I Love You Backpacking Long Time – Part Ten Still in Bali

I haven’t had a hot shower in over a month. I wear flip flops every single day. I wake up when the roosters start crowing. I have mango or papaya or pineapple or water apples or mangosteens or rambutans or some other exotic fruit every day (though durian, soursops, and snake fruit are not to my liking). I feel fairly busy every day although the next day I couldn’t tell you what I did. It is quite lovely.


A stack of Balinese offerings. I made a whole bunch of these one day. Not great for the allergies, but a great way to feel like one of the women.

The bus dropped me off at Lovina Beach, in the village of Kalibukbuk, a suburb of the town of Singaraja, in the regency of Buleleng, Northern Bali on Christmas Eve. There I met a cute guy and decided to stay a bit longer than a few days. After some more days I moved my departing flight back a week. A week later I moved it back even further, checked out of my guesthouse and moved in with the cute guy and his extended family. It was my Eat, Pray, Love move before there was an Eat, Pray, Love.

When I say his extended family, I really mean just about everyone. He lived in a fairly traditional multi-family compound home. The entrance to the home was to the north, towards the beach. As you enter the gate in the center is an open courtyard. To the right of the courtyard there are three rooms. The first is a roofed area, walled on three sides and completely open on the fourth. It is an all-purpose room, there are simple wood benches, and there is a loom. Later, after I have been here some time, I sat with a group of women here to make hundreds of Balinese flower offerings. The second and third rooms are kitchens. I learn later that it is this way because the cute guy’s mother does not get along with one of her daughter’s in law and they refuse to use the same kitchen.

To the south at the back of the courtyard were two bathrooms. They were two large rooms each with a concrete floor, a squatting toilet, and a large cistern with buckets to use to wash or to flush the toilets.

I have to take a deep breath before I throw a bucket full of cold water on me. Usually a few buckets later and I feel quite nice, but I can never quite get over the shock of that first bucketful. And the toilet paper, or rather the lack of it, is rather a mystery to me. No one else uses it but how they accomplish this feat without soaking themselves is beyond me. I can observe the eating with hands (or rather hand, only the right) and sort of copy it and get some of the food within the range of my mouth. But I cannot exactly observe the mysterious toilet paper-less feats. So every week I buy myself another roll or two and continue to look somewhat like an idiot clutching my paper as I make my way to the bathroom.


Seemed like a good reason to stop traveling for awhile…

The left of the courtyard had the living quarters. The southwest portion housed cute guy’s third oldest brother, his pregnant wife, and their two daughters. From their section, the next room was that for cute guy’s parents. The was then a long open hallway where the family gathered for watching television and eating sitting on the floor; it wrapped around with more hallway and two additional bedrooms, one for cute guy’s second oldest brother, his wife, and their daughter, and then cute guy’s room.

Cute guy is named Kadek. Though I usually try not to give away names, because of Balinese naming convention, this actually gives away little. Names in Bali. You can call me Putu. If I were born in Bali that would be my name as I am the first born. In Bali children are named by their birth order and then given another name. If you are first born then you are called Putu or Wayan. If you are the second child you are Kadek or Made. The third is Komang or Gede. The fourth is Kutut. If you are the fifth child, then you are Putu or Wayan again. And so on. The names are for males and females. Kadek is named so because he is the sixth child, but he also has a nickname. However while in school he was called Made because there were already enough Kadeks to go around. His second name is Partama, but until the age of 5 it was something else, until his uncle said it was a stupid name and it was changed. There are no family names. The second name, the given name, is also chosen depending on caste, but it is changing was some children have foreign names. Some people are called by their birth order name, some by their second name, and some by a completely different nickname.


Heading to the temple with the family.

It was amazing to live with this family. I learned a lot about Balinese culture and incredibly was welcomed by and became woven into the lives of the family.

Kadek’s third oldest brother’s wife gave birth to their third child while I lived there. One morning they roared off on the motorcycle to the hospital and a few hours they roared back with a newborn.

