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Bali Salt

salt1Salt farming in Bali dates back a thousand years, and although the industry is declining, salt pans can still be found on the shores of eastern Bali, where farmers use ancient techniques to craft 100% natural salt by sun and wind evaporation.

The Lombok Straight brings clean cold fast moving water from the north which mixes with the warm Bali tropical water to create a unique, mildly flavoured artisan salt which is stocked in gourmet delicatessens around the world. The taste is distinctive – mild and slightly sweet – and you can buy it direct from the farmers here on the island, which makes it a unique and tasty souvenir, as well as providing much needed support for a traditional way of life.

Many salt farms are concentrated around the traditional village of Kusamba on the south east coast, where farmers live in simple shacks nestled between the palm trees and the shiny black, mineral rich sand. The village springs to life in the early morning, just as the sun creeps over the horizon. First the sand is raked, then sea water, carried in buckets on bamboo poles across the shoulders, is poured over the sand. The hot sun bakes the sand into brittle flakes which are collected and washed with fresh water in a large wooden sieve. Seawater is added over several days to separate the salt from the sand. The resulting brine is then placed in long troughs made from split bamboo, and the sun and wind evaporate the water, leaving pure organic crystals of sea salt in its wake. Time consuming and labour intensive, farmers yield just a few kilos per day and as the process is sun dependent, salt can really only be produced during the drier months.

Another region, famed for its salt production can be found in the far north eastern corner of the island where rugged mountains tumble to a cerulean sea. Here, a collection of peaceful fishing villages, collectively known as Amed, cling to the coast where black sand is lined with colourful jukungs (fishing boats) and salt pans lie in the shadow of Mount Agung. Kids wander up and down the beach selling salt in decorative boxes, you can also buy it by the kilo from the roadside stalls or direct from the salt pans. Those in search of a unique back to nature experience, can stay at Uyah Amed & Spa resport (Salt Lodge,) a rustic, eco friendly resort that is partly solar powered. The sprawling beachfront property is built around working salt pans, and aims to preserve salt production in the region. www.hoteluyah.com

While once a main stay of the Indonesian economy, the artisanal industry has sadly fallen victim to consumer demand for cheaper processed salt and the number of salt farms is rapidly dwindling, as is this unique style of island life.

lookout

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Taksu Ubud

 

IMG_7474  Tucked into a quiet lane in the heart of Ubud, Taksu translates in Balinese as “the indescribable essence of spirit,” and provides a serene haven in which to relax and unwind. A charming garden filled with cascading rock ponds and meandering paths gives way to a leafy gorge dotted with scenic spa pavilions.

Well established on the Ubud scene, the spa and restaurant have been operating for the last seven years, while the quaint Taman Taksu Garden Cafe makes an inspired new addition. Open-sided wooden pavilions overlook the medicinal herb garden, where leaves are plucked fresh for my Pagagan Juice a traditional remedy known as pennywort in English, believed to be beneficial in maintaining youth. Our round of drinks also includes [Coconut Water] served in customised coconut-shaped ceramic dishes, and a Bali Summer blending watermelon, strawberry and apple with a lemon citrus kick.

The menu, prepared by Balinese chefs Ketut and Adi, offers something for every mood and every appetite, with a good selection of raw food, gluten free, vegan and vegetarian fare, as well as chicken, duck and seafood. Produce comes straight from Taksu’s own organic gardens, located in the nearby hills, and dishes include crunchy organic salads, homemade pasta and panini, Indonesian classics, hearty soups and grills, and divine desserts.

We start with a couple of raw dishes. The Strawberry Bisque is a chilled and frothy blend of fresh strawberries and yoghurt, while the generous slab of Zucchini Lasagne that follows is truly excellent, a tasty testament to the imaginative possibilities of raw food. Thinly sliced marinated zucchini is layered with fresh tomato, basil and peppers, with a tangy marinara sauce, creamy cashew ricotta and an ever-so -slightly sweet pesto.

Changing the pace a little we order some good and spicy Nachos piled high with black beans, homemade salsa and creamy guacamole, and a Salmon Panini made with home baked brown bread topped with swirls of cured salmon, red onion, lettuce, dill and dollops of cream cheese. Dessert is a light and fluffy Cheesecake sweetened with a thick strawberry coulis, and a spongy Truffle Chocolate Cake Gateau with a rich chocolate filling.

