Bali: Island of the gods

BALI, INDONESIA

Copyright: Elle Druskin 2011

If you are going to pick one “exotic” beach to visit, then my vote is for Bali. Everyone who goes to Bali comes home calling it a paradise and it’s true for so many reasons. You will find gorgeous white sand beaches and palm trees on the coast while in the interior, the tiered, lush green rice fields framed by volcanic mountains are an incredible contrast.

While Bali is part of Indonesia, it is unique in so many ways. For starters, the culture is different being primarily Hindu rather than Muslim and you will see evidence of that with statues of gods and goddesses everywhere and the local people making offerings and praying. My children were quite young when I took them to Bali and one of the things they truly enjoyed was an early morning walk, stopping to watch the local people leaving their offerings while we stood at a respectful distance.

People are delightful and gentle. They adore children and my son, who was too young for camp at the hotel, had a Balinese “nanny” who took him every morning to camp to be around other kids and gave him such loving, gentle care that I never had to worry. She would return him to me at lunch time, sorry to hand him over. I can only think he must have been on his best behavior with her because he was a handful, but she never complained, only laughed and smiled and thought he was wonderful—doing what little boys should do.

There is no way you are not going to go shopping in Bali. Forget it. You don’t stand a chance of having the willpower to resist. Leave plenty of room in your suitcase. You are going to be tempted by fabulous local clothing for adults and kids, local crafts such as beautiful batiks, paintings, all sorts of carved items, and particularly unique craft such as Balinese shadow puppets. There’s so much you could buy, I can’t even go into detail. If you are really interested in Balinese art, head to Ubud where you will find plenty of galleries and shops. Finally, you are going to find name brand beachwear much cheaper than you would pay at home, so have a look at some of those great buys.

You should also make the time to do some sightseeing and take in a local dance/music performance because it reflects so much of the culture. You might also catch a shadow puppet show. Many of these shows have themes that relate to local religious beliefs but even if you don’t understand them, it is still worth your time and don’t miss this wonderful expression of the culture.

Food, Glorious Food
What to eat in Bali? Indulge in the local cuisine which is a combination or fusion of many cultures. You’ll find many of the cafes and restaurants are open air, like so many beachside places. Many of them feature Indonesian or Chinese sorts of food. You will also see three-wheeled carts selling anything and everything. If you are brave, then go ahead and try the Garang Asam. This is a fishy soup with ginger and chilli and it is hot and spicy. Trust me on that one.

Common snacks from the carts and probably on some menus include bakso which is a sort of meatball soup, lemper which is sticky rice, satay which is meat served on a skewer and typically, served with peanut sauce and nasi goreng which is fried rice. Don’t forget to try the pisang goreng which is a dish of fried bananas.

Then there’s the fresh fruit which is terrific and I recommend this. Mangoes, pineapple, rambutan and papaya are all wonderful. If you have never encountered the Durian; well, what can I say? It’s a popular fruit in Asia and to western noses it smells like a garbage can and that’s the truth. I can only say take it easy with the food. A lot of people complain they get sick but it’s partly from overdoing it with a complete change of diet so be warned. That is not a reason not to indulge, just don’t overdo it.

The beach, thought we’d never get there!

Well, it’s finally time to hit the beach and you will have more choices than you can imagine. I can’t possibly mention all of them. Generally, the southern end of the island tends to be more crowded and that applies to the beaches too but I still like those beaches.

Personally, I have a fondness for Kuta. Way back during The Age of Aquarius, it was the hippie beach/surfers’ beach of Bali but today it’s a beach that is close to great shopping and food. Admittedly, because it has become so popular, it can seem very chaotic because infrastructure has not caught up with the number of tourists who flock here but just take it in stride. My tip which you will discover on your own is to watch out on streets near the beach because I don’t think anyone pays the slightest attention to any traffic laws.

Kuta Beach is safe and clean. The sand is so white and the water of the Indian
Ocean so blue, you want to swoon. Yes, you will be approached by vendors selling all kinds of services; massages, surfboard rental, hair-braiding and anything they can think of to make a buck. I would not personally recommend renting a surfboard from these sources because unless you know what you are doing (and if you are renting a board, instead of using your own, chances are you don’t) you may not be able to assess the condition of the board. Pay a bit more and rent one from a shop or a surf school which you will find at the hotels. If you are looking for lessons you can also try the surf shops and see who is offering lessons. This beach might be crowded but it’s still a surfer’s beach so give it shot.

