Bali is not a destination most Americans visit. In fact, the majority of English speaking foreigners there are from Australia. Americans should give this destination a second thought. On an airline like Taiwanese carrier EVA, it is easy to fly there with one change of planes, and from the West Coast there is literally no jet lag in spite of the time difference. The food is wonderful, the beaches among the most scenic in the world, and the authentic Asian Pacific island culture is second to none. Where else do you get to see the traditional fire dances like the one pictured above?
Fire dances can be found in many parts of the small island of Bali, but one that attracts many tourists is around Kuta, and overlooks the cliffs of the magnificent Balinese coast. It is known as the Kecak fire and trance dance, and includes a chorus of 70 male voices that provide the rhythmic and primal music for the hour (think Balinese version of a Greek chorus). It may attract tourists in abundance, but it is authentic in its preservation of the vibrant Balinese culture and tradition.
The choruses of men are first joined by a few other dancers who light the shrine that is used for the dance ceremony. The hour of dance consists of a story line in five acts, and everyone is handed a sheet in their native language so they can understand and follow the story as the dance progresses. The dance begins as the sun is setting along the scenic backdrop of the rugged cliffs and coastline, with the Uluwatu temple looking on. As the dance continues and night begins to fall, the amount of fire intensifies until all you see is a ring of fire with dancers circling around in dramatic fashion. The chorus of 70 men continue to sing for the entire hour in a pulsating rhythm that intensifies the circle of fire before you. Monkeys crawl near by, which adds to the exotic nature of the evening. Several of the dancers dress as monkeys from the nearby forest, but the real monkeys are not that far away.
The entry fee is $10 USD, and an extra couple dollars to rent the appropriate covering to wear around your waste, which is a Hindu tradition. You can make arrangements to see the dance while in Bali with any private driver or guide, or you can also book in advance on Viator.com, but it might cost more that way.
Dinner typically follows at an additional cost. There are many fine restaurants on the beach in nearby Kuta or Ubud, but several that are especially delightful serve fish with tables directly on the sand. Guests do not select the fish from the menu. Rather, they select the fish by size from an assortment of freshly caught fish and pay by the kilo. In the case of some shell fish like lobster, it will still be alive when you select it. This is an Asian custom so customers are ensured that the fish is fresh, but it is also part of the typically Balinese experience.
Food in Bali is as exotic as the culture itself. The delightful combination of Indian, Asian and Indonesian cuisine in a single dish is divine. Order one of the many Indonesian specialties that can be split by two people in a typical Indonesian restaurant, and you will get to try a variety of dishes at once that are indicative of the best that Indonesian food has to offer.
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