As well as daily yoga and dance classes, Taksu offers interesting workshops and retreats of the alternative healing persuasion, as well as Cranio Sacral therapy, Traditional Chinese medicine, ozone therapies and spa treatments including the Divine Pampering Ritual which is accompanied by a two-course healthy lunch.

Taksu Spa and Restaurant Jl Goutama Selatan Ubud  +62 361 971490

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Permablitz Bali

IMG_8030Permablitz (noun): An informal gathering involving a day on which a group of at least two people come together to achieve the following: create or add to edible gardens, share skills related to permaculture and sustainable living, build community, have fun.

I arrive at the Farmer’s Yard, a permaculture garden, hostel and community space in Canggu, to find a group – made up of foreign travellers and Balinese – planting beans and cucumber in garden beds, and adding the finishing touches to a newly built chicken coop. With a concept of “Putting an end to careless tourism,” the space has been created on the principles of sustainable living, with the idea of connecting visitors to Bali with local neighbours and communities. The flourishing garden, filled with peppermint, eggplant, basil, cabbage and rosella was created during a permablitz, and I am here to meet Djuka Terenzi, who along with his friends, is the driving force behind Permablitz Bali.

A direct action ‘green’ movement that sprouted in Australia and quickly spread across the world; permablitz combines ‘perma’ permaculture theory with ‘blitz’ a sudden, energetic, and concerted effort. Essentially day-long gatherings that combine volunteer labour and permaculture theory, a permablitz aims to transform an unproductive backyard garden or urban space into a productive or edible garden. The concept is simple, a permaculture designer draws up a site specific plan, volunteers provide the labour and the host makes lunch. As well as being a great way to get involved with your local community, joining a permablitz teaches you how to grow your own food at home using simple permaculture principles. The network runs on reciprocity so if you attend a few permablitzes, you then qualify for one yourself. Anybody can come, and everybody wins!

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The idea bloomed in the suburbs of Melbourne in 2006 when a permaculture designer, Dan Palmer, met a South American community group. Joining forces one Sunday, Palmer and his friends provided seedlings, compost, plants and ideas, and the community group provided labour, delicious food, music and dancing. By the end of the day a bland backyard garden had been transformed with a worm farm, pond, vegetable plants, herbs and chillis. The seeds of the permablitz movement had been sewn. The movement spread, by word of mouth, from Melbourne right across Australia and onto Hawaii, Istanbul, Montreal, Uganda and, of course Bali, with the first permablitz taking place at Sunrise School.

The network has gone on to transform a number of gardens, including Terenzi’s own and that of the Farmer’s Yard Hostel. He explains that the free, day-long events are open to everyone and aim to create something ‘cool and efficient.’ A site is chosen, a plan made, a date is set and then the event is posted on their fb page. As well as making edible gardens, there may also be workshops on composting or water filtration, perhaps a little live music, and definitely a lot of laughter.

Permaculture is essentially about mimicking nature – integrating people and places in ecologically harmonious systems that provide a good portion of the needs of people living there, with things like water, vegetables, fruit, and eggs. Of course prior to industrialisation, most gardens were based on permaculture principles, but intensive farming, consumer demand for cheap produce, and the growth of cities saw people shift away from a natural way of living. Permablitzes can reunite us with the land and are a great way for first time gardeners to learn some skills. “We are not just using energy, but creating it,” says Djuka. “Its about being super efficient, it’s about creating a self sustaining eco system.” Edible gardens help conserve energy by reducing the need for food transport; they also use less water than agricultural farms, encourage composting and are generally organic.

Keen to see more permablitz sites, I also visit Kaleidoscope house, a riotously-coloured community house on the outskirts of Ubud, with yellow and green brick walls draped in psychedelic wall hangings. In the adjacent communal space a yoga class is under way, and another room at the back has bunk beds that house volunteers and visitors. Heading out back I find a nursery crammed with healthy seedlings, a garden bed edged in recycled roof tiles and sprouting with herbs, and tiny cherry tomatoes, and kankkung (water spinach) rising from a watery pot. As well as being a Community House, Kaleidoscope serves as a base for Rumah Idea (Indonesian Development of Environmental Education and Agricultural Studies,) a Yayasan that works with local kids, teaching English, organic farming, bee keeping, chocolate-making, and dance.

