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bali – 8

August 18, 2009

batur

There is a long, dense line of volcanoes running through Indonesia, and Bali has its fair share – two live volcanoes on this 2,000 square miles island.

crater lake

We left home around 10 am and drove north through Kintimani, down into the crater created long, long ago by Gunung Batur (5633 feet), an active volcano that last spewed a wee bit of lava just a week ago.  There is a huge, indigo blue lake in the center of the crater, Danau Batur, the largest lake on Bali.  We drove half way around the lake and parked, walking into the village of Kedisan to visit an old acquaintance of D’s.  The woman was an actress originally from Australia who has lived in this secluded little town in northern Bali for over twenty years.  When she came to the door, she was verging on hysteria and couldn’t invite us in, “A bundle of nerves with a solo performance in Jakarta tomorrow so nice to see you please go away.”  So we did, driving through the black, hardened lava fields where farmers were growing rows of shallots wherever the gritty dirt was deep enough.

go away!

D told me about the village of Trunyan on the opposite side of the lake.  Living just under the summit of the mountain are the descendants of the original Balinese people, the Bali Aga.  Their cultural and religious practices are completely different from the rest of Bali – they practice the old religion (not Hindu). The Bali Aga are thought to be the original Balinese people who fled the Javanese invaders, eventually finding refuge in the solitude of Bali’s remote mountains. Only two villages of Bali Aga people remain.

They are not fond of tourists, which isn’t much of a problem for Trunyan; to reach the village one must cross the lake – there is no road.  The Bali Aga are well known for their unique practice of dealing with the dead.  They do not cremate or bury their dead, but just lay them out in bamboo cages to decompose. Supposedly, the dead bodies don’t produce bad smells because of the perfumed scents from a huge Taru Menyan tree growing nearby.  I didn’t row over, so I cannot attest to this!

bamboo

On the way back down, literally down the mountain and also towards the south, we stopped at the bamboo community of Penglipuran where D had another friend.  This friend was much more cordial.  We sat on the steps of his home in a typical Balinese walled family compound, where grandparents, parents, brothers and their wives and children live.  Each family has their own little building for sleeping, there is the family temple, communal kitchen, and “living room” which is a pavilion open on three sides with a roof and very often a television.   The friend then took us for a walk through the bamboo forest behind his home – Penglipuran has 75 hectares of bamboo forest, with three different types of bamboo growing there.

DSC_0173

It was a lovely, clean, village with a beautiful village temple. The village architecture consisted of earthen brick structures with bamboo and wood roofs. The quality of the work was quite beautiful.  The village is also known for its bamboo woven ceilings and partition walls. Unfortunately, in many parts of Bali the old style architecture has already come to an end, so this village was a treat to visit. The bamboo is harvested by the villagers for sale, as well as for their crafting.  Not only is bamboo beautiful, it is the strongest and fastest growing woody plant on earth; if you are interested, The Environmental Bamboo Foundation is a great site for more information.

We then continued our trek home.  It was 3:00 pm, and having skipped lunch, we were hungry.  We stopped at a roadside café serving Lombok style food, and D asked if I would like baked chicken again.  I figured I was safe saying yes.  She was also kind enough to order “not hot” for me.  First came the ubiquitous bowl of white rice.  Then the also ubiquitous bowl of stir-fried Asian water spinach, topped with bean sprouts and peanuts.  On the side was a bowl of mild sauce (in my repertoire, hot) and medium sauce (on my tongue known as very hot).  Then came the bowl with the chicken.  It was a “young chicken” evidenced by its very small size.  It was tied in a knot and cooked over the outdoor fire behind me.  Unfortunately, its head had not been removed, and it was looking at me.  I gently turned the plate so it was looking at D instead, broke its neck, and proceeded to pick off the rest of the meat to put on my rice.  Again, no utensils used at these roadside restaurants, Balinese style, so D captured me in a photo, eating with my fingers.  Yup, I think my mom and sister would have gone home hungry.

yum

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. August 18, 2009 10:44 pm

    You are having THE most REMARKABLE time! All these experiences — what cultural treasures you are experiencing (and the food doesn’t look half-bad either!)

    How long are you staying — or are you never coming home?!

