Before I begin I have to say I love Bali. Wait for it…………..but, upon my return after an eighteen year absence I have to admit that my disappointment ran deep. Within the course of eighteen years change is expected. But Ubud’s changes, in my humble opinion, are drastic and detrimental to the environment, local traditions and culture. The enchanting streets, the rice patties that dotted the surrounding hills, and the sleepy village I knew have disappeared.
There is an over abundance of souvenir shops, noisy, traffic congested, air polluted, over-crowded streets teeming with cars and sweaty sunburned tourists. It has become a cesspool of tourists and capitalism, like the beach towns in the south that I avoided eighteen years ago. As I write this I recognize that my views appear to be rather harsh, but it is what it is and it is exactly how I felt when I arrived. I offer no apology for my feelings.
Ohgo Ohgo Day
Upon arrival in Ubud I discovered that everyone was busy preparing for Ohgo Ohgo Day, which is the eve of Nyepi Day (a day of silence). I was so excited to have happened upon this festival. On Ohgo Ohgo Day members of each neighborhood work together to build Ohgo Ohgo statues that depict mythological or demon-like creatures. The statues symbolize the purification of the environment of harmful spirits or spiritual pollutants emitted by humans. The Ohgo-Ohgo are said to scare off the evil spirits. As each neighborhood finishes their Ohgo-Ohgos, they line up in parade form and parade through the town. The parades include loud noises, music and drums all in an effort to scare off evil spirits. At each intersection each Ohgo Ohgo statue is turned counter clockwise three times in an effort to confuse the spirits. I followed the parade as far as I could but opted out of the finale, the big bonfire. It is here where all of the Ohgo Ohgo statues are burned in a bonfire.
On Ohgo Ohgo Day and the days surrounding the festival sacrifices are brought to the temples. It is so colorful and a joy to watch.
Nyepi Day is a Hindu celebration for the New Year. At midnight after the bonfire the streets are emptied to prepare for the next day which is Nyepi Day, a day of silence, fasting and reflection from 6:00 a.m. to 6:00 a.m. the next day. The silence allows the evil spirits to pass over the island unnoticed. Before Nyepi Day the stores were reminiscent of hurricane preparation back in New Orleans. Everyone one was buying groceries, getting money from the ATM and rushing around before everything closes. On Nyepi Day everything is closed. No one, and I mean no one is allowed on the streets. The entire island is silent, really silent. Most people fast on this day. If you are a tourist you have to stay in your hotel room and arrangements are made for you to have room service. You can’t even sit around the pool. Total silence! If you have lights on in the house, you have to cover the windows so light doesn’t get out. Police and security are out to make sure no one is on the street. The airport is closed for the day. In cases of life threatening events, the airport will allow transport and hospitals admittance of pregnant women and life threatening cases.
Being very skeptical I couldn’t believe this was possible to pull off. At the home-stay where I was residing guests were told we could come out of our rooms but we would have to be silent or if we talked it had to be at a level where no one outside the walls of the compound could hear. We were told not to go out on the street or step outside. Of course those of you who know me well know exactly what I did. Hahaha! I could not resist. I did not step outside (I can follow rules) but I did go to the front gate and stick my head out. Freaked me out; not a soul on the street. You could hear a pin drop. Oh my goodness I was in heaven. I embraced the silence. I have never felt so relaxed and calm in my life. Except for occasional outbursts from the family’s baby, total silence.
Getting Away From it All – An Oasis in the Jungle
After the festivities the town reverted to its tourist trap ways. Don’t get me wrong, Ubud is still beautiful and if you go you will be in awe and wonder like I was eighteen years ago. The problem for me was that I remembered the old Ubud from back in the day. Tourists new to Bali don’t have that history. In other words you will be enchanted because you can’t miss what you never had. So go and enjoy Bali.
I unfriended Ubud and left to experience the Bali of yesteryear. At a small hotel in a tiny village situated on the edge of a huge jungle I got my groove back. I was immediately surrounded by beauty, serenity and stillness. In this little piece of heaven on earth on the edges of a jungle in Bali I spent my last days in total peace. There were no restaurants, juice bars, yoga studios, jewelry stores or bikini-surf shops, and that’s just how I like it.
The People of Bali
The one thing that hasn’t changed are the people of Bali. The population is mostly Hindu. Overall I find them to be kind, welcoming and humble people. Their names intrigue me and are always easy to remember because they are named according to the order in which they were born and are the same whether male or female. The first born is called Wayan, Putu, or Gede. The second born is Made or Kadek. The third born is Nyoman or Komang. Finally the fourth born is called Wayan. If a fifth child is born then the cycle repeats itself with another name added like Wayan Balik which loosely translates to ‘another Wayan’. This was so easy for me to remember and for the first time in my life I remembered everybody’s name. It felt pretty good.
I look forward to a return trip to Bali.