Back in the living room, sipping a delicious organic Balinese coffee infused with cardamom, cinnamon and cloves, my eyes rest on a sign on the wall, “Some want it to happen, Some wish it would happen, Others make it happen,” which pretty much sums up the Permablitz network.

http://www.rumahidea.com and www.permablitzbali.org/ and www.farmersyardbali.com

Food for life, Great things to do in Bali, Herbal Bali

Foraging in Bali

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A walk on the wild side

Foraging is one of the hottest gastronomic trends to sweep across the globe, with chefs and home cooks alike heading out into the country to gather wild vegetables, herbs and forest fruits. Here in Bali, foraging has always been a way of life, and the beautiful landscape is rife with wild greens, tropical fruits, roots and edible flowers.

The forests, river banks and fringes of Bali’s picturesque rice fields host a plethora of wild herbs, spices and fruit trees, and in order to learn more about Bali’s wild side, I join a fascinating, customised rice paddy walk with Bali Eco Cycling Tours (www.baliecocycling.com). We begin in the coolness of early morning and make our way through the ancient lichen-covered temples of Goa Gajah on the outskirts of Ubud. Weda, a rice farmer from Ubud is my guide, and is passionate about foraging, deeply knowledgeable and has a great sense of humour. The narrow trail leads us along the edge of a steep riverbank shrouded in sub tropical rainforest, where gnarly roots of giant trees cling to the ravine, and dappled sunlight dances through the leafy canopy. We stop to pick fragrant stalks from an [ilak ]bush – used in place of sticks in sate lilit (minced fish satay). Nearby, the leaves of a [simbaman] bush are used to flavour a uniquely Balinese dish known as [be cundang] – where the losing rooster in a cock fight is cooked up and presented in a victory feast. Crossing the muddy creek Weda points out my favourite Balinese delicacy, dainty fern tips, that are tender, juicy and fabulous with shredded coconut.

 

IMG_8251Climbing up the ravine, we pass a heavily laden soursop tree – its leaves are believed to have a similar effects to chemotherapy when it comes to treating cancer. Winding through a dense coconut grove we see immense jackfruit trees, their large bulbous fruit makes a great addition to curries, soups and [rujak] – Balinese spicy fruit salad. Suddenly the forest opens up to a glistening verdant sea of green that stretches as far as we can see. This is the Bali of postcards, and a view that I never seem to tire of. Palms and big-fronded banana trees line the path that threads across the sawah (rice fields), where dragonflies flitter and the sound of trickling water is ever present. The ancient irrigation system, known as [subak], allows a number of edible plants to thrive spontaneously along the edges, including succulent lentor (snake beans), tiny wild eggplant, and pumpkin – the deep yellow pumpkin flower makes a very tasty tempura. The cassava tree has pretty umbrella-shaped leaves, and its starchy roots are used to make[tape] (tapioca), while its young leaves grace pork soup. Wena shows me a bunie tree, in season it will have delicious dark berries that taste great in jam and also in rujak.

We spot papaya, cacao and mangosteen trees, and young cows resting under the shade of massive durians. Taking a break, we sit on the edge of a small ridge and eat sumping, and bantar,  traditional Balinese sweets of sticky rice, coconut milk and sugar, and enjoy the sound of rindik from a distant temple that mingles sweetly with bird song and rooster crows, and the gentle rustle of a breeze in the palms.

IMG_8270 Finishing in the charming restaurant set amidst the rice fields, we sip fresh coconuts and feast on organic rice, smoked duck and chicken and tofu skewers.
If you would like to know how to cook with Bali’s native herbs, fruits and spices, the following offer an authentic village style experience, including visiting the local markets.www.lobongcooking.com 

www.paon-bali.com    www.payukbali.com

www.balinesecooking.net   www.ubadubudbali.com 

Bali Detox, Healing, Herbal Bali, Uncategorized

Bali Detox: Hummus and Tahini

2013-08-26 12.33.00 I have always loved hummus but for some reason it had never occurred to me to make it myself, but as my endeavour this week is to get creative in the kitchen and avoid buying anything processed the time has come to make my own hummus, and its actually way simpler than I thought. While I love sesame seeds I am  not a huge fan of tahini, so I made my first batch without any. It tasted great, but the next day I experimented with making my own tahini as well and adding a little to the hummus –  it tasted good as well, so its  just a matter of personal preference I guess.