Nearly every day for four months I watched Kadek’s second sister-in-law Ngah, from the village of Tenganan famous for its double ikat weaving, sit at her simple wood loom, pumping her legs and snaking her arms in an elaborate and fluid dance until she produced a beautiful piece of finished purple cloth with gold threads. When she, with her sister in law, came to my room to offer me the piece at the family and friends price, I readily accepted it. I felt I belonged.

It took a little time for the children to warm to me, but soon I felt like part of the family. Bodoh tai tunglep, which translates from Balinese to “you are as ugly as chicken shit” is a fond taunt of little children. All the children from three and up regularly call themselves and their friends UACS (ugly as chicken shit). It is a sign of my acceptance by the children that they now fondly call me the same. It is very touching and often brings a tear to my eye to be called ugly as chicken shit, have the child smack me, and run away giggling. Progress it is!


At the community temple wearing the beautifully woven skirt from Ngah.

In my time in northern Bali I had the opportunity to attend a wedding ceremony, a cremation, a tooth filing ceremony, a child’s naming ceremony, and a Balinese wayang kulit (shadow puppet) performance as part of a wedding reception. I also was able to attend important festivals in the Balinese calendar.

Bali is gearing up for the big festival of Galungan, when the deified ancestors return to the family temple and must be entertained with food. This week the family has been busy. Sunday was the day to prepare the bananas. Monday was the day to prepare the caked of rice and today is the day to kill the pig. Ah, nothing like a good animal sacrifice. Okay to be truthful I am not all that comfortable with the animal sacrifice. It unnerves me to hear the squeals of pigs or squawks of chickens in their death throes. It is more unnerving to step outside and see a just roasted pig on a spit leaning up against the kitchen door or to have a chicken with its throat cut trying to make its last getaway throw itself at my feet.

So the deified ancestors are coming and will be around to party for about three days. Three being an auspicious number for the Balinese, as it is for many Asians. I will probably borrow some temple dress from Kadek’s sister-in-law again. Although the last time I was tempted to stuff the top with toilet paper as my bust is a bit smaller than the average Balinese woman’s.

I also experienced the Balinese New Year. This Saturday is New Year’s Eve and Sunday welcomes the New Year 1923. Yesterday there was a procession from the family temple to the community temple and then finally to the beach (or lake in other parts of Bali) to cleanse in preparation for the New Year. I was in my traditional temple clothing, my handmade sarong from Kadek’s sister-in-law. Today people are generally getting the house ready and heading to their home villages if they have not already. Tomorrow there will be a festival of giant monster effigies called Ogoh-ogoh. They were built in competition between villages. They will be paraded through the streets and then burned. Then on Sunday people stay home to welcome the first day of the new year. Traditionally people do not eat, drink, work, smoke, or go outside the home compound, although generally the guidelines are not so strict anymore. Eating and drinking will be practiced in many homes and some people, probably me included, will sneak out for a little while just to see what it is like out on the streets with no one else about. Happy New Year 1923.


An amazing demonstration of a village-made Ogoh-ogoh

It was not all festivals and celebrations of life events. Many of the days there was little to do; it rained every single day in February. But I went on walks, several dolphin sighting trips with snorkeling, I learned to play pool pretty well as that was one of the few pastimes in the local bars and I memorized all the songs to the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Californication because it was the primary soundtrack and go-to playlist for the bars and bands in the area.

Ultimately it did not work out between Kadek and I, though I am very grateful for the time I was able to spend with him and his family and the people I met in Lovina. However, it was time to stop putting off the final legs of my around the world journey.


I Love You Backpacking Long Time – Part Nine Indonesia

Bali is absolutely wonderful! I feel rejuvenated as I haven’t felt in some time…

I would like to write that I was full of bliss and excitement when I landed in Bali, Indonesia but instead I was tired and confused. My journal is not full of the observations of the sights and experiences of Bali but rather pages and pages of troubled personal scribbling. The upside though is reading through it I do not remember the angst but I do still remember, even so many years later, my days in Bali. Perhaps because this was my first trip there and the island and Indonesia would become such a large part of my life later on.


