THE BALI JOURNAL, October 2-24, 2018
An Unfortunate Start, October 3-4
What a way to start a holiday intended to be gentle and focused around a visit to our Balinese ‘daughter’ Wayan and family who we haven’t seen for five years. The anticipation has been exciting for all of us. We arrive at our accommodation in Ubud, Taman Indrakila, recommended and booked by my old friend Laine, where we plan to spend a week before making our way to our girl via a brief stay in the mountains of Munduk. On the first night disaster strikes. I wake in the middle of the night to dreadful, unearthly sounds coming from Jon. He is unconscious, shaking, fists clawed to chest. He seems to be struggling to breathe, a most terrifying event to witness. I do not understand what is happening. Everything flashes through my panicked mind. Is this what death looks, what if he dies? Or is this a serious stroke? Is this the end of ‘us’? How would I get him home?
The only positive is that my old university girlfriend Janet is in the next room and is able to summon help while I remain with him. The flood of relief is beyond description when after a good five minutes his eyes open, his breathing returns to normal, and the episode, which I have not yet named a grand mal seizure, is apparently over. However, there is still much to be afraid of. What has just happened? Will he be OK, what are the implications?
However, he is conscious, alert though pale, somewhat overwhelmed though he has no awareness of what has just occurred. I can only imagine the onslaught to the brain of such a prolonged event.
Blessedly fast, an ambulance arrives, he is given an IV drip, oxygen and I know not what else. A lovely calm young woman doctor and two paramedics accompany us on a traffic-free night run to a new private hospital in Saba, located between Ubud and Denpasar, described by the doctor as an ‘international hospital’….. paperwork, a second sleepless night for me. The nurses and admissions officer are kind and gentle, setting the tone for the ensuing days. We are the only people here. They invite me to lie down and try to catch some sleep on the hard and narrow Emergency Room bed beside Jon but I have no success. I keep piling thin blankets on him, as he is cold. Thankfully, he sleeps and sleeps and within an hour or so is transferred to ICU. The neurologist already attends to him first thing the following morning. I feel reassured. He is safe.
The Hospital Experience
The first thing Jon says to the neurologist, Dr Yoannes, is ‘nice jacket’. Indeed it is, a white sports jacket NOT a hospital one. This brings an immediate smile to this beautiful, elegant man’s face and we are all off to a very good start. He is professional but warm. He explains everything well. He wants me to move into the hospital room with Jon on leaving ICU as these first five post-seizure days are critical in terms of possible recurrence and he will be off the monitors.
Jon sleeps most of the time in ICU. The male nurses are careful and kind and are happy for me to be there with him, disregarding visiting hours altogether. There is one other person in ICU, a Balinese woman suffering from viral meningitis and we try our best to ignore the heart-breaking cries that pierce the air intermittently. Dreadful to see. A salient reminder that things can always be worse.
Her family visit daily but spent almost no time with her as she is unconscious, often distressed, and they probably number too many to all be in the unit at once, but still they came and sit on the floor and on the comfy chairs in the broad walkway outside the unit and share food together in typical Balinese style.
One of the services provided by a special department in the hospital is assistance with medical insurance and I spend considerable time dealing with this, collecting and collating relevant documentation. It is difficult initially as I am not functioning normally but it gets easier over the ensuing days. They allow me to use the hospital phone when the insurance company needs to speak with me and are extremely helpful throughout, as is the insurance company in Australia but it becomes apparent that we will have to pay the hospital bill and finalize the claim once back home.
A Brief Respite At Taman Indrakila Amidst Flowering Trees
I need to go back to Ubud to collect things for the next four days. The taxi ride takes less than an hour and I arrive just before dusk. It is a beautiful journey through small rural roads and villages, passing small temples, rice fields and plant nurseries, abundant and colourful foliage. Frangipani trees are in full flower everywhere, the predominant one being a different yellow than we see at home so always a thrill. Only as we approach the outskirts of Ubud does the traffic become heavier as we pass little houses and shops.
Communication with SMS, phone or email isn’t always straightforward and this creates extra anxiety at times for me. It is thus wonderful to see Janet in person, to know she is managing to enjoy herself in spite of the spoiled holiday plans. She is enjoying the peaceful surrounds of Taman Indrakila, our lovely accommodation, eating delicious food at The Elephant, the excellent vegetarian restaurant in the grounds of Taman Indrakila. The restaurant has traditional decor and quirky decoration, is open-sided, overlooking the Campuhan Ridge. Established in 2013 it aims to create delicious, healthy food in a conscious, sustainable manner and is part of the slow food movement. The menu is an eclectic cultural mix, which is also reflected, in the huge meal-size salads.
It is precious to have a friend at such a time of crisis and stress, when thinking straight is still impossible and I appreciate Janet’s help with getting documentation together for the medical insurance. That night in bed I wake up and find I am shivering and shaky and, however much I give myself a firm talking to talk, I am unable to control it. Only then do I recognize that I am in shock. Although not exactly the same manifestation, I am reminded how Cyclone Debbie in 2016 affected me and everyone at home – we all laughed and acknowledged our impaired memory’s and we were all jumpy. The most obvious symptoms settled after two weeks. Our Wayan is also in constant contact, worried about her ‘Papa’.
Wayan: The Back Story
It is 1993. Jon and I come to Bali and spend time in Lovina on the north coast as a way of escaping the tourist hoards of the south. We befriend an eighteen-year old waitress, Wayan at the place where we are staying. She is a delightful, hard working and very bright girl who has had had no educational opportunities, coming as she does from a very poor farming family in Kintamani, a village on the edge of the caldera wall of the active volcano, Gunung (Mt) Batur. As the week proceeds, the warmth and connection between us deepens. Recognizing her potential, we start having more in-depth conversation and soon we are speaking about her future. (Later we learn of her dream of having her own little warung- restaurant). From home, we correspond and speak on the phone from time to time and over the following years she marries, has her daughter Putu, and then the twins Kembar and Ciri.
From early in the piece she refers to us mama and papa and to herself as our ‘duoghter’.
She trusts us and seeks advice from us where needed. Sometime later, we decide we would like to help her financially, to enable her to setup her own warung, a task we know she is now well capable of-she is practical, thrifty, resourceful and intelligent. For us this involves minimal financial sacrifice but could be transformative to her and her family’s life.
In 2006, we come to visit Wayan and spend some time again in Bali. We are excited at the thought of seeing her, meeting the children and to see how our girl is doing in her first little business venture. The twins are now almost six years old, Putu is eight. The tiny warung, which we see for the first time, is in a poor location off the main road in Pemaron, some seven kilometers east of central Lovina. It is on a little dirt track leading to a few homes and one small accommodation and one larger resort thus there is little passing custom. She can only accommodate a couple of small tables. It is all she can afford.
She cooks on one burner in the tiniest space, not deserving of the designation ‘kitchen’, she has almost no utensils but her food is delicious and being hard- working and enterprising, she makes, packages and distributes prawn crackers which she delivers to local vendors on her motor scooter to augment her very small earnings.
Life is a struggle raising and educating three children, something she is passionate about-she wants her children to gain the education not afforded to her or her husband. Kadek continues to work long hours for less than ten dollars per day in general maintenance at Rambutan Hotel where we first met Wayan and where they met. She is incredibly appreciative of our help which she has never asked for asks our advice on things, offers detailed accounts of how she utilised the money we give her and generally reconfirms our trust and confidence in her integrity and ability.
Over twenty-five years our relationship has continued to deepen; it seems we have become as family, sharing a loving relationship.
One Day At A Time Ruling Out The Unthinkable
Four more days in hospital with blood tests, CT and MRI and EEG, the latter two require an ambulance trip down to Denpasar to two hospitals on one day, well coordinated and accompanied by a nurse. The first-class treatment continues. The ambulance driver uses his siren for the entire journey both ways though there is nothing critical-boys and their toys. We have to laugh.
I sit with him through the EEG in the first hospital and become fascinated watching the technician connecting him up. She looks like a weaver working with the myriad of fine coloured wires and birdsong the following morning leads me to this:
BIRD OF PARADISE
Cock crows from a lush thicket,
through morning light a dove
weaves its call.
Yesterday, a different weaver.
A seamstress first,
she measures with care,
a cotton bud cleanses
she marks in red.
A hairdresser follows suit,
combs, parts, gathers and
twists to blond bantu knots,
skilfully bound, the beauty of
his unclothed head
Delicate as a bird,
she scoops the paste,
spatula meets scalp
at each red point and
like a weaver, her
small nimble fingers
gather and part fine strands of
purple, green yellow and white.
One by one they describe
a narrative of wires
I cannot fathom,
each chosen strand
pressed to the paste,
my lover’s head now
a strange bird of paradise.
All this is a new experience for us both and Jon is vulnerable and brave. Me too! I fear the hands of death making a grab for him at times through this process and have no way of ascertaining if this is mere anxiety or has any base to it.
Too fragile to withstand the forty-five minute MRI, he has chosen to be anaesthetized.
I am hungry, have been without food for a very long time. I now have forty-five minutes to try to find some but must be back on time for the return to Saba.
The hospital does not have a canteen so I head out into the busy street and walk for several minutes before finding pleasant-looking cafe serving Muslim food. There are a few other customers, one of whom speaks good English and I seek some translation assistance with the menu. I order soup with chicken and fresh coconut juice to drink. It is spicy and delicious, all I could have desired.
As I go to pay, my heart sinks…I have left my wallet in my other bag at the hospital! Would I have time to go back to retrieve my wallet, and still be on time, I wonder? And will the restaurant owner trust me? What to do? I go over to my menu-helping friend and with great embarrassment explain the situation. Before I can negotiate anything, he offers to pay for me. I am completely taken aback and so touched. Will he be here for another ten minutes so I can pay him back? No, he intends to leave in five but is insistent that it is OK.How awkward, how kind, I can’t believe this has happened, multiple bags, stress and too much to think about! Thank goodness, this delightful meal only cost about two Aussie dollars! Sometimes in life, one has to simply accept and be SO grateful for the kindness of strangers in a world where this is not the norm.
I rush back just at the forty-five minute mark but he is still in the MRI room. I wait anxiously for an additional fifteen minutes. Has something gone wrong? Is he OK? Eventually they wheel him out, barely stirring. They wheel him into a large room full of scanning equipment, not exactly a modern-looking recovery room, where very slowly over the next fifteen minutes or more, he emerges. I somehow struggle to know what to say. I utter much reassurance and make small talk but wish I had a sense of humour and could make him smile. I am after all, not so good at all this.
