Articles By Gord
As I see it... Bali

September 2008 issue of Vibrant Magazine, view the actual article (including images).

As I see it... Bali

Catherine read me the sign. Not once. Not twice, but three times. ‘Death Penalty For all Drugs Trafficking.' That wasn't quite the ‘Welcome to Bali.' I'd envisioned. It was a far cry from the rum punch that had greeted us upon our arrival in Jamaica. But then different strokes for different folks. My second thought was, “Gee, I hope insulin ain't on that drug list.” And my third thought was, “My, my but their grammar is atrocious.” But I thought, “Who's going to be nuts enough to point out their errors.” Besides, I think they got their message across.

Bali, Indonesia. I get all goosepimply just writing that. Bali. Say it with me, “BALI.” Doesn't it sound wonderful? And it is. Bali is every exotic sight, sound, fragrance imaginable. Within minutes of leaving the airport the death penalty sign thing is forgotten as my senses begin to feast on all that is Bali.

In 2002 and 2005 terrorist bombs exploded in Bali. The bombs killed many innocent people. The bombs destroyed tourism. And more importantly, the bombs made Bali affordable. That might sound ugly, but I think it falls under the category, ‘Every cloud has a silver lining.' And so from our tiny dot, Catherine and I journeyed halfway around the world to Bali, Indonesia.

When our trip to Bali became a reality my mind began to swim with wild and exotic imaginings of what it would be like. I envisioned dug-out canoes, brilliantly coloured flowers and birds, swaying palm trees, tropical breezes, turquoise seas and coral reefs and beautiful young women clad in only simple sarongs, women anxious to respond to my beck and... Sorry, I was getting carried away. I forgot this column is supposed to be like the Disney Channel.

We arrived in Bali on March 5th, two days before they celebrated their New Year. A day they referred to as Nyepi. Perhaps, ‘celebrate' was too strong a term for what we experienced. For a full twenty-four hours we were confined to our hotel complex. We had meals and the pool bar was still functioning, but access to our beach had been roped off. No tours were offered. No restaurants or shops open. Everything was quiet. Everything was calm. Yep, it was one hell of a celebration.

It was that way throughout the island. A time of soul searching, cleansing, purification. The streets empty. No cars, trucks or bicycles. No pedestrians, no games, no music, so little activity that it was as if the entire island had fallen under a spell. Shhhhh.

Now the day and evening before were pretty crazy. Parties, music, dance, a real festive atmosphere, and the day was highlighted by a parade of these gigantic grotesque puppets through the streets. The puppets represented evil and at the end of the day they were burned, thus ridding the Balinese of all evil.

The Balinese are predominately Hindu. I don't know much about Balinese Hinduism. My understanding of it is much like my grasp of the game of cricket. Not a clue. Catherine explained to me that their faith is based on good versus evil. Good is represented by the character Barong and evil by a character known as Rangda. Their images are found everywhere, in woodcarvings and silver works and batik fabric designs.

Both Cath and I were intrigued by the people's daily offerings to the Gods. It was another aspect of the Hindu faith that Cath and I grappled with understanding. And the offerings were everywhere. They were placed at the entranceway to shops,

hotels and in or on vehicles. Catherine saw one motorcyclist whose offering was nestled on top and just behind his headlight. The offerings consisted of bits of fruit, candies, flowers and all placed upon a palm leaf.

Everybody that visits Bali has to go to Jimbaran Beach. Normally when I am told that I ‘have to' do or go anywhere I immediately begin to bristle. I dig in my heels. “Oh yeah. So I have to go to heaven. Well, we'll see about that.”

Well we were so taken with Jimbaran Beach that Cath and I went twice. The first night we sat under the roofed portion of our open-air restaurant. Out of the direct rays of the sun, but open to the thunderous crash of waves on this magnificent stretch of sandy beach. The second evening we selected a table as close to the water's edge as was possible. We were so close to the water's edge that our waitress had to wear swim fins just to serve our drinks.

