Bali Eco village

We abuse land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong we may begin to use it with love and respect.

Aldo Leopold    

High in the hills, in a valley shrouded in morning mists and perpetual tranquility, Bali Ecovillage provides a welcome sanctuary  from the excesses of southern Bali.

Bali Ecovillage  is set in a mountainous valley to the west of Kitamani, surrounded by bamboo trees, rainforests and coffee plantations. Original plans were for a weekend house built in bamboo, a place for the owners to relax and revel in the beauty of nature, but as the walls grew, so too did the idea of turning this peaceful sanctuary into an eco lodge that others could also enjoy;  guest bungalows and a couple of spacious villas were soon added to the plans.

Bamboo is increasingly popular as the eco building material of choice; a fast growing woody grass, it absorbs four times as much  carbon dioxide as slow to harvest timber, is lighter than steel, and five times stronger than concrete. Plants can grow several feet in a day and a field of bamboo can be harvested and used for construction purposes within three years of planting. If well treated and maintained it is also super resistant. The simple elegance and quiet strength of the  bamboo plant is mimicked in the rustic buildings at Bali Ecovillage , thousands of poles in shades of light and dark have been tightly bound together creating rich textures and dimensions. The building design was largely experimental and the results are quirky and enchanting with a hotchpotch of influences from around the archipelago, with a good measure of Italian flair thrown into the mix. The lodge is fitted with comfortable sofas, great books, a pool table, and a dart board, while evocative artifacts from Papua New Guinea  are scattered throughout the lounge and bungalows.  Sunlight peeps through the skylights and an expansive deck offers panoramic views of the surrounding mountains,  this is the perfect place to soak up the silence, and breathe in air that is so fresh that the blast of oxygen makes you giddy. The atmosphere is cozy and homely, with evenings spent warming toes by an open fire,  perhaps curled up with a book or a board game, and a mug of steaming hot chocolate.

The word ‘eco’ is often just a catch phrase, but at Bali Ecovillage it is given full credence, the aim is to become a fully sustainable tourism facility, and to ‘give back’ to the local community, providing employment, training and education as well as acting as a model for eco tourism in the region. Waste is segregated with recycling handled by Eco Bali, and  organic matter composted or fed to the animals. Water is locally sourced, and garden water recycled, while the river has been harnessed to create hydro electricity that supplies some of the property’s  power needs. Activities are wholesome and ‘back to nature,’ visitors can learn how to make Balinese offerings; enjoy traditional massage;  bathe in the river or hike through the jungle. Rafting, cycling and rice paddy tours can also be organized. Guests are encouraged to explore the organic farm, with its extensive vegetable gardens, free range chickens, ducks and pigs. The homegrown cuisine adds to the wholesome atmosphere, and is even more enjoyable with an appetite stimulated by the fresh mountain air. Pick your own salad from the thriving greenhouse and enjoy homemade pasta, breads, jams and cakes.

Bali Ecovillage gives a glimpse into another side of Bali and is truly a place to recharge body, mind and soul.

www.baliecovillage.com

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The Magic of Desa Seni

 

At  Desa Seni  the path to well being is scattered with flowers…..

As my friend and resident Kundalini yoga teacher Daphna says, “It’s a place of peace and joy, from the moment you enter any stress evaporates…. it’s a happy place.”

Desa Seni has been keeping me sane for the past two years, a sanctuary that is most certainly my happy place, where I can escape from work and every day pressures, and  lose myself in the beauty of my surroundings and in the ancient practice of yoga. At early morning classes  I  watch the flowers unfurl as I stretch into sun salutations, while sunset classes are filled with the golden glow of dusk and the flickering light of candles against a crimson streaked sky.

I always feel like I am stepping into a fairy tale as I follow the stepping stones that lead through colourful vegetable patches and heavily laden fruit trees. Everywhere I look there is something of beauty that has been thoughtfully placed to create joy ; a quaint wooden bridge, an  ancient dug out canoe filled with flowers, a wooden statue decorated with frangipani, or a carefully labelled tree or plant.

I once spent a weekend at Desa Seni staying in one of the charming antique wooden houses gathered from across the Indonesian archipelago. My beautiful house came with a  written story that detailed its origins, and that of all the antiques that filled it. In the afternoon one of the staff dropped by with fresh fruit and herbal tea and when I woke in the morning there was a traditional Balinese offering placed on my verandah with a card explaining how to make the offering to my own small temple.

Tom, the ever-inspiring man behind Desa Seni describes how he saw the island “blooming and growing” but felt that no one was staying true to Bali. His vision incorporated farming, yoga, unlimited potential for creativity, and integration with the local community. His founding belief , “If we all give back, educate, inspire and nurture, the world will be a better place.” I love that Tom is a man of his word and Desa Seni gives back to the community on so many levels, from being organic and green, to free English and yoga classes for the staff, to organising beach clean ups and to sponsoring worthy organisations such as Sacred Childhood Organisation http://www.sacredchildhoods.org/ and initiatives such as Ayu Kita Bicara which raises awareness about AIDS in the community.  Through Kula magazine Desa Seni continues to spread the word and promote like minded people and businesses on the island.

