BATU, Indonesia. Photo by Jes Aznar

Friday, January 16, 2015

Roaming the Island of the Spirits

The gecko woke me up at 5 a.m. With its rhythmic, clicking sound, it jolted me out of my sleep.

I parted the white canopy that embraced the bed and stepped out of our cottage, guarded by two fertility Gods sitting by the wooden steps.

It is a crisp November morning and Jes and I are in exotic Bali, dubbed as the Island of the Spirits, Island of Gods, a box of sunshine, a heaven on earth. "You've never been to Heaven if you've never been to Bali," says Indonesian writer Toba Beta.

I opened the age-old wooden door, the one with intricate Balinese design to see a breathtaking view of my first morning here at Bali's Red Earth, known in a traveler's website as the world's best resort.

The sky is a shade of pink as the sun peeped out of its cradle. The morning is quiet. What a perfect moment this is.

Welcome to Tanah Merah, the Red Earth, where a rare bluebird from the surrounding forest flies around its nook and cranny. This is a place perched perfectly above the lush gorge of the Cursed River, Tukad Petanu. It is nestled at the end of a short drive from the Ubud Monkey Forest, in the middle of a plateau of lush green grass, a wide expanse of rice fields and rows of retreat houses for the weary and the forlorn or the many happy souls seeking silence.

Tanah Merah is a world of its own, an enchanting art resort experience understood only by those who have been here. It is dreamlike, it is a daze, it is magical in its simplicity. The cottages are quaint and filled with art, the mountain air is fresh and crisp, the spirits are alive and the Gods are all over. In the evenings, the sound of crickets and a flowing river down below will serenade visitors.

There is a villa fit for a king named after Mads Johansen Lange, known as the King of Bali. The villa's grand interior told of stories of Lange, a Danish trader born in 1807. The story goes that he travelled to the East Indies and settled on the island of Bali where he built an enterprise of rice and spices. It's a villa so perfect no visitor would want to step out of it, what with its own infinity pool facing the lush green rain forest, birds chirping in paradise, interiors teeming with Balinese art and a bed suited for the king. 

With a resort like this, who wants to go out? But there is the rest of Bali to savor and enjoy. So we saved the villa for our last day here, settling first in another cottage in the same resort.

We went to the Gunung Kawi Temple and and witnessed two people immortalizing their love in photographs: the bride-to-be looked stunning in her red gown while her groom-to-be was all smiles. We walked the path to the temple of the Gods and deities and allowed the surrounding sprawling rice fields around it to take our breath away.

Next stop was the Tirta Empul Temple, a holy spring water temple in Tampak Siring Village, 39 kilometers east from Denpasar. Here, hundreds if not thousands of men and women bathed their sins away.

In a coffee plantation not far from this, we sipped on a wide array of coffees and teas. My favorite was rice and ginger tea and the famed Balinese coffee. We couldn't get enough of it but we had to move further down Ubud's roads to see Batur Volcano, somewhere between the clouds and the heart of Bali. It was a sight to behold.

The Cekine Tegalalang or rice terraces was the last stop. Though not comparable to the famous Banawe Rice Terraces, we spent a moment here to savor the view.

In one of the evenings, we strolled around the city center, went for a traditional Balinese massage and enjoyed two glasses of Mojito in a place named Bollero.

At the Yoga Barn, I spent a good full hour doing Yin Yoga. It is the best place possible to do yoga when one is in exciting Bali. Until the sun set, I was there in the yoga room, the one with glass doors that opened to a beautiful garden, working on my poses, taking in every breath and loving every moment.

I had a full view of the green grass and coconut trees in front of me. I breathed the afternoon mist left by the drizzle. "Feel the space within when you take a long, deep breath. Let go of everything and be in the moment," says yoga teacher Cat.

On our last day in Bali, we stayed at the King's Villa and lingered in the balcony facing the forest. We ate like a king and slept like a queen. We sipped a glass of fresh fruit juices while enjoying the sound of the flowing river. We waded in the private pool and had a warm bath in the tub of the bathroom that had a view of the paradise outside it.

Here in this villa, we capped our journey to the heart of Bali, a perfect ending of a magical trip to this patch of heaven on earth.