I arrived in beautiful Bali, Indonesia on Sunday. The beauty of the island took my breath away..it was even more beautiful than what I’d seen in photographs. We were picked up by a driver named Jefri at the Denpasar airport who drove us the 1-hour journey to the small village we are staying at, called Penestanan, right outside of Ubud.
While Bali has been an incredible journey so far, I must admit that adjusting to the culture shock was quite difficult for me having never been anywhere like this before. I’ve been here for 4 days now and I feel as though I’m STILL adjusting.
Here are the 8 Things I have learned so far about Penestanan, Bali:
1. Family is absolutely everything
In central Bali (Ubud and around, especially outside or the main tourist areas) hotels and resorts are fairly scarce, and the ones that do exist are quite expensive. Instead, many people who visit here choose to rent out a room in a family compound, as we did.
In Bali, every family has a plot of land that contains a few different buildings. One is for ceremonies, where all births, some deaths, and weddings occur. When a Balinese couple marries, the bride leaves her own family compound to come live with her Husband’s family. Several rooms are for sleeping, as the entire family will live at this compound for their whole life. There are washrooms, usually located outside, which are essentially large rooms with a shower head and a toilet. Kitchens are also generally outside. Every family compound also has its own family temple, where the family will go to worship two times per day. And finally, no Balinese family would be complete without a dog to guard the front door, and a handful of roosters, which are sacred animals in Bali and used for fighting and for ceremonies. Because of this, they are kept in small cages for most of the day. Tirta, our coordinator and guide for the first few days, told us that this is to “keep them angry”.
If you choose to rent a room in the family compound, expect that you will be living amongst the family in their everyday, traditional life. Family is the single most important thing in Bali, and to witness these relationships and this culture first hand is a pretty incredible thing.
2. Rainy season is not very rainy at all
We came to Bali in March, which is supposed to be the last month of the Rainy Season. Well, it has been 4 days and so far the only rain we have seen is a minor sprinkle for about 10 minutes. Lots of thunder and lightning has threatened us, but no real rain yet. Apparently the north part of the island gets a lot more rain than the central and south part.
3. There are copious amounts of creepy-crawlies
If you know me personally, then you’ll know that this specific detail has been the most difficult for me to adjust to. I am terrified of bugs. And Bali definitely has bugs. Big bugs, small bugs, loud bugs, colourful bugs. Ants, slugs, spiders, roaches, beetles, giant centipedes, geckos, lizards and snakes. Get very comfortable with the idea of sleeping beside and peeing in front of and showering with all of these creatures before you arrive – I sure wish I had.
4. The locals are very, very friendly
I was worried that coming to a smaller village may have meant that we’d be subject to certain discontent from the locals. So far it has been quite the opposite – every person we come across in the streets is quick to say hello, our family is eager to make us feel comfortable and welcome, shopkeepers and cafe owners are patient. curious, and rarely pushy. As long as you respect the way of life in Bali – the respect will be returned right back to you.
5. In remote areas, locals are curious about foreigners
Children and elders alike may stare a little at the first sight of you as a westerner. Especially in smaller villages, where tourists are less common, expect the locals to be quite eager and excited to practice their English with you. When walking past a schoolyard, it is normal for groups of children to run up to the fence beside you yelling, ‘Hello! Hello! What is your name? Where do you come from?’ etc. It’s pretty sweet.
6. Modest dress is best
As a primarily Hindu island, the Balinese maintain a fairly modest dress code. It is not uncommon to see a local woman in long jeans and a hoodie on a 30-degree day in Bali. It is commonplace for tourists to walk around in short shorts and tank tops, however; if you’d rather not be gawked at or run the risk of disrespecting someone, ensure that your knees and shoulders are covered in public places, and especially in temples and schools.
7. Everything (I mean everything) is open to the elements
This was the most shocking part of my arrival into Bali. I remember wandering through our accommodation, feeling horrified, even in disbelief – of the open-air concept on which most Balinese buildings are put together. I guess this should have been expected in such a natural wonderland like Bali – but being from Canada, I was used to extremely sterile, bug-free environments, and had never experienced anything liked his. Expect concrete walls with intricately carved windows and no screens or coverings, a hole in the middle of the bathroom floor as a drain, and roofs that are held up by wooden pillars and fully exposed to the outside world (birds, bats, bugs and beyond.) The Balinese are very comfortable with their critters, and to avoid sleepless nights and bouts of anxiety, you should be, too.
8. Mopeds are almost as common as spiders
You’ll see teenagers and adults alike whizzing around the streets of Bali on moped and motorbike, coming so close to one another that you may have to close your eyes at times. Expect to see a family of 5 balanced on the back of a Vespa, or a rider carrying 6 tanks of propane while weaving through traffic on the highway. It can take some time to adjust to the incessant honking, but the motor traffic is just another one of Bali’s quirky charms.
This island has so much to discover. Whatever you are looking for – be it a romantic getaway with your sweetheart, an adventurous week away with friends, or a solo retreat infused with meditation, yoga, and Vegan fare, you will find it in Bali. Just be prepared to accept some differences, remain flexible and optimistic, and you will be at one with the pace of Bali in no time.