Desa Seni reminds me to always take a little time for myself to reconnect with the magic and beauty of life – something that I sometimes forget. Here I see positive vibrations leading to action, and remember that we can make a difference. Love certainly isn’t all you need – but it’s a great place to start!

www.desaseni.com

The healing power of crystals

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The human connection to crystals and stones spans time, cultures, continents and religions. Ancient Sumerians included crystals in their magic formulas; Egyptian pharaohs had their headdresses lined with malachite in the belief that it helped to rule wisely; while native American shamans used them for divination and healing. Their curative properties are mentioned repeatedly in ancient Vedic Hindu texts and referred to in the Old Testament of the Bible; while the mysterious black stone at Mecca (possibly a meteorite) forms an intrinsic part of the Islamic pilgrimage.

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In 1880 Jacques and Pierre Curie discovered the piezoelectric property of quartz  – when squeezed or stretched, a voltage is produced across the crystal’s face. These days crystals are utilized in almost every form of technology. Liquid Crystal brings us the clarity in our computer screens, quartz keeps watches ticking, and electronic grade crystals are used in cell phones, clocks, games, television receivers, radios, computers and navigational instruments. But although science readily accepts the vibrational qualities of crystals, when it comes to the less tangible realms of crystal   therapy,   the suggested positive vibrations of gemstones is often relegated to the fringe of ‘new age;’  even though it is a tradition that is about as ‘old age’ as you can get.  We have been communing with stones in one way or another for as long as we have roamed the earth.

Like many before me, I have a fondness for adorning myself with gemstones and jewels and this story starts with my discovery of Atlantis, a shop in Seminyak filled with glittering gemstones, gleaming jewel encrusted silver bracelets, shimmering druzy pendants and crystals in all shapes and forms.  I left wearing a striking pendant of amethyst wrapped in a silver serpent.   I loved the way it felt on my skin, the way it shimmered in the sunlight and I started to wonder why we are so drawn to stones and crystals. Is it because we are naturally attracted to that which is beautiful? Is it a primal connection with something that is formed deep within the earth’s crust, or is it something more; could it be possible that stones hold some sort of therapeutic power? So I decided to try and find some answers. I had no expectations, just an open mind, a touch of skepticism and an abundance of natural curiosity.

The story became quite a journey that led to interesting people, places and experiences, I learned a lot about crystals, physics and geology, and I learned a lot about myself and my own belief system. My encounters with crystal therapy in various guises were thought provoking, sometimes profound, and always left with me a smile.  I can’t claim to have found all the answers I went looking for, or to have been miraculously ‘healed’ (thankfully I have no major ailments,) but I can share my experiences and the findings of those far more knowledgeable than myself.

Vibrations……..

The more I delve into the crystal realms, the more I come across this term. Is this the key – can the vibrations of crystals affect our bodies or our minds in some way? Quantum physics recognizes that everything vibrates, even the tiniest atom, but certain things, due to their composition will vibrate at a higher frequency.  For example, quartz which is 100% crystal, resonates clearly and harmoniously due to a highly organized molecular structure.   We have all experienced ‘good vibes’ and the  sense of harmony  experienced by  listening to music, visiting certain places or meeting someone that we feel in tune with; as  opposed to situations or people that create discord  and throw us off balance. Similarly when we are attacked by viruses or subjected to stress we feel out of sync. A holistic approach to therapy is all about restoring balance, so maybe the vibrations of certain crystals can help. This makes sense, but the link is still tenuous. Then I stumble across a book called “Hidden messages in water,” by Doctor Masar Emoto.  The book contains a series of astonishing photographs, in which single drops of water were frozen and the crystals they formed captured.  Fresh spring water produced beautifully formed crystals, whereas city water barely produced crystals at all. But here’s where it gets really interesting, when Bach was played to water, the resulting crystals were magnificent, but when heavy metal music was played to the same water, it produced badly formed crystals or none at all. Town water that had initially created ill formed crystals – suddenly made perfect formations after 500 people simultaneously prayed for it to be clean. The most beautiful of all crystals had been exposed to the words love and gratitude. In all these cases the structure of the water was fundamentally  altered due to the vibrations it was subjected to. As Humans bodies are comprised of over 70% water, is it possible that our physical process can be altered by positive vibrations?

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Vogel and crystals

According to Marcel Vogel who spent much of his life conducting extensive research into quartz crystals, it means precisely this! Vogel was a highly respected research scientist who received over 100 patents during his 27 years working for IBM.  He discovered that he could fundamentally alter the structure of water by spinning it around a tuned crystal.  Using such a process, the ph levels of water could be sufficiently altered, the freezing point significantly lowered and the molecular patterns rearranged and restructured.