Brilliant news. We have passed further hurdles- there has been no stroke, no tumour, no permanent damage. I email all our friends yet again (I have spent much of my time communicating with many people).
Remaining Days In Kasih Ibu
Jonny is on his bed reading, wearing his Asian-stylish turquoise hospital pyjamas and top. We make a joke about how it suits him and how the colours match my cool butterfly dress. I take a photo and send it to friends just to show that yes, he is alive, albeit fragile, pale and drawn. His medical notes describe him as typically tonic-clonic in appearance. This is the current terminology for a grand mal seizure.
Initially he sleeps a huge amount, slowly decreasing day by day. His charm and humour is ever-present when he is awake and dealing with the lovely doctors and nurses.
The hospital is new, the ‘mother hospital’ being in Denpasar. It looks more like a good hotel with elegant white tiled floors, comfortable modern furnishings and great vases of (artificial) orchids in the foyers. As a private hospital, it is clearly for the well-to-do Balinese and for foreigners. Our fourth floor room is huge, with two beds, two armchairs and a little coffee table, a small dining table and chairs and an en suite bathroom. Even better, we have a magnificent view from windows which entirely fill one wall and from which I look over the small rural road, across a dense row of trees and rice fields, the rice already heading. The intense green is interspersed with the deep orange of Balinese-style tiled roofs. Coconut palms abound and beyond, the sea perhaps a kilometer or two away. In the rice fields, long white flags tied to bamboo poles flutter in the wind, white poetry in motion sometimes accompanied by the sound of clacking wooden chimes; both flags and chimes are designed to repel unwanted birds. I spend so many hours over the next four days gazing at this serene scene, regaining my strength and composure.
A Surprise Visit
The surprise of the morning – our Balinese daughter Wayan emails that she and her daughter Putu are on their way to visit Papa. I phone her and find that one of the twin boys, Kembar as well as a friend of Putu’s are also coming. We are a bit taken aback as Jon is quite fragile but we are terribly touched. Oh well, he will just have to manage!
It is a three-hour, expensive journey from Lovina on the N coast. They have rented a car; Putu’s ‘friend’ is driving. They arrive bearing beautiful fruits and little Balinese pastries. Our posh room being big enough to accommodate all but me on chairs and a stool. I sit on the bed. How emotional and heart-warming it is. Wayan wants to come and care for Jon but has the warung (restaurant) to run.
It has been five years since our last visit. Putu is now a pretty twenty- year old, smart like her mother Wayan, kind, appreciative and, as we knew, very connected to us. We are now helping her through nursing training at university, having committed ourselves to assist with education as that is the only way they can get a better life. It’s a tough country with few jobs and not many good ones. We are very proud of her. She was always a top student at school and in her first year of nursing was selected for a short training course in Thailand, offered to the best students only. She continues with high marks in her second year of nursing.
Her friend Aria is in fact her first boyfriend! A lovely young man who seems older than his twenty years, and is a fellow nursing student and ambulance driver on the side. Though possible, marriage for Putu is far away. Wayan is very clear that education comes first and Putu wants to do a postgraduate specialization. Papa Jon has nonetheless made clear that he will not pay for marriages!
The big surprise is Kembar who, as a twelve-year-old five years ago, with minimal English, was, like his twin Ciri, shy and not so easy to connect with. Now he wants to come to see Papa, is completely endearing, making lots of eye contact, happy to be greeted with a hug, and feels very much part of our Balinese family. We talk about his school training in tourism with hopes of ultimately being in tourism management. His twin brother Ciri is more focussed on food and is doing school training in hospitality.
We spend some time alone with Wayan, as Jon is too fragile to deal with for so many visitors for more than a short time. Their effort is so touching and we all get quite emotional shed more than a few tears together. She absolutely refuses money to cover the cost of the hired car.
I escort them out, hugs and kisses all round, but for Putu’s boyfriend Aria and we are feeling very positive that we will be able to make it to Lovina in a few days. The last hand waving from the car as it turns onto the little coconut and rice field fringed road is young Kembar’s.
As Jon explains in a letter to his niece, my family has expanded…which was sorely needed. They have been very nice to “papa” and “mama” and the feeling is not put on and has nothing to do with money. They are very concerned about my health and this is genuine as Uncle can spot bullshit from a long way off. If you were cynical, you would be mistaken.
You would like them and I am sorry that you cannot meet.
The Other Twin
Ciri’s story is different. When not quite sixteen, he and his girlfriend find themselves pregnant. We do not know about this until baby Elina is one year old and by chance, I hear a baby crying in a phone conversation with Wayan. Ah, there is a baby in the warung. My baby, Mama, she answers and briefly outlines the situation. I will explain it all in an email she says and the story of shame and fear of our disapproval subsequently tumbles out. They are all past the shame now and Elina is now sixteen months old. She has a little fever and thus Ciri and the baby did not come one the hospital visit. Just as well, this would definitely have been too much for Jonny!
Ciri and Nana, a year older than him, were married but without the ceremony. Wayan is insistent that Ciri finish his education. After being with the baby and living in Wayan’s already very overcrowded house with Ciri, Nana obtained work in Turkey three months ago, an arrangement not unusual in developing countries so the responsibility and the extra financial burden of the baby falls primary on Wayan though with lots of help from family including Nana’s mother.
The work has not proved successful due to Turkey’s economic problems and Nana will return to Bali in a few weeks. As Ciri is still in school, it is relevant for Nana to work and try to contribute financially so it is quite likely that she will apply for another job abroad, possibly in Dubai.
Dr Yoanes, the neurologist and the internist visit daily, sometimes twice. Progress! Today, Sunday, he encourages Jon to walk beyond the room so, attached to the IV drip, we make two rounds of the wide, empty corridors, which describe a U- shape. At the end of each section, windows overlook rice fields, village homes and in one direction the sea. Just a delight. So nice to see my man enjoying the view. We have discovered that many rooms are actually suites. They comprise an enormous bedroom with two beds and equally large lounge room with kitchenette. Clearly, this would accommodate entire families visiting the patient.
Ubud, Days of Recovery
Due to Jon’s problem, we alter our itinerary and decide to spend another full week in Ubud.
He writes to a friend, I am so much better! This week we will take it easy here in Ubud and with the garden and views we have, that won’t be difficult. I think things are going to be fine as long as I take my medicine every eight hours. This explains why I had some more minor ‘turns’ and dizzy spells over the last few years.
However, more ‘excitement’ follows when on our first night back, a 6.5 earthquake just off the coast off western Bali rattles the room. I immediately jump from bed, unsure momentarily what all the noise is about. Janet and I meet in the dark outside our respective adjoining rooms. Oh your are out here too, I exclaim. Isn’t that what you are meant to do? she retorts in a mix of dry humour and innocence. And Jon’s version of this event: We felt the earth move….and that’s been a while for both of us!
Had a bit of an earthquake last night supposedly lasted 8 minutes and was a 6.5. I did not panic after what I have gone through small potatoes although will be on alert from now on.
From now on, I try to remember to have money and passports handy just in case of another middle of the night dash. Too much excitement by far on this holiday!
After his internal earthquake, Jon says that after what he has gone through it was small potatoes and remains in bed. He also said: We felt the earth move…and that’s been a while for both of us!
He isn’t up to going out at all the first day back so Janet and I walk up the road to Pulau Kelapa, next door to where she stayed four years ago. The footpath is narrow, pot-holed and often interrupted by parked scooters or tree roots and there is some danger in stepping out onto the busy narrow road. Assorted galleries, small shops, and accommodations, as well as traditional gateway entrances to homes flank the tree-lined road. There is one large temple with an impressive old banyan tree devouring old stone pillars. There are only a couple of unoccupied sites. Not long ago the road would have passed through rice paddies like so much in Ubud, which has grown at a phenomenal rate over the years since our first visit.
The restaurant is in two parts, one in front just off the road where a sign reads Organic Vegetables, the other set far back from the road above a steeply terraced, beautiful garden and little river. Later I read that it is the brainchild of Hadi Sunyoto, an avid antique collector and creator of the Setia Darma House of Masks and Puppets. His passion for history and culture.
First we want to explore the gardens so we walk many steps down to a tiny bridge and up the far side past thatched pavilions and extensive vegetable and fruit gardens. It is quite rural in feel. The paddocks on either side are laid out like rice paddies though there is no sign of rice. There are a couple of people working in the fields and we wave hello. Retracing our steps we check out baskets of orchids and notice some spice trees. We sit in the typical open sided space at little wooden tables in an original 20th century East Java teak house. Though simple, the design and decor, the restaurant, features, vintage photographs and paintings, and antique knick-knacks.
Unlike anywhere else, we are presented with a tiny dish of pickled vegetables as a palate-cleansing starter The food that follows is absolutely first rate, beautifully presented with the conical turned saffron rice tower surrounded by a variety of other dishes. It is so good that I determine to bring Jon here on another occasion and to encourage him to walk around the organic gardens and beautiful grounds.
He sleeps and rests a lot, his strength and confidence slowly improving. Food is the incentive and we venture out each day and find very delicious meals in a variety of places along the stretch of Jalan Raya, the main road behind which our accommodation, Taman Indrakila, is located here in Senggingen, just out of the centre of Ubud away from the worst of the hustle and bustle.
My Cool Sunnies, Janet, Sam and Prem
Janet remains with us for the first three days back in Ubud, and her company is so welcome. She and I walk down the many steps through the gardens to reach the swimming pool where we loll, read and swim daily. Jon is not up to this. Usually we are alone there. The only others who seem to regularly use the pool are a woman, Sam who thinks my bright green sunglasses are cool, as good an introduction to a chat as anything! She describes herself as a writer. She is petite with long straight hair and appears very outgoing. When her partner Prem, somewhat older with rather sophisticated tattoos and jewellery round his neck, swims up to us and starts talking, something in the air shifts a little, she seems to take a ‘back seat’ in the conversation. Janet notices too and we speculate, perhaps the mention of his ex-wife?
Sam and Prem, like a number of other people I know, are middle class gypsies-they do not have a home. They spend a lot of time living in Bombay, surprisingly, in an expensive –sounding hotel, and Bali. With a name like that, I pegged Prem as a Rajneeshi or an ex, which is in fact the case. In his former marriage, he lived in Byron Bay.
Sam is English, lived and worked in the corporate world Hongkong for twenty years before deciding she’d had enough. They are/were both on some sort of ‘spiritual’ path though they described some sort of complicated process of disengagement, hard to follow. Sam is into crystals.
