Friday the 10th of April
We had not yet as a family had a dosage of culture administered during our holiday, so this became the object of our day. We planned to visit every tourist hot spot in our near vicinity, accompanied by a guide in a taxi that was at our disposal from morning till night. Our driver was named Nawen and our guide, Sanawan, was a valuable asset as we explored the country. He explained the significance of the landmarks we visited, providing further commentary on the customs and culture.
The place name given to the island is derived from the word “wali”, meaning sacrifice or offering. This is an indication of the strong religious affinity important to this culture coinciding with the circle of life. Twice-daily thanksgiving takes place to thank the gods for the day to come in the morning and thank the gods for the day that has been in the evening. This is done in the form of offerings: a fresh basket is placed out the front of each building. This is made of coconut leaves for the god of creation, and is filled with flowers for the god of protection and fruit for the god of destruction. Often, burning incense is also added to the arrangement, as well as a coin for the nation and a cigarette according to the custom of offering what you consume.
Another means in which respect is payed to a higher being is through personal temples. Small scale temples are constructed on each street corner and outside of restaurants. These mini versions often consist of a statue enclosed by a gold studded gate with offerings placed around its base. There are more than one million official temples in Bali alone which is equivalent to one per four people for its population of four million. These larger public places of worship are marked by tall vertical pillars by the entrance which thin from a wide rectangular base, like the slope of a pyramid, to a peak high above the head of even the tallest visitor. Holy water is used prior to placing an offering or entering a temple: three times the water is touched from shoulder to shoulder and finally to the lips. This is to symbolise the three sources of water being the rain, the sea and the clouds with which rice fields are cultivated. The rice is an important element of survival for those living in Bali and is eaten with each meal, hence it is important for the circle of life.
Indonesia is predominantly of Muslim belief. This is not the same for the island of Bali, however, as other cultures have played a large influence since the 12th century when a Chinese girl married the king of Bali. Therefore, religion in Bali is centred around a hybrid of Hinduism and Buddhism. Our guide was wearing traditional dress so that we could experience this aspect of his culture. This consisted of a sarong and patterned shirt made using the batik process. The characteristic component of the outfit was the head wrap: its twisted shape represents the mountain and the sea.
We stepped into the suzuki minibus just after 8:00 and were on the busy motorway to our first destination for the day. Scooters weaved speedily through the congested traffic, many riders without helmets or protective clothing. Signs strategically placed in these heavy traffic areas, reading “do not overtake carelessly”, were for the most part ignored. We approached a major intersection and watched the countdown timer ticking to the moment that the lights turned green; our driver turned on his hazard lights to indicate we would be continuing straight – it seems there is some method within the madness of these conditions. We exited the highway to turn onto a narrow street that was bordered by rice fields. I was thankful to be sitting in an air-conditioned vehicle but also slightly disappointed that we were sheltered from further exposure to our surroundings. I wanted to be able to experience the culture as if it were my own! I hoped to do this as our excursion progressed and enjoyed the cool while I could.
Fun Fact: buildings in Bali do not exceed 3 stories high abiding by the idea that the palm tree is the tallest object on the island.
We had arrived at the Tanah Lot. This most photographed landmark is named the Temple on the Sea because of its position atop a cliff face in the ocean. We deposited 30 000 rupiah ($3) each for our entrance fee and made our way across the molten rock to view the temple. This isolated structure looks to be floating in the ocean and is said to contain a natural body of fresh water within its walls which adds to its wonder. The temple itself is off limits to tourists. Everyone is free to view the majestic structure, but entrance to any temple is limited to those who come to pray. Greater importance is installed on places of worship such as these than on living vaccinates to the extent that the economic disparities are unmistakable. Whilst these buildings are of quality equal to a resort, people residing in tokotoko are lacking of all luxuries. As we traversed along the molten rock, I noticed the eyes of many men follow my stride. Some said hello, others tried to capture me on camera – one was even brave enough to ask if he could have a picture with me! It made me uncomfortable, but I understood that I was not a common character in these parts. I am of european background and look it too. My blonde hair reaches halfway down my back and my sky blue eyes were inherited from my father. My petite figure in a white dress contrasts the dark hair and dark complexion of the Indonesian people who live here – it only shows how individual differences, even on a level skin deep, effect the way we interact with one another. Here, I am unfamiliar. I wonder what I look like in their eyes.
The next stop was at the royal temple Tanan Atun in Mengwi. Entrance to this UNESCO World Heritage Site constructed in 1634 cost us 150 000 rupiah ($15) per person. A still mote surrounds the pristine mowed lawns that are maintained across the expanse of the property. A stone bridge guarded by two menacing statues that ward off bad spirits provides a crossing to the main temple where you can see the gazebo in which the old king once sat. On the opposite side, a gathering place is made of dried straw and bamboo with its unique design acting as a premodern form of air-conditioning: hot air floats upwards and escapes through the vents in the ceiling causing for cooler air from outside to be drawn in, thereby creating a draft. The creative architecture is visited by many cats – smart cats, not sacred cats, our guide explained – which dine on the plentiful offerings. The structure of the temple is based around Feng Sui in the human body. Natural lighting and fresh air must flow through family room at the head, then the bedrooms above the heart, the kitchen at the stomach and finally across the lavatory at the back of the building. An arrangement of pagodas tower in tiers of two for Yin and Yang, three for the gods, five for the directions, seven for the priests, nine for the provinces and eleven for sewa or middle earth. Mountains are made sacred as well, abiding by the belief that the soul rises after death and cremation. Standing in Tanan Atun leaves an awe-inspiring impression of the culture and history that shaped the normative conventions of Bali as it is today and although this is not a representation of civilian life, it is a valuable insight nonetheless.
