Bali Reflections…then and now.

RIGHT: Carole Angermeir and Wilford Welch with Desmond Tutu in Bali at the Quest for Global Healing conference in 2006.

There is something about Bali…I have always been drawn to it.

Here at CCJ, we are gearing up for a trip to Bali in January of 2024. I talked to a few of our colleagues and close friends about their experiences there, over the past three decades. CCJ and our sister Foundation CCJF both have a long and beautiful history there, and deep connections to the Balinese people.

Carole Angermeir, founder and former CEO of Cross Cultural Journeys, tells me: “I first went to Bali as the leader of a CCJ trip with 15 travelers in 1994.”

“I was drawn to it because of the mystique and beauty of the pictures and stories I had heard about it. It seems a mystical land, and when I got there…it was!”

CCJ and CCJF has at its core to always support the local communities we visit. Angermeir tells us about one of the first projects we sponsored: “For many years CCJF supported the women weavers of Omunity, a project started by Putu, a Balinese woman living in Sudaji, a Balinese village at the base of Mt. Agung. Her husband, ZanZan is the former manager of the Arma Resort in Ubud, where we worked with him on the Quest For Global Healing conferences.”

Back in 1990 and ’91, my partner John lived for about seven months between two different stays in Ubud studying music. About the Balinese people, he says: “They are the most easy going, very intuitive, creative individuals that I have ever met in my life.”. He learned that Bali has one of the highest number of artists, dancers and musicians per capita of all the countries in the world.

John was studying a very unique to Bali form of music known as Gamelan (translation: “orchestra”). “We got a grant to bring in a teacher, Wayne Vitali, from the San Fransisco based Gamelan Sekar Jaya.” Gamelan Sekar Jaya, a non-profit that “fosters artistic exchange between Bali and the United States, and has been called “the finest Balinese gamelan outside of Indonesia” by Indonesia’s Tempo Magazine. John continues: “We rehearsed every evening seven days a week for 2 weeks, and we performed with a local dance company. Two years later, we planned a group trip to Bali to study directly with a Balinese teacher and got to attend Gamelan competitions and performances throughout Bali.”

John’s teacher in Bali in 1991.

On our January 2024 trip, will have a chance to observe a Gamelan performance, and if we are lucky, a local village festival, when we are there.

About his accommodations back then, John says: “I stayed at Ketut Madra Homestay…sleeping under a mosquito net in a thatched roof room with woven bamboo walls. For roughly $3 dollars a night, with a wonderful breakfast of black rice pudding in fresh coconut milk and shavings and pancakes with palm syrup and mixed fruit – mango, mangosteen, and rambutan.”

Ketut Madra Homestay, Bali, 1991.

Home stays in Bali have evolved a lot since the 1990’s. Family run hotels, jungle lodges and eco tourism retreats invite travelers from near and far to find stillness, rest and relaxation. Bali is often a welcomed stop for the weary around the world backpacker. Many come back time and time again, and some find it so irresistible they never leave.

Saribuana Eco-lodge is one of our accomodations for our 2024 journey.

For our January 2024 departure, we will stay at Saribuana Eco Lodge, nestled in the jungle, where we will have an opportunity to do forest bathing and stop in at Banjar Hot Spring for a therapeutic soak; at Mimpi Menjangan and the Bloo Lagoon Eco Village on the North Coast.

John, remembers the Balinese reactions to his Western ways: “In Bali, many of the locals function at slower pace of life. I often thought nobody exercises. One morning I had to catch a ferry and got up before the sunrise and was surprised to see many people up running, and walking. They had always told me,”how can you run during the sunny part of the day, it’ll make you tired”. This experience was like a metaphor for the mystery of their culture.”

“It is very rich when you start looking for the wisdom underneath the surface. Therein lies an amazing intelligence and…the mystical.”

In 2004 and 2006, CCJF organized two gatherings in Bali entitled, “Quest for Global Healing”. Angermeir was one of the founders of the initiative. A star studded event, both conferences were co-led together with her husband Wilford Welch, then chairman of the Cross Cultural Journeys Foundation and a former U.S. diplomat in Asia, along with Nobel Peace Prize laureate Desmond Tutu of South Africa as the chairman of the initiative. Archbishop Tutu of South Africa was joined by two additional Nobel Peace Prize winners, Betty Williams of Northern Ireland and Jodie Williams of the United States. 

The purpose of the Quest for Global Healing was to address the interrelated global challenges of extreme poverty, human rights, social justice abuses, and environmental degradation. At that time, over 1,000 people from forty countries joined in Bali to explore these issues and to determine actions to address them. 

