The Other Bali: Learning to See and Love Bali After the Bombs


Woodcarver in Bali. The GoNOMAD Adventure

The Other Bali: Learning to See and Love Bali After the Bombs

By Lauryn Axelrod On October 12, 2002, the idyllic island of Bali made international headlines when bombs exploded in front of a crowded nightclub on the busy Kuta Beach strip. Almost 200 people were killed and hundreds more injured, thousands of tourists fled, and the gentle, peace-loving people of Bali were plunged into pain, confusion and fear. What would become of Bali?

For over 40 years, Bali has been one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world. Honeymooners, surfers, beach lovers and art lovers have all made their way to the Island of the Gods in search of good times, peace and quiet, and culture. Much of Bali’s economy is based on tourism, and more than 40% of the population is employed in some way in the tourism industry.

The Bali bombs have changed that for the time being. The tourists have stopped coming. Hotel staff has been laid off, taxi drivers sit idle, restaurants are all but empty, shops shuttered. But, as Joshua and I learned during our month in Bali, there is a side of Bali that no bomb can destroy: a Bali that is as timeless and as real as the rising sun in the morning of the world.

The Heart of Bali

When the bombs exploded in Kuta, Joshua and I had already been in Bali for two weeks, based in the rural heartland of Bali miles away from the crowded beaches and party centers of the south. Our home was Klub Kokos, a small, family-like compound of bungalows nestled among rice paddies and coconut palms in Bangkiang Sidem, a village only a few minutes walk north of the cultural center of Ubud. We were safe here.

We had spent our days learning painting, carving, bamboo gamelan and dancing from local artisans and craftspeople, attending temple ceremonies, weddings and festivals, grinding spices and chopping vegetables with local cooks, meeting villagers and visiting schools, walking lush rice paddies, and biking backroads through villages that rarely saw a tourist. We were invited into homes, and into hearts. In the evenings, we would sit and talk with our hosts, Cathy and Krishna Sudharsana, learning everything we could about Bali. Some nights we would walk the Campuhan Ridge into Ubud to see a performance of Kecak or Barong Dance, or simply sit in one of the many warungs, or local restaurants, feasting on Nasi Goreng or Sate.

It had become a rhythm, and a home. In the mornings, we woke with the roosters and rice farmers, and in the evenings, we fell asleep to the sounds of frogs and geckos in the lush forests. We came to know the man who felled coconuts on the path nearby and always offered us fresh young coconut milk to drink in the heat of the day; the painter who practiced Tingklik every afternoon at 4:30; the farmers that passed our door carrying impossible loads of grasses, bamboo, or offerings on their heads, greeting us with wide Balinese smiles.

And then, on October 12, that rhythm halted. The people we knew cried, and suffered. They gathered and talked and shook their heads. And then the questions came: Why? Who? How? Now what? We cried and wondered with them. And we decided to stay.

In the next few days, the number of tourists dwindled rapidly, and on the paths of villages and streets of deserted Ubud, we were greeted with surprise and thanks. You are still here? You haven’t left too? Thank you for staying. How could we leave when the heart of Bali had become our temporary home? Our friends and neighbors suffered. We wanted to help.

The best way to get to know a people and a culture is stay for a long time, which had always been our plan for Bali. But now, we had the rare opportunity to see what really made Bali tick: in times of crisis, people and places show their true natures.

What we saw and experienced for the remaining two weeks of our stay was the truest example of what makes Bali unique, and impressed us even more than the beautiful landscapes, the hypnotic music, the elaborate arts, the colorful ceremonies and dances. All over the island, people joined together-Balinese and Westerner alike – without regard to religion or race; news was shared, ceremonies were held, events were planned, village leaders gathered to think, to collect donations, to patrol the streets, volunteer in the hospitals. One evening, Joshua and I joined our hosts and the staff of Klub Kokos making more than 200 food boxes to feed the patients, families, volunteers and staff at Sanglah Hospital. It was one of the only ways we could really help in this time of need.

We continued to travel around the island, climbing lava flows on active volcanoes, swimming in rocky waterfalls, boating on pristine lakes, riding elephants, feeding exotic birds and monkeys, visiting temples and traditional Bali Aga (original Balinese) villages, watching weavers and woodcarvers work, and fishing for barracuda and snorkeling WWII wrecks in the clear blue waters of the remote, east coast. There were very few tourists-sometimes we were the only ones -it was saddening, but it also gave us the chance to really talk to people about what happened and how they felt.

Everywhere, people communicated freely and honestly about their fears and hopes. From fishermen to taxi drivers, shopkeepers to village leaders, people cried, prayed, organized, and all the while they urged peace: yes, we are angry, but we will not fight violence with violence. Bali is about peace, and so we will cleanse the island, come to terms with the forces that caused this, and focus on our future.

