Matthew Brace relives romantic moments on this island paradise ...
The magical island of Bali is deeply romantic at all times of the day but there’s a special warm glow at dusk when sandalwood, frangipani and romance are in the air. Villagers kneel in front of stone statues of their gods and lay offerings of flowers, small bits of food and incense sticks on the ground. The statues are often draped in black and white cloth which symbolises the coexistence of good and evil which the Balinese believe is essential for a balanced life.
Small birds flit between the trees and plants sipping moisture left in small arboreal pools by afternoon showers. The equatorial sun that climbed so swiftly out of the ocean in the morning is now plummeting down again towards the waves, casting tropical shadows from behind the palm trees and turning the rice field waters from steel grey to molten gold. Tourists have returned home to their hotels from horse-rides, temple visits, rounds of golf and days at the beach. They are enjoying afternoon teas of sticky rice cakes or diving into cool, silky swimming pools, surfacing to find themselves surrounded by hibiscus flowers floating on the water.
Up in the highlands wood smoke drifts through villages as locals spark up their fires to cook the evening meal, and out of an alleyway between two houses come several small children playing delightedly with a deflated football. Elderly men sit on the steps of a village temple for an afternoon smoke, gesticulating and laughing and showing their decayed teeth while beyond them and the temple grounds monkeys gambol through the lower branches of a tall-treed forest. Just out of town, villagers pick their way deftly along the narrow mud walkways between the rice fields, calling to their friends and relatives who are knee-deep and bent over in the mud, gathering the crop. Somewhere a gamelan orchestra begins to practice, rehearsing for an up-coming festival. The clang of the metal instruments and the voices of the young singers echo through the forest and the village and across the fields.
Down in the buzzing beachside suburb of Seminyak – Bali’s most hip and happening hotspot – the tourist shops are gearing up for the evening trade. Over the past few years many of the trinket stalls that used to line Jalan Legian and its side-streets have been replaced by slick designer clothing outlets and day spas; a sign of Seminyak’s recent rise to fame. At the oceanfront restaurants, the waiters are lining up the candle holders and placemats as the breakers pound in.
A late surfer takes a wave, reluctant to leave the comfort of the sea despite the fast-fading light. The bars are coming to life as early party-goers drop in, dressed in loose-fittin tropical chic and sporting mahogany tans. There’s talk of Coronas and cocktails … and cricket. The last Campari pink rays of the sun have turned to midnight blue and lights are illuminating the banyan trees and small temples in front of the big hotels.
The nightly rush-hour of motorbikes and delivery trucks is ending and the streets are being reclaimed once more by low-slung cats and pedestrians. The warm air carries the exotic scents of sandalwood and cinnamon and something else – something indescribably beautiful and sweet. Ylang ylang, perhaps. Down on the beach, beneath a waxing moon, walks a couple, barefoot and handin- hand. A white dress flutters in the breeze as they splash through the surf, and head up the sand towards Gado Gado, one of Seminyak’s favourite eateries.
A table is reserved, a candle lit and wine chilled; this is their very own Bali high.