On The Island Of The Gods
May 5, 2014

Whenever privileged with a visit to Bali, one can’t say he/she’s been there /done that without having fondled a glass bottle or cold can of Bir Bintang. Literally meaning Star Beer, it’s a pilsner of 4.7 percent alcohol styled as an American pale lager, with a malt and hop flavor.

The green bottle resembles a Heineken bottle, with a red star (bintang) that’s exactly the same as that on Heineken. The original brewery in Suribaya dates back to 1929 when the Dutch still ruled the islands. Bintang Beer won a gold medal at the 2011 Brewing Industry International Awards in its alcohol volume category.

In Bali, the price for a regular bottle can range from 15,000 rupiah in a supermarket to as much as Rp. 60,000 in bars and hotel restos. That’s about P65 at the low end, quite steep compared to our San Miguel if purchased in Manila.

On Kuta Beach, San Mig has a heavy presence, manifested by rows of large red umbrellas with its name and logo, providing shade to groups of locals and tourists chilling out all day away from the surf. San Mig sells even higher than Bintang in Bali, but appears to be popular among Western visitors.

Another Indonesian beer, Bali Hai, is cheaper but weaker. It’s passed off as a local beer but is actually brewed in Jakarta, and is now sold all over Indonesia after its introduction in Bali.

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The fattened luggage I brought home included a couple of bottles each of Bintang and Bali Hai, along with well over a dozen specimens of Bintang muscle tees, T-shirts and shorts. The Bintang tee is probably Bali’s best-selling souvenir item, even more so than sarongs and sashes, batik cloth, and carved wooden items from Ganeshes and Buddhas to smooth or painted penises that serve as bottle openers, primarily.

Well, I got those, too, since my constituency ranges from Zen navel-gazers and elephant worshippers to homoerotic barflies.

Our group that was blessed with the four-day Bali jaunt over a week ago was actually given half of that time as free days, meaning to each his/her own quota of hours for shopping, if not tanning on the beach or at hotel poolside. And even when we were on official tour, that primary activity wasn’t put on hold. Bali is a small beer and a small shop paradise.

Thanks to PMFTC, Inc. which sponsored the 7th Bright Leaf Agriculture Journalism Awards for which I served as a judge, I got to revisit Ubud, the arts and spiritual center that ranks high among the villages in the island of Bali that are a must, other than Denpasar with its central Kuta district.

After delighting in the Blanco Rennaissance Museum with its art galleries and gardens that were all fabulous, our group of BLAJA winners and media agreed to forego a couple of planned stops in our road tour in favor of almost three hours of individual foirays at the central market.

That meant buys of vanilla pods, cinnamon bark and ref magnets, thumb pianos and small drums, Aladdin pants and pantaloons, batik robes and shirts, ceramic ware, and yes, Bintang tees and Bali coffee. What I got of the latter, expertly eschewing the overrated and overpriced Luwak coffee (the more famous and even more high-priced counterpart to our Alamid or civet cat coffee), were the Toraja and Bali labels.

I asked around for the vaunted Flores, which had been recommended by an artist-friend whose coffee tastes I trusted, but was told that it wasn’t available in that market. Oh well. We treated ourselves to streetside gelato in all flavors instead, to counterpoint the beads of sweat we had gained from the bargain binge, before we reboarded our airconned bus.

Our guide Putu took us temple-hopping all of the next day. First up was Taman Ayun, the Royal Temple of Mengwi. Built in 1634 by a king of the Mengwi dynasty, the impressive complex stands on an island in a river, with its inner temple featuring a row of seven towering, thatch-roofed pagodas surrounded by a moat. The Balinese name Pura Taman Ayun means “Garden Temple in the Water.”

From the comfort of our touring bus that made its way upland, we only had glimpses of Bedugul, a pleasant mountain village off Lake Bratan, with roadside stands offering fresh strawberries and passion fruit.

We headed directly to the Ulun Danu Balinese Hindu Temple, one of Bali’s prettiest, located at the Candi Kuning countryside about 50 kilometers north of Denpasar. It is set at lakeside, with a scenic view of the placid lake and surrounding misty hills. Walking along the lakeshore and gardens, for once we enjoyed balmy weather, as we had escaped the lowland heat and humidity.

A sudden downpour was also welcomed, since it gave us the opportunity to try our hand and arm at intimate group selfies under one rented orange umbrella.

The third and last temple we visited was the very popular Pura Tanah Lot, one of Bali’s many sea temples that are meant to honor the gods and goddesses of the ocean. A sacred site revered by Balinese Hindus, the temple that stands on a rock islet close to shore is one of six cardinal temples strung out along the west coast.

Hordes of tourists make it here daily, with sundown as the favored time for magic-hoiur selfies with the temple on a rock and the sea beyond as a dramatic backgrounhopping stalksd.

We couldn’t wait for that hour, however, as we still had to course down for over an hour to get to our planned venue for fancy dinner. Still, the innumerable souvenir stalls leading to and from the sea temple filled up many more minutes of Imeldific blitz shopping.

Our formal dinner was at Metis Restaurant in the Seminyak district favored by the more upscale foreign expats. Classic French, the unforgettable fare was. Seared in mind is the warm seared sea scallops as intro course, and after everything else, the caramel millefeuille. Ah, to meditate for!

Many other memories will continue to regale us, including a ride on a horse-drawn carriage much like Dumaguete’s tartanilla, through narrow streets and alleys lined with shopping stalls and bars, all the way to Kuta Square because our date wanted to try Balinese pizza at Angels Essence restaurant.

All in all, the four-day experience on the island of the gods may be said to be such: partaking of the essence of angels.

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