Next on the itinerary was a stop over at the Baturiti Coffee Plantation on the way to Ubud. An escort lead us around the enclosure that contained coffee trees of Arabica, Robusta, Java, Bali and Luwak origin and of other herbs and spices. The highlight of the tour was without a doubt the lewak coffee which was often also referred to as cat-poo-cinno. This unique coffee earned its nickname by the way in which it is prepared: the best beans are selected and swallowed whole by the native lewak and fermentation occurs in its stomach. The digested beans are collected as clumps of poop, then thoroughly cleaned causing them to separate. Finally, the beans are peeled, roasted and ground into a power that when brewed has a smooth quality free of bitterness or aftertaste. Once the tour was completed, we were lead to a hut to taste some of the products that had been grown on site. We were offered various teas as well as hot chocolate, ginger coffee, ginseng coffee and even got to watch our attendant freshly brew the lewak coffee for our tasting. Although it is made of cat poo, I promise it does not taste like shit. Actually it is the best coffee I have ever tasted! My everyday coffee is a latte (but I often indulge in a mocha or a dirty chai) so black coffee is not my favourite, but I could drink this blend as an espresso with the utmost satisfaction! Ten grams of powder is immersed in 120 ml of boiling water to make a cup of coffee that would sell for $250 in Australia!
We left the plantation to travel only a few doors down the street to a batik business. Batik is the process by which material is dyed using hot wax as an isolator against the colour. A piece consisting of five to seven colours can take up to one month to create. A wax-filled tool made of bronze is used to draw an illustration which is then dyed, re-waxed and repeated until the final design is achieved. Dad was allowed to try his hand at this process over the stencil of a flower. He worked up a sweat as he did so and managed to impress the family business while he was at it.
Our grumbling stomaches told us it was time to stop for food. Lunch was had at a nearby restaurant named Teba Sari that was not only overlooking, but situated on the rice fields. Bound bamboo formed the roofs of both the shared dining area and the private floating gazebos – neither had walls which gave the impression of sitting in the agriculture as if for a picnic. A welcome drink of lemongrass, ginger, lime and sprite in a shot glass served as an amuse bouche with sweet potato chips to accompany it. I ordered a mango berry cocktail made of vodka 9, hazelnut liqueur, and banana liqueur drizzled over crushed strawberries and mango juice. I ate a caesar salad and, when finished, tasted some of the nasi goring and mie goring ordered by mum and dad respectively. The fair breeze over the sublime rice fields was a setting we did not want to leave behind. If only I could come back every day for the tantalising tastes and gorgeous view.
Finally, we arrived in Ubud. The town had been popularised for its artistic appeal that had once attracted artists such as Monet. Here, the immense importance of tourism to the local economy is undeniable. Standing salespeople tried to push frangipani hair clips and postcards into the hands of those passing by. Storefronts confined to dimensions no larger than one metre squared hosted an organised clutter of sarongs, jewellery, key chains and woodwork. These were typical tourist traps with a difference: price haggling. I purchased a novelty bottle opener for my alcoholic friend’s nineteenth birthday (shaped like a dick) for 40 000 rupiah instead of the advertised price of 50 000. My second and more successful attempt bought me a dream catcher for 50 000 instead of 70 000 at which it had been offered to me. Although the respective Australian savings are not exceeding three dollars in total, the difference in the perspective of the Balinese people is enough to make a difference to their daily lives.
Forty-five short minutes later we arrived at the rice fields. From our vantage point at the entrance of the plantation, it seemed as though the ground fell away, leaving a blank space hosting the monsters of ones imagination, until the green reeds rose again carved like stairs in the distance. Rice is harvested three times a year and is interchanged for fruit to maintain the quality of the soil. Another means of fertilisation is burning the rice fields. These processes are vital to the survival of this agriculture which is the primary food source of the Indonesian people to the point that there is not enough remaining to export.
By the time we arrived home to the resort, we were in desperate need of a cocktail or two. I regretfully ordered a Bloody Mary (what insane person decided to mix vodka and tomato juice and call it a cocktail?). Following this mistake, I consulted the bartender I had made friends with earlier that week and had him make me something I hadn’t tried before. His name was Adam, originally from Melbourne, Australia, and he was a good conversationalist as well as an excellent drink maker. I encouraged him to let his creative juices run wild and he instructed me to name his inventions: we came up with the beach bash, the fantalicious, the bali bonanza and multiple others that from this point onwards I couldn’t remember. I left the bar just before midnight, having sat through the impressive Indonesian evening show and the after-show party. The beach party began around around 11:00 but I can’t say old people dancing to 2007 fresh hits is quite my scene. Nonetheless, it was a nice change for the last night of our journey.