So there Jack and I were…

…semi-tired from a Bagan night bus to Yangon, then a flight from Yangon to Bali.

It only took a few minutes at the Denpasar airport to hear a rumor.

“In five days, all of Bali is going to shut down for a day.”

Shut down, this guy says.

As we slowly progressed through a titan-sized customs line we were a little skeptical of our Brazilian neighbor’s words.

“Shut down?”

“Yep, everything.”

Ok, fine. This guy seemed a little overly confident, so we didn’t completely heed his words.

Passing through customs, connecting with our Grab driver, and arriving under the cloak of a relucent moon, we arrived to our Airbnb in Ubud in little time. 

Downtown Ubud.

We enjoyed Ubud and forgot about the Brazilian guy’s words. On Jack’s birthday, March 3rd, we were graced by the presence of two friends from back in the States: Stella and Becca. 

Both had some free time and wanted to relax in Bali. Seeing familiar faces from home is always a treat, so this was for sure a highlight of our trip. 

Ubud is a hub for artists, yoga enthusiasts, and seekers of relaxation. Tropical climate, rice paddies, Hindu shrines, and plantations encompassed us upon arrival. Each morning we were awoken by competing roosters and our morning views consisted of well-fed cows munching on grass.

Cow-watching in Ubud.

Here are a few things I can recommend to anyone visiting Ubud: Firstly, the most favorable means of transport in Ubud, and all of Bali for that matter, is via motorbike. They are cheap to rent and allow you to comfortably explore. The Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary is very well worth a visit. Also known as Mandala Suci Wenara Wana, this is a large protected habitat in the center of Ubud where over seven hundred Balinese long-tailed monkeys reside. A short drive north is the Tegallalong Rice Terrace. In some ways this is a tourist trap, but the scenery is spectacular and you can even go swinging above all the rice fields. If you fancy a night out, No Más offers a fun a latin themed atmosphere. 

Jack’s birthday dinner with Stella & Becca.
Monkeys are big fans of sweet potatoes.
Rice terrace posse.
Bali’s turning Jack into a real swinger.

Another fun thing to do is hike up Mount Batur, one of two active volcanos on the island. Jack and I went with a tour group, getting picked up at two in the morning. 

Sometime before the sunrise, Jack and I heard the words “shut down” again.

This time it wasn’t a chatty line guy, but a man from Delhi in our group. 

“It’s Nyepi tomorrow and everyone stays inside,” he told us. 

Catching the sunrise on Mount Batur.

The rumor was indeed true. In one day all of Bali would be closed. Everyone would be off from work, schools would suspend classes, and the streets would be completely vacant for twenty-four hours.

The Batur hike was also our last day in Ubud; later the four of us packed our bags and headed to Canggu for a few days. Our Grab driver warned us that this was a serious holiday. Fines or perhaps jail time could ensue if we were found on the street. The clamor of loud noise from one’s house could even result in police throwing rocks at your roof. 

The four of us checked into our accommodation, unpacked, and hastily scurried to the closest El Pepito market to stock up on snacks.  

At six in the morning the following day, house arrest commenced all throughout the island. 

With twenty-four hours to stay inside, luckily among good friends, I feel safe to say that I learned some new things:

What on Earth is Nyepi?

Somewhere in Canggu.

Nyepi has another name: “Day of Silence”. It’s New Years Day in the Saka calendar, in conjunction with Hinduism. The Balinese adhere to this calendar because of its primarily Hindu population. What’s interesting is that this isn’t celebrated anywhere else in Indonesia because over ninety percent of the population is Muslim. Nyepi is a day to be with family, to meditate, to reflect, and to fast. The ritual of staying indoors is called Yoga/Brata. 

What’s an ogoh ogoh?

Some curious sites we encountered on Nyepi eve were lots of ogoh ogoh’s. An ogoh ogoh is a large statue of a demon constructed with styrofoam, tinsel, and bamboo. This statue can be either a Hindu character or evil spirit. Each town builds dozens of large ogoh ogoh’s for Nyepi and on the night before the “Day of Silence” they’re paraded around in a procession called Bhuta. The Bhuta is very high energy with dancing and people partying in the streets. The Bhuta ends with a burning of all the ogoh ogoh’s, similar to Fallas or the Burning of the Man. It’ a ritual to vanquish bad spirits or negative energy and to promote a prosperous New Year.

Stopping is good for moving forward

During our twenty-four hours of being locked inside, Jack, Stella, Becca, and I were able to pass the time by watching movies which was nice. We also had a lot of time to do nothing; to turn off our technology and turn on our minds. I often forget to slow down and reflect on things, to think about myself and what direction my life is going. With so many ways to distract ourselves, it’s easy to ignore our thoughts or be afraid of addressing them. It felt good to have time to focus on myself. 

This is the tip of the ice-burg

Somewhere near Seminyak.

Bali came with lots of hype, and it lived up to all of my personal expectations. Learning about Nyepi, ogoh ogohs, and Hinduism, it became clear that Indonesia was a complete mystery to me. There are around 17,000 islands that belong to its archipelago, which means that there still remains a great deal to discover. Bali by itself is quite diverse; you can have very different experiences depending on which part of the island you’re visiting. After Canggu and Ubud I wanted to learn a lot more.

Goodbye didn’t feel emotional because our time on the island felt like the appetizer to a future main course. All we have to do is just have reserve a a new table.

Thanks for reading! If you have any questions about our time in Bali feel free to ask. 🙂

More updates are coming soon and will be about two other mysteries:

Hong Kong and Beijing…

Take care and remember to wash your hands before dinner!

-Daniel Catena  

3 Replies to “Learning How to Bali”

  1. This is such a cool experience, Dan. I really value places where you can slow down and take a minute to breathe and process. Nyepi sounds like the perfect holiday for reflection and being with loved ones. This makes me want to visit Bali!

    Like

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