In the same way that the healthy water in Emoto’s experiments created beautiful well formed crystals; the water found in healthy tissue cells in our bodies is formed into organized, geometrically shaped molecule patterns. While unhealthy and cancerous cells feature ungeometric and disorganized water molecules. Vogel’s findings showed that the clear vibration resonating from crystals helps to organize the water in our tissues and cells, creating healthier cells.  Further to this, he pioneered the use of a precisely cut quartz crystal, the  ‘Vogel-cut®  which transmitted a high level of energy and produced a constant vibration of the same frequency as water in its purest state.  He also developed a protocol in which a crystal could act as an “energetic scalpel” to remove unwanted vibrations from a person in distress.

www.vogelcrystals.net

History of stones

Our history is inextricably entwined with stones. Stone age man carved primitive tools and amulets, stone walls have traditionally provided us with shelter and protection, and gem stones have always been potent symbols of power and beauty. Through the ages various megalithic cultures erected impressive standing stones, monuments and stone circles that became places of, worship, ritual and meditation. The early Indonesians were animists and worshipped natural features in a belief that all objects have a life, a soul force. Vestiges of this practice can still be found, particularly on islands such as Flores and Sumba  where ethnic traditions hold strong. In Lombok the ‘Stone of Worship’ at Batu Pujaan was erected over 3000 years ago, and is associated with rituals of magic, meditation and the concoction of herbal medicines.   Here in Bali, megalithic structures are still used for worship in a scattering of villages inhabited by the original Bali Aga people; while  Lingga (monuments) carved from gold, jewels and stones can also be found in Hindu temples across the island.

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These days our lives are increasingly removed from nature, so perhaps certain stones help us reconnect with the earth and our more essential selves. There are few things more grounding than minerals, so maybe wearing a crystal, collecting stones or indulging in gem therapy can help restore a sense of calm and balance. It all boils down to intent.  If you believe that wearing a crystal will empower you, it probably will; if you attend a crystal healing session with a strong intent to heal, then for sure you will feel some benefits. It’s all up to the individual.  Wear them, meditate with them, place them on the window sill, attempt to see the future, douse for water, summon spirits, admire them as objects of immense beauty. Or ignore them completely…… If crystals work for you on some level – that’s great, if not, that’s ok too – because crystals are totally optional.

If you do decide to explore the world of crystal therapy then Bali has plenty of choices.

Crystal healing

Jelila provides my first healing session, and arrives at the door, blonde and fairylike bearing a guitar and a big bag of crystals.  She talks about the resonant vibration of crystals due to their highly organized molecular structure. “Having a positive person around you raises your vibrations –  it’s the same with the right combination of crystals.”

Jelila has a background in yoga, meditation and energy healing and you can join her classes at Yoga barn. She also practices crystal healing which she describes as “A complex art form, based on an intuitive sense of your present energy, aura and life. ” She adds that, “It is non invasive and harmless, the worse thing that can happen is nothing.”   We start with an aura reading, and each of my chakras is assigned colours, shapes and sounds. My rational mind does not understand, but her observations are unerringly accurate, and deep from my subconscious, where the demons lurk, she unearths an extremely irrational fear. Right she says we are going to fix this. She guides me through a visualization, or re programming as she calls it,   and then explains that she will use a combination of crystal energy and sound healing to integrate this transformation.   I close my eyes as she drapes strings of crystals over me, and become aware of a powerful tingly sensation around my head, it feels like my hair is standing on end. I assume Jelila is doing some kind of energy healing but when I sneak a peek I see she is busy placing crystals around my feet. The feeling is so intense I can’t help laughing – “What’s happening to my head,” I ask, “That would be the detoxifying crystals I put on your pillow,” she answers.   By now Jelila is softly playing the guitar and singing, her beautiful voice flutters around me. It’s extraordinarily soothing to be sung too and lulls me into a warm and cosy state. Afterwards I feel happy, calm and kind of floaty, more than anything I feel liberated from an irrational fear. No doubt I could have sat in an office with a psychiatrist and progressed to this point after weeks on the sofa talking about my childhood  – but therapy is  much more enjoyable when you are covered in crystals and sung to!  Jelila also designs healing necklaces and has recorded a range of CDs. http://jelila.wordpress.com/

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The Crystal Light Bed

I find myself at a house on the outskirts of Ubud and am greeted by Tamara, an intuitive healer who also performs healing sessions utilizing a Crystal Light Bed.  This contraption was created by John of God, the famous Brazilian spiritual healer who is estimated to have healed hundreds of thousands of people. Science has no answer for this kind of healing in which John of God acts as a spirit medium, allowing  “entities” to take over his body and perform surgery while he is in a trance.  However, his work has been documented by medical teams from around the world, who confirm miraculous recoveries from AIDS, cancer and other illnesses that were deemed incurable. He developed The Crystal Light Bed as an adjunct to healing and it consists of 7 Vogel-cut Brazilian quartz crystals which are suspended over each of the seven major chakras.  Tamara explains that it is essentially a chromo graphic machine that combines energy, colour and light; the colored lights that beam through the crystals act as a magnifier of energy and intent for healing.  She explains that this is “Different from other forms of crystal healing in that it enables a specific current of John of God and his various healing spirit entities.” It sounds kind of wacky and my rational mind is screaming,  ‘How,’ but I apply my motto ‘Never try never know,”  and as I lie down she  tells me to say a prayer of intent. From the moment I shut my eyes I enter a state of deep blissful relaxation – at times it’s almost as if I am levitating and I sense the presence of others in the room. Perhaps it’s my imagination, perhaps not – it doesn’t matter. What matters is that this is a lovely experience that leaves me calm and peaceful. I ask Tamara if she can see an immediate change in people following the treatment, and she comments that I am sparkling…. ..When I look in the mirror I do seem to have a bit of a glow and my eyes are shining clear and bright. email tj@gaiaclinic.com