When we were ready to order our main meal, the waitress escorted Catherine and I back through the restaurant to the street side where beaming cooks stood behind an array of pots. They lifted each lid and proudly displayed the various catches. There was so much to choose from, sea prawns, calamari, Red Snapper, King Crab and Barracuda. I tried to convey to our team of cooks that cracking claws and removing tails, bones and heads was no easy chore for the blind. I mean I struggle with opening a can of tuna. Through laughter and handshakes and slaps on the back, I sensed they understood.

I selected as much of the various offerings as I desired. Everything was priced according to weight. And so my bill was decided by my own gluttony. The cooks took great care to totally fillet my snapper and remove the skins and tails of the prawns. It was paradise. We ate in almost total silence, both of us drawn to the setting sun. At that moment I was grateful for my blindness. Blindness was providing me with a golden moment. A moment that I don't believe Catherine or the other diners fully shared, so focused were they on that spectacular sunset.

I too could feel the warm rays of that setting sun, but I wondered if Cath and the others were as sensitive as I was of the sand cooling beneath my feet or as tuned in to the waves slowly diminishing. But mostly I was struck by the total silence. Silence that we had all lapsed into. So fixed were we as one on this beautiful sun. It was as if this amazing sunset was giving her final blessing on our day.

The perfect meal with the perfect setting and the perfect partner.

We were in Bali for twelve days, ample time to explore the island. Our hotel, The Aston Bali, offered coach tours, but Cath and I deplore them. Sure the tours cover all the highlights, but we find the pace is ridiculously fast and enroute to those highlights you stop at a variety of prearranged tourist traps. Like cattle and about as bright as cattle you're paraded through the silversmith's shop and some fabric joint.

Then it's the woodcarver's turn, followed by a pit stop at the authentic, original Balinese restaurant. I hate those places. Never a local to be found eating there, only the goobers from your bus. And the place is usually so remote that even Columbus would have trouble finding it.

So we hired a local driver, Madi. I think the whole day for his services including the car and his tip was less than fifty bucks. There was no rush, there was no timetable except the one Cath and I created. We explained to Madi that we wanted to experience Bali. He understood and Madi took us off the beaten path.

One day we headed north to the Temple on the Lake. Madi did not take us by a direct route, but instead weaved through Balinese countryside. At one point we pulled over, got out and watched these women working in the rice paddies. Slow, methodical work; there were no combines or tractors, only an ox.

The further north we pressed, the more mountainous the terrain. It was much cooler and very lush and green. A great spot for a golf course, or a temple.

The temples were not open to the tourists, which I respected. But I have struggled to get a full picture and understanding of them in my mind. It's like the second temple that Madi insisted we had to visit. It was called Tanalot and the temple was located in the southern part of Bali. Madi had timed our visit so that we would be there as the tide surged in. The noise from the breakers was awesome. But even though Catherine described and Madi attempted description of Tanalot, I couldn't fully comprehend the temple and its setting.

“Can we walk out to the temple?” I asked.

“Only if you have a death wish,” responded Cath.

Another day our driver/guide took us to The Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary. I must admit that I was not all that comfortable hanging around all these monkeys. It's the same queasy feeling I get at any family function. I've noticed on many occasions that birds and animals seem to pick up on my blindness. They seem to grow fidgety around me. They grow fidgety while I grow nervous. Cath was told to take off any jangley bracelets, earrings or necklaces, and we were to avoid going into pockets or purse, as the monkeys would assume we had food. They were not caged or fenced in, but wandered by like shoppers in a mall. They certainly weren't camera shy. I was shocked at how quickly a monkey scooted up my back to my shoulder. I wasn't a person to him. To him I was simply an object to climb. I kept turning my face further and further away from this creature as all I could envision was this beast taking a large nasty bite out of my face. And for reader clarification, in the photograph, I'm the one on the right. So I have to go to heaven… Bali. Heaven on earth?

 
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