Crossing Uneven Ground

Bali – Then & Now

Balinese Temple in the clouds
A Balinese High Temple on Mount Batur from our 1983 trip.

Changes in us and them from 1983 until 2019

I’m not sure how the notion of traveling to Indonesia entered my mind, but early in my life it did and it’s been rattling around in there ever since. To provide context, it is the fifth largest country in the world. It is the largest predominantly muslim country. It consists of 17,508 islands in an archipelago that is smeared across the equator between the Pacific and Indian Oceans.

Bali is one of Indonesia’s many islands. Waiting for a plane at the Balinese airport on our first visit in 1983 I was gazing out at the landing strip, monsoon clouds building in the midday sun, when unexpectedly the guy standing next to me turned and said, “You know in Indonesia anything is possible.” Maybe he was trying to sell me drugs but I chose to interpret his statement as a prelude to a journey. One that started back then and, just recently, continued.

Ubud, Bali, Indonesia

Ubud is a small village about an hour’s drive north of Bali’s airport in Denpasar. OK, it was a small village. In ’83 probably about 3,000 people called it home. Now it’s more like 30,000. My wife, Joanne, warned me that it wouldn’t be the same and I knew that the travel boom of the last few years would hit a paradise spot like Bali hard but I still wanted to go back. Now it’s crowded, well discovered by tourists, full of fancy restaurants and boutiques. On our first visit, I remember being awakened by roosters crowing at dawn. Presently, there is so much motorcycle traffic that you can’t hear much of anything else at dawn or any other time. Lots of Ubud’s charm is gone; still it is not a complete disappointment.

In 1983 Ubud was a sleepy village. Now its all hustle bustle.
Our guide told us that everyone has two or three motorbikes in Bali.. There is a constant drone of engines on the streets of Ubud these days.

Ubud is a cultural center. The Balinese embrace art like we Americans embrace sports. Painter’s and wood-carvers’ shops abound. There are dance performances almost every night. My recommendation for Balinese travelers is to stop in Ubud for a few days and take in some culture. Then go north to relax in rural, laid-back, magical Bali.

The performance of the Monkey dance in Ubud was lit by candle light and gave the stage a soft warm glow.
Monkey dance performer.
At the end of one of the dances the men seem to be in a trance and try, without success, to stab themselves.
This dancer, seemingly impervious to the heat of the fire, kicked hot chunks of charcoal around the stage and into the audience. We were sitting in the first row so couldn’t help but become involved in the performance.

Staying at Oka Wati’s Hotel

In 1983 we traveled in a carefree way. We’d read up on a destination, jot down the names of hotels where we might stay and then look them up when we got there. That’s how we found Oka Wati’s Warung (hotel). It was located off one of Ubud’s main streets right along some rice fields. Our room had a view of Mount Batur, misty blue, in the distance. At night choruses of frogs peeped in the rice paddies. We loved the hotel and the generous Oka Wati was the best of hosts. I had photographed her and her daughter back then and wanted to go back to see her on this trip and drop off the picture.

This was the view from our room at the Oka Wati Hotel in 1983. We watched as farmers worked the rice paddies, reflections of palms, like fireworks reflected in the water.

Now, Oka Wati still had a hotel but, unknown to us, it was not the same one. Located down the street from the old place the new one was still off the main road and occupied a lovely spot amidst coconut palms and flowers. We stayed with Oka Wati and she had not changed. Still energetic and the perfect, always smiling, wonderful host. She was happy to get the old photo and arranged for her daughter and granddaughter to come and pose for a new one.

Oka Wati with her Daughter
In 1983 I photographed hotel keeper Oka Wati with her daughter. This picture hung in our house for years. This year we went back to Bali and I gave her a copy.
Three generations. Oka Wati with her daughter and granddaughter in April of 2019.

Offerings and Temples

Bali has its own culture. In a predominately muslim country, most of the Balinese people are Hindu. Something you will notice when you walk around anywhere in Bali are little offerings. The people place them in front of their homes and businesses. They are placed on the statues of the Hindu deities and on bikes, motorcycles and cars. Like candles lit in a Christian church these offerings ask for favor from the gods.