Sunset on Kuta Beach, Bali

I found a room at a cheap guesthouse on Jalan Karthika Plaza, not far from Kuta Beach. I was determined to relax and take my time in Bali and I proved it right away. Just minutes after checking in I walked into the guesthouse dining area, where each morning they would serve a lovely breakfast of watermelon and buttered toast or a banana jaffle, I found a pet fruit bat. I had never thought myself a fan of bats but then I had never before seen a fruit bat up close and it turns out they are really cute. This one was tame and enjoyed being fed fruit and resembled a tiny German shepherd with wings and clawed hands.

Before I could walk five minutes away from the guesthouse two enterprising young women accosted me and insisted I get a manicure and pedicure right there on the street. They had their own plastic stool for me to sit on and small array of nail polish colors. I consented and some thirty minutes later I had one of the worst painted nail jobs ever but by two of the friendliest girls; I felt only amused.

Not ten minutes later down the road I stopped to watch a performance of sorts with several men and women in traditional dress and clearly under some kind of trance dance in front of a temple located in the middle of a traffic circle. I stopped and watched for awhile as I had no particular schedule.

A few blocks away in a small shopping center very close to the beach I was able to turn away two women who wanted to braid my hair Bo Derek style. I had to draw the line somewhere and I knew I would probably not rock that look. Not long afterwards though it did not take too much convincing for me to agree to a massage on the beach.


Balinese dance is alive and enchanting

Initially, as in that first day when I was accepting of all things Bali and drinking it all in, the street side/beach side touts were amusing and dare I say refreshing. Yes I did want my nails done. Yes I did want to sign up for a tour. Yes I would like to eat in your restaurant. Yes I would like a massage. As the days wore on however this constant barrage of requests became really, really annoying. You could be quietly sleeping on the beach, face down or arm thrown over your eyes, listening to the sounds of the waves and conversation and laughter when someone would shake you out of your reverie and you would open your eyes to find someone who was offering to sell you a massage, or a sarong, or board shorts, or fake Baby-G watches. You could not walk down the street without someone trying to get your attention. The calls for “transport? Transport?” from men sitting on the curbs, their long black pants rolled up to their calves, shirts rolled up to expose their bellies, as they make a gesture like turning a steering wheel is what I remember as one of the biggest banes of Bali.

I signed up for tours. I visited Goa Gajah cave and temple with a stop to see a traditional Barong dance on the way. It was my first time to see the Barong and it launched a great interest in Balinese dance. I was joined on the tour by a German father and daughter, whom I am still in touch. I also went on the sunset tours to the beautiful Tanah Lot, a coastal temple that becomes inaccessible at high tide, and Uluwatu, which sits precariously on a high cliff in the far south and where as the sun set I watched my first Kecak dance. And completely unlike me, I joined three male backpackers from the guesthouse to dance my cares away at a local night club.


Because every funeral should have it’s own t-shirts.

A Perama shuttle bus took me from Kuta to the central Balinese town of Ubud. Still crowded with tourists it had a completely different vibe from the Spring Break party-like Kuta. It was rice paddies and artists, handicrafts and dance.

I loved Ubud. I stayed another five days just there. During the day I strolled the streets, visiting the Monkey Forest full of the cheeky aggressive fellows who will rob you blind of food and water or dining on some of the best backpacker fare in Southeast Asia. I attended a cremation ceremony after the motorcycle taxi guy who transported me from the Perama shuttle station to my guesthouse showed up one day and invited me. Why not? I had never been to a cremation. I visited the Tegalalang rice terraces, a waterfall, and the Gunung Kawi temple. And every single night I purchased a 25 rupiah ticket (about US$2.50) to watch traditional Balinese dances at the Ubud palace. I saw Barong and Kris dance again (it’s a crowd favorite), the Kecak dance (different venue from the cliffs of Uluwatu), the Legong dance, the frog dance (tari kelod), and the entrancing butterfly dance (tari kupu), my absolute favorite.

I am having a pretty good time here and am in no hurry to leave. Tonight I went to see my third performance of Balinese dance. They have all been great. I also attended a cremation ceremony today. A guy I met at the bus station showed up on my porch today and told me about it. I was immediately excited over the prospect of seeing a real ceremony, then though for a second…hey, this is a cremation, a funeral of someone I do not know.

