We landed late in the evening in Indo, the air was thick and moist. Making our way into the mountains to Ubud thru the villages, Willy our driver prepared us for our Bali experience. He often referred to Bali as the land of freedom and educated us on the local food; suckling pig, which is only served at lunch time,fried rice, and black rice pudding with sugar.

My favorite moment with Willy went like this:
“Willy, what sports do you play or enjoy?”
he passionately said
“I don’t like sports, I like driving!”

Our first morning in Bali was…beautiful in every way. We awoke under our mosquito net which we had rigged from the ceiling compliments of our climbing gear; the roosters making their calls at 5:30am, motorbikes taking farmers to the rice field that was ready for harvest.

Bali is magical. Bali is bittersweet. Tranquil rice fields once filled only with the sounds of ducks and wind chimes suggests a beautiful and simple life. This is quickly giving way to restaurants, spas, and hotels. The tourist dollar is too enticing to maintain subsistence farm-living. From our balcony it is immediately obvious the rice that once supported a community is changing into just a backdrop or landscaping for the home-stays and hotels. It’s obvious that the very ambiance that first drew travelers here is eroding. There is an idyllic Bali each traveler seeks, but if it hasn’t died already, We are not sure where it lives.

Walking the rice fields, observing the simple farming life occupied our days here. We explored the country side, with Loren’s cousin, Bill, to see temples, the monkey forest and rice fields. We loved touring the factory of Jong Hardy Jewelry, to see how it’s all made. Of course we then got to shop at the beautiful showcase, that’s made of all bamboo. We were overstimulated with the richness this place has to offer. You can’t miss the communities that are shared among the women. It’s common to see them doing hard labor; carrying rocks, cement, produce or bundles of sticks on top of their head. They work long days in the humid heat, fully clothed and often barefoot; yet a smile is still present.

Balinese Hindis believe the trinity of Brahma, Shiva and Vishnu are all manifestations of one and the same supreme spirit, Sanghyang Widhi, They offer up rice, flowers, or crackers in a handmade bamboo basket 3 times a day to this spirit. The incense coming from these offerings make up most of the aroma of Ubud.

The beaches were bleak. The hawkers and “taksi” drivers as aggressive as the developers. Every other block is under construction with a new hotel or spa complex. Locals brave dangerous work conditions to build shops and hotels they could never afford. Prices rival Las Vegas for watered down drinks in swank Westernized cafes and lounges coated with the residue of sweaty sunburned Aussie backs.

Fear not; All is not lost. The hotels cannot change the surf break, and everyone in Bali will greet you with a smile. The people are devout, and hope for peace, love, and happiness for all in this karmic universe. There are still unspoiled fields to walk and even villages that do not allow motorized vehicles. These moments are what will leave an everlasting imprint on your heart and soul. Nonetheless, you have to walk further off the beaten path to find the serene island dreamland that once was. No doubt, with more time we’d have seen the remote beaches of Bali, the islands off the Southern coast (Nusa Lembongan and Nusa Penida), and delved deeper into Indonesia’s beautiful and still unspoiled islands.

Thank you cousin Bill. Thank you for such a great introduction to the Island and its culture. Thanks for being a tourist with us for the Legong dancing at the temple and spending the day driving through the expansive terraced hillsides to see the ornate and revered temples. Thank you for showing us that an expat lifestyle doesn’t mean you’re disconnected from the world or ungrounded from reality.

This is petrol filled in old vodka bottles: