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Authentic Bali

A private pool pavilion at Bali’s Alila Villas Uluwatu resort, on the Bukit Peninsula.

Photo: Hugh Stewart

Needless to say, we loved it. Nilou happily changed into her flip-flops and set off into the muck with a big straw basket and a shopping list. An hour later I had to tear her away from a spirited conversation with a shrimp-paste vendor. (That stuff was delicious.) Back in town we took our groceries to the family compound of Bapak Bawa, one of Amandari’s drivers. It was a lovely home—graced, like every Hindu household, by a modest temple in front, where we placed offerings of rice and flowers and incense. A wood-burning stove crackled in the kitchen, and we spent the rest of the morning sautéing fiddleheads, cooking duck curry, and stirring green-papaya soup and black-rice porridge, then enjoyed our seven-course feast on a breezy bale in back of the house that looked out on the Ayung River. It was our favorite day of the trip.

Late on our final night, en route to the airport, we rode in a taxi past Dreamland Beach. The darkness out the window provided much-needed rest for the eyes. Suddenly, out of the black appeared a 50-foot-high statue of Lord Vishnu astride the Garuda, bathed dramatically in spotlights. It was an incredible sight, its ornate majesty a testament to Bali’s artistry and abiding faith.

Then, along the base, we noticed the sign: Pecatu Indah Resort. The statue marked the entrance to a new golf-and-beach complex—built, as it happens, by Tommy Suharto, playboy son of the late Indonesian dictator. This Vishnu had been erected not by priests but by developers; it was, for all intents and purposes, a fake, albeit a convincing one. In that instant I recounted all the internal arguments I’d had about the real versus the unreal, the sacred versus the profane, and in that instant I realized they were all kind of pointless.

“Very beautiful,” the taxi driver murmured as we slowed to admire the statue, and I had to agree.

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