My first glimpse of Bali was at nighttime. I arrived into Denpasar airport at 12:10AM after a relatively rough flight – we’d experienced heavy turbulence in the latter part of the journey before landing. On leaving Arrivals (a smooth procedure, thankfully), fellow passengers and I were overwhelmed by groups of men offering taxi services, some holding placards with names and hotels written on them, others holding handmade signs reading simply ‘Taxi’, and others holding nothing at all.
For my sleep-deprived self, I admit I was wary of so many strangers within my immediate vicinity. It was so unlike any airport experience I’d ever had before. Without keeping to a designated taxi zone, people crowded the entire area: standing outside shops, against walls, in a collective group in open areas – it was chaotic. Disgruntled and grumpy, I made my way through the crowds along with the other passengers. Luckily, I had pre-booked transport beforehand so I politely declined any taxi offers until I finally beheld my name on a placard.
*cue orchestral music*
Tip: to avoid being unsettled and for general peace of mind, I would recommend booking a driver via your hotel to personally collect you from the airport, especially if you are travelling during the peak months and arriving at nighttime.
After a brief introduction, we were on our way to Ubud! One thing I did notice during the taxi ride was the amount of stray dogs wandering the streets. Some of them would sit by the road or even lay in the middle of the road. Sometimes, they would calmly and with sloth-like speed move out of the way of oncoming vehicles. Now, you may think that this is a recipe for disaster but, shockingly, I found it not to be the case! Drivers would be cautious around the dogs, slowing down and moving to avoid them. With the dogs familiar with the heavy traffic and having a certain level of street-smart awareness, they didn’t panic and rush out into traffic. They let the traffic move around them instead. In the entire duration of my trip to Bali, I didn’t see one animal casualty.
When I asked the driver about the dogs, he explained that while most of them have families and so were not actually strays, in Bali they are allowed to wander freely and are often left outside at nighttime. Imagining leaving my dog outside for any prolonged amount of time left me filled with horror!
In the morning, I woke with one thing on my mind: breakfast! I’d chosen a traditional Balinese fruit platter and banana pancake served with tea to start my day. It was delicious! I could honestly eat that breakfast every day quite happily for the rest of my life.
Although the weather was pleasant, I did notice that there’d be a heavy downpour of rain in the early morning (note: this was during July/August). By the time I had finished my breakfast and was ready to head out, the rain had usually stopped. Walking around Ubud, I was struck by a few things: the first was the distinct lack of traffic lights. For such a populated area, pedestrians were left at the mercy of the road for the most part.
As well as a lack of traffic lights, there were obstacles on the pavements as well and even the pavement itself (or lack thereof) was hazardous! Construction was everywhere in Ubud. Yet, it didn’t have much impact on the overall beauty of the place. Instead, having to navigate streets absent of red tape or other safety protocol, in short a health and safety official’s worst nightmare, added a level of intrigue and amusement to the otherwise standard practise of walking (for me, anyway)!
Another thing which stood out to me in Bali, even now as I think back, was the beautiful handmade offerings which were placed outside temples and shops routinely every morning.
These offerings are called ‘canang sari’ and are exclusive to Balinese Hindus. A tray made from palm leaves makes the base. Inside, there is peporosan, which is a collection of materials with each being symbolic to a specific Hindu God, flowers, snacks, and incense.
Canang sari give thanks to Acintya, the Supreme God of Hinduism in Indonesia, particularly Bali. Only women make the offerings and it can take a few hours each day! They come in all kinds of variations and flood the streets with beautiful colour – just be mindful of where you step! The delicate offerings make such a contrast against the rough ground beneath them. I loved walking in the mornings and following the trail of canang saris, like breadcrumbs on a treasure hunt!
I visited Bali last summer (July/Aug 2018) and yet I still remember it so vividly. The serenity of Ubud and the kindness of local people has left a lasting impression on me. Until next time, Bali!