In the ensuing days, we see them in intense discussion; often she appears to be angry, heads down they seem to be thrashing things out. I get the feeling she or they are not quite what they seem to be. In subsequent days, she seems to run hot and cold…where is the outgoing Sam?Over a shared meal in the Elephant Cafe one day, I ask about her writing and an amazing story, the one she is writing about, spills out. Like me, she is from a Jewish family though our families share nothing in common. Her mother was mad, her parents divorced, her father remarried and had another family. She astounds me with what comes out next. I didn’t know my father was a spy until he died, she explains, and goes on to tell us they he, his wife and two children were murdered!
I am keen to do the Campuhan Ridge walk, which I had done with Jon’s brother last time we were in Bali. I take advantage of Janet still being with us. She is not feeling quite up to this walk and is happy to keep an eye on my Jon. As I quietly leave our room at six a.m. in the early cool, I pass one of the young girls who work here. She is wearing traditional dress, the kamben, (sarong-like cloth tightly wound around the hips with no drapes), kebaya, (the long-sleeved, lacy blouse) and the sash around the waist and is collecting frangipani and other flowers from the garden, presumably for making canang sari (offerings). This name is derived from the Balinese words sari, essence and canang, a small palm-leaf basket as the tray into which items are placed- flowers petals (the colour and placement of which also bears significance) , food items such as rice, crackers, cookies, or candies and sometimes a small amount of money. Often smouldering sticks of incense accompanies this. If canang sari is to be placed on the street, everything should be edible so that the offerings can simultaneously (and safely) serve the purpose of feeding stray dogs, monkeys, and other animals.
Women are traditionally in charge of assembling canang sari. Multiple generations of women seated together over an array of little square baskets is not an uncommon sight especially in preparation for a major ceremony or wedding; assembling canang sari is both a personal meditative process and a communal exercise. Every house, hotel, or shop has its own small temple where canang sari are placed daily.
Integral to Balinese culture and to the practice of Hinduism on the island, these traditional daily offerings and rituals have remained the same for more than 1,000 years and are said to maintain balance and peace on earth, amidst the forces of good and evil, among gods and demons, between heaven and hell. From the moment one arrives in Bali, it’s difficult not to notice the canang sari. They’re everywhere: in front of shops and homes, on top of statues, at the foot of temples, sometimes almost right below your feet. With the passage of time, these miniature works of art transform from the holy to the earthly, as the petals and ashes of today are swept and gathered, only to be replaced by the next day’s creations and prayers — a daily reminder of impermanence.
The Famed Ridge Walk
It’s a steep downhill walk along the main road. Little traffic yet, just a few motorbikes with people heading to work. At the bottom of the hill, I climb down a rather degraded, unsigned set of steep steps, and pass through the grounds of a secondary school where luckily students are already assembling, as it is not clear which way I now must proceed. The kids point out the way and now I am climbing steadily uphill on a track of concrete pavers. Five years ago, this was a little dirt track running across tufted grassy hills.
I soon pass two young women wearing headscarves and we get chatting. They are Javanese, employed in the medical tech industry and are here for work for two weeks. As the incline increases, they slow until I need to bid them farewell and pass them by. Soon thereafter, the path levels off and it is now an easy walk. A few more people appear and then, Prem and Sam appear, already returning having set out at 5 am!
The grassy land slopes steeply on either side of the path. A dog excitedly pounces then stops dead still before pouncing again in long grass beside the path. He is after something I do not see, perhaps a mouse? At the bottom on my right, dense forest climbs upward. On my left, interspersed buildings with their lovely Balinese red-tiled roofs range up the slope. Somewhere amongst them are Taman Indrakila, Indus Restaurant and many more. I can’t identify which is which. By now, there are more people walking and it is warming up. I am glad of my water bottle. It is beautiful up here, quiet and rural. I wish Janet and Jon could enjoy it with me. I pass a little plot where a typically small Balinese cow and her calf graze amongst trees.
After some twenty minutes there are signs of a village; a small warung where a girl is sweeping with the whisk in preparation for the day’s business, bent low, one hand nestled against her lower back, palm facing out. Signs start to appear advertising rooms to rent. One sign reads: Today Is A Good Day, another rather poignantly says: Some days coffee is the only reason I still have friend and job.
I pass an Art gallery and a small artist stand, nothing yet open. A fair-haired woman passes by me; we smile in acknowledgement.
I am looking out for Cafe Karsa, a landmark Prem had alerted me to. Now rice fields of such intense green appear on my right and then, Karsa! It is both a cafe and a spa and I remember it from my last visit. Gorgeous gardens step down the slope passing lily ponds and little pavilions. I take a stroll around, overlooking the rice fields. The cafe is still closed though the first staff have arrived and as I retrace my steps to continue on my way, a tiny delivery van has parked in front. A man with long hair wearing jeans and denim shirt, sporting a handsome leather shoulder bag, unloads vegetables, bananas and bundles of cut banana leaves to make the small containers for temple offerings.
The paved path has now become a narrow roadway. I continue past the village for a short distance. Some workers are moving earth in preparation for building. It is getting hot and I want to be back by about 8am to breakfast with Jon and Janet, so I head back, passing more people including a group of young travellers with a toddler walking hand in hand with her mummy.
After a few minutes, I pass the same fair-haired woman. Didn’t I pass you before? I ask. We stop and chat. She is English but has moved here from Byron Bay! When she hears I am staying at Taman Indrakila she asks if we know her friend Prem! Small world. Well, yes, the ex-pat community probably is a small world. As she is heading in the opposite direction from town, I presume she is staying up here but it transpires that she owns a house close by. We seem to have clicked and she mentions that she will be away in January and might need a cat-sitter so gives me her email address, I say I will send her mine and we part ways.
By the time I get back to the main road, it is just before 8am and already hot. Walking the distance steeply uphill to Taman was never an option so I take advantage of the waiting taxis and three dollars and five minutes later am there.
Breakfast at The Elephant is included in our accommodation. The daily routine, served by a team of gracious young women amongst whom I have my favourites, consists of tropical fruits or fresh fruit juice, banana pancake or toast, tea or Bali coffee. There is also a large a la carte menu.
To Market To Market, No Fat Pig…Just A Royal Wedding
It’s early days yet in Jon’s recovery and he doesn’t want to go far afield yet, so Janet and I set out with the driver from our accommodation into Ubud centre, a few minutes away, to check out the market. Our driver will collect us when we phone him later.
We are met with a wonderful surprise, the Royal Wedding. The influential royal family organized a lavish double wedding for two of its young princes, held yesterday in the Puri (temple) Agung in the Royal Palace opposite the market. Locals from various banjar (traditional neighbourhood associations) and customary villages around Ubud took turns over the last few days to help the royal family prepare for the weddings. Relatives and business associates brought gifts and erected gaudy, bi-lingual Happy Wedding signs in a rainbow of colour embellished with sumptuous bouquets of flowers for the aristocratic family, who have succeeded in transforming their feudal legacy into an influential part of the Balinese contemporary political and business landscape. All this lines the surrounding streets. The decorative stonework of the elaborately carved rustic gates of the Palace complex is festooned with chains of bright orange marigolds. A black 1940’s Chevrolet is parked centrally in the entranceway, likewise decorated with pink roses, white lilies and mauve chrysanthemums. Further inside the Palace grounds we can see magnificent floral decorations, garden beds and tall conical ceremonial items of orange marigolds and paper cutouts. It is all extraordinary and delightfully festive.
In Hindu teaching, life is divided into four twenty- year phases: the first is pursuit of knowledge; the second, building a family; the third, building a spiritual path; the final, renouncement of worldly attachment. Yesterday’s ceremony marked the transition from the first to the second life stage but the wedding comprises different rituals held over several days.
We do a quick, sweaty round of the two- story market with its tiny stalls, finding what we are after- tablecloths and pillow covers and on to a good bookshop where Janet buys me Love and Death in Bali, a first rate novel written in 1936 by a German- Jewish author, Vicki Baum. She spent years living in Ubud in the 1930’s and the book, set in Dutch colonial early 20th century, reminds one of the extent to which Bali has retained its culture and tradition in spite of its tiny minority status in a Muslim country, and the vast and long-standing tourist influx.
Food Food And More Good Food
At lunchtime, Jon and I walk a few minutes up the road and try the Indian cafe my friend Laine recommended. It is tiny, only two bench tables outside. Motorbikes, the pre-eminent Bali vehicle, fly past. Seated outside close to the pavement without overhead cover and thus no fan, it is hot. I order the masala dhosa, a crispy South Indian savoury crepe originating in Mangalore, made from rice batter, black lentils and curry leaves then stuffed with potatoes, fried onions and spices. It is served with chutneys and sambal and is a favourite from long ago travels in India. Also a banana lassi. Both are so delicious that I return for more another day.
The following day Janet, Jon and I decide on a traditional Indonesian lunch at the upmarket Indus restaurant with its terraced areas overlooking ‘our’ gorge and glorious traditional Balinese architecture and furnishings. The owner is an Australian woman, Janet Deneefe, married to a Balinese man, who has lived in Ubud for more than twenty years. They run two other more modest restaurants and we have eaten wonderfully at one of them, cafe Luna, on previous visits. She is a remarkable woman who also established the now prestigious Ubud Readers and Writers Festival, and annual event started with the intent of reinvigorating Bali after the 2002 Bali bombings when tourists avoided coming here thus seriously affecting the economy.
Though considered upmarket, a wonderful meal here might cost twenty or twenty five dollars per person as opposed to less than half that in a small local restaurant.
I order a fish curry, which comes in a bowl with large chunks of fish in a beautiful tangy rich brown sauce decorated with a large kaffir lime leaf and a slice of lotus root heart. Jon’s plate is colourful- a piece of chicken is decorated with micro herbs and slivers of mild red chilli; next to it sits a curry of green beans and other greens topped with slivered raw coconut and a sprinkling of crunchy onion flakes; a small palm leaf basket of cooked green papaw slices and finally a cone-shaped pile of saffron rice likewise topped with crunchy onion flakes also accompanies this dish.
Classical Balinese Dance
A favourite cultural activity of mine in Ubud is to attend the nightly traditional dance performances accompanied by the gamelan orchestra. On previous trips when we stayed close to the centre, I attended several over a one week period including the Legong, a refined dance, the Kecak, the Ramayana monkey chant dance, the Barong, king of the spirits dance, the Baris war dance and Cendrawasih, the bird of paradise dance. Given the current circumstances, one evening will have to suffice.
