Bocas del Toro

Chapter 7: Bali – A Land of Mystery and Intrigue

Theme Song: “Leaving On A Jet Plane”, Peter, Paul, and Mary

I woke up a moment before the alarm went off at 7:30 AM. My subconscious must have nudged me because I instantly realized I had left my passport at home. My heart sank and I felt sick. I had driven three and a half hours from Grand Rapids, Michigan, to Chicago, Illinois, the night before to save money on airfare, and now I might miss my 11AM flight to Bali.

I called my wife Barb in a panic. She was an angel, willing to drive to Chicago to deliver the passport, but the timing was just too tight. Next, I called the airline and found that rescheduling was not an option as they were completely booked for the next week. My Uncle Dave was meeting me at the airport in Seoul, Korea, and we had a team of six waiting for us in Bali. This made the situation unbearable— they were counting on me.

A few minutes later Barb called with a crazy idea. Maybe she could convince an airline passenger traveling from Grand Rapids to Chicago to deliver the passport. It was a long shot given the high level of security at the airport and our limited time, but it was our only viable option.

Barb rushed to the airport, quickly determined the flights from Grand Rapids to Chicago, and made her way to the ticketing area. She was a little self-conscious in her workout clothes as she scanned the crowd looking for a friendly sympathetic face.

She spotted a young sharply dressed businessman and decided he was the one. Barb is one of those people everyone trusts so when she approached him and described the situation, it wasn’t long before he agreed. She gave him my cell number and described a meeting spot at Chicago’s O’Hare airport. Barb and I breathed a sigh of relief until we realized we did not have this gentleman’s name or phone number!

Meanwhile, I was back at O’Hare doing a trial run, taking the tram from where I would meet our new friend to the international gate to where I would be departing on Korean Airlines. I needed to know there was enough time for me to make my flight. Then I explained the situation to the agents at the counter for Korean Airlines, and they agreed to escort me through security to save time. It was going to be a miracle if I could pull this off. I was starting to feel like the old OJ Simpson commercial where he went sprinting through the airport.

I was relieved when our mystery businessman arrived. We made the passport exchange and I raced to the plane. When I finally sat down, I made a vow never to forget my passport again.

Finally, in Bali

I was traveling to Bali for a two-week visit to see the progress on our restaurant and first villa that were being built here, disassembled, and shipped to Bocas Del Toro, Panama, for our future over-the-water resort. We would also meet with several shop owners and artisans to furnish our Balinese style resort.

It didn’t take long after arriving to forget the passport debacle. The mystery and intrigue of Bali are unlike anything else in the world.

Bali is a friendly island near the southern tip of Indonesia, a short flight north from Australia. You won’t find many Americans there because of the extreme distance, but it is a thriving holiday destination for the Chinese, Indians, and Australians.

There is so much creativity and imagination throughout the land that it feels pleasantly mysterious. On our first day we had drinks on a beach sitting on brightly colored beanbag chairs under ornate Balinese umbrellas. It was like walking into another world.

Happy Hour at Kuta Beach, Bali

One evening we visited a restaurant that was two doors down from our hotel. We entered through an unassuming entrance into the most beautiful surreal setting I have ever seen. The covered bar and restaurant, elegantly appointed, opened into an extraordinary garden with a long water feature illuminated with gas flame torches.

A beautiful sculpture of a huge red apple stood at the entrance of the garden, but it was the ducks that got our attention. Yes, the ducks. A team (according to Google, this term is appropriate) of ducks was enjoying the warm evening and the spectacular garden. At first, we thought they were real, but as we ventured closer, we noticed they had rainboots on. We decided then and there we would replicate this scene at our new Balinese style Panama resort.

Ducks with Rain Boots

A few steps from our hotel was another remarkable restaurant. The expansive bamboo interior and deck overlooked a rice field that lay as proud as if it were a mighty ocean. The perfect rows glowed under warm light, and the edges were lined meticulously with stylish umbrellas. The signature Balinese ambiance was simply magical.

