Northern Bali is beautiful. Terraced rice paddies cut in the hills, palm tree jungles, rolling hills, water buffalo – all of what you think of when you picture Southeast Asia. It’s the first time Sarah or I had ever been to a picturesque “island paradise.” We traveled to Lovina, a gathering of a few fishing villages almost straight north of Kuta, along the Bali Sea. They’re hungry there for the tourists to return after the terrorist bombings in south Bali.
Many restaurants have very few guests sitting at tables. Shops are virtually empty. The people are nice, but if you visit there you need to be ready to just tell vendors “no” and keep walking. They can be very persistent, but who can blame them?
Telling the locals you’re from America but have lived in Makassar for four months goes a long way. It earns a little bit of trust of sorts. This was my only chance to learn about Balinese culture – the one Hindu enclave in all of Indonesia – outside of tourist-oriented dance shows and temple tours. Sarah was taking care of some business on the internet one morning, so I walked to the beach. I let the sales people approach, and I just sat there. Soon I had three ladies who could see I wasn’t going to buy anything but wanted to talk to me anyway.
This definitely was not a tourist-pandering town like Kuta. You travel to their turf. And they give you what they have, not just what you want. (Though Sarah and I were able to get Mexican food there too.)
My new friends told about the three temples close by: one for the water, one for the crops, one for the hills. Everyday they give a small offering to the gods of something they gather (flowers usually) and something they make (a piece of bread or cake maybe), then burn some incense in a little tray at any of countless shrines… or just on the sidewalk. Nyepi – their new year, later in January as I understand – is one of their most sacred days. They will not leave the house all day. They will not cook. They will not turn on any lights. And they will meditate about the past year and what the new one will bring. But some exceptions have been made for the Balinese who are in the tourist industry on this day.
No other vendors really bothered me any more in Lovina after talking with these three ladies – my “girlfriends,” as they called themselves. They all wanted me to tell Sarah about their handmade jewelry, sarongs and messages though. But our tourist rupiah only goes so far. We couldn’t help everyone.
A couple days after Christmas we went and visited Sing Sing waterfalls, about a twenty-minute motorbike ride west. Two guys took us up a back route. We waded through streams and shallow, rocky white water. I lost a flipflop once, but one guide was on it and got it for me. When we finally got to the top (a half-hour to forty-five minutes later), we could look out over rice fields to the sea and have a cup of coffee. (Conveniently, there’s a little café there.) I bought our guides two sodas, took some pictures, and after we took a much easier route down they of course wanted a “tip” for helping us. I gave them each 50,000 rupiah (about $5 US), an astronomical amount for what they did. (We had very nice meals for Rp. 150,000.) Sarah wasn’t sure about that, but I reasoned with her, C’mon, it’s Christmas. The two Hindus agreed with me. Yes, Christmas. Thank you, mister.