In April we successfully concluded our inaugural Beautiful Bali tour. We felt the tour was a resounding success and early tour member evaluations support our assumption. We were pleased to escort 20 intrepid travelers for two weeks of exploration and travel connections on this Southeast Asian island paradise. We were happy with the balance of world class sights, remote destinations, and cultural connection experiences we were able to provide – hallmarks of an Imprint Tour experience. Moreover, we enjoyed and were gratified by the flexible attitudes and spirited camaraderie provided by our first group of Indonesian travelers. The tour began with a day of performances. We started our morning journeying to Batubulan, home of one of the island’s premier Barong Dance troupes. The colorful, engaging, and energetic performance introduced us to the richness of Balinese culture, exemplified by its compelling tradition of dance drama. Beyond the pageantry of the Barong, we were reminded of the comedic whimsy that contributes to the accessibility of Balinese drama for westerners. Moreover, we were reminded of the tremendous creativity that pervades all Balinese culture. From dance to painting, sculpting, clothing, architecture, ritual, and music – all Balinese life seems to be artistically expressed. Even the kites are masterpieces. Later that same day we traveled south to the Bukit Penninsula where we enjoyed a rousing rendition of Bali’s most famous dance: Kecak. The Kecak dance, a segment of the Ramayana uniquely accompanied by an all-male a cappella choir, is even more dramatic than the Barong. The chorus chants in percussive, rhythmic style reminiscent of a troop of monkeys. The drama was nearly upstaged by the venue: dramatic cliff-top Ulu Watu temple and the Indian Ocean sunset provided the backdrop.
The next 3 days were spent on neighboring Java. After an early morning flight we enjoyed a city tour of Jogjakarta, Java’s cultural capital. We employed becaks (peddle rickshaws) rather than air conditioned vans in order to directly support the local economy and to facilitate a cultural connection between our tour members and the becak drivers. We visited the Taman Sari water palace, an underground mosque, the famous bird market, and the Kraton, or Sultan’s palace. On the morning of day 4 we visited mighty Borobudur, the world’s largest Buddhist stupa/temple. The first glimpse of the huge stupa/mountain was breathtaking, even for those of us who had seen it before. Likewise Prambanan, our day 5 destination, was visually inspiring. The impressive 9th century Hindu temple complex rises majestically from the east Javanese plains.
An evening flight returned us to Bali and we set out for undiscovered Amed the next day. Along the way we visited the sacred Goa Lawah (Bat Cave temple), Tenganan Bali Aga traditional village, and engaged in our favorite cultural connection experience. We had lunch at a local guesthouse, Kebun Impian near Ujung. After relaxing by and in their lovely, seaside pool we had a delicious meal of local fish, perfectly barbequed over coconut husk embers. The guesthouse sponsors the local children’s dance group, young Balinese girls learning the traditional dances of their culture. We were able to observe their practice and then were treated to a performance by a master dancer, a graduate of their group. We observed her applying her makeup and putting on her costume as well as her exquisite dance. We continued on to Amed on one of Bali’s most remote and rugged roads. We passed rural villages which rarely see tourists (the children ran out to great our bus at every stop), corn and peanut cultivation, and stunning views out to the Lombok Straits and many scalloped, outrigger-lined beaches.
At Amed we enjoyed a full day on the sailing yacht Condor. Being on the water was exhilarating and gave us a unique visual perspective on the island. The snorkeling highlight was a visit to Tulamben, where a sunken ship in clear, shallow waters provides an artificial reef for colorful fish. After a free day of rest and recreation we continued on to Mt Batur, one of Bali’s active volcanoes. On the way we enjoyed endless vistas of emerald rice terraces and a visit to the island’s most sacred temple complex, Besakih. We arrived at Batur in mist and fog but were rewarded with a stunning sunrise the next day. Some of the more intrepid of our group arose early and hiked to the crater of the growing lava dome within the caldera to greet the first rays of the sun. From Batur we continued our journey south to Ubud, the cultural capital of Bali. While there we visited Lake Bratan, the Bali Botanical Gardens, the 15th century palace complex at Klung Kung, the sacred cave of Goa Gajah, the wall carvings of Yeh Pulu, and the 10th century funerary monuments of Gunung Kawi. We also participated in a temple water purification ceremony at the sacred springs of Tirta Empol for another connection highlight.
Departing from Ubud we visited the various craft villages south of town. They included Mas (woodcarving), Batuan (painting), Sukawati (masks and puppets), and Batubulan (stonecarving). We then visited Denpasarss sprawling Badung and Kumbasari markets before heading to our final destination: Tanah Lot. The extremely picturesque temple, located on a tidal island off Bali’s west coast, is rivaled only by its setting. The temple is surrounded by a dramatic, rugged coastline and serenaded by a crashing surf. We closed out our visit with a happy hour on the bluff overlooking the temple as the sun sunk in the western sea.
We had many other adventures and experiences both great and small. Perhaps the hardest to articulate is the experience of the Balinese themselves. They are a very contented, happy people – always ready with a genuine smile of welcome. The culture is extremely cooperative and community based and their Hindu animist religion imbues every aspect of their daily lives. It is easy to be engaged by or even enamored of them. Additionally we encountered tropical flowers and their attendant aromas at every stop. The entire Balinese experience was accompanied by the ubiquitous strains of the indigenous gamelan music. We loved our time there and are anxious to take another group of travelers to expose them to the richness of Bali. We are busy planning next years’ tour for April 2011. We’ll be ready to announce final details, dates, and rates by Aug. 1.