When it comes to preparing the chick peas its always best to buy them dry, soak overnight and then boil until tender (about 1hour – 1 half hours) they hold their taste and form far better when prepared this way – whereas chick peas out of a can tend to be a little mushier.

Hummus Ingredients

  • 2 cups chick peas (soaked overnight and boiled till tender)

  • 1 clove garlic, crushed

  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin

  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil

  • sprig of parsley (finely chopped)

  • 2 teaspoons tahini (optional)

Method: Place the chick peas in a blender and mix until smooth. Add olive oil, crushed garlic, salt, cumin and tahini (optional). Lightly blend, serve sprinkled with parsley

Tahini recipe

  • 5 cups sesame seeds
  • 1 1/2 cups olive oil or vegetable oil

Preheat oven to 350. Toast sesame seeds for 5-10 minutes, tossing the seeds frequently with a spatula. Do not allow to brown. Cool for 20 minutes.

Pour sesame seeds into food processor and add oil. Blend for 2 minutes. Check for consistency. The goal is a thick, yet pourable texture. Add more oil and blend until desired consistency.

Eco resorts Bali, Healing, Yoga and Meditation

Dancing with Saffire

Just returned from a Nia class with the amazing Saffire, the newest in a rather awesome line up of teachers to arrive at Desa Seni over the last couple of years.  I met Saffire last year as he rocked the Bali Spirit festival with his unique blaze of rhythm and movement and was one of the first to sign up for his three day Nia/Shamantra workshop at Desa Seni where we  learned to express ourselves through dance and stillness,  to vocalise and dance to our inner emotions as he challenged us to go beyond our boundaries, to listen to our bodies, to dance into being…… People keep asking me what his classes are like – but its hard to describe, I guess you could start by saying that its about joy and movement and liberation and laughter and fun. About  truly dancing like no one is watching – giving yourself space to move, then shaking everything up and out, and feeling absolutely amazing while you are doing it. The best thing is  – the buzz stays with you.

The Nia technique is fundamentally about unifying the body, mind, emotions and spirit with high energy dance that borrows from martial arts , yoga and healing practices. It is a form of self healing through a combination of choreographed dance  and free form that sees movement as a pathway for transformation, a way of dancing through our barriers.  Saffire is teaching three  Nia dance classes at Desa Seni each week. He also facilitates his own creation, ‘Dance into Being’ on Saturday nights, its a little bit like a guided ecstatic dance that incorporates sound and rhythm  – although describing it like this just doesn’t seem to do the experience justice –  I could just say its about losing yourself in the music and finding new ways to move and express yourself which is such a completely liberating experience.

Inherent to Desa Seni is the notion of community  – or ‘kula. ’ For Saffire true community happens “When everyone moves to the same pulse. Each may have a different relationship to that pulse, but the single pulse is what holds the center of community. Communicating with each other in this way with sound and silence, call and response, transmitting and receiving, a singular pulse is created, making music possible, making healing possible, making community.”

One of the things I love about Desa Seni is that the staff also have the opportunity to join free classes and workshops.  Obviously, there was a full turn out for Saffire’s staff class!

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For scheduled classes check http://www.desaseni.com/schedule.htm

For more about Nia www.nianow.com

For more about Saffire www.shamantranow.com

Eco resorts Bali, Making a Difference

Elephant Safari Park

The Elephant Safari Park and Lodge in Taro provides a peaceful sanctuary for displaced elephants, and a highly enjoyable experience for visitors to the island; but it is the story behind its creation, and the history of the gentle giants that ramble across it, that make this park so unique. It’s a chronicle of disappearing forests, neglected elephants, dramatic rescue operations, and a man with a mission and the will power to see it through. His name is Nigel Mason.

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 “The elephants are our star attraction, so we treat them like stars,” says Nigel as an 800-kilo elephant called Desi playfully wraps her trunk around him. “Look, they are so gentle you can put your hand right in their mouth,” he demonstrates. I content myself with feeding our large friend bundles of young coconut leaves, for which I am rewarded with a great big elephant hug, I scratch the trunk that has a firm grip on my waist – its not exactly soft, but the all encompassing embrace is kind of nice.  30 elephants live in this lush oasis, with a landscape painstakingly created to replicate their natural habitat, the low lying rainforests of Sumatra.  As we wander around I find a flurry of elephant activity; some carry guests on forest treks, others kick soccer balls, or wade in the bathing pool soaking up trunks of water to give themselves – and anyone who happens to be nearby a shower.  A very cute baby elephant runs amok, trunk madly swinging, playing like a frisky puppy, he is one of three babies born in the park (a successful breeding program is a sure sign of animal wellness.) Although I had originally been reluctant about visiting the park – animal theme parks in Asia can be depressing places – I end up having a really inspiring and very happy day, surrounded by  these magnificent animals that are so obviously well loved and cared for. “We offer a complete elephant experience,” says Nigel, “we’re able to be really interactive, and guests can get close to the elephants in a way that they never could in a traditional safari park.”

