It’s four-thirty in the afternoon on the East Coast of Bali and we’re lingering in the late afternoon sun, dangling our feet in the rocky, stone-rimmed infinity pool, just steps away from a black sand beach. All we’ve done all day long is lounge in the dappled sunlight and read to each other. Now we’re drinking cocktails made of Arak, a palm based alcohol that our elixir-prone hosts at the Feng Shui hideaway Dancing Dragons Cottages have concocted for our sheer, altered state pleasure. And between sips and sentences, we’re staring, gloriously mesmerized, up at a vivid-white, luminescent daytime moon.
My new husband rolls over to face me and says, “Tell me again why we can see the moon in the daytime?” We try, with the best recollection we can jointly muster of college astronomy, to explain the phenomenon to each other, but the brainy, intellectual theories of our American lives have all but evaporated in the frangipani-scented Balinese air. There is nothing to do it seems, but stare in wonder at the see-through turquoise sky, the wispy blue sea, and the crescent-white sliver that hangs supernaturally suspended above it.
Later that night, we wander ten steps back from a fresh caught seafood dinner to the pool and stare up again, this time into the nighttime sky. The lunar lit night looks different and surreal here—stars splashed upon the sky in washes—and with virtually no ambient light from the ground, it feels as if we are spilling out into the Milky Way, tumbling into slow-motion ecstasy. This is not our Western night sky. It’s the sky of a mystical land, a moon of an ancient tradition of beauty and light, grace and magic.
What’s so spectacular about any new continent adventure is that the things we take for granted—like how the sky looks—get turned upside down: quite literally, it seems, as we stare into the night from the opposite side of the world. There is nothing familiar about the constellations, or the angle of the earth in relation to them, or the way the light finds its way from heavenly star-bodies to these exotic shores.
And this is exactly why we’ve come. To alter all of our sensibilities, to see and feel something glorious and not known, and to christen our new marriage with the light of things both blessed and beautiful.
Just three weeks earlier, we landed in Denpasar on our first morning and took a short taxi ride to The Segara Village in Sanur. The surfer set, fond of the bustle and beach hype in more southern Kuta, touts Sanur as slow and deliberate (read: older), but honeymooning in our more seasoned years, its pace was just right for us. The resort itself consists of a four-village compound with an upscale dozen or so bungalows set around a stone-tiled infinity pool—one of three on the property. We booked a bungalow for $120 a night and lived in sheer, four-and-a-half star luxury for five long days.
On a romantic holiday, especially on a honeymoon, all I want is to feel relaxed, softened, and stilled from all that bothers and distracts. Our poolside bungalow did the trick in spades. Our hotel offered day long outdoor pool service, beachside grilling for dinner, cocktails, massages, sunshine and privacy. And, of course, moonlight.
Along the beautiful stretch of Balinese beach outside the resort, lovely tide pools and fluorescent pink sunsets abound—perfect for morning and evening sand-yoga, sea-wading, and moon-watching. Across the small bay, mountainous forms rise from the sea, framing postcard-perfect vistas both day and night. There is nothing to irritate—not one leaf blower, not one beeping reverse-gear alarm. I almost immediately begin to shed America, and it is a willing, happy lightening to let it go.
Five days later, being driven to Ubud, we let ourselves be guided by what was now an intuitive sense of being cared for by the island. Everyone’s a driver—or has a cousin who’s a driver—and for a negotiated rate of about $20, we had an air conditioned van and a comfortable two hour ride into the center of Balinese history.
Ubud is the Art city of Bali—a spirited, bustling mountainside village that, at first glance, looks rural-town, and at second glance, shimmers with Indonesian sophistication. Its history (temples are everywhere) is set off by its artistry—wood carving, furniture crafts, art galleries and both hip and luxe hotels. Its people are as artfully sculptured as its ritual objects, with beautiful eyes, wide, soft smiles, and lush, lyrical voices that soften the Western psyche simply by their presences.