Balinese dance is an ancient tradition that is part of the religious and artistic expression. It is dynamic, angular and intensely expressive. Balinese dancers express the stories of dance-drama where the dancer mimes the gamut of human expression, including passion, fear, pleasure, rage, tenderness, surprise and love through the bodily gestures of fingers, hands, head and eyes. They are taught to dance with their hands before they can walk and, even in the womb, are exposed to Balinese music.
Official training starts as young as seven and the movement is closely associated with the rhythms produced by the gamelan, a musical ensemble specific to Java and Bali. Articulations in the face, eyes, hands, arms, hips, and feet are coordinated to reflect layers of percussive sounds. Most dances are connected to Hindu rituals, such as sacred dances that invoke spirits believed to possess the dancers in a trance state, or heroic spirits to counteract negative supernatural forces. Others, not linked to religious rituals, are created for social or entertainment purpose.
Our driver drops us off at the puri (temple), the best venue to attend such performances. The huge temple gates and platform area before them are all beautifully illuminated and provide a perfect traditional setting. We are seated out in the open together with many other visitors under the warm night sky. A group of young women sitting near us are engaged in lively chatter while waiting for the performance to begin and I struggle to catch what language they are speaking, curious as always, about language. As always, when being in the presence of lively young people, I see myself again aged twenty-two in my early years as an adventurous traveller, some of it shared with Janet and a decade later with Jon and momentarily mourn the too-fast passing of the years.
The Gamelan orchestra, all men, sit cross-legged on the ground in two opposing rows wearing traditional costume -sarong (or kamben), jacket and batik fabric headdress called an udeng. The orchestra is made up predominantly of percussive instruments, the most common being metallophones struck by mallets and a set of hand-played drums called kenhang, which register the beat. Other instruments include xylophones, bamboo flutes, a bowed instrument called a rebab, and even vocalists called sindhen.
After an orchestral introduction, the dances begin. The costumes are a glory of gold, brocade and colour- girls with bangled arms and gold headdresses of tingling bells that shimmer as the head moves from side to side as if not connected to the body. Fingers flex and scissor, eyes widen and narrow.
In the Baris dance, one moment the dancer prances about with colourful brocade cloth flying in all directions, toes upturned, arms outstretched and fingers fluttering, as if searching with all his senses for some intangible; the next moment he stands defiant, eyes warning of inner rage. The performance last for an hour, we file out into the busy Ubud night and call our driver.
Last Lunch Before A Sad Goodbye
It is Janet’s last day with us and we have one remaining recommendation on Laine’s list of eating places, Cafe Mendez, her ‘fave’ for Indonesian food. It is in Penestanen, the little ‘suburb’, formerly a separate village, five minutes away by taxi. It is hot as there are no fans in the open fronted cafe but the Nasi Campur is delicious as is an unusual cinnamon- flavoured iced tea served in a frosty mini-carafe with bamboo straw! The only other patron is a tall slim young European man whom we entreat to photograph us, the two ‘old girls’ who have been friends for over fifty years. It transpires he owns another restaurant just down the road that we pass when we decide to walk down to the main road and just take a taxi for the short but steep stretch back home. It is powerfully hot. Next morning we assemble to say our goodbyes to Janet as she hops into the car with our driver, bound for N’guru Rai airport in Denpasar, a ninety-minute drive away. I will miss her.
We have another few days in Ubud after her departure before a final check-up and EEG results back in Kasih Ibu hospital with Dr Yoannes after which we will move on up to Lovina and ‘our girl’, at last! Jon still spends his days reading, resting, and doing small walks.
An Unexpected Outing
When I see Prem again, I tell him of our unexpected meeting with his friend Nina, the fair-haired English woman from the Ridge walk. As promised, I send her my email address and receive a warm reply. She invites Jon and me to join her and a group of friend at her home for drinks the following day. We are delighted and take a taxi. It seems further than expected, as the little roads wind around and up and down to cross the ravine. It is densely treed and beautiful and we approach her place along the ridge in the opposite direction from my earlier walk.
Hers is the only house off the little road almost opposite Karsa cafe, down a tiny dirt track. We approach through a charming garden and before us see an amazing building. The thatched, asymmetrical roof feels as if sculpted by hand. Through the open front door, we see several people seated outside on the far side of the house, so approach via the garden. Prem and Sam are there. Another younger English woman dressed in flowing white linen snaps photos of the occasion. Also present, a pretty older woman, who dresses and looks like Nina. They could be sisters but are not. A woman designer from Perth with a somewhat gruff manner and a rather odd overweight man with large stomach, frog-like appearance and effeminate manner join us a bit later. Last to appear is a strikingly attractive young woman with piercings and a wonderfully eccentric hairdo. All live here now though, unlike Nina, they have not built but are renting their villas. I later learn from Jon that 100,000 Australians live in Indonesia and I am confident the vast majority would be in Bali.
I am astonished at the beauty of the house and environment that draws more of my attention than do most of the people, Nina excepted, and I get up and down from the table several times to explore inside and out. It is hard to sit still! The house sits on the edge of a ravine parallel to ‘ours’, and a small wet-edge pool just off the deck where we are seated, overlooks it. Designed in conjunction with her architect, the house has polished concrete floors, a huge bathroom half under cover, half open to the elements. Traditional wooden Javanese wall panels with elaborate painted designs in rich green, blue and rust colours with tiny white star-like designs within some of its panels partitions off the kitchen/living area from the bedroom. Many other decorative features in the house are also Javanese. Many of her strong and brightly coloured paintings hang on the walls and huge vases of Heliconias and Gingers add to the colour. Her studio is a separate building, which also serves as a guest room.
We spend a couple of enjoyable hours there drinking Sangria and nibbling on excellent savoury bits and pieces all available in Ubud. Prem is surprisingly gracious, somehow attending to everyone. The guests all get around on motor scooters or motor bikes but we have to secure a ride home by other means. Karsa Spa and cafe have a little open sided buggy and Nina arranges for us to use this by way of taxi service. Very fun in the warm evening air!
We are astonished next day when we receive an email from our friends Ian and Wendy, ex-Airlie Beach, who have built several villas in Ubud and spend part of the year here but are currently celebrating Wendy’s 60th birthday in Italy. They tell us that they saw us on Facebook. We suppose it is from the woman in white and on checking with Wendy, learn that indeed she is a friend of theirs too! What a ridiculously small world!
Laine’s Little Map
Before leaving home, my friend Laine, veteran Ubud visitor, provided me with her favourite eating-places and included a little photocopied map of the Sanggingen and adjacent areas around Taman Indrakila. On it, she marked the Bintang Supermarket (Bintang-star in Bahasa but also the brand name of their famous beer) down the road from us and dotted lines that represented a laneway, which heads toward Penestanen. This would provide me with shorter and much more interesting walk avoiding the main road so I can explore the back route to Penestanen.
So I set off down the hill a couple of hundred metres, past the man at the little Taxi stand with his two tiger- striped dogs, past Bintang where Janet and I have bought fruit and other supplies a couple of times, eyes seeking a laneway. Not finding anything that meets this description, I presume that a set of rundown concrete steps between two buildings constitutes a laneway, as there are no other exit points off the road. After a minute, I am winding along a narrow concrete path between high concrete block walls. It is tunnel-like and grey upon grey. Soon the path narrows further and I am in the open, a rural scene where once rice fields flourished, now more just fields with buildings dotted here and there. The path doglegs here and there and I start to see signs for accommodations, rooms to rent and must decide whether to turn left or dogleg elsewhere. I am on a mini- adventure. The little path comes to an intersection; I cross a tiny bridge, turn left and now have entered another world.
Bali At Its Best
The concrete path, the Balinese version of a laneway (or gang -pronounced gung) no more than a meter and a half in width, now runs along a steep embankment on one side, along which sit some houses. The land between them and view beyond is lushly tropical. On the other side, the houses are continuous, some with doors opening directly onto the little gang, others with walls that open into gardens and the house beyond. In either case, beautiful carved wooden doorways with animals and figures from Hindu mythology decorate the entrances, painted often colourfully, sometimes subtly. Large ceramic pots with plants or stone statues are also common entrance decorations. Other small gangs periodically run off the’ main’ one and I duck down each, peering over walls into hidden gardens, noting the details of the decorative doors, the architecture of the buildings, the flowering trees, bamboos, obsessively snapping away with my camera.
It is still early morning as I wind along the curved gang, grass-fringed on either side. Bright Bougainvillea and other colourful creepers overhang the wall on my right, palm fronds and banana plants rear up on my left; Heliconia and Gingers add to the mix.
I pass a woman wearing traditional clothing – the kamben, (sarong-like cloth tightly wound around the hips with no drapes), kebaya, (the long-sleeved, lacy blouse) and the sash around the waist- still prevalent in Bali and de rigueur for ceremonies, dance performances and often wait staff. She is bearing a tray of canang sari and stops at several places along the path to place them, apparently at several homes, sometimes reaching up into a little cavity in the wall, at others times crouching to place them on the pavement opposite a house. The air, as in so many places, is fragrant with incense, often placed with the canang sari.
Next, a man wearing shorts and shirt bearing a large plastic bucket from which he tips green clippings over the steep side into the little gully – presumably a gardener.
The landmark I have been told about, Yellow Flower Cafe, is suddenly in front of me though not yet open for business although the staff are setting up. I ask if I may sit at one of their little tables out on the path. I happily gaze over the gully, coconut palms in the near distance and take in the unusual building I noticed as I walked here- it is tower-like with an orange-tiled, double pagoda-style roof. The cafe looks a delight and I will return as this intimate little area so charms me that I determine to bring Jon to see it.
Therefore, next day I repeat the short journey, this time with Jon. We stop for a drink at the Yellow Flower Cafe but as soon as he claps eyes on the menu he wants to eat even though breakfast is only a couple of hours behind him! The food is delicious and the environment a winner. Cushions of bright pink and yellow silk adorn bamboo couches and chairs, which nestle into little wooden tables. A small slightly raised platform sits at one end with a low table and cushions on the floor surrounding it. As usual, the cafe is an open-fronted structure giving out onto the little gang and the view beyond. We are amongst perhaps eight or ten other customers all of whom are young travellers; as everywhere among the travellers, I am hearing several different languages, people are enjoying engaged conversation, the atmosphere is lovely. Then, before long, it’s time to think about dinner.