Refugees

While you might be reading this and thinking,  “Surely these elephants would be better off in the wild,” the answer is yes, in an ideal world they would be, but these animals are refugees from the ongoing war of  man vs nature, that has seen the destruction of around 30 million acres of rain forest in Sumatra in the last 30 years.  “The species have been hounded out of Sumatra,” says Nigel. Rampant logging has destroyed much of their natural habitat; the rainforest that was once their home steadily replaced by oil palm and acacia plantations. Unfortunately an elephant isn’t discerning enough to differentiate between natural forest and man-made plantations – he just sees food.  A single hungry elephant wandering through an oil palm plantation can wreak havoc, eating up to 250 kg a day – that’s a lot of plants, and a lot of lost revenue. “Elephants are migratory,” says Nigel, “they follow fixed routes that may take 12 months to complete. The problem is, when they get back to where they started a year ago, the forest might be gone, replaced with an oil palm plantation for example – and believe me, oil palms are very tasty for an elephant, so suddenly people’s livelihoods are being destroyed.” Deemed as giant pests, farmers and plantation owners sometimes resort to poison, using pineapples laced with strychnine. The ‘lucky ones’ are rescued and relocated to Government training camps, forlorn places that lack the facilities and the funds to properly care for the elephants that literally waste away. Nothing evokes the magical allure of the jungle like an elephant, but for the 2000 or so endangered elephants living in increasingly fragmented pockets of Sumatra, and for the 700 incarcerated in the camps, the future is grim and uncertain.

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From Sumatra to Bali

It’s not like Nigel, as a child growing up in England and Egypt dreamt of one day coming to Bali to rescue elephants, but with a life that can only be described as adventurous and colourful,  it somehow makes perfect sense that this is what he ended up doing.  At the age of 15 he immigrated, alone, to Australia, making a living digging ditches and picking fruit, followed by a brief foray into the music industry. A spontaneous trip to Bali in 1980 sealed his fate, when he fell in love with the island, and not long afterwards with Yani, the beautiful Balinese woman who would became his wife. By 1989 they were running Bali’s first white water rafting tours, which soon morphed into the company Bali Adventure Tours. Nigel describes himself as an animal lover, but the elephants came into his life quite by accident when he met a man who had bought nine Sumatran elephants to Bali as a tourism venture, but was having trouble taking care of them. Nigel was so moved by the poor condition of the elephants who were living in a dried out rice field, that he knew he had to do something. “They deserved a whole lot more,” he says.  He secured some land in the hills of Taro, north of Ubud, and in 1996 opened the Elephant Park, originally as an adjunct to the rafting business. But Nigel is not a man who does things by half, once he took on the first batch of elephants, he set out to find out everything he could about the animals and how to best look after them. Within a year he was on his way to Sumatra to rescue eight more elephants from the government camps, returning with a ten -truck convoy that travelled six days non-stop to bring the animals to their new home in Bali. By 2000 the park had expanded and improved, to include landscaped gardens, a restaurant, a museum, water treatment, a sustainable waste disposal system and a breeding area. Ready to rescue more elephants, Nigel returned to Sumatra in 2001 planning to bring back another ten, but this mission turned into a four-year heart-wrenching bureaucratic nightmare, in the midst of which Bali was bombed, tourism plummeted and businesses across the island collapsed.  Finally in 2004 the paper work was in order, the funds secured and ten Sumatran elephants, including two babies were loaded onto trucks for the arduous trip across three islands to bring them to Bali. An Australian film crew documented the road trip and the resulting film ‘Operation Jumbo’  (available at the park) makes riveting viewing.