    Hi Jeanie, the trip is over. I am catching up with posts now, acclimating to my own personal reality (which was pretty intense when I got home – what with leaving four kids and two dogs at home without me! The drama really piled up!!!), and getting ready to go back to work next week.
    The food really was great. I brought lots of good stuff home with me to “recreate” the good stuff. I have never seen black rice in the store here, which was sooooo good.

  2. August 19, 2009 8:59 am

    On my “About” page at WordPress, I pose a series of rhetorical questions in the form of pairings. One is, “Mountains or Ocean?? That’s a tough choice for me. Today I’ll opt for mountains because I’m getting too old for all the work the sea requires, but I loved my time on the water. I’ve always said perfection would be a place where the mountains meet the sea. Well… Your first photo makes it clear that I should move to Bali – at least for my scenery!

    Your story about the knotted-up chicken staring at you reminded me of the wonderful scene in A Christmas Story when the family lands in a Chinese restaurant for Christmas dinner and ends up with a duck on the table that also was giving them “the eye”. Hunger’s a great motivator, isn’t it? The meal looks pretty good, actually – but I’d have trouble with all that hot, too.

    Many utensil-less cultures have a bread used to help corral the food. Is there a typical Balinese bread, or do you just make do? I’d think the rice would be tough without chopsticks or bread.

    The Bali Aga are fascinating. I found a link to a French online article that gives quite a bit more background about the sacred Banyan tree and the burial practices. Most interesting of all was the firm conviction of the Bali Aga that if any single bit of their prescribed rituals is omitted or improperly done, it will mean the death of their people. In fact it might, although not for the reasons they think.

    I think you should stay in Bali and just keep writing. These posts have been pure delight.

    I agree, Linda, the Bali Aga are fascinating. I didn’t know anything about them until I reached that northern village in Bali. I have also read that women are not allowed to go to/look at the “burial” place because if they do a disaster will befall the village. I guess some one must have broken the rules prior to that last massive, volcanic eruption!

    Alas, no bread for the Balinese. The rice was a little sticky, so one would just make do with glomming it together a bit and shoving it in the mouth before too many grains escaped. One also had to remember to use only the right hand to eat with – though Bali is Hindu, it is surrounded by Muslim islands. Once I got used to eating without utensils, I was ready to dive in with both hands and just shovel it in! The food was very good, and I suspect my tongue would have adjusted to the heat eventually. I did bring lots of good stuff home, including three coconuts! The coconuts in the store here are just not the same. It took me a little extra time at Customs coming in, and they eventually went through all my stuff, but they let me keep the coconuts! I am going to make some coconut milk this weekend to pour over the black rice for breakfast. Yum.

    As far as staying in Bali – I am home and catching up on life in general. I am so pleased you have found the posts delightful. I would find it delightful if all I had to do was write, but someone has to put food on the table!!

    You still spend time on the water, don’t you? No mountains there, anyway! My last post will be about my visit to the sea, with a volcano as back drop.

  3. August 20, 2009 8:13 am

    All caught up now, and no idea where to start. With the Green School? the importance of sustainability (that would seem to be at least partially embedded in Balinese culture, no?)The terrifying motorcycle rides–NO THANKS! Your beautiful house, and its beautiful quilt. Your jacket must be exquisite, having been sewn by the same woman–and no rats will run across it 😉 Or the colors, yes, the colors, the vibrancy of the dancers, that amazing blue door above, the rice and sauces & vegetables everything so full of the essence of life…how sad that the indigenous architecture is being lost. Never mind the Bali Aga; theirs is a fascinating story. Volcanoes & crystal blue lakes. It is all too rich for the imagination. Thank you for describing (and photographing) it all so well. You must be experiencing such massive culture shock…I think the moment on the back of D’s husband’s motorcycle when you decided that you weren’t going to worry about dying is when you truly became Balinese.
    Now ‘fess up: how much coffee did you bring back??
    Thanks again for all of these. I may never actually visit Bali, but I feel as though I’ve been there through you.

