The side that isn’t tainted by western influence and crowded by tourists. I did my research before I came to Bali and concluded that BalifriendBalifriend was the best way to achieve this.
Putu is the perfect person to help me get around the island as he was born and raised in Bali. He knew every inch of the island. I had no idea what to expect for the day but trusted him to take me to untouristy spots.
In the middle of our conversation, I noticed something at the tip of my eyes. I looked out the window and saw this grand display of mountains in an open field. I asked Putu to stop for a bit so I can take a look and maybe get a photo. We were on a highway but it was one of those moments where the view is so breath-taking, you just want to stop the car, get down, and admire it.
I never tire of looking at mountains even though our house is surrounded by them back in Cebu. Despite being hundreds of miles away, it always feels like home when there are mountains in sight.
Our conversation resumed as I got back inside the car. We talked mostly about Hinduism as I was particularly curious about the religion. He explained to me that the teachings of Hinduism are always about knowing that there is good and bad. Like the balance of yin and yang. Bad doesn’t have to mean killing people or stealing but simply having a bad day, for example. Through this, they accept that things aren’t always going to be easy and good.
As luck would have it
Knowing that Hindus practice so many festivals, I asked Putu if I could see one or maybe join in one. He told me that they had parades almost all the time and that it was a matter of timing to see one. Fortunately, while driving, we found one on the side of the road.
‘Do you want to follow them?’ Putu asked and I was sort of processing the idea for a moment.
We went inside a narrow path off the main road and followed the people wearing their traditional clothes and carrying colorful umbrellas. Some men were making sounds with their instruments. I hopped off the car to get a better view and feel of the parade and put on my sarong.
In my excitement and seeing that they were already a few meters away, I sort of ran towards them like a dog on the loose, possibly gathering weird looks from the locals. I realized this was a religious parade, slowed my pace, and headed to the back where a pickup truck was carrying little girls dressed in bright-yellow costumes. I moved a bit closer.
Noticing the stranger, the girls curiously looked at my camera and then flashed a smile at me. "Hallo!" they said waving their hands.
I caught up with the rest of the group and walked through a narrow road with trees on both sides. And as the adrenaline died, I realized I did something I normally would not do back at home—Join in and mingle with a crowd. Blood was pumping, I was alone with all these strangers and I didn't care. It was exhilarating.
We went past rice fields under the scorching heat of the day. When they found out a stranger was scurrying down with them, they were slightly shocked. They asked me where I was from and I proudly answered I came from the Philippines. They smiled and spoke words I didn't understand. So I just smiled back.
Well, maybe next time
After what seemed like 15 minutes of walking through the rice fields, I realized we were headed towards the beach. What a surprise!
This is the last stop where they do the ceremonial dance and prayer. We waited for a while because apparently, the priest was late. What I've learned about Bali is that it is a pretty laid-back island and the people are very relaxed.
Avoiding the heat, I went near the little girls dressed in yellow costumes and hid under the big tree nearby. I was just admiring their dresses when an elderly man called me and asked if I wanted a photo of the girls.
Now, why would I refuse this offer? The man then positioned the girls so I could get a good shot.
We also saw people coming towards us to join in. After a few minutes, the priest had not arrived yet so I told Putu that we should go to our next destination. I wanted to see the ceremony but the sun was too hot and it was nearing 12 so the shadows would be too dark.
We headed to an old village called Tenganan Village. It was supposedly secluded before the 70's preserving the old traditions and architecture of Bali. It rested in a valley protected by mountains on each side.
There were narrow entrances at the ends of the village. Once inside, several houses sat next to each other ornamented with very narrow doors. Some houses opened their doors to outsiders so you could see what was inside.
My eyes had to adjust to the darkness inside the house. There were several statues and objects lying around, and I wasn't sure if they were for sale or just display.
They also made and sold high-quality sarongs that were more expensive than the ones in the public market. I still could not tell the difference, but apparently, they create the patterns manually by joining different colored threads together.
Sitting outside was a leaf artist showcasing his works and selling them to passersby. I watched in awe as the artist scratched the surface of the dried palm leaves with a sharp blade. Followed by smearing charcoal that was made from burnt candlenut on the scratches he made. The results are beautiful intricate drawings. I browsed through his works and wanted to buy one but realized I only brought enough money for eating and none for shopping.
After walking around the village, my stomach started to complain so I asked Putu if we could go to that famous Babi Guling restaurant back in Ubud called Ibu Oka. Babi Guling is simply roasted suckling pig marinated in spices. In Cebu, it is comparable to our famous lechon.
We hit traffic along the way as there were parades all around town. Putu suggested we drop by another Babi Guling place in Gianyar that was famous among the locals.
I agreed to this plan and we headed off to a very humble little restaurant with a lot of people. Putu was right. There were lots of locals and I only saw a couple of tourists in the place.
He said that if I wanted to experience the real Bali, I should go to a restaurant that’s popular among the locals rather than the tourists.
We sat down and waited for our food to be served. Our Babi Guling was served with rice, a piece of chicharron, lawar (vegetables with coconut, herbs, and spices), some pig intestine (I didn’t eat that), and a mystery meat (I also didn’t eat that but I took a small bite).
It was extremely spicy for me. Putu said it was mild, but it really wasn’t. I probably consumed almost 1 liter of water for that meal. It was pretty good though—like lechon, but spicier.