But there were hundreds of people there; easily there were 50 men carrying the platform on which sat the Papier-mâché bull inside which lies the body of the deceased. The pallbearers turn this way and that and around as the body is transported from the home of the deceased to the cremation site so that the spirit will be unable to find its way home again. At the site vendors sold ice cream and other snacks.


Yogyakarta street signs offer life advice (a “gang” is a small side street in bahasa)

From Ubud I traveled to the coastal town of Sanur to catch a bus to Java.

I made it to Java! There was some doubt yesterday as to whether I might get here today. The day before I had been thrilled to get my bus ticket, it had been so easy, too easy. The bus was to pick me up at my Sanur hotel and drop me off in Malang – still a seven hour drive from Yogyakarta, but at least getting me off Bali and on to Java. It also had air-con and reclining seats. The cost was 85,000 rupiah. The pick-up time was to be 5:10 pm. Around 5:30 I was beginning to worry and called the office. They said there was some problem with the air conditioning and they would be along shortly. At 6 pm I called again and was told 30 minutes more. At 6:45 they said 15 minutes. At 7:10 they said the bus had to leave before 8 pm. I negotiated a 15% discount. At 8:45 pm I marched up to the office because phoning them seemed to do nothing to spur them to action. Around 9:10 me and my bags were ensconced aboard the bus and heading for Denpasar.

I thought we would pick up the five other people at the station, but we picked up each person at their homes, usually at the end of a one lane, unpaved road, so that I, in the back of the bus was tossed around like a beach ball. Supposedly this bus adventure included dinner to be served around 1 am when we first crossed into Java. We rolled off the ferry from Bali at 4 am. At 6 am we arrived somewhere and the driver told us to have our dinner, er, breakfast. We arrived in Malang at 10:30 am, though we were supposed to arrive around 5 am.

I stayed two days in Malang staying in the house of a sister of a woman I met randomly while in Sanur. I felt a bit weird about it at first but the family was extremely kind. On the evening of the second day I took a night bus to Yogya.


My first visit to the amazing Borubodur

Yogyakarta. I loved this place too. I had no idea at the time that I would return time and time again to Bali and to Yogya. As any good backpacker would do I visited the Sultan’s palace in the city and the 9th century Mahayana Buddhist Temple of Borobudur, the world’s largest such Buddhist monument, and the 10th century hindu temple of Prambanan, both UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Both are also breathtaking. One evening in a hot un-air-conditioned school room, sitting on hard folded wooden chairs with only two other tourists, I watched an old chain-smoking puppet master perform a traditional shadow puppet play. On another evening I watched a Javanese-style performance of the Ramayana ballet.

Then it was time to head back to Bali on a two day bus “tour” that stopped at the smoking volcano of Mt. Bromo along the way. What I remember most though was not the volcano or landscape but the hot and uncomfortably long ride in the bus, the too early wake-up call to head to the volcano that came after already being awakened by the call-to-prayer from a scratchy megaphone rigged to the mosque directly across from the hotel, and the unexpected morning chill before the sunrise.

Mt. Bromo was incredible but we had only four hours there and many, many more hours on the bus. The bus was supposed to be air-conditioned and it was not. The driver and his bus were filthy. I was wearing white Taekwondo pants and at the end of the trip they were grey. Gas was leaking into the bus which smelled bad and was surely dangerous. The man at the hotel was a jerk. I would like to have spent a whole day or two at the volcano instead of arriving at 8 pm and waking up at 3 am to see the sunrise and leaving again by 8 am. Mt Bromo is still an active volcano, which right now is showing quite a bit of activity – it was smoking and yet we still climbed right up to the crater and peered in.


A smoking Mt. Bromo

After again crossing the Bali Strait by ferry I could not stand the thought of staying in that filthy shuttle any longer than necessary. So, instead of continuing south to Kuta I disembarked at the first stop in Bali, Lovina Beach. And there I stayed and stayed. To be continued…