I suppose this area was a good choice for the first few days of this first trip to Bali. It is the northern tip of a stretch of beach from South Kuta that is largely inhabited by a never-ending flow of tourists arriving and departing like the tides they come to enjoy.
I arrived at the Grandmas Hotel in the late afternoon after a quick four-hour flight from Bangkok. I was warned in advance not to take any other taxi service than the reputable Blue Bird taxis which, I am happy to say, are metered by the government. I checked in, tossed my things in the room, grabbed my camera and headed for the Double-Six Beach, a mere 5 minute walk down the street. It was just about 6:00, and the sunset reached full radiance around 6:40. It turned out to be a beautiful event. Sunsets on Bali are always considered to be “events” and you should experience them from different locations on the western side of the island—Uluwatu or Tana Lot being the most famous. The tide was coming in and the waves smoothed flat the darkened mix of volcanic and quartz sands. As the waters receded, they left criss-crossed patterns on the surface, like a piece of batiked cloth that is then dyed to a happy golden bright sheen.
Sunset done, I realized I had to get to an ATM as I only had had enough left over cash from a trip to Java years ago to get me to the hotel. I found an ATM easily enough and on the way had checked out a few menus at restaurants to get an idea of how much I needed to take out. Being there for only 12 days, everything seemed to be expensive when the exchange rate is 13,333 Indonesian rupiah to a dollar! So when you have a good meal that costs 100,000 IDR, it seems like a lot of money when it fact it is only $7.50! But that DID seem like a lot to me as I recalled spending a lot less when I traveled through Java about 7 years ago. I remembered spending about 15-20,000 IDR for a typical meal. Well, Seminyak is still considered to be a middle class tourist locale, so a typical Indonesian dish might run you 20,000 at a normal restaurant out of the area while it will cost you 45-50,000 in most of the tonier places here!
The sun on Bali is pretty intense, so I went out to buy a pair of cheap sunglasses as I had forgotten to pack mine in Bangkok! I stopped in a store and found a pair of faux “Oakleys” I liked. The price started at a ridiculous 150,000. When I handed them back without discussion and walked out, the shopkeeper had a change of heart and the price went from 150,000 > 100,000> 75,000> 40,000 > 30,000 with every “Uhhhh, no,” that I gave her. It’s a lot easier to bargain on Bali than anywhere else I’ve ever been. But I learned from the Thais, who will still try to dicker about the price as they bag the item up! So we settled on 30,000.
I must say it did not take me long to realize that the Balinese people are some of the most agreeable people in the world. Conflict, no matter how mild, is just not to be had. It upsets the balance too much. They actually seemed uncomfortable to even deal with anything approaching it.
The morning of the first full day, I took a walk along Jalan Raya Seminyak. It was lined with expensive little shops that generally cater to people who would rather spend their time burning money here than their skin at the beach. This is where the great untanned roam from one air conditioned environment to another before allowing themselves to go to the beach at sunset to enjoy a cocktail. Ladies sporting over-wide white brimmed sunhats rivaling the umbrellas under which they repose with cool drink in hand. It’s all very civilized.
Bali is an interesting island inhabited by a tolerant population of hybrid animist- Hindus. Live and let live seems to be a virtue which makes it an oasis to many in this Muslim-dominant country of Indonesia. As mentioned before, the balance of people, spirits and nature is all-important. The elaborate yet predetermined layout of the housing compounds is very interesting and ornate. When I first saw an upper-middle class house, I thought it was a temple! There is a house for the parents, another for a married child and family, an open-air kitchen, a place to relax and a large section for spirit residences and rituals. Like in most cultures the religious leadership may be dominated by men, but it is the women who are the keepers of the thrice-daily ritual of making offerings to the spirits. As spirits intersect with things of this world, it is usual to see small baskets, called “canang sari,” that are filled with offerings of flowers, sweets, fruit or rice and placed anywhere from the house or town temple to the entryway in front of homes and businesses to even the seashore as a way of giving thanks to the gods for what the people have. Every residence should have some sort of space for spirit and ritualistic ceremonies. One Balinese told me that they would never live in apartments or condos as they would be unable to worship as they traditionally do. Condos are largely inhabited by foreigners! Just as every house has its dedicated area to worship, every village and town has its own temples where you can worship the spirits and Hindu gods as well, especially Vishnu, Brahma, and Shiva.
On my last day at Seminyak before leaving on the 5-day marathon around Bali, I walked up the beach to visit my first “pura” (temple) named Pura Petitenget. The design is the same basic one that I would see in temple after temple over the next 5 days. Everything is a balance. The statues representing more powerful gods are draped in black and white checked Balinese cloth, symbolizing the balance between good and evil. Even the “candi bentar,” a split gateway to enter the courtyard of the temple, is representational of this balance of the positive and negative forces of the universe. It is here that I learned to get out and buy my own sarong to wear over my clothing as even long pants are not considered respectful enough. Everywhere you go you have to rent one—– if you don’t own one to begin with! The caretakers were very nice and although, as at all temples, the area used for ceremonies is restricted to worshippers only, they let me roam the unrestricted parts alone.
I’m not really sure how long I spent there, but I left when I realized we were getting to the late afternoon. Despite people being all around, I was the only one in the temple itself, so I had the opportunity to meditate sitting in the covered shelter listening to the sounds around me, undisturbed. I then made my way back down the beach to Seminyak to pack and prepare for the 5 days traveling ahead of me.