 

Some things you didn’t know about elephants

We walk on to the museum, where I get a crash course on the anatomy, myths and history of elephants. The collection includes original Dr Seuss and Jumbo prints, a 15,000 year-old giant wooly mammoth skeleton, and a pretty decent elephant painting by Ronny Woods.  I learn that in the past many elephants lost their lives so their tusks could be turned into billiard balls and piano keys. Moving on to the sprawling open-air restaurant, we take a seat overlooking the bathing pool and the picturesque gardens. Nigel tells me that the Sumatran elephant is the smallest in the world, up to five times smaller than its cantankerous African cousin. While they can be gentle and playful, they have strong and unique personalities and get bored and despondent if they are just hanging around.  They also need to exercise, so join the daily rotation for elephant rides, (the weight of two people is easily borne by an 800 kilo creature;) lodge rooms have their own docking station so guests get door to door service.  And yes, the adage about elephants having incredibly long memories is definitely true – Ramona, who came by truck in 1996 has gone on to become an exalted painter but she still dances, a trick taught to her by young boys during her days as a youngster in an elephant camp in Sumatra. As we chat, her baby, Guntun, the park’s cheekiest resident and expert gate opener streaks across the grounds, bellowing like a trooper, Nigel tells me that he has also developed his mothers aptitude for painting.

 

Elephant Art

While an elephant skillfully kicking a soccer ball or wielding a paint brush may seem a little gimmicky, I learn that in the wild they will often kick around coconuts, or use sticks, pebbles and leaves to make pictures in the earth. Nigel explains that the park elephants  are given the freedom to express themselves in whatever form appeals to them; those that have a natural aptitude for painting are actively encouraged, with results that can only be described as abstract.  Each has a different style – although Ramona’s mahout (handler) says “She paints only when she is inspired; ” some of her pictures have sold at Christies for over $3000. The elephants were taught to paint by the founders of the Asian Elephant Art & Conservation Project, who visited the Park in 1999. The aim was to produce saleable art to help raise awareness of the plight of these gentle giants, and to raise much needed funds for the park’s Sumatran Elephant Foundation. While Nigel hopes, in time to bring more rescued elephants to Bali, for now the Sumatran government has halted transmigration, so proceeds from the foundation are used to provide elephants in the camps with extra food, medicine, veterinary care and vitamins.

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Nigel breaks off from our interview to grab a chainsaw – it seems that one of the trees bordering the bathing pond is dead and in danger of toppling over, tourists gather round to enjoy the spectacle as he skillfully lands the offending trunk in the pond wades through to attach ropes and supervises as two elephants effortlessly haul it out.  His absolute commitment, accessibility and hands on approach to everything certainly accounts for a large part of the park’s success, as does his dedication to the environment.  For him, “Conservation is not just something that we should do, but something that we have to do.”  The park has been built to have a minimal impact and acts as a role model for safari parks around the world. “ We don’t just protect the environment, we remove anything that could damage it;” waste water is turned back into pure water through an advanced filtration/treatment system; manure (truck loads of it) gets turned into fertilizer, and 90% of the 150 staff are from Taro. The village also receives royalties from elephant treks and earns money through supplying food to the park.

 

How to help

Wild life and conservation groups applauded the declaration of the Tesso Nilo National Park in the Riau province of Sumatra in 2004, which has a forest block that is large enough to support a viable population of Sumatran tigers and elephants. “It’s a step in the right direction” says Nigel, but perhaps a case of too little too late, and a road has already been put through it, giving easy access to illegal loggers.  He encourages people to help the elephants by supporting the foundation through donations or buying art work, but for him the only way to really save the elephants, the orangutans, the tigers and all the other jungle creatures of Sumatra is to buy back large areas of forest to be used for national parks,  “But this, ” he says “would require large amounts of money from someone like Richard Branson or Bill Gates……..We live in hope.”

 

Yoga and Meditation

Bali Spirit Festival

“There is no sense of us and them, just a sense of unity”

Jamming

Billed as a celebration of yoga, music and dance, the second annual Bali Spirit Festival brought together 20 yogis and teachers, 75 performers and over 1000 festival goers. The  enchanted gardens of the Purnati Centre for the Arts twinkled with fairy lights, setting an atmospheric scene for the opening ceremony.   There was a palpable air of anticipation and excitement as we stretched out on the sloping grass for the evening’s entertainment which included a traditional Balinese blessing,  African reggae music, American folk music and a fire dance fire show, just a small taste of things to come over the next five days.