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Crystal Sound

I first had the pleasure of Healing Sound Therapy at Bali Spirit Festival during a workshop led by Awa Hoshi, a statuesque, gently spoken woman of Cheyenne – Slovakian descent who plays silicon quartz crucibles (pure quartz carved into receptacles of various sizes.) A talented musician, Awa Hoshi pioneered the use of crystal sound therapy over two decades ago and her work has been well recognized across the world.  More than 100 of us were gathered that afternoon and as we stretched out on the floor we were instructed to visualize what we desired most at that point in time. Awa Hoshi  started to play, and the room was filled with  lingering, beautiful  waves of sound. Everything ceased to exist beyond the sound of crystal, and my vision of fully sustaining myself as a freelance writer. The sensation was not so much of hearing, but of feeling. Afterwards everything seemed incredibly clear and when I checked my emails I had two commissions from magazines to write about the festival, and have had a constant stream of work ever since. It’s not magic, I didn’t just blink my eyes and find I was suddenly  consumed with work,  but during that crystal sound filled afternoon I had given myself the space to realize what it was that I really wanted and from that time on focused my energy into achieving it. When I meet Awa  Hoshi again, she explained that sound therapy   helps us to   “ Crystallize an  intention, then magnetize that reality.” She adds that it, “Provides a foundation, it’s then up to us as to how we deal with it.”

Hearing is the first sense to develop in the womb, the most developed of all our senses, yet most of us only have a small amount of pure, clear sound in our lives, bird song, running streams, leaves rustling in the breeze are often drowned out by the hum of air conditioners, the roar of motor bikes, the incessant chatter of television. Awa Hoshi tells me that “The sound of pure tone crystal returns us to our natural state as beings of harmony – it is a sound that takes you beyond sound.” http://www.bali3000.com/crystalsound/

Picture 5 Awa Hoshi

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A walk in the rice fields

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Bali Herbal Walks

I drive up to Ubud early in the morning, dark ominous clouds hang over the hills creating a moody backdrop. I hope the rain will hold off for the next few hours as I have signed up for a herbal walk, and trudging through rice fields in torrential rain isn’t quite what I have in mind. I meet my guide, Westi, a wise and gentle soul with an innate knowledge of all things herbal. He and his wife Lilir have been leading guests on walks through the ravines and rice fields of Ubud for twelve years. Their extensive knowledge of herbalism gained from their families, working in the field, and from years of studying with traditional healers.

The use of natural medicines, known as Usada, is a strong custom in Bali, as traditionally the only medicines that people had access to were those provided by nature. Most Balinese have some knowledge of natural cures and many families keep an apotek hidup (living drugstore), a small garden of herbs with medicinal properties in their yard. The edges of Bali’s fertile rice fields also host a plethora of herbs, fruit and trees that have therapeutic and health enhancing properties.

We head down a walled path way that edges along a steep ravine. Westi points out a magnolia tree, its leaves can be steeped in hot water and the resulting brew creates calm and balance. He adds that many Balinese women can’t afford perfume, instead enjoy the scent of fresh cut flowers such as magnolia, tied into their hair.

We wander through dense foliage, thick with trees, shrubs, and fernery that grows with untamed abandon. He tells me that unlike the heavily landscaped gardens that are popular in the island’s holiday resorts, a traditional Balinese garden is more wild and artistic. We come to a ylang ylang tree, with a solid trunk leading to a mass of leaves high above. He says the Japanese use it as ‘honeymoon oil’ which I guess makes it an aphrodisiac. Here in Bali, the flowers are considered holy and are used in offerings, but, “You have to be feeling strong to climb,” he says, “because it’s a tall tree and if you fall off, it’s all over.” Nearby, an avocado tree is sprouting with tiny green fruit; when ripe these can be used as a natural colouring and women blend the creamy flesh into a body mask which is highly moisturizing.

The path winds around the river and leads us up a gentle slope. We pass back yards where women are busy preparing morning offerings. Roosters crow, dogs bark and the air is fragrant with frangipani.

We find the dark red Indian long pepper growing on a climbing vine that clings to a stone wall. It is hard and shriveled and, as I discover when I taste a tiny sliver, very very hot. “The heat creates power,” Westi says, and is chewed by men as an aphrodisiac. I ask if women can chew it too, and he replies, “Yes, women are more equal now.” It is also one of the ingredients in boreh, a traditional body mask that relaxes the muscles and helps prevent rheumatism.

We head into a more open area, resplendent with the verdant green rice fields (sawahs) that Bali is so famous for. As with so much in Bali, the growing of rice is approached with an artist’s eye; just because something is practical, doesn’t mean that it can not also be beautiful. Palms line the path, butterflies flitter by and the sound of trickling water is ever present. We come across a couple of water snakes but they are timid and quickly slither away.  Westi points out the Balinese rice crops which are tall and stately and tells me that this is the best quality rice, as it is high in vitamins and nutrients, but only yields two crops a year. Nearby we see the Philippine variety which is more common, it is shorter, thicker and less aesthetic, but produces three crops a year and needs less attention.