    Ah, Ds, you bring up a point that has been nagging and nagging and nagging me. You said, “the importance of sustainability – that would seem to be at least partially embedded in Balinese culture..” The island doesn’t have a regular, organized, trash removal plan. People dump their trash over the compound wall. If that pile doesn’t get in anyone’s way, it grows and grows. If there isn’t enough room to continue piling, one just burns it. By the end of every day that I spent away from home, driving anywhere, I had a sore throat and a headache from the burning plastic. The air pollution is unbelievably awful. This is a third world country, people concerned about putting food on the table, and garbage (and the concept of sustainability) is pretty low on the priority list.
    This was very difficult to look at and I had a hard time connecting the Bali paradise we see in ads, and the reality on the back roads. It was hard to know who to be angry with: Westerners with their bottled water, and the bottles go….. where? Burned in the ditch. The government of Indonesia? Shouldn’t they be using the tourist dollars to deal with issues? I don’t know – it is pretty complicated.

    But you are right – I did bring home just a little coffee, some coconuts, a couple bags of rice, and spices and sate mix and and and. I had a whole suitcase full of stuff that I took there for my cousin, so I had an empty suitcase to fill and bring home!

  4. August 20, 2009 5:57 pm

    I just had to bring you this little link: http://bangonacan.org/events/upcoming The link will take you to a page where you can find more about Bang on a Can, and their new opera called A House in Bali.

    It’s going to be performed at Zellerbach Hall in Berkeley in September. Here’s a snipped from the page:

    “A House in Bali traces the roots of the west’s century-long infatuation with Bali, through the true story of three westerners – composer Colin McPhee, anthropologist Margaret Mead, and artist Walter Spies – during their 1930s sojourn in Bali. This stunning, multi-media spectacle brings together the finest ensembles of east and west: a 16-piece Balinese gamelan directed by the dynamic Dewa Ketut Alit, the Bang on a Can All-Stars, Balinese choreography by the enchanting Kadek Dewi Aryani, wayang shadow puppets, and high-tech projections converge, pushing all boundaries of theatrical innovation…”

    Needless to say, your entries gave me the background to stop and take note of this, not to mention being intersted in it!

    Thank you Linda!!!! This is incredible – I have to figure out how to get to California next month!
    I have written you an email.

  5. August 22, 2009 11:05 pm

    Q – the blue paint on the doorframe on one of the pictures … beautiful. I have a “thing” for doorway pictures, I guess because they so nicely frame what you can see beyond them. Intriguing this old Bali religion. I cannot imagine such remoteness. Would I better be able to sit still had I grown up in such a culture, tucked away? Or would wanderlust (and a certain urbanism) still prevail? I don’t know.

    The fence that shows in the lake picture is rather interesting as well. How quickly I forget how many things can be done “by hand.” And there must be an incredibly different sense of time there in Bali.

    And how do they have a TV in a ramada setting? Is TV important to them? I wonder at its impace and importance there. I cannot imagine doing anything but staring around me and trying to hold it somehow. Whcih is waht your pictures and mini stories and anecdtoes do.

    What a treat to have a picture of you. Honestly, the food on the table looks colorful and good – ah, the “trick” of a nice presentation. Bravo on you for changin the position of your food’s “stare!” Please just pass the rice. Maybe a little of the hot sauce. And I’m good to go, thanks.

    i am about to check out the bamboo link. We are turning into bamboo farmers of a sort here in suburbia and have a found a type that does really well here, and a second one, a “black” bamboo, that grows slow but hardy, too. We’ve also given some away as fishing poles and use it extensively in our morningglory garden for them to climb. But to hve it be part of our lifestyle, furniture, deocr, whatever, would be a beautiful thing.

    You have been there a long time. I suspect that so many things will never be the same, in a good way having lived on this incredible speck of land and found out so many things on so many levels.

    As always, looking forward to hearing more.

    I am not sure how many people in Bali have television. I did see a television in each of the three traditional family compounds I entered. My cousin, on the other hand, did not own a television. I do know that the children love the dance concerts and the shadow puppets, and will sit patiently in the audience watching a show.

    I was so hungry when I came home for “normal” food. I immediately at pizza, popcorn, chocolate, pasta, etc. Everything tasted wonderful! Now I am missing Bali food, and plan to make a big Bali meal tomorrow. Bubuh Injin – Bubuh Injin – black rice pudding in fresh coconut milk for dessert, Buah Kacang Mekuah, long bean with coconut sauce. I can’t wait to chow!!

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