Welch, who has been to Bali at least five times since 1963, tells us they started to plan for the gathering on their visit to the island in 2003. Welch, remembers “the most significant thing about Balinese culture that impressed me then and has stuck with me since is the way of being of “Tri Hitta Karana” a Balinese phrase that might best be translated to mean: “I will live every day in balance with the natural world, with the members of my community and with myself”. Welch, who currently teaches a graduate course about mitigations to climate change at the Presidio Graduate school, and author of “In Our Hands” on the same topic, continues:

“I believe we live in a world in which all three are out of balance in the rest of the world. We exploit the natural world to satisfy our near term wants, rather than steward the natural world so it can support the next seven generations. We focus on satisfying our individual wants at the expense of our community, and we are often out of balance within ourselves. If we all practiced “Tri Hitta Karana”,the world would not be in the many crises we are in today.”

Hindu Temple.

A decade later, in 2015, CCJ traveler and friend Mary Tribble co-led a two-week trip to Bali for a group that was connected to her alma mater, Wake Forest University. Mary remembers: “Spirit is everywhere in Bali, and you are reminded of it everywhere you go. Beautiful statues of different Hindu deities are tucked in every corner. In the morning, small offerings are made outside homes and shops. They are small, handwoven boxes made of leaves, filled with small flowers and burning incense that wafts through the air.”

“My most memorable meal was a “to-go” meal that was made for us when we went on an all day trip to a waterfall. It’s called Tum Ayam and was a fried rice and vegetable mixture that was packaged beautifully in a little banana leaf packet that was stitched at one end with a small wooden dowel. It was the fresh, tropical packaging that made the meal so special.”

An avid traveler, Mary chooses her journeys to explore both the inner and
outer worlds. She agrees with John’s sentiment about the Balinese human spirit: “The Balinese concept of “taksu” also permeates the island. Taksu can be interpreted on the surface as “talent” or “passion,” but its meaning goes much deeper than that. Taksu is not only the skill that a master carver, dancer, mask maker, weaver or musician has—it’s the inspiration behind it. There is no direct English translation, but taksu is sometimes described as “essence of spirit,” or “divine inspiration.” It reflects the talent that comes with lifelong training coupled with the indefinable gift that can only come from a higher place.”

“Tri Hita Karana, the Hindu saying, are practices deeply rooted in the Balinese way of living. “To live in harmony with the natural world, community, and spirit.”

On our next journey, will explore these Balinese ways of being of Tri Hita Karana. From the cultural and artistic hub of Ubud, we will travel to remote villages nestled deep in the jungle, and to beaches along the north coast, and we will reflect with the locals about how things have changed in the past three decades, and what their hopes and dreams are for Bali in the near and far future. We will get to observe traditional ceremonies and rituals that the Balinese celebrate in joyful expression of reverence for their ancestors, gods, families, and the beauty of the natural world that surround them.

The journey will be led by yours truly (CCJ’s CEO Cilla Utne) and journey operations manager Kat Sorensen, who also is a certified yoga teacher. Kat will guide us in a gentle morning yoga each day.

“Bali will leave a lasting impression on you and you will long to return as soon as you can. Stay as present as possible while you’re there. Soak up every amazing moment!”

Kat did part of her yoga teacher training in Bali in late 2019, right before the pandemic. She says: “Being vegan it’s extremely easy to eat well there! So much fresh food! And the fruit is unreal. I loved Gado Gado which is a traditional salad served with peanut sauce. My time in Bali really deepened my spirituality. Being enveloped in the lush landscape and surrounded by temples filled with such deep meaning brought new insight into my life. “Bali Bliss” is a real thing!”

During our visit, we will find unique opportunities to not only unlock the secrets of Bali’s deeply spiritual island way of living, but also immerse ourselves in the natural beauty, eat the local Balinese foods, and make our very own offerings to the deities.

Apart from the spiritual, artistic and cultural expressions of this fascinating, mystical place, we will also learn from our local guides about Bali’s place in the world. Like everywhere else, Bali has its’ own, unique challenges. The only Hindu-majority province in Indonesia there has been tension between the majority Muslim provinces and the government in Bali. We will also learn what the Balinese government is doing to restore the coral reefs around the island.

When we depart for our next adventure, it has been 10 years since CCJ’s last visit to Bali. Depending on the final size of our group, and pending availability, our January 13-25, 2024 journey will take us back to the Arma Resort in Ubud, for our first several days.

We hope that you consider joining us! To Register for BALI BLISS: January 13-25, 2024, please visit our tour page here.

You will return home with your world changed forever.

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