I have never really given the rice paddies much thought beyond admiring them, taking numerous photos and regularly tucking into nasi goring. I learn that all farmers must be part of a rice co op a system known as Subak. There are 200 Subaks in Bali, seven of which are in Ubud. The one we are walking through is called Juwukmanis (Sweet orange organization of rice fields.) Water is set into irrigation channels to which everyone has equal access and although fields are individually owned, all members work together for the prosperity of all.

A few farmers are at work in the fields and a man in a rattan hat walks by with a stick over his shoulder laden with bushels of rice that have just been harvested.  A couple of small fires are burning which Westi tells me is sometimes necessary to rejuvenate the soil, the farmers decide what is needed. Natural insecticide is provided by a gaggle of ducks that are busy pecking away.

Small temples are scattered over the fields, and offerings are made to ensure good harvests.I notice a doll like figure dangling from a large bamboo stick and Westi tells me that this is a representation of the Rice Goddess Dewi Sri. It has been made from harvested rice husks, and is an offering of thanks to Ibu Purtiwi (earth mother.) He adds that after the rice has been planted, it is deemed  pregnant, and in the early growing stage, offerings such as sour fruit, which control nausea, are made to the rice goddess to prevent morning sickness.

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Although Balinese practice Hinduism, the more ancient practice of Animism imbues much of the spiritual side of life. The earth is considered female and the sky is male – when the two meet, as in human relationships, there is power. The wet season is considered particularly powerful as the continual rain from the sky pounds the earth nurturing everything that grows with in it.  Nature’s bounty is powerful, because it has been created by the union of earth and sky. The reason that there are so many problems in Denpasar he explains, is that there is too much cement and the gods are angry because the sky and earth never meet, there is a block.

“When we eat, we absorb the character of the food,” he tells me. “Holy men eat only duck which is a symbol of wisdom, roosters are no good to eat because they like fighting.” I ask about ritualistic animal sacrifice and he tells me that, “Whatever we need, we offer the gods, blood sacrifice symbolizes fertility and may be necessary to ensure a good harvest.” But before killing an animal a ceremony is held to bless it, so that the animal will come back to a better and higher life.

We come to the temple compound of the Subak, it is late morning and the clouds have dispersed revealing the sun in all its scorching glory. We sit in the shade, enjoying the rest and the peaceful rural scene that surrounds us. A farmer brings me a fresh coconut to drink, skillfully opening it with a long curved knife.

We continue on our way, stopping to crush Citronella leaves which release a strong aroma that repels mosquitoes. We inhale the scent of Melaleuka leaves which are also used as an insect repellant, and pick stalks of lemongrass which are good for colds.Outside a temple Westi points out a tiny little plant not much bigger than my hand, it’s a banyan, one of the most sacred of all trees, it seems hard to imagine that this scrawny  little thing will one day be a magnificent sprawling mass of branches and vines.

Westi and Lilir are both keen to revive and preserve the natural heritage of herbalism, for the sake of the young generation of Balinese, and for the tourists who flock to the island. With the help of Melanie Templar from the UK, they established Utama Spice in 1997 which produces a range of high quality herbal beauty products, including lotions, oils and soaps. Westi tells me that some of their clients were interested to know more about the natural substances they used, which gave them the idea of taking guests on  guided walks. He says that there goal is sustainable tourism “You must have an income, but it should be a positive income, whereby you also look after the environment and share ancient knowledge.”

I meet Lilir back at their little shop on Sweta street in Ubud, she is tiny in stature, but big in spirit, and bubbles with enthusiasm. She tells me that her family had strong healing traditions and the brood of 11meant that there was no money for doctors, instead all ills were cured by trips to the living drugstore – the family garden.It has been a pleasure to meet this couple who are so passionate and dedicated, and I feel like I have learned more in these few hours than I have in years of living on the island. Lilir invites me to come another time and sample her special tumeric tonic and to join one of her Jamu classes, but that’s another trip, another story.

Book one day in advance.

www.baliherbalwalk.com

info@baliherbalwalk.com

 

Food of the gods on the island of the gods

The magical world of raw chocolate

Legend has it that the first cacao beans came from paradise and lent wisdom and power to the person that ate them.  Deep in the tropical rainforests of central America, ancient Mayans  used ground cocoa beans in wedding rituals and for healing magic. To the Aztecs it was known as the food of the gods; and it is said that the  god Quetzalcoatl, was  kicked out of paradise for giving chocolate to the human race.

Most of us have experienced the ‘feel good factor’ of chocolate, its smooth exotic taste known to induce feelings of euphoria, even its aroma is enough to promote feelings of well being and happiness.  But if you are reading this while munching on a Mars Bar, its time to think again. While mass produced store bought confectionery might taste good and have a small amount of nutritional benefits,  this is sadly outweighed by vast amounts of chemicals, refined fats and sugars.

