Will wonders never cease?
Leave Yogyakarta at 6AM for Bali. An hour drive through city traffic and convoluted streets. Adding to the uncertainty, Driver William is looking at a hand drawn map and stopping from time to time to ask directions. Then an hour-long flight over sparsely populated rice fields, marvelous clouds, majestic volcanic peaks, multi-textured ocean, as gracious flight attendants from Garuda Airlines wait upon us, into Denpasur, Bali’s capitol. The flight is followed by a 3 hour drive through the industrial part of the city, which for most people would conjure up building materials and factories. In Bali it is endless rows of intricately carved statuary of Hindu and every over deity imaginable, as well as beautiful furniture, doorways and other household items. This profusion of sculpted goods was regularly interspersed with small temples. First a street cremation and then a wedding interrupt the car journey. After 7 hours of combined travel time we arrive at our destination, Villa Sarna.
What a palace! Seven suites tucked away near the top of a forested hill. We are immediately greeted with a glass of unknown tropical fruit juice and a fresh damp washcloth to refresh us from our long journey. Evidently this is a traditional Javanese/Balinese greeting – same as Borobudur, myriad restaurants we visited, and even Garuda Airlines. How cultured! How refined!
As we are escorted to our room, a 4-armed voluptuous goddess in front of a Koi pond welcomes us.
An abundance of brightly colored tropical flowers provide our eyes with a visual treat.
We then pass through a gateway guarded by an equally exquisite stone Ganesha, the elephant-headed god who clears away obstruction.
The cottages are topped with moss-covered interlocking clay tile roofs with intricately carved finials.
The concierge opens the door (doorknobs in the shape of a meditative hand) to a luxurious suite with polished hard wood floors, with steeply pitched mahogany beamed ceilings – intricately woven bamboo matting for the surface – traditional Balinese style architecture. Hidden lighting illuminates the magical space. Inside the room, elegant double mahogany doors separate the bathroom and closet area.
A large set of windows open onto a private balcony over-looking lush tropical vegetation, including jackfruit, giving an outside/inside effect.
The view is excellent.
Villa Sarna View
Just below our room is a small lagoon style swimming pool. Ganesha provides a fountain with his trunk that provides the relaxing sound of a mountain waterfall.
We are extended traditional Balinese courtesy from all we meet – a full ocular smile with quiet warmth beaming from the inner soul.
But we are exhausted from so much travel and famished to the point of dizziness. Laurie has a headache from lack of coffee, me just weary. Faced with a forested view surrounded by greenery, a pool in the shape of a tropical lagoon, and a great exchange rate with an abundance of cash remaining, we decide to hole up in our Shangri-La and order room service. As Laurie is still fighting her coffee headache, I make her a cup of instant – not too bad.
We are nourished by a delicious traditional Balinese soup and an attractively presented and sumptuous seafood and ahi salad – complete with wasabi. Still exhausted, we decide to relax in our paradisiacal environment for the rest of the day rather than venturing out into the local city of Ubud, one of Bali’s main tourist centers. (Villa Sarna provides a complimentary shuttle to the town center, which is just 20 minutes away.) We take a short nap. A gentle rain begins to fall. We feel like royalty, king and queen for the day. Slightly refreshed, but still exhausted, we decide to take a short walk in the light drizzle.
“Where to?” we ask the attractive Balinese concierge.
“Up to the village. Paths on the right or left.”
“Local village!?” I’m certainly intrigued. Something simple – maybe some street food – check out the natives – the common folk how they live.
Even as we leave the villa, our eyes are treated to more intriguing sights, a intricately carved potted plant and a demon-like figure guarding the exit.
We stroll up the road, careful to stay out of the way of occasional motor bikes zipping up the fairly well paved 2 lane streets: “Whoa! What’s that, over there on the left?” An elaborate wall with intricate embellishments surrounds a gateway guarded by ornate mythological statutes.
