Balinese culture has its roots in the Majapahit Kingdoms of Java, which date back to the 8th century, so it stands to reason, Jamu, Java’s traditional healthy and beauty system, has blossomed on Indonesia’s last remaining Hindu island. Just as the point of Balinese spiritual life is to cultivate harmony by balancing light and dark energy, Jamu balances hot and cold elements within through a regiment of tonics made from indigenous plants. Some tonics induce sweat, others relieve stomach problems, and kunyit or turmeric is a popular daily tonic used by millions to detoxify the blood and stimulate healthy circulation. Even in today’s modernizing Bali, this ancient art thrives as it’s often more affordable for folks to consult with a Jamu healer than a medical doctor. And Jamu tonics are available from herbalists and in some cafe's throughout Ubud, the island’s cultural heart.
In Bali Indonesia, daily offerings are a simple part of life. Made from a quick origami folding of banana fronds and filled with flowers, crackers and incents, these offerings are placed everywhere—in front of houses, shops, on dashboards, and yes, in piles of chilies.
The village odalan is the most foundational festival on Bali. Every 210 days (the length of the Balinese calendar), each village celebrates the anniversary of one of its temples. Since there are more than 20,000 village temples on the island, this translates to about 100 odalans a day.
The odalan usually lasts a few days with dancing, feasting, mythological characters in costume, and, of course, multiple gamelan orchestras. My favorite part was getting doused with holy water as I entered the temple. Buy a sarong when you get to Bali as it will help you get entrance to all kinds of ceremonies. Or, if you choose to hire a guide for the day, they may be able to provide you a wardrobe.
Some of the most interesting activities are happening behind the scenes. At this Kedewatan odalan (this village is on the Ayung River Gorge near the Amandari resort), what I found most provocative was the men and boys playing Kocokan.
Kocokan is a basic staple of village manhood, especially during an odalan. The game resembles roulette: Players bet on six cartoon versions of Hindu gods, demons or animals. Three large dice are rolled with faces matching the pictures. The banker puts the dice on a plate and covers them with a bowl, shakes them up, and uncovers them to see which faces show up, which determines the winning bets.
There’s a shadow puppet show for kids in the temple, but the real “shadow-y” action is out the backdoor at the Kocokan mat.
I believe it's safe to say that markets are the body and soul of a city. They represent not only supply and demand but the hand crafted goods of that region. In a million different languages there are a million different words naming the markets in the center of a town. This is one of my favorite market moments captured. It takes place in Karangasem, in Bali's most eastern part where sits my favorite little town Jasri, a small fishing village. A place were not many tourists stomp but people with hearts of gold live and work and are so proud of their Bali. This photo of a Women smiling while balancing a sleeping child hanging from her body, a bag of rice bought from the market on her head, and making another purchase reminds me of the superb will these people have. It's part of the Bali magic that is real, and has a lot to do with positivity, and balance, and a simple love for all that is alive at the present moment. She is also demonstrating good fortune for the food she is about to cook, for the people she loves in a place that recognizes the Gods. It is difficult to capture moments as they are happening so fast in front of you. If your not careful you can trip and fall in the stone steps that lead you through these narrow alleyways of more markets, temples, and center squares.
By AFAR Traveler
Arak and Tuak are the local tipples of choice in Bali. Both are made by tapping palm trees, but the difference is in the process, as Tuak is undistilled whereas Arak is distilled and therefore more potent.
Arak is offered in most bars and restaurants, and the quality and taste varies enormously. Take it from me, if you have the choice to drink the smoother, clearer variety rather than the cheaper cloudier one, take it...your head will thank you in the morning. If you see a bunch of guys sitting around passing a glass, chances are they are drinking arak. It's a much-loved pastime in Bali.
Tuak is a different story altogether. Fresh tuak is sweet and yeasty, but after about a day it sours and starts tasting slightly fizzy and eggy. Doesn't sound too tempting, right? Balinese men love to sit around during the day sipping tuak, and slipping into a cozy afternoon nap (usually on any available floor) is generally the desired result. Tuak is definitely an acquired taste, so if you're going to try it, get it fresh and if possible from the source in Karangasem.
You might not see a procession in Bali every day, but it would be rare to not see any at all.
Each village has a number of temples, and each of those temples has a different schedule of ceremonies in addition to the numerous ones on the Balinese calendar... In short, there are a lot of ceremonies going on on any given day in Bali.
Many ceremonies require offerings to be taken to or from a temple, river, cemetery, house, beach or another temple so you're bound to see (or be stuck in traffic behind) a procession at some point. Take the opportunity to get your camera out and admire the brightly adorned participants and their beautifully balanced offerings.
In the months of February, March and April a strange smell drifts through the air in Bali and you realize that yes, the Durians have arrived! Durian is the stinky, spiny fruit that people either love or hate. Its incredible and indescribable stench, odd custardy texture and tenacious aftertaste are the trademarks of this fruit. Many people say it takes time to fall in love with Durian, but 8 years on I'm still unconvinced. Local fruit stands all over the island sell this delicacy and you'll often see pickups selling them from the side of the road. Give it a go and see what you think, but remember this handy hint. To get rid of the smell from your hands or the aftertaste, pour water into the shell of the empty Durian and rinse your mouth and hands with it. Don't know why but it works.
Unwinding when you arrive can take some time, so why not speed the process by getting pampered in Bali's numerous spas. Treat yourself to all the wonderful massages, facials, manicures, pedicures and other unique treatments you don't have time for or can't afford back home. Many spas now offer handmade organic products, and others use imported brands, if that's what you prefer. And don't be shy to tell your masseur/masseuse if they are hurting you or not massaging hard enough.
Waking up in Bali isn't usually hard, but if you need a kick in the morning order a Bali kopi, the thick black, sweet coffee locals drink. Give it a try but remember not to drink all the way down to the bottom or you'll end up with a mouth full of coffee sludge.