There is a big water park near Kuta so if you are traveling with kids, take them there if they are getting tired of the beach. They’ll have a ball and you’ll have fun too.

Legian Beach is close to Kuta but a bit more laid back and you can walk there.
The beach has paddle ball and almost every afternoon there is a football game. Yes, you can get a manicure and massage at the beach, isn’t that great? Again, this is a surfer’s beach and you will be able to rent a board or a boogie board if you are too chicken or too frustrated with surfing. On weekends, you will be likely to find musicians just turning up to play on the beach so stick around for the music and definitely stay to watch the sunset into the Indian Ocean—that is a must.

Both these beaches are considered relatively beginner beaches but for those who are looking for the big surf, it’s more likely to be found around Bukit Peninsula. You can get a surf report in Bali so you take your pick. Personally, I stick to beginner only.

Other water sports and I wish I had Noah’s Ark

Lovina Beach is basically a cove. Don’t be put off by the gray color of the sand because it is a lot quieter than some of the other beaches but the best reason to head here is the chance to see dolphins who appear just off the beach.
There are a few beaches where I would beware. Sanur has excellent snorkelling but it gets very crowded although it might be worth it if you want to snorkel. It’s about half an hour from Kuta in the south, to the eastern coast of Bali. I would consider avoiding Nusa Lembongan because it is the beach where cruise ships do their day stop. On the other hand, the snorkelling is very good, so just be warned if you choose to hit this beach because you definitely will not be alone.
I am not a scuba diver so I can’t recommend any particular service or school but there are loads of scuba sites around Bali and there are plenty of dive centers. Just check their affiliation. I’ve also heard that you can find white water rafting in the Ubud area but I’m guessing that you are more likely to find that in the wetter seasons which is October to April and peak rain is January and I do mean a lot of rain.

I was in Kuta around this time and went into a shop that sold fabulous kids’ clothes. Had a wonderful time picking out all sorts of things for my kids, especially a patchwork quilted jacket, which my daughter wore for years. Finally finished shopping, turned to go back outside and it not only was pouring but a river was flowing down the street. I am not kidding; not a creek or a stream, but a raging river sweeping rubbish and everything else in its path. Panic must have shown on my face and the shop attendant told me not to worry; just wait a while and it will disappear. That’s exactly what happened. I stood looking out the window and watched braver souls take off their shoes and just wade through to wherever they were going. Not me. Sorry, too chicken because I honestly wondered what was IN that water but sure enough, the rain stopped and the river disappeared. So don’t say you weren’t warned.

It doesn’t matter what you are looking for, beautiful beach, exotic culture, gentle people, great surf, fascinating food. Whatever, you’re going to find it in Bali.

Our next stop on the Beach Tour is Hollywood—Ft. Lauderdale in Florida, the Sunshine State.

Here’s your quiz:

If you want to explore a lighthouse, head to:

Deerfield Beach
Lauderdale By The Sea
Hillsboro Beach
Coconut Creek

Hurricane season is from:

January to May
July to November
September to November
All year

Canine Beach is located in:

Ft. Lauderdale
Dania Beach
Pompano Beach
Hollywood Beach

The Planetarium is located at:

Palm Beach Community College
Broward Community College
University of Miami
Museum of Science

In Ft. Lauderdale, you can join in a nature walk with a naturalist who will explain and show you:

Turtle hatching
Jellyfish sting prevention
Alligator rescue
Armadillo nesting

4 comments

  1. What an exotic adventure! The craft shopping sounds especially wonderful. Thanks for sharing this.

  2. elledruskin says:

    They are still craftsmen and women in Bali, not the factory produced stuff although that will change with time. The people are fantastic and they won’t rush you looking at their work either.

  3. Kaye George says:

    I had a friend who was a musician who went to Bali every chance she got (her husband worked for an airline). She loved the music and the native instruments. What a wonderful place Bali must be!

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