A Final Check-up, Monday, October 15
It is now a week since Jon left hospital and time for his appointment with neurologist Dr Yoannes. Our usual Taman driver, Smiling Wayan as his card refers to him as, is not available today so he arranges for his colleague Komangto take us. In addition to driving, they also share responsibility for the front desk and a variety of other tasks. He is quite a sombre character and it is hard to crack a smile from him.
In spite of his frowning demeanour, the drive is again a real pleasure, an ongoing movie of Bali and its people. I make an effort to have a bit of conversation with him and he is happy when I give him a bit of money for food or coffee while he waits for us.
And wait we must as an urgent admission, another seizure, has delayed Dr Yoannes. However, all is well- as he had expected, the EEG shows nothing abnormal and he sends us away with several folders containing copious medical notes and all the X-rays, sufficient medication for three weeks, instruction to take it easy and enjoy the rest of our holiday and to get to a neurologist once back home. We pay the large hospital bill by visa card and return with Mr Sombre for our final night in Ubud.
A turnaround for the books! On returning to Taman, Komang lolls against a wall with his co-worker mate Smiling Wayan. As we pass en route to our room, Jon, directing both gaze and words to Komang, quips: You must be the most miserable guy in Bali. This cracks a very big smile from Komang, revealing a hitherto hidden sense of humour!
Tastes Of Japan
We have discovered a Japanese restaurant up the hill a bit from Taman and I talk Jon into trying it out. Although set back off the road with a couple of tables set under little pavilions in the front garden, a charming ambience, it is too hot to sit outside so we head in. The place is quite large, Japanese in style and almost empty as it is only 6pm. A few more people arrive over the next hour. The air-conditioning is set too high and I feel a little chilled, but it is well worth it as the food, all prepared by Japanese chefs, is delicious. We determine to have one more meal here before we leave for Lovina.
We had arranged a few days prior, for Smiling Wayan to drive us to Lovina but when I re-confirm on arriving back after dinner, he suddenly announces that he will not be free until after 11a.m tomorrow. I tell him that is probably too late, I will discuss it with Jon and let him know. In the meantime, we arrange another driver who we had used once before, an intelligent, interesting and likeable man- yes, he will collect us at 9 a.m.
When I update Smiling Wayan, the permanent grin instantly leaves his face, replaced by a sulk. Oh oh, he is offended! So I explain carefully that he had made clear he wouldn’t be available at our chosen time and thus sought someone who was. No, this doesn’t help one iota. A little later, we notice his absence and are told he has gone home early. Oh oh!
Off To Our Balinese Daughter & Family, October 15-23
When we are ready to leave in the morning Smiling Wayan still has not appeared for work even though it is an hour later than his usual starting time. Although we find his behaviour churlish, I am uncomfortable that he is so offended and ask Komang to pass on our thanks and goodbyes, again explaining how this came to pass and that it certainly was not our intention to offend.
Our driver arrives on the dot of 9 a.m and we are off, a little sad to be leaving this lovely place but excited at the prospect of soon being with Wayan and the family.
The drive up there is beautiful. We zigzag our way through the small roads of Ubud. In front of us, white sacks bulge with green fodder loaded sky-high on a small truck. The rear end of the vehicle is barely visible, just two back wheels spin before us. From the back seat, I snap away awkwardly with my i-phone camera. A little later, we come up behind another small vehicle with a steel mesh enclosure on the tray. Three cows squashed close together lurch from side to side as they and we progress along the curvy little road. I love this…their beautiful rumps, white flanked on a golden brown body, move in unison in a clumsy dance. More awkward leaning to catch a photo or two. We are all having fun as we make our move up to Lovina. The shock and fear of a recurrence of a seizure is abating slightly.
Lovina, Wayan And The Family
When we first arrive, we drop-in to Wayan’s warung for a big hug and to check where our accommodation is, as we can’t find the street on the taxi’s GPS. Our accommodation, Summer Guesthouse, is located on a small dirt track running off the main road almost directly opposite Wayans warung, only a three-minute walk away. Perfect! Even closer than expected. There are only two other small houses on this track and we are surrounded by fields. Although only a hundred meters off the busy main road, it is perfectly quiet. It is quite different from Taman Indrakila in Ubud, which was an older establishment with huge grounds, gardens and gorge views.
Mama Lends A Hand
After settling in, we make our way over to the warung. There is concentrated activity taking place at one of the tables where Wayan is preparing canang sari for the Pagerwesi festival two days hence. Banana leaf squares, skewers, Bougainvillea and other flowers are strewn all over the table. Do you need help? Ah Mama, yes, sit down and so I have my first experience of trying to thread flowerettes onto toothpick size segments of skewers which are actually the central spine of palm leaves and thus extremely fine and fragile. They break continuously and I see this is a much more difficult task than at first it seemed. We laugh at my clumsiness but it is great fun to be participating, and for the first time, I really feel like a family member in the context of the warung. Daughter Putu is home today also helping with related tasks.
It is wonderful and rewarding to be with them again.
On the first night, Wayan plans a special welcome dinner for us. I go into the kitchen and Wayan immediately gives me a task, a first for me. Wayan and her sister-in-law Sumi are making two different dishes and she wants me to take over making Perkedel Kentang, Indonesian potato patties. Dr Google later informs me that this is the ubiquitous everyday Indonesian side dish popular for lunch or dinner. The humble potato patty is found everywhere, from street hawkers, little family restaurants, all the way to fancy formal banquet. Interestingly, the name is derived from “frikandel”, a Dutch term for deep fried mincemeat patties. I love discovering this translated name change because it is a reminder of the interchangeability of the letters P and F. Our darling douther, as she refers to herself, often writes that she freys for us; or how the eruption of Mt Agung some months ago infacted to tourism as usely when something happend in fart of Indonesia island – no giggles permitted, dear reader!
Language, Perkedel Kentang And A Welcome Dinner
Having now shown a snippet of my douther’s written English, I have to say that I am in awe of her mastery of this complex language, difficult for anyone to learn, especially someone with almost no education. I barely know thirty words of Bahasa Indonesian let alone Balinese of which I have decided to try a few words and phrases, a difficult, interesting but weird-sounding language. For example, hello-om suastiastu; thank you- suksma pronounced sooksimaw. The language also includes Germanic guttural sounds and others I cannot begin to describe.
Let me return to Perkedel Kentang after that long diversion. So there I am, apron on, in the large kitchen. Bench tops are littered with little piles of pre-peeled garlic cloves, small hot chillies and all manner of pots and pans and so on. A cat miaows outside the window. I am deep-frying small chunks of potato. Once golden, I must mash this. Meanwhile, I am pounding shallots, garlic, finely chopped celery and fresh coriander to a paste in a mortar and pestle, getting mighty hot! Is this smashed enough? No, more Mama, more. Hotter I get. Finally, I add this to the mashed potato mix and make little flattish patties and off we go frying again. My goodness, great for the cholesterol! That night the whole family sits down to eat together- Wayan and husband Kadek, daughter Putu and her boyfriend Aria, the twins Kembar (and Indah, the girlfriend we didn’t know he had) and Ciri and Ciri’s baby Elina. Sumi remains in the kitchen with Wayan’s best friend Ilu, who helps when needed but Winda, the older of Ilu’s small daughters, eats with us. There are many small dishes on the table including chicken rending, spicy fish, green vegetable dishes, and the Perkedel Kentang. It all tastes like heaven! Her warung is, after all ranked fourth of eight-eight in Trip Advisor!
The wind rages all night waking me several times. I mistakenly think it to be traffic on the small nearby main road but that makes no sense, as there is no night traffic. Seeing the banana trees outside my window rearing and galloping at 5 a.m, I check the Lovina weather on the internet. It reports only 7kph wind, which makes even less sense. The beauty of it is that the high wind, which continues for three days, keeps the temperature surprisingly pleasant. It is normally hotter here than in Ubud which stands at a considerably higher elevation and thus has a slightly more moderate climate. The elevated temperatures are yet to come.
Summer Guesthouse is a one-year old establishment on a modest size plot consisting of a single storey block of four rooms running lengthwise, facing onto the long pool. Across the back of the block sits a two-storey building with four large, high-ceilinged rooms, one of which is ours. Decorative elements swoop skyward from each corner of the blue-tiled, Balinese style roof. Small garden areas and many potted plants and traditional decorative touches add to the attractiveness.
Our bright room, which opens onto this garden and the pool a little beyond, has gleaming white- tiled floors, a huge King-size bed, a small timber dressing table with drawer. Like in most less- than- 5-star accommodations in Bali, there are obvious omissions – no cupboard but a rack on which to hang clothes; likewise, no bedside tables and completely inadequate reading lamps, so my trusty little book light is essential. The large bathroom with shower and toilet is basic and without decoration. There is no plug in the basin. However, we have a little adjoining kitchenette with fridge, gas- burning bench top stove and little else. The kitchenette is weirdly amusing in its total lack of design forethought. There is no wall space against which to place the fridge, which thus protrudes, awkwardly into the small space and the one shelf likewise protrudes, such that one must take considerable care not to bump one’s head! Nonetheless, the kitchenette is useful for making tea and coffee and for storing fruit in the fridge, all of which could actually be accommodated in the large room. The bathroom and kitchen doors have no handles; instead, just the metal frame with keyhole and key.
It is a hands-on, family -run business and the owner, Ketut, a little reserved at first, proves to be kind and helpful. Her husband sits around seemingly doing nothing! Her dignified twenty-two year old son is friendly and they employ two other young men who, although they have only been there for a week, do an exceptional job of cleaning the rooms and general maintenance. Much to my amusement, occasionally they sit on the grass and trim the edges round fruit trees with scissors!
Two dogs, rich brown in colour with black banded tiger stripes, much like the taxi-stand dogs in Ubud, are an integral part of the family. Ketut describes them as Kintamani dogs. I am unsure if that simply refers to their place of origin or perhaps the ‘breed’ /crossbreed. The bitch has half-full teats from a recent litter of three, now four- week old pups who Ketut supplement feeds from a little bottle. She is tender with them, actually lavishes attention upon them. This feels different from the Bali of the past when few people kept dogs as pets and undernourished dogs ran free in the streets. The adult male dog, Domi, is from an earlier litter and surprisingly, gets to sleep in the room with Ketut. Presumably her husband does also!
Our wonderful fourteen year old Milly died a year ago and both Jon and I miss not having a dog around so all this doggy stuff delights me. And the puppies are a treat.
