Monotonous noise at full blast – so many car horns almost rhythmic in their riotous sound. Dust rising, potholes everywhere, motorbikes zooming down the streets, whole families and their chickens on the back of mopeds. Cars dodging and weaving, music screeching from supermarkets, dogs barking, roosters rostering. This, coupled with the incredible humid heat, was my first impression of Bali and, to be more precise, Denpasar, a shock to the senses. I guess looking through brochures of beautiful rice fields glistening in the morning sun and peaceful temples for years had somewhat impaired my vision of the reality that initially hit me.
Waiting outside the airport for my lift, I spotted a man holding up a piece of cardboard with my name on it. His smile was wide, and he looked kind. I ran over; I must have looked anxious; he said, “Do not worry, this is Denpasar, not Bali, get in the taxi; my name is Wayne”. On closer inspection, Wayne looked like Tom Selleck from that 1980’s TV show Magnum PI – tall and handsome with a thick dark moustache wearing a bold Hawaiian shirt. And off we sped to Ubud, the cultural centre of Bali and to the Villa Kita.
An hour or so later, arriving in Ubud, my heart rate was back to normal and my body had relaxed. But, alas, my hair had doubled in size with the mugginess of high levels of water vapour in the air that unfortunately followed me around for the next three weeks – I didn’t bother unpacking my hairdryer.
A couple of days passed, which I spent walking in the village, stopping to smell the roses or, in this case, blooming bright pink bougainvillaea flowers trailing down walls, other exotic looking plants bursting through gaps in fences, jungle vines, and frangipanis. People of all ages would smile as I walked, waving as I passed, some becoming very familiar as my three weeks slipped by. My pace slowed; each step I took started to feel sacred as I stopped to look at flower petal offerings and temples on every street corner.
The village itself was full of life, bursting with boutiques, spas and restaurants.
A local market opens around five in the morning, selling hot off the press vegetables, morning caught fish, aromatic spices, freshly cut sweet-smelling flowers and locally cooked foods to take home for later. Followed by the tourist market- a quick change of sellers and wares to appeal to sightseers with all kinds of souvenirs from brightly coloured clothing to any size or shaped wooden penis that you might imagine. I bought two.
Ubud had that “doors always open” attitude. Everyone I spoke to was helpful, particularly Wayne and his family, who lived in the villa next to mine. One morning I needed a doctor. Nothing serious just an upset stomach. Wayne’s son Wayne put me on the back of his motorcycle and drove me to the surgery. Holding on to Wayne tightly, with clenched knees and eyes firmly shut, I hoped for the best.
Later that day, his mum and grandmother called to see me with food. We chatted, and suddenly I had been invited to their cousin’s wedding that weekend. Oh my goodness, I had not packed for a wedding; what would I wear! Nipping to the market the next day, I bought myself a lovely dress.
The wedding day was hot and sticky, which wasn’t a surprise. My dress looked lovely; I was rather pleased – it was long and flowy with straps so I would be cool. Upon arrival, Wayne handed me a very lacy blouse, a sarong and sash to wear over the top of my dress. The blouse was a traditional cabana that was to be worn over the sarong and tied with a sash. I didn’t match but I didn’t care – I looked interesting and very colourful.
When I arrived, the groom was already there, chatting and socialising with many guests. The men in simple attire carrying knives. The woman dressed like me in their fancy lace blouses carrying smaller knives (unlike me) to cut coconut leaves and other offerings. I quickly gathered that the whole village was involved. The groom was excited and nervous, eager to see his beautiful bride. He told me she was expecting a baby, which surprised me. He said, “Well, we like to try before we buy just in case it doesn’t work. It’s normal here”, and then he laughed.
The bride Sita looked stunning and blushed as they locked eyes for the first time. There were so many rituals to watch. Guests came and went all day, arriving with sugar, coffee, fruits, and money offerings. I heard someone brought diamonds too.
All around the world, weddings are celebrated with joy. Couples make a promise to love each other forever. Bali’s history is steeped in culture and spirituality, and to understand the rituals and beliefs in three weeks and one wedding stretches the mind and heart. Even though I did not understand a word being said and some of the offerings confused me, I could see the love, and that’s all that mattered. However, I noticed that children are the same at any wedding – moving chairs, laughing and generally being mischievous.
For the remaining days, I did all the things you do see in the glossy brochures visiting Hindu temples and rice fields, dodging macaque monkeys in the forest, and of course, eating local delicious food. I read a book or two back at the villa and meditated, trying to forget that I had to stop in Denpasar again on my way back.
My Tips if you go to Bali: Don’t bother taking a hairdryer and find the biggest bottle of mosquito repellent money can buy.