Balinese Restaurant Overlooking a Rice Field

You would think this land of charm and beauty would cost a bundle to tour, but once you get here, the prices are better than reasonable. The hotels are exceptional bargains. You can stay at a nice hotel that would cost $150 per night in the U.S. for $40 in Bali. It is a massage lovers paradise, as a high-quality massage that might cost $60 in the U.S. goes for $7 to $10 here. Restaurants are plentiful with fantastic food for every taste at a fraction of the cost in the U.S.

Artistry and Craftsmanship

Every designer, architect, and artist should visit Bali at least once in their lifetime. The island has made a major influence on world architecture and design with a distinct style of natural materials, open air space, and harmony with nature. The artistry, creativity, and craftsmanship are rooted in thousands of years of Hindu temple design.

The reason we decided to build our villas and restaurant in Bali was not to save money. Yes, the prices are extremely reasonable, but when you calculate the cost of building, disassembly, shipping, import taxes, and re-assembly, it is not as low as you might think. Then add the complicated logistics and enormous cost of time, and it becomes even less desirable. The reason we are building in Bali is the spectacular wood and stone carving along with the beautiful hand-crafted furniture and decor.

On the third day of our trip, we stopped to see the progress on our first villa. We were stunned by the beauty of the hand carving. The villas will each feature over 1,100 hours of hand carving, including a Balinese carved wooden structure called a tumpeng sari over each bed. The tumpeng sari along with other Balinese design elements will be instrumental in making Bocas del Toro, our Panama resort, unique to
the world.

The First Villa under Construction in Bali
Partially Completed Tumpeng Sari for Our First Villa

In addition to wood carving, Bali is known for its stone-carving artists. Stone-carving skills have been passed down for many generations. Notice the intricacy of the umbrella fringe in the soapstone carving below. While we were in Bali, we contracted with a local artist to carve a jungle scene soapstone piece for each of our villas. The soapstone sculptures will be displayed above the women’s vanity in the bathrooms of each villa.

An Artisan Was Carving This Soapstone When We Visited His Shop in Bali

The Balinese People and Their Culture

Tourism drives 80 percent of Bali’s economy, so it is no surprise that the people are kind and the level of service is over the top. We learned the most about Balinese culture from our driver.

The cost to hire a driver for our two weeks in Bali was surprisingly low. Our driver was a friendly Hindu man named Ketut (pronounced “kay-toot,” which always made me chuckle.)

Balinese people name their children, both men and women, in the order they were born. The first-born male is named Wayan, the second Made, the third Nyoman, and the fourth Ketut. If there is a fifth child the cycle repeats itself, so Wayan is the most popular name in Bali!

Ketut’s family has lived in the same compound for many generations. When I asked him how many hundreds of years his family owned the compound he shrugged and said he had no idea. He said that they are limited on the number of children they can have by the number of bedrooms in the compound. Interestingly, the males stay in the compound they are born in, and the females move to their husband’s family compound.

The Balinese people are deeply religious, and their faith is interwoven into everything they do. Indonesia is the world’s largest Muslim country, but Bali, its most popular island, is 90 percent Hindu. Most houses have their own small temple and there are hundreds of large stately Hindu temples throughout the island.

There Are Hundreds of Hindu Temples Like This One in Bali

Everywhere you go in Bali you will find small clumps of rice placed on banana leaves as offerings to their gods. There are so many that I accidentally stepped on one. Interestingly, we saw several offerings that included cigarettes, but we were not able to determine the reasoning.

The Balinese workers and their children blessed our villa twice each day during the construction process.

Our two weeks flew by much too quickly, as there was so much more we wanted to see and do. When the time came to leave, passport in hand, it was the people we would miss the most. And, it was the containers filled with the artistry and craftmanship of Bali landing in Panama that we would look forward to the most.

Did anything about my description of Bali surprise you? Does it sound like a place you would like to travel to?