Shivering, October, 16
Today Ketut washes both adults and pups. As I approach, she is drying a pup but the next one she washes shivers and will not stop, so I offer to help, asking Ketut for a dry towel. She smiles and brings me one. We are both surprised how long the shivering continues and agree that this first experience clearly frightened the little thing. We are bonding over these pups and I am enjoying developing a bit of a relationship with her.
Jon continues to take it very easy, resting, and sleeping and reading in the air-conditioned room overlooking the little garden and pool. He looks good. We venture out for short walks, and to drop-in to see Wayan two or more times daily and eat most of our meals there. As she is a first class cook, this is a double pleasure; as is hanging out with the kids and the little ones whom we are becoming increasingly close to.
The warung is very modest size restaurant on the busy main road that runs east to west across the top of Bali. As Jon says, the most difficult thing about being here is crossing a two-lane road from our little accommodation to get to it. The location is far from ideal. In front is an ongoing and unsightly construction site, which, together with traffic noise, is off-putting for customers. It is all Wayan can afford. Some days she only gets two or three customers especially in the low season.
We discuss whether it would be preferable to be on one of the small streets leading to the beach where all the tourists pass or congregate. However, as she explains, there are so many little eating-places along them and thus much competition. In addition, their kitchens are often tiny and overheads would be even higher. At least here she has a large kitchen, which enables her to offer cooking classes as an adjunct to her income. In spite of the handicaps, the warung is rated fourth out of eighty- eight Lovina restaurants on Trip Advisor due to the excellence of her food and her gracious manner. We are SO proud of her.
The warung is the centre of all family activity rather than their nearby home where they only go to sleep, as both she and Ketut work long hours. Wayan’s workday stretches from 8am-10pm and Kadek’s even longer with a bit of a break in the middle. It is rare that the whole family sits down to eat together so everyone is always happy when we visit and share such a special celebratory dinner.
The kids come and go, Putu to nursing training at the university and the boys from school and work training. As Putu’s studies are now very demanding, she takes herself to an empty table and, with enviable concentration, works on her laptop. She still manages to help her mother when needed though less than in previous years.
Ciri looks after the baby after school so we now get to spend time with him. The baby has a small area behind the cash register counter where she lies on a little blanket on the floor, often accompanied by Ilu’s three-year old daughter Media, (as beautiful as her five-year old sister Winda and their mother). Sometimes they watch English- language cartoons on a phone, sometimes Ciri is with her, sometimes her other nenek (grandmother) Tomy is with her, or she sleeps or plays with the little girls. In between she totters around the warung following nenek Wayan, her favourite.
Ciri is shyer than Kembar and his English is poor but he wants to practice so I am making an effort to make him more comfortable in order that we can do so. I am learning more about the complexities of what used to be referred to as a ‘shotgun marriage’ transposed to this cultural context where all the responsibility falls on the shoulders of the boy’s family, in this case largely on Wayan.
Lovina is a relatively new name coined in the 1950s by the late king of Buleleng who gave this name to a small lodge he built on his own lands. Subsequently, after initial community resistance, the name Lovina was designated to encompass seven traditional coastal villages, which now merge into one, over ten kilometres along the main road, which hugs the north coast to the west of Singaraja: Temukus, Kalibukbuk (where we are), Anturan, Pemaron, Tukad Mungga, Banyualit and Kaliasem. Kalibukuk is the main hub of this area and is often thought of as Lovina town centre with Western style minimarts and ATMs along the main road.
Re-exploring The Familiar, October 17
I am increasingly comfortable leaving Jon alone so am free to explore Kalibukbuk. On the first day I cross the road toward the warung, walk a short way up the main road and turn right through the impressive Balinese gates, which frame the entrance to both of the small roads leading to the black sand beach where most of the restaurants and hotels are. Like everything in Bali, these little curved roads create a sense of intimacy and although familiar from previous visits, I find myself charmed all over again. I pass small souvenir shops, restaurants and accommodations. Twenty-five years ago, this was full of low-key young travellers and the two small roads were sandy tracks. Today they are sealed but there are fewer travellers around, perhaps as it is approaching the wet season though tourism has generally been affected by recent seismic activity of Mt Agung; also perhaps fear generated from the earthquake and tsunami in Sulawesi only a few weeks ago. It certainly put the wind up me! I worry about my Balinese family being a stone’s throw from the sea and images of devastated coastal villages sometimes intrude.
Ceremony, October 17
Wayan and Putu have been preparing canang sari for two days now with a little bit of clumsy help from me. The Pagerwesi ceremony, when the Balinese strengthen their minds and souls against evil forces, is about to take place and is celebrated every six months; it is not as big as Galungan or Kuningan but still significant. Our daughter really wants us to come along with the family. They are going to the Pulaki temple with its many monkeys, located near Pemuteran, about an hour’s drive west. Jon does not feel up to anything like this, a good excuse too as he never joins in such activities! I, however am very tempted and almost succumb, but it is going to be a long day and I am now battling with the heat; reluctantly I decide it is too much for me and decide against it. There is something to be said for being older and comfortable in ones decisions, though acceptance of limitations from one as active as me is not altogether easy.
Instead, I make an early start, walking a short distance down the main road to see if anything is happening. There are indeed a few people out and about. The roads are fairly quiet but motorbikes whirr past, sometimes an entire family on board, or two women or a couple, the female passenger always sitting sideways, a tray woven of reeds containing the multifarious offerings (canang sari) on the lap. The women are dressed in their traditional finery and gold jewellery, with kamben wound tightly around the hips, tied on the left, above a gorgeous coloured kebaya, and the selandang or sash around the waist and the ‘big hair’ or sanggul, bunched behind the head with flowers tucked behind the ears.
Those walking, bear the baskets on their heads supported with one or both hands. The men wear white – also the kamben with another layer on top folded in the centre creating an elegant draped effect, white shirt and white udeng or headpiece. They are heading to a small temple at the nearby junction of two roads.
I return for breakfast with Jon and then step out again to our daughter’s warung because she is going to the other temple, located on the beach and I have happily agreed to go with her. Communicating about arrangements and timing can often be tricky and I was surprised that it was only the two of us. She walks out of the kitchen dressed in her finery readying to leave with me. In each hand, she holds smoking incense sticks, one bundle of which she places on a small wall altar in the warung; on the countertop near the till is another small altar on which stands a woven platter containing fruit and other canang sari. Here she places the other smouldering bundle. She kneels on the floor, toes curled under and murmurs her prayers, fingertips joined, creating a little inverted ‘V’ held against the forehead, occasionally waving in a blessing. This small ritual is a daily occurrence when other small canang sari are also placed outside the warung in two or three designated places.
Bearing her basket of canang sari on her head, we walk to the temple on the beach some seven minutes away, for her to place her offerings and say prayers again. I had expected a large crowd of people so am quite surprised to see only a small group of Dutch tourists with guide who is explaining things to them, and two other local woman, both of whom Wayan knows. The temple gates are actually locked so the women place offerings on the steps and supporting pillars, which are already covered with those placed earlier. The three women kneel along the temple steps, toes curled under and pray. In a few minutes, they have completed the ritual and Wayan and I walk back to the warung. I try to establish the nature of the prayers, which appear to be quite similar one to another, but she explains that each conveys a specific message to different gods.
Exploring ‘Lovina Residence’
I am now curious to explore the fields and village behind Summer Guesthouse. The following day, I leave Jon sleeping and set out for an early morning walk at 6.30 am before the heat sets in. The strong wind and early air makes for a perfect temperature.
Outside our gate, I turn right, away from the main road and proceed along the dirt track with the usual dogleg turns common to both town and village roads, and within five minutes open fields and, surprisingly, a concrete stretch of ‘road’ surround me. It looks quite incongruous, more like a narrow runway, sitting above the surrounding fields in which beans and corn are growing and several farmers, both men and women, are already at work.
The morning light spreads yellow, intensifying the emerald colour of the crops; beyond, stands a thick bank of coconut palms. Behind, puffy clouds partly obscure a range of hills.
I step off the concrete ‘road’ onto a narrow raised dirt path that runs between the fields just like in padi, the rice fields. I am now approaching an old woman wearing a head cloth and kamben. She is bent down picking beans, which she throws, into a woven basket. Selamat pagi, (good morning), I say. Pagi, she replies.
I retrace my steps back to the main path. In an adjacent field, a man is arranging heavy water pipes around his plot. He attaches one end of the 4” diameter pipe to a stake; water now gushes out, flooding the ploughed earth in which baby corn is sprouting. As I walk further, on a raised platform covered with woven matting I see a prone figure. Bare brown feet nestle sideways one on top of the other. It seems that he has slept here all night.
I re-enter the concrete road and follow it around, passing several substantial villas with imposing gates and beautiful gardens nestled between vacant, palm-filled blocks. A woman wearing a black western- style dress appears. Good morning, she says, Pagi, I reply and we walk a little distance together passing random dogs, some sporting ribbons around their necks signifying collars. The woman looks vaguely familiar. I ask her if this little area has a name and at that moment, we come to a narrow sealed village road. An entrance statement overhead reads’ Lovina Residence’ and I recognize the name from my internet accommodation search of some weeks ago. It is a private residential development in Kalibukbuk, the part of Lovina where we are staying. It has many impressive Balinese-style homes.
After breakfast, Jon and I walk down to the beach. It is still early and the little shops have just opened, the vendors offering ‘morning price’, an endearing opening gambit to lure us into their little shop. It makes us smile and we start joking around, everyone smiling. Business is slow; it’s tough for the locals. So we succumb, after all, we do need some minor replenishments to our respective wardrobes. These tiny spaces are airless, darkish and always hot and humid so we are already dripping. Jon buys a cotton batik shirt and I, a lovely green and gold sarong. The price of everything, of course, reflects the low wages- middle class here, such as our family, has an entirely different colour to it than middle class in Australia. These two items cost us $20.
Jons words: Have a few cheap new Balinese shirts perfect for Queensland…probably not appropriate in the Garden State (Victoria/Melbourne). Just my style! Spread the wealth around the joint but every time we eat out we find that Wayan’s ( our daughter ) food is much better. She is concerned that we spent too much money and will not have enough due to health etc. Very nice. We discussed help for the Billy lids (kids) but only for education. They spend a lot on ceremonies but that employs a lot of people and uses a lot of material and it’s none of my business. They have a strong culture and I am tolerant – usually this silly old bastard is judgemental. We will help with education as that is the only way they can get a better life. I clearly said papa will not pay for marriages. I know it is a big deal for them and for others but not for me.