“Presence” is something we struggle with as a culture in the West—our urgency about life so often gets in the way of our intent to live well—but the Balinese seem to offer a sense of peace and tranquility effortlessly, no matter what they are up to. This quality is ever-present in Ubud, where artistry is the pride and prize of the community. (I note to myself the effect of art-centered living on the human soul. It’s good, good, good.)
The Tjampuhan Hotel was our first stop (about $90-$120 a night), dramatically set on the side of a steep hill overlooking a river bed. The spa is a sight to behold—a grotto, really, with carved, cave-like, open-air massage “rooms” that face the river. After a dip in the oasis of water-filled green stone that is the hotel’s pool, we walked up the hill to meet our Australian friends at the Pita Maha, an instant upgrade-envy locale for me.
Later, the four of us dine at the lush Amandari hotel (we have the whole restaurant to ourselves), and as the moon reflects in shimmers the pool below us, I lock eyes with my husband. Our eyes read, “What’s wrong with this picture?” and answer with a shared smile, “Nothing at all.” We laugh out loud at the delight that has begun to overtake us here, at joys so simply counted: water, warmth, moonlight, and laughter.
At the Pita Maha, we upgrade and move in (for about $220 a night, discounted—a wedding present to ourselves), and marvel at the luxury we’re able to afford here. The hotel is a series of villas—house-sized rooms behind stone walls with private yards, huge marble porches, outdoor showers, and some with private dipping pools. The hotel pool sits perched on the side of the cliff, rimmed in stone, so that it appears to have been cut out of the mountain and filled by rain. We linger there for hours, floating with Balinese beer at our fingertips and green, green views over the hillsides that melt our souls.
Our last day in Sanur, lured by the impossible price of $6 for an hour-long beach massage, I got one. I awoke the next morning—our Ubud travel day—covered by a measles-looking, sensitive rash from neck to underwear line. With my ailment as a badge of need, I adventurously set out to find Wayan-the-healer of Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love fame.
Ubud villagers—thanks to Gilbert’s book and website—pointed us in the right direction, but Wayan, beleaguered by Australians and Germans dropping in with no appointment, was grumpy and tried to put me off for two or three days. Once I showed her my rash and told her I was on my honeymoon, she wordlessly signaled her workers to feed me tumeric juice and a hot tea with dark roots. I was guided upstairs and scrubbed across my entire body with a fleshy basil leaf, then plastered with a white chalky paste. I walked Ubud looking like a painted aboriginal and felt so trusting I couldn’t have cared less. And the end of this story is exactly what those of us believers would expect: a rash I was certain I’d have for our whole honeymoon disappeared in two days.
Infinitely more comfortable in body and accommodation, we began to walk the town, heading for the rice fields. Climbing up the village stairs just across from the Tjampuhan, we were entirely charmed to discover Made Dewa Sugita’s contemporary art studio sandwiched in between the myriad of craft and figurative studios. Made Dewa was a miracle find, and his whimsical and sophisticated work—our favorite was an abstract of five women, a princess-cat and a yiping dog—made our eyes sparkle with discovery.
Across from Made Dewa’s we stumbled upon the lovely Sayan Terrace hotel, set back from the road overlooking fluorescent-green rice fields. Private, well-attended, beautiful and reasonable ($100 -120), we befriended the hotel’s manager, who convinced us to hire his friend Ketut ($15) to take us on a guided half-day tour of the fields.
Ketut took us straight down the side of a dicey mountain trail and waded across hip-deep river-water, smiling and motioning for us to jump in. I held my shoes over my head and slipped my legs in up to my thighs, pushing against the current and ignoring the incredulous look on my husband’s face. I watched him scan the riverbed for a bridge or a path, and waved him into the water, yelling, “C’mon, babe. It’s an adventure!” Two minutes later he slipped off a rock and fell in, drenching himself, his shoes, his clothes, his wallet. Reaching for his arm, we caught each others’ eyes, and just stood in the river sopped and laughing.