Raw chocolate, on the other hand provides a dose of pure natural goodness and is packed with magnesium, antioxidants and  a taste far superior to anything you will find on a supermarket shelf. In its purest form chocolate contains  an abundance of Tryptophan, a substance which triggers a reaction in the brain and creates a feeling of elation and giddiness. It is also packed with  Anandamide a name derived from the Sanskrit word ananda, which means bliss. Also known as the love chemical, Anandamide induces feelings of euphoria…. just like falling in love. While cooking and processing chocolate destroys much of its natural goodness, raw chocolate is healthy for the mind, body and soul.

A number of places in Bali are now making raw chocolate, but Alchemy, a quirky health cafe in Ubud has the best,  with its  gleaming refrigerator shelves stocked with a dazzling display of cakes, candy and chocolates that don’t just taste good, they are good for you. The slabs of dense chewy chocolate bars are seriously ‘to die for’ (or at least to ‘drive to Ubud for….’) I also love the homemade bounty bars filled with fresh shredded coconut, the dark peppermint infused Stevia Mint Drops and the coconut dusted truffles. Bali Buddha also has a good selection, including lovely heart-shaped chocolate truffles, while Desa Seni serves up a tasty range of energy balls – just the thing after a yoga session. The raw chocolate dream pie at Clear Cafe in Ubud also deserves a mention – it is positively dreamy! It is also worth paying a visit to Five Elements in Mambal, a divine eco retreat offering gourmet raw cusisine that provides one of the most profound dining experiences on the island. Actually, the first time I tried raw chocolate was here and it was a moment I will never forget.

One of the newest venues on Bali’s raw chocolate scene is the inspiring Bamboo Chocolate Factory, also in Mambal (just near the Green School.) The soaring bamboo building rises from a sea of tropical forests and has been created by Big Tree farms who work with local farmers to produce organic ingredients such as salt and pepper, vanilla, cashews and honey.  You can join a tour of the factory, which starts with  a cup of thick and creamy organic hot chocolate to get you in the mood. A guide will then lead you along the labyrinth of bamboo hallways and cavernous rooms, following the trail of the humble cacao bean as it is transformed into a delicious chocolate bar. If images of oompa loompas and rivers of chocolate are flowing through your mind, think again; but if you are remembering the movie ‘Chocolate’, with the beautiful Vianne sensually grinding beans on a stone you are a little closer, but still not thinking big enough.  Actually, the six tonne, 70-year-old Mélangeur is so big it has its own room – with two giant granite rollers that crush the cacao beans (fermented, not roasted) into a thick paste.  Twelve hours later the paste is ready for the conche which turns it into a smooth liquid, while a cold press separates the butter. In the cashew sorting room, nuts are hand selected and trimmed, before making their way into chocolate bars.  Back in the tasting room you can try the fresh slabs of 70% bitter chocolate, which is also on sale, along with cold processed cacao powder, and cashew chocolate nibs. Chocolate-making workshops are planned to start from August so you will be able to create your own sublime concoctions.

photographs courtesy of Suki Zoe/Alchemy www.alchemybali.com

Ayo! Kita Bicara HIV/AIDS

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Talking about HIV/AIDS

It is Melasti, a time of ritual purification in the lead up to Nyepi, the Balinese New Year,  and as we drive north through the  hills we pass convoys of trucks heading south. Crammed on board are entire villages, gamelan orchestras and temple effigies being carted to the ocean for a symbolic cleansing of body and soul. Along the route I catch glimpses of Ogoh Ogohs, scary monsters with bulging eyes and crazy hair glaring out from community halls; on Nyepi eve they will be paraded and symbolically burned in a bid to cast out evil from the island. This is Bali at its rawest and most primeval, the balance between good and evil maintained by the practice of ancient rites and rituals. But modern problems call for more modern solutions; and no amount of prayer or sacrifice will lighten the shadow cast by AIDS on the unwary, unaware island.

Ayo! Kita Bicara HIV/AIDS

Prevention through education is the only answer and I  attend an  Ayo! Kita Bicara HIV/AIDS (Lets talk about HIV/AIDS) workshop in Tegallalang with I Made Gunarta (Kadek,) co founder of Bali Spirit festival. We chat as we drive slowly through the hills of Gianyar, he tells me “Right now people don’t want to talk about AIDS, they are still in denial,” and adds that, “The Balinese are very open minded, but tend to direct this inwards rather than outwards, it is a  culture that has always encouraged listening, but not so much questioning.”  The concepts of destiny and karma are also at play; AIDS  is often seen as a  shame that has to be borne by the family. “But things are slowly starting to change,” he says.

It is believed that the number of people in Bali who are infected with HIV/AIDS  will reach over 7000 in 2011. However true numbers are hard to determine as the stigma associated with the disease causes many cases to go unreported and untreated. The Chairman of the Committee for Combating AIDS, Nyoman Mangku Karmaya, has claimed that “The threat of drowning in Bali is not only posed by tsunamis composed of sea water, but also by an increasingly growing tsunami of HIV/AIDS sufferers threatening to drown and overwhelm the island.”

