Bali Nights

I talk a lot about the fabulous days and very little about the night life in Bali. That’s because I hadn’t ventured out to find it. But the past two nights I’ve been part of the after-dark-action and I’m lovin’ it!

No trip to Bali would be complete without seeing a Kekak Fire Dance. It is a colorful theatrical production of Ramayana, a Hindu epic story. The orchestra is composed of a male chorus of 100 men called the gamelan suara. They sit in a circle are bare chested and wear checked sarongs. Their sing-chant continues throughout the entire hour and a half performance and adds considerably to the drama.

The only lighting is the flaming tiered device in the center. The performance takes place inside the circle of men. The women move slowly, hands and fingers doing things that most hands and fingers were never made to do. Their feet, too, are moved carefully, deliberately, at odd angles.

The story is high drama with love, jealousy, deceit, heartbreak, battle and a stunning rescue scene when Hanoman, the white monkey, shows up.

Following the Fire Dance is the Sanghyang, or Trance Dance. The function of this dance is to protect society against evil forces and epidemics. The hobby horse is associated with trance in Balinese culture so in this Trance Dance the man performing the dance is symbolically riding a hobby horse through a bed of burning coconut husks. He has been lulled into trance by the repetitive sounds of the gamelan suara.

Men with rake type brooms, wearing tennis shoes, push the burning hulls back into the center after each firey pass-through made by the man with the horse who, you can see, was barefoot.

How does he do that??? He is obviously in an altered state because he kept running back into the fire, over and over again, until two men from the gamelan pulled him away.

The dancers posed on the staircase for photographs after the show. The costuming is spectacular.

The female dancers are simply exquisite and dance brilliantly. The performance is of a calibre that could command the stage at Orchestra Hall or the new Cowles Center for the Arts.

Tonight is quite a different scene. It is the full moon festival and grand opening of the new facility at the Yoga Barn.

The moon is glowing just to the right of the roof of the new building. Notice the gentle curve to the staircase. I can’t help think about commercial building codes when I look at structures in Bali. Hundreds of people went up and down that stair tonight and the first step down off the top platform was definitely a bigger drop than any of the others. I guess uniformity is nice if the math works out, but unnecessary if it doesn’t. Wish that’s how my high school algebra teacher thought!

In the yoga pavilion at the top of the spiral staircase hundreds of mats are spread on the floor in readiness for the evening. But before the festivities begin, a Balinese Holy Man walks through the crowd of seated yogis sprinkling holy water on each one of us. Nothing in Bali happens without the blessing of the Holy Man and he has pronounced this an auspicious night for a grand opening.

The grounds flicker with luminaries everywhere. A group of Balinese men sit by a mound of coconuts all night, chopping off the tops and making them available to anyone who wants fresh coconut milk. On the other side of the platform there are little food packets of rice, chilis, green beans, fried tempe, and tofu available. Everything is free on this special evening.

But the high point of the evening for me was meeting Andrea, from Oslo, Norway. She’s here for five weeks getting yoga certification training. I told her I have relatives in Oslo. We had a deep philosophical discussion about the meaning of uff-dah. It was magical.


It’s noon. Writing is going well. Suddenly there is noise and commotion outside my room and I hear the sound of splashing water and an American male voice hollering, “Are there any more buckets!?!” I open my door and sure enough! The roof not 10 yards away from me is smoking and I see glowing embers in the exposed beams. Every man, woman, and child in the immediate area is here, shouting excitedly, and a few actually have buckets and are accessing the little canal outside my room for water. They fling the water upward toward the embers and some of it lands on the fire. They are doing a good job of dousing the roof so the blaze won’t likely spread. Even if there was a fire engine in Ubud, (and there may be, I don’t know) getting it in here would be impossible. The house sits back off the street at least a block and the walled pathway is just wide enough for a motorbike. Transfixed, I watch, listen, and feel totally helpless to do anything else. After about 30 minutes everything seems to be under control. But the whole episode gives me pause. After briefly considering what I would do in case of fire, I realize it’s a lot like my brief quandary the other night.

I had been sitting for awhile focused on writing my nicely evolving chapter. Then I felt a little tingle on my behind. I scratched. Suddenly my left cheek was on fire, itching relentlessly! I remembered throwing a tube of Benedryl into my toiletries as I packed and I scrambled to locate it. Ah! There! Sweet relief! Checking the time I saw that it was late. I put away the computer and as I crawled under the lightweight duvet of my very comfortable bed I had a one of those “ah ha” moments. I had just been bitten by a bug of unknown origin. In Minnesota that would be an annoyance and nothing else. Here it could be a highly poisonous insect and I might be dead by morning. Considering my options I decided I was okay with that and fell immediately to sleep.

Fast forward to the fire. If I had time I would grab my bag containing money and passport. If I didn’t have time…I’m okay with that, too. Acceptance. What a powerful tool for inner peace.

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