There are moments of being in love when a wave of inexplicable happiness catches us from behind and just lifts up the ground beneath us for no apparent reason. And it’s universal—beyond language or culture. So as we stood in the river, dripping and happy and hugging each other, Ketut looked on laughing, with the knowing eyes of the delights of love. Climbing out of the water and up the riverbank, we ducked onto the underbrush-hidden temple trails with light hearts and a new spirit of sweetness in the air.
Puri Pusa, a largish temple set among the long branches of Banyan trees, was as still as the spirits that seemed to hover over it. The requisite black and white checked clothes adorned each statue-god, and skinny dogs ran across the grounds sniffing at rice offerings left by the villagers. Children with soft brown eyes came out to greet us, as Ketut told us of castes and classes, elixirs and palm oil, Arak and the intricate politics of rice growing.
Back in Ubud, we wander the chock-full-of-art streets of the town for days, climbing the hillsides near our hotel, and, staring, always, up at the hovering moon—now “our” moon. Here, with the locals buzzing by on a motor-scooters and the sun dangling its languid, late-afternoon legs down through the humid mist, the moon seems distant—a cityscape prop in a perfectly painted set-piece. Just two hours later, though, on the fabulous terrace at Indus restaurant, the moon is a perfect, tawny orb, so close and so ripe it feels like we can pluck it.
Wandering down Julung Road in the town’s city-center, next to the Water Palace, we stumble upon the incredibly authentic Hans Snel Siti Bungalows (about $25 a night), with a lovely pond and a full service restaurant to boot. We stop for a beer, then head to Terazo, an ultra-hip eatery for snacks, pondering the pendulum of modern versus ancient set just steps away from each other.
Food, for the Balinese, is ritualized (exquisitely, just like everything the Balinese do), and though restaurants have plenty of cover-dishes to satisfy the Western palate, the true delights of cuisine are the simple, rice and fish or meat dishes called Nasi Campur. Satay, sauces, and grilled fish all abound, always with delicate artistry in presentation. Moonstruck and hungry, nothing settled better than an Arak cocktail and Nasi Campur with sambal sauces.
Several days later, with Ketut as our driver, we headed into the rural East Coast countryside. Amed, an almost not-there “town” on the Eastern black-beach point of the island, is a small fishing village surrounded by potato and rice fields, with sharp, upwardly-pointing mountains edging the sea. Divers head for the coral reef—just 20 yards into the water—as milking cows graze in grass-filled fields and fighting cocks screech from their basket-cages lining every local driveway.
Dancing Dragon Cottages, designed by the famed British Feng Shui author Karen Kingston, soothed our senses like sweet cream on fresh field berries. About 12 cottages cascade up the hillside from the pool and sea—each are carved with Balinese teak doors, marble patios, and views to die for.
And it’s here—with no TV, no movies, no bustle—that we finally find the moon in our honeymoon. With nothing to do but ease ourselves in and out of the pool, sunbathe, stare up at the sky, and feed each other sea-side, we finally, mercifully, find the resting, perfect, peaceful place of moon-lit romance we’ve been looking for. The highlight of our honeymoon would be its calm, its nothingness washing us up from water to shore, shore to water, in a steady unwinding of all things bound, all things heavy and hard.
Here we truly relax, the hubbub of wedding planning and family gatherings finally falling blissfully away. Here we would simply float and be, look at each other unfettered by movement and activity, and contemplate earth and light, sky and moon, and the stillness of each others’ souls.
My new husband reads to me from the lush literature of James Salter’s Burning the Days, and I read back from nature-loving Edward Hoagland’s Small Silences. We float upon the sound of each other’s voices, lifting our faces skyward to the bright white of the lunar face—which is soon to be, in a few slipped-away hours, the nightlight that beams across our honeymoon bed through our huge sea-facing window. Everything is right with this picture. Nothing could be more exquisite.
The week unwinds in day after day of Balinese bliss, and we count it a just-married miracle that we have found ourselves here in this discovery of happy, intimate stillness.