Akim funk buddah

The festival is truly multi faceted, bringing the spirit of yoga and world music to Indonesia and at the same time showcasing the culture, the music and the spirituality of Bali with a global audience.  The zero waste policy was part of the founders desire to create an environmentally conscious event and there were bamboo cups, banana leaf plates, water bottle refilling stations and recycling bins for non organic matter. Amidst the market stalls were information booths on various non profit organizations such as SOS (Sumatran Orangutan Society), Breath of Hope Yoga Foundation, The Pelangi School and Feed Our Earth Society.

dance workshop

Daytimes were about learning, and workshops took place in the elaborate pavilion or the elegant white marquees that sprawled across the expansive lawns. Palm trees created shade; the hum of the rainforest and the sound of the flowing river provided the soundtrack; while verdant tumbling rice paddies created a scenic backdrop. The  eclectic mix of workshops on offer included; West African Dance, Mayan Cosmology, Yoga and Pilates,  Holistic Hip Hop, Javanese Movement Meditation, Qi Gong, Didgeridoo Workshops, and Sacred Middle Eastern Music Traditions. At times I felt a little overwhelmed, there was just so much going on. Did I want to purify my chakras? or join the Sacred Balinese Feminine Dance class? or attend a seminar on Ayurveda? Or did I just want to lounge in the infinity pool which perched tantalisingly over the river?

infinity pool

My concerns that it would be full of really earnest hippy types dressed in white and talking about peace and love proved to be unfounded. Certainly there was a small element of that, but in fact the participants were as diverse a mix as the presenters themselves. There were professional women from the US and Australia, European backpackers, Ex pats, Japanese and Koreans and a number of Indonesians ─ predominantly yoga students from Java. I was a little baffled by all the ideological stuff: There was talk of cross-boundaries and cross cultural values of awareness; of musical collaborations positively impacting consciousness; Of sharing with the collective…… But what I do know is that I met really interesting people, learned lots of new things, felt incredibly inspired and empowered,  had a thoroughly good time and left feeling absolutely fantastic!

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Far from being a serious affair, what really stands out in my mind is the sound of laughter rippling across the grounds, and I am not just talking about Laughter Yoga, although it did have a huge turn out and the peals of laughter emanating from the workshop were so loud and so contagious that everyone in the vicinity was laughing. Sibo Bangoura had us all  giggling during his African Drumming workshops as he yelled out “Get the police”, every time someone missed a beat.  Rebecca Pflaum made us stretch our arms up in the air for four minutes in Kundalini Yoga, calling out, “When it hurts and you can’t handle it a second longer, laugh and get over it”.  We then had to lie on our stomachs and make fists with our hands for what she called the butt beating asana, “This is for every time you have wanted to kick yourself in the ass”, she shouts out.  In the Ecstatic Dance workshop, Ellen Watson had everyone dancing around being fairies “Spread your fairy dust”, she told us. I felt kind of silly, in fact it took me five days to pluck up the courage to participate in a dance workshop, but the way I figured it, if a 60 year-old guy with a moustache and a beer gut can dance like a fairy, well so could I.  It was incredibly liberating to play like a child, to let go of inhibitions and of course by the end we were all falling about laughing.

ecsstatic dance workshop

In the spirit of collaboration there was very little separation between the participants and the presenters. Sibo Bangoura came to Kundalini Yoga, Rocky Dawuni, the African Reggae star brought his young daughter to the Crystal Healing workshop, Movement teacher Sofia Thom joined the Celebration of Women Yoga class. And Rebecca the Kundalini teacher was usually the last one on the dance floor at the nightly concerts. And as we the participants pounded out African rhythms, or grooved to hip hop or learned the Kecak monkey chant, we became the performers. Program Director Daphne Tse said that the best part of the festival for her was the “Melding of all disciplines, seeing everyone from first time yogis to master teachers so eager to learn from the others, to practice different disciplines. There is absolutely no ego. They are Bali Spirit”.

healing circle

Nightly concerts took place in the amphitheatre, complete with stunning lighting and excellent acoustics.  Cocktails and beer were served and we were treated to some really incredible performances. Saharadja, featuring Javanese Jazz trumpeter Rio Sadik and his Australian wife Sally Jo, a classically trained violinist, played their electrifying jazz fusion. Rocky Dawuni got the crowd swaying to his mix of reggae and African beats. Sibo Bangoura and Australian based In Rhythm had everyone bouncing to the booming percussion; Sibo played his drum so hard the skin broke.  Hip Hop artist, Akim Funk Buddha  mesmerised us with his moves,  while Australian ensemble, Ganga Giri, provided an unforgettable musical experience with a spine-tingling blend of traditional didgeridoo with tribal beats and dub.

