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...two travellers in search of the world's wildlife

8 February 2011

Return to Bali

5th February 2011
Guest post written by Tim Johnson

Fifteen years ago I was here in Bali, deep into a long round-the-world break, still in my twenties. It felt like a major highlight of that trip – especially the music and dance – and so I was wondering how honest my long-stewed memories would prove, and how I would respond this time round.

Bali teems with life, in a kind of relentless urban jungle, though one in which the urban and the jungle are well-balanced equals. Everywhere is a torrent of human activity but also a torrent of nature (especially as it’s rainy season)!

I often find, returning to places I visited when much younger, that I’m strongly affected by things that meant nothing to me before – for example on my 2nd visit to Cologne I realised I hadn’t previously noticed the cathedral! In the case of Bali I suppose I’ve gained some appreciation over the past decade and a half of two topics that feel like they will make a difference – eastern religion and plant life. There’s certainly a vast profusion of both here, and I’m already feeling such a smiley delight at all the little details around me that I hardly feel the need to seek out any particular sights. It looks like my photo record of the trip will largely consist of random sculptures dotted around the streets and hundreds of leaves and flowers.

So today was only our second day away from London, and everything was still mostly a blur, so I won’t try to comment meaningfully on the specifics of what we’ve seen. But we (or rather Matthew) drove east, along roads lined mile after mile with craft workshops and shops of one kind or another: wicker baskets, stone gods, carved bedposts, artisanal cooking spoons, life-sized wooden komodo dragons… I don’t think we escaped the built-up sprawl all day, but it’s a sprawl quite unlike any other. A grand combination of nature, religion, tradition and tourism that I love – apart from a lot of truly nasty paintings that would I consign to the monsoon.

We visited a watery palace in which I was mostly taken with the statues in various stages of mossy decay: everywhere you look in Bali are reminders of impermanance; destruction and renewal. Back in Ubud later we saw a performance of the quite bonkers Kecak. This adapts various old traditional ritual elements to make one of the most extraordinary dramatic spectacles. A whole villageful of people cram into a small space and sort of imitate a gamelan – trancey rhythmic cak-e-cak-e-cak patterns mixed with hollered operatic screeches in old Balinese, while serene dancers face down snarling monsters with angular grace. It doesn’t come across so well on CD.

One Response to “Return to Bali”

  1. […] later I returned to Bali, with Vanessa and our good friends Matthew and Maureen. I wrote a short guest post on their blog soon after we arrived, describing the unique Balinese urban jungle that seemed […]

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