On the left of the stairway, Bolts of red and white silk-like cloth enwrap a magnificent many rooted banyan tree.
Although Laurie offers the standard cautionary advice that I have come to expect, I climb the stairs and enter a courtyard of what seems to be a temple compound. “Whoa! And Whoa again!” We see more trees wrapped in red and white silk-like cloth, juist like at the entrance. There are a multitude of statues, seemingly of museum quality, and altars everywhere. “Must be the local shrine,” we surmise. But there is no one around.
Keep walking on the road up the hill. See a young man, who appears to be a local, up ahead. Ask which god the shrine is dedicated to? He pauses in apparent confusion and then responds, “We use it for celebrations.” An obviously incomplete answer, as indicated by his pauses.
More curious than ever about the local village on top of the hill, we proceed further upward into their local paradise. As we stroll up the mountain, we see many ancient women carrying baskets of grain and such on their heads – no arms for support. A profusion of high quality statuary, many gates with ornate carvings. My attention is also captured by what seem to be a multitude of inner sanctuaries with a bewildering array of shrines and multilevel sacrificial altars. These intriguing structures are combined with the omnipresent motorbikes whizzing by and convenience stores selling sodas, dry goods, sundries and a small amount of vegetables. Most greet us foreigners with a warm smile.
Another young man, Wayan, engages us. After the normal pleasantries – where from, name, etc, the topic of religion is posed.
“We Balinese believe that everything has a spirit – rocks, trees, even the wind. All are manifestations of one god. We worship them all in whatever form they take.” I comment on the Chinese-style architecture – the dragon spine roofs (like the Chinese temple in Malaysia). “Yes,” he replies. “Chinese brought Buddhism to Bali. That’s when Buddhism began.”
"Buddhism didn't come from India?"
Wayan: "Hinduism came from India."
Wayan: "How long are you going to be here?"
"Just two nights. Tonight and tomorrow. Then we leave for the coast."
Wayan: "Too bad. We're having a village ceremony the evening you leave."
Laurie and I look at each other eyes wide. "A village ceremony?"
Wayan: "You would certainly be welcome. Too bad you won't be here."
My brain is clicking, adjusting to this change in context.
We proceed onward, now on the flat ridge on top of the hill – the same sumptuous scenery wherever we look – rice paddies below and bewildering architecture on our level. We head down a dirt road. It seems that many villagers are coming home from their day’s work. More women with baskets balanced on their heads. Men with machete-like knives carrying coconuts or bundles of wood or bamboo. Chickens scurry everywhere, complete with baby chicks and crowing roosters. I join in their call to prayer.
As we walk back up the dirt road presumably on our way back to the Villa, I glimpse inside one of these courtyard complexes. A middle-aged lady beckons us to come inside the walls. Many young girls are dressed in gorgeous costumes with carefully applied makeup. Older women huddle around them, seemingly putting on the finishing touches – tightening sashes and the details on their painted faces.
“We are going to the city for a performance. You want to come?”
Our casual stroll has turned into an adventure. The girls crowd into one of the ubiquitous small mini-vans that are everywhere. They make gestures to indicate that we are to get inside the cab of a pickup truck. The men crowd in the back under a tarp to protect them from the light rain as we drive down the hill to Ubud.
To make a long story short, as I’m running out of steam, we have a small gourmet dinner at a local restaurant as we wait for the performance to begin (artistically presented, delicious, and inexpensive). We climb two flights of stairs into a grand palace with more ornate statuary. Seats are reserved in the front row for us. Gamelan players, only men, begin the performance, the same men who are in the back of the pickup. The rhythmic melodies set the mood. Then we are treated to beautiful high level ‘world–class’ dancing. Girls aged 10 to 24 years, those from the village, simulate ducks, horses, herons, and bunny rabbits employing exquisite isolations of head, eyes and fingers. But Laurie left her camera behind. After driving back up the hill in the beat-up old truck, we collapse into bed. A short stroll into the village indeed.