As a percentage of the population, figures are still low, but  Indonesia has the fastest growing epidemic of HIV/AIDS in Asia, with an estimated  314,000 people infected, a  figure set to double by 2014  if approaches to HIV prevention are not improved. An extensive sex industry; limited testing and treatment clinics; and a general lack of awareness about the disease are cited as the main factors. Many people are simply not aware that using condoms can prevent infection. The Ayo! Kita Bicara HIV/AIDS program was launched by the founders of Bali Spirit Festival to promote communication about the disease, specifically targeting Balinese women and youth.  The program partners with a number of foundations and  NGO’s already working within the community, such as  Spirit Paramacitta Foundation, Kerti Praja Foundation, and dan KISARA Foundation.

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The Workshops

The “EduSpirit” workshops, feature a uniquely Balinese approach that  combines  education, entertainment and spirituality. The aim is to increase awareness and knowledge, but also to develop compassion toward people with AIDS.  Teenagers are promoted as ‘Agents of Change,’ encouraging a ripple on effect through the community, to bring the issue out into the open.  We arrive in Tegellalang where a group of kids from the local school quietly sit waiting. The workshop is run by Wiwie, (Marketing & Communication Executive Officer of Bali Spirit Festival) and a group of young volunteers, mostly from the KISARA foundation. Their enthusiasm is inspiring, and the kids who are initially shy and a little embarrassed soon relax and throw themselves into singing and  teambuilding exercises. Wiwie tells me that they use a gentle approach to break down myths associated with HIV/AIDS. A visual presentation shows that it’s not just sex workers that are susceptible to the disease, but the whole community. Anyone, anywhere, anytime…….. The kids are then divided into small groups to make a presentation that encourages the promotion of empathy and understanding about how the disease affects individuals and their families. The workshop ends with a yoga session. After, I chat with some of the kids, most of them already knew a little about AIDS, but thought that it only affected prostitutes and drug users; they all express that it was good to learn more.

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Desa Seni Yogathon

Currently 25 workshops are planned in various locations around the island, but it is hoped that enough funds can be gathered to conduct 100 workshops over the next year. An  impressive  $14,000 was raised  on March 19 as Bali Spirit partner,  Desa Seni, staged the island’s first Yogathon. The resort took on a festival like atmosphere as more  than 200 people stretched, danced, drummed and  chanted  over 12 hours to raise money and awareness for the cause. In between classes people lazed under palm trees around the pool, enjoying the live music and the complimentary food provided by the resort. This year Desa Seni joined forces with Bali Spirit Festival as a gold sponsor and the yogathon proved an inspiring appetizer for things to come. Tom Talucci, co founder of Desa Seni was thrilled with the success of the event which far exceeded their target of $10,000, and commented,  “When people come together in force its amazing what we can do.

 

Bali Spirit Festival

Funds for ongoing workshops are also raised through donations, as well as a percentage of ticket sales from the festival itself. Bali Spirit is now well on its way to becoming the most famous holistic event in Asia, attracting world renowned yogis, performers and musicians. The annual event was born out of a vision to build and support community within the context of global music, yoga and dance. But  according to festival founders, “The greatest accomplishment is the ongoing outreach and education programs funded and fueled by the festival,” with over US $34,000 being donated to local charities.

Two years ago I met with festival co founder (and wife of Kadek,) Megan Pappenheim to talk about community outreach. She spoke of her concerns that there were parts of Bali that were being devastated by AIDS, but nobody knew about it because nobody was talking about it. It was  her  intention to  find a condom company to sponsor the festival, and to channel funds into AIDS awareness. True to her word, Fiesta Condoms were signed up as a major sponsor, and have become a highly visible presence at the festival, with an  information pavilion staffed by the lovely  ‘Fiesta girls’ handing out free condoms and Fiesta fans to the crowds.  Ayo! Kita Bicara HIV/AIDS was officially launched in March with a free rock concert in Ubud attended by over 3000 people, the majority of whom were Balinese youth. Information brochures and condoms were handed out, and the crowd was treated to some great music from Indonesian artists KIS, Ray D’Sky  and African legend Afro Moses (who headlined the festival last year.) Festival outreach staff were approached by a number of teenagers to find out how their schools could become involved in the program.  “We’re surprised and delighted at the extraordinarily high turnout for this community event,” said Megan,  “Tonight, Balinese people showed they can have fun and care about a very important cause.”

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HIV/AIDS was first recorded in Bali in 2000, among intravenous drug users, with an estimated 40-60% of known addicts testing HIV positive. However, a survey conducted six years later showed that the rate of new infections had been substantially curved through methadone treatment and free needle-exchange-programs. The recent surge in new infections is linked to the Island’s commercial sex workers, and the family members of their clients.  It is estimated that in some parts of Bali up to 20% of sex workers are HIV positive, but despite active education campaigns, only 30% of clients use prophylactics.  When you consider that approximately 8000 commercial sex workers are servicing around 90,000 clients, 60% of whom are married with children, the picture is worrying.

Yayasan Kerti Praja

I chat with Ayu, of Yayasan Kerti Praja, who have a booth at the festival, she tells me that they run the Amarta Clinic in Denpasar, offering  free STD testing, as well as  medical care and psychological support for AIDS patients. The foundation mostly works with women who have been effected by the disease, either by their husbands, or by their profession. Their mobile units visit bars and kafes offering free screening, as well as  conducting focus groups with commercial sex workers, many of who are still not aware of the dangers posed by unprotected sex, (which I learn can be  had for as cheaply as RP 20,000 in roadside brothels.) The part time sex workers – girls who operate independently out of clubs are harder to reach, as they tend deny being ‘professionals’, tending to seek longer term ‘boyfriend’ clients. She tells me that there is still a mistaken, but widely held belief that you  don’t need to use a condom if you love someone;  and that if someone appears ‘clean’ they are safe.

