Letters from Abroad: Further Adventures in Bali

Rachel Melikian

If life in Bali had a soundtrack it would be the gamelan music one hears everywhere on this exotic island in the South Pacific.

Those of us who traveled there from GCC last summer were delighted to hear this blend of xylophones, gongs and drums along the journey, continually tuning us in to the exotic and intoxicating atmosphere of the country.

We were often so taken in by the sounds and sights around us that it was difficult to remember that we were actually studying and earning college credit.

We brushed elbows with painters, weavers, carvers, dancers and musicians at almost every corner. The artisans displayed amazing skill in using whatever the environment offered up to them, from bamboo to banana leaves and native woods.

We not only observed the art of Balinese hand-weaving while touring a sarong factory, but we had the opportunity to try doing it ourselves.

Among the entertainment, naturally accompanied by gamelan, is the Balinese dance, which is generally tied to sacred events. Dancers are brightly clad in gold, yellow and red, and wear elaborate eye makeup with luscious red lipstick. The dances are subtle and enticing.

The study group’s favorite performance was “Kecak and the Fire Dance,” which featured more than a hundred dancers and singers. Sitting in a small circle around a bonfire, the performers sang a rhythmic “cak-cak-cak,” accompanied by clapping. These sounds mesmerized the audience while a dancer walked barefoot across blazing flames.

Each part of the island is like a different country. Kuta is a surfing mecca and tourist hot spot; Ubud is the cultural heart of Bali, filled with dance and art; Lake Bratan, in the volcanic highlands, is surrounded by rainforest; Lovina has black sand beaches, dolphins, and many Islamic influences.

Aside from planned activities, we took side trips around Bali as well as on the adjacent island of Java ? seeing things that one wouldn’t see anywhere else in the world.

There was an elaborate cremation ceremony ? the actual burning of a deceased body.

We visited the Monkey Forest ? a whole forest of naughty primates that have learned to negotiate and bargain with tourists. And what they can’t bargain for, they steal ? food, earrings, hats, cameras, sunglasses. One must feed these cheeky beasts to get back whatever they’ve swiped. I brought peanuts into the forest and was immediately surrounded by monkeys ? several of them clinging to me and attacking my food supply. Some of them clung to my skirt, while I struggled to keep it on.

At times, we felt as inundated by street vendors as we had by the monkeys.

Each vendor claimed that their wares would bring good luck since they were offering me their morning price (the first sale of the day is cheap to bring them good sales during the day). They would insist “Good for you, good for me.” You must learn to say, “It’s beautiful, but no, thank you.”

Despite the pressures, bargaining was sometimes fun. If you say “mahal” (expensive), they say, “You can bargain, name your price.” You name a very low price, and then competition begins between the vendors trying to sell an item for less than their neighbor. Don’t get too excited though, you cannot buy an item any cheaper than what they’ve already decided to sell the item for. If you bargain too low, they loudly exclaim, “Bankrupt!”

If you like adventure, Bali is the place to go. We snorkeled, went scuba diving, sailed (often to visit another island or to watch dolphins,) hiked, dipped in hot springs, and river rafted.

Bali is an island of extreme beauty, spirituality and adventure. It is a magical place that lingers in the memory long after the trip is over.

Rachel Melikian is a continuing student at GCC.
She was named GCC?s Woman of the Year for 2000.

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