The island of Bali is Hindu even though it is surrounded by Islamic Indonesia, the most populous Muslim nation on the planet. Every Balinese home has a temple, every town has at least three! Offerings are made to various deities at auspicious locations five times a day and there is always a ceremony taking place somewhere. Therefore, when someone tells you something will happen tomorrow or next week, it's only an estimate. More than likely there will be a ceremony the day that the person making the promise forgot to tell you about so your request will have to wait. Likewise the Balinese are hesitant to ever commit themselves. So again everything comes with a "flexibility" clause.
Another endearing quality is that the Balinese seldom, if ever, use the word "BAD". Nothing is really ever bad, things might not be good right now but things always change. Also the Indonesian word for bad,Jelek, means ugly and the Balinese don't like ugly!
I should mention the Indonesian language since we are taking lessons. Bahasa Indonesia or Bahasa is a trade language (a language of convenience) created after WWII when the over 18,000 islands of the archipelago were consolidated into one
nation. As you might have guessed all these islands had various and numerous languages. So in order for everyone to speak or trade with each other a common language was needed. Theoretically Bahasa was created to be a simple language and easy to learn. It has no tenses, plurals are created by just repeating a word, etc. Sounds easy! On the surface "common" Bahasa is indeed simple, but for westerners like us who've only spoken a Latin or Germanic-based languages it gets a bit more complicated. Few Bahasa words have a recognizable root so you have to memorize every single word, which is not so simple, at least not for our "old" brains. Additionally we have quickly learned that in order to be able to read a newspaper or speak formally the language is anything but simple. Most foreigners just learn common Bahasa but we are trying to integrate ourselves into the culture so we want to speak the more "formal" form of Bahasa. Yesterday we learned that most of the verbs have additional prefixes and suffixes, in many cases multiple ones, that enhance their meanings. This gets very, VERY complicated indeed; not so easy!
Now the Balinese have their own languages. Because most of the population living in Bali is Hindu, a class system exits. Each one of the three classes within Balinese society has its own distinct language, not dialect, LANGUAGE! Few foreigners ever attempt Balinese. We won't be going there either!
We have rented a one bedroom "villa" in a very small village just outside the tourist mecca of Ubud. We live in Nyuh Kuning, which is south of and adjacent to Ubud's Monkey Forest. NK is quiet with very few signs of tourism. For us it's ideal. A five
minute walk through the Monkey Forest takes us to the hustle and bustle of Ubud with all its restaurants and shopping opportunities. Five minutes back and it's almost like the "old" Bali, no hawkers and no one asking if you need "transport"!
Initially we thought would look for a house to rent for the next couple of years, but our work means that we travel most of the time and we decided that we didn't want the responsibility of a house and staff. Over here a house needs security, really two "somebodies" one for day and one for night, plus a maid, plus a gardener, plus a pool guy, plus you have to pay bills, etc. It goes on and on. Once we realized that we would have to maintain a small village of people as well as trust them to watch our "stuff" while we are away, we quickly decided to look for something within a
compound. Villa Kerti Yasa
We rented a motorcycle the first week here to just get around the area. I know I've made Ubud sound like a metropolis, and compared to NK it is, but Ubud itself is small. It only has three main streets, but it's big enough that you do need some form of transport . Motorcycles are the transport of the masses in Bali. They are everywhere all the time. I'm not fond of and have never driven a motorcycle. Maurine, with just cause, is deathly afraid of them. She rides behind me and I have scars on my shoulder from her grabbing me every time she feels threatened, which is, again justifiably, often. We ride down the street in a motorcycle bubble. It seems like they are not only on each side of us, in front and behind, but above and below as well. It's madness and it's scary. Of course by the second week here I was beginning to feel confident. (Beware that feeling, Burt.) I ran into a wall, just scraped it actually. It hardly hurt, but I was wearing shorts and by the time I got back to the villa my leg was a mess. It's healing well, thanks, but I'll have a scar to remind me to beware of that "confident" feeling next time it comes around.
We are very close to signing a contract with Conservation International to produce a dive/travel guide to Raja Ampat. In case you don't know, the Raja Ampat islands, located off the western tip of the island of (Indonesian) New Guinea, are diving's
hottest spot with good reason. They are remote, over 1500 miles from Bali, and the marine life is abundant. So abundant that researchers from CI as well as WWF and TNC believe the area contains the world's highest concentration of marine species. We aren't scientists, but to our well-dived eyes there is no doubt that RA's reefs are the best we've ever seen. We have little doubt we'll ever see better.
Even though remote, these reefs are under numerous threats. Increased tourism is one way that may help preserve them. Our mission is to not only produce a guide but to explore the area and "discover" new sites. Reducing pressure on the premier sites means that the numerous live-aboard dive boats operating in RA can spread out. You might think that overcrowded dive sites would ever be a problem in such a remote area. But consider a place like Cozumel, Sipadan or Thailand. At one point whether it be the 70s, 80s or 90s you probably would have been quite alone at any of these destinations. Go now and you basically have to queue to dive the most popular sites. RA already has 10-15 liveaboards in the region and more are on the way. Don't stress, one of the wonderful things about RA is that it is vast. Even now, seeing another boat is unusual. Still, go sooner rather than later.
We will be in Bali struggling to learn the language until the first of September when we will start diving in RA. Although the weather for diving is best there from October through April, we are going in September. Jam Kerat remember! We can't wait, but will. Once we get ourselves sorted out we'll make a schedule for upcoming Secret Sea Dive trips not only to RA but to many other superb Indonesian dive areas. Plan to join us. Stay tuned for more.
Hugs and Fishes,
Burt and Maurine