Where to start in describing how much I loved Bali? With what I loved most.
Bali is bursting with life and beauty. Lets start with the frangipani. How wonderful is that tree! Everything about it is beautiful – the shape of the trunk, the great glossy leaves, the flowers (of course) and the sublime fragrance. In our hotel the swimming pool was surrounded by and partly overhung by frangipani, dropping their large leaves and gorgeous flowers into the water constantly. Left until evening the staff would come to skim them out, but during the day how pleasant to tread water a little and lift an elegant blossom from the water’s surface to sniff and tuck into my pony-tail before swimming on. The greatest charm of the frangipani is how perfect and strongly fragranced the fallen flower are. In Bali, where 90% of the population is Hindu, using the fallen flowers to decorate temples and offerings is ubiquitous, as well as using them to make welcome garlands and indoor floral arrangements. Being showered by falling flowers was a dream come true, albeit one I had never know existed.
Which thread to pick up next? Should I continue with flora and fauna, or divert to discussion of temples?
Temples first I think. There are temples everywhere you look.
There are over 6000 temples and Bali is only 5780 square kilometers, so if they were spread evenly they’d still be visible one from another, but because like most places population tends to cluster, when you’re in a town they are just everywhere. They are all beautiful and very varied. Everything is carved or decorated and beautiful. The manmade beauty of the temples is often glimpsed between the natural beauty – flowering trees and plants burst from every angle into the bright sunlight. Green leaves and pink and yellow petals frame an ornate stone statue of Ganesha; finches chatter and dart in and out of temple roofs. To be driven through the streets is to see colour and life and beauty bursting from all around you.
Finches were far from the only birds we saw. The hotel had a pond. Not a pond with a few goldfish, a bit of weed and maybe a few lily pads. No, this was something incredible. The fish ranged from big stately koi carp, through fairly substantial black fish a little longer than my hand to the tiny bright flashes of a fish I have seen for sale in tropical fish shops, but never seen outside a tank before. There were thousands of the little one – the water was alive with them. Of course where there are fish, there are fisher-birds, and this was no exception. The first one we got to know, which we called big-bird, I think was a black-crowned night heron. He was very territorial, chasing off little-bird (who wasn’t that small really), who was a Javan pond heron. Little-bird never went far, but wherever he fished, big-bird decided he needed to fish in that exact place. Both of them had a charming fishing technique – they waited for hotel guests to throw bread into the pond. They had no interest in eating the bread, but used it as bait to attract the little bright fishes. Once they were swarming around the bread the birds could catch the fish. For most of our holiday we watched big-bird and little-bird fish, continually moving around the pond as big-bird moved little-bird on to a new spot, and then had to go and chase him off that one as well.
We also had the incredible pleasure of seeing a kingfisher fishing there, and also a resident but shy family of white-breasted waterhens. We were most impressed with the way one of these ran across the lily pads, and also with the incredibly fluffy babies.
But most impressive, in terms of getting the job done, was a cormorant. We often saw them sea fishing in the distance, drying themselves on the fishing boats, but this was close up. He was very purposeful and, after spying out the lie of the water, went diving under the lily pads. He came up empty beaked a few times, before surfacing and getting out gripping one of the substantial black fish. While catching it was one challenge, getting the fish ready to swallow without dropping it was a whole new difficulty.
Eventually he managed it and went to sit in a tree to dry out, with a thoroughly satisfied air.
I cannot take you through all of the creatures we saw, even around the pool-side. Mr S went diving in the sea and saw a sea turtle, which he described as being the size of a small 2-person restaurant table. He gestured to his diving buddy and they tried to follow it through the sea, but although they are both very fast swimmers and the turtle seemed to be moving so lazily it soon outstripped them. We went to an elephant sanctuary, a bird park and a monkey forest, where we learned that elephant poo floats (and the elephant’s bathing area has to be poo-picked using a bucket with holes in attached to the end of a giant fishing rod), that parrots take great pleasure in efficiently removing all-inclusive wristbands and that monkeys take great pleasure in swimming under the water.
There is so much more to say, but I need to stop now and publish the post – if I tell myself I’ll work on it more another day it will just stay in draft form forever, so it will have to go to press as it is. Just one final picture perhaps…