Kerti Praja also run a project entitled  ReLife, the positive craft, which  provides incomes for families effected by HIV/AIDS, due to husbands who have died or are too sick to work, and also former sex workers who are seeking an alternative form of income. Relife products are made from non recyclable plastic waste collected and cleaned by the women which is then turned into a range of bags, purses and wallets.

AIDS is a problem that is not simply going to disappear, but it is preventable, people just need to know how. So talk about it, especially with Indonesian friends who may not have access to this information. Anyone wishing to learn more, or to  donate money, resources or time to Ayo! Kita Bicara HIV/AIDS can contact Wiwie at admin@balispiritfestival.com

Daniel Aaron interview

It is said that eyes are the windows of the soul, and the first thing I notice about Daniel Aaron are sparkling blue eyes that radiate calmness, compassion and knowingness. As the creator of Radiantly Alive, he aims to uplift our world through unique and powerfully transformative yoga experiences. But if you are picturing a white robed, long haired guru in sandalwood beads speaking in mantras, think again.  Daniel is very much a modern day yogi  (he prefers “human potential guide”) who also happens to make awesome raw chocolate, delves in astrology, runs yoga teacher training programs, and facilitates raw food chef courses. He has been keeping it real in Bali for the past five years and this month launches his Radiantly Alive studio in Ubud.

In a moment of serendipity our meeting coincides with Bali Spirit Festival, a 5-day celebration of yoga, music, dance where lush tropical gardens have been transformed into a hive of holistic activity. Impressive feats of balance are taking place in the acro yoga workshop, while pure crystal sound resonates from the crystal bowl healing workshop. I catch Daniel giving a talk on raw food in one of the pavilions. He is warm and likeable with a tendency to say “Y’all” a lot, in a way that is both embracing and endearing; he also has a natural gift for story telling which has the audience hanging on every word. “I have been playing around with stuff to feel better for a long time,” he tells us, tracing the origins of his transformation back 20 years. “I had a standard American sad diet with meat every meal…. I  was fat, depressed, and that was on a good day…… I started to think, this isn’t right, what can I do differently ?” Vegetarianism came first, but he likens this time to a crack in a windshield, which spread slowly but surely in a myriad of spiritual and health-driven directions as he journeyed across the globe, learning from dozens of teachers, living his life luminously, consciously, with full purpose.

His talk over, we go in search of fresh drinking coconuts, and wind up immersed in lively conversation as we sink into two squishy white bean bags under the shade of a palm tree. Daniel tells me that intuition led him to Bali, “I love the diversity of people, the fecundity of the land, the creativity that it inspires…. and I love coconuts,” he says. I ask if there was a cataclysmic moment that brought yoga into his life. He responds that a few years down the transformation road, a friend invited him to fire walk. Part of the preparation was a yoga class,  “I always thought yoga was for pansies,” he says “so I was surprised to find that I liked it.” He describes  Yoga as Alchemy, “You have to put in enough of a challenge and level of difficulty for it to work.” Daniel has a reputation for inspiring people to go beyond what they thought was possible, and tells me that he is motivated by “Making people feel more alive, more vibrant, encouraging them to discover, how good can it get?” Feeling good is obviously something that we all aspire to which leads logically to our next subject. Chocolate! Not mass produced confectionary high in sugar and milk, but the pure, gooey, healthy, raw kind, which he makes himself. I ask if he has any for me to try, he smiles, digs into his bag and produces a container with some of his latest creations.  I choose a dainty truffle infused with a hint of cardamom. It’s delicious, so good in fact that I could happily eat the whole lot, but that would be rather cheeky, so I manage to restrain myself.

The photographer arrives and we wander about the festival looking for the right backdrop; a west African dance workshop is underway and the tribal rhythms of the djembe create a lively soundtrack. Daniel is super chilled and easy going as we shoot in a number of locations; his  initial shyness with the camera surprises me – or perhaps its not shyness, but rather a refreshing sense of humility. Yet, his playfulness is revealed when he offers to climb into a tree and sit in lotus pose, it doesn’t look so comfortable, but he sees it though. I ask him to describe himself in three words and he comes up with “Inspiring” (yes, he has certainly inspired me,) “Quirky” (well, he is sitting in a tree,) and “Discerning” (obvious in his life choices.) I have just one last question;  what makes you happy? “Deep honesty, intimacy, seeing people transform, my daughter, nature, belly laughs, quality, artistry…..”

A few days later I am doing some background research and discover that Daniel is also a writer. His thoughts,  favourite poems, and inspirational quotes can be found scattered about his blog and websites, which is where I find this little gem that just says it all. “Our life is our project. We can make it an exceptional canvas of dreams and inspirations. Everything that passes through us is a brushstroke: each thought, bite of food, every interaction, how we spend our time, where we live. Life is as vibrant, alive, juicy and beautiful as we choose.”