Monday, May 27, 2013

Bali's Gifts to the Gods

Almost a month ago, Nate and I arrived in Bali, Indonesia from New Zealand. We were still bundled up in our winter gear which we quickly stuffed deep into the bottom of our packs -- which is where we found our long-forgotten summer clothes. We had landed just 8 degrees south of the equator and have been sweating ever since. So after a beautiful but rather hot week in Ubud- we decided to head for coastal waters to cool down. We chose to leave Bali and go to the small island of Gili Meno just off of Lombok Island. Click here to see blog.

The differences between Bali and Lombok were immediately apparent. It was then- that I realized that Bali really is the Island of the Gods.  Bali is majority Hindu where as the other islands are mostly Muslim.  The flower and incense offerings that were ever present in Bali are rarely seen in Lombok. Instead, we heard the loud call to prayer several times a day. Beautiful, but just not the same.

After returning to Bali and finding myself excited to once again see the offerings and smell the familiar scent of the incense, I decided to learn more about their meaning.

The Mahabharata, a famous Hindu epic, states in the passage- the Bhagavad-Gita that:

"Whoever offers to me with devotion a leaf, a flower, a fruit, or water, that offering of love, of the pure heart I accept." (Ix:26)

But what is the meaning of the incense? I found in a book that I've been reading called Bali: Sekala & Niskala by Fred Eiseman, Jr. that the incense is used to carry the offering upward. I have also seen women (I've only witnessed one man place an offering) take a flower from the offering, dip it in water and then make a circular movement with their hands which spreads the holy water (from a separate container than the offering) and waft the incense from the offering.

The offerings seem to be everywhere- on the steps, the sidewalk, in special temples on the property, on the dash in cars and on motor-scooters. They are beautiful - although you really have to watch your step for fear of stepping on one! They are often placed on the sidewalk, on steps, ok- just about everywhere. The importance of these offerings is not taken lightly. Our taxi driver stopped at a temple when we were traveling from Amed to Kuta. Both he and the car were blessed with flowers and holy water for good luck.

Many contain rice as well which seems to be the only consistent food source for a great number of hungry cats and dogs. Some instead of rice, contain a wrapped candy, a cracker, cigarette or 1000 coin (equivalent of a US penny).

Some of the offerings build up under the newly placed offering. Not much care seems to go into cleaning up the previous gifts. Thankfully they are made of biodegradable grasses and flowers (other than the candies)- and eventually breakdown. One day in a heavy afternoon rain- we watched dozens float by down the street...

I have also seen many bright, beautiful and sacred orange carnations (or poms) placed on statues. Here's a few of my favorites.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Gili Meno, the Bob Marley island of Indonesia

You can't help but wake up already singing a Bob Marley tune. When you try to clear your mind and come up with another song- it's another Marley tune. At that point, I give in and start singing as I throw my bag over my shoulder and walk 200 meters to the beach from the cute family-run bungalow that we're staying in.  

Gili Garden Bungalow, our home for a week.
The white sand is a bit course- full of small bits of bleached coral that have washed up.  It's rough on my bare feet but is beautiful. The water is similar to photos I've seen of far away islands- which I always thought were enhanced to look that way. The colors start off as a pale blue close to the shore- similar to that of a swimming pool. Then as it gets deeper- it becomes a turquoise and then finally a deep blue. The visibility underwater and the temperature changes noticeably with each change in color.
First view of the water with Gili Trawangan in the background.
What I find so refreshing is that there are no cars.  No scooters.  No roads.  This is especially relaxing after having been in Ubud, Bali with it's busy streets.  Gili Meno has only horse drawn carts for transportation.  The path around town is a small sandy trail. The entire island can be walked in just over an hour- although the heat and the intensity of the sun make it seem much longer.

Our transportation upon arrival. 
Everyone seems to be in a good mood- other that the traveling jewelry salesman- who seem fairly beat down due to low interest in their cheap wares. I finally broke down and bought some bracelets- 5 for $5. I didn't have anything smaller than a 50,000 rupiah bill ($5)- and if he had change, he certainly wasn't going to tell me
Lombok pearls.

From where I sit now at the beach- I feel like I can swim to Gili Trawangan. Occasionally, I can hear music from there- especially as their bars get going around 8. It's the party island and we're at the mellow island- and I think we chose wisely. 

The snorkeling is great right at the waters edge. You can rent a mask for $2 for the day and escape the heat while watching huge, colorful fish dart around coral reefs. Yesterday, Nate spotted a sea turtle that is as big as a coffee table.  My most exciting find was an enormous moray eel which had be quickly swimming to shore.

On land, it's pretty good too. There aren't too many people here. It's always easy to get an empty pagoda right on the water. Today I scored the one with the hammock. A fresh fruit juice is $2 as are the curries, rice and noodle dishes. I've eaten curry everyday since we've been here- finding my favorite one at a place called the Sunset Gecko which also is the only place on the island with semi-reliable Internet.

Pagoda at Sunset Gecko- where we spent our days.
Veggie Curry.  Yum!

A large beer- of which there is only one kind (Bintang) is a light pilsner- perfect for the hot weather. It is $3.5 or $3 at happy hour... I worry about getting mixed drinks in Indonesia. There have been a few deaths recently on Gili Trawangan where methanol alcohol is mixed with regular alcohol. Pretty scary stuff and not worth taking the chance. Here's an article.


Today is our last day here- hard to believe it's been a week already. I'm going to miss the laid-back vibe and amazing sunsets here...