Early morning finds this woman placing an offering on the sidewalk in front of her store. People will probably step on the offerings.
An offering placed on a motorbike will help insure safe travels.

Bali has been called “Home of the Gods,” “Playground of the Gods,” and National Geographic called it “Masterpiece of the Gods.” To say it evokes a sense of spirit or spirituality would be and understatement. I wanted to get a sense of that spirit so in 1983 we went in search of a temple festival. I asked people we met if they knew of one happening while we were there and finally found one. There, the locals partied well into the night and, for a while, we partied with them.

Balinese have temples everywhere. There are personal temples at their homes and then there are larger regional temples. I don’t pretend to understand why there are so many but I think that they are key to the culture and agriculture as cycles of rice growing seem to be regulated by the temple.

A few images from the temple festival in 1983.

It seemed like the whole village turned out for the festival. Celebrating with these people is one of my best travel memories.
Women brought towers of offerings.
A young woman dressed for the festival.
Children posed for me the whole time we were at the festival.
I never get tired of photographing kids.

We weren’t so fortunate as to find a major festival this time. Our itinerary was less spontaneous as we had a travel company arrange our trip. Still our local guide showed us to a few of the larger temples and while no big shindigs were going on, families were doing their own celebrations. We found one group bringing offerings and then picnicking. They, of course, welcomed us and offered us food and smiles. You will find no more hospitable people in the world than the Balinese.

Families meet at the temple to bring offerings and share food.
Beautiful offerings are left at the temples.
A charming woman offers us picnic chicken at her family’s celebration.
Dressed for the temple, this young girl waits for the party to start.
Teenagers decide to counter my picture taking with rock star poses.
Temples are really everywhere. We came upon this stunning scene deep in the rain forest.

Munduk and Jatiluweh in North Central Bali

After leaving Ubud we traveled north to Munduk to a hotel nestled in the mountains overlooking valleys and way to the north, the ocean. It was beautiful and much more like the memories we had of Bali back in the day. There was a cicada hatch going on that was so loud it made me think the place was undergoing construction. The noise couldn’t spoil the beauty. We could have stayed there much longer.

The combination of tropical weather and mountains produce waterfalls. This one near our hotel in Munduk.
On one of our Bali jungle walks we came across a hunter…or a fisherman. Actually I think he was hunting fish with a gun. He posed with his gun and his cigarette.

We took a ride to the rice fields of Jatiluweh, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Arriving early we had the place to ourselves and wandered for hours among verdant pastures that looked like they were painted on the landscape. Joanne laughed when I sat down next to a cow at a little roadside stand and had a coffee while the owner played a simple tune on wooden vibes. These are the memories I’ll keep of our return to Bali.

A farmer checking out the rice crop at Jatiluweh.
The rolling hills of Jatiluweh are all terraced for rice culture. The scenes are pure poetry.
Just when we were getting tired from walking the fields we came upon a little hut selling coffee. I’ve never had a cow to lick my neck at Starbucks.

2019 – Milwaukee’s Art Bar Photography Exhibit

The theme of the juried photography show at Milwaukee’s Art Bar this year is “Then and Now.” The Art Bar partnered with CoPA, Milwaukee’s Coalition of Photographic Arts, for the show. The idea being that photographers show legacy work as well as new images. I figured some of my Balinese work fit the bill and I guess the jurors agreed. A photo of a Legong Dancer from 1983 and one of a girl practicing Legong taken in April 2019 will be shown at the Art Bar from July 12 through August 20, 2019. If you can’t make it to the show, here are my images.

Legong Dance Performance 1983
Legong Dance Practice 2019

Bali, Indonesia – Map

4 thoughts on “Bali – Then & Now

    1. Tom Post author

      Thanks Craig, Perhaps one of the benefits of getting older to to remember all the places we’ve been.

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