Bali may be different from now on – quieter, perhaps, less crowded, a little unsure — but certain things will not change. The rice will be planted and harvested; prayer offerings will be made; children will continue to walk the paddy paths to school; the endless temple ceremonies will still be held according to age-old traditions. At night, we still hear the gongs of distant gamelans, and during the day, we still greet villagers walking slowly along the roads, heads piled with fruits, plants, leaves, bricks.

But because of this experience, the heart of Bali has become our heart. We are family now. We have seen and learned to love another Bali, the one that greets the morning of the world with a broad, gentle smile, even in times of grief and pain. Others may shun the island for fear of more bombs, but we know better. As we said farewell to our hosts and our friends, we promised we would be back. It was the least we could do.


Currently, many nations have travel warnings in effect for Indonesia, including Bali. The security on the island has tightened tremendously, but there is a risk of further incidents throughout the archipelago. Before traveling to Bali, please check your country’s warnings or advisories.

Should you decide to travel to Bali, now or in the future, the following lodgings and businesses will provide you with the opportunity to see and experience the Other Bali.

Where to Stay

Near Ubud

Klub Kokos

With 7 spacious, comfortable bungalows nestled in a tropical garden around a sparkling pool, a full-service restaurant, Internet access, game room, excellent library, and warm, caring staff, Klub is the perfect retreat in Bali. Only a 20-minute walk from Ubud, but miles away from the crowds. With a strong commitment to bringing locals and visitors together to learn from each other, Cathy and staff can arrange courses with local artists and craftspeople in everything from painting to woodcarving to cooking to making the ubiquitous offerings that appear everywhere each morning. Bungalows all have two beds, outdoor living areas, family units are available, and some units have outdoor Balinese baths and kitchens. From $35/day, including breakfast. Discounts for long-term stays.

East Coast

Hidden Paradise Bungalows
On the remote east coast in the village of Lipah, Hidden Paradise offers 30+ bungalows, most with A/C, and a full restaurant around a lush garden pool right on the beach. Excellent snorkeling right offshore, as well as at other nearby sites, including Japanese and American shipwrecks. Fishing trips on local wooden sailing canoes, dive trips and other excursions can be arranged. From $30/night double.

Where to Eat

In and around Ubud, there are numerous restaurants with excellent Indonesian, Balinese and Western fare. Local warungs are very inexpensive, but even a splurge meal can run you only around $20 for two.

· Café Wayan
On Monkey Forest Road
Café Wayan’s menu includes homemade pastas and breads, as well as traditional and innovative Indonesian cuisine, made with the freshest ingredients and served in a gorgeous tropical garden. Try the Papaya Chicken Salad or the Curried Seafood. Inexpensive.

· Kafe Batan Waru
On Jl. Dewi Sita
Excellent and unusual Indonesian specialties with fresh seafood and for desert, try the REAL Southern Pecan and Key Lime Pies! Inexpensive.

· Café Luna
On Jl. Raya Ubud
A popular restaurant and bakery (also offers a cooking class), Café Luna’s eclectic menu features everything from traditional Balinese favorites (with a twist) to Calzone. Get there early if you want a table, and don’t miss the home-baked deserts! Inexpensive.

What to Do

Bali Eco and Educational Bike Tour
Tel: 0361-975557

Without doubt, this is the most educational and fun tour you could take on the island. Beginning in the morning, join a small group to visit the still active Mount Batur volcano and have breakfast overlooking the crater lake before climbing the lava flows nearby.

Then, hop on mountain bikes for the 3-hour downhill ride through small villages and picturesque rice fields north of Ubud, stopping whenever anything is interesting.

Visit markets, local farms, homes, and temples. Learn about native plants and traditions from excellent English speaking guides, meet local artists and farmers, and rejoice in the chorus of “Hellos!” that greet you on every road!

Lunch is a traditional Balinese feast with smoked duck and pork, as well as vegetarian options. After lunch, visit the Monkey Forest before being returned back to your lodgings. 350,000 rupiah per person, all-inclusive. From Ubud and surrounding areas.


Every night of the week, there are several traditional dance and music performances in and around Ubud. Check the schedule at the Tourism Office or your hotel. Tickets average about 50,000 rp.

In addition to those offered at Klub Kokos, the following places in Ubud offer excellent short-term (a few hours to a few days) courses in local arts and crafts.

· Studio Perak
On Jl. Gootana, near the Ubud Market
Silversmithing. In 4 hours, learn to make your own silver ring from design to finish! 100,000 rupiah (about $11) Reservations

· Museum Puri Lusikan
Small traditional art museum on the main road in Ubud offers day-long courses in everything from woodcarving to dance to shadow puppet making. Register on site.

· Café Wayan and Café Luna
Morning Balinese cooking courses that include market visits, take home recipes and a huge feast for lunch! Register at least one day in advance.

· Threads of Life
Tel: +62-361-972187
A non-profit organization dedicated to supporting the indigenous textile traditions of Indonesia, Threads of Life offers excellent morning-long courses on the weavings and batiks of Indonesia. Great course if you plan on buying any textiles in Bali. Register in advance.

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