Sunset With The Twins
Time to visit the beach for sunset, something we haven’t yet done on this trip so we invite Kembar and Ciri to join us, an opportunity for them to practice their English. Five years ago, it was impossible to distinguish who was who. Now I find it varies-some days it seems possible as Ciri has grown a moustache and has a birthmark on his cheek; even so, in the distance it is very much hit and miss. We walk the short distance to the large restaurant/bar on the beach. It is serene and beautiful, the sandy beach curving gently into the distant cloud-capped mountains near the western most point of Bali, the Bali Straight. From there it is a hop skip and jump and you are in Java. A few colourful outriggers hover insect-like in the silky shallows in front of us. The grey sand beach has been swept clean, now a daily ritual, and the patio where we sit sports attractive tables and black metal chairs with red, green and yellow cushions. It feels modern and bright.
Conversation isn’t yet easy, as it is the first time we have been alone with them. Ciri’s English is very limited so he is much more tentative than Kembar but a little less shy than when we first arrived. They check their phones intermittently. At one point Ciri receives as message from his wife Nana from Turkey and passes the phone to me to show me her photo. She is tiny, pretty, wearing a bright yellow short-sleeved jumper. They are achingly young to be married and to be parents and I, like Wayan, wonder where the future will take them.
The twins order milkshakes but do not touch them for a very long time. By the time Jon and I have finished our coffees, their respective glasses are still three-quarter full. A band has started up and now it is impossible for me to hear either of them, their voices in any case, being soft. What to do? Is this a cultural thing, do they intend to finish their milkshakes. Eventually I take the initiative and say we want to get back to their mum at the warung so would they like to finish their drinks. We wait some until it becomes clear that they are both satisfied and ready to leave. Unlike in the West, there is no compulsion to finish food or drink before you. When we arrive back, I ask Wayan about her day-it has been another good day for her…at least fourteen customers today and twenty yesterday! Could be a record.
A Posy Of Weeds And The Gardening Bug
As our time in Bali proceeds, I start to miss the domesticity of my daily life, a familiar feeling when away from home for a length of time. This is when I find myself picking up a broom or picking flowers, so on my morning walk I pluck beautiful ‘weeds’ from the fields to make a posy. A glass will suffice as a little vase in our room.
As it is very hot during the day, I spend time writing beside the pool daily and jump in frequently to cool off. When immersed, I am at eye level with the strip of garden that runs alongside and each time I swim, I notice dead leaves and spent blooms on many of the plants. I can no longer resist the urge to do a spot of gardening and so start deadheading the tall marigolds. By chance Ketut appears. I do not want her to think I am judging her garden as neglected so I convey that I love gardening and am missing this activity. She seems happy at what I am saying so I offer to continue in my task and ask if she has secateurs or scissors. She reappears with two pair and we work together for a time, smiling. Can I throw the dead heads over the wall into the paddock? Yes, she replies.
After a time she moves on to another task leaving me contentedly snipping away.
A Walk With Domi
I set out early again today on another field walk and to explore and village. Surprisingly, Domi, the male ‘tiger’ dog, decides to accompany me as we have bonded over the puppies, food, and pats. He mostly walks ahead of me but is attentive of my every move and circles back when he sees I have taken a different track from him. We encounter a couple of other dogs and I wonder how this will play out. A few firm words from me to both dogs and a whistle, undoubtedly unfamiliar to him, suffice. All is well. I deviate onto various small concrete roadways and at some point, we encounter another dog. This time Domi stops dead in his tracks. I sense he has come to the end of his territory or comfort zone. I see the small ‘main’ road beyond and, on its opposite side, a temple that I would like to check out so I don’t want to turn back but am unsure that he will want to come any further. In any case, if he does, I will have to lead him safely across the road holding his collar. I feel responsible. I wait to see what he will do. He turns around and heads in the direction from which we came. I wait another minute and am now satisfied that he is heading home; he is street smart, he will be fine. Thus I proceed.
A woman steps out of a modest but neat little house. We immediately recognize one another but there is confusion on my part. Isn’t this the same woman I met near here yesterday morning? She then says she saw us with Ciri and Kembar yesterday on the beach…now I am further confused. Ah, you know the boys, I say, forgetting that in a village everyone knows everyone. I begin to explain our relationship with Wayan and the family. She cuts me off: I know I know, she says. Ah everyone knows everything already, I say. Then somehow it clicks…of course, this is baby Elina’s other grandmother Tomy, who I have met a couple of times while she was looking after the baby in the warung. Her husband emerges from the house. Her English is good, his even better. He sells jewellery on the beach, which he wants to show me. We chat for a few minutes. We talk about his daughter Nana in Turkey, how the job didn’t pan out well but she gained more experience as a masseuse for which she trained in Bali. She will be back in two weeks. We then part ways.
Red Silk Umbrellas
I cross the little village road, head up a short track to the rundown temple. In the adjoining paddock, the sight of a black pig rooting around in long grass excites me. I walk one block further along the road in order to take a slightly different route back and pass the only warung in this local section of the village, Jaring Kitchen & Drinks, but it immediately draws my attention. A triple tiered ‘pagoda’ of red silk umbrellas and a small Balinese water feature flank the entrance to the small garden. It is charming. A sign reads: We Are Closed Because We Are Not Open. At first, I am unsure if this is simply a case of ‘lost in translation’ or is it a charming eccentricity? I definitely want to return here! And more of Jonny’s comments: Bonney has gone out for her early exploration of nearby fields and villages. Free small breakfast from 8AM. Everywhere here gives you free breakie…fresh fruit…coffee or tea and toast and perhaps eggs in various guises. She found a really cool little place off the grid in the back of us from the beach run by a guy who waited on cruise ships and his Japanese wife born and raised in Peru and robbed by gun point in Paraguay. Cool decor and menus. She has a sense of adventure that I am sadly lacking. She does show me what she discovers later. This area has a few villas owned by foreigners and that is where he gets his bizo as there is not local foot traffic. She is writing up all of her experiences. On arrival back at Summer Guesthouse, I am pleased but not at all surprised to find Domi happily there with the other dogs.
In the late afternoon Jon and I stroll to the beach for a walk and there is Tomy again! It is indeed a small village. One of the little shop/stalls on the beachfront is hers, duly named Tomy.
The Road To Perdition And Other Stories
I want to share with Jon this authentic, residential section of Kalibukbuk village so we take a late afternoon walk. En route he comments: What a gas to see a family on a small motor bike with the family dogs paws on the handlebars! Jaring Kitchen & Drinks with the red silk umbrellas is now open so we enter the small garden with chairs and tables under woven matting roofs. It is enchanting. A gracious waiter introduces himself and brings menus, which are immediately striking for their clever design and great food images. As we read, the quirky charm of the place further manifests itself. Dishes have names such as The Road To Perdition, Back To Basics and Eat Me and the kids menu reads I’m Not Hungry (spaghetti with tomato sauce) or I Don’t Want That (fish and chips), I Don’t Care and What?
We order a mixed fruit juice –pineapple/ watermelon/ papaya/ banana/ lime. It is icy cold and by far the best we have had in Bali thus far. Next, we order dumplings. When chef Putu delivers them, he tells us they are really gyoza. They are simply delicious- lightly crisp but moist and tender within, with ginger-tinged filling, served with a wonderful light soy dipping sauce…we are completely won over. And so the story unfolds. Putu (not to be confused with our ‘grand-daughter Putu) is Balinese, his wife Lily, half- Peruvian, half- Japanese. They set up the warung some eight months ago, building the structures and making the gardens. It has been operational for only six months. As it is some ten- minutes walk from Lovina’s main road and fifteen from the beach, I ask about their clientele. He tells us that there is only one accommodation in this section of Kalibubuk village. However, there are a number of private villas that are rented to foreigners. He asked the owners‘permission to have his menus on display in the villas and so built and continues to develop a clientele. I ask if it is his first warung. Yes. And before? He worked as a waiter on a cruise ship for a number of years, met Lily who worked as a waitress on the ship. They decided to try their own business, considered various location options including Peru but decided on Bali, sight unseen for Lily, mostly due to visa problems. Putu is not a trained chef, his mother taught him to cook in their home village of Munduk; Lily designed the menus and created the words.
Still Pink Inside
This is the first time we have had the opportunity to take Wayan out. It is the quiet season and she now has sufficient help with Sumi and Ilu as backup, to be able to take a bit of time off. We had told her about Jaring Kitchen and mentioned the cruise ship experience of the chef, relevant we thought, as Ciri is interested in becoming a cruise-ship cook in the future. So we walk up there together in the middle of the hot day, a rare event for her-everyone goes everywhere on motorbikes. We are the only customers, just as yesterday. Wayan immediately engages in extended conversation about food with chef Putu, presumably also about his cruise-ship experience- they are speaking Balinese so I am not sure of the detail. Sadly, today the food does not live up to expectation and all three of us are disappointed! My grilled fish is soft fleshed and tastes muddy and the sauce is uninviting, the chicken wings are, according to Wayan, still pink inside. However, it is a delight to be out in the world with our douther!
A Changing Scene
Although still very poor, Bali is clearly more prosperous than 5 yrs ago. The middle class have become plump! There are no bemos to be seen, replaced by an army of motor scooters on the roads and many cars, including some very good ones. The beaches in the tourist areas are swept clean as are the local village streets here, impeccable actually. With left hand placed behind the small of the back, palm faced outward, a short stemmed broom made from sapulidee, (the spines of the coconut fronds), frangipani blossoms and other plant debris and rubbish are swept daily from the roads, roadside and gardens.
An Evening Out
During the day we were approached by a gentleman in white waking in the quiet part of Kalibukbuk. He was handing out small brochures for a childrens traditional dance performance to be held this evening and we decided we would go. So, we set out, torch in hand as we decided to take my usual daytime, short cut through the little track along the fields into the Residencia area. With a little difficulty we found the address and entered a courtyard in a family compound. A small number of seats were arranged and over the next 15 minutes the audience, all white folk, arrived. On the little stage were a number of young children, the boys dressed in black sitting in front of their little gamelan orchestral instruments, three small girls looking glorious in full traditional dance costume, heavily made-up. As we were early, I went over and chatted a little and asked if I could photograph them. The boys immediately started pulling funny faces and playing around. After everyone had paid their small entrance fee, a contribution to this dance school, a dignified man, the senior teacher, introduced the performance and it unfolded charmingly before us. Cheeky faced monkeys and monsters pranced gymnastically around with impressive skill and the young girls transformed from nudging teenagers and cheeky smaller ones into dancers of astonishing skill. Perhaps not entirely surprising given that their training commenced at about age three! After everyone had paid their small entrance fee, a contribution to the dance school, a dignified man, the senior teacher, introduced the performance and it unfolded charmingly before us. Cheeky faced monkeys and monsters pranced gymnastically around with impressive skill and the young girls transformed from nudging teenagers and cheeky smaller ones into dancers of astonishing skill. Perhaps not entirely surprising given that their training commenced at about age three!
