Kite flying is another Balinese tradition that is linked to rice-growing. Kites and streamers are flown above the rice fields to deter birds from eating the valuable crop.
Over the years however, kite flying has taken on a competitive edge and there are now two major kite festivals in Bali. One of these takes place over three days in August in Sanur on the west coast of the island. Preparation for the festival starts several weeks in advance, not surprising when you consider the amount of work involved in the design and build of a kite that can be up to ten feet in length and six feet wide
Flying a kite of this size in the strong south-easterly wind takes a great deal of skill and manpower. Launching the kite is a skill in itself as is bringing it safely back to earth once it's flight is over. Teams are made up of up to twenty fliers, all from the same village, each of whom has a role to play in ensuring a successful flight
Marks are awarded for take-off and landing as well as how well the kite performs and is controlled during its flight. Once all the kites are up in the air they make a spectacular sight. Great skill is required to avoid the kites getting tangled with each other and drastic action is required when the kite looks like it's about to come back to earth prematurely which often happens
Although there is a monetary prize, village pride and bragging rights are far more important rewards for success
I managed to join up with the team from Tangi after promising them I'd bring them good luck. Sorry to say this didn't happen. I've already volunteered to come back and try again next year!
Bali is one of the top surf destinations in the world and Padang Padang beach hosts the annual Rip Curl Cup, a prestigious event open to Indonesian surfers and selected invitees only. The competition takes place on a single day in a seven week period between July 15th to August 26th based on when the conditions are likely to be as close to perfect for surfing as possible. As the Rip Curl website says – 'IT'S ON when IT'S ON!' The 9th August happened to be the chosen day for this year's event and we were lucky enough to be around to witness it
Surfing has it's own language. We were treated to a running commentary describing gnarly barrels, inside and outside lines and pumping six foot tubes. By the end of the day we were pretty much fluent in 'surf speak'
One of the competitors was Bethany Hamilton who sprang to fame in 2003 when, at the age of 13, she was attacked by a 14-foot tiger shark while surfing off Kauai. The attack left her with a severed left arm but miraculously she was back in the water just a month after the attack. She's since become an inspiration to thousands but sadly progressed no further than the quarter finals
Winner on the day was surfing's enfant terrible, Chris Ward, whose been a surfing phenomena since childhood. His track record has been patchy both on and off the surf including getting arrested for assault outside a bar in California in 2008. That said, he's becoming a changed man evidenced by the fact that as soon as the winners cheque in his hand, he was down on one knee proposing to his girlfriend….
The setting was fantastic, probably one of the best beaches in Bali not least because of its dramatic entrance down a narrow set of steps hewn out of solid rock. The atmosphere on the beach was great, constant music provided a perfect soundtrack to the day, drinks were cheap and there were plenty of beautiful people around to share the occasion with
As far as spectators sports go, surfing's a funny one. As the competition progresses the four surfers in each heat get progressively longer times to select the two waves that they are going to ride with 50 minutes being the allotted time in the final. As a consequence there's a lot of watching and waiting but then when it does happen it's an amazing thing to see. We were lucky enough to see two 'Perfect 10s', one from the local hero Mega Semadhi who led for 49 minutes of the 50 minute final, and one from the winner Chris Ward who snatched victory when he rode the perfect wave in the very last minute of the competition. Thrilling stuff!
….and of course she said 'YES'!
From the traditional knowledge of how to cultivate rice, to the use of animals in preparing rice fields for planting, to the flying of kites to scare birds away from rice harvests, the cultivation of rice is inseparable from Balinese customs and beliefs. The Balinese culture is so intimately connected with rice farming that virtually every ceremony is related to it in one way or other and many rice fields have small shrines containing flowers, fruit and other offerings to Dewi Sri, the Goddess of Rice in order to ensure a bountiful harvest
Water levels in the rice fields are carefully managed through the ancient 'Subak' system of governance where farmers whose fields are fed by the same water source meet regularly to co-ordinate the planting of rice, agree and control the distribution of irrigation water and ensure that the construction and maintenance of canals and dams is effectively managed. Quite a feat when you consider the elaborate, terraced structures of many of the rice fields and the number of stakeholders involved. In fact Subak is considered to be of such historical and cultural importance that it has recently been awarded UNESCO World Heritage Organisation Activity status
Little has changed in the way in which rice is grown and harvested. Animals play a big role with buffalo ploughing the fields into a muddy soup into which the rice seedlings are planted and ducks being shepherded to the rice fields each day to eat the pests and, together with the buffalo, provide natural fertiliser for the rice
After about twelve weeks the rice is fully grown and harvesting begins. The rice stalks are cut off at ground level and collected to then be threshed and winnowed before being dried and stored
It's not all good news though as large areas of land which were formerly rice fields have now been built on to meet the ever increasing demands from tourists and visitors for holiday accommodation or, in some cases, something more long term. Every year some 700 hectares of land is lost to hotels, luxury housing for wealthy foreigners or additional roads. Some landowners are clearly fed up of being pestered to sell their land and have taken it upon themselves to make their feelings abundantly clear to everyone
Bali, and in particular Ubud, is the perfect holiday destination. Unfortunately this is no secret following the success of the book Eat, Love, Pray and the subsequent film release. As a consequence the town is inundated with all kinds of holidaymakers . In some respects this is no bad thing as it means there's something for everyone here and you can spend as much or as little money as your budget allows
We watched a film made on the island in the 1930s. It's a classic love story which also gives an insight into many of the the ancient traditions, customs and pastimes that the islanders enjoyed nearly a century ago. What's remarkable is that many of these still exist today and are not just for the tourists. They're so embedded in the island's people that they form the backbone of their identity. Add to this beautiful beaches, crystal clear seas, warm and friendly people, perfect year-round climate, delicious food and lots to see and do and it's not difficult to see why Bali is, by some margin, the best place we've visited in Asia and the one providing the greatest temptation to live the island life – permanently!
Next stop is the immigration office to see if we can extend our visas by another 30 days!