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13 responses to “Chapter 7: Bali – A Land of Mystery and Intrigue”

  1. Joseph Solis says:

    Everything about your description of Bali surprised me, because I know nothing about the Island. It definitely is somewhere I would like to visit, so it is going on my bucket list. But first, I want to visit your completed project in Bocas Del Toro.

    • Dan Behm says:

      So glad to have you on the adventure Joseph! I didn’t know anything about Bali either before embarking on this project and was more than pleasantly surprised. I hope that you are able to visit our resort some day and Bali too!

  2. karen wood says:

    I adore Bali- have been twice and likely will make a third trip soon. Each village has a different skill so you can visit one for woodcarving, stone carving, textile dying, textile weaving, silver and more. I agree that the people are so lovely and on my first visit I was most touched by all the banana//palm leaves with offerings outside each home and shop. Theirs is a culture of gratitude and they lay out the offerings on sidewalks filled with rice, fruit, tobacco, small coin or other gifts to give thanks. It’s such a sweet gesture and wonderful practice to have gratitude each day!

    • Dan Behm says:

      Hi Karen,

      You did an excellent job of describing Bali! I might need your help in writing future posts:). I am thankful to have you along on the journey. You are probably one of the only people that has been to Bali and Bocas Del Toro. More adventure to come – the next post with be about Bocas Del Toro.


  3. Dottie Meyers (Mom) says:

    I was excited when Tony told me that a new blog had been posted. We both look forward to reading them. They remind me of the travelogs at the local High School that were prevalent back when Dan was growing up. I love to see the pictures and hear about the people and culture of other countries. Bali sounds like a lovely country to visit. I think the Bocas del Toro Resort will reflect much of the same feeling with the hours of labor put into the carvings and artistry present in the villas and restaurant there. Can’t wait to go there!

    • Dan Behm says:

      Thanks for your comments Mom. I remember presentations that people would give back in the 1960’s and early 1970’s after returning from exotic places using the old slide projectors. The blog does seem a little like those old time presentations. So glad that you and Tony are enjoying the blog. It makes me feel good about taking the time to write it.

  4. First, yes Bali and it’s culture and customs are fascinating! We can all learn from them and appreciate their artistry. Second, thank God for your wonderful wife, Barb, for gettimg your passport to you! That’s awesome!

    • Dan Behm says:

      I am a lucky man! I can’t imagine many people being willing to do what Barb did to get the passport to me.

      There is a lot that we can learn from the Balinese people. We hope to instill some of the beauty of Bali in the new resort and focus on the Panamanian culture too.

  5. Uncle Dave says:

    This chapter of your blog brings back all of the wonderful memories of our trip to Bali. The people of Bali were so nice, all the beautiful scenery, the closeup and inside look at your Bocas del Toro project, and the adventure of it all will forever be etched in my mind! I can’t wait to see and experience the results of your work in Panama! And ditto to Scott’s comment about Barb’s “crazy idea” and perseverance to get your passport to you in time for your flight! I don’t know what I would have done in Bali without you, Dan! : )

    • Dan Behm says:

      Hey Dave,

      Having you with me in Bali is what made the trip special!

      The first thing that went through my mind when I realized that I did not have my passport was, “Dave is going to travel all of the way to Bali to spend time with me and I may not make it.” It was a scary feeling. I remember the relief of meeting up with you in the airport in Korea.

      We need to plan another trip together to Bocas Del Toro. You will love Bocas Town!


  6. karen swanson says:

    Good to catch up on your blog. Amazing experience for you. We need to get together and hear more about where you are at with Panama. Let’s do dinner soon.

    • Dan Behm says:

      Sounds good Karen – we miss you guys! Dinner soon would be great. I head back to Panama for two weeks later this month.

  7. Tj Simmons says:

    I do very much so want to Visit Bali. I think it is very interesting that in their culture they all have the same names! I think that could get very confusing! I think it is also very interesting how long they have had their homes in their families. Would’ve been awesome if your driver showed you his home to see the generations

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