Ah, The Dolphins
For only 100,000 IRP ($AUD10) we go out on a rather windy morning in one of the little traditional outriggers that look like colourful spiders. Most people go at 6 am as we did on our last visit but at that hour it is crowded with boats racing up to the dolphin pods to get as close as possible which is somewhat unpleasant and doesn’t seem eco-friendly to the dolphins. We decide to go at 8 am as advised by a veteran Belgian traveller staying at summer Guesthouse. Due to the wind, it takes an hour rather than the normal thirty minutes but the boatman, being considerate of our age, goes more slowly. Nonetheless, we are soaked several times over. He is sweet, sharing bananas en route but it is difficult to converse or ask questions over the engine noise. Smiles go a long way. We are one of only six or seven boats out here and see a profusion of the beautiful creatures. It is marvellous. Jon says: Of course there were no life jackets of any sort. The sea was rough going out but the captain took it easy due to our advanced age. I was reminded of 5 years ago when we did the mask and snorkel right off the beach in water you could stand up in and still see heaps.
Everywhere we look, we see large numbers and gently follow them here and there for about an hour. We see them very close-up, sometimes right next to and even under the boat (that worries me a bit but I think the dolphins are smarter than the boat!) They shoot through the water, sometimes leap right out and nosedive back under, revealing their lighter colour underbellies. Two or three spin close by, mid- air several times. They seem utterly joyful.
I try to establish pod sizes but come up with contradictory information –it seems that each pod consists of up to one hundred in number. In any case, it is wonderful and a privilege to experience. And another lovely meal, as per most days, at our daughter’s warung Jegeg
A Family Outing
A day’s adventure in a hire car with Wayan, daughter Putu and her boyfriend Aria who is our driver, baby granddaughter Elina and 5 yr old Winda, Ilu’s daughter.
These drives are always a delight. The small roads wind up the mountains from sea level, profuse with tropical vegetation, sometimes passing rice fields. Flowering trees and plants abound. We stop at some gardens with child- friendly play elements. After wandering around, we sit by a large pond looking at the beautifully coloured carp. Wayan, with baby Elina in her arms, runs all over chasing Winda on the hilly mown slopes amongst tropical fruit trees. Shrieks of delight all round (and a sore back for Wayan next day so we share a massage the following day). Back into the car and on a short distance to a swimming venue set high in the hills overlooking a valley and mountains, somehow so remote but full of people and unlike anything I have ever seen. Both venues are a measure of economic improvements as they are designed for local and visiting families to enjoy.
(Allow me to digress briefly: Although still very poor, Bali is clearly more prosperous than five years ago. The middle class have become plump! There are no bemos to be seen having been replaced by an army of motor scooters and many cars, including some very expensive ones. The beaches in the tourist areas are swept clean as are the local village streets here, impeccable actually. With left hand placed behind the small of the back, palm faced outward, a short stemmed broom made from sapulidee-the spines of the coconut fronds- frangipani blossoms and other plant debris and rubbish are swept daily from the roads, roadside and gardens.)
So, back to the swimming venue…the swimming pool is reasonably large, surrounded by sheltered areas where one can sit outside and eat and a funky space with throne-like wicker chairs covered in soft fabric. A team of people are hanging decorations, as there is to be a child’s birthday party in the afternoon. There are many Muslim girls bathing, wearing their full regalia including, of course, the head covering. As I have never seen this before, I find myself indulging in the fascinating sight. Wayan and the others wear singlets over some sort of undergarment. My two-piece bathing costume, modest in style by our standards, does not feel sufficiently so in this context and, much to Wayan’s disappointment, I choose not to swim.
Our group orders all manner of food- interesting because the five year old is the only one who chooses Balinese cuisine, the others all eating variations of what we consider ‘junk food’- pizza with chicken and sauce, chips and so on.
The hire car has three rows of seats and Putu and the little kids sit in the back. She is marvellous with them, sings nursery rhymes, and endlessly entertains them. Quite a little mother already. After lunch on the way back home, they nap in the back, kids lolling all over her.
Stray Dogs And Grey Concrete Enchantment
A 6 a.m – 6.30 a.m start is good practise for summer back in Oz, a reminder of all that must be done early or late in the day in the tropics. So again I set out at 6.30 but head toward the beach today. I walk down our little dirt road, passing our neighbour on his motorbike, his young daughter behind him. She is on her way to school and typically, neither wears helmets. Worryingly, it is common to see adults wearing them and children, for the most part, unprotected. The main road has some traffic already, mostly small motorbikes or motor scooters. I make my way up for half a block, turn right through the traditional Balinese entry ‘arch‘ and now the small road curves it’s short way to the beach. Nothing is open yet so I pass only a few people, some sweeping in front of their shop or warung. The sea today is a silken pale blue. In the distance, two groups of outriggers on the dolphin trip, hover.
A pedestrian ‘boulevard’ connects the two little streets that lead down to the beach. It runs along the tree-lined foreshore where several of the innumerable Balinese stray dogs run and bark. The ‘boulevard’ is flanked by a continuous row of small shops, more like enclosed stalls, selling the usual cheap clothes, sarongs, T-shirts, jewellery, paintings and other tourist memorabilia. These too are still closed. A few minutes later, I reach the other little road and the somewhat kitschy landmark, the Dolphin statue.
I have not explored beyond here until now. The way narrows to a concrete path. It appears to end at two small houses, but as I approach I see it continues, curving left then immediately right and before me, a surprise. How is it possible for grey concrete and concrete block to hold enchantment within its confines? Yet it is so- to my left a low block wall, along which grow the native hibiscus trees with glossy dark green leaves and pale yellow blooms, the beach a meter below. Here a woven birdcage hangs off their branches, there another. Their inhabitants trill to one another in the dappled morning light. At intervals, small wooden platforms shaded with palm-frond roofs jut out over the beach, a place to sit or just hang out. Off the branch of one of the large trees hangs a brightly coloured plastic clothes-drying rack. To my right, a higher block wall affords privacy to the continuous row of small houses with gates or openings off the path. Here a woman stands, aluminium pot in hand, feeding two black pigs. Another sits on her stoop combing her daughter’s hair. The odd motor scooter passes, a passenger sits behind, sometimes a sole rider. Most people greet me, or I them – Salamat Pagi or, now that I am tackling a little Balinese, Swiatiastoo.
Along the little path in front of the house walls, plants abound. Most houses are small and humble, sometimes shabby. One house stands out from the rest as it is on a larger block, is brand new of painted, rendered block. A well-tended lawn surrounds it.
As I return, I encounter the strikingly attractive Made, who runs one of the small shops along the foreshore and from whom I purchased sarongs a few days ago. We often pass her and have a little chat. She asks, as many do, where are you going. Jalan jalan, walking walking, I tell her and mention the little beachside area I have just been to. My house is there, she brightly tells me, adding that she lives in a small house with her ten-year-old daughter, parents and other siblings, maybe seven people in all. She separated from her husband five years ago. As we speak and she tries to encourage me to buy one more sarong. An elderly woman, who I have also encountered before, approaches me offering a massage. It is Made’s mother.
It is tough for the people, tourism is slow and won’t really pickup until December before going very quiet again, the peak being July/ August with large numbers of Germans and Dutch who, even now, predominate.
Sometimes Blowing Kisses
After a week here, the shy baby Elina has learned to wave and say bye-bye and occasionally even smiles at us or allows me pick her up. She often hangs around my legs. Sometimes she will blow us a kiss. A few nights ago her mother Nana phoned from Turkey using WhatsApp and Ciri brought the baby, phone in hand, next to me so I could observe the interaction, he squatting on the floor, the baby mesmerised by her mother’s voice and image, and Nana chatting away in Balinese baby talk from the other side of the world. Very sweet. Ilu’s 3-year old is often in the warung and the two littlies hang out happily together. This is the time to be here longer and strengthen these bonds. It will be sad to leave.
The night before our departure, Wayan makes a farewell family feast and the whole gang of us assemble again to eat the delicious food, take lots more photos, feel sad together and talk about our next visit. They would so love us to come to Putu’s graduation from university (nursing school) in September, a proud milestone for us all. Parting is indeed such sweet sorrow and there are a lot of hugs and kisses before we cross the road back to Summer Guesthouse for our last sleep.
And So The Day Arrives, November 3
Jonny says: my family has expanded…which was sorely needed. They have been very nice to “papa” and “mama” and the feeling is not put on and nothing to do with money. He also says that he has fallen in love with Bali all over again and ” I plan to spend a lot more time here and hope to convince the boss of the same…she has me under complete control at the moment! Our Balinese family was a joy! Miss them already.
Ketut has arranged an early taxi pick-up for the 3-hour drive to the airport in Denpasar. As it will be before our usual 8 am breakfast, she sends us away with a takeaway version, a little packet of chopped up tropical fruit, toasted bread with a Balinese omelette and bottled water all packaged in plastic bags with paper napkins. It is such a lovely gesture and it is not without feeling that we bid her farewell also…and Domi, the pups and mother dog! It has indeed been a very nice place to stay.
Another delightful journey up, across the mountains, and down the other side, the skilled driver carefully avoiding the worst peak traffic by taking endless side roads. This is incredibly interesting. We pass temples, people on motorbikes heading into them, all wearing ceremonial dress, past shops specializing in temple decorations, others selling ceramic pots, the endless array along the roadside until finally we are at the airport with plenty of time for a relaxed check-in. The adventure, the time with family, the falling in love with Bali yet again is over…for this time! I text Wayan from the airport: Darling it is a privilege for us to have you as our Balinese family. So lovely to get to know the children better, you can be proud of them all! You are so intelligent and we are proud of you and Putu is following in your steps. Even getting to know Ilu and the little kids has been great. Thanks for your carefully and beautifully chosen gifts. We love you all and will call you once we are home and settled, xxMama and Papa