Reluctantly, a week later, we call Ketut and caravan back toward populated Bali, but not before making a stop in his family’s village—a tiny farm community called Papung. His family—parents, cousins, sisters-in-law, brothers and children—all live in an indoor-outdoor house with a small temple, a pig corral, a chicken pen and no plumbing (they use the riverside). There’s a spigot for water, a cookhouse, and a few jack-and-the-beanstalk palms that tower over the property. Each adult and child seems happy in his or her way, serene in their simplicity, gracious.
The average income here is about $700 a year—the price of a small rice paddy—a price way out of reach for Ketut’s family. They rent a small field-space, supporting themselves on it and paying its owner with two-thirds of their yield. The girls and women prepare the small banana-leaf basket offerings, filling them with frangipani, cake, fish, rice, coconut and oil for a next-day feast. Ketut’s sister feeds us fried egg in coconut oil, spicy fish, hot rice, two kinds of cake and fresh coconut juice. We’re honored.
By the time we reach Kerboaken, our last stop just outside swanky Seminyak, we’re less than interested in the international trend-setting scene going on beachside. We prefer to doze in our private Villa Theresa ($150 a night, including cook and driver), floating in the blue-blue pool and napping in the outdoor bungalow. We’ve connected with something deeper now, and all we want is to be alone, together, savoring what’s left of our private reverie.
It’s here—taking in the stunning rice field views and swimming naked under our now well-watched sky—that I come to understand the Balinese moon: the hovering, close-in, hot-rimmed, balmy light of its tropical face that has unwound, unfettered and unleashed us. Its ritual was as simple as it was serene: to wait, watch, swell, swirl and surround, a lover that would never take its eyes off of us. Maybe this is the true meaning of “honeymoon.”
And still, even at home, the mystical moon hovers high above us, lifting her face to remind us of every frangipani-scented, mind-floating, light-beaming-over-the-sea romantic moment the enchanted land of Bali gave us. We are grateful and blessed.
IF YOU GO
Segara Village, Sanur Beach About $125-150 for private bungalows, less for regular rooms Jalan Segara Ayu, Sanur, Denpasar, Bali, Indonesia Tel • 62 361 288407; Fax • 62 361 287242 info @ segaravillage.com
Hotel Tjampuhan, Ubud About $90-120 per night, average Jl. Raya Tjampuhan P.O. Box 198 Tel • 62 361 975368; Fax • 62 361 975137
Pita Maha Resort & Spa, Ubud About $250 per night, villas Jl. Raya Sanggingan PO Box 198 Tel • 62 361 974330; Fax • 62 361 974329
Sayan Terrace Hotel, Ubud About $120-150 Jl. Raya Sayan Tel • 62 361 974384; Fax • 62 361 975384
Hans Snel Siti Cottages, Ubud $35-100 (in-country discounts were down to $25 per night) PO. Box. 175 Tel • 62 361 245 505; Fax • 62 361 745 6671
Villa Theresa, Kerboaken (5 minutes from Seminyak) $150 per night, includes cook and driver Raya Kesambi No 369, Kerobokan – Kuta Phone/Fax: 62 0361 8448336 magg @ magg.com.au maggbali @ gmail.com Putu Widya Negara, Villa Theresa House Manager Tel • 081933060122
Terazo, Ubud Entrees $11-20 Suweta Street, Ubud Tel • 62 36 1978941
Amandari Hotel Restaurant, Ubud Entrees $22-40 Jl. Raya Kedewatan Tel • 62 36 197 5333
Indus Restaurant, Ubud Entrees $12-25 Jalan Raya, Sanggingan Tel • 62 361 977 684; Fax • 62 361 973 282
Made Dewa Sugita Studio Kutuh, Sayan, Ubud Sugi_grow @ yahoo.com Tel • 081.338.429.343
Ahimsa Boutique Main Road, on the left side of the street Heading from the Water temple toward the post office
Hotel Tjampuhan, Ubud About $30 -120 depending on treatment package Exquisite grotto setting next to a river Jl. Raya Tjampuhan P.O. Box 198 Tel • 62 361 975368; Fax • 62 361 975137
Ketut Sudiantara Driver, Tout and Trekking Guide tutgrand @ yahoo.com 081337603586