The island of Bali is all that it is cracked up to be: rolling, verdant, rice terraces, tropical flowers in every hue, massages and facials galore, temples everywhere, and fabulous shopping. I have never read Elizabeth Gilbert’s book Eat Pray Love, so had no preconceptions of the island except an overall sense that it is supposed to epitomize beauty. It does. But the photos do not do it justice.
The beauty comes from the entire vista; the panoramic scope of a landscape treated well by its inhabitants. There is still hands-on tending to the rice in much of Bali, although it is slowly being leeched dry by the tourist trade. (Mea culpa.)
Our first introduction to this island of lushness was on the drive from the airport in Denpasar to Northern Bali for a couple of days of snorkeling. We stopped along the way to buy fruit we had never eaten before, like mangosteens and jackfruit,
It is built on an island in the lake, and is quite festive in spirit. The goddesses and gods, like Ganesha, the elephant god, were draped in various colored cloths, and protected from the sun by fringed parasols. There were priests dressed in white preparing for a ceremony and families out for an afternoon stroll and of course the group tourist trade in droves. The grounds were lush with orchids and trumpet flowers and hibiscus. As we wandered around we came upon a sort of private-mini avian zoo of various exotics, like giant bats and mega-toucans.
If you wanted to, you could have your picture taken with one of them. (I have a funny feeling this whole business might not be permitted under some law of the U.S., but cock-fighting, albeit illegal, is an open sport in Bali.) In any event, the collection was interesting, and the animals looked awfully well taken care of. Ultimately I could not resist having my picture taken with a wise old owl. (Forget the bat.)
So after indulging my need to play consummate, hokey tourist, we moved on to a waterfall hike, and about 4:30 arrived at our destination – Pemuteran, a small village on the cusp of a development boom. According to our guide, Pemuteran is what Kuta in south Bali was like 20 years ago. There was our hotel, and a few more dotted along the beach, but no shops and few restaurants. We had come to snorkel, and there really was nothing else for us to do but relax. What I did not know was that we were going to be doing nothing in a place with so many delectable options of where and how to relax. Therefore, I never really relaxed.
There was the private plunge pool to constantly dip into, especially at night once the stars emerged. Then there were the choices of where to sit or lie: the veranda located directly in front of the pool, which was furnished with inviting armchairs, perfect from which to sip a Bintang beer, or the double-wide chaise, with soft fluffy pillows perfect to take a nap on. But the piece de resistance was the upstairs sitting room, reached by an outdoor staircase, which hovered above the pool. It was equipped with chairs, a desk and a mosquito-netted daybed in case we wanted to sleep outside.
The whole place was a little slice of paradise. But before I could take a nap or read a book, I had to fit in a facial, a massage and a reflexology treatment (all at price points one-tenth of what one pays in New York City), plus the snorkeling excursions. And we only had two days. There was way too much to do, but we managed to do it all.