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Our final stop on our tour of Bali was the Bukit Peninsula in the south of the island

Bingin is a relatively untouched village whose beach forms part of the chain of surfing hotspots in southern Bali. With names like Impossibles, Dreamland and Playgrounds it conjures up images of challenging and perfect waves, and after talking to several surfers these names are well deserved. We've yet to try to catch a wave but it's top of the list of things to do if and when we return to Bali

We stayed at the Bingin Family Guesthouse and were well looked after by Susie and Putu. After checking in we enquired about hiring a scooter. Ten minutes later one turned up, delivered by Susie's cousin. No ID, licence or formal agreement required, just keep the bike for as long as you want and pay when you return it. Part of Bingin's charm is the fact that it's still a genuine Balinese village and like all villages everybody knows everybody else's business. Within a day of arriving we'd met all of Susie's immediate and extended family and between them they'd offered us everything from a massage to a tour of the island!

Whilst exploring we stumbled across a Spanish restaurant called El Kabron run by Carlos from Barcelona who'd been bitten so badly by the surfing bug that he'd decided to 'up-sticks' and live in Bali so that he could surf whenever he got the opportunity. The restaurant is perched on the edge of the cliff with an unrestricted view of the Bingin and Impossibles surf breaks. The views and the sunset were spectacular and on this occasion the food was great too although it was slightly surreal eating tapas in a Spanish restaurant in southern Bali!

Bingin is also close to Uluwatu which is a tourist hotspot for two other reasons in addition to its surf. These are it's temple perched on a rocky outcrop and the Kecak Fire Dance. The dance tells the story of Rama and Sita and is Bali's equivalent of Romeo and Juliet although in this version the lovers live happily ever after. It's unique in that it's not accompanied by any musical instruments, no Gamelan for once, instead the chorus of men provide the soundtrack through their chanting which becomes almost trance like

From Bali we fly to Kota Kinabalu in Borneo (taxi to the airport courtesy of Susie's brother). We've stayed in Bali longer than anywhere else on our travels and yet the last two months have flown by. Hopefully we'll get the opportunity to return before we finally start to head for home

 

After the somewhat depressing and frustrating experiences in Lovina we headed to Pemuteran which borders Bali's National Park. The park was established in the early part of last century, primarily to preserve the habitat of a number of indigenous species including the near extinct Bali Starling. Suffice to say we didn't see it, nor did we see any of the deer, wild boar or leopard cats which inhabit the park. What we did see were lots more macaque monkeys eager to eat anything and everything that tourist are willing to feed them. All we had in the car was some muesli and it was funny to see them examining and smelling it before deciding it was edible. There's just no pleasing some people!

Menjangan Island, just off the coast, forms part of the park and is renowned for its diving and snorkelling. Again we chose the latter and were rewarded with an array of marine life and coral that put Malaysia's Perhentian Islands to shame. We saw some weird and wonderful sights, not least of which were a unicorn fish, a bottle fish, a school of squid and a puffer fish which blew itself up to twice its size when it encountered us!

Another of the highlights of our stay in Permuteran was the traditional dancing and music that provided the after-dinner entertainment on the night we arrived. We were treated to around a dozen different performances each of which was visually stunning and accompanied by traditional music called Gamelan

For us Gamelan has become the soundtrack to Bali, however as the saying goes, you can have too much of a good thing. There seems to be a limited number of 'greatest hits' and these seem to be played in the reception of every hotel that we've stayed at since we got to Bali!

After Pemuteran we drove south, stopping off at the one of the oldest Hindu temples in Bali. It has a vey serene feel about it partly because it's little visited and also because it's looked after by a caretaker who was in his late 70's, helped by his mother who's 110 years old, or at least that's what she told us!

After a drive down the west coast of the island during which we caught glimpses of the sea through towering palm trees which dwarfed the cattle standing amongst them, we finally arrived in Jimbaran

Jimbaran used to be a tiny fishing village with a daily market. In the past 20 years several upscale resorts have been built and these, together with the large private villas that occupy the high ridges overlooking the bay have earned Jimbaran the nickname “Beverley Hills of Bali”!

Eating seafood on the beach in is a quintessential element of a visit to Jimbaran. The beach is home to about fifty grilled seafood restaurants. Choice of restaurant is relatively unimportant as they all offer pretty much the same experience. It was a bit like the fish barbecues on the Perhentian Islands but with lots more people, a group of strolling musicians and a wider menu selection, all of which comes at three times the price!

