dawn

Why, you might ask, am I up at this ungodly hour when I am supposed to be enjoying myself? I am on my way to Lake Bratan in the village of Bedugul, where I will photograph the sun rising over the Pura Ulun Danau Bratan. And this is why I must scratch yesterday’s claim that the Brahmavihara Arama Buddhist Monastery is the most beautiful I have ever seen, because it cannot compare with the beauty of Pura Ulun Bratan.

This temple is mostly Hindu, which is the religion of the majority of Balinese, although there is a Buddhist Stupa on the grounds. I am immediately transfixed by the golden morning light playing on the lush grounds and am shooting photo after photo – but my guide hurries me along a path to the water’s edge. Again, I linger over the crystal clear waters, shooting dozens of photos of the colorful Balinese boats tied up at the shore. I watch, fascinated, as a man in a carved canoe glides silently through the reeds and lithely steps out onto the shore. Holding a long bamboo pole high over his head, he stalks the shoreline, crouching tiger-like, so as not to scare the fish. It was like watching one of those Karate movies and I could not imagine what he was doing. Read More

I am high up in the mountains of north-central Bali, jut outside the village of Munduk. At the moment, I am having dinner at an outdoor restaurant at Puri Lumbug Cottages, where I will spend the next two nights. The view is spectacular – massive mountains with mist clinging to their skirts and clouds kissing their peaks. But this view is only the latest in a day of spectacular sights and experiences so let me begin at the beginning.

View from the open air restaurant at the Puri Lumbug Cottages in Munduk, located in the central mountains of Bali

View from the open air restaurant at the Puri Lumbug Cottages in Munduk, located in the central mountains of Bali

I had planned to get up early this morning and lie by the pool for a couple of hours but the day dawned gray again. Instead, I rolled out my Yoga mat and perched myself so I could see the black sand beach and glassy sea just through my hotel room window. Two and a half hours later, having worked out a boat-load of kinks and locked-up muscles, I sighed with satisfaction and headed for breakfast. This is the first time I have done any Yoga since leaving the States. I don’t really know why I didn’t maintain my practice while I was in Vietnam. Perhaps it was the fact that my time there was crammed full of tours or maybe it was the crazy energy of the country that put me off my practice. Whatever it was, it sure feels good to be back to my Yoga. Read More

Bali is soft. Bali is easy. Through the mist and rain I shoot photo after photo, convinced that if I could reach through the viewfinder of my camera to touch the terraced rice paddies they would feel like the softest down fur on a baby rabbit.

Beautiful rice terraces abound across the island of Bali

If Eskimos have over one hundred names for different kinds of ice, then Balinese surely must have hundreds of names for different shades of green. From the lime green of tender new rice shoots to the brown-green of rice ready to be harvested, every hue is represented. From the misty green of rice fields at dawn’s first light to the saturated greens at sunset, every luminosity has its moment at some point during the day. Read More

I arrived in Bali last night and my guide, Wayan Sueta (pronounced Why-Ann) was at the airport to pick me up as promised. Peoples names are easy to remember because everyone here has one of four names: Wayan, Made (Mah-DAY), Nyoman and Ketut, which stands for one, two, three and four. So if you are the first born (regardless of whether you are a boy or a girl) you are named Wayan, the second born, Made, and so forth. If a family has a fifth child they just start all over again. Wayan describes it as a method of birth control.

Forty-five minutes later we pulled into the town of Ubud, the cultural and arts center of Bali, which is located in the mountains of central Bali (it is a small island). I am staying at the Pande Pembai Bungalows, in a newly refurbished room that still smells of paint and varnish. There was some consternation over the key to my room. Finally they handed me a TINY key, the kind used for small metal padlocks that you put on your luggage. They explained to my guide (and he translated) that the lock on the room was broken so they temporarily replaced it with this padlock. I was just getting settled when I realized there were two lamps and a mini refrigerator in the room but nothing was plugged in and I could only find one receptacle. So back I went to reception, up a dozen steep concrete steps in the pitch black, to get an extension cord. Fortunately I am prepared with a small flashlight – oh yes, add this to the travel list; always carry a flashlight.

View over the valley from the patio of my room at the Pande Pembai Hotel

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I am winging my way toward Bali with a brief layover in Singapore and am having one of those days of crystal clarity that I wish came more often, but am unspeakably grateful for when they do come. I cannot remember a time ever in my life when I was more content, more full of joy. When I am in this mode everything affects me so deeply. I am overwhelmed with thoughts and emotions and when they come at me like this – fast and furious – I just have to get them out. The only thing I know to do is to write because it is my peace, my devotion, my solace, my great desire. So, here are some random thoughts. There is no common thread running through them. They are just rumbling through my brain.

Having eaten nothing but a simple fare of rice and vegetables for the past two weeks I splurged in the airport gift shop and bought a tin of sesame encrusted cashews. I offered some to the fellow sitting across from me and he took one, then declined more, so I voraciously devoured the rest of the tin. The next time he looked up from his studies I was licking my fingers. “Did you eat that whole thing?” he asked, incredulously. “Yep,” I replied. He laughed. You snooze, you lose.

I was nearly brought to tears by the beauty of the hair clip that held back the long black mane of the Vietnamese woman in front of me as we boarded the plane. I kid you not.

For the last two weeks I have been eating everything with chopsticks with absolutely no problem, so can someone please explain to me why I kept spilling my food all over my lap on the plane when I was using a fork???
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