Part Two – Bali Hai-atus
It was back in 1990 that Jane and I took our first long haul flight. We’d done the package tours to Spain, had branched out to doing our own thing in Greece but we decided to spread our wings and when Kuoni offered a decently priced trip to Bali and Lombok we took it.
We flew with Garuda Airlines out of Gatwick. Garuda is a legendary bird-like creature from Hindu mythology and the airline couldn’t have been better named. Our aircraft was a shaky old bus. Every time we landed the overhead luggage bins flew open and luggage flew about all over the place. It was a long, tedious flight with several hours wait in Jakarta and we were thankful to arrive at the tiny airport of Denpasar in Bali.
A bus ride from the airport brought us to the resort of Sanur and the Sanur Beach Hotel which was right on the beach. In those days Sanur was a burgeoning resort but still not overcrowded. There were some lovely restaurants next to the beach and many of them featured Balinese dancing. We had a wonderful time on Bali, taking day tours with a very helpful tax driver, visiting temples and volcanic springs, and then going further into the countryside to stay in Ubud – the cultural capital of Bali.
In 1990 Ubud was basically a one street town packed with a few backpacker hotels and restaurants but also with ancient temple complexes where you could see wonderful stories from the Ramayana enacted in exquisite dancing. We stayed just out of town in a traditional thatched ‘cottage’ right on the edge of the paddy fields. It really was idyllic.
Whilst out walking we even managed to stumble across a funeral procession which was quite incredible. As with so much else in Bali, funerals have to be conducted on auspicious days – which may be a number of years after the person has died. In the meantime, as in this case, the body is buried and then reintered as a collection of bones and it is these which are placed in an ossuary carried on an intricately decorated bier carried aloft by a group of pall bearers. At crossroads, and other important places, the men spin the bier around at high speed to confuse evil spirits. They even run backwards at times scattering the followers and spectators off into ditches at the side of the road. Eventually after much pandemonium and hilarity (the Balinese love an occasion) the procession reaches a place where the whole edifice, bones and all, will be set alight. Believe me, it was an amazing spectacle to witness and take part in.
As you would expect, much has changed in Bali in the intervening 3 decades and Sanur has grown much bigger. Apparently, Ubud is now also a sprawling town with traffic jams and probably more visitors than it can cope with. To see the Bali which we fell in love with you apparently now have to go much further afield to the North coast and the rural heartlands.
However, it’s not all bad. The Balinese are still a lovely people who will welcome you; offerings and puja are still made at doorways, before statues, outside shops, etc. There are still temples decorated with golden cloths and flowers and, no doubt, funerals still take place in the same riotous way. Yes, there is more commercialism and some of the peace and quiet has been lost but still there is much beauty to be had in the island.
We tend to see the past through rose tinted Ray-Bans and forget that the food back then was perhaps a little one dimensional – rice with everything; the roads were dusty and potholed and the facilities limited. But Sanur is a lively and energetic place with a selection of very good restaurants and is still quite beautiful in its ocean setting.
Rather than going on day trips trying to recreate our last holiday here we have chilled out at our delightful b&b, an oasis in the hubbub of Sanur.
But we are looking forward to our trip with Chas out on the ocean with only whales and dolphins for company. And there’s always the Dragons to chase.