Close by to Jimbaran is the 'Secret Beach' which, appropriately, we stumbled upon by accident. The road to the beach was pretty nondescript, but turn the corner and you're presented with an amazing view of the seaweed beds sitting under the shallow, calm waters which stretch along the shore. From the hill side you can clearly see how the sea-bed has been sectioned into rectangular plots that resemble a patchwork quilt. Workers live in shoreline shacks and spend much of the time between dawn until dusk up to their waists in sea-water seeding and harvesting the seaweed which grows along lines tethered to the sea-bed. After harvesting the seaweed is laid out to dry before being taken to market to be sold. The seaweed grown on the island produces carrageenan which is used in shampoos and interacts with human carotene to give soft skin and silky hair, so now you know

Away from the seaweed beds there was a bay which was completely deserted other than a small shack selling sea-shells. At the water's edge there were dozens of crystal clear rock-pools, all teeming with small fish, crabs and starfish. We ended up spending ages just sitting, watching and getting lost in the comings and goings of all sorts of marine life

There is definitely something special about the Secret Beach, something that the locals are keen to acknowledge by carving huge figures of the five Paca Pendatha from the Mahabaratha into the side of the rock-face leading down to the beach

Our next stop is the Bukit Peninsula in the south of the island. We visited previously when we had a day trip to see the Rip Curl Padang Padang Cup. This time we'll be there for several days and it'll be interesting to see how different things are without the razzmatazz of a world class surfing event

 

After chilling out in Sanur for several weeks we thought it was time we saw more of Bali than just its beaches, bars and restaurants!

Feeling more confident on the roads we rented a car for a couple of weeks and left for a tour of the island. We headed up the east coast to a fishing village called Candidasa where we stopped off for lunch. As we arrived at the water's edge one of the outrigger boats had just landed and began unloading it's catch. As the photo shows it was yet another example of the women doing all the heavy lifting and carrying!

Naturally, lunch was fish, cooked in the local style which was delicious, not that surprising given that it had probably been caught fresh that morning

Next stop was Tampak Siring water temple. Water holds a special importance for the Balinese, so much so that the former president built a house here so that he could bathe in the waters to ensure that his mind was clear to help him make the right decisions in terms of governing his people. Every day hundreds make the pilgrimage to the temple to bathe in the water. Each of the thirteen water spouts has different healing properties and the idea is to start at one end and work your way to the other taking the benefits of each spout as you work your way along. Whether it works or not is open to debate but I can confirm that the coldness of the water gives your mind and body a huge wake-up call!

Mount Agung, an active volcano which is the highest point on the island provided the next stop. Like almost everything else on the island it has huge spiritual significance with its southern slopes being home to the 'Mother Temple' of Besakih. Balinese legend has it that Agung was created when the Hindu God Pasupati split Mount Meru (the spiritual axis of the universe) and formed Mount Agung with a fragment from this

The volcano last erupted in 1963. On March 18th of that year it blew so violently that the top 100 metres or more was blown away. Lava spewed over much of eastern Bali and the resulting ash cloud swept across many villages destroying all the crops. Up to 2,000 people are believed to have been killed and tens of thousands of homes were destroyed.

The fact that the temple of Besakih was relatively untouched by the eruption fuelled the local belief that spirits were to blame for the eruption and that it was a sign of further terrible things to come. They were proved right when the nation was plunged into civil crisis two years later in 1965!

Next on the list was the curiously named Git Git waterfall. The water plummets 35 metres and creates a current so strong that life jackets wouldn't go amiss for those brave or foolish enough to swim in its waters. Being the latter we took the opportunity for a swim before being told of the local legend which says that lovers should not swim in it's waters, because it will separate them. The legend doesn't give a time-limit but as yet we're still very much together!

After Git Git we headed to Bedugul which is best known for its cool temperatures, strawberries and the Botanical Gardens. After a late check-in at the unimaginatively named Strawberry Hill hotel we sat down to dinner in front of a log fire before putting our pyjamas on ready for bed, yes it really was that cold!

The next day we headed to the Botanical Gardens, home to the 'Treetops Adventure Park'. After a safety briefing and a practice run we were let loose on the course itself. The courses are graded from green to black with each more challenging both physically and mentally. We started on the orange course before progressing through the others. The courses involved lots of climbing, swinging and crawling, some of which was 12 meters above the ground. At times it felt like a cross between an army assault course and 'I'm a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here'! I'm pleased to say we both managed the red course but declined the opportunity to do the black after watching others younger, fitter and more fearless get part way round and start wishing they'd never begun!

We then drove up to the north coast and spent the night at a 'resort' hotel that had around a hundred rooms of which only about three were occupied. It was a pretty depressing experience staying somewhere that had clearly been the victim of a downward spiral in fortunes to the point that it now has a skeleton staff who seem incapable of performing even the most basic housekeeping functions.

Early morning saw us in Lovina for a pre-dawn boat trip in search of the dolphins. Any thoughts we may have had that this was an exclusive activity were soon dashed as the sun rose and revealed dozens of other boats all doing the same thing. It soon became like something out of a Benny Hill sketch with a flotilla of boats chasing each other along the coast on rumours of a sighting of the elusive dolphin. Sadly we saw no sign of the dolphins. Clearly the intelligence they're credited with is not misplaced as they have the good sense to stay well clear!

 

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!