Rice fields in the Sayan valley, the beach at Jimbaran Bay, pool at The Four Seasons in Sayan near the town of Ubud
This Spring I received an invite to travel to Bali and take part in the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival. The annual literary festival brings over a hundred international poets and novelists to the island. The Ubud Writers & Readers Festival is the major project of the not-for-profit foundation, the Yayasan Mudra Swari Saraswati. It was first conceived of by Janet De Neefe, co-founder of the Foundation, as a healing project in response to the first Bali bombing, with the first event held in 2004.
I had never been to Asia and was very excited to take my first trip there. This kind of trip would also give me the opportunity to get to know the locals through workshops and activities. I wanted to bring my wife along and we were able to do it, her parents stayed with our kids while we were away. A big thanks goes out to them for helping make the trip happen. This was the first time we left the kids alone and I don't think they missed us at all.
The plane trip to Bali from NYC took about 30 hours. A 12 hour ride to Doha, Qatar, where we waited for about 7 hours for a connecting flight. Then another 8 hours to Singapore, and 3 hours to Denpasar, the capitol of Bali. We took Qatar Airways, it was probably the best flying experience I've had. Great service and meals, everything right on time.
Jimbaran Bay, Bali
We landed in Denpasar and were whisked to our hotel by the great staff from the festival. We stayed at the Intercontinental at Jimbaran Bay near Kuta for a couple of nights where we got to meet some of the other wonderful writers that had traveled from abroad. It was nice to have a day to relax, enjoy the beach, and adjust to the time difference.
The next morning, as we strolled along the beach, we came across this scene of oxen combing the beachfront, a sign that this was shaping up to be an excellent trip. I headed to my first workshop that morning at Stikom BALI, a college in the capitol where I met with designers and artists from the community. I gave a lecture on my book cover process and talked about the illustration industry in the United States. I also did a demo to show some of my process. This group was wonderful to work with and gave me a great introduction to the kindness of the Balinese people.
After the workshop, we were driven from the capitol through the Balinese countryside to the Sayan valley, near Ubud. We were to stay at the Four Seasons resort there, which is pretty much over the top. The resort is made up of villas dotting the hillside, each with its own pool, a river running through the landscaped grounds. One of the highlights of staying at the resort was going on guided treks through the jungle and visiting the villages in the area of Sayan.
The Four Seasons resort is designed to disappear into the landscape. As one enters, you walk via a bridge to a large, suspended pond, seen above. The reception area and restaurant lie under the pond. Villas dot the dense forest.
During the book festival, the days were filled with panel discussions, lectures and readings. The audience was mostly from Australia, New Zealand and Indonesia. I was part of a panel on book cover design, another on immigrant culture in America, and for a third I did a reading of a story I'm currently working on. The nights were filled with traditional dance performances and dinners at some of the most beautiful homes in and around Ubud. The U.S. embassy hosted a dinner for all the Americans that had traveled to Bali for the festival. We made great friends during our time there.
from top: Colombian novelist Juan Gabriel Vasquez and his wife Mariana Montoya. U.S. Embassy dinner. Fellow book cover panelists Ayip from Bali and Eiji Han Shimizu from Japan. Festival co-founder Janet de Neefe. Dinner at home of Valentine Willie, Southeast Asian art dealer.
Festival Opening ceremony at the Palace
dance at the Palace
dance at the Palace
One of the memories I take away with me is of a day I spent conducting a workshop in the village of Guwang. I worked through an interpreter, but the kids listened carefully and then dove right in and got their hands dirty. It was so much fun to watch them collaborate on their paintings. I hope to go back there again someday.
This is probably the nicest trip we've ever taken. A special thanks goes out to Janet de Neefe and the festival staff for hosting us in such a memorable way. The best part of Bali are its people — the most gentle, kind, sweet and thoughtful people I've met in all of my travels.
Please see more photographs from my trip to Balihere