Saharadja

I met Megan Pappenheim (who founded the festival, along with her husband, Kadek Gunarta, and Musical Director, Robert Weber) for lunch one day. We sat on the grass and ate organic nasi campur from banana leaf plates. A drumming workshop took place behind us and the heavy beat of the djembe punctuated our conversation. She is incredibly vital and personable, a kind of one woman holistic dynamo and her passion for Bali and her local community is all too evident. This is a woman who really cares. Megan set up the website Balispirit.com in the wake of the 2002 bombing, its mission was to revive the islands stricken industries and to preserve its environment, culture and spirituality. The site, a kind of one-stop shop for all things holistic has proved to be enormously popular and now boasts over 150,000 direct hits a month. Since its inception at least 10 new yoga centres have opened up and around 40 retreat groups are converging each year. Her other ventures include a food café, a yoga shop and the Yoga Barn. She operates all her businesses under fair trade principles and employs over 70 local people, although the number doubles during the lead up to the festival. She tells me, “We are not here patting ourselves on the back saying we have done so much for the community but it’s a start, it gives an example, we want to inspire other people to do something similar.”

We talked about the huge amount of support and encouragement that the festival has gained, including that of the Bali Tourism Board as well as the Ministry of Culture and Tourism. When one of the major sponsors dropped out at the last moment there were fears that the event would be cancelled, but most of the performers offered to waive or greatly reduce their fees. In fact the festival has run at a huge financial loss, but as she says “Its not about the money, its about the message,” and she is already enthusiastically planning next years event in which she is thinking of choosing an AIDS charity  as the beneficiary and hoping to get a condom company as a sponsor. She also wants to have more non-profit organisations in attendance, “Creating an information warehouse”.

yoga in the lawn pavillion

We discuss the Bhinneka Initiative, the charitable arm of the festival. Bhin.n.eka tun.ggal ika translates as Unity in Diversity and its goal is to work with Indonesian youth to inspire new understandings of social awareness and global responsibility.  The musical outreach program featured Pre-festival concerts headlining Michael Franti, Rocky Dawuni and Tom Freund and raised over $20,000 for the Pelangi community school. As part of the Yoga Outreach program, Indonesian Muslim yogini, Pujiastuti Sindhu conducted free yoga workshops for the women of the surrounding villages of Ubud. International celebrity yogini Katy Appleton also conducted free pre natal classes at the Yayasan Bumi Sehat natural birthing clinic in Nyuh Kuning. I traveled with Katy to the clinic, a humble establishment, run by a non-profit organisation which sees about 50 births a week. It’s a long way from London and her celebrity clients which include Sarah, Duchess of York and Paul McCartney. Eight heavily pregnant local women attended and she led them gently through a series of positions. Afterward Katy was beaming and said doing the class had been “a sweet honour and great fun and that she was looking forward to returning for a longer time next year to help out with another pair of hands and a smiling heart”.

Also under the Bhinneka Umbrella came Hari Cinta Keluarga (family day), the final day of the festival which was free for all and and offered a range of family and children-oriented workshops. There was a good turnout of Balinese, who joined in the pre-natal classes and the children’s yoga workshops. Kids played drums with In Rhythm and Sibo Bangoura, danced to the sounds of Kirtan; and learned music with Lebanese artist Khalife, who will also be conducting a series of free workshops with street kids in Jakarta. Tom Fruend from California performed songs from his album ‘Hug the trees’ and had all the children dancing enthusiastically at the front of the stage.

face painting

The musical highlight of the festival came on the last night when the festival closed with the Siki Seka Jam which saw 15 of the festival’s performers up on stage all doing their own thing but somehow bringing it all together in a truly rousing finale that had everyone up and dancing. Seeing performers from so many nations and so many genres on the stage and playing as one captured the spirit of the festival perfectly. I thought about what Festival Director Amsalam Doraisingham said in his opening address, “You are here. This is your space and time. Let your light shine.” And when a thousand people let their light shine they create something that goes far beyond the individual. It was a journey for all of us, we  learned and shared and created and we all took something home with us, a little bit of Bali Spirit I guess.

Jammming

Food for life

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