Craft House Client, Bambu Indah, Featured In Los Angeles Times
I was walking cautiously on a foot-wide earthen berm separating water-soaked rice paddies. A big cross-body garbage bag banged against my hip as I clutched a 6-foot pole with a pointed metal tip.
Rivulets of sweat ran down my back as I speared yogurt cups, candy wrappers and plastic bags. And then I lost my balance.
It was our first full day on the Indonesian island of Bali, and nine of us were on a “trash walk” near the upland town of Ubud in the heart of the island. The walk was organized by Cynthia Hardy, a friend who had invited us to Bali. She moved to the island in the ’80s and has been here, on and off, ever since.
With Cynthia in the lead, we traipsed through terraced green rice paddies, along slippery brown riverbanks and centuries-old waterways in search of demon trash. We picked our way past men, women and children bathing and frolicking in the irrigation canals, the heart of the Balinese irrigation system known as subak, so unique that UNESCO has designated it a World Heritage site.
Toward the end of our walk, we came upon a woman selling durian, a football-size fruit with a hard, spiky shell that has been outlawed on public transportation all over Asia because of its noxious smell. Cynthia bought one, broke it open and tried to entice us to eat the fruit, whose scent is a nauseating mixture of sweaty socks and rotting garbage. If you can get past the smell, she assured us, it tastes like a stick of Juicy Fruit gum.
I tried, but gagged and had to spit it out.
Price of popularity
For the American traveler, the word “Bali” conjures up a lush image of magic, spirituality and possibilities. It’s an island of Hindu gods and temples in a nation with the largest Muslim population in the world.
What is usually missing from the Bali of our imaginations is the reality of an island struggling to maintain its identity even as it has become a tourist haven — and the rare target for Islamist terrorists.
New wealth has meant that Bali’s roadways are overrun by motorbikes. Its waterways and rice paddies are choking on trash that has turned this once pristine island into a cautionary tale about the perils of plastic and consumption in an agrarian society ill-equipped for the challenge.
You can overlook the problems or engage with them, as we tried to do on our trash walk. But however you experience Bali, you will be intoxicated by its charming and spiritual people, its intense beauty, and its tropical mélange of fecundity and decay.
Drums in the night
My nine-day visit to the island in November was unusual, but anyone can replicate the itinerary.
I went to Indonesia because of my friendship with the Hardys; however, I paid for my accommodations, airfare and the rest of my trip, in keeping with Times policy.
Nine women, most of them friends of Cynthia’s since her childhood in Marin County, had come to visit the place she has called home for 30 years. We put ourselves in her experienced hands, and she arranged treks, day trips, shopping outings, dinners and, of course, yoga classes.
We were all eager to know more about Bali, and about the multifarious world that Cynthia and her husband, John, have created here, all in the cause of promoting sustainability and an appreciation for the world’s natural balances.
The Hardys first became known for their jewelry business, which John founded in 1975. A tour of the workshops and design center was high on our to-do list. The company employs hundreds of Balinese artisans who make the distinctive John Hardy woven bracelets, earrings and necklaces sold in high-end stores around the world.
After our tour, we sat down with some of the company’s employees in a long bamboo pavilion for a lunch of corn fritters, fish wrapped in banana leaves, salad, rice and banana cake. Happy and full, we meandered into the boutique, a 90-foot-tall bamboo marvel that looks like a ship’s hull and appears to float on rice paddies. Let’s just say some of us were less restrained with our credit cards than others.
About a decade ago, the Hardys sold the business, which gave them the means to create the eco-centric luxury hotel Bambu Indah, the private Green School, and Green Village, a small community of spectacular, custom bamboo homes designed by John’s daughter Elora Hardy.
Bambu Indah hotel is built on a ridge overlooking the Ayung River, its 2½ acres dotted with vegetable gardens, coconut and frangipani trees, and rock-lined pools that look like natural ponds.
The accommodations consist of 11 antique Javanese bridal houses, charmingly rustic but with fridges, AC, good lighting and plumbing. A couple of new bamboo cottages, designed by Elora Hardy, are secluded below the main level, perched on the river and surrounded by jungle.
Before dinner one night, I was lolling in my spacious cottage, Afrika House, ensconced behind white muslin bed curtains, safe from mosquitoes.
The frogs were just starting their nightly arias when the rhythmic sound of bells and drums wafted into my room. The mysterious sound would swell, subside, then rise again. I felt as if I were being summoned by some ineffable force.
I wandered into the hotel’s open-walled restaurant, where I found a dozen or so Balinese musicians sitting on the floor making hypnotic music with metallophones, which look like xylophones; bonangs, which look like brass kettles; and drums. It was a traditional Balinese gamelan orchestra. The percussive music was ethereal.
As we sat down at a round table for 10, servers and cooks fussed nearby with a whole roasted pig on a spit. (We hoped it was not one of the black Balinese pigs we had met earlier in the week on one of our walks, but Cynthia could give no guarantee.)
After we finished our feast, the orchestra accompanied a topeng dance in which elaborately costumed dancers in grotesque masks acted out Balinese folk tales.
Even without knowing the stories, it was easy to see that good triumphed over evil.
Ikat and dyed roosters
Most visitors do not rent cars on Bali and instead hire drivers, easy to do through hotels and local companies. This is the safest choice, because Bali streets are choked with motor scooters — sometimes carrying families of four — and driving is on the left side. The obstacles on any given road — trucks, tour buses, vans, dogs, chickens and the occasional cow — make driving daunting.
One day, our Bambu Indah drivers took us from Ubud to Karangasem, a two-hour drive to Bali’s east coast, where we planned to spend one night.
On the way, we visited the ancient village of Tenganan, whose residents are known as Bali Aga, or original Balinese. Theirs is a closed society; you can live in the village only if you were born there. If you marry an outsider, you must leave.
There was a small fee (about $1) to enter the village, which was laid out along a wide, grassy path. The homes on either side doubled as workshops and stores. Inside one, we watched women weaving double ikat fabric, an ancient, painstaking process that produces exquisite fabric highly valued by textile collectors.
The prices were astronomical — $600 for a length of ikat about the size of a long, wide scarf — so I bought some fine-gauge rattan baskets and hollow eggs painted with Hindu gods instead. The eggs were carefully wrapped and gently placed in woven bamboo boxes, perfect for gifts.
As we strolled around the sleepy village, we saw roosters dyed hot pink and electric blue, captive under bell-shaped woven bamboo cages.
“Why?” I asked a man sitting next to one.
“Just for fun,” he responded in English, which is partly true, I suppose.
The roosters are combatants in the blood sport of cockfighting, I later learned, illegal in Bali but still widely practiced.
Complete article here: A Bali Vacation